ABCs for Christian Growth--Laying the Foundation

This series is in three parts, please note the preface studies begin each section.

Part One: The Assured Life

Part Two: The Transformed Life

Part Three: The Multiplied Life

Appendices

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General Introduction: Why We All Need the ABCs

We live in an anti-intellectual, anti-authority society, especially when it comes to religious matters. Ours is an existential (based on human experience, empirical) society devoted to the ‘warm fuzzy’ feel good, self-centered mentality that is so characteristic of the New Age movement which has bombarded the country—including much of the church. As a consequence, the terms doctrine or theology are not very popular in Christian circles. In fact, they are often denigrated or belittled. We hear statements like, “We don’t need to know all that theological or doctrinal stuff. We just need to know Jesus.” Or, “Well, I am not a theologian and never expect to be. I just love Jesus.” But knowing and loving Jesus in truth is dependent on the teachings of the Bible. Doctrine is simply another name for teaching and theology means “the knowledge of God.” Often the term theology is used in a general way to refer to other areas of study that relate to the knowledge of God. Biblical theology is simply the truths of God’s Word that give us the knowledge of God, of man, salvation, sanctification, the church, or life and life abundantly.

Jesus Himself said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32), and when praying His great high-priestly prayer to the Father He said, “Sanctify them through Your truth, Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Besides being an attitude of ignorance, such a attitude toward doctrine and theology ignores the Bible as God’s inspired and authoritative Word. It treats God’s Word as simply a lot of superfluous and outdated information—stuff we really don’t need. This elevates man’s wisdom above God’s wisdom when the opposite is really the case.

Isaiah 55:6-11 Seek the Lord while he makes himself available; call to him while he is nearby! 7 The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle and sinful people their plans. They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them, and to their God, for he will freely forgive them. 8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, 9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans. 10 The rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return, but instead water the earth and make it produce and yield crops, and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat. 11 In the same way, the promise that I make
does not return to me, having accomplished nothing. No, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend.

There is only one way to experience God’s salvation and sanctification and that is through Jesus Christ and the life God gives us in Him. We can only experience this, however, as we listen to the teachings (doctrines) of the Bible, which is our index for faith and practice.

Through his false teachers, who often appear as angels or messengers of light (actually messengers of darkness, cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Jam. 3:5; 1 Tim. 4:1), Satan not only denies Christ as the sole answer but offers many other roads and substitutes to life, but they are all false and lead to destruction.

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

To those who had already entered by faith into relation with Christ (as well as others who were listening; v. 28), our Lord describes the comparative unpopularity of their new position. The order of gate and way suggests the gate as the entrance to the way, symbolic of a believer’s initial experience with Christ, which introduces him to the life of godliness. The first Christians were called those of “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Though the mass of mankind is upon the broad way that leads to destruction (eternal ruin), the other gate and way are so small as to need finding. Yet the same God who provided Christ, who is both gate and way (Jn 14:6), also causes men to find the portal (Jn 6:44). Life. Here a contrasting parallel to destruction and thus a reference to the blessed state in heaven, though this eternal life begins at regeneration.1

The Lord goes on to warn against the many false teachers who would arise to lead people through the wrong gate and down the path of destruction.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. People don’t gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

In the context, please note the fruit by which these false prophets are known—it is their teaching, not necessarily their behavior. For how do these wolves appear? They appear in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they look like sheep and talk like sheep. They are often kind and even moral. They use religious terminology and act concerned for people and society, but in reality, they are wolves preaching a false way either in relation to salvation or sanctification or both.

Those who enter upon the narrow way must beware of false prophets, who claim to guide believers but really practice deception. Sheep’s clothing is not to be regarded as prophets’ garb, but is an evident contrast to vicious wolves. God’s people in all ages have needed to beware of deceptive leaders (Deut 13:1; Acts 20:29; I Jn 4:1; Rev 13:11-14). By their fruits. The doctrines produced by these false prophets, rather than the works they perform, since outward appearances may not cause suspicion. The test of the prophet is his conformity to Scripture (I Cor 14:37; Deut 13:1-5). Corrupt tree. One that is decayed, worthless, unusable. The worthlessness of such a tree calls for its swift removal from the orchard lest it infect the others.2

As mentioned, we live in an anti-intellectual, existential, emotional, self-centered, and Satan-inspired environment that seeks to bring people into religious experiences. But this environment either denies Christ and the Bible as God’s final Word, or it seeks to subtract from or add to Christ as God’s solution.

Recently, we heard a prominent daytime talk show host talk about how bad television is becoming and its negative influence on society. In a genuine desire to combat ‘bad’ television, she wants her shows to be a force for transformation, designed to help people turn their lives around. Now this sounds good, right? But it is so deceptive! Unless people know God’s Word even Christians will easily be misled. New Age terms were used such as “center yourself,” “meditate,” “get in touch with your spirit,” “empty yourself,” and invite the great source (or whatever you want to call it) to “come into your heart.” One show was devoted to showing how you can have all the money and success you want simply by thinking positively.

God’s Holy Word teaches us that to combat such false teaching, we need to know and be trained in the Scripture. This is a very strong thrust of the Bible, especially, the New Testament.

Ephesians 4:11-14 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 The purpose of this is to no longer be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who with craftiness carry out their deceitful schemes (emphasis mine).

Colossians 2:1-5 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not met me face to face. 2 My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches of full assurance in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. 2:5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see the order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (emphasis mine)

2 Pet. 1-3 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep.

So how do we protect ourselves and other believers from this onslaught? And where do we begin so we can also truly experience the grace of God in Christ? In other words, where does this process begin? It should begin with the basics—with a study like the ABCs For Christian Growth, Laying the Foundation. The key terms used in this title (‘ABCs,’ ‘Christian Growth,’ and ‘Foundation’) were carefully chosen because they each express biblical ideas and objectives God has for the Christian. So many Christians today are biblically illiterate. The sad fact is, this is true even in churches that claim to be Bible-centered. Because of this, and as an incentive for the study of the ABCs, I believe it is important and helpful that we see the emphasis the Bible has on the key terms used in the title for this series of studies.

If you are a new Christian, you may not be aware that very little time today, in contrast to the past, is devoted to indepth Bible study and expository preaching. In times past, solid Bible teaching occurred both Sunday morning and evening as well as on Wednesday night. This was the minimum for most evangelical Bible churches, but that is not the case today. Some churches are seeking to maintain a strong Bible teaching emphasis through small groups, and this has replaced Sunday and Wednesday evenings. But too often these small groups are more fellowship and sharing oriented, than Bible centered. The fellowship, the sharing and caring play an important role, but never to the exclusion of the Word.

Thus, since the terms used in the title of this series are not only biblical, but have a strong focus in the Bible, I believe a brief look at these terms is needed to grasp their significance, their need in the church of today, and the objectives of this series of studies.

The Concept of Growth

One of the clear teachings and objectives of the New Testament for believers is that of spiritual growth. When we are saved, no matter how old we are physically, we are born into the family of God as babes (little children) in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1f; 1 John 2:13 [children, paidia, babes]). Obviously, one of the fundamental needs of a child is proper nourishment and training to promote healthy growth. Thus, there is the strong emphasis in Scripture on spiritual growth for believers in all stages of maturity (see also 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18; Phil. 3:12f). The plain fact is, a failure to grow up spiritually is considered abnormal and deserving of rebuke or censure since growth is also a matter of choice.

Who is responsible for our spiritual growth? The Bible teaches us that a failure to grow is a matter of neglect for which two parties are responsible—the spiritual parents (church leaders and those who lead people to the Lord) and the individual believer himself. The following passages demonstrate this:

(1) Spiritual growth is a prime responsibility for church leaders and other mature believers. The New Testament emphasis in the epistles on teaching and sound doctrine and caring for believers (see verses below) illustrates this along with the very idea of the role and function of elders who are to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thess. 2:1-12; 1 John 2:12f; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11, 13; 1 Pet. 5:1f).

(2) Spiritual growth is also a responsibility for the individual himself. The following verses teach us that God holds us all responsible for our own spiritual growth to some degree. This includes the responsibility to follow the teaching and example of sound and godly leadership (cf. Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12f; 1 Cor. 3:1f; Heb. 5:11-6:1f).

The Concept of the ABCs

Since we all begin as babes in Christ, we must begin with the basics, the ABCs of the Word. This idea is solidly brought out in Hebrews 5:11-6:1. The author of Hebrew had advanced truth that he wanted to communicate to his readers about the Lord Jesus, but he knew they could not grasp it because of their spiritual sluggishness and indifference. This sluggishness and indifference had also contributed to the continuation of their spiritual immaturity, the other reason for their inability to go on in growth.

They had evidently been taught the basics (note the word “again” in verse 12), but they had failed, for whatever reason, to properly learn and go beyond what the author calls the “elementary principles” (NASB), “beginning elements” (NET Bible), “elementary truths” (NIV) of the oracles of God or God’s Word. “Elementary principles, truths,” is a translation of the Greek stoiceion, “one of a row, hence a letter (of the alphabet),” and so by extension, “the basics of knowledge, the ABCs of any subject.” Just as in first grade, the ABCs are the building blocks, the foundation on which other knowledge is grasped and related to, so all Christians need to know the basics of the Word if they are going to be able to move on to spiritual maturity and productive Christian lives as those who can also teach others (vs. 12a).

In Hebrews 6:1, the author continues his exhortation. Once the basic principles concerning Christ are grasped, the author wanted these believers to grow toward greater and greater spiritual maturity through steady spiritual growth. They were to continue to discern between living truths of what we have in Christ and lifeless forms, the shadows of the Old Testament such as were found in Judaism in the washings, baptisms, and rituals. Note that in verse 3 the writer identifies himself with his readers and expresses his own need to continue to grow. None of us ever arrive, so to speak. We all need to continue to grow.

