Praying for God’s Leadership

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Prayer Models
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From the time we wake up to the time we lay down everyone wants to tell us their opinion about something. Our world is full of voices of various kinds. We watch TV and hear (much louder than the program we are watching) advertisers on commercials telling us to buy things.

We attend meetings at work in which everyone around the table demands that their way is the best. Some attend schools where the professors tell them what to believe and think instead of how to think.

From counselors and psychologists suggest to married couples unethical and immoral approaches to solving marital problems. We are surrounded by voices that push and pull us in many directions.

That’s why it’s imperative that we hear and listen to God’s voice. We want to be led by him because he is making us holy. People in the world seek happiness but God wants more for us. Happiness comes when God makes us holy. His roads and ways are not easy but they are rewarding.

The final part of the Lord’s Prayer asks God to lead us (Matthew 6:13). But for him to lead us, we must be willing to listen and follow. This is why prayer is not a one-way conversation. Yes, we speak to God and ask him for things. But we must also listen to hear his voice so that we can follow his lead.

Jesus is the Lord of our life, which means we follow his leading and his teachings. There are many books on hearing God’s voice. Some of the better ones that I have read include:

Praying for God’s Guidance (Matthew 6:13)

The last principle for powerful prayer is to pray for God’s guidance. Of the entire prayer, this has the most nuances. What I mean by that is there are several words that we must interpret to fully understand how to pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer.

The first of the final two lines requests, “Lead us not into temptation.” When I studied this in college, I received an appreciation for the ability to read the original language. Even when I was a child this part confused me.

Why would a good God who wants me to be holy lead me into temptation? While temptation is not sin, it is the step toward it. Leading me in that direction would seem counterintuitive to becoming holy.

Indeed, James teaches us that God does not tempt anyone nor is he tempted by evil (James 1:13). At face value, this seems to contradict praying for God not to do what James says he doesn’t do anyway.

So let me clear up hundreds of years of translation history. I asked my Greek teacher why this passage and some others are translated literally differently than English Bible versions. Anyone who takes Greek learns quickly that the English translations of some verses we adore are incorrect.

Please understand I am not arrogant. But I have been studying the original languages since 2003. And everyone who knows those languages agrees with me on certain versus. He would shake his head and say, “Jon, translation history requires that we not change the text too much.”

Translation history means scholars have translated into English the original text a certain way. People have become so used to seeing it that way and memorizing it that way that changing it raises too many questions. The Lord’s Prayer is one of those iconic passages that people say and never eyes one way.

In the last blog post I mentioned that some Bible versions have “trespasses” while others have “debts.” Some people rail against changing the word from the traditional “trespasses.” The word for temptation follows the same logic.

It doesn’t make sense to ask God not to lead us into temptation. He doesn’t do that anyway. But people have been saying the Lord’s Prayer this way with this word in English for so long that we have become used to hearing it sent that way.

The Greek word for “temptation” can also mean “trial” or “testing.” With that information, try seeing this request with those words instead of the word “temptation.”

“And lead us not into trials…”

“And lead us not into testings…”

Now we have a whole different perspective on the request we give to God. We are not asking God to not tempt us. We ask God to not lead us into trials. Nobody likes trials or suffering. And it’s not necessarily that God leads us into trials. It is more that he uses them when we face them.

God will use the trials we face to make our faith stronger, to put our faith on display, and to train and teach us. We see him do this throughout Scripture. That does not mean we want to face those trials. However, the end product is beneficial.

When we take the second meaning, it reminds me of Abraham in Genesis 22. To ask God not to lead us into testing takes me back to when God tested Abraham concerning Isaac (Genesis 22:1). You see, God promised that Abraham would have an heir through his wife Sarah.

But Sarah did not believe at first. Instead, she offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham because she was barren. The promise required her to believe for the miracle not only of having a child though she was barren, but also because she was in her 90s.

Abraham agreed to this arrangement and Ishmael was born. But Ishmael was not the promised son. Because Abraham and Sarah did not completely trust in the Lord to fulfill his promise and his timing, we still have trouble today between the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac.

It’s after all of this that God tests Abraham to see that his faith in God’s promises is absolute. He takes the one thing that Abraham cannot replace, the promised son Isaac, and demands that Abraham sacrifice his child on the mountain.

Now God doesn’t demand child sacrifices. But he was testing whether Abraham would trust in him to either replace Isaac through his promise or provide another sacrifice. So God tested Abraham’s faith.

And the test worked. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his promised son. At the moment he was about to thrust the knife into Isaac, and Angel stopped him. God provided a ram in the thicket on the mountain to sacrifice to him instead.

Abraham’s take away from the testing is that the Lord always provides (Genesis 22:14). So we see that God’s trials and testings turn out for our good. But we still don’t wish that he would lead us into them. And that is what this first line of the ending of the Lord’s Prayer means.

There are times when He will not keep us from the trials of life, and when He will use those trials to make us stronger. A trial that God can use to make you stronger is not evil, because the product of that trial will be stronger, more trusting, and more patient.

The second line says, “But deliver us from evil.” This also has something extra in the original language. The word, “evil” can also mean, “the evil one.” So this can be a reference either to evil in general in the world or Satan, the evil one.

In either case, we ask the Lord to deliver us, to keep us from, evil or the evil one. We live in an evil world that is subject to the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2). For the time being, this is the devil’s playground. We work here for the Lord but we don’t belong here.

So we ask the Lord not to lead us into trials or testing, and also to keep us from the evil around us. It is, at the least, distracting and, at the most, a temptation. This flows nicely from what we have already asked of the Lord.

We have already asked him to give us everything we need for physical and spiritual health. And then we have asked him to forgive us of our trespasses and sins. We have promised to forgive others because Jesus forgave us first. All of this maintains our spiritual health.

