ENCOURAGEMENT TODAY, CONQUERING DOUBT PART 39



06/12/22


Question: "What are spiritual blessings?"


Answer: Ephesians 1:3 says that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. What are these spiritual blessings, and what do they do for us? Contrary to some beliefs, they are not some mysterious power or cosmic connection reserved for a select few. They are the key benefits of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The word blessing in Ephesians 1:3 is a translation of the Greek word eulogy,and it means “to speak well of.” Since God is the one acting in this verse, we can say that God has spoken good things about us, or pronounced good things for our benefit. The good things that God has decreed for us are probably beyond our ability to number, but we can outline a few by looking at the verses that follow the statement (Ephesians 1:4–13).

The first blessing listed is the election as saints. Ephesians 1:4 says that He has “chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God has chosen to make us holy and blameless, and all because of His love, His good pleasure, and His grace (verses 5–6). What a blessing, that “even when we were dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5), God chose to extend His grace to us and offer us salvation. This is even more amazing when we realize that He made that decision before sin even entered into the world.

The second blessing listed is found in verse 5—our adoption as His children. Not only has God chosen us to be made holy, but He grants us full status as His children, with all the benefits thereof. John 1:12 says, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When we believe the gospel, we receive full access to the Father, able to call out to Him as His children.

The third spiritual blessing is in verse 6, where we are made “accepted in the beloved.” The word is related to grace and gives the idea of making us graceful or favorable through Christ, the beloved of God. When we put on Christ, the Father sees His loveliness when He looks at us. The blood of Christ has taken away the guilt of our sins, and we stand before the Father as perfectly accepted.

This leads us right into the fourth blessing (Ephesians 1:7), the redemption through His blood. Redemption speaks of buying one's freedom, paying a ransom. The price for our sins, the payment to buy us out of eternal condemnation, was fully paid by the blood of Christ. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we become slaves to God. Since we are bought and paid for by His blood, we have an obligation to glorify God in our body and spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Verse 7 also describes the fifth blessing, the forgiveness of sins. It is closely related to redemption, but looks at the other side of the coin. In paying the ransom for our sins, the debt of sin was canceled, and we were forgiven. We no longer have the burden of guilt for violating God's holy laws.

The sixth spiritual blessing listed is knowing the mystery of His will (Ephesians 1:8–10). God has given us wisdom and insight through His Word and has shown us His desire to bring all things together to glorify Christ. Since all of creation was made by Him and is for His good pleasure (Revelation 4:11), the consummation of His plan is when everything and everyone is brought in line to glorify Him. By aligning ourselves with Him by faith, we become part of His perfect plan and purpose.

Verse 11 says that another blessing is the inheritance that is given to us through Christ. What is included in that inheritance? “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The riches of glory, the presence of God, the eternal home – these don't even scratch the surface of all the blessings that belong to our inheritance.

Another blessing is found in Ephesians 1:13, which is the sealing of the Holy Spirit. When we become God's children, He places His mark of ownership on us, guaranteeing our eternal security. This is spoken of as the down-payment of our full redemption, to hold us until the day Christ brings us to Him.

The list could go on and on speaking of the privileges that are ours in Christ. We are laborers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9); we are ambassadors bringing the message of reconciliation to a foreign land (2 Corinthians 5:20); and we are the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). We have available to us the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the assurance that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).

How do we access all of these blessings? They are readily accessible to everyone who is in Christ Jesus. The way to be in Christ is to repent, or turn away from our sins (Acts 17:30), confessing to God that we are sinners (Proverbs 28:13; Romans 10:9). When we believe that Christ died to take our punishment and now lives to give us new life (1 Corinthians 15:3–4), He grants us forgiveness of sins and all the blessings that accompany that salvation.


Question: "What does it mean to put on Christ in Romans 13:14?"

Answer: In a very real sense, the Christian life is a “put on.” In Romans 13:14, the apostle Paul instructs believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV). The phrase put on Christ means to figuratively clothe oneself with the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the glory of God to the world.

Paul was talking about putting on spiritual clothing. Those who clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus are believers who do not focus on gratifying the desires of the sinful nature. In the preceding verses, Paul had encouraged the saints to “wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11) and “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (verse 12).

Paul paints a vivid picture of moving into the new life in Christ as trading the darkness of night for the light of day. As believers, we must not only wake up and throw off our night clothes but also get dressed in the appropriate outfit for the new day. Our “old clothes” were the deeds of darkness, but the proper new daytime attire for the solder of Christ is God’s armor of light (see Ephesians 6:11–18).

The expression put on Christ occurs again in Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (ESV). As in Romans 13, putting on Christ here speaks of having clothed oneself with the new nature; believers are taught “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We put on Christ when our old ways are nailed to the cross and we wear the grace and forgiveness of Jesus as a glorious garment for all the world to see.

To the church in Colossae, Paul echoes the teaching: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10, NLT). The spiritual garment no Christian should ever be without is the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting on Christ means letting the Lord be our armor, embracing Him over and over, and daily trusting Him in faith, thankfulness, and obedience. John Chrysostom (c. AD 347—407) described putting on Christ as “never to be forsaken of Him, and His always being seen in us through our holiness, through our gentleness” (quoted by C. E. B. Cranfield in Epistle to the Romans, T&T Clark International, 2004, pp. 688–689).

To put on Christ means to follow Him in discipleship, letting our lives be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Rather than adapting ourselves to the pattern of this world, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and the modification of our behavior into the model of Christ’s life on earth (Romans 12:2). This change requires putting off the old self and putting on the new throughout the Christian life (Ephesians 4:22–24; Colossians 3:12). To achieve this transformation, we rely wholly on our righteous standing before God made possible in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Putting on Christ means abiding in Jesus and living to please Him. John Wesley described it as “a strong and beautiful expression for the most intimate union with Him, and being clothed with all the graces which were in Him” (quoted by L. Morris in The Epistle to the Romans, Inter-Varsity Press, 1988, p. 473). We are clothed in Christ when we become so closely united with Jesus that others see Him and not us.



05/24/22


Question: "How can I see the hand of God moving in my life?"


Answer: Several Scriptures describe the hand of God moving and guiding people (1 Samuel 5:11; 2 Chronicles 30:12; Job 19:21; 27:11; Ecclesiastes 2:24; 9:1). These passages do not mean that God literally has a hand. The Bible declares that God is spirit (John 4:24), that He does not, in His essence, have a physical form. However, this does not mean that God is incapable of taking on a physical form; numerous times in Scripture God does take a physical form. The hand of God is not speaking of a literal body part. Rather, just as a father lovingly guides and patiently disciplines a child with his hand, so are we guided by the hand of God.

The moving of the hand of God seems to be one area in which the saying "hindsight is 20/20" is particularly true. Often when we are going through a difficult or confusing time, we are unaware of how God is guiding us. Years later it becomes very clear why God brought us through that experience the way He did. Looking back, the hand of God can be clearly seen moving, guiding, protecting, etc. A time of trial is rarely enjoyable. At the same time, there are many instances where a trial or struggle is looked upon as the most meaningful spiritual time in a person's life. This is why James exhorts us to "consider it pure joy" (James 1:2) when we encounter various trials, because they are immensely valuable to our spiritual lives.

How can we better recognize the hand of God moving in our lives? First, we must familiarize ourselves with God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), which tells us about who God is and what He does. Similar to how an instruction manual helps us to understand a particular device, so reading God's Word helps us to understand how God works and how we should respond to Him. Second, we must communicate with God through prayer. We can ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). We can ask God to help us recognize, and submit to, His hand. We can thank Him for how His hand has guided us. We can ask Him to help us learn His lesson, in His time, for whatever time His hand is bringing us through.

Third, we must trust God. Just as a son often rebels against the guidance of his father"not trusting his judgment or not accepting his discipline'so do we often fight against the hand of God: "Why did You allow this? Why must I do that? Is there not another way?" While it is not wrong to ask these questions in a spirit of humility, it is wrong to doubt God's goodness or the quality of His plan. Many times in our lives, we make an ordeal worse by not trusting and obeying God and by not quickly learning the intended lesson.

The hand of God is a symbol of God's guidance, instruction, and discipline. The more we recognize the hand of God, the better we will be able to follow His lead. Through the study of God's Word, a strong prayer life, and an abiding trust in God, we can learn to recognize, trust, and enjoy the hand of God moving in our lives.



05/23/22


Question: "Gospel of John"


Answer: Author: John 21:20–24 describes the author of the gospel of John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and for both historical and internal reasons this is understood to be John the Apostle, one of the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10).


Date of Writing: Discovery of certain papyrus fragments dated around AD 135 require the gospel of John to have been written, copied, and circulated before then. And, while some think it was written before Jerusalem was destroyed (AD 70), AD 85—90 is a more accepted time for the writing of the gospel of John.


Purpose of Writing: The author cites the purpose of the gospel of John as follows: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Unlike the three Synoptic Gospels, John’s purpose is not to present a chronological narrative of the life of Christ but to display His deity. John sought to strengthen the faith of second-generation believers and bring about faith in others, but he also sought to correct a false teaching that was spreading in the first century. John emphasized Jesus Christ as “the Son of God,” fully God and fully man, contrary to a false doctrine that taught the “Christ-spirit” came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and left Him at the crucifixion.


Key Verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).


“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29).


“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:29).


“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).


“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).


“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”(John 11:25–26).


“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).


“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).


“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’” (John 14:9).


“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).


“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).


“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).


Brief Summary: The gospel of John includes only seven miracles—John calls them “signs”—to demonstrate the deity of Christ and illustrate His ministry. Some of these miracles and stories, such as the raising of Lazarus, are found only in John. His is the most theological of the four Gospels, and he often gives the reason behind events mentioned in the other gospels. The gospel of John shares much about the approaching ministry of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. There are certain words or phrases that create a recurring theme in the gospel of John: believewitnessComforterlife – deathlight – darknessI am, and love.


The gospel of John introduces Jesus Christ, not from His birth, but from “the beginning,” before creation. John calls Jesus “the Word” (Logos) who, as God Himself, was involved in every aspect of creation (John 1:1–3) and who later became flesh (verse 14) in order that He might take away our sins as the spotless Lamb of God (verse 29). The gospel of John includes several spiritual conversations, such as Jesus’ talk with the Samaritan woman that shows Him as the Messiah (John 4:26) and Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus that explains salvation through His vicarious death on the cross (John 3:14–16). In the gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly angers the Jewish leaders by correcting them (John 2:13–16); healing on the Sabbath, and claiming traits belonging only to God (John 5:18; 8:56–59; 9:6, 16; 10:33).


The last nine chapters of the gospel of John deal with the final week of Jesus’ life. Jesus prepares His disciples for His coming death and for their ministry after His resurrection and ascension (John 14–17). He then willingly dies on the cross in our place (John 10:15–18), paying our sin debt in full (John 19:30) so that whoever trusts in Him will be saved (John 3:14–16). Jesus then rises from the dead, convincing even the most doubting of His disciples that He is God and Master (John 20:24–29).


Connections: The gospel of John’s portrayal of Jesus as the God of the Old Testament is seen most emphatically in the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus. He is the “Bread of life” (John 6:35), provided by God to feed the souls of His people, just as He provided manna from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:11–36). Jesus is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12), the same Light that God promised to His people in the Old Testament (Isaiah 30:26; 60:19–22) and which will find its culmination in the New Jerusalem when Christ the Lamb will be its Light (Revelation 21:23). Two of the “I Am” statements refer to Jesus as both the “Good Shepherd” and the “Door of the sheep.” Here are clear references to Jesus as the God of the Old Testament, the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 23:1; 80:1; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:23) and, as the only Door into the sheepfold, the only way of salvation.


The Jews believed in the resurrection and, in fact, used the doctrine to try to trick Jesus into making statements they could use against Him. But His statement at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), must have astounded them. He was claiming to be the cause of resurrection and in possession of the power of life and death. None other than God Himself could claim such a thing. Similarly, Jesus’ claim to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) linked Him unmistakably to the Old Testament. His is the “Way of Holiness” prophesied in Isaiah 35:8; He established the City of Truth of Zechariah 8:3 when He was in Jerusalem and preached the truths of the gospel. As “the Life,” Jesus affirms His deity, the Creator of life, God incarnate (John 1:1–3; Genesis 2:7). Finally, as the “true Vine” (John 15:1, 5), Jesus identifies Himself with the nation of Israel, who are called the vineyard of the Lord in many Old Testament passages. As the true Vine of the vineyard of Israel, He portrays Himself as the Lord of the “true Israel”—all those who would come to Him in faith (cf. Romans 9:6).


Practical Application: The gospel of John continues to fulfill its purpose of evangelizing the lost (John 3:16 is likely the best-known Bible verse) and is often used in evangelistic Bible studies. In the recorded encounters between Jesus and Nicodemus and the woman at the well (chapters 3—4), we learn much from Jesus’ model of personal evangelism. His comforting words to His disciples before His death (John 14:1–6, 16; 16:33) are still of great comfort in sorrowful times. Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” for believers in chapter 17 is also a wonderful source of encouragement for believers. John’s teachings concerning the deity of Christ (John 1:1–3, 14; 5:22–23; 8:58; 14:8–9; 20:28) are helpful in apologetics and provide a clear revelation of who Jesus is: fully God and fully man.



Question: "Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?"


Answer: All that we know of Nicodemus in the Bible is from the Gospel of John. In John 3:1, he is described as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who were fastidious in keeping the letter of the Law and often opposed Jesus throughout His ministry. Jesus often strongly denounced them for their legalism (see Matthew 23). Saul of Tarsus (who became the apostle Paul) was also a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5).


John 3:1 also describes Nicodemus as a leader of the Jews. According to John 7:50–51, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of the Jews. Each city could have a Sanhedrin, which functioned as the “lower courts.” Under Roman authority in the time of Christ, the Jewish nation was allowed a measure of self-rule, and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was the final court of appeals for matters regarding Jewish law and religion. This was the body that ultimately condemned Jesus, yet they had to get Pilate to approve their sentence since the death penalty was beyond their jurisdiction under Roman law. It appears that Nicodemus was part of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.


John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night. Many have speculated that Nicodemus was afraid or ashamed to visit Jesus in broad daylight, so he made a nighttime visit. This may very well be the case, but the text does not give a reason for the timing of the visit. A number of other reasons are also possible. Nicodemus questioned Jesus. As a member of the Jewish ruling council, it would have been his responsibility to find out about any teachers or other public figures who might lead the people astray.


In their conversation, Jesus immediately confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again” (John 3:3). When Nicodemus seems incredulous, Jesus reprimands him (perhaps gently) that, since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10). Jesus goes on to give a further explanation of the new birth, and it is in this context that we find John 3:16, which is one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.


The next time we encounter Nicodemus in the Bible, he is functioning in his official capacity as a member of the Sanhedrin as they consider what to do about Jesus. In John 7, some Pharisees and priests (presumably with authority to do so) sent some of the temple guard to arrest Jesus, but they return, unable to bring themselves to do it (see John 7:32–47). The guards are upbraided by the Pharisees in authority, but Nicodemus presents the opinion that Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him personally: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council rudely dismisses Nicodemus’s suggestion out of hand—they appear to have already made up their minds about Jesus.


The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is in John 19 after Jesus’ crucifixion. We find Nicodemus assisting Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’ burial. Joseph is described in John as a rich man and in Mark 15:43 as a member of the Council. He is also described in John 19:38 as a disciple of Jesus, albeit a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews. Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb. The sheer amount of burial spices would seem to indicate that Nicodemus was a rich man and that he had great respect for Jesus.


The limited account in John’s Gospel leaves many questions about Nicodemus unanswered. Was he a true believer? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions, and there are no reliable extra-biblical resources that give answers. It would appear that Nicodemus may have been similar to Joseph of Arimathea in that perhaps he, too, was a disciple of Jesus but had not yet mustered the courage to declare his faith openly. Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith—although we are not told how public it was. His presentation in the Gospel of John is generally favorable, which suggests that his faith was indeed genuine.


Question: "What was the Sanhedrin?"


Answer: The term Sanhedrin is from a Greek word that means “assembly” or “council” and dates from the Hellenistic period, but the concept is one that goes back to the Bible. In the Torah, God commands Moses: “bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you" (Numbers 11:16). Also, in the sixteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read in verse 18, “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” The land was divided up among the tribes, and in those areas where tribes had their presence, there were towns and villages, and in every town and every village there was to be a court. If there were 120 men as heads of families, they had a local court there called a Sanhedrin. In smaller towns where there were not 120 men as heads of families, there were either three judges, if the town was very small, or seven judges who sat as a court, both judge and jury, in all legal matters. 


The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of ancient Israel, made up of 70 men and the high priest. In the Second Temple period, the Great Sanhedrin met in the Temple in Jerusalem. The court convened every day except festivals and on the Sabbath. The Sanhedrin as a body claimed powers that lesser Jewish courts did not have. As such, they were the only ones who could try the king or extend the boundaries of the Temple and Jerusalem, and were the ones to whom all questions of law were finally put. The last binding decision of the Sanhedrin was in 358, when the Hebrew calendar was adopted. The Sanhedrin was dissolved after continued persecution by the Roman Empire. Over the centuries, there have been attempts to revive the institution, such as the Grand Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon Bonaparte.


In the New Testament, the Sanhedrin is best known for their part in the series of mock trials that resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. The Sanhedrin began with an informal examination of Jesus before Annas, the acting high priest (John 18:12-14, 19-23), followed by a formal session before the entire Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57-68). There the decision was made to turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be tried and crucified.



05/22/22


Question: "Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?"


Answer: As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on "Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?"

John 3:3-7, “Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" 

When first considering this passage, it is important to note that nowhere in the context of the passage is baptism even mentioned. While baptism is mentioned later in this chapter (John 3:22-30), that is in a totally different setting (Judea instead of Jerusalem) and at a different time from the discussion with Nicodemus. This is not to say Nicodemus was unfamiliar with baptism, either from the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts to Judaism, or from John the Baptist’s ministry. However, simply reading these verses in context would give one no reason to assume Jesus was speaking of baptism, unless one was looking to read into the passage a preconceived idea or theology. To automatically read baptism into this verse simply because it mentions “water” is unwarranted.

Those who hold baptism to be required for salvation point to “born of water” as evidence. As one person has put it, “Jesus describes it and tells him plainly how—by being born of water and the Spirit. This is a perfect description of baptism! Jesus could not have given a more detailed and accurate explanation of baptism.” However, had Jesus actually wanted to say that one must be baptized to be saved, He clearly could have simply stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is baptized and born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Further, if Jesus had made such a statement, He would have contradicted numerous other Bible passages that make it clear that salvation is by faith (John 3:16; John 3:36; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

We should also not lose sight of the fact that when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect. This important inconsistency in interpreting Scripture is seen when one asks those who believe baptism is required for salvation why the thief on the cross did not need to be baptized to be saved. A common reply to that question is: “The thief on the cross was still under the Old Covenant and therefore not subject to this baptism. He was saved just like anyone else under the Old Covenant.” So, in essence, the same people who say the thief did not need to be baptized because he was “under the Old Covenant” will use John 3:5 as “proof” that baptism is necessary for salvation. They insist that Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be baptized to be saved, even though he too was under the Old Covenant. If the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized (because he was under the Old Covenant), why would Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was also under the Old Covenant) that he needed to be baptized?

If “being born of water and the Spirit” is not referring to baptism, then what does it mean? Traditionally, there have been two interpretations of this phrase. The first is that being “born of water” is being used by Jesus to refer to natural birth (with water referring to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb) and that being born of the “Spirit” indicates spiritual birth. While that is certainly a possible interpretation of the term “born of water” and would seem to fit the context of Nicodemus’ question about how a man could be born “when he is old,” it is not the best interpretation given the context of this passage. After all, Jesus was not talking about the difference between natural birth and spiritual birth. What He was doing was explaining to Nicodemus his need to be “born from above” or “born again.”

The second common interpretation of this passage and the one that best fits the overall context, not only of this passage but of the Bible as a whole, is the one that sees the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” as both describing different aspects of the same spiritual birth, or of what it means to be “born again” or “born from above.” So, when Jesus told Nicodemus that he must “be born of water and the Spirit,” He was not referring to literal water (i.e. baptism or the amniotic fluid in the womb), but was referring to the need for spiritual cleansing or renewal. Throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 51:2,7; Ezekiel 36:25) and the New Testament (John 13:10; 15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22), water is often used figuratively of spiritual cleansing or regeneration that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5).

The Barclay Daily Study Bible describes this concept in this way: “There are two thoughts here. Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love Him with all our heart, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession of our lives it is not only that the past is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life all over again; but into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to do what by ourselves we could never do. Water and the Spirit stand for the cleansing and the strengthening power of Christ, which wipes out the past and gives victory in the future.”

Therefore, the “water” mentioned in this verse is not literal physical water but rather the “living water” Jesus promised the woman at the well in John 4:10 and the people in Jerusalem in John 7:37-39. It is the inward purification and renewal produced by the Holy Spirit that brings forth spiritual life to a dead sinner (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Titus 3:5). Jesus reinforces this truth in John 3:7 when He restates that one must be born again and that this newness of life can only be produced by the Holy Spirit (John 3:8).

There are several reasons why this is the correct interpretation of the phrase born of water and the Spirit. First of all, we should note that Nicodemus found his literal interpretation of born again to be incomprehensible. He could not understand how a grown man could re-enter his mother’s womb and be “born again” physically (John 3:4). Jesus restates what He had just told Nicodemus, this time making a distinction between flesh and spirit (verse 6). Interestingly, the Greek word translated “again” or “anew” in John 3:3 and 7 has two possible meanings: the first one is “again,” and the second one is “from above.” “Born again,” “born from above,” and “born of water and Spirit” are three ways of saying the same thing.

Second, the grammar in John 3:5 would seem to indicate “being born of water” and “being born of the Spirit” are thought of as one action, not two. Therefore, it is not speaking of two separate births, as Nicodemus incorrectly thought, but of one birth, that of being “born from above” or the spiritual birth that is necessary for anyone to “see the kingdom of God.” This need for one to be “born again,” or to experience spiritual birth, is so important that Jesus tells Nicodemus of its necessity three different times in this passage of Scripture (John 3:3, 3:5, 3:7).

Third, water is often used symbolically in the Bible to refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying a believer, whereby God cleanses and purifies the believer’s heart or soul. In many places in both the Old and New Testaments, the work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water (Isaiah 44:3; John 7:38-39).

Jesus rebukes Nicodemus in John 3:10 by asking him: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” This implies that what Jesus had just told him was something Nicodemus should have known and understood from the Old Testament. What is it that Nicodemus, as a teacher of the Old Testament, should have known and understood? It is that God had promised in the Old Testament a time was coming in which He would: “sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Jesus rebuked Nicodemus because he failed to recall and understand one of the key Old Testament passages pertaining to the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33). Nicodemus should have been expecting this. Why would Jesus have rebuked Nicodemus for not understanding baptism considering the fact that baptism is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament?

While this verse does not teach baptism is required for salvation, we should be careful not to neglect baptism’s importance. Baptism is the sign or the symbol for what takes place when one is born again. Baptism’s importance should not be downplayed or minimized. However, baptism does not save us. What saves us is the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, when we are born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).


Question: "Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?"