In the context of this passage, several ABCs are mentioned (6:1-2). Among these are “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” One of the fundamental problems in the church today, as always, is legalism or the problem of dead works—man working in his own steam to be accepted or to gain favor with God, and even to experience his own sense of significance.

People need and desire three basic things, which we can also identify with the letters, ABC: (1) Acceptance (we have been accepted by God by grace through faith in Christ), (2) Belongingness (as regenerated members of the family of God, we belong to God and to one another), and (3) Competence (through God’s enablement, we can do whatever God calls us to do—He gives us the Holy Spirit, our enabler, and spiritual abilities). But man’s bent and Satan’s delusion is to get people to seek these either apart from God’s answer in Christ, or just partially through Christ and partially by adding something (works).

The point is, if our understanding of God’s grace and faith in the work of God for us in Christ (grace) is lacking, we will miss the abundant life that is ours to experience in Christ. Christians must have their lives founded firmly on the truth of faith alone in Christ alone, and this is true not only for salvation from sin’s penalty, but also for sanctification, spiritual change and the experience of the Christ-exchanged life—a work of the Spirit in which we cooperate by faith.

The Concept of the Foundation

No superstructure can be built, spiritually speaking, so that it can withstand the spiritual torrents it will face without a proper foundation. The ABCs form the solid foundation we need. But this is just another of those word pictures used in the New Testament to teach us how vital it is that we lay a sound doctrinal foundation. A couple of passages illustrate this:

Matthew 7:24-27 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”

In conclusion to his teaching in this passage, Jesus presented the two options open to His listeners. They were now responsible for what they had heard and must make a choice. Note the element of personal responsibility here—they could build on one of two foundations.

One foundation was likened to a big rock and the other to sand. The point is that a foundation determines a structure’s ability to withstand the storms we all face in life as illustrated by the words rain, floods, and winds. The rock foundation not only represented the Lord Himself but also the truths He had been teaching, especially the truth concerning a righteousness through faith which also produces an inner transformation through spiritual growth.

The sand, by contrast, spoke of pharisaic righteousness, an external and hypocritical righteousness of human works. The people were well acquainted with the so called righteousness of the Pharisees and many were basing their hopes on this kind of righteousness.

In the storms of life (the winds and the torrents of rain) the first foundation, the rock would give stability; the sand would result in destruction or ruin.

Thus, those who hear and heed words of Jesus are wise; those who do not are foolish. Only two courses of action are possible—two kinds of roads and gates (Matt. 7:13-14), two kinds of trees and fruit (vv. 15-20), two kinds of foundations and builders (vv. 24-27).

Once the foundation has been laid, we need to continue to grow and go on to greater maturity. When we fail to do this, we will regress and become hardened in our hearts (cf. 3:7f). Other passages that use the foundation metaphor are 1 Corinthians 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:20. Hebrews 6:1.

The Concept of Sound Doctrine

In keeping with the importance of having a solid foundation are the terms ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’ doctrine. To show our need not only of doctrine, but healthy, accurate teaching, we have another strong emphasis which exhorts us to not only train and bring believers to maturity, but to also guard the great truths of Scripture. The following passages and their sheer number demonstrate just how important sound doctrine is to the purposes and plan of God and to the people of God that they might not be led astray.

2 Tim. 1:13-14 Hold to the standard of sound words that you heard from me and do so with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

1 Timothy 6:3 If someone spreads false teachings and does not agree with sound words (that is, those of our Lord Jesus Christ) and with the teaching that accords with godliness,

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. 4 And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.

1 Timothy 4:6-7 By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.

1 Timothy 1:10-11 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers—in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. 11 This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

Paul concluded this inventory of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:10-11 with an all-inclusive reference to any behavior which is contrary to sound doctrine (lit., to “healthy teaching”; cf. 2 Tim. 1:13), including no doubt the very behavior of the false teachers themselves. “Doctrine” here is didaskalia, “teaching” or “the content taught,” used seven times in this epistle (1 Timothy 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1).

It is through the Bible and its revelation of Jesus Christ that people can know God and experience God’s provision of righteousness for salvation, deliverance from sin’s penalty (Rom. 1-4) and sanctification, deliverance from the power and reign of sin (Rom. 5-8). Thus, in Romans 6:17 Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form ( tupos, “form, figure, pattern,”)3 of teaching (or doctrine) to which you were committed.” Paul had just declared, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Though the Law pointed forward to the coming Messiah as God’s solution for sin, one of the Law’s primary purposes was to show man to be a sinner and in great need of the coming Savior (see 1 Tim. 1:8-10; Rom. 7:7). The point is, the Law could command, but not enable. It did not give justification nor sanctification righteousness. These can only come by knowing and responding in faith to the glorious message of the gospel of Christ.

Knowing God and experiencing Him in all aspects of life is both factual, involving an intellectual comprehension of the truth, and personal, involving a personal response to that truth by faith. And we cannot bypass this order. Faith is ultimately worthless unless it is based on truth, on that which is able, willing, and available to deliver.

… Healthy relationships must be based upon both a factual and a personal knowledge of the one loved. Thus it is with knowing God. A healthy relationship with God must begin with an intellectual knowledge of who He is, which then matures into a deeper personal experience of knowing God in life. God manifests Himself to us on the mountain peaks, in the valleys, in the swamps—in all aspects of our lives.4

Knowing God and experiencing Him in the salvation He offers us in Christ is not void of experience and the work of God in the heart or on the emotions, but it never excludes knowing and understanding the truth of Scripture.

1 Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1962, electronic media.

2 Harrison, electronic media.

3 “Form of teaching” refers to Christian teaching that is in keeping with the revelation of God in Christ; see also 1 Timothy 1:11.

4 Gary E. Vincelette, Basic Theology Applied, editors, Wesley & Elain Willis, John & Janet Master, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1995, p. 15.

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Preface to The Assured Life

The material in these lessons consists of a series of doctrinal studies designed to communicate basic doctrines that are so vital for new Christians to help them get up and running in their new life in Christ.

Many new (as well as older) believers flounder in their Christian growth because they do not know these basic truths for walking with Christ through the Spirit of God and in the light of God’s Word. The goal is to lay the foundation for a walk by faith that will help believers in Christ begin to experience the glorious transforming power of the saving life of Christ through the Spirit of God. These studies focus on what believers have in Christ, their new identity or position, and how this must form the foundation for faith, growth, and spiritual transformation through Christ’s life being reproduced in their lives.

The lessons in Part One: The Assured Life, are designed to lay the foundation for spiritual growth in Christ, with the truths covered in Part Two and Part Three building on this foundation.

The lessons in Part Two: The Transformed Life, cover those biblical truths that are specifically related to the transformed or Christ-exchanged life. This is accomplished by the work of God in believers’ lives as they gain an understanding of these fundamental truths of Scripture and appropriate them by faith.

The lessons in Part Three: The Multiplied Life, are devoted to multiplying believers’ lives as good stewards of the grace of God in four key areas of stewardship—talents, truth, treasures and time. It is too easy in our society to view Christianity selfishly, as simply a means of personal peace and prosperity. Though God is the God of all comfort and He does promise us peace, joy, and comfort, the ultimate goal is to turn us into ministers who, like the Savior, are here not to be ministered to, but to minister and help others know the sufficiency of Christ.

This series may be used by an individual for his own personal growth, but it is particularly designed to be used as a framework for discipling others. While this is much more than an outline, it is not intended to be a full discussion of all the subjects presented here.

The verses quoted are not intended to be used as proof texts, but as a foundation for expounding on the truth being taught in context with the passages quoted.

These studies are not presented as a last word on these subjects nor do I claim originality, for my life has been touched by the lives of many others who have taught me. It is my prayer that the LORD, by His matchless grace, will use these studies to His glory and honor, and for the building up of the saints for a deeper walk by faith in our loving and sovereign God. I entrust this study to God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build us up.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile
and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word,
that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
1 Peter 2:1-2

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Introduction to the Truth of Assurance

A Definition

Without a doubt, everyone needs, wants, and seeks assurance in all realms of life—in matters of human relationships, finances, job security, retirement, government, and especially in our beliefs about God, man, salvation, and spirituality as it is described for us in the New Testament. In his thought provoking book, No Condemnation, a New Theology of Assurance, Michael Eaton writes about the absence of assurance in Asahel Nettleton. Nettleton was a powerful evangelical preacher in 19th century America who said of himself, “The most that I have ventured to say repsecting myself is, that I think it possible I may get to heaven.”5 A few pages later, in describing his quest for an encouraging theology, Eaton wrote:

On one occasion the mistake of a British Museum librarian meant that instead of the words of Tobias Crisp I found myself reading about the death-bed experiences of 17th century Puritans. I was shattered to discover that their assurance of salvation at such a time was not what I would have expected. Then I came across the remark of Asahel Nettleton, quoted above, which expressed the very essence of everything I felt was wrong with the approach to grace that I had grown up with.… Surely, I thought to myself, there is more joy and assurance in the New Testament than that…6

But what is assurance? Basically, assurance is freedom from doubt; a sense of certainty that something is true, will occur, or that all is okay. Synonyms for assurance consist of words like certainty, certitude, conviction. All these nouns ultimately mean freedom from doubt.

Assurance is not a foreign concept of the New Testament. In Acts 2:36, Peter said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (NIV) The word assured is the Greek ajsfalw'", “sure, certain, secure.” It is used of the concept of guarding something or someone securely (cf. Acts 16:23; Mark 14:44). It comes from a verb ( asfalivzw) which means “to guard.” From that it developed the meaning of “that which is sure, certain,” or “assurance.”

The noun form of this word, ajsfavleia, means, depending on the context, “firmness, securely locked” (Acts 5:23), “safety, security” (1 Thess. 5:3), or “certainty, truth,” (Luke 1:4).

Writing to Theophilus in the first of his two-volume treatise on the person and work of Jesus Christ, Luke wrote,

Luke 1:1-4. Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. 3 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know for certain [ ajsfavleia] the things you were taught. From the meaning and use of the Greek word ajsfavleia, we can clearly see some of the issues involved with the concept of assurance. We want and need a sense of certainty, based on the evidence of Scripture, regarding the truth because such a sense of certainty or assurance also gives a sense of security.