And in these final two lines we continue to receive spiritual protection from the Lord. He does not willingly push us into trials and tests. And he protects us from evil and the evil one. Job had quite the testing to show his faithfulness to God in the face of Satan’s accusations (Job 1-2).

We need God’s guidance in our lives, and God guides our steps (Proverbs 16:9). When we seek Him and His will, he guides us. When we seek his leadership in our lives, we ask him to go before us and order our steps. We ask God to continue to redeem and bless our lives with good things.

No matter what trials we come against, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will walk with us through those trials, and if we listen to Him and follow His lead, He makes us stronger on the other side.

I must make a note about what you may see in your Bible after this verse. Some Bibles have, “For yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever. Amen.” But we are almost certain with the many manuscripts we have of this passage that this phrase was added later.

It is a nice way to end the prayer but it is not original to what Jesus said as far as we understand. If you want to know more about how we know this, please let me know in the comments and I will talk about how most scholars have come to that conclusion.

The Model Prayer helps us to see our place in God rather than demanding things of Him. It teaches us to seek God for all things, to trust in His greatness and to see Him as bigger than our problems. It is unselfish communion with God.

Prayer becomes more about God than us, and we maintain our service in God’s plan, rather than doing our own thing. Prayer places God as King over our circumstances and brings us peace because we trust in the mighty God.

This model leads to effective prayer that produces the power of God for our lives today! Let us endeavor to pray like Jesus, and we will see God’s hand move in our lives, our churches and our world!

The next prayer model we will consider is the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. Paul tells us to put on God’s armor but how do we do that? Prayer is an excellent way to arm ourselves for the battles around us.

Leave a comment and tell me how this series on the Lord’s Prayer may have helped you in your own prayer life. Is there anything you have considered that I may not have mentioned?

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TheTwo Judgments and Revelation

This entry is part 14 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
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In Revelation, what is the Great White Throne Judgment and how does it apply to Christians?

In Revelation, there is a judgment at the end of the book called the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Many people have questions about who will be judged and what this judgment is all about.

There is also another judgment for believers only, called the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (bema in Greek). Before I deal with the judgment in Revelation, I want to deal with the Bema Judgment. Clarification will help us understand what to expect in the end.

Judgment for Believers (Bema Judgment)

First, everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior and serves him is saved from eternal condemnation (John 5:24; Romans 8:1). There will never be a judgment where believers must worry about their eternal destination.

Instead, the Bible speaks about judgment for believers in a different sense, in a sense of rewards. The Bema seat judgment concerns an evaluation of believers and how they have stewarded their walk with Jesus while on the earth.

Many scholars teach that this judgment happens at the rapture. When those who are dead in Christ are raised and then those who are still alive at the rapture go to be with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16), the Bema seat judgment happens.

Judgment for rewards is mentioned in the New Testament. Just a smattering of examples will prove helpful:

  • The judgment seat of Christ is mentioned in Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10.
  • Judged for rewards: Matthew 16:27; Ephesians 6:8
  • Judgment for mismanagement: 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, 15; 1 John 2:28
  • Rewards as crowns that we give back to Jesus: James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; Revelation 3:11; 4:10-11

The parable of the talents (Luke 19:11-27) may be an example of the rewards believers will receive at the Bema judgment.

The Lamb’s Book of Life is a book that is mentioned at the great white throne judgment but it is also mentioned elsewhere. It first appears in Daniel 12:1-3 with the same concept as Revelation. This Book of Life that Daniel mentions holds the names of those who have been faithful to God. If the name is not in it, the person will be condemned for eternity.

This is important because at the Great White Throne Judgment, the books will be opened. The Lamb’s Book of Life is one of the books, but there are books for those who will be eternally condemned as well (Revelation 20:12)..

Judgment for Everyone (Great White Throne Judgment)

As I understand it, the Great White Throne Judgment is a place where everyone will be judged. The Lamb’s Book of Life is opened as well as other books to evaluate the eternal state of every person.

I could be wrong about this because it only mentions “the dead” being judged. Believers will be alive because they have just celebrated the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10).

It seems to me that the Lamb’s Book of Life is opened to show that each person who is judged is not in this book. It could be that there are believers who will be part of this judgment. I don’t know for certain even after studying the matter.

Jesus may refer to this end times final judgment when he talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats in the end (Matthew 25:31-46). This seems closely related to the same judgment in the end of Revelation.

But what I do know is that the dead will be judged. We must realize that the Scriptures tell us it is appointed once for us to die and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Believers in Jesus need not fear judgment because it will only be for rewards. Our eternal destiny has already been confirmed.

In conclusion, when we begin to talk about the end times, called eschatology by theologians, nobody really knows exactly what’s going to happen. We can study the Scriptures about these matters but until they happen, no one will be completely correct about the end times. We must approach the subject with humility and grace. As much as possible, we must not knowingly lead others astray about these matters.

Further Resources

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Divine Counsel

This entry is part 16 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
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What is the divine counsel and who is allowed to be in it? What are Satan’s permissions and God’s allowances.

The divine counsel appears clearly and at least two passages of Scripture. Psalm 29:1 tells the “heavenly beings” to describe glory to the Lord. These beings are thought to be part of a divine counsel that meets with God on a regular basis.

Psalm 89:6 says that there is no comparison between God the “heavenly beings” who are in the skies. The skies in the time of David would be considered the heavens. So these are beings other than God who are in some way comparable to him.

The word for God, Elohim in Hebrew, is in the plural. It can refer to the God of Israel with what is called the royal plural, or plural in majesty. It is a way of saying that he is so great the Cingular just isn’t good enough.

There are other places, like Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 where the “Sons of God” (angels) and Satan go before the Lord to be evaluated by him and present themselves to him. All of these creatures that are celestial beings are subject to God.