Answer: This is perhaps the most important question in all of Christian theology. This question is the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and Catholic Church. This question is a key difference between biblical Christianity and most of the "Christian" cults. Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works? Am I saved just by believing in Jesus, or do I have to believe in Jesus and do certain things?

The question of faith alone or faith plus works is made difficult by some hard-to-reconcile Bible passages. Compare Romans 3:28, 5:1 and Galatians 3:24 with James 2:24. Some see a difference between Paul (salvation is by faith alone) and James (salvation is by faith plus works). Paul dogmatically says that justification is by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), while James appears to be saying that justification is by faith plus works. This apparent problem is answered by examining what exactly James is talking about. James is refuting the belief that a person can have faith without producing any good works (James 2:17-18). James is emphasizing the point that genuine faith in Christ will produce a changed life and good works (James 2:20-26). James is not saying that justification is by faith plus works, but rather that a person who is truly justified by faith will have good works in his/her life. If a person claims to be a believer, but has no good works in his/her life, then he/she likely does not have genuine faith in Christ (James 2:14, 17, 20, 26).

Paul says the same thing in his writings. The good fruit believers should have in their lives is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Immediately after telling us that we are saved by faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul informs us that we were created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.


05/21/22


Question: "Is there power in the name of Jesus?"


Answer: Any power attributed to the name of Jesus originates in the Person of Jesus. When we “believe in Jesus’ name,” we are trusting in the finished work of the risen Christ on the cross (1 John 5:13). Jesus is not a magic word. There is nothing special about the arrangement of the letters in His name. Had Jesus not been God in the flesh who lived a perfect life, died for the sins of all who would believe, and rose again, we wouldn’t even be talking about His name. Any power that Christians access in Jesus’ name comes from true faith in who Jesus is and what He does for sinners.

There is no magical power in the name of Jesus—there is only power in Jesus Christ, Himself. By simply calling out the name of “Jesus,” one cannot expect a special power, outcome, or better standing with God. The name of Jesus is precious, however, and brimming with meaning. From Pastor Kevin DeYoung: “What about Jesus? ‘And you shall call his name Jesus,’ the angel told Joseph, ‘for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21). More than a great teacher, more than an enlightened man, more than a worker of miracles, more than a source of meaning in life, more than a self-help guru, more than a self-esteem builder, more than a political liberator, more than a caring friend, more than a transformer of cultures, more than a purpose for the purposeless, Jesus is the Savior of sinners.”

The saving, healing, protecting, justifying, redeeming power of God resides in the Person of Christ, and Jesus is His name. And how did the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator of the universe choose to wield His power? Through His Son, born in humble circumstances—a baby with all the power of the King (Luke 2:11–12). Jesus laid down His life to save sinners, and He exercised His authority to raise it up again (John 10:18) so that any who call on His name in faith can receive forgiveness of sins and salvation for all eternity (Romans 10:13). That is the resurrection power of the Savior—He alone is the force behind His name.

It is in Jesus’ name that God instructs us to pray (John 16:23–24). Believers are invited to pray in Jesus’ name with an expectation that God answers prayers (John 14:13–14). Praying in Jesus’ name means praying with His authority (Luke 10:19) and asking God the Father to act upon our prayers because we come by faith in the name of His Son, Jesus. Praying in Jesus' name means praying in line with Jesus' character and His will. Praying in Jesus’ name demonstrates our faith in God’s power to act when we believe that Jesus’ name is more than just a grouping of letters but a representation of who He actually is.

Jesus was a very common name in first-century Israel. The only thing that sets apart the name of Jesus of Nazareth is the Person it belongs to and what He did for us. In Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). But where there is no faith, no relationship, or no submission to His lordship, the name Jesus is nothing but a word.

We are wise to guard ourselves from the temptation to misuse the name of Jesus. The Bible tells the intriguing story of a group of seven Jews in Ephesus who attempted to cast out demons using the name of Jesus. These men did not know Jesus. They were not believers. Instead they sought the admiration of others and an opportunity to make names for themselves. They had not submitted to God and thus failed to cause the spirits to flee (James 4:7). Once, a demon mocked the seven exorcists, who were essentially trying to perform magic tricks using “Jesus” as their incantation of choice: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” the evil spirit taunted. Then the evil spirit empowered the man it possessed to beat the would-be magicians until they were bloody and naked (Acts 19:13–16). These seven men attempted to misuse the power in the name of Jesus for their own gain, but we serve a God who will not be manipulated and cannot be fooled (Job 12:16).

The name of Jesus, the one who saves His people from their sins, denotes all the power of the mighty Creator Himself. Jesus gives believers the authority to serve, work, and pray in His name when we do so believing in Jesus’ saving power and desiring God’s will. Jesus, with the authority of the Father, exercised power to save sinners, and His name is the only name we can call on for salvation (Acts 4:12). As adopted sons and daughters into God’s family, Christians experience God’s saving grace through faith in the Person of Jesus. When we call on Him, we participate in His power and find that “the name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).




05/12/22


Question: "What does it mean that Jesus is Lord?"


Answer: Generally speaking, a lord is someone with authority, control, or power over others; to say that someone is “lord” is to consider that person a master or ruler of some kind. In Jesus’ day the word lord was often used as a title of respect toward earthly authorities; when the leper called Jesus “Lord” in Matthew 8:2, he was showing Jesus respect as a healer and teacher (see also Matthew 8:25 and 15:25).

However, after the resurrection, the title “Lord,” as applied to Jesus, became much more than a title of honor or respect. Saying, “Jesus is Lord,” became a way of declaring Jesus’ deity. It began with Thomas’ exclamation when Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection: “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:28). From then on, the apostles’ message was that Jesus is Lord, meaning “Jesus is God.” Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost contained that theme: “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Later, in Cornelius’s house, Peter declared that Jesus is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Note how in Romans 10:9 Jesus’ lordship is linked to His resurrection: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The statement “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is God. Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). He is “our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 1:4). He is, in fact, the Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14).

Jesus referred to Himself as “Lord” many times (e.g., Luke 19:31; John 13:13). And when we compare the Old Testament with the New, we find several times when the “LORD” (Yahweh) of the Hebrew Bible is equated with the “Lord Jesus” by the apostles. For example, Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” and that passage is alluded to in 1 Peter 2:3, except there Jesus is the “Lord” who is good. Isaiah 8:13 says that “the LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy”; in 1 Peter 3:15 we are commanded, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (ESV).

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus left His exalted position in heaven and came to earth to save us. In His Incarnation, He showed us what true meekness looks like (see Matthew 11:29). Just before His arrest, Jesus used His power and authority to teach us humility: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). The last will be first, according to our Lord (Matthew 19:30).

In saying, “Jesus is Lord,” we commit ourselves to obey Him. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). An acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship is logically accompanied by a submission to Jesus’ authority. If Jesus is Lord, then He owns us; He has the right to tell us what to do.

A person who says, “Jesus is Lord,” with a full understanding of what that means (Jesus is God and has supreme authority over all things) has been divinely enlightened: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Faith in the Lord Jesus is required for salvation (Acts 16:31).

Jesus is Lord. It’s the truth, whether or not people acknowledge the fact. He is more than the Messiah, more than the Savior; He is the Lord of all. Someday, all will submit to that truth: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).




03/22/22


Question: "Do Christians have to obey the laws of the land?"


Answer: Romans 13:1-7 states, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us. God created government to establish order, punish evil, and promote justice (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Romans 12:8). We are to obey the government in everything—paying taxes, obeying rules and laws, and showing respect. If we do not, we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he was under the government of Rome during the reign of Nero, perhaps the most evil of all the Roman emperors. Paul still recognized the Roman government's rule over him. How can we do any less?

The next question is "Is there a time when we should intentionally disobey the laws of the land?" The answer to that question may be found in Acts 5:27-29, "Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.' Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!'" From this, it is clear that as long as the law of the land does not contradict the law of God, we are bound to obey the law of the land. As soon as the law of the land contradicts God's command, we are to disobey the law of the land and obey God's law. However, even in that instance, we are to accept the government's authority over us. This is demonstrated by the fact that Peter and John did not protest being flogged, but instead rejoiced that they suffered for obeying God (Acts 5:40-42).



01/09/22

10 Question: "Is the concept of a prayer journal biblical?"


Answer: A prayer journal is a written record, kept regularly, of one’s experiences in prayer. A prayer journal is often filled with written prayers, specific prayer requests, notes on when and how those requests were answered by God, and expressions of praise and thanksgiving. Due to their very nature, prayer journals are usually kept private. Prayer journaling is certainly a biblical concept.


Prayer journaling is as old as the Scriptures. Most of the psalms are “journaled” prayers set to music. David, a shepherd boy turned king, journaled his thoughts and prayers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Other psalmists, such as Asaph, Moses, and the sons of Korah, added their inspired prayers and laments, and the collection became the songs that the Israelites used in worship. Those journaled prayers have brought comfort and clarity to people through the ages who sometimes use them as their own prayers.


Psalm 3 is an example of prayer journaling. It begins with the heading “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” It goes on to journal David’s cries to the Lord for help, followed by David’s praise for God’s faithfulness:


“O LORD, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul,

‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ Selah


“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill.” Selah


Many psalms are prayers to God and express a wide array of emotions, questions, and conclusions as the writer wrestles with life situations. One reason God placed the book of Psalms in our Bible was to give us examples of the kind of prayers He honors. The prayers in Psalms are honest, heartfelt, and unsanitized. Many people think prayer must be pristine and polished in order to be holy. But the journaled prayers of the psalmists show us otherwise. They are sometimes angry and sometimes expressive of a raw, visceral reaction to life’s events—just like our prayers. Yet God wanted them in the Scriptures to show us that He can handle our deepest struggles, even our questions about whether He is paying attention. For example, one psalmist asks, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Another psalm is a cry of such despondency that Hemen, the author, journals his questions about whether the Lord even cares: “Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).


A prayer journal is an excellent way to keep our thoughts focused as we bring them to the Lord. Prayer journaling also helps document seasons of our lives and the ways in which the Lord answered and delivered us. Writing out our thoughts helps us clarify them, and, like the psalmists, we often come to good conclusions by the time we finish journaling. Even the psalms with the darkest musings usually end in praise; for example, Psalm 59 is a cry for deliverance, and it details some of the plotting and poison of David’s enemies. But this is how it ends: “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely” (Psalm 59:17).


There are many ways to pray, and all of them are accepted by God when we come to Him with a “humble and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). Whether we are breathing prayers throughout the day, kneeling in our prayer closets, or keeping a prayer journal, God hears and answers (1 John 5:15). Prayer journals are wonderful tools to remind ourselves of how God answered past prayers. When we re-read our own heartfelt cries in the past and remember how God delivered us, we are encouraged to keep praying, keep trusting, and keep journaling as a way to continue building our faith.



11 Question: "Why should our prayers be addressed to "our Father which art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9)?"


Answer: Matthew 5—7 records one of Jesus’ many discourses—this one known as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6 falls in the middle of this discourse as Jesus is addressing His disciples on the nature of the kingdom of heaven. In the middle of this chapter, Jesus provides a model for prayer in which He addresses “our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9, KJV).


Does this model provide a strict rule for whom to address in believers’ prayers? Comparing Jesus’ model prayer with other Scripture passages, this doesn't seem to be the case. Paul addresses Jesus (the Son) in prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8–9; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17). Stephen addresses Jesus in his martyr’s prayer (Acts 7:59). John addresses Jesus in his conclusion of the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:20). Many other passages also point to the fact that prayer to the Son is appropriate. Even Jesus teaches it is proper to address Him in prayer (John 14:13–14). Jesus and the Holy Spirit mediate between the believer and the Father, so it stands to reason that prayer to Jesus and the Spirit are also acceptable (1 John 2:1–2; Romans 8:26).


Jesus teaches the aptness of addressing “our Father which art in heaven.” In those first two words, our Father, we have what some consider to be the essence of Christianity: that God would graciously forgive our sin, adopt us into His family, and restore His own image in us, thus allowing us to truly be His children (see John 1:12). “It is of the essence of Christian prayer that God should be addressed as a Father to whose love we appeal, not as a God whose anger we appease” (A. Carr, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: Matthew, Cambridge University Press, 1893).


Before His model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus alludes to the Pharisees (a sect of Jewish religious leaders) who pray openly among others for the sake of their recognition and reputation (Matthew 6:1, 5). The Pharisees were guilty of being hypocrites (Matthew 6:5). The etymology of the term hypocrite points to an actor or role-player. In the case of the Pharisees, they were guilty of teaching with their words something different from their actions. They were placing the burden of the law and tradition on others while not following it themselves—part of this involved their prayer life. They prayed for the recognition of men, when they should have been praying to the Father for His recognition and interaction (Matthew 6:6).


The focus of this section of Scripture is the righteous humility of the person praying. After condemning the Pharisees for their pride and selfishness, Jesus provides a model for prayer beginning in Matthew 6:9. The Christian should not be concerned with man’s recognition regarding his prayers but focus on God’s recognition. This is the reason the model Jesus gives begins with God the Father as the one to be addressed. Jesus is not, however, giving a hard-and-fast rule that the Father is the only one to be addressed. Other passages teach that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are equally God (John 8:58; Matthew 3:16–17; Ephesians 1:3–14) and show examples of believers praying to God the Son.


The location of God in Jesus’ model prayer, namely “in heaven,” is undoubtedly an interesting study. The phrase our Father suggests that God is near to us; the next words, which art in heaven, suggest that He is far away. Both concepts are true simultaneously. Psalm 139:7–12 says that God is not only in heaven but everywhere. David claims there was no place he could go where God wasn’t because God is everywhere. The theological term for this quality of God is omnipresence.


Not only does Jesus provide us with a model for proper prayer, but He also provides the mediation (1 John 2:1–2) so that we, as people who have been forgiven, can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Let us not neglect this incredible gift and daily approach God in prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.



12 Question: "How can I have my prayers answered by God?"


Answer: Many people believe answered prayer is God granting a prayer request that is offered to Him. If a prayer request is not granted, it is understood as an "unanswered" prayer. However, this is an incorrect understanding of prayer. God answers every prayer that is lifted to Him. Sometimes God answers "no" or "wait." God only promises to grant our prayers when we ask according to His will. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us"whatever we ask"we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15).


What does it mean to pray according to God's will? Praying according to God's will is praying for things that honor and glorify God and/or praying for what the Bible clearly reveals God's will to be. If we pray for something that is not honoring to God or not God's will for our lives, God will not give what we ask for. How can we know what God's will is? God promises to give us wisdom when we ask for it. James 1:5 proclaims, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." A good place to start is 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24, which outlines many things that are God's will for us. The better we understand God's Word, the better we will know what to pray for (John 15:7). The better we know what to pray for, the more often God will answer "yes" to our requests.





01/04/22


7 Question: "Does praying Scripture have greater effectiveness than other prayers?"


Answer: Some people have found that using Bible verses in their prayers is an effective way to pray. “Praying Scripture back to God” seems to help to focus the mind and to assure that the subject matter of the prayer is pleasing to God.


James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). First John 5:14–15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” The word effectual means “sufficient to produce a desired result.” Fervent means “constant, strenuous, and intense.” James and John are both telling us that for our prayers to be effective, they must be fervent, meaningful, and in agreement with the will of God.


One way to know that our prayers are the will of God is to pray specific Scriptures that express what is in our hearts. Scripture should not be used as some kind of magic chant, repeated mindlessly as though the words themselves had power. The power of prayer comes from God alone to a heart that is “fervent.” But when we find a command or promise that expresses what is in our hearts, we know we are agreeing with God when we use it as a prayer. It is, after all, His Word. The more we memorize and meditate on the Bible, the more it becomes part of us. The truth we have studied comes to mind when we are praying and is often the answer we are seeking. Often, when we don’t know what to pray, Scripture can give us the words. The Psalms contain hundreds of prayers, and many of them have already put our thoughts into words.


Jesus gives our best example of effectual prayer. His longest recorded prayer is His “High Priestly Prayer,” found in John 17. The first thing we notice is the oneness of spirit Jesus has with the Father. He begins by saying, “Father, the hour has come.” Jesus was not telling the Father anything He did not know. Rather, Jesus was acknowledging that they were in agreement. He spent so much time in fervent prayer that He knew the heart of the Father. That is the goal of effectual prayer: to understand the heart of God and align our wills with His. Whether by using our own words or those penned two thousand years ago, the key to effective prayer is that it comes from the heart and seeks the will of God.


Praying Scripture as an act of personal dedication is a good way to know we are praying effectually. For example, we can take Galatians 2:20 and use it as a prayer of consecration. Such a prayer might sound something like this: “Father, today I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. This life I live today I will live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In praying this way, we take the heart of God and make it our goal. There is nothing magic in the words, but we can know we are praying within the will of God when we use His Word as our model.


We must be careful not to treat Scripture as though every passage was written specifically for our situation. We cannot take verses out of context simply because we want them to be true for us. For example, God promised Solomon “wealth, possessions, and honor” in 2 Chronicles 1:11–12. But we cannot pray that verse as though God had promised it to us instead. We cannot search for isolated verses that say what we want them to say and then “claim” them. There are times, however, when God impresses a certain verse on our hearts as His personal message to us, and we can and should pray about it.


If we try to apply every verse as though it directly affected our own lives, we would have problems with verses like 1 Samuel 15:3: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.” We must always read Scripture within its context and learn more about God from the principles we find. God may use that passage to speak to us about destroying the worldliness in our lives and leaving no remnant of it. In that instance, we could pray, “Lord, just as You told the Israelites to totally destroy everything that represented the evil of the Amalekites, I want to tear down any false gods in my life and leave nothing but You. Purify my heart as they purified their land.”


Effectual, fervent prayer can come from Scripture or from the depths of our own hearts. The goal as we grow is that the two become intertwined. Even on the cross in the midst of horrible suffering, Jesus cried out words from Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Many scholars believe He was quoting the entire passage as He hung on the cross, praying it back to God as an act of worship even in death. The more Scripture we learn and personalize, the more our prayers will reflect the will of God and the more effective they will be.


Question: "What sort of prayers should we pray for unbelievers?"


Answer: We can learn how to pray for unbelievers by modeling the prayers Jesus prayed. John 17 is Jesus’ longest recorded prayer and shows us how He prayed. Verse 3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” He prayed that people come to know God the Father. And the means by which they could know God is through Christ the Son (John 14:6; 3:15–18). If this was Jesus’ desire, we know we are right when we pray similarly. Any prayer that agrees with God is an effective prayer (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14).


Second Peter 3:9 also gives us a glimpse into the heart of God toward unbelievers. It says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” It is not God’s desire that anyone spend eternity away from His presence (Romans 6:23). Jesus Himself told us to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38). When we pray for repentance in the lives of unbelievers, we are in agreement with God. We can also pray for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus so that people can come to know His goodness (Galatians 6:10; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15–16). We can pray for boldness, like the apostles did, in seizing those opportunities when God makes them available (Acts 4:13, 29; Ephesians 6:19).


We can also pray that God will orchestrate whatever circumstances are necessary to turn stubborn hearts toward repentance. Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” It often takes painful circumstances to drive us to Christ. When we pray for loved ones who don’t know Jesus, it is tempting to ask God for protection and blessing. However, it is sometimes necessary to pray the opposite if that is what it takes to break the control that idolatry has on their lives. Comfort, materialism, sensuality, and addiction are false gods that keep unbelievers in bondage. Praying the will of God may require that we ask Him to remove His protection and comfort in order to drive them to the place where they must seek God. There is nothing more important for our unsaved loved ones than that they seek God and find Him.


Praying for others touches the heart of God (James 5:16). It is one way we show love for other people (1 John 4:7). Even when we are not sure how to pray, we can take comfort in the promise of Romans 8:26. God knows we don’t always know what to pray. He has sent the Holy Spirit to intercede for us so that the desires of our hearts are transported to the throne room of heaven.


Question: "What is a morning prayer? What is an evening prayer?"


Answer: Many Christians pray a morning prayer when they awake and an evening prayer before they go to bed. Christian children are often taught to “say their prayers” before they go to bed every night as a way to honor God and nurture spiritual development. In some churches, morning and evening prayers are liturgical prayers one offers to God at specific times of the day.


In biblical times, devout Jews were often at prayer and likely prayed at certain times throughout the day (Psalm 5:3; 55:17; 119:62; 147), but the tradition of setting aside three specific times for ritual prayer developed while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon and Persia. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, but the people continued to offer prayer morning, noon, and evening to coincide with what had previously been times of sacrifice at the temple (see Daniel 6, particularly verse 10).


In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church turned the tradition of prayer at specific times of day into a liturgy, setting a schedule called the Breviary. The Breviary marks specific hours of the day with prayer, each of the hours having a different title. The schedule starts with Matins (midnight) and then continues with Lauds (dawn), Prime (early morning), Terce (mid-morning), Sext (noon), None (mid-afternoon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (prior to bedtime, about 9:00 PM). These prayers are also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, the Work of God, and the canonical hours.


In 1962 Pope Paul VI set out a new Breviary at the Second Vatican Council, defining the major and minor hours. The Office of Readings (formerly Matins), Lauds, and Vespers became the major hours, with all else being minor. According to Catholicism, the two most important hours are the morning and evening prayers. The morning prayer includes a reading based on Luke 1:68–79 (the Benedictus), and the evening prayer contains a reading based on Luke 1:46–55 (the Magnificat). Both hours also include various psalms, hymns, and other readings.


Several churches use morning and evening prayers today, including Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran. Morning prayers are meant for praise, while evening prayers are set aside for thanksgiving. When said in a congregation, morning and evening prayers follow a specific liturgy that includes prayer, hymns, and Scripture readings. The prayers themselves are memorized or read and are most often spoken in a call-and-response format between a leader and congregation. Some churches also encourage individuals to pray morning and evening prayers; many examples of these prescribed prayers can be found online.


While morning and evening prayers can be meaningful, there is no biblical requirement on when to pray, and there is no substitute for prayers that come from the heart. A liturgy may be helpful insofar as it contains Scripture, and many believers may find that a regimen of scheduled prayer aids their growth in Christ. But a liturgy, with its prescribed recitations and stipulated schedule, cannot replace a personal relationship with Christ. God wants to hear from each of us as individuals—our thanksgiving (1 Chronicles 16:34), praise (1 Chronicles 16:28), confession (1 John 1:9), and requests (Philippians 4:6). Prayer must not be relegated to just morning and evening, but we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). There is nothing wrong with praying a morning and evening prayer, but personalized prayer throughout the day is more important than ritual and liturgy.




01/02/22


Question: "Does God answer prayers?"


Answer: The short answer to this question is, “Yes!” God has promised that, when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will for our lives, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14–15). However, there is one caveat to add to this: we may not always like the answer.


We pray for a lot of things—some good, some bad, some really pointless. But God listens to all of our prayers, regardless of what we ask (Matthew 7:7). He does not ignore His children (Luke 18:1–8). When we talk to Him, He has promised to listen and respond (Matthew 6:6; Romans 8:26–27). His answer may be some variation of “yes” or “no” or “wait, not now.”


Keep in mind that prayer is not our way of getting God to do what we want. Our prayers should be focused on things that honor and glorify God and reflect what the Bible clearly reveals God’s will to be (Luke 11:2). If we pray for something that dishonors God or is not His will for us, He is unlikely to give what we ask for. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own, and we must trust that His answers to our prayers are the best possible solutions.