Furthermore, this is something which God wants us to have and which church leaders, using the truth of God in Christ as revealed in the Bible, ought to be diligent to provide through the study of the Word. With this in mind, note what Paul wrote to the church at Colosse when they were facing false teaching (Col. 2:1-5). These false teachings were on the verge of undermining the assurance of the Colossian believers with regard to what they had believed about the person and work of the Savior. Note the development of Paul’s argument here:

1. Verse 1 expresses Paul’s concern and effort expended on their behalf: “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,”

2. Verses 2-3 express his first and fundamental purpose—to give the full assurance which comes from understanding what is theirs through Christ: “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

3. Verses 4-5 express his second purpose, which is also the result of the first. He says “I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”

In Galatians 1:20, to assure his readers of the truth of what he was writing, Paul wrote, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (NIV). Literally, “behold” or “take note, before God …” Here the apostle was setting forth historical evidence and calling God as his witness as well. The fact is people need and should have assurance, but it should, of course, be based on credible evidence that what they are asked to believe or have believed is the truth.

Two Types of Evidence

1. Scientific, that which can be repeated in a laboratory or under scientific controls.

2. The legal-historical, that which is based on showing something is beyond a reasonable doubt based on oral and written testimony and exhibits or other forms of evidence like a gun, a bullet, archaeological findings, manuscripts, etc.

Sometimes people try to argue against the Bible or Christ with the statement, “You can't prove that by scientific method,” with the implication that believing in the Bible and in Christ is therefore unreliable and unbelievable. Such a claim is false.

Historical events and issues cannot be proven by the scientific method because they cannot be repeated. That’s true. But it is not true that this makes the claims of the Bible and its testimony to Jesus Christ false. Why? Because the scientific approach is totally inadequate to prove things about a person or an event in history. It cannot prove whether or not George Washington lived or if John Kennedy was assassinated or if Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead. However, there are other forms of evidence that can be brought forth that are used every day in courts all over this country to give evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that certain things either happened or did not happen, or are true even though they cannot be repeated.

Thus, the Savior said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He said, “You shall know,” and not just hope or feel it’s true. Through the resurrection and many other infallible proofs, God has given us credible evidence for the genuiness of the claims of the Bible as being God’s Word and for the certainty of the claims of Christ.

Acts 17:30-31 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead (emphasis mine).

With this in mind, compare Romans 4:13-21 and note the element of firm assurance that Abraham had. God wants us to have assurance and to know the peace that comes from assurance, but we must be sure that our assurance is based on the truth of Scripture or our assurance will be empty.

New Christians, and even many older believers for that matter, need assurance concerning the very message of the gospel they have believed and of the new life they have in Christ as believers. With the many winds of strange doctrine blowing across the landscape, people are often assailed by all kinds of doubts and fears about their decision to trust in Christ.

Is what I believed really the gospel? Just what does my decision to believe in Jesus Christ mean in my life? What are the ramifications and consequences? Can salvation be lost? If I commit this sin or that sin, does it mean I was never saved? Some evangelists or preachers give the impression that once you accept Christ all your problems will be over, when in reality a whole new set of problems begin with hostile forces on the attack. The Christian has moved from Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of Christ, which Satan hates. This also tends to unsettle a person’s assurance (see 1 Thess. 3:1-8).

Our Objectives

1. To give personal assurance concerning what the gospel message is.

2. To give personal assurance concerning the results of personally believing in Jesus Christ.

3. To cover biblical promises essential to gaining assurance of what believers have in Christ.

4. To provide ability to deal with any doubts regarding God’s provision for all areas of life.

Areas of Assurance

Assurance deals with the confident realization of what the Christian has in Christ and who he or she is in Christ. It covers a number of aspects of the salvation God gives to those who trust in Jesus Christ. For our purposes, these lessons on assurance will consider the following areas:

1. Assurance Regarding the Gospel—Is what I believe the true gospel?

2. Assurance of Salvation—On what do I base my assurance?

3. Assurance of Eternal Security—Is there some sin that can cause me to lose my salvation?

4. Assurance of God’s Daily Provision—Will God really care for me?

5. Assurance of God’s Provision for Sin—How do I deal with my sin problem?

6. Assurance of God’s Guidance—Can I count on God’s guidance in the many decisions I face daily?

7. Assurance of Eternal Rewards—Since my salvation is secure, are there no ramifications if I fail to walk with the Lord?

5 Michael Eaton, No Condemnatin, A New Theology of Assurance, InterVaristy Press, Downers Grove, 1995, p. 3.

6 Eaton, p. 8.

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Assurance Regarding the Gospel

Introduction

Since all believers are responsible to share their faith with others, every Christian needs a clear understanding of the plan of salvation. This is especially true for new babes in Christ.

The following short presentation of the gospel is designed to reinforce the key issues and provide a tool for presenting the gospel to others as new Christians begin their walk down the road of life as Christians.

God’s Plan of Salvation

1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

While 1 John 5:11-12 is written to Christians to give them assurance of their salvation based on the testimony of God’s Word, this passage also highlights the key issue in salvation.

God’s Declaration to Man: “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (verse 11).

The Important Issue: “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” (verse 12).

This passage teaches:

  • · God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • · The way to possess eternal life is to possess God’s Son.

Two important questions must be asked and answered:

  • · Why is possession of God’s Son necessary to have eternal life?
  • · How can a person possess or have the Son of God?

The Problem of
Man’s Separation From God

According to Romans 5:8, God demonstrated His love for us through the death of His Son. Why did Christ have to die for us? Because Scripture declares all men to be sinful. We are all sinners. To “sin” means to miss the mark. The Bible declares we have all sinned and fall short of the glory (the perfect holiness) of God. In other words, our sin separates us from God who is perfect holiness (righteousness and justice) and God must therefore judge sinful man.

Romans 5:8 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Habakkuk 1:13a You are too just to tolerate evil; you are unable to condone wrongdoing.

Isaiah 59:2 But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers.

The Problem of the
Futility of Man’s Works

Scripture also teaches that no amount of human goodness, human works, human morality, or religious activity can gain acceptance with God or get anyone into heaven. The moral man, the religious man, and the immoral and non-religious are all in the same boat. They all fall short of the glory of God (God’s perfect righteousness). After discussing the immoral man, the moral man, and the religious man in Romans 1:18-3:8, the apostle Paul declares that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:9-10), and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Added to this are the declarations of the following verses of Scripture:

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 6 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:5-7 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.

Romans 4:1-5 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about—but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “ Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

No amount of human goodness is as good as God. God is infinite or perfect righteousness. Because of this, Habakkuk 1:13 tells us He cannot have fellowship with anyone who does not have perfect righteousness. In order to be accepted by God, we must be as good as God is. Before God, we all stand naked, helpless, and hopeless in ourselves. No amount of good living will get us to heaven or give us eternal life. What then is the solution?

God’s Solution for Man’s Problem

God is not only perfect holiness (whose holy character we can never attain to on our own or by our works of righteousness) but He is also perfect love and full of grace and mercy. Because of His love and grace, He has not left us without hope and a solution.

Romans 5:8 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

This is the Good News of the Bible—the message of the gospel. It’s the message of the gift of God’s own Son who became man (the God-man), lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the grave proving both the fact He is God’s Son and the value of His death for us as our substitute.

Romans 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 4:25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 3:18 Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.

The All-Important Question

How then do we receive God’s Son that we may cross the gulf and have the eternal life God has promised us? What becomes the issue for us today?

John 1:12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children

John 3:16-18 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

Because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, the Bible states “He that has the Son has life.” We can receive the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior by personal faith, by trusting in the person of Christ and His death for our sins.

This means we must each come to God the same way—as a sinner who recognizes his sinfulness, repudiates any form of human works for salvation, and relies totally on Christ alone by faith alone for our salvation.

If you would like to receive and trust Christ as your personal Savior, you may want to express your faith in Christ by a simple prayer such as this:

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner and that nothing I do can gain heaven or eternal life. I believe Jesus Christ died for me and rose from the grave. Right now I receive Him as my personal Savior by trusting in Him alone as my only way to heaven. Thank you for giving me eternal life through faith in your Son. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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Assurance of Salvation

Assurance Versus Security

Security

When we trust in Jesus Christ, our eternal security in Christ becomes a spiritual reality whether we understand it or believe it. Ones belief in security in Christ does not make it true or false. If we have trusted in the person and work of Christ for personal salvation, security is a fact.

Assurance

Assurance is the confident realization of that security. It is the realization of what we have in Christ such as eternal life, forgiveness of sin, and being the object of God’s personal care as his children. Assurance has to do with our comprehension of the facts and provisions of salvation through faith in Christ. This is a crucial doctrine because, properly understood, it will touch the believer’s life in several areas. Not only does it give assurance of salvation, but with that also comes a greater assurance of God’s provision in all areas of life.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

When people do not have assurance, we should always begin by sharing the gospel to be sure they have truly trusted in Christ. Once this is confirmed, then move on to the matters of assurance.

Reasons Why People Lack Assurance

(1) People often lack assurance because they cannot remember or point to a specific time when they received Christ. Some doubt or wonder if they were ever really saved. There is a specific point in time when salvation occurs—the point when regeneration takes place. The issue for people is to know if they now really trust in the person and work of Christ.

(2) People often lack assurance because they question the procedure they went through when they accepted Christ. Many evangelists and preachers emphasize the need for some form of public confession of faith like going forward at the end of a service or raising your hand. If people receive Christ privately, they may wonder if they should have made a public confession or prayed a different prayer.

(3) People often lack assurance because of struggles they have with certain sins. They wonder if a true believer would have these kinds of problems. The real problem is ignorance of man’s sinful nature, the spiritual warfare we are in, God’s means of deliverance, and the need to grow and mature in Christ.