The divine counsel is specifically mentioned in Psalm 82:1. God convenes the Council and sits above the other “gods.” There are also ideas in Scripture about territorial spirits and celestial beings throughout the Bible. “Sons of God” usually refers to angels.

Some even suggest that when God speaks about himself as, “Let us…” that he speaks to either the other members of the Trinity from the Father’s perspective or that he is speaking to his divine counsel. It is more likely that this is a Hebrew construction that I referred to earlier as the plural majesty. The word for God, Elohim, is plural, and therefore the subject “us” must be plural to match it grammatically.

The most important thing to understand about the divine counsel is that God convenes it, he calls for it, and that he sits above it. None of these beings are greater than God. They don’t even come close.

Even Satan, who is confined to the earth after his fall from heaven, is subject to, and limited by, God. He can only do what God allows him to do. Although he is the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2), and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), he still must do only what God allows.

When the divine counsel shows up, is more about God telling them what he is about to do. They do not get a say or are able to inflict anything other than praise to God for his divine plans. It’s almost like he has a little club of celestial beings he tells about his great plans. They have no governance over God’s decisions.

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Job’s Suffering

This entry is part 17 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds

Why did God allow Job to suffer at Satan’s hand?

The book of Job starts out with information that only the reader is given. In Job 1:6-12, Satan comes from the earth to heaven to be evaluated by God. Like a proud papa, God brings up his faithful servant Job. Satan is upset because he thinks Job worships God for the fringe benefits of wealth and protection.

But God knows better. So he decides to prove a point to the devil. He allows Satan to take Job’s wealth and family away from him. But he keeps Satan from touching Job or harming him personally. God allowed Satan only to go so far. He has limits to what he can do. His power and authority is limited by God.

Satan goes down to earth, destroys Job’s herds and kills all of his children. He makes it look like God did it, operating the same way God would if he were bringing judgment. In a way, Satan is trying to frame God for what he does to Job.

Then in Job 2:1-6 opens almost the same way as the first episode where Satan presents himself before the Lord. The Lord mentions that Job still hasn’t turned away from him even after Satan destroyed his wealth and family.

Satan complains that Job did not turn away from God because he still has his life and his health. He tells God if Job lost his health he would turn away from God. God allows Satan to do whatever he wishes to Job, except for one thing. Satan may not and his life. Once again we see that Satan is limited by God. So Satan goes down to the earth and strikes Job with boils and extreme pain.

Job’s Reaction to Satan’s Harassment

When Satan destroys Job’s wealth and kills his children, Job reacts like anyone would. Job 2:20-22 tells us that he mourned the loss of his children. He knows that he came into the world with nothing and he’ll take nothing with him when he dies. So he says, “The Lord gives and he takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Lord gave him great wealth and a large family. He stewarded them well. But then he believes the Lord took them away. Satan successfully framed God. But then, he still blesses the Lord because the Lord is sovereign.

Job 1:22 tells us that Job did not sin against God or charge him with the evil. He spoke out of faith in who he knew God was. He accepted God’s sovereignty even in the midst of his loss.

In Job 2:9-10, even Job’s wife cannot handle losing so much. She tells Job to curse God and die. Job tells her that she is speaking foolishly. And then he says something quite interesting. He asks if humans should accept only the good things from God. But they should also accept the evil things from God.

This is a different theology that we are used to seeing in the New Testament, where, for example, James tells us that only good gifts come from the Father (James 1:17). The word “evil” here should not be understood as wickedness. God does not act in wicked ways.

This word should be understood as “bad,” or the things we don’t really enjoy in life. It doesn’t have a moral attachment. It is simply the things that are bad from our perspective. Then we are told that Job did not sin and what he said about God.

From here in the middle of Job 2 through the rest of the book, the reader must realize that Joe was not privileged to know what we know. He doesn’t know that Satan is the one who did these things to him and his family. He has no idea that Satan even exists at this point.

This is why he attributes the things that Satan does to him to God. He speaks out of his limited knowledge and understanding of who God is. So when you are reading Job, you are given information he is not. He reacts from his limited knowledge of God. And so do his frenemies.

Satan’s Background

A quick word about prophecy: the prophets spoke to their time and culture. But in the way they spoke to the things they faced, their prophecies had several frames of meaning. The first was to their times. But almost all prophecy telescopes into larger times and settings, even cosmic ones. Isaiah and Ezekiel can speak about kings of their day and yet set up the call and archetype, a characterization, of something much larger. In this case, they spoke about kings and their day but were also describing Satan in a more cosmic setting. The prophecy applies to both.

In Isaiah 14:12-15, Isaiah speaks of the king of Babylon that anyone who reads it notices that it seems much better than just one man’s arrogance. Especially the names Day Star and Son of the Dawn are cosmic in their scope.

As a side note, Day Star in the Vulgate is a quite familiar name for Satan, Lucifer. It refers to Venus, the Morning Star, a name also given to Jesus in Revelation 22:16. This shows Satan’s attempts to usurp God’s throne and name. This is why he is called an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He is always trying to counterfeit the things of God.

The rest of Isaiah 14:12-15 explains how he attempted to ascend to God’s throne and yet found himself descending into Sheol, the pit. This is why he was cast down to the earth and forced to be bound there until his time to be completely destroyed.

Ezekiel 28:11-17 is a prophecy against the King of Tyre that also sounds like it refers to Satan. It talks about him being in the garden of Eden and being the beautiful Signet of God’s perfection. From this we might suggest the serpent that deceived Eve and many scholars suggest that Satan may have been the worship angel in heaven before he fell.

Satan frames God in the way that he afflicts Job. He takes advantage of the fact that Job has no idea he exists or that he is the reason Job suffers. In Job 1:16, “the fire of God fell from heaven” to burn up the sheep as part of Job’s wealth. And in Job 1:19 it is a great wind that strikes the four corners of the house to kill his children. God is one controls heaven and the winds of the earth. Satan always takes advantage to try to turn us against God.