Does God answer prayers? – When God says “yes.”


In the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, Hannah prays and asks God to give her a baby. She had been unable to conceive which, in biblical times, was considered a mark of shame for a woman. Hannah prayed fervently—so fervently that a priest who saw her praying thought she was drunk. But God heard Hannah, and He allowed her to give birth to a child.


Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). If you have prayed specifically for something and God has granted it to you, then you can be assured that it is His will. Nothing happens without God allowing it to happen (Romans 8:28).


Does God answer prayers? – When God says “no.”


In John 11, Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal their dying brother, yet Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. Why did He say “no” to these grieving women who loved Him so much? Because He had greater things planned for Lazarus, things that no one could possibly have imagined.


“No” is one of the hardest answers we can receive. But, once again, it is important to remember that God is all-knowing and is aware of the entire timeline of history. He knows every possible outcome of every possible choice in every possible situation; we do not. He sees the “big picture”; we see a partial brushstroke. Proverbs 3:5 says to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” When we get a “no” answer, we must trust that whatever we asked for was not God’s will.


Does God answer prayers? – When God says “wait, not now.”


Sometimes hearing “wait” is even harder than hearing “no” because it means we have to be patient (Romans 8:25). While waiting is difficult, we can be thankful God is in control and trust that His timing will be perfect (Romans 12:12; Psalm 37:7—9).


God wants the best for your life. He does not want you to suffer needlessly. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Be patient and know that He is your loving Father (Psalm 46:10).


Abide by Philippians 4:6 as you make your requests to God: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Then, when God responds, be prepared to accept His wisdom—whether or not you agree with His answer.


Question: "What can we learn from the prayers that Jesus prayed?"


Answer: The prayers Jesus prayed give us insight into His nature, His heart, and His mission on earth. The prayers of Jesus also inform and encourage us in our own prayer lives. Far more important than where He prayed, when He prayed, and in what position He prayed is the fact that He prayed. The theme of His prayers is instructive for all of us.


Prayer was an integral part of Jesus’ time on earth, and He prayed regularly: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). If the Son incarnate found it necessary to commune with the Father frequently, how much more do we need to do so? Jesus faced persecution, trials, heartache, and physical suffering. Without regular and continual access to the throne of God, He would surely have found those events unbearable. In the same way, Christians must never neglect to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).


What is often called “The Lord’s Prayer” is actually a teaching tool of Christ as part of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9–13). In this model prayer, Jesus teaches us to approach God as “our Father”; to hallow God’s name; to pray for God’s will; and to ask for daily provision, forgiveness, and spiritual protection.


In addition to His regular times of prayer, Jesus prayed at some important events in His life: He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21–22); before feeding the 5,000 (Luke 9:16) and the 4,000 (Matthew 15:36); and at the moment of His transfiguration (Luke 9:29). Before Jesus chose His twelve disciples, He “spent the night praying to God” on a mountainside (Luke 6:12). Jesus prayed at the return of the 72 disciples: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do’” (Luke 10:21).


Jesus prayed at Lazarus’ tomb. As they rolled away the stone from His friend’s tomb, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41–42). This is a good example of prayer prayed in the hearing of others for the sake of the hearers.


In Jerusalem the week of His arrest, Jesus predicted His soon-to-come death. As He spoke of His coming sacrifice, Jesus prayed a very short prayer: “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28). In response to Jesus’ prayer, a voice from heaven said, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”


Spending a last few minutes with His disciples on the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed an extended prayer known today as His “high priestly prayer” (John 17) on behalf of His own, those given to Him by the Father (verse 6). In this prayer, Jesus is the Intercessor for His children (cf. Hebrews 7:25). He prays “not . . . for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (verse 9). He prays that they would have His joy (verse 13) and that God would keep them from the evil one (verse 15). He prays for His own to be sanctified by the truth, which is the Word of God (verse 17), and to be unified in that truth (verses 21–23). In the John 17 prayer, Jesus looks to the future and includes all those who would ever believe in Him (verse 20). 


Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest (Matthew 26:36–46). He had asked His disciples to pray with Him, but they fell asleep instead. Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden is a model of submission and sacrifice: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (verse 39). Three times Jesus prayed this.


Jesus even prayed from the cross, in the midst of His agony. His first prayer echoes Psalm 22:1 and expresses His deep distress: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46). Jesus also prayed for the forgiveness of those who were torturing Him to death: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In His final breath, Jesus continued to express His faith in God: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).


Several themes are apparent in Jesus’ prayers. One is the giving of thanks to the Father. Praise was a regular part of Jesus’ prayers. Another theme is His communion with the Father; His relationship with His heavenly Father naturally resulted in His desire to spend communicating time with Him. The third theme in Jesus’ prayers is His submission to the Father. Our Lord’s prayers were always in accordance with God’s will.


Just as Jesus gave thanks, we should in all things pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6–7). As God’s adopted children, we should naturally desire to talk to God (Ephesians 3:12). And in everything we should seek the Lord’s will above our own. Jesus prayed in a variety of settings, public and private. He prayed in times of joy and times of sorrow. He prayed for Himself, and He prayed for others. He prayed to express thanks, to petition for needs, and to commune with His Father. Jesus set the example of how we should trust God, submit to God, and seek fellowship with God.


To this day, Jesus continues to pray for His own from His exalted position in heaven at the right hand of God. Scripture says He makes intercession for those who belong to Him (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). It is significant that, at Jesus’ ascension, He was taken away from His disciples into heaven “while he was blessing them” (Luke 24:51). That blessing has never stopped. Jesus will continue to bless those who come to God through faith in Christ until He comes again.


Question: "Does God hear / answer the prayers of a sinner / unbeliever?"


Answer: John 9:31 declares, "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will." It has also been said that "the only prayer that God hears from a sinner is the prayer for salvation." As a result, some believe that God does not hear and/or will never answer the prayers of an unbeliever. In context, though, John 9:31 is saying that God does not perform miracles through an unbeliever. First John 5:14-15 tells us that God answers prayers based on whether they are asked according to His will. This principle, perhaps, applies to unbelievers. If an unbeliever asks a prayer of God that is according to His will, nothing prevents God from answering such a prayer"according to His will.


Some Scriptures describe God hearing and answering the prayers of unbelievers. In most of these cases, prayer was involved. In one or two, God responded to the cry of the heart (it is not stated whether that cry was directed toward God). In some of these cases, the prayer seems to be combined with repentance. But in other cases, the prayer was simply for an earthly need or blessing, and God responded either out of compassion or in response to the genuine seeking or the faith of the person. Here are some passages dealing with prayer by an unbeliever:


The people of Nineveh prayed that Nineveh might be spared (Jonah 3:5-10). God answered this prayer and did not destroy the city of Nineveh as He had threatened.


Hagar asked God to protect her son Ishmael (Genesis 21:14-19). God not only protected Ishmael, God blessed him exceedingly.


In 1 Kings 21:17-29, especially verses 27-29, Ahab fasts and mourns over Elijah's prophecy concerning his posterity. God responds by not bringing about the calamity in Ahab's time.


The Gentile woman from the Tyre and Sidon area prayed that Jesus would deliver her daughter from a demon (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus cast the demon out of the woman's daughter.


Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10, had the apostle Peter sent to him in response to Cornelius being a righteous man. Acts 10:2 tells us that Cornelius "prayed to God regularly." 


God does make promises that are applicable to all (saved and unsaved alike) such as Jeremiah 29:13: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." This was the case for Cornelius in Acts 10:1-6. But there are many promises that, according to the context of the passages, are for Christians alone. Because Christians have received Jesus as the Savior, they are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). We are told that when we ask for anything according to God's will, He hears and gives us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). There are many other promises for Christians concerning prayer (Matthew 21:22; John 14:13, 15:7). So, yes, there are instances in which God does not answer the prayers of an unbeliever. At the same time, in His grace and mercy, God can intervene in the lives of unbelievers in response to their prayers.




12/29/21

Question: "What are the prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8?"

Answer: The scene in Revelation 5 is John’s vision of heaven’s throne room. When the Lamb had taken the scroll of God’s judgment into His own hand, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (verse 8). Revelation is the most symbolic book in the Bible, and in this passage the “prayers of the saints” are symbolized as golden bowls of incense, held by twenty-four elders. Of course, the more symbolic something is, the more its interpretations can vary, but it’s important to understand what these prayers of the saints are—and what they are not.


God established incense as a part of the sacerdotal system (and therefore as symbolism) in Exodus 30:1–10 when Moses was told to build the altar of incense. The prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8, especially as represented by incense in the context of temple imagery, should be understood to take the role of incense in the temple, which was to offer up a sweet aroma to God and to symbolize prayer. The prayers of the righteous are pleasing to Him. Psalm 141:2 describes this aspect of prayer perfectly: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).


Prayer is linked to the incense in the temple in other passages, as well. When Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple and tells him that his prayers have been answered, Gabriel is “standing at the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11). This happened when “the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense” (verse 10).


There are certainly different types of prayers. Prayers of supplication are the type most people are familiar with, because that’s the type where we ask God for help! But there are other types, too, like the prayers of imprecation (Psalm 55:1:15) and prayers of intercession (Luke 23:34). The fact that the “prayers of the saints” in Revelation 5:8 are not identified by type or in detail—and that they are together in an incense bowl—indicates that we should consider them collectively. God considers prayer-at-large as incense—a sweet aroma to Him.


The fact that these are prayers “of the saints” in Revelation 5:8 indicates that God hears the prayers of His people. Psalm 65:2 addresses God as “You who answer prayer.” Our Lord “hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29), which is another way of saying that He listens to the prayers of the saints. The “saints” in Revelation 5:8 are not an elite class of people who are more holy than the rest; they are not mediators of our prayers (see 1 Timothy 2:5), and they do not ask us to pray to them. The term saint in Scripture implies parity, not hierarchy. We are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). The saints are all believers in Jesus, living or dead, saved by grace through faith. The church is “loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7, ESV), and, when we pray, it’s as if a golden bowl of incense is being carried to the very throne of God in heaven.


Whom are these prayers of the saints for in Revelation 5:8? Since these prayers are the aggregate of all believers’ prayers through all time, they are about everybody and about everything that is consistent with God’s will. If you pray for somebody’s salvation, that prayer is in the bowl. If you pray for the safety and relief of people after a natural disaster, that prayer is in the bowl. If you pray that God would conform you into the image of Jesus Christ, that prayer is in the bowl. Such prayers are well-pleasing to Him.


Does Revelation 5:8 lend credence to the tradition of praying for the dead? Not at all. The dead have already sealed their fate, for good or for evil (see Luke 16:19–31). There is no post-mortem plan of salvation. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). After death, a person faces judgment, not further opportunity (Hebrews 9:27). So, if you pray that God would save or relieve someone who has already died, that prayer would not be in the bowl. Such prayers are futile.


In Revelation 5, God’s plan is near to being accomplished. The judgment of the wicked world is about to commence, and the ultimate redemption of God’s people is about to be realized. The living creatures and elders sing a hymn of praise to the Lamb: “With your blood you purchased for God / persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. / You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, / and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9&ndash10). The golden vessels full of incense are proffered to God, whose word will stand, whose will is accomplished, and who will pronounce the final “Amen!” to the prayers of the saints.


Question: "Is it wrong to pray written prayers?"


Answer: There is nothing inherently wrong with reading or reciting a pre-written prayer—as long as the prayer doesn’t contradict Scripture. Writing down a prayer before delivering it publicly can aid a speaker in saying exactly what he or she means to say, lessening the possibility of distractions due to poor wording or mental lapses. Even if the prayer is written by someone else, reading it as one’s own prayer to God is not wrong, per se. God is most interested in the condition of our hearts when we pray: are we focused on Him instead of on ourselves? Are we using prayer as a means of talking to Him and fellowshipping with Him?


Jesus encourages us to cry out to God day and night (Luke 18:7), to pray with humility (Luke 18:9–14), and to ask for things that glorify God so that we can experience His joy (John 16:24). The psalmist said, “Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). The point of prayer is to develop a closer relationship with God, to rely on Him more, and to submit to His will. He wants us to be intertwined with Him; connected like branches are to a vine: “Abide in Me,” Jesus says (John 15:4). As we learn more about God’s character and fall more in love with Him, our prayers become more heartfelt and natural. God isn’t concerned about the words we use when we pray; He’s not looking for eloquence. A prayer can be as simple as Peter’s cry to Jesus when he was sinking in the sea: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).


Scripture contains many written prayers, and many people have found it helpful to pray some of those inspired prayers back to God as their own personal prayers. There is nothing wrong with this. Often, when we don’t know what to pray, Scripture can give us the words. The book of Psalms contains hundreds of prayers, and many of them have already put our thoughts into words. When a believer is under spiritual attack, for example, he might pray the words of Psalm 70. The goal is to pray specific Scriptures that express what is in our hearts.


Jesus taught His disciples a model prayer that’s recorded in Scripture (see Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4). At churches of various denominations, pastors lead congregations in reciting the Lord’s Prayer together, and there’s nothing objectionable about this. When a group of people have learned a prayer and recite it together, they develop a sense of unity and fellowship, which is pleasing to God. But, ultimately, the Lord’s Prayer was intended as a pattern for our prayers rather than something to regularly recite to God.


Singing a song to the Lord can also be a form of praying a pre-written prayer. Many of the old hymns are addressed to the Lord: “Cleanse Me,” “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and “Thank You, Lord” serve as prayers in their own right. Many modern songs do the same: “Blessed Be Your Name,” “Awesome God,” and “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” are some examples.


One concern with praying a pre-written prayer is that we can run through the words unthinkingly. Praying prayers by rote is not usually beneficial to the one offering the prayer, and it runs the risk of becoming “meaningless repetition” (Matthew 6:7, NASB). Praying prayers written by other people can be a helpful tool in oratory, but it carries the danger of being impersonal. John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent twelve years in prison because he refused to use the Book of Common Prayer in his church, believing that such pre-written prayers were unbiblical insofar as they were used as a substitute for people’s own prayers from the heart: “He that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taught of other men’s prayers, as that he cannot pray without them” (A Discourse Touching Prayer, 1663). “In prayer,” said Bunyan, “it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.”


The bottom line? Pray to connect your heart with God’s. If that involves praying pre-written prayers on occasion, use that tool. Guard against using written prayers as a replacement for your own heartfelt communication with God. And keep the conversation between you and God going (1 Thessalonians 5:17).


Question: "Does God hear my prayers?"


Answer: God hears everything, including prayers. He is God. Nothing gets by Him (Psalm 139:1–4). He is sovereign over everything He created (Isaiah 46:9–11). So the question is not whether God is aware of every prayer (He is), but whether God is tuning in to our prayers with an intent to answer them.


God wants us to pray. He has created prayer as a means by which we can enjoy Him (Revelation 3:20), confess our sin (1 John 1:9), ask Him to meet our needs (Psalm 50:15), and align our wills with His (Jeremiah 29:11–12; Luke 22:42). One kind of prayer is guaranteed to be granted. Luke 18:13–14 describes the prayer of repentance. When we call upon the Lord in humble repentance, He is eager to justify and forgive us.


However, when considering prayer, it is important to remember that most promises of God in Scripture were written to His people. In the Old Testament, those promises were for Israel and all who united with them. In the New Testament, those promises were written to the followers of Jesus. It is a misuse of Scripture to pull out isolated verses and try to apply them to any situation we want, including prayer. Even though the Lord knows and hears all, He has given some circumstances in which He will not listen to our prayers:


1. When we are choosing to hold on to sin, rather than repent and change, God will not hear our prayers. In Isaiah 1:15, the Lord says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” Proverbs 28:9 says, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”

Example: A young couple are living together in sexual sin, yet they pray for God’s blessing on their home.


2. When we ask according to our own selfish desires, God will not hear our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Example: A man is dissatisfied with his three-year-old Toyota, so he prays for a brand-new Mercedes.


3. When what we ask is not in accordance with His will for us. First John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

Example: We pray fervently for a new job, but God’s plan requires that we stay where we are and be a witness to our coworkers.


4. When we do not ask in faith. In Mark 11:24 Jesus said, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” However, faith is not believing for something; it is believing in Someone. Our faith is in the character of God and His desire to bless and comfort us. When we pray, we should have faith that He hears us and will grant every request that is in line with His will for us (1 John 5:14–15).

Example: We ask God to supply a financial need but continue to worry and make faithless comments to our families and coworkers, such as “I’m probably going to go to the poorhouse. I’ll never get that money.”


God is holy and desires us to be holy as He is (Leviticus 22:32; 1 Peter 1:16). When He knows that we are seeking that holiness as well, He is delighted to answer our prayers in ways that continue our spiritual growth. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The secret to prayer is abiding in Christ so that whatever we ask is in accordance with His heart (Psalm 37:4). Only then can we have the confidence that God does hear our prayers with an intent to answer them.




12/01/21

Question: "Why do we end our prayers with 'Amen'?"


Answer: The Hebrew word translated “amen” literally means “truly” or “so be it.” “Amen” is also found in the Greek New Testament and has the same meaning. Nearly half of the Old Testament uses of amen are found in the book of Deuteronomy. In each case, the people are responding to curses pronounced by God on various sins. Each pronouncement is followed by the words “and all the people shall say Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:15-26). This indicates that the people applauded the righteous sentence handed down by their holy God, responding, "So let it be." The amen attested to the conviction of the hearers that the sentences which they heard were true, just, and certain.


Seven of the Old Testament references link amen with praise. The sentence “Then all the people said ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the LORD,’” found in 1 Chronicles 16:36, typifies the connection between amen and praise. In Nehemiah 5:13 and 8:6, the people of Israel affirm Ezra’s exalting of God by worshiping the Lord and obeying Him. The highest expression of praise to God is obedience, and when we say “amen” to His commands and pronouncements, our praise is sweet music to His ears.


The New Testament writers all use “amen” at the end of their epistles. The apostle John uses it at the end of his gospel, his three letters, and the book of Revelation, where it appears nine times. Each time it is connected with praising and glorifying God and referring to the second coming and the end of the age. Paul says “amen” to the blessings he pronounces on all the churches in his letters to them, as do Peter, John and Jude in their letters. The implication is that they are saying, “May it be that the Lord will truly grant these blessings upon you.”


When Christians say “amen” at the end of our prayers, we are following the model of the apostles, asking God to “please let it be as we have prayed.” Remembering the connection between amen and the praise of obedience, all prayers should be prayed according to the will of God. Then when we say “amen,” we can be confident that God will respond “so be it” and grant our requests (John 14:13; 1 John 5:14).



Question: "Why should our prayers be addressed to "our Father which art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9)?"


Answer: Matthew 5—7 records one of Jesus’ many discourses—this one known as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6 falls in the middle of this discourse as Jesus is addressing His disciples on the nature of the kingdom of heaven. In the middle of this chapter, Jesus provides a model for prayer in which He addresses “our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9, KJV).


Does this model provide a strict rule for whom to address in believers’ prayers? Comparing Jesus’ model prayer with other Scripture passages, this doesn't seem to be the case. Paul addresses Jesus (the Son) in prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8–9; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17). Stephen addresses Jesus in his martyr’s prayer (Acts 7:59). John addresses Jesus in his conclusion of the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:20). Many other passages also point to the fact that prayer to the Son is appropriate. Even Jesus teaches it is proper to address Him in prayer (John 14:13–14). Jesus and the Holy Spirit mediate between the believer and the Father, so it stands to reason that prayer to Jesus and the Spirit are also acceptable (1 John 2:1–2; Romans 8:26).


Jesus teaches the aptness of addressing “our Father which art in heaven.” In those first two words, our Father, we have what some consider to be the essence of Christianity: that God would graciously forgive our sin, adopt us into His family, and restore His own image in us, thus allowing us to truly be His children (see John 1:12). “It is of the essence of Christian prayer that God should be addressed as a Father to whose love we appeal, not as a God whose anger we appease” (A. Carr, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: Matthew, Cambridge University Press, 1893).


Before His model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus alludes to the Pharisees (a sect of Jewish religious leaders) who pray openly among others for the sake of their recognition and reputation (Matthew 6:1, 5). The Pharisees were guilty of being hypocrites (Matthew 6:5). The etymology of the term hypocrite points to an actor or role-player. In the case of the Pharisees, they were guilty of teaching with their words something different from their actions. They were placing the burden of the law and tradition on others while not following it themselves—part of this involved their prayer life. They prayed for the recognition of men, when they should have been praying to the Father for His recognition and interaction (Matthew 6:6).


The focus of this section of Scripture is the righteous humility of the person praying. After condemning the Pharisees for their pride and selfishness, Jesus provides a model for prayer beginning in Matthew 6:9. The Christian should not be concerned with man’s recognition regarding his prayers but focus on God’s recognition. This is the reason the model Jesus gives begins with God the Father as the one to be addressed. Jesus is not, however, giving a hard-and-fast rule that the Father is the only one to be addressed. Other passages teach that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are equally God (John 8:58; Matthew 3:16–17; Ephesians 1:3–14) and show examples of believers praying to God the Son.


The location of God in Jesus’ model prayer, namely “in heaven,” is undoubtedly an interesting study. The phrase our Father suggests that God is near to us; the next words, which art in heaven, suggest that He is far away. Both concepts are true simultaneously. Psalm 139:7–12 says that God is not only in heaven but everywhere. David claims there was no place he could go where God wasn’t because God is everywhere. The theological term for this quality of God is omnipresence.


Not only does Jesus provide us with a model for proper prayer, but He also provides the mediation (1 John 2:1–2) so that we, as people who have been forgiven, can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Let us not neglect this incredible gift and daily approach God in prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.




11/21/21

Question: "To whom are we to pray, the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?"

Answer: All prayer should be directed to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible allows for prayer to one or all three, because all three are one. To the Father we pray with the psalmist, “Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray” (Psalm 5:2). To the Lord Jesus, we pray as to the Father because they are equal. Prayer to one member of the Trinity is prayer to all. Stephen, as he was being martyred, prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). We are also to pray in the name of Christ. Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to always give “thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Jesus assured His disciples that whatever they asked in His name—meaning in His will—would be granted (John 15:16; 16:23).


We are told to pray in the Spirit and in His power. The Spirit helps us to pray, even when we do not know how or what to ask for (Romans 8:26; Jude 20). Perhaps the best way to understand the role of the Trinity in prayer is that we pray to the Father, through (or in the name of) the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All three are active participants in the believer’s prayer. 


Equally important is whom we are not to pray to. Some non-Christian religions encourage their adherents to pray to a pantheon of gods, dead relatives, saints, and spirits. Roman Catholics are taught to pray to Mary and various saints. Such prayers are not scriptural and are, in fact, an insult to our heavenly Father. To understand why, we need only look at the nature of prayer. Prayer has several elements, and if we look at just two of them—praise and thanksgiving—we can see that prayer is, at its very core, worship. When we praise God, we are worshiping Him for His attributes and His work in our lives. When we offer prayers of thanksgiving, we are worshiping His goodness, mercy, and loving-kindness to us. Worship gives glory to God, the only One who deserves to be glorified. The problem with praying to anyone other than God is that He will not share His glory. In fact, praying to anyone or anything other than God is idolatry. “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8).