(4) The primary reason behind a lack of assurance is doctrinal misunderstanding and the consequent lack of faith in the finished work of Christ. This means a failure to understand the Word and its teaching regarding mankind, his sin and inability to work for or maintain his salvation, God’s perfect holiness, and the finished nature and sufficiency of the work of Christ.

(5) Finally, people often lack assurance because they have erroneously been taught that they should look to themselves and their works as the primary proof of their salvation. This is a major issue today. Robert Lightner writes:

Those who think the sinner must make Christ Lord of his life, or at least promise to do so, before he can be saved make assurance rest on the evidence of a surrendered walk. MacArthur cites this as the only way a believer can be assured of his or her salvation. ‘Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.’7

So what is the proper basis for assurance? Should we look to some experience or our works?

Foundations for Assurance

The Word of God

The Word of God is God’s witness to the believer (1 John 5:11-13). The Greek text includes the article with the word “life.” Salvation in Christ is not just the gift of life, but of “the life,” the one which comes only through faith in God’s unique Son. The clear declaration of Scripture is that the one who believes in Christ’s person and work on the cross as God’s provision for his sins has:

(1) Eternal life.

John 3:36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.

1 John 5:11-13 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

(2) Forgiveness of all sin.

Acts 10:43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Colossians 2:13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions.

(3) Freedom from condemnation.

John 5:24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

(4) Justification (declared righteous by God).

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Romans 4:1-6 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about—but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “ Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Romans 4:25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

(5) Salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

(6) A child of God by faith.

John 1:12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children

Romans 8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)—if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

John Calvin emphatically warned against looking to ourselves, that is, to our works or the fruit of the Spirit, for certainty of our salvation. He taught that we should look to Christ as the objective basis for assurance. To look to ourselves produces doubt and detracts from the saving work of Christ. He rejected the exhortation to self-examination as a dangerous dogma.8

Contrary to MacArthur’s comment quoted above, this is not a matter of clinging to some experience, but the sure witness of the Word of God. Earl Radmacher writes:

Many wise pastors have insisted that the basis for knowing that I am a Christian is not what I do but what God’s Word says about what Christ has done and continues to do for those who have believed (John 1:12; 1 John 5:13). I know I belong to Christ because I have believed in Jesus Christ as my only Savior and Redeemer from eternal destruction. It’s not the evidences of my life that are my basis for knowing that. It’s the Word of God. God said it. That settles it. I am fearful of those today, who because of a genuine, valid concern about the lack of growth and the lack of evident Christian lifestyle, are willing to try to prop up the Gospel by adding to it.9

The Work of Christ

To properly understand the work of Christ (Christ’s substitutionary death, dying in our place and bearing our sins on the cross) is another vital need tremendously important to assurance. This too, of course, is based on the statements of Scripture, but the emphasis is on understanding the sufficiency, finished nature, and accomplishments of the death of Christ. There are two prominent aspects here which Scripture emphatically teaches:

(1) Salvation is not by our works or merit (cf. Rom. 4:1-7 above).

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:5-7 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

(2) Salvation is solely by Christ’s person and work as a gift of God.

1 John 5:5-12 Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 Jesus Christ is the one who came by water and blood—not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify, 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement. 9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.

Philippians 3:8-9 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

(1) The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth.

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

John 15:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me,

John 16:8-13 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.

1 John 4:6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

(2) The Holy Spirit is called an anointing. Both of these descriptions portray the Holy Spirit’s ministry of teaching believers God’s Word.

1 John 2:20, 27 Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. … 27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him.

(3) The Holy Spirit opens the Word to our hearts.

Acts 16:14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying.

(4) The Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and gives us understanding.

1 Corinthians 2:12-16 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 3:15-19 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

(5) The Holy Spirit assures our hearts through the Word that we are children of God. The witness concerning life in the Son through believing in the Son as promised in 1 John 5:11 is really the message to which the Holy Spirit bears witness in the Word.

Romans 8:15-16 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

1 John 5:7-11 For there are three that testify, 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement. 9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

Principles for Assurance

Principle 1: We need to draw our assurance from faith in the facts of Scripture and not from our feelings. Our faith and thus our assurance must stand on the sure promises of the Bible rather than on our feelings. The biblical order is: FACTS ——>FAITH ——>FEELINGS. Feelings are the responders of the soul or heart. They are to follow and respond to our understanding of Scripture, but they are never a safe guide to what we should believe or of the state of our salvation. This leads to the next point.

Principle 2: We need to draw our assurance from faith in the facts of Scripture and not from our works. Works or the biblical changes that occur in our lives as a result of the grace of God can confirm the reality of our life with God. We must be ever so careful, however, in making such subjective ground the basis of our assurance, for when a believer is out of fellowship he or she can have the appearance of an unbeliever especially if the condition lasts for any length of time.

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? 4 For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human?

If we depend on works or obedient living to prove our salvation then we are faced with the following dilemma: If we are living obediently now (the supposed proof of salvation), the possibility exists that could change in the future. If later on we cease to live obediently, then that would prove (based on the above premise) that we are not now true Christians in spite of our obedient lifestyle. So present obedience can never really prove our Christianity and thus, we could never have assurance.

Post-generation performance is not a trustworthy basis for assurance of salvation. Scripture clearly warns against basing assurance or true relationship with God on performance. Note Matthew 7:13-23, for an example. The false prophets typically come in sheep’s clothing. Catch that—they look good! They do all the right things. They appear to be ‘model Christians,’ pillars of the church. (Fruit here refers not to the behavior of these people but to their teaching—see Matt. 12:31-37.) But they’ve never trusted Christ; they have no vital relationship with Him (v 23). Instead, at the bottom line, they are trusting in themselves (v 22). Their performance looks good. In fact it leads them to conclude that they are right with God. And yet they are deceived. They learn too late that assurance of salvation cannot properly be based on performance.10

Proper Christian living should never be the fundamental grounds for assurance of salvation. Rather, assurance of salvation which should rest in the merit and sufficiency of the Savior and the believer’s new life in Christ, must be the fundamental basis for proper Christian living.

Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, 3 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.

As John shows in 1 John 1:6-7, Christlike behavior is an evidence of genuine fellowship and that a person is truly walking with the Lord in the light.

1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

However, proper Christian living is not necessarily an evidence of genuine relationship because when believers are out of fellowship for any length of time they will manifest the works of the flesh and may look very much like an unbeliever. As mentioned earlier, the apostle Paul speaks of this when he described carnal Christians as “behaving like unregenerate people” in 1 Corinthians 3:3-4.

3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? 4 For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human?

The apostle was not questioning or denying the fact of their salvation. He affirmed his conviction of their salvation, but they were walking according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit of God. This made them behave so they looked like natural men, like men who were without the saving power of Christ, when in reality they were in Christ with the Spirit indwelling them.

1 Corinthians 1:2-9 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 4 I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. 5 For you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge— 6 just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you— 7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 3:1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

Sometimes a passage like 2 Corinthians 13:5 is used to support the necessity of examining our works to prove our salvation. This is unfortunate because this is mere proof-texting and misses the context and the actual meaning and purpose of this passage in the argument of Paul in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 13:5 Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!

MacArthur is an illustration of this. He writes: “Doubts about one’s salvation are not wrong so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession. Scripture encourages self-examination. Doubts must be confronted and dealt with honestly and biblically.” Then, after quoting 2 Corinthians 13:5 he concludes, “That admonition is largely ignored—and often explained away—in the contemporary church.”11

But is this the correct interpretation of this passage? Is Paul calling these believers to examine themselves for the purpose of assurance of salvation? The context says no! The following are some reasons for this position:

(1) Again, as in 1 Corinthians, Paul affirmed his conviction they were saved. He does not question their salvation for a moment as is clear from the passages mentioned above.

(2) Even if Paul were telling them to examine themselves for assurance, he does not tell them to examine their works for assurance. In light of the plain teaching of Scripture, if anything needed to be examined, it would be the object of their faith. Had they truly trusted in Christ rather than in some system of works?

(3) He does tell them to examine themselves, but he had another purpose in mind according to the context of verses 3-7. Some were questioning the validity of the ministry of the apostle because of the influence of certain false teachers. Compare 2 Corinthians 11:1-12:21 where the apostle defends his ministry against their accusations. They were demanding proof in verse 3 that Christ was speaking through Paul. In verse 5 Paul shows them that the proof they were looking for was in themselves because he had been their father in the faith.

1 Corinthians 4:15 For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The sure way to prove Paul’s ministry was to examine their own faith since their belief in the genuineness of their faith carried with it the proof of the genuineness of Paul’s ministry as a spokesman for Christ. Did they know the Savior? Yes. How did they come to know the Savior? Through Paul’s ministry. He did not believe they were counterfeit and knew they were unlikely to come to a different conclusion about their faith which only proved he too passed the test. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 13:6, “And I hope that you will realize that we have not failed the test.”

Remember that the basis God gives us for assurance of salvation is His record or witness to us as clearly declared in 1 John 5:11-13:

11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

The Bema
(Judgment Seat of Christ)

Does the fact that we are confident of our salvation because of the finished work of Christ mean we can be indifferent about our lifestyle? Does assurance of salvation promote promiscuous Christian living and faulty stewardship? No, not if one understands the whole counsel of the Word.