Satan is restricted to the earth. Both times he presents himself before the Lord for evaluation, he comes from the earth. He was sent there and bound there because he lost the battle to usurp God’s throne in heaven. There are a few references to Satan’s downfall and being cast out of heaven throughout Scripture ().

A Major Theme of Job

The sovereignty of God. The book of Job places a high premium on God is the King of the universe. Everything that happens is in his hand or permitted by him. He holds absolute power and authority over all things.

This is the understanding not only of Job but of his three friends and even the fourth younger friend who finally speaks up toward the end of the book. Even when God visits Job and has friends and speaks to them, he does not reveal Satan or their conversation.

He commands Job and his friends to remember the place as finite humans who have no understanding of his plan. God allows Job to speak out of his finite knowledge. He does not charge him with sin because Job does the best he can with what he understands. But he understands very little of how things really are.

We don’t always understand God or what he does and why he does it. We do our best to try to understand but we will fall short. God doesn’t charge us for not understanding everything in the world or his larger plan. This is a good thing for us. God is gracious in our ignorance of him and his greatness.

So to answer the question after all this background, God allows Job to suffer at Satan’s hand to show that Job’s allegiances and faithfulness belong solely to God. Nothing that will ever happen to Job, no suffering or trial or affliction, will ever turn his faithfulness from God. Saints of God remain faithful no matter what happens to them. He proved to Satan Job’s faithfulness and allegiance to God. Job was an example of the faithful saint and servant of God.

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Evangelism and Exclusivity

This entry is part 18 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
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How do I handle talking about other religions that are so close to Christianity and the Bible? How do I talk to people of other religions?

Many of these religions include parts of the Bible or the full Bible. For instance, Judaism contains the Old Testament, but not the New Testament. Islam has parallels with Old Testament stories as well.

Then there are “Christian” cults, like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the like. But they add to it. Mormons include the Book of Mormon along with the Bible, but the emphasis is on the Book of Mormon, not the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible that fundamentally changes what the Bible says.

Amidst all of these differences, it is not easy to address others from different religions. Because Christianity is exclusive, meaning that it states Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, many other religions refuse to listen. Jesus declares himself to be God, a claim no other religious founder makes. He also claims that he is the only way to the Father in heaven (John 14:6).

This doesn’t even touch talking to atheists, who are a whole different animal. They will fight with any religion. For some reason, they don’t realize they have their own belief system, and therefore are a religion.

Judaism may be the closest to Christianity, except that they don’t go the whole way. They are still searching for the Messiah. Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah, and he has been here in the first century. He lives even today through resurrection.

It’s not as easy as we think to talk to them about the Messiah because messianic prophecies and passages are spread out through the entire Old Testament. They’re not all in one place. Much work must be done to link all of the passages together to show them how Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies.

Muslims have some parallels to the Old Testament in the Qur’an. But at the same time it rejects that Jesus died on the cross. This is a historical fact proven from several sources other than the Bible. There is very little wiggle room around this truth.

The miracle of Islam is the perfect Arabic in the Qur’an. But you must learn Arabic to see this miracle. It’s not very accessible to most of the world. The question that must be asked and answered from Muslims is, “Who is the greatest prophet?”

Muslims will state that Mohammed is the greatest prophet. But a comparison with Jesus may leave some lingering questions. Mohammed never claimed to be God. Jesus claimed to be God. Mohammed died and is buried but Jesus’ body cannot be found because he rose from the dead. I’m sure there are other questions that can be raised as well.

One of the biggest barriers to speaking with Muslims and Jews about the differences in all of our beliefs is that most will not listen with a critical ear. Most of the time they will shut you down before you can ask your questions. Even if they think you are genuine, they will not listen.

This barrier can only be crossed through genuine lifestyle and love and care for the person to speak with. You can’t approach them with a bait and switch attitude. When I talked to people of other religions, I am genuinely interested because I want to know what they believe. I want to know how it affects their life and how it enriches it.

Christians are often accused of contradictions within the pages of the Bible. But no one asks Muslims about the contradictions in their scriptures. Most people don’t ask about contradictions in anyone else’s sacred Scriptures.

When you talk to Jews, one of the best passages that lays out a good approach is Romans 9-11. There’s a lot that Paul says there. But one of the best illustrations he gives is of the grafted tree (Romans 11:17-24). The Jews are God’s people who have received the law, sacrificial system, and promises of God. They are his chosen people.

But there are different kinds of Jews. There are national or ethnic Jews and there are several types of religious Jews, ranging anywhere from liberal to conservative. Paul makes the case that only believing Jews are part of the grafted tree. Then believing Christian Gentiles are grafted into this tree as well. The tree represents what I call the composite people of God, believing Jews and Gentiles in Jesus Christ.

“Christian” cults contain a little of the Bible but most of them take a messianic approach. There is usually one person in charge, an authoritarian. It’s his way or the highway. He cannot be challenged. Under the surface, many of these cults exhibit abuse on their members, forcing them to stay out of fear. How can the truth be found in the midst of fear?

Then there are religions unlike fees because they are polytheistic. These include Hinduism, Buddhism, and many other religions. The place I usually start with them is to ask them how there can be more than one God.

How do I talk to people of other religions?

The first point we need to make to clear the air is to realize that every religion is exclusive. Muslims are exclusive to Islam. Christians are not allowed to worship alongside of them. The Qur’an  tells Muslims to kill the infidel, anyone who doesn’t believe in Islam. I don’t think you can get more exclusive than that.

Jews and Christians have fought philosophically and theologically for centuries. That covers most of the monotheistic religions. But even the polytheistic ones, like Hinduism, Buddhism, and others don’t mix well with Christians. Nobody wants to be all-inclusive.