Other elements of prayer such as repentance, confession, and petition are also forms of worship. We repent knowing that God is a forgiving and loving God and He has provided a means of forgiveness in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. We confess our sins because we know “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) and we worship Him for it. We come to Him with our petitions and intercessions because we know He loves us and hears us, and we worship Him for His mercy and kindness in being willing to hear and answer. When we consider all this, it is easy to see that praying to someone other than our triune God is unthinkable because prayer is a form of worship, and worship is reserved for God and God alone. Whom are we to pray to? The answer is God. Praying to God, and God alone, is far more important than to which Person of the Trinity we address our prayers.



Question: "Does God hear my prayers?"


Answer: God hears everything, including prayers. He is God. Nothing gets by Him (Psalm 139:1–4). He is sovereign over everything He created (Isaiah 46:9–11). So the question is not whether God is aware of every prayer (He is), but whether God is tuning in to our prayers with an intent to answer them.


God wants us to pray. He has created prayer as a means by which we can enjoy Him (Revelation 3:20), confess our sin (1 John 1:9), ask Him to meet our needs (Psalm 50:15), and align our wills with His (Jeremiah 29:11–12; Luke 22:42). One kind of prayer is guaranteed to be granted. Luke 18:13–14 describes the prayer of repentance. When we call upon the Lord in humble repentance, He is eager to justify and forgive us.


However, when considering prayer, it is important to remember that most promises of God in Scripture were written to His people. In the Old Testament, those promises were for Israel and all who united with them. In the New Testament, those promises were written to the followers of Jesus. It is a misuse of Scripture to pull out isolated verses and try to apply them to any situation we want, including prayer. Even though the Lord knows and hears all, He has given some circumstances in which He will not listen to our prayers:


1. When we are choosing to hold on to sin, rather than repent and change, God will not hear our prayers. In Isaiah 1:15, the Lord says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” Proverbs 28:9 says, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”

Example: A young couple are living together in sexual sin, yet they pray for God’s blessing on their home.


2. When we ask according to our own selfish desires, God will not hear our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Example: A man is dissatisfied with his three-year-old Toyota, so he prays for a brand-new Mercedes.


3. When what we ask is not in accordance with His will for us. First John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

Example: We pray fervently for a new job, but God’s plan requires that we stay where we are and be a witness to our coworkers.


4. When we do not ask in faith. In Mark 11:24 Jesus said, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” However, faith is not believing for something; it is believing in Someone. Our faith is in the character of God and His desire to bless and comfort us. When we pray, we should have faith that He hears us and will grant every request that is in line with His will for us (1 John 5:14–15).

Example: We ask God to supply a financial need but continue to worry and make faithless comments to our families and coworkers, such as “I’m probably going to go to the poorhouse. I’ll never get that money.”


God is holy and desires us to be holy as He is (Leviticus 22:32; 1 Peter 1:16). When He knows that we are seeking that holiness as well, He is delighted to answer our prayers in ways that continue our spiritual growth. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The secret to prayer is abiding in Christ so that whatever we ask is in accordance with His heart (Psalm 37:4). Only then can we have the confidence that God does hear our prayers with an intent to answer them.



Question: "Are there any conditions to answered prayer?"


Answer: Some people would like prayer with no conditions. They wish God to be a celestial genie who, when summoned by prayer, must grant any request they make. They find a measure of encouragement in the fable of Aladdin and his lamp, aspiring to that level of control over God’s power in their prayer life. But the biblical fact is that prayer has conditions. It’s true that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). But, even in that statement, we have one condition to prayer: faith. As we examine the Bible, we find that there are other conditions to prayer, as well.


Here are ten biblical instructions concerning prayer that imply conditions to prayer:


1) Pray to the Heavenly Father (see Matthew 6:9). This condition to prayer might seem obvious, but it’s important. We don’t pray to false gods, to ourselves, to angels, to Buddha, or to the Virgin Mary. We pray to the God of the Bible, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit indwells us. Coming to Him as our “Father” implies that we are first His children—made so by faith in Christ (see John 1:12).


2) Pray for good things (see Matthew 7:11). We don’t always understand or recognize what is good, but God knows, and He is eager to give His children what is best for them. Paul prayed three times to be healed of an affliction, and each time God said, “No.” Why would a loving God refuse to heal Paul? Because God had something better for him, namely, a life lived by grace. Paul stopped praying for healing and began to rejoice in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).


3) Pray for needful things (see Philippians 4:19). Placing a priority on God’s kingdom is one of the conditions to prayer (Matthew 6:33). The promise is that God will supply all our needs, not all our wants. There is a difference.


4) Pray from a righteous heart (see James 5:16). The Bible speaks of having a clean conscience as a condition to answered prayer (Hebrews 10:22). It is important that we keep our sins confessed to the Lord. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18, NAS).


5) Pray from a grateful heart (see Philippians 4:6). Part of prayer is an attitude of thanksgiving.


6) Pray according to the will of God (see 1 John 5:14). An important condition to prayer is that it is prayed within the will of God. Jesus prayed this way all the time, even in Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We can pray all we want, with great sincerity and faith, for XYZ, but, if God’s will is ABC, we pray amiss.


7) Pray in the authority of Jesus Christ (see John 16:24). Jesus is the reason we are able to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19–22), and He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). A condition to prayer is that we pray in His name.


8) Pray persistently (see Luke 18:1). In fact, pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). One of the conditions to effective prayer is that we don’t give up.


9) Pray unselfishly (see James 4:3). Our motives are important.


10) Pray in faith (see James 1:6). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), who alone can do the impossible (Luke 1:37). Without faith, why pray?


Joshua’s prayer for the sun to stand still, as audacious as that request was, met all these conditions of prayer (Joshua 10:12–14). Elijah’s prayer for rain to be withheld—and his later prayer that rain would fall—met all of these conditions (James 5:17–18). Jesus’ prayer as He stood before the tomb of Lazarus met all of these conditions (John 11:41). They all prayed to God, according to His will, for good and necessary things, in faith.


The examples of Joshua, Elijah, and Jesus teach us that, when our prayers line up with God’s sovereign will, wonderful things will happen. There’s no need to be abashed by mountains, for they can move (Mark 11:23). The struggle we face is in getting our prayers lined up with God’s will, having our desires match His. Congruency between God’s will and our own is the goal. We want exactly what He wants; nothing more, nothing less. And we don’t want anything that He doesn’twant.


Godly, effective prayer has conditions, and God invites us to pray. When can we pray big? When we believe God wants something big. When can we pray audaciously? When we believe God wants something audacious. When should we pray? All the time.




11/25/21

GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT


Question: "Who is the Holy Spirit?"


Answer: There are many misconceptions about the identity of the Holy Spirit. Some view the Holy Spirit as a mystical force. Others understand the Holy Spirit as the impersonal power that God makes available to followers of Christ. What does the Bible say about the identity of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Bible declares that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a being with a mind, emotions, and a will.


The fact that the Holy Spirit is God is clearly seen in many Scriptures, including Acts 5:3-4. In this verse Peter confronts Ananias as to why he lied to the Holy Spirit and tells him that he had "not lied to men but to God." It is a clear declaration that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. We can also know that the Holy Spirit is God because He possesses the characteristics of God. For example, His omnipresence is seen in Psalm 139:7-8, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." Then in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, we see the characteristic of omniscience in the Holy Spirit. "But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."


We can know that the Holy Spirit is indeed a divine person because He possesses a mind, emotions, and a will. The Holy Spirit thinks and knows (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). He makes decisions according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). The Holy Spirit is God, the third Person of the Trinity. As God, the Holy Spirit can truly function as the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus promised He would be (John 14:16, 26, 15:26).



Question: "Is the Holy Spirit God?"


Answer: The short answer to this question is, yes, the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible is fully God. Along with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ), God the Spirit is the third member of the Godhead or the Trinity.


Those who challenge the idea that the Holy Spirit is God suggest that the Holy Spirit may simply be an impersonal force of some kind, a source of power controlled by God but not fully a person Himself. Others suggest that perhaps the Holy Spirit is just another name for Jesus, in spirit form, apart from His body.


Neither of these ideas lines up with what the Bible actually says about the Holy Spirit, though. The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a person who has been present with the Father and the Son since before time began. The Spirit is integral to all of the things that God is described as doing in the Bible.


The Spirit of God was present at and involved in the creation (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 33:6). The Holy Spirit moved the prophets of God with the words of God (2 Peter 1:21). The bodies of those in Christ are described as temples of God because the Holy Spirit is in us (1 Corinthians 6:19). Jesus was clear that to be “born again,” to become a Christian, one must be born “of the Spirit” (John 3:5).


One of the most convincing statements in the Bible about the Holy Spirit being God is found in Acts 5. When Ananias lied about the price of a piece of property, Peter said that Satan had filled Ananias’s heart to “lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3) and concluded by saying that Ananias had “lied to God” (verse 4). Peter’s words equate the Holy Spirit with God; he spoke as if the Spirit and God were one and the same.


Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Helper, was different from Himself. The Father would send the Helper, the Spirit of truth, after Christ departed. The Spirit would speak through them about Jesus (John 14:25–26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15). All three Persons Jesus mentions are God while being distinct from each other within the Trinity.


The three members of the Trinity show up, together yet distinct, at Jesus’ baptism. As Jesus comes up from the water, the Spirit descends on Him like a dove while the voice of the Father is heard from heaven saying that He is pleased with His beloved Son (Mark 1:10–11).


Finally, the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a person, not a mere force. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He has a will (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). He uses His mind to search the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). And He has fellowship with believers (2 Corinthians 13:14). Clearly, the Spirit is a person, just as the Father and the Son are persons.


Indeed, the Bible is unequivocal that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, God, just as Jesus Christ and the Father are God.


Question: "What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?"


Answer: The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain. God is infinitely greater than we are; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him. The Bible teaches that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also teaches that there is only one God. Though we can understand some facts about the relationship of the different Persons of the Trinity to one another, ultimately, it is incomprehensible to the human mind. However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the teachings of the Bible.


The Trinity is one God existing in three Persons. Understand that this is not in any way suggesting three Gods. Keep in mind when studying this subject that the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture. This is a term that is used to attempt to describe the triune God—three coexistent, co-eternal Persons who are God. Of real importance is that the concept represented by the word “Trinity” does exist in Scripture. The following is what God’s Word says about the Trinity:


1) There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5).


2) The Trinity consists of three Persons (Genesis 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8, 48:16, 61:1; Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). In Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew plural noun "Elohim" is used. In Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8, the plural pronoun for “us” is used. The word "Elohim" and the pronoun “us” are plural forms, definitely referring in the Hebrew language to more than two. While this is not an explicit argument for the Trinity, it does denote the aspect of plurality in God. The Hebrew word for "God," "Elohim," definitely allows for the Trinity.


In Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1, the Son is speaking while making reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Compare Isaiah 61:1 to Luke 4:14-19 to see that it is the Son speaking. Matthew 3:16-17 describes the event of Jesus' baptism. Seen in this passage is God the Holy Spirit descending on God the Son while God the Father proclaims His pleasure in the Son. Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 are examples of three distinct Persons in the Trinity.


3) The members of the Trinity are distinguished one from another in various passages. In the Old Testament, “LORD” is distinguished from “Lord” (Genesis 19:24; Hosea 1:4). The LORD has a Son (Psalm 2:7, 12; Proverbs 30:2-4). The Spirit is distinguished from the “LORD” (Numbers 27:18) and from “God” (Psalm 51:10-12). God the Son is distinguished from God the Father (Psalm 45:6-7; Hebrews 1:8-9). In the New Testament, Jesus speaks to the Father about sending a Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). This shows that Jesus did not consider Himself to be the Father or the Holy Spirit. Consider also all the other times in the Gospels where Jesus speaks to the Father. Was He speaking to Himself? No. He spoke to another Person in the Trinity—the Father.


4) Each member of the Trinity is God. The Father is God (John 6:27; Romans 1:7; 1 Peter 1:2). The Son is God (John 1:1, 14; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 3:16).


5) There is subordination within the Trinity. Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son, and the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is an internal relationship and does not deny the deity of any Person of the Trinity. This is simply an area which our finite minds cannot understand concerning the infinite God. Concerning the Son see Luke 22:42, John 5:36, John 20:21, and 1 John 4:14. Concerning the Holy Spirit see John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7, and especially John 16:13-14.


6) The individual members of the Trinity have different tasks. The Father is the ultimate source or cause of the universe (1 Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 4:11); divine revelation (Revelation 1:1); salvation (John 3:16-17); and Jesus' human works (John 5:17; 14:10). The Father initiates all of these things.


The Son is the agent through whom the Father does the following works: the creation and maintenance of the universe (1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17); divine revelation (John 1:1, 16:12-15; Matthew 11:27; Revelation 1:1); and salvation (2 Corinthians 5:19; Matthew 1:21; John 4:42). The Father does all these things through the Son, who functions as His agent.


The Holy Spirit is the means by whom the Father does the following works: creation and maintenance of the universe (Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Psalm 104:30); divine revelation (John 16:12-15; Ephesians 3:5; 2 Peter 1:21); salvation (John 3:6; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2); and Jesus' works (Isaiah 61:1; Acts 10:38). Thus, the Father does all these things by the power of the Holy Spirit.


There have been many attempts to develop illustrations of the Trinity. However, none of the popular illustrations are completely accurate. The egg (or apple) fails in that the shell, white, and yolk are parts of the egg, not the egg in themselves, just as the skin, flesh, and seeds of the apple are parts of it, not the apple itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not parts of God; each of them is God. The water illustration is somewhat better, but it still fails to adequately describe the Trinity. Liquid, vapor, and ice are forms of water. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forms of God, each of them is God. So, while these illustrations may give us a picture of the Trinity, the picture is not entirely accurate. An infinite God cannot be fully described by a finite illustration.


The doctrine of the Trinity has been a divisive issue throughout the entire history of the Christian church. While the core aspects of the Trinity are clearly presented in God’s Word, some of the side issues are not as explicitly clear. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God. That is the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Beyond that, the issues are, to a certain extent, debatable and non-essential. Rather than attempting to fully define the Trinity with our finite human minds, we would be better served by focusing on the fact of God's greatness and His infinitely higher nature. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34).




11/14/21


Question: "Do we have an appointed time of death?"


Answer: The Bible tells us that "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16). So, yes, God knows exactly when, where, and how we will die. God knows absolutely everything about us (Psalm 139:1-6). So does this mean our fate is sealed? Does this mean we have absolutely no control over when we will die? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the perspective.

The answer is "yes" from God's perspective because God is omniscient—He knows everything and knows exactly when, where, and how we will die. Nothing we can do will change what God already knows will happen. The answer is "no" from our perspective because we do have an impact on when, where, and how we die. Obviously, a person who commits suicide causes his own death. A person who commits suicide would have lived longer had he not committed suicide. Similarly, a person who dies because of a foolish decision (e.g., drug use) "expedites" his own death. A person who dies of lung cancer from smoking would not have died in the same way or at the same time if he had not smoked. A person who dies of a heart attack due to a lifetime of extremely unhealthy eating and little exercise would not have died in the same way or at the same time if he had eaten healthier foods and exercised more. Yes, our own decisions have an undeniable impact on the manner, timing, and place of our death.

How does this affect our lives practically? We are to live each day for God. James 4:13-15 teaches us, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" We are to make wise decisions about how we live our lives and how we take care of ourselves. And ultimately, we trust God that He is sovereign and in control of all things.


Question: "How can we "rest in the Lord" (Psalm 37:7)?"


Answer: Rest in the Lord is a frequently used expression in the Bible. When the psalmist says, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7, NKJV), he’s not talking about physical rest that involves taking a break from activity, relaxing, napping, or stopping to gather strength to continue or complete some physical undertaking. Rest in the Lord refers to a spiritual rest from confusion, worry, stress, useless human effort, and a break from all internal, external, mortal, and spiritual enemies.

The Hebrew word translated as “rest” means “to be at peace,” “to be still,” “to be quiet or calm.” In place of “rest in the Lord,” some Bible translations say, “Be still before the Lord” (ESV and NIV), “Be silent before the Lord” (CSB), “Surrender yourself to the Lord” (GW), and “Be still in the presence of the Lord” (NLT). These versions convey the essential idea that to rest and be at peace, one must dwell in the presence of the Lord, surrendered to His lordship.

In the Old Testament, God promised the people of Israel a life of peace in the Promised Land and rest in His presence (Exodus 33:14; Joshua 1:13–15). But this restful, peaceful living depended on the Israelites remaining faithful and obedient to God alone by keeping their covenant with Him. To those whose hearts strayed from Him, God said they would never enjoy His rest (Psalm 95:7–11).

Eventually, because of widespread disobedience and unfaithfulness, the nation of Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon. After returning from exile, once again, the promise of rest in the Lord’s presence was presented: “So do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel . . . For I will bring you home again from distant lands, and your children will return from their exile. Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet, and no one will terrorize them” (Jeremiah 30:10, NLT). But, again, the people failed to learn that resting in the Lord meant surrendering wholly to the Lord in righteous living: “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews declares the good news that those who believe in Jesus Christ can enter His rest: “God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest” (Hebrews 4:1–3, NLT).

As believers, we are not granted immunity from life’s storms, but we have a choice about how we react to those storms. Our natural tendency might be to run around frantically looking for help, trying to save ourselves from trouble. We can either respond frenetically or rest in the Lord’s presence. We can either waste our time worrying or trust in the Lord to take care of us. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28–30, NLT).

The writer of Hebrews also tells us that there is a future, final rest for believers in heaven (Hebrews 4:9–11). In the meantime, we can rest in the Lord by taking everything—all our burdens, problems, and anxieties—to Him in prayer. We can tell God what we need even as we remember and thank Him for all that He has done for us already. As we do this—as we abide in Jesus Christ and God’s presence—He promises to pour into us a supernatural, incomprehensible peace to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6–7).

Right here and now, we can quiet ourselves, be still, and surrender ourselves to the Lord. We can see Him as Isaiah did, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). He is Sovereign over the whole earth, over our lives, and over every enemy, both internal and external, human and spiritual (Isaiah 46:9–11). We can peacefully wait for Him. We can be steadfast, longing, and always looking to Him for help. This is how we rest in the Lord.




11/13/21


Question: "What does it mean that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15)?"


Answer: The heart of Psalm 116—a song of thanksgiving—is a deeply personal love story born of salvation. The psalmist has come to realize how intimately God cares for him, especially in matters of life and death: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” says Psalm 116:15 (ESV). The New Living Translation expresses the meaning more naturally to modern readers: “The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die.”

Taken out of context, one might wonder if “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” implies that God delights or finds some satisfaction when His followers die. But if we consider the psalmist’s recent and narrow escape from death, the phrase’s true significance emerges.

The author of Psalm 116 describes a near-death struggle: “Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 116:3, NLT). But when the psalmist calls on the Lord for help, God answers his prayer: “He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” (Psalm 116:8, NLT). In response to the Lord’s goodness, the psalmist promises to praise God for His compassionate concern and vows to serve Him faithfully.

The word translated as “precious” means “of high worth, value, or cost.” In the original Hebrew, the term rendered “saints” refers to the Lord’s faithful followers—those who love and serve God actively and commit themselves to a covenantal relationship with Him. Thus, the statement “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” reveals that God is not indifferent about how and when His faithful servants die. “How painful it is to the Lord,” says Today’s English Version.

Just as our “lives are precious to him” (Psalm 72:14, NIV), so is the ending of our lives. God does not regard the death of one of His beloved children lightly. If it is not our appointed time to die, the Lord will hasten to protect us. “Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign LORD rescues us from death,” says Psalm 68:20 (NLT). The moment and circumstances of our death will not take God by surprise. Scripture says, “All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began” (Psalm 139:16, HCSB). The Lord knows how, when, and where we will die. He cares deeply about every circumstance we face, and particularly the crucial moment of our death.

God watches fiercely over His servants, says Isaiah 54:17: “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.” Through Zechariah, God affirms, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession” (Zechariah 2:8, NLT). Like the apostle Paul, we can be confident that God will keep us alive until our work for Him is done (Philippians 1:22–25). We can trust as Jesus did that no one will lay a hand on us until our time has come (John 7:30; 8:20).

When the psalmist was fighting for his life in the “snares of death,” his prayer got God’s attention. His life-and-death predicament was precious in the eyes of the Lord. When we undergo life-threatening experiences, we can know that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). We can trust that God will come to our defense, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Our lives and our deaths are matters of deep concern for God.



11/05/21


Question: "How can I learn to trust in the faithfulness of God?"


Answer: Many places in Scripture extol the faithfulness of God. Lamentations 3:22–23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” So, what is faithfulness?

The Hebrew word translated “faithfulness” means “steadfastness, firmness, fidelity.” The opposite of being faithful is to be ever-changing or wishy-washy. Psalm 119:89–90 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” Here faithfulness is equated with God’s Word. God speaks never-ending truth. If God spoke something a thousand years ago, it still stands. He is faithful to His Word, because His Word is an expression of His character. The promises He made still hold true because He does not change (Malachi 3:6). We see this illustrated from a human perspective in a couple married for manyy years. When the wife lies on her deathbed, her husband sits nearby holding her hand. He won’t leave her, even though she no longer recognizes him. He is faithful to the promises he made to her. In the same way, God remains faithful to His promises, even though we are often unfaithful to Him (2 Timothy 2:13).

We learn to trust the character of a person by getting to know that person. We would not entrust our bank account to a stranger we met in line at the post office—we have no experience with him. We don’t know his character. Before we know God, we are afraid to trust Him. We don’t yet know who He is or what He may do. We learn to trust God by getting to know His character. There are three ways we can get to know Him: studying His Word, reviewing His working in our own lives, and learning to follow His voice.

When we study God’s Word, a pattern emerges. We learn that God never changes and never lies (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). We learn through Scripture that God has never failed in the past (Isaiah 51:6). He was always true to His Word as He worked in the lives of the ancient Israelites. When He said He would do something, He did it (Numbers 11:23; Matthew 24:35). We begin to build trust upon His proven character. We can trust that God will be true to Himself. He will never cease acting like God. He will never cease being sovereign, being holy, or being good (1 Timothy 6:15; 1 Peter 1:16).

We learn through our own history that He has never failed us, either. One command God often gave the Israelites was: “Remember” (Deuteronomy 8:2; Isaiah 46:9). When they remembered all God had done for them, they could more easily trust Him for the future. We need to intentionally remember all the ways God has provided for us and delivered us in the past. Keeping a prayer journal can help with this. When we recall the ways God has answered our prayers, it equips us to continue asking and expecting answers. When we come to Him in prayer, we know that He always hears us (1 John 5:14; Psalm 34:15). He provides what we need (Philippians 4:19). And He will always make everything work together for our good when we trust Him with it (Romans 8:28). We learn to trust God’s future faithfulness by remembering His past faithfulness.

And we can also learn to trust Him by learning to distinguish His voice from the others that compete for attention. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). We who belong to Jesus need to cultivate the ability to hear Him. He speaks primarily through His Word, but He can also speak through other people, through circumstances, and through the inner confirmation of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). As we carefully read and meditate upon Scripture, the Holy Spirit often quickens our hearts to a verse or passage and helps us claim it and apply it to our current situation. What the Spirit shows us in His Word is to be taken by faith as His message to us. We build trust by claiming His promises and applying them to our lives.