Every believer as a child of God is a steward to whom God has entrusted stewardships of time, talents (spiritual gifts included), God’s truth, and treasures. A steward is someone who manages the property or equipment of another. What does this mean? The apostle Paul teaches us “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” God holds us responsible for what we do with our stewardship, and a day will come when we will be held accountable for what we have done with the life God has given us. This is the point of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:

12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Note the contrast here. The believer is in heaven because of what Jesus did, but accountable reward-wise for what he did with the life and gifts God gave him. Again, listen to Radmacher’s comments on this:

As I write these words, I stand in God’s sight faultless and perfect because God Almighty sees me through Jesus Christ. There is no compromise to that. No one who knows Jesus Christ will ever appear at the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20. Believers shall appear, however, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema) and will be judged by their works (2 Cor. 5:10). It is significant to note that both the unregenerate and the regenerate will be judged by their works. The unregenerate will be judged by their works at the Great White Throne Judgment and the results of that judgment will be degrees of eternal punishment in hell. The regenerate will be judged by their works at the Bema and the result of that judgment will be either be reward or the lack of it.12

In lesson 7 we will cover the Judgment Seat of Christ in detail, but for now, it is sufficient for us to realize that while we are secure in the Savior as far as heaven is concerned, we have a wonderful stewardship for which we are each responsible. Our need is to be disciplined through God’s grace unto godliness which has a promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness. 8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.

7 Robert Lightner, Sin, The Savior, and Salvation, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1991, p. 246 quoting John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 23.

8 Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance, Handsel, Edinburg, 1985, p. 28.

9 Earl Radmacher, The Grace Evangelical Society News, Vol. 10, No. 3, May-June 1995, p. 1.

10 Rich Christianson, The Grace Evangelical Society News, Vol. 9, No. 1, January-February 1994, p. 4.

11 John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1988, p. 190.

12 Radmacher, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 1, 4.

Assurance of Eternal Security

Introduction

While the believer may gain assurance of his salvation and know that he has been saved, the question may arise concerning the permanence of his salvation. Once genuinely saved by trusting in the merit of Christ’s death on the cross for sin, can the believer lose his salvation? Is there anything we can do to lose our salvation? The answer is NO! Why? Because Scripture clearly affirms the fact we are protected by the power of God through faith. Faith brings us into a grace relationship with God as a gift of God through the merit of His beloved Son. We are saved by His record, not ours.

1 Peter 1:5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

The following seven approaches set forth the case for the believer’s eternal security, “buckled up for safety” because of the power of God and the overwhelming sufficiency of the person and work of Christ.

The Trinity Approach

The first argument for the eternal security of the believer stems from seeing how all three persons of the trinity work in concert to make and keep us secure in Christ.

From the Standpoint of the Son

Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “ For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The declaration in Romans 8:34, “Christ is the one who died,” is given in answer to the questions of verses 31-33, and in anticipation to the questions and declarations of verses 35-39. The goal of verse 34, however, is to show the absolute security of the believer. Two reasons are stated in relation to God the Son:

(1) Christ Died as Our Redeemer and Substitute: By His death Christ removed the barrier that separates mankind from God. Man’s sin and God’s holiness, which form a barrier between the sinner and God, were dealt with at the cross so God is free to justify us, declare us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. The same truth is declared in the following verses.

Romans 3:23-28 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 36 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 5:1,8 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, … 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The book of Hebrews states Christ’s death is the only sacrifice which counts and is once and for all time.

Hebrews 9:11-14 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

Hebrews 9:26-28 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. 27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation.

Hebrews 10:12-14 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.

(2) Christ Is Risen and Sits at God’s Right Hand. The second argument of Romans 8:34 concerns the resurrection and session of the Savior at God’s right hand. He sits at God’s right hand as our powerful advocate and intercessor to plead our case when we sin or when accused of sin, and to intercede on our behalf by virtue of His finished work on the cross which reconciles us to God.

Revelation 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down.”

Romans 5:10-11 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

Hebrews 7:25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

John 17:11 I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.

From the Standpoint of the Father

Through the protection of our heavenly Father, whose holiness has been perfectly satisfied by the death of His Son, we are kept by:

His Sovereign Purpose

Salvation depends upon God to bring it to pass, not us. Nothing, not even our sin, can frustrate the eternal and sovereign purpose of God who determined to save us by grace through faith in His Son. Since God’s holiness has been satisfied by the death of Christ, He can be just and the justifier of those who receive His Son by faith.

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— 6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

His Love for the Son

We are kept for the sake of the Son and His perfect work for our sin. Believers are “in his dearly loved Son,” the place where God’s love abides, and nothing whatsoever can separate us from the love of God (cf. Eph 1:3-6 above).

Romans 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

His Work of Discipline

The Father’s work of discipline proves we are still sons even when we sin. He does not disown us; He disciplines us.

Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:30-32 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Sin does not change our relationship to God as His children though it does affect our fellowship, the intimacy of our walk with God, our ability to serve Him, and the rewards we will receive in the future kingdom.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

His Sovereign Power

Nothing or no one is greater than the Father which means nothing or no one can defeat God’s purpose to save us or remove us from His love and care (cf. Rom. 8:31-39).

1 Peter 1:5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Jude 24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence,

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.

From the Standpoint of the Holy Spirit

His Work of Spirit Baptism

Spirit baptism refers to the work of the Holy Spirit whereby He places believers into union with the body of Christ and identifies them with Christ’s person and work. If believers could lose their salvation, it would mean the body of Christ could and would be maimed. This is foreign to Scripture. To the carnal church in Corinth, which was full of strife, envy, fornication, and drunkenness, Paul declared, “are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). Yet, he affirmed the fact of their salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body—though many—are one body, so too is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 3:1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

His Work in Regeneration

Regeneration refers to the impartation of spiritual and eternal life which makes us new creatures in Christ. This can never change. First, it is based on the work of the Son, not our works. And second, as physical birth makes one a child of his parents forever, so spiritual birth does the same.

2 Corinthians 5:17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!

Titus 3:5-7 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

John 3:3-8 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:16-18 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

As mentioned previously, rather than disown a disobedient child, God disciplines his children. At times it may even be to the point of physical death, but believers still remain His children (cf. above Heb. 12:5-12).

His Work of Indwelling

This refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer which was promised by our Lord as a permanent indwelling. The Spirit is given forever and given without conditions other than faith in Christ.

John 7:37-39 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘ From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

John 14:16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

James 4:5 Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”?

The Holy Spirit as a Seal

This is a description of the Holy Spirit from the standpoint of what He is to the believer through His indwelling. A seal in ancient times was a sign and proof of: (a) a completed transaction, i.e., our salvation, (b) of ownership, we belong to God, and (c) of security since only an authorized person could break the seal. In this case it is God and He has promised not to do so.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

2 Corinthians 1:22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

As a result, Paul declares that even the carnal Christians at Corinth belonged to God as a result of this finished transaction of their salvation in Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

The Holy Spirit as an Earnest

This forms another picture of what the Holy Spirit is to believers in Christ. As an earnest agreement on a house is a buyer’s pledge to purchase and pay the full price for the house, so the Holy Spirit is God’s personal pledge and guarantee of our security promising us there is more to come: we will receive the ultimate or eternal blessings of our salvation. The term “down payment” in the following verses refer to an earnest agreement-like pledge.

Ephesians 1:14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

2 Corinthians 1:22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

The Positional Approach

Spirit baptism joins the believer into union with Christ. This becomes the new spiritual position of the believer. Phrases such as “in Christ,” “in the beloved,” and “with Christ,” used over and over again in Paul’s epistles, refer to this concept. This calls attention to the fact the Bible emphasizes we are saved and accepted through our position in or union with Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

Ephesians 2:5-6 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 This saying is trustworthy: If we died with him, we will also live with him. 12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us. 13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.

This is a place not only of security, but of double security! Our union with Christ is a guarantee of glory.

Colossians 3:3-4 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.

The Logical Approach

Simply stated, if God did so much for us while we were sinners, completely alienated and enemies of God before salvation, how much more will He not do for us now that we have been reconciled and stand related to Him as His children who have been justified, declared righteous in Christ?

Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?

Romans 8:32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?

God’s Hand Approach

A specific and wonderful promise from the Lord is that no one (and this must include Satan or ourselves) can remove us from either the hand of the Son or the Father. Scripture tells us we are in God’s hand, which is a place of perfect security because He is greater than all.

John 10:28-29 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

The Tense Approach

The use of the perfect tense in a number of New Testament passages would further point to the believer’s security. The meaning of the perfect tense in Greek combined with the context and the analogy of Scripture forms another argument for the security of the believer. The perfect tense refers to action or an event which, completed in the past, has results existing in the present time (i.e., in relation to the time of the speaker). It looks at the present state of affairs. The following passages that use the perfect tense stress the saved state of the believer who has trusted in the Savior.

John 5:24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.

Romans 5:2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are savedthrough faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God;

The Grace Approach

This argument is simply this. The New Testament plainly states we are saved by grace through faith in the person and work of Christ, and that salvation is not of human works or works of righteousness which we have done. If, however, having put our trust in the person and work of Christ, we can lose our salvation by what we do or do not do, then in the final analysis, we are saved by works. This is contrary to the theology of the New Testament (cf. also Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6; Rev. 21:6; 21:17).

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so no one may boast.

Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,

What Sin Approach

This approach asks the question, “ What sin causes a person to lose his salvation?Sin, any sin falls short of the perfect holiness of God. Every person, regardless of his maturity or relationship with the Lord, is far from perfect by God’s standard. We all have something in our lives which falls short of God’s glory, i.e., some sin though it may be unknown.

1 John 1:8-10 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

Where, then, do we draw the line? Those who believe we can lose our salvation categorize sin as though God overlooks some sins while He judges others. It becomes a matter of degrees and the question arises, how bad must we become before we lose our salvation? Which sin does us in? People often categorize sin into various levels, but their categories are usually out of touch with God’s perspective.

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the Lord hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans,feet that are swift to run to evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies,and a person who spreads discord among family members.

Problem Passages

What about those passages that are often taken to mean the believer can lose his salvation? For this study, we cannot deal with all these passages. Generally, however, we can show that none of these passages teach we can lose our salvation if the immediate context and the context of the entire New Testament is considered, or if the principle of the analogy of the faith is considered.

The Analogy of the Faith

The analogy of the faith is a hermeneutical principle which says unclear passages should be understood in the light of clear ones, not vice versa. It is my conviction that those who believe we can lose our salvation, or who teach Lordship salvation, violate this principle.