There’s a philosophical reason for this. The claims of each religion are exclusive to that religion. That’s why another exclusive religion can’t join your exclusive religion. This is why we have words like “convert.”

One of the best ways I’ve heard to reach out to others, especially with evangelistic intention, comes from Ravi Zacharias. He contends that there is a four-part approach to dealing with religions. Every religion must answer four key questions, those of

  1. Origin
  2. Meaning
  3. Morality
  4. Destiny

These all encompass, along with other tests, a worldview. A worldview is how we understand the world around us. But if the worldview doesn’t make sense, then life will not make sense. The challenge for every religion is to make the world make sense according to its tenets.

When we talk to others about religion, we must be kind and speak out of love. But there is also the truth. We must find a way to speak the truth in love. It must come across that we speak about religion, especially the hard parts, because we love that person and want to see them end up in heaven.

But because there are so many competing, exclusive views in religion, there must be a right one and wrong ones. They cannot all be right and all contradict one another. It’s a tall order to figure out which one is the right one.

But it isn’t subjective. The idea, “That religion works for you but it doesn’t work for me,” doesn’t make any sense. If it is true, it works for everyone. We must find a way to lovingly ask the hard questions of our friends in different religions.

There are questions that will anger and turn people of other religions off. Find an approach that doesn’t make them angry but makes them think. One of the most popular ways to approach it is from Evangelism Explosion.

It asks two questions.

  1. Ask, “If you died today, do you believe you would be in heaven and why?”
  2. Have you ever broken God’s laws? Take an example from the Ten Commandments. Ask them if they’ve broken it. This prevents the, “I’m a good person” approach from them.

I would add that one of the most important distinctions to make is that being a good person and doing all of the right things doesn’t get you to heaven. It’s not about what you do; it’s about who you know. Doing good things will never be good enough. Knowing Jesus is all it takes.

But the very best way to talk to others about their faith is to tell them you are curious and want to know more about their religion. People often want to share. Then talk about your religion. The groundwork before you speak to others must be a life that demonstrates the love and truth of Christianity. If they don’t see a difference in you, they won’t see why Jesus matters.

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Understanding the Old Testament

This entry is part 19 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
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How does the New Testament Christian deal with the Old Testament?

Our Bibles contain both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is approximately 2/3 of the entire Bible. With the advent of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), Christians must understand how the Testaments, or covenants fit together. After all, we still walk around with both in our Bibles.

One of the ways Christians approach the Old Testament in light of the New Testament is called replacement theology. It suggests that the old covenant is replaced by the new covenant and therefore no longer in effect.

This may be the least biblical of all of the choices. At least for the Jews, the old covenant is still in effect. None of the covenants have been stopped. For instance, when we see a rainbow in the sky, it still shows that God will not destroy the earth through flooding, the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 8:20-22).

Jesus fulfills another covenant given to King David, that God would always leave one of his descendents on the throne (2 Samuel 7:10-16). Jesus is biologically and theologically David’s descendent who fulfills that messianic role as the eternal King. That covenant is still in place.

And as I will explain, the old covenant is also still in place because the new covenant is based off of it. Replacement theology sets a hard-line approach to how we interact with the old covenant. If it were true, there would be no need to carry around the Old Testament.

Another approach is called Dispensational Theology. Instead of using the word “covenant” it talks about dispensations, or ages. They postulate seven different ages from the beginning of the Bible until now and even into the future.

For the most part, I can get along with a dispensationalist. However, I disagree with the idea that it separates Israel from the Church. It postulates, in most systems, that the church has a separate destiny than Israel. The two are following different covenants.

But Paul talks in Romans 11:17-24 about a tree that believing Jews and Gentiles are grafted into. Anyone grafted into the street is part of the Church of Jesus Christ. It has the same destiny. There are some theological issues within the system you may want to research further.

I might also point out that the same God who gave the law also gives grace and he does not change (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). There is not a God of law and justice in the Old Testament or old covenant and a God of grace in the New Testament or new covenant. He is one in the same and allots both grace and judgment in both covenants.

Another system is Covenantal Theology. It suggests that all of the covenants are in place and they all have their time. As I mentioned earlier, previous covenants are still in place and are active today.

One of the reasons for this is the way it covenant is made. The person who initiates the covenant ensures that it is active until that person either rescinds the covenant or dies. When you look at the covenants of the Old Testament, every single one of them is initiated by God. Since God cannot die, the covenants that he put in place have not stopped.

This means that each covenant God initiated compounds on the others. The old covenant where Moses was given the law and sacrificial system is still in place. All of the covenants are in place. The question is how Christians following the new covenant enacted through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross (Luke 22:20) should understand and interact with the old covenant.

If it were for the foundation of the old covenant, the new covenant would not be understood. God gave the old covenant for a time when he physically dwelt among the people of Israel. It has always been his goal to be our God and for us to be his people. During the time in the wilderness and in the Temple period, God physically dwelt among his people through the Shekinah glory a heavy cloud that showed his presence.

But Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). John tells us that when he dwelt on the earth, he “tabernacled” with people (John 1:14). His sacrificial death on the cross inaugurated the new covenant, a covenant made with his blood, just like the blood of animals for the old covenant.

But we’re still subject to the old covenant. The difference is that through obedience to Jesus and his sacrifice and teachings, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we fulfill the old covenant stipulations. Jesus covers our sins with his blood once and for all.

So as long as we are under Jesus’ grace, he fulfills the Old Testament law that we used to be subject to (Matthew 5:17-20). Therefore, we are no longer subject to many of the laws of the old covenant. But this requires further explanation.

The old covenant law through Moses contained three components. The first is the moral law, laws like the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught these moral laws, and we’re still subject to them because they appear in the New Testament as well.