Above all things, God loves for us to demonstrate faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is trusting in the character of God before we see how He is going to work things out. He has given us His Word, and His promises still stand. As we see the ways He brings His promises to fulfillment, our trust in His faithfulness grows. Just as our trust in other people grows with daily interaction, our trust in God grows the same way. We trust Him when we know Him, and to know Him is to trust Him. When we know Him, we can rest in His goodness, even when we don’t understand the circumstances that seem to contradict it. We can trust that God’s plan for us will prevail (Proverbs 19:21). As a child trusts a loving father, we can trust our heavenly Father to always do what is right.





11/02/21


Question: "What does it mean to commit your way to the Lord (Psalm 37:5)?"


Answer: In the 37th Psalm, David writes that God sustains the righteous (Psalm 37:17) and that their inheritance will be everlasting (Psalm 37:18). The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord (Psalm 37:39). It is a psalm of God’s faithfulness and an encouragement that the righteous do not trust Him in vain. Psalm 37:5 challenges the reader or listener to “commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him.”

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need God to be our refuge, because there would be no threats. But in this fallen and broken world, we desperately need Him to be our refuge. The psalmist instructs that we not fret or be envious because of those who do evil (Psalm 37:1) because they will fade away quickly like the grass (Psalm 37:2). Evil has no staying power. Even though evil gains a foothold in the short term and may even appear to win the day, the reality is that it will not last. Because of that truth, we are encouraged to put our trust in the Lord and to do what He prescribes, which includes living faithfully (Psalm 37:3).

Our delight should not be in our circumstances; rather, our delight should be in the Lord. We should take pleasure in Him, and when we do that—when our desire is for Him—He provides that our desires are met (Psalm 37:4). The closer we get to Him, the more our desires begin to change from our own selfish wants to wanting what He wants for us. After presenting these thoughts, the psalmist exhorts that we commit our way to the Lord and trust in Him (Psalm 37:5). That commitment and trust does not come without reward, as God is faithful, “and He will do it” (NASB)—but what is it that He will do?

When we commit our way to the Lord and trust in Him, God is faithful to “bring forth [our] righteousness” (Psalm 37:6, ESV). When our way is committed to Him, He shapes us and grows us in His righteousness. Paul explained many years after the psalmist wrote that a person who is walking in the Spirit of God will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life (Galatians 5:22–23). God will accomplish His work in our lives—He will transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1–2) if we will simply be committed to allowing Him to do that.

Elsewhere, Paul reminds believers to set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:1–4). The mindset of the believer is important, and it involves commitment to allowing God to do His work in us. Paul provides another example in Ephesians 5:18. He says we should not be drunk with wine, but, instead, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. When a person drinks wine excessively, that person is submitting to a process that will end in his having little or no control over his body. Instead of submitting our bodies to wine in that way, we should be submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit of God—immersing ourselves in His Word so that we are controlled by Him and our desires are shaped by Him. When we are doing that, we are filled with His Spirit or are walking in His Spirit, and He is faithful to bear His fruit in us. When we commit our way to the Lord (Psalm 37:5), He will make sure that way is fruitful.




11/01/21


Question: "Is it important for a Christian to have daily devotions?"


Answer: Daily devotions is a phrase used to denote the discipline of Bible reading and prayer with which Christians start or end their day. Bible reading in daily devotions can take the form of a structured study using a devotional book or a simple reading of certain passages. Some people like to read through the Bible in a year. Prayer in daily devotions can include any or all of the different types of prayer—praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. Some people use prayer lists for their daily devotions. Others prefer to pray as they read the Word in an interactive manner, listening for God speaking to them through the Bible passages and responding in prayer. Whatever the format of daily devotions, the important thing is that our daily devotions, as the name implies, be truly devoted to God and occur daily.


It is important to spend time with God in daily devotions. Why? Paul explains: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The experience of having God’s light shine in our hearts comes in our times spent in the presence of God. Of course, this light comes only from knowing God through Christ. The marvelous treasure of the Holy Spirit is given to each Christian, and we need faith to believe and act upon that truth. In all reality, if we truly yearn to experience the light of our Lord, we will need to be with God every day.


Someone once said, “The gospel brings man to God; devotions keep him close to God.” The apostle James wrote, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). As the children of God seek a closer relationship with God, they will find God is closer than ever. In their daily devotions, Christians seek to draw close to God’s heart, understand more about Him, obey His commands, and hold on to His promises. The impure and double-minded will have no such yearning in their hearts. In fact, they will seek to separate themselves from God as much as possible.


In daily devotions, we want to draw near to God. The expression “draw near” was originally associated with the priesthood in Israel. Under the regulations of the Old Covenant, the priests represented the people before God. However, prior to approaching God’s presence, the priest had to be washed physically and be ceremonially clean. This meant he had to bathe, wear the proper garments, and offer the proper sacrifices. His own heart had to be right with God. Then he could “draw near” to God on the people’s behalf. In time, the concept of “drawing near” was applied to anyone who approached God’s presence in worship and prayer.


The sincere believer knows that God wants His people to draw near to Him with true and pure hearts, and that’s what daily devotions are all about. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). This verse applies the language of the Old Testament ceremonial system to us today. Just as those ancient priests prepared themselves to be near God, we also should prepare ourselves spiritually to worship Him, whether in formal worship or in our personal devotional times.


After salvation, the spiritual growth begins. The believer will, like Enoch, naturally want to walk with God (Genesis 5:22). He will, like Asaph, desire to be near God (Psalm 73:28). He will, like the disciples, yearn to pray effectively (Luke 11:1). In short, the child of God will want to find time for daily devotions.



“Will God forgive me?"


Are you feeling guilty and desperate? Mortified by some of the things you've done? Wondering if forgiveness is possible? The conviction of sin can bring us to a place of feeling helpless and hopeless. Our shame tempts us to think that no one, much less God, could forgive us. We might wonder how we can go on. What possible hope could there be?


Have you heard that God is a forgiving God? Have you heard about His great love? Let's start with the good news first: no one is beyond God's forgiveness. No matter what you have done, you have not out-sinned God's ability to forgive you.


The Bible tells us that all humans have sinned (Romans 3:23). Each of us is deserving of eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). No matter the sin—rape, murder, terrorism, adultery, theft, pride, gossip, jealousy, lying, not fully loving others, etc.—we deserve to be punished. It's an all-or-nothing scenario. God does not judge us on whether our "good" outweighs our "bad," but on whether we will accept His way of salvation.


"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16–18, ESV).


God made a way of forgiveness, not just for some sin but for all of it. There is no sin that God cannot forgive. No matter what you've done, God will forgive you if you come to Him in faith.


There is only one way of forgiveness. God won't forgive you because you promise to do better next time or because you make amends or because you do good deeds. No, He will forgive you because Jesus paid the penalty for sin on your behalf.


Jesus was fully God and fully human. He was without sin and lived a perfect life. But He was crucified on the cross. He died a sinner's death. The Bible tells us, "For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Jesus took on our sin so that we wouldn't have to bear it. He did the work and paid the price so that we could receive forgiveness.


We know Jesus spoke truth and that His sacrifice on our behalves was effective because He rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, 20–22). Jesus died and was buried, but He was physically raised back to life. Jesus conquered sin and death. He made it possible for us not to be stuck in our sin and guilt and shame. He made a way for us to move past despair and into true life (John 10:10). He offers forgiveness to us if we will put our trust in Him.


Do you want to receive forgiveness from God today? There is no one prayer that will grant you this forgiveness. As has been explained, forgiveness is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. But we can receive this forgiveness by asking God for it, in faith, through prayer. You might say something like this:


"God, I know that I have sinned against you. I know that I am deserving of being separated from you forever. I know that I can't possibly make it up to you or become righteous in myself. I need your forgiveness. You have provided a way. You sent your Son Jesus to live a perfect life, die, and rise back to life on my behalf. You have paid the price that I owed for sin so that I might be forgiven and enjoy fellowship with you. Please forgive me, God. I believe in you. Remove my guilt and bring me into new life in your Son. Thank you that I can trust that you will do this. Thank you for providing a way of forgiveness and for accepting me into your family. Amen."



10/18/21


"Why do Christians suffer?"


Answer: Suffering is an expected part of the Christian life. Jesus told His followers, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). That truth about overcoming sustains Christians when suffering threatens to overwhelm. Christians suffer for a variety of reasons, including many of the same reasons non-Christians suffer—life on this broken planet can be difficult. Christians may also suffer for some of the same reasons Jesus did (John 15:18–19). Believers represent an uncompromising truth that the world doesn’t want to hear, that Jesus Christ is the only path to God (John 14:6).


Suffering of any kind was not part of God’s original creation. Everything He created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Sin corrupted the world at Adam’s disobedience, and sin continues to corrupt the world as we each add our own poor decisions, rebellion, and selfishness (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 8:19–23). Sin has ripple effects, as well; our sin harms others, and their sin harms us, even when we’ve done nothing wrong. Becoming a Christian does not insulate us from the ugliness in our world, nor does it protect us from the natural, temporal consequences of sin.


The book of 1 Peter addresses Christians who were suffering (1 Peter 1:6). Peter encourages them in their trials, reminding them that their suffering had a purpose: “So that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). In other words, God uses temporary suffering to refine the character of His own children. James tells us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4). Suffering, no matter its cause, can be used by God to complete us in Him (Romans 8:28–30).


There are several possible reasons for Christian suffering that are distinct from the reasons for the general suffering experienced by everyone:


1. Suffering may be a form of discipline. God is a good Father, and when one of His children goes astray, He may use suffering to bring him or her back. Hebrews 12:5–11 says that God disciplines those He loves. Verse 7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” For example, when a man who spends all his time and passion at work instead of with his family or with God loses his job, it may be that God is toppling his idols in order to help him readjust his priorities. Financial stress may feel like suffering, but it could be intended to produce godly character in a person who has placed too much importance on money. Even if hardship has no link to a specific sin struggle in our lives, God can use it to train us. Parents, for example, often assign their children chores, not to punish them but to help them learn various skills and build a solid work ethic. Those chores may feel like suffering to the child, but they are being used to build something in the child that will serve him or her well throughout the rest of life.


2. Suffering enables Christians to identify with and encourage other sufferers. Second Corinthians 1:3–4 says, “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.” Those who have experienced the grace of God in their trouble are better equipped to help others find the same grace in their trouble. Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example. A diving accident when she was 17 years old left her a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. She deals daily with pain and lack of mobility but has allowed God to grow her and develop His character in her. For several decades she and her husband Ken have overseen ministries that serve the disabled. From summer camps for the mentally challenged to Wheels for the World, a project that provides wheelchairs to impoverished handicapped people, Joni has used her own suffering to benefit thousands. By allowing Joni to suffer for a while in this life, God is providing her a unique opportunity to store up bountiful treasures for eternity (Matthew 6:19–21).


3. Suffering helps us draw closer to the Lord. We often seem to grow most when we go through difficult times. Suffering strips us of artificial or temporal securities and forces us to dig more deeply into the Word to find peace and purpose. It has been said that “when Christ is all you have, you find that Christ is all you need.”


4. Suffering reminds us that this world is not our home. Christians who live in more affluent parts of the world may find it harder to long for heaven than their impoverished brothers and sisters. When life is comfortable, eternity is only a glimmer far in the future. But when Christians suffer persecution, poverty, and privation, eternity starts to become the brightest light in their lives. Often, Christians who suffer have an advantage in keeping their priorities straight.


Some teach that those who have enough faith will never have to suffer. But this doctrine is contradicted on every page of the New Testament. From John the Baptist being beheaded in prison (Matthew 14:1–12) to John the apostle being banished to Patmos (Revelation 1:9), the New Testament is a record of the terrible suffering that dominated the first-century church (Acts 8:1–3). The men and women listed in Hebrews 11 were commended for their faith. Many on the list, including Abel, Noah, and Abraham, endured suffering. Hebrews 11:16 tells us how they did it: “They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” We read of faithful Moses who “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:25–26). Moses’ faith did not shield him from suffering, and in fact contributed to his choosing of it to gain something greater.


The author of Hebrews also speaks of unnamed faithful “who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35–38). Living by faith in a fallen world invites suffering and requires an acceptance of a deferral of reward: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39–40).


Our ultimate hope is not in this world or in gaining earthly comfort; our hope is in God and in His greater plan. It requires faith to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and the faithful know that a lack of suffering is not a reliable indication of His pleasure. Neither is the experience of suffering proof of His displeasure.


The same hope exemplified by the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 is ours, too, when we suffer for doing right (1 Peter 3:14). Even when we suffer as a direct result of our own poor choices, our suffering is never wasted. God promises to use even our most heartbreaking pain for good if we will trust Him with it (Romans 8:28–30). Paul, who suffered more than most, wrote, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). That knowledge strengthens Christians when they are called to suffer.




10/16/21


Question: "What does the Bible say about suffering?"


Answer: Of all the challenges thrown at Christianity in modern times, perhaps the most difficult is explaining the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow suffering to continue in the world which He created? For those who have endured massive suffering themselves, this is much more than a philosophical issue, but a deep-seated personal and emotional one. How does the Bible address this issue? Does the Bible give us any examples of suffering and some indicators on how to deal with it?

The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. For one thing, the Bible devotes an entire book to dealing with the problem. This book concerns a man named Job. It begins with a scene in heaven which provides the reader with the background of Job’s suffering. Job suffers because God contested with Satan. As far as we know, this was never known by Job or any of his friends. It is therefore not surprising that they all struggle to explain Job’s suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until Job finally rests in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the hope of His redemption. Neither Job nor his friends understood at the time the reasons for his suffering. In fact, when Job is finally confronted by the Lord, Job is silent. Job’s silent response does not in any way trivialize the intense pain and loss he had so patiently endured. Rather, it underscores the importance of trusting God’s purposes in the midst of suffering, even when we don’t know what those purposes are. Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. In the end, we learn that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering. 

Another example of suffering in the Bible is Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. In Egypt, he was indicted on false charges and thrown into prison. As a result of Joseph’s suffering and endurance, by God’s grace and power, Joseph is later promoted to governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. He finds himself in a position to make provision for the nations of the world during a time of famine, including his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery! The message of this story is summarized in Joseph’s address to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Romans 8:28 contains some comforting words for those enduring hardship and suffering: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In His providence, God orchestrates every event in our lives—even suffering, temptation and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.

The psalmist David endured much suffering in his time, and this is reflected in many of his poems collected in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 22, we hear David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'”

It remains a mystery to David why God does not intervene and end his suffering and pain. He sees God as enthroned as the Holy One, the praise of Israel. God lives in heaven where all is good, where there is no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What does God know of all that humans endure? David goes on to complain that “dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Did God ever answer David? Yes, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendent of David named Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, Jesus endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying Himself with the suffering of David.

Christ, the eternal Son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells, has lived on earth as a human being and has endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, bereavement, betrayal, mockery, injustice and death. Therefore, He is in a position to fulfill the longing of Job: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33).

Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering. Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and endured trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution. The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God can point to the cross and say, “That much.” Christ experienced physical pain as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment. He experienced the same suffering as many people today who know the bitterness of isolation, pain, and anguish.



10/11/21


Question: "What does it mean to find God?"


Answer: To “find God” is a rather nebulous expression that can mean different things to different people. For some, the phrase find God is synonymous with getting religion, whatever religion that may be. For others, to “find God” means to “clean up one’s life,” usually with the help of a higher power. It is sometimes used derogatorily to describe a spiritual transformation of questionable authenticity. In any case, to “find God” involves a change in someone’s attitude and/or behavior.

There are several people in Scripture who earnestly sought to find God. In his distress, Job cried out, “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court” in order to argue his case before the Judge of the universe (Job 23:3). The sons of Korah expressed their desire to find God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1–2).

Biblically speaking, to find God means to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is only through Jesus that anyone can come to God (John 14:6), and receiving Christ results in a spiritual transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, to find God is to recognize one’s need of salvation and exercise faith in Christ. The result of finding God is living the Christian life.

The Bible says that we do not naturally seek God (Psalm 14:2–3). God commands us to forsake our sin and seek Him (Isaiah 55:6–7). Those who seek and find God receive mercy and goodness (Psalm 9:10; 22:26). The Israelites had God’s promise that, if in the midst of their exile they sought to find God, they would surely find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29).

God wants to be found. He delights in mercy and forgiveness, and He is close to all who would call on Him. As Paul taught, “God [deals with us] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).


Question: "Who was Job in the Bible?"


Answer: The life of Job demonstrates that humans are often unaware of the many ways God is at work in the life of each believer. Job's life is also one that prompts the common question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is the age-old question, and difficult to answer, but believers know that God is always in control, and, no matter what happens, there are no coincidences—nothing happens by chance. Job was a believer; he knew that God was on the throne and in total control, though he had no way of knowing why so many terrible tragedies were occurring in his life.

Job was "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). He had ten children and was a man of great wealth. The Bible tells us that one day Satan presented himself before God and God asked Satan what he thought of Job. Satan accused Job of honoring God only because God had blessed him. So, God allowed Satan to take away Job's wealth and his children. Later, God allowed Satan to afflict Job physically. Job grieved deeply but did not charge God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22; 42:7–8).

Job's friends were certain that Job must have sinned in order to deserve punishment and argued with him about it. But Job maintained his innocence, though he confessed that he wanted to die and did ask questions of God. A younger man, Elihu, attempted to speak on God's behalf before God, Himself, answered Job. Job 38—42 contains some of the most stunning poetry about the magnitude and might of God. Job responded to God's discourse in humility and repentance, saying he had spoken of things he did not know (Job 40:3–5; 42:1–6). God told Job's friends that He was angry with them for speaking falsehoods about Him, unlike Job who had spoken truth (Job 42:7–8). God told them to offer sacrifices and that Job would pray on their behalf and God would accept Job's prayer. Job did so, likely forgiving his friends for their harshness himself. God restored Job's fortunes two-fold (Job 42:10) and "blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part" (Job 42:12). Job lived 140 years after his suffering.

Job never lost his faith in God, even under the most heartbreaking circumstances that tested him to his core. It’s hard to imagine losing everything we own in one day—property, possessions, and even children. Most men would sink into depression and perhaps even become suicidal after such massive loss. Though depressed enough to curse the day of his birth (Job 3:1–26), Job never cursed God (Job 2:9–10) nor did he waver in his understanding that God was still in control. Job’s three friends, on the other hand, instead of comforting him, gave him bad advice and even accused him of committing sins so grievous that God was punishing him with misery. Job knew God well enough to know that He did not work that way; in fact, he had such an intimate, personal relationship with Him that he was able to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face” (Job 13:15). When Job's wife suggested he curse God and die, Job replied "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10).

Job’s plight, from the death of his children and loss of his property to the physical torment he endured, plus the harangue of his so-called friends, never caused his faith to waver. He knew who his Redeemer was, he knew that He was a living Savior, and he knew that someday He would physically stand on the earth (Job 19:25). He understood that man’s days are ordained (numbered) and they cannot be changed (Job 14:5). The spiritual depth of Job shows throughout the book. James refers to Job as an example of perseverance, writing, "Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:10–11).

There are also several scientific and historical facts in the book of Job. The book implied the earth is round long before the advent of modern science (Job 22:14). The book mentions dinosaurs—not by that name, but the description of the behemoth is certainly dinosaur-like—living side by side with man (Job 40:15–24).

The book of Job gives us a glimpse behind the veil that separates earthly life from the heavenly. In the beginning of the book, we see that Satan and his fallen angels are still allowed access to heaven, going in and out to the prescribed meetings that take place there. What is obvious from these accounts is that Satan is busy working his evil on earth, as recorded in Job 1:6–7. Also, this account shows how Satan is “the accuser of the brethren,” which corresponds to Revelation 12:10, and it shows his arrogance and pride, as written in Isaiah 14:13–14. It is amazing to see how Satan challenges God; he has no scruples about confronting the Most High. The account in Job shows Satan as he truly is—haughty and evil to the core.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we learn from the book of Job is that God does not have to answer to anyone for what He does or does not do. Job’s experience teaches us that we may never know the specific reason for suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign, holy, righteous God. His ways are perfect (Psalm 18:30). Since God’s ways are perfect, we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. We can’t expect to understand God’s mind perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Our responsibility to God is to obey Him, to trust Him, and to submit to His will, whether we understand it or not. When we do, we will find God in the midst of our trials—possibly even because of our trials. We will see more clearly the magnificence of our God, and we will say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).



Question: "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?"


Answer: We live in a world of pain and suffering. There is no one who is not affected by the harsh realities of life, and the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is one of the most difficult questions in all of theology. God is sovereign, so all that happens must have at least been allowed by Him, if not directly caused by Him. At the outset, we must acknowledge that human beings, who are not eternal, infinite, or omniscient, cannot expect to fully understand God’s purposes and ways.

The book of Job deals with the issue of why God allows bad things to happen to good people. Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1), yet he suffered in ways that are almost beyond belief. God allowed Satan to do everything he wanted to Job except kill him, and Satan did his worst. What was Job’s reaction? “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). Job did not understand why God had allowed the things He did, but he knew God was good and therefore continued to trust in Him. Ultimately, that should be our reaction as well.

Why do bad things happen to good people? As hard as it is to acknowledge, we must remember that there are no “good” people, in the absolute sense of the word. All of us are tainted by and infected with sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). As Jesus said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). All of us feel the effects of sin in one way or another. Sometimes it’s our own personal sin; other times, it’s the sins of others. We live in a fallen world, and we experience the effects of the fall. One of those effects is injustice and seemingly senseless suffering.

When wondering why God would allow bad thing to happen to good people, it’s also good to consider these four things about the bad things that happen:

1) Bad things may happen to good people in this world, but this world is not the end. Christians have an eternal perspective: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). We will have a reward some day, and it will be glorious.

2) Bad things happen to good people, but God uses those bad things for an ultimate, lasting good. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When Joseph, innocent of wrongdoing, finally came through his horrific sufferings, he was able to see God’s good plan in it all (see Genesis 50:19–21).

3) Bad things happen to good people, but those bad things equip believers for deeper ministry. “Praise be to . . . 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). Those with battle scars can better help those going through the battles.

4) Bad things happen to good people, and the worst things happened to the best Person. Jesus was the only truly Righteous One, yet He suffered more than we can imagine. We follow in His footsteps: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:20–23). Jesus is no stranger to our pain.

Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Despite the sinful nature of the people of this world, God still loves us. Jesus loved us enough to die to take the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23). If we receive Jesus Christ as Savior (John 3:16; Romans 10:9), we will be forgiven and promised an eternal home in heaven (Romans 8:1).

God allows things to happen for a reason. Whether or not we understand His reasons, we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful (Psalm 135:3). Often, bad things happen to us that we simply cannot understand. Instead of doubting God’s goodness, our reaction should be to trust Him. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). We walk by faith, not by sight.


Question: "What does the Bible say about suffering?"

Answer: Of all the challenges thrown at Christianity in modern times, perhaps the most difficult is explaining the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow suffering to continue in the world which He created? For those who have endured massive suffering themselves, this is much more than a philosophical issue, but a deep-seated personal and emotional one. How does the Bible address this issue? Does the Bible give us any examples of suffering and some indicators on how to deal with it?