They violate this principle in two ways:

(1) They base their understanding of the Gospel on a few difficult or unclear passages rather than the many very clear ones.

(2) They overthrow the correct interpretation of clear passages by understanding them in the light of their faulty views of the unclear or more difficult passages of Scripture.

Categories of Difficult Passages

The problem passages (those used to teach believers can lose their salvation, or used to teach that they were never really saved or they would never do such and such) in reality fall into one or more of the following categories and do not deal with the issue of eternal salvation:

(1) Passages that deal with the Bema (the Judgment Seat of Christ) and are thus warning believers against the potential loss of rewards—rather than the loss or lack of salvation.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 9:25-27 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. 27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

(2) Passages that warn against the severity of God’s discipline in this life when believers refuse to respond to His grace.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

Hebrews 6:1-6 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits. 4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 10:23-31 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. 26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, “ Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “ The Lord will judge his people.”

(3) Passages that portray the nature of who we are as God’s children, and that which must, therefore, characterize us as children of God. This includes passages that portray the nature and condition of unbelievers as a motivation to godly living or living like the people we have become positionally in Christ. These passages do not threaten us with the loss of salvation nor do they call us to question our salvation. They challenge us to live like the people we are in Christ. For instance, compare Ephesians 5:1-12.

1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving. 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light— 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention

The Argument of 1 John 3:6f.

1 John 3:6-10 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil. 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.

First John 3:6 occurs in a section where John is giving reasons why believers should not sin. Here he gives one reason after another not to question our salvation but to motivate believers to walk in the light. Does 1 John 3:6b mean the abiding believer, the one who clings to Christ, actually never sins? Such an idea would contradict 1 John 1:8 and 10 and 5:16. Because of our weakness and lack of perfection in this life, even abiding believers sin. So what does John mean?

As an illustration, let’s say a young child steals a pack of gum at the supermarket. When the mother finds out, she says, “the members of this family do not steal. Do you understand that?” Does that make sense? One of them had just done that very thing. What was this mother saying? She was saying that stealing was against the moral standards of their family, and therefore, the little boy had to learn this lesson and refrain from ever doing it again. She wasn’t saying she had gone around and checked and found that none of the members of the family had ever stolen. She was pointing out the standards of their family as a motivation to her son.

John is simply telling us, this is the standard, that we do not sin, and we need to get with the plan. He is not denying that believers sin or that they can fall into the pattern of sinning. To drive this concept home even more, this verse is followed by more reasons and illustrations against sin in the lives of believers.

Another statement for motivation is in verse 9: “Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.” It is not saying believers are incapable of sinning. This would contradict the verses mentioned above.

Most take this verse to mean that John is saying Christians cannot sin or will not sin habitually. Is this what John is saying? No. I do not believe this is his point. “Practices” is a misleading translation. If that was John’s point, the Greek prasso, which John uses in the verses below, could have expressed that more clearly.

John 3:20 For everyone who does ( prasso) evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.

John 5:29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done ( prasso) what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.

So, what is John saying? The word “cannot” does not always mean incapable. It can also mean unwilling. The following New Testament passages illustrates this:

Luke 11:5-7 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’

Luke 14:20 Another said, ‘I just got married, and I cannot come.’

Mark 1:45 But as the man went out he began to announce it publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere.

Mark 6:3-5 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” And so they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own house.” 5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

First John 3 is saying we must be unwilling to sin because we were born of God’s nature. This is much like Romans 6:1-10 which follows the declaration of 5:20-21.

Let’s say a doctor tells a smoker with throat problems, “You cannot smoke again.” This doesn’t mean the person is incapable of smoking but that he must not because of the physical consequences to his body.

It is clear from the life of King David, who is called a man after God’s own heart, that believers can and do fall into serious sin and for long periods of time. For believers in Christ (with all that they have in Christ) to live under sin’s reign like the unbelieving world is an illogical and contradictory position. It carries with it very serious consequences including the possibility of the sin unto death as God’s divine discipline to stop the pattern of sinning.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.

The Consequences of Carnality
(Living with Known Sin in the Life)

Key Passages:

Psalm 66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.

Psalm 32:3-4 When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. 4 For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

1 John 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.

(1) Loss of fellowship with the Lord plus loss of the control of the Holy Spirit and His fruit in the life (cf. 1 Jn. 1:5-7). Sin grieves and quenches the Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). Sin affects our prayer life (Ps. 66:18), our witness (Acts 1:8), Bible study (1 Cor. 2:10-16; Eph. 3:16f), i.e., all the ministries of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is turned from enabling to convicting, etc.

1 John 1:5-7 Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.

Psalm 66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

(2) Misery, loss of joy, because we are controlled by the sinful nature.

Psalm 32:3-4 When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. 4 For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

(3) Dissipation or wastefulness of our spiritual, mental, and physical resources.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

(4) Production of the works of the flesh with their awful consequences.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

(5) Divine discipline, the heavy hand of God on our lives to turn us around.

Hebrews 12:5-10 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness.

1 Corinthians 11:29-32 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Psalm 32:4 4 For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

(6) Broken relationships and pain to those around us, especially to our families.

Galatians 5:15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.

(7) Loss of our testimony in the world and dishonor to the Lord.

1 Peter 2:12-15 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. 13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.

1 Peter 3:15-17 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 4:15-16 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. 16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name.

(8) Loss of rewards at the Bema seat of Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

Consequences of
Continued and Open Rebellion

In addition to the above the following apply:

(1) Increased discipline from the heavy hand of God.

Psalm 32:4 4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

Hebrews 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”

(2) Continuation in sin may require the church to take action even to the point of excommunication (1 Cor. 5).

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you received from us. 7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 11 For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. 12 Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. 13 But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 14 But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.

(3) Divine discipline to the point of physical death.

1 Corinthians 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that.

Certainly, believers are secure in Christ and cannot lose their salvation, a salvation accomplished by the finished work of the Savior who sits victoriously at God’s right hand to plead our case. But reality, and Scripture shows us, unless believers abide in fellowship and deal in faith with the sin in their lives, they can fall into serious conditions of sin just like David. Such can happen because the person was never truly saved, but quite often the real cause is a failure to abide in the life and power of the Spirit of God.

It is our hope that this study on the eternal security of the believer has been a help. The goal of understanding our security is an assurance that motivates to godly living, never careless living or taking the Lord for granted. Remember, God is our heavenly Father who, in love will discipline His children to draw them back to himself.

The Apostle staked his faith on the trustworthiness of God’s grace. Though some understand this to refer to God’s deposit of gifts in Paul, I believe that which he had entrusted, literally, “the deposit,” was his personal faith in the finished work of Christ as the basis of his salvation. Paul was confident that this would be preserved until all the dangers and failures of life would be past with the coming of the Lord.

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Assurance of God’s Daily Provision

Introduction

When we trust in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we become a child of God, one who is both born and adopted into the family of God. As such, we become the recipients of God’s personal care as a loving heavenly Father.

John 1:12-13 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

Romans 8:15-16 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

Galatians 3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.

Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

As God is perfect, so His care must also be perfect and complete. The following overview covers some of the key areas of God’s personal care for believers in Christ as His beloved children. These are truths that are of special importance to new believers.

The Promise That God Cares

As children of God, all believers become the personal responsibility of an all wise, sovereign, and all powerful God, who, as a heavenly Father, cares in an infinite way for each one of His children. The promise of 1 Peter 5:7 flows out of the exhortation of verse 6 and should be understood and applied in this context. Let’s focus on three aspects of this promise: the responsibility, the root, and the reason.

1 Peter 5:6-7 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

The Responsibility or Exhortation

The promise of God’s care comes out of the preceding verse and the command, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” This is a call for a willing subjection or submission under God’s sovereign authority and omnipotence. In the Greek, the verb is a command and is in the passive voice. Rather than “humble yourselves,” it means “be humbled,” or “allow yourself to be humbled.” The context in 1 Peter is that of persecution and suffering for the name of Christ during our sojourn on this earth. Suffering is a training tool that God uses, like the blast furnace used by a refiner of fine metals, to purify and develop our faith. This is a humbling process in that it causes us to live more and more in dependence on God. For the refining concept, note 1 Peter 1:6-9.

6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

The pride of man is best seen in his determination to live by his own solutions in independence of God. As an illustration, when under persecution, man’s tendency is to strike back or in some way to take matters into his own hands rather than rest his life under the mighty hand of God. Peter points us to the Lord Jesus as the perfect example of submission and humility in 1 Peter 2:21-25. By the command of verse 6, he is exhorting us to allow God to humble us through the sufferings of this life.

1 Peter 2:21-25 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The Root or Foundation

The root for true submission under God’s might hand is seen in the words, “casting all your anxiety upon Him.” We might paraphrase the text, “Be humbled … by casting all your anxiety upon the Lord.” This is more evident from the construction of the Greek text than the English, but this is the meaning. Casting our care on the Lord becomes the foundation and the means for the humbling process that needs to take place.

Furthermore, in the Greek text, “all your anxiety” is really, “the whole of your anxiety or care.” The idea is not that we are to cast each of our worries on the Lord, but that we need to come to the place where we have placed our lives, with all its burdens, concerns, and fears, into His loving and capable hands. Rather than take matters into our own hands, rather than try to manipulate and control others and our circumstances, we are to resolve to rest our lives in God’s care, purposes, and timing. When we truly do this, we are able to submit ourselves under God’s mighty hand to work out His sovereign purpose. When this is not the case, we will invariably exalt ourselves by trying to manipulate the circumstances of life, especially when under suffering and persecution.