The second type of law in the old covenant was the civil law. These are laws that dealt with Israel. Specifically, they were about how to treat your neighbor. Some examples of these laws are about repayment for oxen that gore one another (Exodus 21:35), not having clothing with two fabrics (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11), and not mixing meats and dairy (Exodus 23:19; 34:26).

The way we can apply these laws to ourselves as Christians, especially if we are not Jewish, is to understand the principle behind these laws. The oxen laws dealt with justice in repaying a person for the loss of an animal that brought him his livelihood. The second law I cited have to do with purity. The third law has to do with compassion and purity. We as believers in Jesus must not allow ourselves to mix allegiances with idols or with the world system.

The third type of law in the Old Testament had to do with religious/ritual laws. These guided the priests on how to prepare the sacrifices and performs ceremonies properly. Some of them even dealt with dealing with skin diseases and other sorts of issues, the issues of clean and unclean practices.

When we look at these laws, we can see Jesus as the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-12) and the great high priest. They show us what it took for the sinless lamb of God without blemish to be offered as the perfect sacrifice of the new covenant for our sins.

Much of this could be studied more in depth but the basic ideas of how we as Christians deal with Old Testament laws and systems show how great Jesus is and all that he has done for us. They lay the foundation for the new covenant that God made to include us in his family.

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Soldiers for Christ

This entry is part 3 of 28 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Gerhard Janson from Pixabay

I’m not much of a fighter, at least not physically. In one of my favorite movies about Martin Luther, one of his scholar friends tells the Prince, “Luther doesn’t fight with his hands. He fights with his words.” This has always defined me as well.

But there are times when fighting is the only option. I don’t mean this physically. I mean it spiritually. There are key truths in the Bible that no one can escape. As much as we don’t think of ourselves as soldiers, we fight for Christ.

Someone might ask what this has to do with holy living. It’s true that some Christians are in the fight for their life against sin and desires. I have discussed in other posts why this should not be the only fighting a Christian does. God has made us victorious against sin and desire.

That battle is already won. The moment we trusted Jesus the war against sin was complete. But this is a different kind of fight. When we approach the positive side of holiness we are looking at how to please and serve God.

One of the ways that we serve him is by fighting evil spiritual forces in our world. We are surrounded by wickedness of many types. We stand for Christ against all of his enemies. Spiritual warfare is one of the chief duties of God’s saints, his holy ones.

Behind Enemy Lines

The Bible describes a spiritual realm that influences the physical realm we know. Although we can’t see what is happening in the spiritual realm, there is a war going on for the soul of every human being on this planet.

The Holy Spirit who dwells within us is directly opposed to the desires that wickedness proposes (Galatians 5:17). God’s Spirit cannot be understood or accepted by natural people (1 Corinthians 2:14). These two are diametrically opposed to one another. You are either on one side or the other.

Every Christian needs not only to know this information but be ready to fight as one of Jesus’ soldiers. Along with these two realms are two rulers, God and Satan. At this moment in time, this world is ruled by Satan (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19).

So we’re fighting a war behind enemy lines. Every person that we influence for Jesus has an opportunity to see the light even though they live in darkness. Paul describes unbelievers as those whose minds have been blinded by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). It’s an uphill battle to be in the enemy’s territory and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ kingdom of light to those living in darkness and blinded by the devil.

James makes it clearer than anyone else when he tells his congregation that friendship with the world is enmity toward God (James 4:4). Everyone is either a friend of the world were a friend of God (James 4:5). We can’t have it both ways.

Jesus enlists every Christian to fight in the army of his kingdom. He provides us with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). Each of us must find the most effective ways to influence our world with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Choosing Sides

Everyone has a destiny and we are each on a path toward that destiny. The world is passing away (Matthew 24:35; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17). But the kingdom of God lasts forever. Jesus has promised eternal life to all who follow and trust in him.

There’s no problem with working within the world now. God has left us time to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. But this grace period will not last forever. In the near distant future God is coming to bring the end of the world. He will finally release his judgment.

The Bible book of Revelation shows us that with every choice we make and every action we take, we are choosing a side. Every action demonstrates which side each of us is on. You may not think this way but this is how the Bible portrays this reality. If you haven’t chosen a side yet, the time is running out.

Riding on the fence or watching from the sidelines makes me feel more comfortable, but it is not part of my calling. As a Christian each of us must stand for Christ and be ready to do battle with the enemy. We must be prepared for spiritual warfare wherever we find it.

God gives us the tools through the armor of God to fight these battles. But he also prepares us for every battle we will face. We walk in his victory and he makes us overcomers. And the best part is that he has not left us alone.

God does before us and he knows the terrain. He knows what we will face. But he doesn’t only walk before us. He walks alongside us as well. We need not fear anything because God is with us. Like David, the great warrior of the Old Testament, God is our Defender and Fortress!

Leave a comment and tell me how you fight spiritual battles. How does God help you win the battles that please him and to show you are victorious?

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Unpardonable Sin

This entry is part 20 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What is the unpardonable sin?

Jesus teaches that all of our sins are forgiven when we come to Christ and when we ask for forgiveness. But there are a couple of passages that pique our interest when we talk about the possibility of not being forgiven.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus is casting out a demon that was making a man blind and mute (Matthew 12:22-32, see also Mark 3:22-30). When Jesus cast out the demon, the religious leaders complained that he was casting out demons by Beelzebub, another name for the devil.

Jesus pointed out a couple of principles. First, Satan works against himself if he sends a demon and then uses his authority through Jesus to cast it out. What was the point of sending the demon to that person in the first place?

Then, in Matthew 12:28-32, Jesus presents an even more serious point that if he casts out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, these religious leaders are in danger of committing the unpardonable sin, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

He gets very specific when he says that if anyone commits the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, God will not forgive him (Matthew 12:31). This is a very serious offense from which there is no redemption, salvation, or forgiveness from God.