The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. For one thing, the Bible devotes an entire book to dealing with the problem. This book concerns a man named Job. It begins with a scene in heaven which provides the reader with the background of Job’s suffering. Job suffers because God contested with Satan. As far as we know, this was never known by Job or any of his friends. It is therefore not surprising that they all struggle to explain Job’s suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until Job finally rests in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the hope of His redemption. Neither Job nor his friends understood at the time the reasons for his suffering. In fact, when Job is finally confronted by the Lord, Job is silent. Job’s silent response does not in any way trivialize the intense pain and loss he had so patiently endured. Rather, it underscores the importance of trusting God’s purposes in the midst of suffering, even when we don’t know what those purposes are. Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. In the end, we learn that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering. 

Another example of suffering in the Bible is Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. In Egypt, he was indicted on false charges and thrown into prison. As a result of Joseph’s suffering and endurance, by God’s grace and power, Joseph is later promoted to governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. He finds himself in a position to make provision for the nations of the world during a time of famine, including his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery! The message of this story is summarized in Joseph’s address to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Romans 8:28 contains some comforting words for those enduring hardship and suffering: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In His providence, God orchestrates every event in our lives—even suffering, temptation and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.

The psalmist David endured much suffering in his time, and this is reflected in many of his poems collected in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 22, we hear David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'”

It remains a mystery to David why God does not intervene and end his suffering and pain. He sees God as enthroned as the Holy One, the praise of Israel. God lives in heaven where all is good, where there is no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What does God know of all that humans endure? David goes on to complain that “dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Did God ever answer David? Yes, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendent of David named Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, Jesus endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying Himself with the suffering of David.

Christ, the eternal Son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells, has lived on earth as a human being and has endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, bereavement, betrayal, mockery, injustice and death. Therefore, He is in a position to fulfill the longing of Job: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33).

Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering. Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and endured trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution. The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God can point to the cross and say, “That much.” Christ experienced physical pain as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment. He experienced the same suffering as many people today who know the bitterness of isolation, pain, and anguish.


09/30/21

Romans 9–11 (Part 1): To Them Belong the Promises

As it pertains to Christian theology, the importance of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has not been understated in church history. However, that has not prevented confusion over Paul’s defense of Israel in chapters 9—11. Therefore, it would be helpful to carefully examine these three chapters in order to rightly divide the Bible’s position on Israel for the present age.

If you have ever sought to understand the letter to the Romans, upon arriving at chapter 9 you might have found yourself asking, “What does the Jewish nation of Israel have to do with my salvation in Christ?” You wouldn’t be the first person to ask this question in one form or another because, for many, it often seems that Paul has abruptly changed the subject after chapter 8. But has he? 

Israel’s Backstory

Much of the confusion in the modern church begins with just how understated the long, unique, dramatic, and rich history of God’s relationship with Israel really is—the history contained in the perpetually relevant Old Testament (Hebrew: Tanakh). Modern Christians simply don’t know how important Israel is to God. Remember what David contemplated long ago in 2 Samuel 7:23–24 when he asked, “And who is like Your people, like Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people, to make for Himself a name—and to do for Yourself great and awesome deeds for Your land—before Your people whom You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, the nations, and their gods? For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, Lᴏʀᴅ, have become their God” (emphasis added). In other words, no other nation in the world has had the privilege that Israel possesses: “to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Dt. 7:6). 

No other nation in the world has had the privilege that Israel possesses: “to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”

Paul’s audience in the first century, both Jews and Gentiles, understood Israel’s unique status before God very well. So imagine their surprise when Paul explains in Romans 1—3 that all people, whether Jewish or Gentile, are under condemnation! Imagine their surprise when Paul looks back at Abraham and reveals to them in Romans 3—5 that Jews are justified in the same way as Gentiles, which is by faith (Romans 3:28; 4:16; 5:1) and not by works of the Law (Romans 3:20). Let’s marvel with the first century audience as we find in Romans 6—8 that Jews and Gentiles alike can be freed from the consequences of violating the Law (Torah)! How? By being joined to the Messiah who was raised from the dead after dying for our violations of that very Law (7:4), allowing us to be sanctified, not by the Law, but by the Spirit (v. 6). 

In summary, Paul begins rejoicing in chapter 8 over the fact that, despite the condemnation of both Jews and Gentiles articulated way back in Romans 1, God has made a way for all people to be reconciled. Since we are justified by God, and not by our own deeds, Paul asks: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (8:33, NIV). This prompts Paul to proclaim in Romans 8:39 that basically nothing “can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Israel’s Irrevocable Calling

Romans 8:39, then, is where the subject of Israel looms large in the audience’s mind. If Paul has just said that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then the challenge Paul anticipates from his readers can be worded like this: “Hasn’t Israel been separated from God for their rejection of Him in the form of their Messiah?” In his three-chapters-long discourse, Paul will emphatically answer “no” to this question. However, this discourse comes with warnings. No individual, whether Jew or Gentile, will be spared if they reject God the Son. This causes Paul, in his defense of Israel, to begin with the attitude that we should possess for everyone who is currently rejecting God: sorrow. Paul’s love for his Israelite family is so great that he wishes he himself could be cursed in place of those in Israel who reject the Messiah (9:1–3). 

Even so, the fact that Israel is largely in unbelief towards Jesus (Yeshua) compels Paul to reassert the Old Testament truth that Israel’s national calling is “irrevocable” (11:29). Beginning in Romans 9:4, Paul articulates six irrevocable possessions belonging to the Jewish people: “the adoption as sons . . . the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple service, and the promises” (NASB). In 9:5, he adds two more elements to remind us of Israel’s unchangeable heritage in stating that to them “belong the patriarchs, and from them, the Messiah descended, who is God over all, the one who is forever blessed. Amen” (ISV). I’ll briefly explain these first six elements from Paul’s list one by one.

Israel’s Eternal Promises

First, the “adoption as sons” reminds us of Moses’ warning from God to Pharaoh way back in Exodus 4:22–23: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Sadly, many do not hear Israel being spoken of as the firstborn nation today. 

Second, when Paul says that to Israel belongs “the glory” (Hebrew, shekinah), we are being reminded of how the glory of God dwelt among and led Israel in a cloud of smoke and fire. Recall Exodus 16:10: “Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ appeared in the cloud” (cf. Exodus 13:21). This is the same Glory Cloud that rested over the Tabernacle of Meeting (Exodus 40:34) and later, the Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11). When the Messiah (Mashiach, Greek: Christos) arrived, He selectively revealed His glory (Matthew 17). But when He returns, the whole world will behold His glory (Daniel 7:13–14; Matthew 24:29–31; Revelation 1:5–8). He will be enthroned in glory at the Millennial Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 43:2–7; Matthew 25:31).

Third, when Paul says that to Israel belong “the covenants,” we are being reminded that God made covenants that call for Israel to be the conduit of blessing to the entire world. They are the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. 

God has made a way for all people to be reconciled.

Fourth, Israel was similarly given the Law at Sinai. This Law articulated for Israel exactly how God was to be worshiped in the presence of His glory, which Paul calls the “Temple-Service” (NASB) or “worship” (NIV). 

The Temple-Service, the fifth irrevocable possession, is one part of Israel’s heritage that has been temporarily suspended in this age but will be transformed by the Messiah to be seen in greater detail in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ where Jesus will reign from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 37:24–28; 43:1–7; Zechariah 2:10–13, Revelation 20:4–10).

In conclusion, the sixth of Israel’s perpetual possessions that Paul enumerates would be “the Promises,” which can be summarized as the hope (tikvah) of the Davidic Kingdom’s restoration. This kingdom-hope is littered throughout the Old Testament (Tanakh), and in the New Testament Jesus affirmed its reality for Israel at a time in the future known only to God the Father (Acts 1:6–7). 

Nevertheless, after declaring that these possessions still belong to Israel, Paul has more to say with regard to personal and corporate election to salvation before his famous doxology to God that concludes his treatise on the Jewish nation (Romans 11:33–36). We’ll address more of this in parts 2 and 3 of this series.




Romans 9–11 (Part 2): They Are Not All Israel Who Are of Israel

Last week we established Israel’s uniqueness as the only people called “firstborn” among the nations in Scripture (Exodus 4:22). I’ve heard many rabbis observe: Being the chosen nation is not a point of privilege but of responsibility.

How true. Having been a firstborn son myself, I know the burden of going ahead of a younger sister and giving her an example of what to do (and not do) in order to honor our parents. With the Jewish people it’s much the same. All nations look to Israel’s story in the Bible, of striving with the heavenly Father (the very meaning of the word Israel), and those nations learn from Israel’s history. So, in light of the special status that Israel biblically possesses, we’ve shown how Paul (Shaul) answers questions that logically arise for his audience given everything God has revealed through the Roman epistle. 

Individually some are chosen (elect) and some are not chosen within the chosen nation.

Significantly, if all are under condemnation, if all are justified only by faith, if by Messiah alone are all freed from the penalty of eternal death for violating the law, if nothing can separate us from the love of God when we are in Messiah, then what happens to God’s beloved Israel when they have largely rejected God in the flesh (Jesus/Yeshua)? After opening his discourse with sorrow for those in Israel who are rebellious towards God, yet defending that his people are still chosen (having the special possessions articulated in Romans 9:4–5), Paul answers the dilemma by stating that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). What does this mean? It does not mean that saved Gentiles are a new Israel. Rather, it means that individual Israelites can be cut off from the nation even though the nation itself will never end (Jeremiah 30:11; 46:28; Romans 11:1). In other words, individually some are chosen (elect) and some are not chosen within the chosen nation. This is the direction Paul’s discourse takes, a point on which we must elaborate.

Continuity Between the Old and New Testaments

What Paul is teaching is not new. Way back in the Old Testament, God “cut [(karath)] a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:18). The ancient ritual of cutting the animal pieces signified that any party to the covenant that violated the terms would be cut off from the benefits of the covenant, suffering the very fate of the animals in the ceremony! In the case of Abram and his descendants, this was tantamount to permanent death, being eternally cast out of God’s blessed presence forever. Mercifully, God put Abram to sleep and prevented his walking through the pieces, making the covenant binding on God and irrevocable for Israel. However, regarding the covenant’s sign, God warned that “any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (17:14). In other words, that individual was no longer considered an Israelite by God. Similarly, God said that intentionally rebelling against Him warranted both a native Israelite and a Gentile as being “completely cut off” (Numbers 15:30–31). 

Another development came in Deuteronomy 10:16, where God admonished Israel that the outward sign in their flesh needed to match an inward change in heart: “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked [rebellious] no longer.” Jeremiah 9:25–26 contains the same message to Israel prior to Paul’s in Romans, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised…. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.’” 

The rebellious, uncircumcised heart warrants eternal condemnation. Although many would like to believe that hell is not real, sadly it is. Being cut off from God and His community is a fact of permanence and torment. Isaiah proclaimed God’s followers would one day “look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against [the Lord]. For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24, emphasis added). Ezekiel 20:33–38 is even clearer, foretelling Israel’s regathering (v. 34) to God where He pleads His case “face to face” (v. 35), making Israel “pass under the rod” of judgment (v. 37). There, God says of Israel: “I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.” 

There is no special treatment on Judgment Day for simply being a descendant of Abraham!

Why is God constantly declaring in the Old Testament that Israel will finally know who God is one day? Could it be because there is a claim on God’s identity (i.e. Jesus/Yeshua) that is being denied? Nevertheless, Ezekiel indicates that there will be a permanent separation between the righteous and the unrighteous within the house of Israel. There is no special treatment on Judgment Day for simply being a descendant of Abraham, actually greater responsibility!

From Moses to Paul

Like Moses and the prophets before him, John the Baptist made a point to declare to Israel that being a physical descendant of Abraham did not guarantee citizenship in the coming Kingdom of heaven on Earth. He told Israel to “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father . . . God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:8–9). Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). That brings us back to Paul, who establishes in Romans 9:7–13 that Isaac and Jacob were sons of promise, implying that Ishmael and Esau (both sons of Abraham) were not. His point: There is an “Israel of God” (cf. Galatians 6:16) within fleshly Israel where saving faith matters. 

The chosen within the chosen is a concept that takes center stage throughout Romans 9 and 10. There, Paul (under divine inspiration) makes some of the most monumental statements of Scripture concerning Israel and the concept of chosenness (election). In Romans 9:14–23 we learn that God is just and not without purpose in sovereignly choosing. In Romans 9:24–29, Paul shows that the Old Testament (Hosea 1:9–10; 2:23; Isaiah 10:22–23 and 1:9) predicted Israel’s temporary and majority rejection of God. It also predicted the ongoing Israelite remnant following God now, as well as the future restoration of Israel!

God is just and not without purpose in sovereignly choosing.

In conclusion, Romans 9:30–10:4 addresses a subject that divides Jews and Christians to this day. How do people obtain righteousness? Paul summarizes the status quo of this age: Many Gentiles (and a remnant of Israel) are finding righteousness by faith in the only One who is righteous (the Divine Jewish Messiah), while Israel seeks a righteousness before God which cannot be obtained through works of the Torah (cf. Isaiah 64:6; 29:13). Paul speaks lovingly here as he wants Israel to be saved (Romans 10:1) and he acknowledges Israel’s zeal for God (v. 2); but he confesses that Israel has been ignorant of God’s personal righteousness and His standards. He laments that, in vain, Israel has sought to establish their own concept of righteousness in the hopes that it pleases God—an endeavor that has evolved into modern rabbinic Judaism. In Romans 10:4, Paul asserts that the whole point (chief end) of the Torah is Divine Righteousness, highlighting our human inability to measure up and escape judgment by our own righteousness. Next week, we will conclude our study of Paul’s treatise on Israel, examining God’s chosen nation further for both the present and future age.



Romans 9–11 (Part 3): All Israel Will Be Saved


In the first two articles of this series, we examined Paul’s discourse on Israel in his letter to the church in Rome (dated around 56–57 AD). We’ve concluded that Paul has elucidated something that Jeremiah 9:25–26 said centuries earlier: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised…. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.’” As shocking as this might have been, Paul eventually assures everyone that God’s promises to national Israel have not been revoked (Romans 11:29, emphasis added). However, he first warns individual Israelites that there is no special treatment just for being an Israelite. Consistent with the Old Testament (Tanakh), God judges severely those who are uncircumcised in heart; and for the Israelite individuals whose hearts are not kosher, this means that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (9:7).

As difficult as this might have been to comprehend, we concluded last week that the issue boils down to humanity’s greatest need in chapters 9 and 10 of Romans: How do we obtain the righteousness that is required to dwell in the presence of the Holy? After all, the defiled (humanity) cannot dwell with the undefiled (God) and live (Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 59:1–2; Habbakuk 1:13). We need the righteousness of God. If one fails to keep one point of the Law, then his or her righteousness by the Law is no longer total (James 2:10).

Righteousness Is by Faith

Significantly, Paul concludes in Romans 9:30–33 that the righteousness of God must be pursued by faith, and not by works of the Law (Torah). Faith in what? The word of faith is that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus [Yeshua] and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture [Tanakh] says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:9–11, emphasis added). Notice Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16 and 49:23 to back up his point. Also, Abraham’s belief (faith) accounted him with righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Indeed, the Good News is that resurrection unto salvation is not achieved or lost by a system of rewards or punishments based on how well we keep the Law of God. Rather, it is based on the atoning sacrifice of the divine and righteous Messiah who suffered for our transgressions of that Law (Isaiah 53:11; Leviticus 17:11) and became the firstfruits of the resurrection. 

The Good News is that resurrection unto salvation is not achieved or lost by a system of rewards or punishments based on how well we keep the Law of God.

Essentially, Paul states that this Good News (or gospel) is a gift and it should be proclaimed to all people (Romans 10:14–17). God’s offering of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles does not eliminate His distinctive roles for both groups (cf. 1 Cor. 7:17–20 and Gal. 3:26–29). Jews do not have to become Gentiles and Gentiles do not have to become Jews (cf. Acts 15; 21:17–25; 1 Corinthians 7:17–20). But the apostle says there is no distinction as it pertains to salvation in Messiah (Romans 10:10–13).

Israel’s Jealousy of Gentiles Foretold

At this point, Paul shows that Israel’s rejection of the Messiah can be seen as a continuation of its national history of rebellion against their God (10:19–21). But in the midst of that statement, Paul announces something that is astounding. Long ago, Moses wrote in the Torah that there would be a period of time where God would provoke Israel to jealousy by entering into a relationship with Gentiles, “those who are not a nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19). In Romans 11, Paul proclaims that this prophesied period is now! Romans 11:11 states that salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy! Gentiles are benefiting from what actually belongs to the Jewish people: the Messiah! The entire era of the Gentile Christian, from the first century until today, is the period Moses warned about before Israel ever conquered Canaan! 

Israel in the Present

Significantly, even in the present age in which the majority of Israel has rejected their true King Messiah, one can never say that God has rejected Israel nationally. In Romans 11:1, Paul effectively lays the issue to rest when he asks, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I am an Israelite….” He goes on to say that there is perpetually a faithful remnant in Israel, similar to the 7,000 faithful in Elijah’s day; they are chosen by grace and not by works of the Torah (Romans 11:2–6). And in this present age, while Gentiles are trusting in Israel’s Divine King Messiah for salvation, Paul has warnings for how they treat the Jewish people. 

In Romans 11:16–24, Paul famously compares Israel to a special cultivated olive tree nourished by God. He compares faithful Gentiles to branches from a wild olive tree that have been joined to the special olive tree. While Paul acknowledges that some individual Israelites have been broken off for their unfaithfulness (vv. 19–20), he sternly warns Gentiles not to be arrogant or haughty but to continue in God’s kindness or else they’ll be cut off (vv. 20–22). It is likely that Paul is addressing division between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church of Rome during his own day; but it is providential that these warnings were made ahead of time as history is littered with arrogant Gentiles viciously persecuting the Jewish people in the name of Jesus—something the Messiah never commanded! Nevertheless, it is at this point that Paul looks to a future for Israel that is consistent with the predictions of the Tanakh: God will one day graft Israel in again, for He alone has that power (vv. 23–24)! 

Israel in the Future

When Paul speaks of Israel’s future, he inevitably underscores their uniqueness as God’s chosen nation. In Romans 11:11–12, he indicates that Israel’s rejection of the Messiah has indeed brought rich blessings to scores of Gentiles in order to inspire Israel to jealousy. But then he says if Israel’s rejection of God has brought blessing to the world, how much more their fullness and acceptance of Him? What does Israel’s acceptance of Yeshua the Messiah mean for the world? It means that the world Kingdom of Peace (with Messiah’s reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem) is finally ushered in! In Romans 11:25, Paul declares that Israel has been partially blinded (judicially) to the truth, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come into salvation. Afterward, Paul affirms that “all Israel will be saved, as it written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” 

God will one day graft Israel in again, for He alone has that power! 

Indeed, Israel remains unique. God has not placed the coming world peace upon any other nation’s repentance. World peace is not conditional upon China’s repentance, nor England’s or Spain’s. Israel’s repentance in the Divine Messiah—which is a work of God in itself (Zechariah 12:10)—will bring the Messianic and Davidic Kingdom of Peace (Matthew 23:39). We look forward to and pray for that era! Yet, even while Paul calls the majority of Israel “enemies of the gospel [Good News],” he insists that they are still “beloved for the sake of the patriarchs” (Romans 11:28). The apostle insists that Israel’s “gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).

In concluding this study, we must acknowledge some things with Paul. All people, whether Jew or Gentile, sin against God; but, the Good News remains that this was done so that He may have mercy upon all (v. 32). With that, Paul famously breaks out into praise towards God. In Romans 11:33–36 we see that this is for God’s glory. The wisdom and knowledge of God is deep and rich, His mind is unsearchable, and He needs no counselor! He will not be indebted to anyone. All things are from Him! And with that we say Amen!




09/27/22


Question: "Did God create evil?"


Answer: At first it might seem that if God created all things, then evil must have been created by God. However, evil is not a "thing" like a rock or electricity. You cannot have a jar of evil. Evil has no existence of its own; it is really the absence of good. For example, holes are real but they only exist in something else. We call the absence of dirt a hole, but it cannot be separated from the dirt. So when God created, it is true that all He created was good. One of the good things God made was creatures who had the freedom to choose good. In order to have a real choice, God had to allow there to be something besides good to choose. So, God allowed these free angels and humans to choose good or reject good (evil). When a bad relationship exists between two good things we call that evil, but it does not become a "thing" that required God to create it.

Perhaps a further illustration will help. If a person is asked, "Does cold exist?" the answer would likely be "yes." However, this is incorrect. Cold does not exist. Cold is the absence of heat. Similarly, darkness does not exist; it is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good, or better, evil is the absence of God. God did not have to create evil, but rather only allow for the absence of good.

God did not create evil, but He does allow evil. If God had not allowed for the possibility of evil, both mankind and angels would be serving God out of obligation, not choice. He did not want "robots" that simply did what He wanted them to do because of their "programming." God allowed for the possibility of evil so that we could genuinely have a free will and choose whether or not we wanted to serve Him.

As finite human beings, we can never fully understand an infinite God (Romans 11:33-34). Sometimes we think we understand why God is doing something, only to find out later that it was for a different purpose than we originally thought. God looks at things from a holy, eternal perspective. We look at things from a sinful, earthly, and temporal perspective. Why did God put man on earth knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and therefore bring evil, death, and suffering on all mankind? Why didn't He just create us all and leave us in heaven where we would be perfect and without suffering? These questions cannot be adequately answered this side of eternity. What we can know is whatever God does is holy and perfect and ultimately will glorify Him. God allowed for the possibility of evil in order to give us a true choice in regards to whether we worship Him. God did not create evil, but He allowed it. If He had not allowed evil, we would be worshiping Him out of obligation, not by a choice of our own will.


Question: "Why does God allow evil?"


Answer: The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:

1) God could change everyone’s personality so that they cannot sin. This would also mean that we would not have a free will. We would not be able to choose right or wrong because we would be “programmed” to only do right. Had God chosen to do this, there would be no meaningful relationships between Him and His creation.

Instead, God made Adam and Eve innocent but with the ability to choose good or evil. Because of this, they could respond to His love and trust Him or choose to disobey. They chose to disobey. Because we live in a real world where we can choose our actions but not their consequences, their sin affected those who came after them (us). Similarly, our decisions to sin have an impact on us and those around us and those who will come after us.

2) God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would stop a drunk driver from causing an automobile accident. God would stop a lazy construction worker from doing a substandard job on a house that would later cause grief to the homeowners. God would stop a father who is addicted to drugs or alcohol from doing any harm to his wife, children, or extended family. God would stop gunmen from robbing convenience stores. God would stop high school bullies from tormenting the brainy kids. God would stop thieves from shoplifting. And, yes, God would stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings.

While this solution sounds attractive, it would lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horribly evil actions, but we are willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide—not realizing that those “lesser-evil” actions are what usually lead to the “greater-evil” actions. Should God only stop actual sexual affairs, or should He also block our access to pornography or end any inappropriate, but not yet sexual, relationships? Should God stop “true” thieves, or should He also stop us from cheating on our taxes? Should God only stop murder, or should He also stop the “lesser-evil” actions done to people that lead them to commit murder? Should God only stop acts of terrorism, or should He also stop the indoctrination that transformed a person into a terrorist?

3) Another choice would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. The problem with this possibility is that there would be no one left, for God would have to remove us all. We all sin and commit evil acts (Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). While some people are more evil than others, where would God draw the line? Ultimately, all evil causes harm to others.