In 1 Samuel, God appointed David to be king in place of Saul because of Saul’s disobedience (cf. 1 Sam. 15-16). Saul was a man who, rather than trust his life under the mighty hand of God, consistently sought to take matters into his own hands. He was a manipulator and a controller, and there is a lot of this Saul-like character in each of us. God did not want David to be like a Saul, so He used Saul and his persecution of David to take the Saul-like character out of David. On two different occasions, Saul threw a spear at David to kill him. What was Saul attempting to do? He was seeking to manipulate and control his own destiny. He was refusing to submit to God’s will. And what did David do? Did he pick up the spear and throw it back at Saul? No. Casting the whole of his care on God, he submitted his life under the mighty hand of God. He ducked and slipped away (see 1 Samuel 18:10-20).

The Reason or Explanation

The reason we are to submit and cast our cares on the Lord is seen in the words, “for He cares for you.” Literally, the Greek text reads, “because to Him it is a care concerning you.” This means you and I are His personal concern. We matter greatly to God. Why worry then if we are God’s personal concern? To fail to trust in God’s care is in essence an act of self exaltation. It is to act as though we care more than God and can do what God cannot do. Or it is to say, we are afraid of what God will do; we don’t want to trust Him with our life. He may take something away that we think we need. If God did the maximum for us in that He spared not His own Son, how much more will He not care for us as His redeemed children?

Romans 8:32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?

Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

The Promise of Provision for All Our Needs

Since God is concerned for each of us as His redeemed children, the Apostle Paul assures us this concern certainly extends to our basic daily needs (but not our greed). The Apostle wrote, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). This promise was made in connection with the financial support the Philippians had sent to Paul for his missionary ministry. He was assuring them that their giving would never be their lack. God would supply their needs, and the reason for His supply, was nothing less than “His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Governing God’s provision is nothing short of the wealth of what God has done for us in Christ. Again, Romans 8:32 comes to mind.

The Lord Jesus gave an exhortation against anxiety regarding our daily needs. He focused on the fact of God’s personal care for our basic needs in Matthew 6:25-34. Three times He tells us “do not be anxious” (6:25, 31 and 34). Five times questions are asked that are designed to show the foolishness of anxiety.

Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Why is anxiety foolish? It is foolish because it is futile in view of the Father’s loving care and knowledge of our needs (cf. 6:25, 26, 27, 28, 30). He teaches us such worry is the product of being people of “little faith.” Worry is the product of failing to reflect on the fatherly care God must have for us as His people since He shows such wonderful care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Finally, He shows that due to God’s loving care and the temporary and evil nature of this world, our greatest priority and concern must be the spiritual (6:33-34).

The Promise of Provision Through Prayer

As members of God’s family, all believers have direct access to God as their heavenly Father through their Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. While God knows our needs before we ask (Matt. 6:32), and is intimately concerned, we are, nevertheless, to take our needs and those of others to God’s throne of grace in prayer.

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

1 Peter 5:7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.

Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

Since God knows and cares, why pray? Because God has chosen to work in our lives through prayer. James 5:16 tells us the fervent prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.

  • · Prayer is a vehicle of fellowship.
  • · Prayer is an evidence of faith or a spirit of dependence.
  • · Prayer is also a means of focusing our hearts on the Lord, His purposes, and His care.

Many of the Psalms are lament or petition Psalms. In them, we often find they begin highlighting a condition of trouble, sometimes even in a spirit of despair or frustration over the problems the author was facing. In the process of the Psalmist’s prayer to God, however, as he takes his burdens to the Lord, he also gets his eyes on God’s person, God’s principles, and God’s promises. As he does this, he gains a new outlook. The Psalms then finish in a spirit of confident expectation and joy in the Lord. God had not changed, but the Psalmist had been changed through the process of prayer (cf. Psa. 3:1-8; 5:1-12; 6:1-10; 7:10, 13). When our hearts are truly seeking God, prayer becomes a place where God is able to change us and mold us to His will.

Prayer is where we confess sin, give thanks and praise to God, and make our needs known in specific requests. But our greatest need is to be conformed into the image of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus. The Lord promises that God, as a father kind of God, will not give us a stone if we ask for bread, nor a snake if we ask for a fish. In His perfect love and wisdom, He only knows how to give what is best to us. But we must understand that what we think of as bread or a fish, may in reality be a stone or a snake. This is why God often does not answer our requests with a yes, and why our prayer needs to be conformed to His will. Matthew 7:9-11.

James 4:3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.

This requires time and is perhaps why the Lord gives the three pictures of asking, seeking, and knocking in Matthew 7:7-8.

Prayer is not just a matter of asking, but of seeking God’s direction and will, and waiting on Him just as one knocks and waits at the door for someone to hear and open the door. Keep asking, be patient, and be sure to ask what God’s will is in the matter. Is what I am asking really what is best according to God’s purposes and wisdom?

Hindrances to Prayer

The following is a list of some things that hinder our prayer life:

(1) Maladjustment to the Holy Spirit.

John 4:22-23 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit,

Ephesians 6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

Psalm 66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

(2) Maladjustment to the Word of God (cf. also Ps. 119)

Proverbs 28:9 The one who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.

(3) Failure to pray in faith.

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.”

1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.

James 1:5-7 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

(4) Failure to ask because of a spirit of self-dependence.

James 4:2 You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask;

(5) Failure to ask from the right motives, without concern for God’s will.

James 4:3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.

James 4:15 You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.”

1 Corinthians 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant people, but also their power.

Matthew 6:10 may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 26:42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.”

(6) Failure to endure, fainting under pressure.

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.

1 Samuel 27:1-3 David thought to himself, “One of these days I’m going to be swept away by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of searching for me through all the territory of Israel and I will escape from his hand.” 2 So David left and crossed over to King Achish son of Maoch of Gath accompanied by six hundred men. 3 David settled with Achish in Gath, along with his men and their families. David had with him his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelite and Abigail the Carmelite, Nabal’s widow.

Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without getting weary, they walk without getting tired.

(7) Wrong relations with people, an unforgiving spirit.

Mark 11:25-26 Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins.”

(8) Pretentious praying, praying to impress people.

Matthew 6:5-8 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

(9) Religious zeal in the form of vain repetitions and cultic ritual.

Matthew 6:7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard.

1 Kings 18:26-29 So they took a bull, as he had suggested, and prepared it. They invoked the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us.” But there was no sound and no answer. They jumped around on the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, “Yell louder. After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they yelled louder and, in accordance with their prescribed ritual, mutilated themselves with swords and spears until their bodies were covered with blood. 29 Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response.

Romans 10:2-3 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

(10) Domestic breakdown in the home.

1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.

Conclusion

In the final decades of the life of George McCluskey he became extremely burdened for his children and each day spent the hour from 11 to 12 praying for them. He prayed not only for them, but also for his grandchildren and great grandchildren, as yet unborn. He asked that they would come to know the true God through His Son, and dedicate their lives to His service. Of the following four generations, every child has either become a minister or married a minister, with one exception. That exception is a name familiar to most of us today, Dr. James Dobson. Few will ever hear of George McCluskey, but because of him lives of future generations were undeniably blessed.

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Assurance of God’s Provision for Sin

Introduction

Many questions will arise about the problem of sin in the life of the believer? Why do I continue to sin? What do I do about it? How do I get forgiveness? How do I overcome my old patterns? The believer will face the dilemma of Romans 7:15-18 and the struggle of Galatians 5:17. Obviously, this means Christians desperately need direction and encouragement from the Word on this issue.

Romans 7:15-18 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want—instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it.

Galatians 5:17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.

A Definition of Sin

Sin is defection from any of God’s standards. It is a lack of conformity to the moral law of God, either in act, disposition, or state. It is anything in man that does not express, or which is contrary to the holy character of God.13

The Categories of Sin

Key Scriptures:

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the Lord hates,
even seven things that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are swift to run to evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who spreads discord among family members.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

For convenience and help in grasping the nature of sin, we can divide sin into four categories:

Failing of the Grace of God

Failing of the grace of God means negative volition to God and His grace provision, and seeking to live by our own resources. It includes things like indifference to God’s Word, failure to assemble ourselves together for spiritual encouragement, and failure to pray and take our needs to God.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.

Isaiah 50:11 Look, all of you who start a fire
and who equip yourselves with flaming arrows,
walk in the light of the fire you started
and among the flaming arrows you ignited!
This is what you will receive from me:
you will lie down in a place of pain.

Jeremiah 2:13 “Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
they have left me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns which cannot even hold water.”

Jeremiah 17:5 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.

Ultimately, as suggested by these verses, failing of God’s grace means seeking to handle life by our own resources and strategies rather than by the strength which God’s supplies.

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Hebrews 10:25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

Evil Thoughts or Attitude Sins

These sins involve attitudes such as bitterness, resentment, worry, jealousy, covetousness, envy, discontent, and hatred.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Sins of the Tongue

Sins of the tongue involve lying, bearing false witness, maligning, filthy talk, gossip, spreading strife among brethren, and outbursts of anger.

Proverbs 6:17-19 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are swift to run to evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who spreads discord among family members.

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Ephesians 5:4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 4:29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Overt Sins

Overt sins include immorality (adultery, fornication), stealing, fraud, murder, and licentiousness.

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

As we think of these four categories, it is important to see them from the standpoint of cause and effect or root and rotten fruit. This is the principle of the root problem. The Lord spoke of this in the following two passages:

Matthew 12:34-37 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Matthew 15:18-19 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. In the Bible, the heart speaks of the inner person and may refer to the mind, the emotions, or the will, or to the whole inner person, mind, heart, and will. If we are thinking evil thoughts, those thoughts that are inconsistent with the mind of Christ, we will speak accordingly. Sins of the tongue are the product of sins of the heart or mental attitude sins. If we are filled with evil thoughts of envy, or jealousy, or anger, or fear, we will eventually malign others, brag about our exploits, cut others down in criticism and gossip, or speak in some way that is inconsistent with faith, love, and hope.

Even evil thoughts, however, have their source or root. Listed first in Matthew 15:19 with murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, and slanders is the sin of “evil ideas.” Obviously these other sins come from evil thoughts, but where do evil thoughts come from? Note that in Matthew 12:34-35 the Lord compares what fills the heart with treasure. The treasure is either good or evil. Treasure is something we value, but why do we value it? Because of what we think it will do for us like purchasing something we want or think we need.