You might think that sounds way too harsh for God to be so forgiving on everything else and then not forgive this. But we must define with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is to understand his position.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is taking the works of the Holy Spirit and attributing them to the devil. This is what the religious leaders do when they claim that Jesus’ casting out of the demon is a work of Beelzebub, or the devil.

Anytime we take the work of the Holy Spirit and say that it is demonic that it comes from the devil, we commit the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Now many Christians suddenly worry about committing this unpardonable sin.

But we must understand that people committing the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit do not care that they commit it. If you are worried about accidentally doing this you are concerned that you have, my past oral answer is that you most likely have not.

The person who commits this sin against God’s Spirit has chosen long before they committed it that they no longer wish to be a Christian or trust in Jesus for salvation. They have already walked away in their heart from God.

The blasphemy in the Holy Spirit is the last sin that they commit after having decided to leave him. It is not easy to commit and you must have a very hard heart toward God to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. You have already changed allegiances to the devil and are serving him at that point.

So we must understand what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is and why God would not pardon those who would commit this sin. He will not pardon people who have blasphemed the Holy Spirit because they have already chosen to serve the devil and do not wish to come to faith in Christ. It is partly of their own choosing that would make it hard for God to forgive this sin..

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Determinism or Free Will

This entry is part 21 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds

Explain the two extremes of determinism and free will, Calvinism and Arminianism, TULIP, predestination, and where you stand.

The question of determinism and free will has been around for a long time. Ever since the 16th century people have been discussing it. Theologically, Calvinism and Arminianism have been the topic of many discussions, sometimes very heated.

History and Theology

In the beginning of the Reformation, Protestant theologians and scholars argued these points regularly. The school mainly on the side of determinism, or God’s sovereignty and predestination, came from a man named John Calvin (1509-1564).

He believed that God predestined almost everything in our lives, that there were no surprises and that everything was controlled by God. On the other side of the debate was a man named Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). He believed that humans had a choice and that God did not violate their free will. Both cited scriptures for their stance.

But it was their students who took the debate to a whole new level. Calvin’s students composed the famous TULIP system to explain the impossibility of violating God’s sovereignty or the predestination of his people.

The TULIP system goes like this:

  • Total Depravity: The heart of humans is so dark and depraved that they will not choose to serve God in any capacity.
  • Unconditional Election: Those whom God has elected to salvation he has known since the foundation of the world. He has already chosen them and they will be/are saved.
  • Limited Atonement: Christ died only for the elect. Since God already knows who they are before he went to the cross, his sacrifice was only on their behalf.
  • Irresistible Grace: If you are one of God’s elect, you cannot resist becoming his elect or the grace that he poured out for you at the cross. You do not have a choice.
  • Perseverance of the Saints: None of the elect can be taken out of God’s hand. They will persevere against the devil, temptation, sin, and anything else that can stand against them. They are eternally secure.

I am trying to provide a short understanding of the system. There is much great reading and literature on the subject and you may understand it differently. I humbly submit this shorthand version of the system without the intention of offending anyone who believes in it.

Arminius’ students would not let anybody down. They proposed all of the Scriptures that show humans having a choice and God allowing them to do whatever they chose. But they went so far to the other side that they proposed things that went against the idea that God is sovereign over his creation. Some of them sided so far into liberalism over legalism that they abused God’s loving kindness and grace.

Views on Predestination

Predestination is defined differently on both sides of the argument as well. Calvinists see predestination as God determining who will be saved. Arminians define predestination as a determination to service in God’s kingdom.

Let me provide the occurrences of the word “predestined” in the New Testament and show how each side interprets them.

Acts 4:28

“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (ESV)

This is in the midst of a prayer by believers for God to do his will in their city. It suggests that God put it in the minds of the religious leaders to kill Jesus no matter what. If anything, it suggests that they played their part in God’s great play. It suggests God’s sovereignty in the circumstance of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross at their hands. Calvinists and Arminians don’t really debate the points of God’s sovereign plan in Jesus’ sacrifice.

Romans 8:29-30

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)

Calvinists: God’s foreknowledge points to his knowing those who are called before the foundation of the world. Therefore there predestined, determined beforehand, to know God and are part of the elect. “Justified” is also a word that refers to salvation and being forgiven of sins.

Arminians: Foreknowledge speaks to the fact that God already knows these people, so they are already saved. They are not predestined to salvation that predestined to become like Christ (conformed to his image). As they are being conformed, God predestined stem, or pre-determines that they will follow his process to be like Jesus, be called to service, justification being part of their conformity to Christ.

Ephesians 1:5

“he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (ESV)

Calvinists: They see the word “adoption” as a word for salvation and so say that predestined here refers to salvation. And the “purpose of his will” points to election and irresistible grace.

Arminians: Paul uses the past tense of all of these verbs, referring to salvation already gained. The point of this opening prayer is to thank God for these blessings that we already have because we are already saved.

Ephesians 1:11

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (ESV)

Calvinists: They see words like “inheritance” and “purpose” as salvation words, so “predestined” refers to salvation.

Arminians: This entire prayer is about thanking God for the blessings of salvation already gained. The word “predestined” refers to God’s purpose and will referring to what he does after salvation in preparing us to serve him.

A Biblical Example

There’s a great book in the Bible that really gives nuances to this debate. In the book of Jonah, God commands the prophet Jonah to go to the lost people of Nineveh. What many may not realize historically is that these are the archenemies of the Israelites at the time.

Jonah refuses to go. In fact, he heads in the opposite direction as far away as he can get from Nineveh. The problem is that God causes a storm to rise up and put the boat he is traveling in in great peril. He ends up getting thrown off the boat and swallowed by a giant fish.