Instead of these options, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences. In this real world of ours, our actions affect others. Because of Adam’s choice to sin, the world now lives under the curse, and we are all born with a sin nature (Romans 5:12). There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new, but He is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that He will not need to condemn them (2 Peter 3:9). Until then, He ISconcerned about evil. When He created the Old Testament laws, the goal was to discourage and punish evil. He judges nations and rulers who disregard justice and pursue evil. Likewise, in the New Testament, God states that it is the government’s responsibility to provide justice in order to protect the innocent from evil (Romans 13). He also promises severe consequences for those who commit evil acts, especially against the "innocent" (Mark 9:36-42).

In summary, we live in a real world where our good and evil actions have direct consequences and indirect consequences upon us and those around us. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey Him that it might be well with us (Deuteronomy 5:29). Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. Such is the heart of sinful man. But Jesus came to change men’s hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and He does this for those who will turn from evil and call on Him to save them from their sin and its consequences (2 Corinthians 5:17). God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. This world would be MUCH WORSE were God not restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, He allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil. Rather than blaming God and questioning God on why He does not prevent all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences—Jesus Christ!




Question: "Is it wrong to blame God? Is blaming God a sin?"

Answer: Blaming God is a common response when life doesn’t go our way. Since God is supposedly in control of everything, the thinking goes, He could have stopped what happened. He could have changed the situation to benefit me; He could have averted the calamity. Since He did not, He is to blame.

In one sense, those statements are true. Isaiah 45:7 seems to validate the idea that God is to blame for everything that happens: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” And Isaiah 46:9–11: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. . . . I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ . . . What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” If God is willing to take responsibility for everything, then is it wrong to blame Him when disaster or heartache strikes us?

The word blame means “to find fault with.” Blaming goes beyond acknowledging God’s sovereignty. Blaming God implies that He messed up, that there is a fault to be found in Him. When we blame God, we make ourselves His judge and jury. But mere human beings have no right to pass judgment on the Almighty. We are His creation; He is not ours: “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’” (Isaiah 45:9–10).

To help avoid blaming God, we must first understand why heartache and pain are a part of our lives. Sin is at the root of every harsh and evil act. God did not design the human body or soul to live in a sinful world. We were created perfectly to dwell in a perfect world (Genesis 1—2). But the sin of Adam brought devastation and disaster into God’s perfect world. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts—ultimately, all natural disasters are here because of sin (Genesis 3:17–19). Our own sinful choices create a ripple effect that echoes throughout our lives. And the sin of others affects us as well. Earthly trouble is a reminder that sin has terrible consequences, so, before we blame God for a crisis, we must examine our own lives and be honest about choices that could have led to it.

Second, we need to examine our own relationship with God. It is puzzling that many people who never give God a thought while doing their own thing become very religious when disaster strikes. They live for themselves 99 percent of the time, as if there were no God. But then tragedy strikes, and suddenly it is God’s fault. Not only is this irrational, but it is insulting to the Creator, who has already given us everything we need to have a relationship with Him.

Of course, having a right relationship with the Lord does not exempt us from suffering terrible heartaches. What do we do when disaster strikes us? Often, Christians are tempted to blame God when the suffering comes. We have a tendency to follow the advice of Job’s wife to her suffering husband: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

Instead of blaming God, Christians can run to Him for comfort (Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 34:18). Christians have a promise that the unbelieving world cannot claim. Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Some quote this verse and stop after the word good, but that is a misuse of Scripture. God placed two qualifiers after this promise that define its limits: the promise is “to those who love God” and to those “called according to His purpose.”

Instead of blaming God, those who love Him can face tragedy with the assurance that nothing can harm them that God did not allow for a good and loving reason. He allows difficult things, even suffering and death, for His own higher purposes. When we desire God’s will for our lives, prioritizing it over our own will, He wastes nothing. No suffering, heartache, loss, or pain is wasted in the lives of God’s own people. He transforms our grief and loss into a platform for future ministry. He uses the difficulties to strengthen us, giving us greater opportunities to store up treasure in heaven than we would have had without the pain (Matthew 6:20). Instead of blaming God, we “give thanks in everything” (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We acknowledge that God can intervene in any situation; when He does not intervene, and tragedy ensues, we should stop short of blaming Him for wrongdoing. In all that Job suffered, “he did not sin by charging the Lord with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). Instead of blaming God, who had allowed such overwhelming loss, Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). God honored Job’s response and blessed him mightily after he passed the test. God wants to bless us as well with greater understanding, deeper devotion, and eternal reward that can never be taken away. When we are tempted to blame God, we can choose Job’s response and trust that He knows what He is doing (see Psalm 131).




Question: "Why is seeking God important?"

Answer: In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul quotes an astonishing statement from the Psalms: “There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). How can Paul, and David before him, make such a sweeping declaration? Of all who have ever lived, not even one person has really sought after God? There’s no question that billions of people have sought after a god, but they have not always sought after the true God.

This fact ties directly to Adam and Eve’s sin prompted by Satan’s deception. Throughout the history of mankind, the treachery promulgated by Satan has been so thorough that the natural man can perceive only bits and pieces of the real truth about God. As a result, our conceptions about God are blurred. It’s only when God chooses to reveal Himself to us that the pieces begin to fall together as our eyes are opened to truth. Then, truly seeking God becomes possible.

Jesus tells us in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Here Jesus is telling us that our continuing to seek God, desiring to know Him more, is the essence of true life, eternal life. The most important thoughts our minds can entertain are thoughts of God, because they will determine the quality and direction of life. Seeking God, then, is an ongoing responsibility and privilege for all Christians.

But we also know that seeking God is not always an easy thing to do, not because God is elusive, but because our minds are saturated with misconceptions and deceits planted by Satan and reinforced by the culture, not to mention the sinful nature of our own hearts and the general deceitfulness of sin (Jeremiah 17:9; James 1:13–15). But the good news is that these mistaken beliefs are done away with through coming to know God and growing in our relationship with Him. This starts when we turn to Him for salvation and put our trust in Jesus Christ. When we are saved, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who helps us to know God and even transforms our hearts to want to seek Him (Ephesians 1:13–14; Philippians 1:6; 2:12–13; Romans 8:26–30). Romans 12:2 counsels, “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.” We learn the truth about God and seek Him through reading His Word (the Bible). We seek God also through prayer and in times of worship. We seek God both individually and corporately. Spending time with other believers in Jesus who are also seeking God is important to help us continue to seek Him (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Second Chronicles 15:2–4 is instructive for us. This passage was written over two thousand years ago to a people like us: “[Azariah the prophet] went out to meet Asa and said to him, ‘Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.’”

Their instructions were simple: when they sincerely sought God, things went well, but when their desire to seek Him waned and eventually ceased altogether, their world came apart. Sin increased, morality declined, and contact with God ceased. The admonitions to the children of God of that time are clear to us today: “If you seek him, he will be found by you.” This profound principle is repeated throughout Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7; Acts 17:27; James 4:8). The idea is that, when we draw near to God, He reveals Himself to us. God does not hide Himself from the seeking heart.

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).


09/23/21

ESCAPE OR WAIT? A BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE RAPTURE


I read about it all the time: Knockers of the Rapture consider it a false doctrine satisfying the Christian’s longing to escape the world and all its problems. “Beam me up, Jesus! It’s a mess here, and I want out.”


Jürgen Moltmann, the renowned Reformed theologian, once critiqued the Left Behind series, and he wrote, “The pious dream of rapture contains a resignation that abandons this earth to destruction …. A God who only waits to rapture Christian crews … cannot be a God whom one can trust.”


I have great respect for Moltmann, but we disagree on what Paul called the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). 


HOW THE THESSALONIANS UNDERSTOOD THE RAPTURE


For starters, the word rapture (rapturo) is biblical. It is the Latin translation of the Greek word harpazo found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which means “to be caught up.” 

Paul was writing believers in Thessalonica to encourage their faith, that is, that they haven’t missed the completion of their salvation, the resurrection of their bodies.  


The resurrection of the dead raised more questions than bodies.


I’m sure there was confusion at this time in the early church. Paul was addressing this issue 20 years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Christ hadn’t returned and Christians were dying. I’m sure the 

Thessalonians were wondering, “Did we miss something? How will God raise the bodies of those who were buried, or worse, burned or drowned?” The resurrection of the dead raised more questions than bodies. It’s a question many believers have today, 2,000 years later.


Paul gently assured his brothers and sisters that Christ is still coming for both those who have passed and those who are alive! And when He comes, the dead will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16), then the living will be “caught up” (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air!


Now, earlier in his letter Paul reminded the beleaguered that their destiny isn’t to endure the divine wrath that’s coming (1:10), when God pours out His judgment on mankind (5:2, 3). Instead, our hope is in His return! 


HOW WE UNDERSTAND THE RAPTURE

For those who believe in the Rapture of the church, our calling isn’t to escape, but to wait. We’re to wait for His coming as all His creation has been eagerly longing (Romans 8:19). 


For those who believe in the Rapture of the church, our calling isn’t to escape, but to wait.


Is it wrong to long for His coming? Should we feel guilty for expressing our desire to hear the “trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)? I certainly don’t think so.

When Paul wrote Titus about our “blessed hope,” he said we’re “waiting” for His glorious appearance. The “waiting” Paul describes is the same “waiting” my children expressed on Christmas morning when they violently shook my wife and me from sleep long before dawn, only to find out if now was the appropriate time to open the gifts that awaited them under the tree. 


“No!” I told them. “It’s only 4:30 a.m.! Go back to bed.” 

At 5:00 a.m. they returned, “Can we go downstairs now?” 

“No!” I replied. “Bed, now!” 


Their commitment to rip open their Christmas loot continued until we knew there was no stopping them. So, at 5:45 a.m., we made our not-so glorious appearance. My kids weren’t looking to escape; quite the opposite, they were anxious to receive what they had waited weeks to experience.


Christians who long for the Rapture aren’t pious Houdinis frantically searching for their escape hatch. Instead, we’re Christians confidently waiting with eager expectation for the completion of our redemption, just as Paul, the apostles, and the rest of faithful believers have for centuries. 

God’s promise to resurrect believers who have gone before us and transition those who are still alive is the greatest gift we have coming, so of course, we’re excited. We should be—it’s in our spiritual DNA. 


So let us wait eagerly together, let us not waste what time we have, and let us pray as the apostle John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHRIS KATULKA

Chris Katulka is the assistant director of North American Ministries for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, the host of The Friends of Israel Today radio program, a Bible teacher, and writer for Israel My Glory magazine.




09/19/21


Question: "Is it wrong to be angry with God?"


Answer: Being angry at God is something that many people, both believers and unbelievers, have wrestled with throughout time. When something tragic happens in our lives, we ask God the question, “Why?” because it is our natural response. What we are really asking Him, though, is not so much “Why, God?” as “Why me, God?” This response indicates two flaws in our thinking. First, as believers we operate under the impression that life should be easy, and that God should prevent tragedy from happening to us. When He does not, we get angry with Him. Second, when we do not understand the extent of God’s sovereignty, we lose confidence in His ability to control circumstances, other people, and the way they affect us. Then we get angry with God because He seems to have lost control of the universe and especially control of our lives. When we lose faith in God’s sovereignty, it is because our frail human flesh is grappling with our own frustration and our lack of control over events. When good things happen, we all too often attribute it to our own achievements and success. When bad things happen, however, we are quick to blame God, and we get angry with Him for not preventing it, which indicates the first flaw in our thinking—that we deserve to be immune to unpleasant circumstances.

Tragedies bring home the awful truth that we are not in charge. All of us think at one time or another that we can control the outcomes of situations, but in reality it is God who is in charge of all of His creation. Everything that happens is either caused by or allowed by God. Not a sparrow falls to the ground nor a hair from our head without God knowing about it (Matthew 10:29-31). We can complain, get angry, and blame God for what is happening. Yet if we will trust Him and yield our bitterness and pain to Him, acknowledging the prideful sin of trying to force our own will over His, He can and will grant us His peace and strength to get us through any difficult situation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Many believers in Jesus Christ can testify to that very fact. We can be angry with God for many reasons, so we all have to accept at some point that there are things we cannot control or even understand with our finite minds.

Our understanding of the sovereignty of God in all circumstances must be accompanied by our understanding of His other attributes: love, mercy, kindness, goodness, righteousness, justice, and holiness. When we see our difficulties through the truth of God’s Word—which tells us that our loving and holy God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and that He has a perfect plan and purpose for us which cannot be thwarted (Isaiah 14:24, 46:9-10)—we begin to see our problems in a different light. We also know from Scripture that this life will never be one of continual joy and happiness. Rather, Job reminds us that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), and that life is short and “full of trouble” (Job 14:1). Just because we come to Christ for salvation from sin does not mean we are guaranteed a life free from problems. In fact, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble,” but that He has “overcome the world” (John 16:33), enabling us to have peace within, in spite of the storms that rage around us (John 14:27).

One thing is certain: inappropriate anger is sin (Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:26-27, 31; Colossians 3:8). Ungodly anger is self-defeating, gives the devil a foothold in our lives, and can destroy our joy and peace if we hang on to it. Holding on to our anger will allow bitterness and resentment to spring up in our hearts. We must confess it to the Lord, and then in His forgiveness, we can release those feelings to Him. We must go before the Lord in prayer often in our grief, anger, and pain. The Bible tells us in 2 Samuel 12:15-23 that David went before the throne of grace on behalf of his sick baby, fasting, weeping, and praying for him to survive. When the baby passed away, David got up and worshiped the Lord and then told his servants that he knew where his baby was and that he would someday be with him in God’s presence. David cried out to God during the baby’s illness, and afterward he bowed before Him in worship. That is a wonderful testimony. God knows our hearts, and it is pointless to try to hide how we really feel, so talking to Him about it is one of the best ways to handle our grief. If we do so humbly, pouring out our hearts to Him, He will work through us, and in the process, will make us more like Him.

The bottom line is can we trust God with everything, our very lives and the lives of our loved ones? Of course we can! Our God is compassionate, full of grace and love, and as disciples of Christ we can trust Him with all things. When tragedies happen to us, we know God can use them to bring us closer to Him and to strengthen our faith, bringing us to maturity and completeness (Psalm 34:18; James 1:2-4). Then, we can be a comforting testimony to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). That is easier said than done, however. It requires a daily surrendering of our own will to His, a faithful study of His attributes as seen in God’s Word, much prayer, and then applying what we learn to our own situation. By doing so, our faith will progressively grow and mature, making it easier to trust Him to get us through the next tragedy that most certainly will take place.

So, to answer the question directly, yes, it is wrong to be angry at God. Anger at God is a result of an inability or unwillingness to trust God even when we do not understand what He is doing. Anger at God is essentially telling God that He has done something wrong, which He never does. Does God understand when we are angry, frustrated, or disappointed with Him? Yes, He knows our hearts, and He knows how difficult and painful life in this world can be. Does that make it right to be angry with God? Absolutely not. Instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts to Him in prayer, and trust that He is in control of His perfect plan.


Question: "Is it wrong to blame God? Is blaming God a sin?"


Answer: Blaming God is a common response when life doesn’t go our way. Since God is supposedly in control of everything, the thinking goes, He could have stopped what happened. He could have changed the situation to benefit me; He could have averted the calamity. Since He did not, He is to blame.

In one sense, those statements are true. Isaiah 45:7 seems to validate the idea that God is to blame for everything that happens: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” And Isaiah 46:9–11: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. . . . I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ . . . What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” If God is willing to take responsibility for everything, then is it wrong to blame Him when disaster or heartache strikes us?

The word blame means “to find fault with.” Blaming goes beyond acknowledging God’s sovereignty. Blaming God implies that He messed up, that there is a fault to be found in Him. When we blame God, we make ourselves His judge and jury. But mere human beings have no right to pass judgment on the Almighty. We are His creation; He is not ours: “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’” (Isaiah 45:9–10).

To help avoid blaming God, we must first understand why heartache and pain are a part of our lives. Sin is at the root of every harsh and evil act. God did not design the human body or soul to live in a sinful world. We were created perfectly to dwell in a perfect world (Genesis 1—2). But the sin of Adam brought devastation and disaster into God’s perfect world. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts—ultimately, all natural disasters are here because of sin (Genesis 3:17–19). Our own sinful choices create a ripple effect that echoes throughout our lives. And the sin of others affects us as well. Earthly trouble is a reminder that sin has terrible consequences, so, before we blame God for a crisis, we must examine our own lives and be honest about choices that could have led to it.

Second, we need to examine our own relationship with God. It is puzzling that many people who never give God a thought while doing their own thing become very religious when disaster strikes. They live for themselves 99 percent of the time, as if there were no God. But then tragedy strikes, and suddenly it is God’s fault. Not only is this irrational, but it is insulting to the Creator, who has already given us everything we need to have a relationship with Him.

Of course, having a right relationship with the Lord does not exempt us from suffering terrible heartaches. What do we do when disaster strikes us? Often, Christians are tempted to blame God when the suffering comes. We have a tendency to follow the advice of Job’s wife to her suffering husband: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

Instead of blaming God, Christians can run to Him for comfort (Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 34:18). Christians have a promise that the unbelieving world cannot claim. Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Some quote this verse and stop after the word good, but that is a misuse of Scripture. God placed two qualifiers after this promise that define its limits: the promise is “to those who love God” and to those “called according to His purpose.”

Instead of blaming God, those who love Him can face tragedy with the assurance that nothing can harm them that God did not allow for a good and loving reason. He allows difficult things, even suffering and death, for His own higher purposes. When we desire God’s will for our lives, prioritizing it over our own will, He wastes nothing. No suffering, heartache, loss, or pain is wasted in the lives of God’s own people. He transforms our grief and loss into a platform for future ministry. He uses the difficulties to strengthen us, giving us greater opportunities to store up treasure in heaven than we would have had without the pain (Matthew 6:20). Instead of blaming God, we “give thanks in everything” (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We acknowledge that God can intervene in any situation; when He does not intervene, and tragedy ensues, we should stop short of blaming Him for wrongdoing. In all that Job suffered, “he did not sin by charging the Lord with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). Instead of blaming God, who had allowed such overwhelming loss, Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). God honored Job’s response and blessed him mightily after he passed the test. God wants to bless us as well with greater understanding, deeper devotion, and eternal reward that can never be taken away. When we are tempted to blame God, we can choose Job’s response and trust that He knows what He is doing (see Psalm 131).



Question: "What should we learn from the symbolism of the potter and clay in the Bible?"

Answer: The Bible uses symbolism to deepen the message God has for His people. One such symbol is that of potter and clay. The most detailed example is found in Jeremiah 18. God instructed the prophet Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house where God would illustrate His relationship with Israel. Verses 2–6 say, “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.’”

Although God allows human beings freedom to make moral choices, He demonstrates often that He is still sovereign and in control of His universe. He does whatever He wills with His creation (Psalm 135:6; 155:3; Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 46:9–11). We need frequent reminders that God is over all and can do as He pleases whether we understand His actions or not (Romans 9:20–21). He owes us nothing yet chooses to extend to us the utmost patience, kindness, and compassion (Jeremiah 9:24; Psalm 36:10; 103:4, 17). The potter working with the clay reminds us that God is at work in us “for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?”

God has created each of us the way He wants us (Psalm 139:13–16; Exodus 4:11). It is our responsibility to take what He has given us and use it for His glory and pleasure. In doing so, we find our ultimate fulfillment. Rather than live with disappointment and dissatisfaction with what God has or has not given us, we can choose to thank Him in everything (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:15). Just as the clay finds its highest purpose when it remains pliable in the hands of the potter, so our lives fulfill their highest purpose when we let our Potter have His way with us.


09/15/21


Question: "Is it true that everything happens for a reason?"


Answer: Does everything happen for a reason? The short answer is “yes”; because God is sovereign, there are no random, out-of-control happenings. God’s purposes may be hidden from us, but we can be assured that every event has a reason behind it.

There was a reason for the blindness of the man in John 9, although the disciples misidentified the reason (John 9:1–3). There was a reason for Joseph’s mistreatment, although his brothers’ purpose in what they did to him was very different from God’s purpose in allowing it (Genesis 50:20). There was a reason for Jesus’ death—the authorities in Jerusalem had their reasons, based on evil intent, and God had His, based on righteousness. God’s sovereignty extends even to the lowliest of creatures: “Not one [sparrow] falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29, NET).

Several factors help us know that everything happens for a reason: the law of cause and effect, the doctrine of original sin, and the providence of God. All these demonstrate that everything does happen for a reason, not just by happenstance or by random chance.

First, there is the natural law of cause and effect, also known as the law of sowing and reaping. Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). This means that in every action we take or word we utter, whether good or evil, there are certain inevitable results that follow (Colossians 3:23–25). Someone may ask, “Why am I in jail? Is there a reason for this?” and the answer may be, “Because you robbed your neighbor’s house and got caught.” That’s cause and effect.

All that we do is either an investment in the flesh or an investment in the Spirit. We shall reap whatever we have sown, and we shall reap in proportion to how we have sown. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The believer who walks in the Spirit and “sows” in the Spirit is going to reap a spiritual harvest. If his sowing has been generous, the harvest will be bountiful, if not in this life, certainly in the life to come. Conversely, those who “sow” to the flesh are going to reap a life without the full blessings of God, both in this life and the life to come (Jeremiah 18:10; 2 Peter 2:10–12).

The reason some things happen can often be traced back to original sin in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is clear that the world is under a curse (Genesis 3:17), which has resulted in infirmities, diseases, natural disasters, and death. All these things, although under God’s ultimate control, are sometimes used by Satan to inflict misery upon people (see Job 1–2; Luke 9:37–42; 13:16). Someone may ask, “Why did I contract this illness? Is there a reason for it?” and the answer may be one or more of the following: 1) “Because you live in a fallen world, and we are all subject to illness”; 2) “Because God is testing you and strengthening your faith”; or 3) “Because, in love, God is disciplining you according to Hebrews 12:7–13 and 1 Corinthians 11:29–30.”

Then we have what is called the providence of God. The doctrine of providence holds that God quietly and invisibly works through the natural world to manage events. God, in His providence, works out His purposes through natural processes in the physical and social universe. Every effect can be traced back to a natural cause, and there is no hint of the miraculous. The best that man can do to explain the reason why things happen in the course of natural events is to point to “coincidence.”

Believers proclaim that God arranges the coincidences. The unbeliever derides such ideas because he believes natural causes can fully explain each event without reference to God. Yet followers of Christ are wholly assured of this profound truth: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The book of Esther shows divine providence at work. The banishment of Vashti, the selection of Esther, the plot of the assassins, the pride of Haman, the courage of Mordecai, the insomnia of the king, the bloodlust of Zeresh, and the reading of the scroll—everything in the book happens, like cogs in a well-oiled machine, to bring about the deliverance of God’s people. Although God is never mentioned in Esther, His providence, working through “coincidence,” is plain to see.

God is always at work in the lives of His people, and in His goodness will bring them to a good end (see Philippians 1:6). The events that define our lives are not simply products of natural causes or random chance. They are ordained by God and are intended for our good. We often fail to sense God’s hidden guidance or protection as events in our lives unfold. But, when we look back at past events, we are able to see His hand more clearly, even in times of tragedy.


Question: "What does it mean that God is sovereign?"

Answer: God’s sovereignty is one of the most important principles in Christian theology, as well as one of its most hotly debated. Whether or not God is actually sovereign is usually not a topic of debate; all mainstream Christian sects agree that God is preeminent in power and authority. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. What’s subject to disagreement is to what extent God applies His sovereignty—specifically, how much control He exerts over the wills of men. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe, but then the debate begins over when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.

God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God.

At the same time, the Bible describes God as offering humanity choices (Deuteronomy 30:15–19), holding them personally responsible for their sins (Exodus 20:5), and being unhappy with some of their actions (Numbers 25:3). The fact that sin exists at all proves that not all things that occur are the direct actions of God, who is holy. The reality of human volition (and human accountability) sets the maximum boundary for God’s sovereign control over the universe, which is to say there is a point at which God chooses to allow things that He does not directly cause.

The fact that God is sovereign essentially means that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to do anything He chooses within His creation. Whether or not He actually exerts that level of control in any given circumstance is actually a completely different question. Often, the concept of divine sovereignty is oversimplified. We tend to assume that, if God is not directly, overtly, purposefully driving some event, then He is somehow not sovereign. The cartoon version of sovereignty depicts a God who must do anything that He can do, or else He is not truly sovereign.

Of course, such a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty is logically false. If a man were to put an ant in a bowl, the “sovereignty” of the man over the ant is not in doubt. The ant may try to crawl out, and the man may not want this to happen. But the man is not forced to crush the ant, drown it, or pick it up. The man, for reasons of his own, may choose to let the ant crawl away, but the man is still in control. There is a difference between allowing the ant to leave the bowl and helplessly watching as it escapes. The cartoon version of God’s sovereignty implies that, if the man is not actively holding the ant inside the bowl, then he must be unable to keep it in there at all.

The illustration of the man and the ant is at least a vague parallel to God’s sovereignty over mankind. God has the ability to do anything, to take action and intervene in any situation, but He often chooses to act indirectly or to allow certain things for reasons of His own. His will is furthered in any case. God’s “sovereignty” means that He is absolute in authority and unrestricted in His supremacy. Everything that happens is, at the very least, the result of God’s permissive will. This holds true even if certain specific things are not what He would prefer. The right of God to allow mankind’s free choices is just as necessary for true sovereignty as His ability to enact His will, wherever and however He chooses.


Question: "What does it mean that God is omniscient?"


Answer: Omniscience is defined as “the state of having total knowledge, the quality of knowing everything.” For God to be sovereign over His creation of all things, whether visible or invisible, He has to be all-knowing. His omniscience is not restricted to any one person in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all by nature omniscient.

God knows everything (1 John 3:20). He knows not only the minutest details of our lives but those of everything around us, for He mentions even knowing when a sparrow falls or when we lose a single hair (Matthew 10:29-30). Not only does God know everything that will occur until the end of history itself (Isaiah 46:9-10), but He also knows our very thoughts, even before we speak forth (Psalm 139:4). He knows our hearts from afar; He even saw us in the womb (Psalm 139:1-3, 15-16). Solomon expresses this truth perfectly when he says, “For you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind” (1 Kings 8:39).

Despite the condescension of the Son of God to empty Himself and make Himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), His omniscience is clearly seen in the New Testament writings. The first prayer of the apostles in Acts 1:24, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart,” implies Jesus’ omniscience, which is necessary if He is to be able to receive petitions and intercede at God’s right hand. On earth, Jesus’ omniscience is just as clear. In many Gospel accounts, He knew the thoughts of his audience (Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Mark 2:6-8; Luke 6:8). He knew about people’s lives before He had even met them. When He met the woman collecting water at the well at Sychar, He said to her, “The fact is you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). He also tells His disciples that their friend Lazarus was dead, although He was over 25 miles away from Lazarus’s home (John 11:11-15). He advised the disciples to go and make preparation for the Lord’s Supper, describing the person they were to meet and follow (Mark 14:13-15). Perhaps best of all, He knew Nathanael before ever meeting him, for He knew his heart (John 1:47-48).

Clearly, we observe Jesus’ omniscience on earth, but this is where the paradox begins as well. Jesus asks questions, which imply the absence of knowledge, although the Lord asks questions more for the benefit of His audience than for Himself. However, there is another facet regarding His omniscience that comes from the limitations of the human nature which He, as Son of God, assumed. We read that as a man He “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52) and that He learned “obedience through suffering” (Hebrews 5:8). We also read that He did not know when the world would be brought to an end (Matthew 24:34-36). We, therefore, have to ask, why would the Son not know this, if He knew everything else? Rather than regarding this as just a human limitation, we should regard it as a controlled lack of knowledge. This was a self-willed act of humility in order to share fully in our nature (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:17) and to be the Second Adam.

Finally, there is nothing too hard for an omniscient God, and it is on the basis of our faith in such a God that we can rest secure in Him, knowing that He promises never to fail us as long as we continue in Him. He has known us from eternity, even before creation. God knew you and me, where we would appear in the course of time, and whom we would interact with. He even foresaw our sin in all its ugliness and depravity, yet, in love, He set his seal upon us and drew us to that love in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-6). We shall see Him face to face, but our knowledge of Him will never be complete. Our wonder, love and praise of Him shall go on for all millennia as we bask in the rays of His heavenly love, learning and appreciating more and more of our omniscient God.


Question: "What does it mean that God is omnipotent?"

Answer: The word omnipotent comes from omni-meaning “all” and potent meaning “power.” As with the attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, it follows that, if God is infinite, and if He is sovereign, which we know He is, then He must also be omnipotent. He has all power over all things at all times and in all ways. 

Job spoke of God’s power in Job 42:2: “I know that you can do all things and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job was acknowledging God’s omnipotence in carrying out His plans. Moses, too, was reminded by God that He had all power to complete His purposes regarding the Israelites: “The LORD answered Moses, ‘Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you’” (Numbers 11:23). 

Nowhere is God’s omnipotence seen more clearly than in creation. God said, “Let there be…” and it was so (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, etc.). Man needs tools and materials to create; God simply spoke, and by the power of His word, everything was created from nothing. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

God’s power is also seen in the preservation of His creation. All life on earth would perish were it not for God’s continual provision of everything we need for food, clothing and shelter, all from renewable resources sustained by His power as the preserver of man and beast (Psalm 36:6). The seas which cover most of the earth, and over which we are powerless, would overwhelm us if God did not proscribe their limits (Job 38:8-11).

God’s omnipotence extends to governments and leaders (Daniel 2:21), as He restrains them or lets them go their way according to His plans and purposes. His power is unlimited in regard to Satan and his demons. Satan’s attack on Job was limited to only certain actions. He was restrained by God’s unlimited power (Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus reminded Pilate that he had no power over Him unless it had been granted to him by the God of all power (John 19:11). 

Being omnipotent, God can do everything that is in harmony with His Holy character. The Bible reveals that He cannot do things which are contrary to His Holy character. For example, Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, and Hebrews 6:18 teach that He cannot lie. God lacks the ability to lie because lying is contrary to His moral perfection. In the same way, despite His being all-powerful and hating evil, He allows evil to happen, according to His good purpose. He uses certain evil events to allow His purposes to unfold, such as when the greatest evil of all occurred—the killing of the perfect, holy, innocent Lamb of God for the redemption of mankind.

As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is omnipotent. His power is seen in the miracles He performed—His numerous healings, the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44), calming the storm (Mark 4:37-41), and the ultimate display of power, raising Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead (John 11:38-44; Mark 5:35-43), an example of His control over life and death. Death is the ultimate reason that Jesus came—to destroy it (1 Corinthians 15:22; Hebrews 2:14) and to bring sinners into a right relationship with God. The Lord Jesus stated clearly that He had power to lay down His life and power to take it up again, a fact that He allegorized when speaking about the temple (John 2:19). He had power to call upon twelve legions of angels to rescue Him during His trial, if needed (Matthew 26:53), yet He offered Himself in humility in place of others (Philippians 2:1-11). 

The great mystery is that this power can be shared by believers who are united to God in Jesus Christ. Paul says, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9b). God’s power is exalted in us most when our weaknesses are greatest because He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). It is God’s power that continues to hold us in a state of grace despite our sin (2 Timothy 1:12), and by His power we are kept from falling (Jude 24). His power will be proclaimed by all the host of heaven for all eternity (Revelation 19:1). May that be our endless prayer!



Question: "What does it mean that God is omnipresent?"


Answer: The prefix omni- originates in Latin and means “all.” So, to say that God is omnipresent is to say that God is present everywhere. In many religions, God is regarded as omnipresent, whereas in both Judaism and Christianity, this view is further subdivided into the transcendence and immanence of God. Although God is not totally immersed in the fabric of creation (pantheism), He is present everywhere at all times. 

God's presence is continuous throughout all of creation, though it may not be revealed in the same way at the same time to people everywhere. At times, He may be actively present in a situation, while He may not reveal that He is present in another circumstance in some other area. The Bible reveals that God can be both present to a person in a manifest manner (Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 57:15) and present in every situation in all of creation at any given time (Psalm 33:13-14). Omnipresence is God's characteristic of being present to all ranges of both time and space. Although God is present in all time and space, God is not locally limited to any time or space. God is everywhere and in every now. No molecule or atomic particle is so small that God is not fully present to it, and no galaxy so vast that God does not circumscribe it. But if we were to remove creation, God would still know of it, for He knows all possibilities, whether they are actual or not.

God is naturally present in every aspect of the natural order of things, in every manner, time and place (Isaiah 40:12; Nahum 1:3). God is actively present in a different way in every event in history as provident guide of human affairs (Psalm 48:7; 2 Chronicles 20:37; Daniel 5:5-6). God is in a special way attentively present to those who call upon His name, who intercede for others, who adore God, who petition, and who pray earnestly for forgiveness (Psalm 46:1). Supremely, He is present in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:19), and mystically present in the universal church that covers the earth and against which the gates of hell will not prevail.

Just as the omniscience of God suffers apparent paradoxes due to the limitations of the human mind, so does the omnipresence of God. One of these paradoxes is important: the presence of God in hell, that place unto which the wicked are departed and suffer the unlimited and unceasing fury of God because of their sin. Many argue that hell is a place of separation from God (Matthew 25:41), and if so, then God cannot be said to be in a place that is separated from Him. However, the wicked in hell endure His everlasting anger, for Revelation 14:10 speaks of the torment of the wicked in the presence of the Lamb. That God should be present in a place that the wicked are said to be departed unto does cause some consternation. However, this paradox can be explained by the fact that God can be present—because He fills all things with His presence (Colossians 1:17) and upholds everything by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3)—yet He is not necessarily everywhere to bless. 

Just as God is sometimes separated from His children because of sin (Isaiah 52:9), and He is far from the wicked (Proverbs 15:29) and orders the godless subjects of darkness to depart at the end of time to a place of eternal punishment, God is still there in the midst. He knows what those souls suffer who are now in hell; He knows their anguish, their cries for respite, their tears and grief for the eternal state that they find themselves in. He is there in every way as a perpetual reminder to them of their sin which has created a chasm from every blessing that might be otherwise granted. He is there in every way, but He displays no attribute other than His wrath. 

Likewise, He will also be in heaven, manifesting every blessing that we cannot even begin to comprehend here; He will be there displaying His manifold blessing, His manifold love, and His manifold kindness—indeed, everything other than His wrath. The omnipresence of God should serve to remind us that we cannot hide from God when we have sinned (Psalm 139:11-12), yet we can return to God in repentance and faith without even having to move (Isaiah 57:16).




09/13/21


Question: "What does the Bible say about coincidence?"


Answer: The word coincidence is used only once in the New Testament, and it was by Jesus Himself in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:31, Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” The word coincidence is translated from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kuriosSun means “together with,” and kurious means “supreme in authority.” So a biblical definition of coincidence would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”


What appears to us as random chance is in fact overseen by a sovereign God who knows the number of hairs on every head (Luke 12:7). Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). In Isaiah 46:9–11, God states unequivocally that He is in charge of everything: “I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.”


When we consider life events, we tend to classify them as “important” or “unimportant.” Many people have no problem believing that God is in charge of the “big things” but assume that such a big God would not trouble Himself with the seemingly miniscule events of our everyday lives. However, that understanding is colored by our human limitations and not supported by Scripture. For God, there are no unimportant events. He does not need to conserve His strength because His power is limitless. His attention is never divided. If the Lord God tracks every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then nothing is too small for His attention. He is often referred to as the Almighty (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 6:3; Job 13:3), a name denoting unrestricted power and absolute dominion.


Citing coincidence is how we humans explain unexpected events and surprise meetings. But just because we are taken by surprise does not mean that God is. Scripture is clear that God allows sinful humans to make mistakes and reap the consequences of those mistakes, but only a sovereign God could also promise that He will make “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes even our mistakes and unplanned events and weaves them together to fulfill His purposes.


In Old Testament times, God often used the Urim and Thummin, pieces of the high priest’s ephod, to help give guidance and instruction (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; 1 Samuel 30:7–8). In the New Testament, we see the apostles trusting God’s sovereignty when they cast lots to choose a new disciple to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Though each of these means of communication seems insignificant, God has shown throughout Scripture that He can use the smallest object or event for His purposes. God does not seem to allow for “coincidence.” The administration of the universe is not based on serendipity. The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event (Proverbs 19:21). Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” What may seem insignificant to us may be in fact a result of God’s omniscient power working on our behalf to accomplish His will in our lives.


 


Question: "What is the meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?"


Answer: The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) is precipitated by and in answer to a question posed to Jesus by a lawyer. In this case the lawyer would have been an expert in the Mosaic Law and not a court lawyer of today. The lawyer’s question was, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). This question provided Jesus with an opportunity to define what His disciples’ relationship should be to their neighbors. The text says that the scribe (lawyer) had put the question to Jesus as a test, but the text does not indicate that there was hostility in the question. He could have simply been seeking information. The wording of the question does, however, give us some insight into where the scribe’s heart was spiritually. He was making the assumption that man must do something to obtain eternal life. Although this could have been an opportunity for Jesus to discuss salvation issues, He chose a different course and focuses on our relationships and what it means to love.


Jesus answers the question using what is called the Socratic method; i.e., answering a question with a question: “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’" (Luke 10:26). By referring to the Law, Jesus is directing the man to an authority they both would accept as truth, the Old Testament. In essence, He is asking the scribe, what does Scripture say about this and how does he interpret it? Jesus thus avoids an argument and puts Himself in the position of evaluating the scribe’s answer instead of the scribe evaluating His answer. This directs the discussion towards Jesus’ intended lesson. The scribe answers Jesus’ question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This is virtually the same answer that Jesus had given to the same question in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.


In verse 28, Jesus affirms that the lawyer’s answer is correct. Jesus’ reply tells the scribe that he has given an orthodox (scripturally proper) answer, but then goes on in verse 28 to tell him that this kind of love requires more than an emotional feeling; it would also include orthodox practice; he would need to “practice what he preached.” The scribe was an educated man and realized that he could not possibly keep that law, nor would he have necessarily wanted to. There would always be people in his life that he could not love. Thus, he tries to limit the law’s command by limiting its parameters and asked the question “who is my neighbor?” The word “neighbor” in the Greek means “someone who is near,” and in the Hebrew it means “someone that you have an association with.” This interprets the word in a limited sense, referring to a fellow Jew and would have excluded Samaritans, Romans, and other foreigners. Jesus then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor is, and what his duty is to his neighbor.


The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had, including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. That road was treacherously winding and was a favorite hideout of robbers and thieves. The next character Jesus introduces into His story is a priest. He spends no time describing the priest and only tells of how he showed no love or compassion for the man by failing to help him and passing on the other side of the road so as not to get involved. If there was anyone who would have known God’s law of love, it would have been the priest. By nature of his position, he was to be a person of compassion, desiring to help others. Unfortunately, “love” was not a word for him that required action on the behalf of someone else. The next person to pass by in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a Levite, and he does exactly what the priest did: he passes by without showing any compassion. Again, he would have known the law, but he also failed to show the injured man compassion.


The next person to come by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man. Samaritans were considered a low class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Therefore, Jews would have nothing to do with them. We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance, and assist him he did, above and beyond the minimum required. He dresses the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He puts the man on his animal and takes him to an inn for a time of healing and pays the innkeeper with his own money. He then goes beyond common decency and tells the innkeeper to take good care of the man, and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need.


Because the good man was a Samaritan, Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. Jesus now asks the lawyer if he can apply the lesson to his own life with the question “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" (Luke 10:36). Once again, the lawyer’s answer is telling of his personal hardness of heart. He cannot bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”; he refers to the “good man” as “he who showed mercy.” His hate for the Samaritans (his neighbors) was so strong that he couldn’t even refer to them in a proper way. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living what the law tells him to do.


By ending the encounter in this manner, Jesus is telling us to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct; i.e., we are to show compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities. We are to love others (vs. 27) regardless of their race or religion; the criterion is need. If they need and we have the supply, then we are to give generously and freely, without expectation of return. This is an impossible obligation for the lawyer, and for us. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, failing to meet the law. We can hope that the lawyer saw this and came to the realization that there was nothing he could do to justify himself, that he needed a personal savior to atone for his lack of ability to save himself from his sins. Thus, the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold: (1) we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others. (2) Our neighbor is anyone we encounter; we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught. (3) Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a savior, and this is Jesus.


There is another possible way to interpret the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and that is as a metaphor. In this interpretation the injured man is all men in their fallen condition of sin. The robbers are Satan attacking man with the intent of destroying their relationship with God. The lawyer is mankind without the true understanding of God and His Word. The priest is religion in an apostate condition. The Levite is legalism that instills prejudice into the hearts of believers. The Samaritan is Jesus who provides the way to spiritual health. Although this interpretation teaches good lessons, and the parallels between Jesus and the Samaritan are striking, this understanding draws attention to Jesus that does not appear to be intended in the text. Therefore, we must conclude that the teaching of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is simply a lesson on what it means to love one’s neighbor.




Question: "What is the Socratic Method, and is it biblical?"


Answer: The Socratic Method is a logical technique that emphasizes asking questions. These inquiries are aimed at uncovering flaws or errors in some statement or position. This process is named after the famous philosopher Socrates, who is credited with this technique in the writings of his student, Plato. Socrates’ use of this method differs somewhat from how the process is applied today, mostly due to differing assumptions about the nature of truth. Various forms of Socratic Questioning are used in psychology, debate, and education.


Socrates lived in an era of brilliant public speakers. These orators and rhetoricians were skilled at painting their views in a positive light. Using attractive words and carefully crafted arguments, lecturers would encourage others to adopt their perspective. In contrast, Socrates preferred to pursue debate by asking questions about the other person’s view. These requests would force the other person to justify, explain, or further develop his initial idea. Through these dialogues, Socrates would uncover weaknesses, contradictions, or flaws in his stance, mostly through the other person’s own responses.


The original Socratic Method differs from the modern use of Socratic Questioning due to changed perspectives on truth. In Socrates’ view, all truth was self-evident, to some extent. The mind of each person already “knew” truth but did not necessarily “realize” it. This is most famously demonstrated in Plato’s work Meno, where Socrates speaks with an uneducated slave boy. Using nothing but questions and the boy’s own logical responses, Socrates “teaches” him geometry. This shows the original goal of the Socratic Method as a means to uncover truth through inquiry.


Modern applications of this method, most commonly referred to as Socratic Questioning, almost always approach truth from a different perspective. Psychologists and educators often use purposeful questions to help people connect the dots between ideas they already know, are capable of deducing, or simply need to clarify. In practice, this is in keeping with Socrates’ original intent, although the worldview assumptions are different. In logic, debate, and other spheres, Socratic Questioning is used as an “acid test” of a position, looking for weaknesses or self-contradictions.


Crucially, modern use of the Socratic Method and Socratic Questioning does not usually proceed with an intent to determine truth. Rather, the method is used to test or to clarify a position. Unlike Socrates, few people today believe that all truth—scientific, mathematical, and moral—is present in all minds, awaiting discovery. Almost all references to the “Socratic Method,” in a modern context, are really examples of “Socratic Questioning.”


Biblically, the difference between examining one’s views versus “self-revealed truth” is important. Scripture records many statements that are fairly described as examples of Socratic Questioning. The most dramatic of these come from Jesus in His interactions with His critics. When challenged about paying taxes, Jesus’ response, “Whose image is on this coin?” embodies the essence of the Socratic Method (see Mark 12:13–17). The intent was to demonstrate a flaw in the other party’s thinking. The same is true when Jesus responds using questions in encounters with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16–22) and with Pilate (John 18:33–38).


Christians are encouraged to apply the spirit of the Socratic Method, if not the actual technique, to their own spiritual lives (1 John 4:1; 1 Corinthians 11:27–29). The biblical command to “examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) parallels Socrates’ quip that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Other scriptural instances of a Socratic approach include Job 38:1–11 and Proverbs 18:17.


The Socratic Method, in and of itself, cannot define or determine truth. By its very nature, all it can do is illuminate those instances when assumptions, definitions, or relations conflict with each other. As with any other mode of logic, this does not prove any of those individual components false, nor does it prove their opposites true. For instance, we may use the Socratic Method to challenge a claim that “aspirin relieves headaches because the tablets are yellow.” Showing that color is irrelevant to the medicine’s effectiveness in no way proves that aspirin does not relieve headaches or that it causes them. It merely shows that particular connection to be untenable.


Nor does the Socratic Method itself suggest alternatives to the ideas it attacks. For this reason, a questioner who is clever—or calculating—can frame Socratic questions in such a way as to lead toward particular conclusions. Even if those leading questions are themselves irrational or based on false premises, they can lend an aura of reason to an otherwise unreasonable approach. This tactic is especially common in the work of atheists, à la Peter Boghossian, who attempt to use Socratic Questioning to debunk religious faith. This effort is grounded in a blatantly false definition of faith, obscured through a calculated use of persuasion and rhetoric, rather than actual logic.


It is important to distinguish between the use of a method and the abuse of a method. In and of itself, the Socratic Method is neither commanded nor condemned in the Bible. The deepest foundations of the original Socratic Method are unbiblical: man does not possess access to “all” truth, and some aspects of reality cannot be learned through pure deduction. The more general application of Socratic Questioning, on the other hand, is something that Scripture not only demonstrates but recommends.



Question: "What were the Urim and Thummim?"


Answer: The Urim ("lights") and Thummim ("perfections") were gemstones that were carried by the high priest of Israel on the ephod / priestly garments. They were used by the high priest to determine God's will in some situations. Some propose that God would cause the Urim and Thummim to light up in varying patterns to reveal His decision. Others propose that the Urim and Thummim were kept in a pouch and were engraved with symbols identifying yes / no and true / false.


It is unclear whether the Urim and Thummim were on, by, or in the high priest's ephod. No one knows the precise nature of the Urim and Thummim or exactly how they were used. The Bible simply does not give us enough information. References to the Urim and Thummim are rare in the Bible. They are first mentioned in the description of the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8). When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader over Israel, he was to receive answers from God by means of the Urim through Eleazar the high priest (Numbers 27:21). The Urim and Thummim are next mentioned in Moses' dying blessing upon Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8). The following Scriptures likely also speak of the Urim and Thummim: Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:37-45; and 2 Samuel 21:1.





Comments