Interestingly, when the fish spits them out on land, he found himself at the entrance to the city of, you guessed it, Nineveh. God has been directing him to follow his command to preach to these people. Even the choices he has made has still directed him toward God’s command.

So then he decides that he will preach to the people and tell them how wicked and evil they are. He intends for them to ignore him and go toward their destruction. Instead, to the prophet’s dismay (I know, right?), the people turn to God.

Jonah is so upset about it that he throws a temper tantrum in the hot of the day. Got even provides shade for him by making a tree grow. Instead of being thankful, Jonah decides to continue his temper tantrum. The book ends with God asking him why he shouldn’t save people who want to be saved.

God allowed Jonah to make his own decisions. But he also sovereignly directed him toward the people of Nineveh because they needed to hear the gospel and to be saved from destruction. God’s care for the Ninevites took a higher priority than Jonah’s hatred of his enemy. He used Jonah to preach to the Ninevites without violating his free will.

My Views on the Debate

My personal stance in all of this I have highlighted several times in my ministry. The summary of my stances that I am in the middle between both extremes. Rarely do we find extremes that the Bible agrees with completely. Anyone can find versus to support their opinions, especially when they look for them out of their context.

I believe that God is sovereign and as King over his own creation, no one can go against my personal whatever he wants to do. But I do not believe that God holds so tightly the entire universe that every molecule moves at his direction. I believe he made natural laws that govern these things.

I also believe that when humans make a choice and exercise their free will, God honors their decision and allows the blessings or consequences to fall on them. One of my professors introduced an excellent illustration for this idea.

Imagine that there is a giant yard, acres and acres long. On the inside of this entire yard, there is a smaller fence. The people inside the fence can roam anywhere they wish, but if they go outside of the fence through the gates, they will find themselves in deep peril.

The fence represents God’s will for our lives. There are many options inside of his will. Sometimes he directs us to the very best ones and other times it is up to us to decide between two good options. But if we get outside of the fence, we can find ourselves in danger with every choice that we make.

Issues I see with the TULIP system:

  • Total Depravity: I completely agree with this point. We need to hear the gospel and respond to it. Otherwise we would continue to lead a life of sin against God.
  • Unconditional Election: I believe that every human being who hears the gospel has the opportunity to accept or reject it and follow Christ. While God made know who will finally come to Christ, I don’t believe that he knows in advance and rejects anyone who is listening to the gospel.
  • Limited Atonement: Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that Christ died for all. The “all” here does not need to be pushed into one smaller group. The context suggests that he refers to every person rather than only the “all” who are elected before the foundation of the world. That’s what makes rejection of Christ’s sacrifice so painful for our Savior. He shed his blood so that every person has an opportunity to believe in him.
  • Irresistible Grace: God’s grace is not irresistible. There are millions, if not billions through history, who have not chosen to follow Christ after hearing the gospel. Even after hearing about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, his crucifixion, and the great suffering he went through, there are many who still reject him. It is possible to resist God’s grace.
  • Perseverance of the Saints: It is possible from several passages in the Bible, including Hebrew 6:4-6, as well as several others, to fall from God’s grace. It is called apostasy. The New Testament points out several places and situations where a believer (who truly believes and is converted to Christ) can fall away from God’s grace. The idea of “once saved, always saved” doesn’t hold up well to some scriptures.

People will debate determinism versus free will until the Lord returns. My mind is settled in knowing that I don’t have to understand every nuance of this argument or of the delicate balance God makes between determinism and his sovereignty versus human free will.

Further Resources

  • Losing Ground – a blog post I wrote a while ago that goes into my reasons for why I believe a person can lose their salvation and fall away from God’s grace.
  • My Personal Views on Calvinism – an essay I did quite a while ago. I posted it to my blog so it could be another resource. You may see how my views may have changed over the years or remained the same.
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Populating the Earth

This entry is part 23 of 25 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

If Adam and Eve were the first humans and Cain and Abel were their 1st offspring, how did the population grow? What about incest?

Maintaining a literal view of the Bible and the book of Genesis, the only way the earth could be populated from Adam and Eve was for their children to marry and procreate. This would be the second generation of humanity.

Adam lived to the ripe old age of 930 and fathered Seth, his third son, at 130 (Genesis 5:3-5). The Bible says he had other sons and daughters. These sons and daughters married and procreated to continue populating the earth at God’s command (Genesis 1:28).

This is a long time to have children. We have no idea how many children Adam and Eve had. But the Bible also doesn’t tell us when they had their first two children. We can infer from the 800 years Adam lived after he had Seth that he had many children.

There are also other theories about how the population of the Earth expanded. Everything from believing in mythical creatures from the Gap Theory between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 to an evil female creature that had children with angels. None of these mythological theories can be found anywhere in the Bible.

The next question I am usually asked when I give this answer is, “What about incest?” Incest would only take place in the second generation. Everyone after that would be marrying cousins and it would continue to disperse through the generations.

The issue of incest would pop up once again after the flood. Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, are the only ones to repopulate the entire earth. The second generation would be marrying siblings. The gene pool would disperse with following generations.

Incest is not addressed in the Bible until Moses’ raw for Israel. Leviticus 20:10-20 lays out some of the laws against sexual impurity with close relatives. Before Moses’ directly points out incest, it’s possible that it went unpunished. There are a few examples that show a little of how it was viewed in culture before Moses’ law.

Abraham believed the Egyptians would kill him and take his wife Sarah so he made an agreement with her that she would say she was his sister (Genesis 20:5). His son Isaac, would ask the same thing of Rebecca, his wife (Genesis 26:7).

It is clear from the stories for Abraham and Isaac that God is unhappy with both decisions to say their wives are their sisters. But they commit two sins in not telling the whole truth about their relationships with their wives and then the suggestion of incest.

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