May I suggest that evil thoughts have their source in faulty beliefs or in the lies we believe. When we are envious and covet what others have, for instance, we are guilty of thinking and believing that we need what someone else has to be secure or happy. When we think like that, we have believed Satan’s and the world’s lie that happiness comes in the abundance of the things we possess whether it is popularity, pleasure, position, power, giftedness, or material things.

The simple application of this means that, in order to deal with sin in our lives, we must learn to look beyond the surface sin and go to the root issues or we will never experience true and lasting change that begins deep in the innermost part of our being through faith. More will be said on this below.

The Provision for Forgiveness of Sin

Key Scriptures:

1 John 1:8-10 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

Romans 8:31-34 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

John 13:1-10 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. 6 Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.”

Psalm 32:1-5 How happy is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven,
whose sin is pardoned!
2 How happy is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish,
in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)
5 Then I confessed my sin;
I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.
I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”
And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)

Psalm 51:1-13 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love!
Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts!
2 Scrub away my wrongdoing!
Cleanse me of my sin!
3 For I am aware of my rebellious acts;
I am forever conscious of my sin.
4 Against you, especially you, I have sinned;
I have done what is sinful in your sight.
So you are just when you confront me;
you are right when you condemn me.
5 Look, I was prone to do wrong from birth;
I was a sinner the moment my mother conceived me.
6 Look, you desire integrity in the inner man;
you want me to possess wisdom.
7 Sprinkle me with water and I will be pure;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Give me the ecstatic joy of being forgiven!
May the bones you crushed rejoice!
9 Hide your face from my sins!
Wipe away all my wrong acts!
10 Create for me a pure heart!
Transform me and give me integrity!
11 Do not reject me!
Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!
12 Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!
Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!
13 Then I will teach rebels your merciful ways,
and sinners will turn to you.

Salvation in Christ provides us with the means of dealing with sin in a victorious way, but it does not exempt us from the problem of sin and the temptation to sin. Our attitude and commitment is to be (a) that we do not sin (1 John 2:1), and (b) that we must not continue in sin that grace might abound (Rom. 6:1f). Being human, however, we are going to sin as long as we are in this life. This is clearly stated in 1 John 1:8–2:2.

What, then, is God’s solution for us when we sin? The classic New Testament passage on this is 1 John 1:8-2:2.

1 John 1:8-2:2 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. 2:1 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

Romans 6:1-8 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

The Promise of Forgiveness Through Confession

First John 1:8-10 directs our attention to the following three aspects of confession: (a) Confession of the principle or guilt of sin; (b) confession of particular sins; and (c) confession of the practice of sin. These three aspects will be covered below.

Since the key word here is confession, what is meant by this term? The Greek word for confession in 1 John 1:9 is homologeo. This word means “to speak the same language,” “to acknowledge, admit, agree with.” It comes from homologos, “to be of one mind.” We must agree with God and His Word concerning any sin and acknowledge it to God. Let me suggest two things as to its meaning:

(1) Confession is a responsibility to truly see our sin for what it is. It is harmful to us and others, dishonoring to God, ugly, and as that which needs not only God’s forgiveness for continued fellowship with Him, but removal from our lives by His enabling grace. We dare not treat sin lightly. We are to come to hate sin as God does.

Proverbs 28:13-14 The one who covers his transgressions will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and abandons them will find mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who is always cautious,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into evil.

(2) Confession is the call to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about our sin and what God defines as sin in His Word. Our tendency is to avoid facing the reality of personal sin. We tend to rationalize it, deny it, or blame it on others as Adam and Eve did when confronted by God in Genesis 3:7-13.

This age old tendency is clearly seen in four of the five “if” clauses of 1 John 1:6-10. Note there are three things in 1 John 1:8-10 which need to be acknowledged. Two are stated from the standpoint of a false claim, “If we say,” (verses 8 and 10) but the opposite of such a claim is an honest confession of the facts as they pertain to our sin.

Confession of the Principle (1 John 1:8)

John is writing to believers in 1 John regarding fellowship with the Lord. The Greek word koinonia, means “participation, a sharing in,” and then “communion, close relationship.” By walking closely with the Lord through faith, believers are to share in His life and experience His character in Christlike change. In 1 John 2:1, 7 and 12, John affectionately calls his readers, “my little children,” “beloved,” and simply “little children.” He is confident they know the Lord and that their sins are forgiven, but he is concerned about their fellowship and daily walk with the Lord.

Believers can claim to have fellowship (1 John 1:6), but in reality walk in darkness because of their failure to acknowledge and deal with sin. John is writing to show what is needed to maintain fellowship and to set forth the evidences of genuine fellowship.

There is a difference, however, between relationship, being a child of God by the new birth through faith in Christ, and fellowship, walking intimately with the Lord by an active faith. Because of the many perversions and false teachings that continually pop up historically, some have claimed to have fellowship while also saying they have no sin. This is the claim that they have no guilt or sinful capacity dwelling within them. Sin is in the singular and refers to the inherited principle of sin or self-centeredness.14 John says such people deceive themselves, certainly they deceive no one who really knows them. Also some have claimed that sin is insignificant and doesn’t harm our fellowship with God.

The opposite of such a claims is to confess or acknowledge we still have a sinful nature or principle of sin that dwells within us. The new birth gives us a new nature, but, contrary to what some are teaching, it does not eradicate the old nature or sinful principle within us. Its power over us has been rendered inoperative and we no longer have to be its slave, but this principle of sin is still there. Understanding this truth and acknowledging its reality helps us to be alert that we might actively deal with it by faith in God’s plan and provision of grace. We can’t deal with an enemy if we do not know it is there.

Psalm 51:5 Look, I was prone to do wrong from birth;
I was a sinner the moment my mother conceived me.

Psalm 58:3 The wicked turn aside from birth;
liars go astray as soon as they are born.

Romans 6:4-11 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 7:14-21 For we know that the law is spiritual—but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want—instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me.

Galatians 5:17-21 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

Confession of the Particular (1 John 1:9)

Knowing the principle of sin is still there, we are better prepared to be on alert to the potential of particular sins that we need to confess to God and deal with. John says, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). This verse is not talking about salvation, we are not saved by confessing sin, only by belief in Jesus Christ.

“Sins” in verse 9 is plural and in the Greek text it has the article. In verse 8 sin was singular and was without the article. John is writing about the specific and particular sins God reveals to us. We are not to simply say, “Lord, forgive my sins.” Praying a general prayer like this does three things:

(1) It lumps our sins together without having to face the fact of specific sin in our life.

(2) It becomes a means of hiding our sins or ignoring them.

(3) It hinders our ability to deal with specific sins and get to the root causes through faith in the principles of Scripture.

“Confess” is in the present continuous tense in the Greek text. This is what is called the iterative present. It refers to continuous repeated action like that of a hacking cough. The idea is, repeatedly, whenever we recognize sin, we are at that very moment to confess it and to look to the ministry of the Spirit of God and the principles of the Word for power to overcome that sin while resting in God’s forgiveness.

The promise is that God is faithful and righteous (just) to forgive us and cleanse us. If we will honestly and ruthlessly confess our sins, God is faithful every single time to forgive us. He restores us to fellowship. Known sin grieves the person of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and quenches His power (1 Thess. 5:19). Known sin constitutes negative volition to God’s control, breaks fellowship, and hinders our walk with the Lord (cf. Isa. 59:1-2).

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.

Isaiah 59:1-2 Look, the Lord’s hand is not too weak to deliver you;
his ear is not too deaf to hear you.
2 But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God;
your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers.

However, though perfect holiness, God is just and free to forgive and restore us to fellowship because of the finished work of Christ, our Advocate, if we will confess our sins.

1 John 2:1-2 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

The only sins we can confess are our known sins, but as 1 John 1:8 and 10 suggest, as long as we are in this life, we will never be perfect or without sin. There will always be areas that need change. In other words, there will always be unknown sins. The promise is that as long as we are confessing our known sins and seeking earnestly to walk with the Lord, He not only forgives the sins we confess but He cleanses us from all sin (our unknown sins) and fellowship is maintained.

Cleansing us may also refer to the transformation process that confession is designed to bring about as it causes us to deal with sin and seek the fellowship and strength of God. Confession is not just to avoid divine discipline.

Psalm 32:5 Then I confessed my sin;
I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.
I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”
And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)

Confession of the Practice (1 John 1:10)

To walk in fellowship is to walk in the light (1 John 1:7) and this means to walk in the illuminating, revealing light of the Word. The Bible is like a sword and light which illuminates our walk (cf. Heb. 4:12; Psa. 119:105, 130). Both of these word pictures (sword and light) point to the Bible’s capacity to reveal and expose our sin and the various ways we fail the Lord and people.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

Psalm 119:105 Your instructions are a lamp that shows me where to walk,
and a light that shines on my path.

Psalm 119:130 Your instructions are like a doorway through which the light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

2 Timothy 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Ephesians 5:8-17 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light— 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is.

Some, however, make the claim they have not sinned. This is either the denial that they have ever sinned or that they have stopped sinning and do not practice sin or have any specific acts of sin taking place in their lives, i.e., the practice of sin. Based on the Greek tense of 1 John 1:10 (which is a perfect tense and refers to completed action with continuing results in the present from the standpoint of the speaker) the latter is more likely the idea. The effect of such a claim is to stifle the convicting ministry of both the Word and the Spirit of God.

The Purpose of Confession

Key Scriptures:

1 John 2:1 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One,

Proverbs 28:13-14 The one who covers his transgressions will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and abandons them will find mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who is always cautious,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into evil.

First John 2:1 highlights the purpose John had in mind. As mentioned above, confession is designed to enable us to halt the sin process. It is designed to cause us to deal with sin and seek the fellowship and strength of God. The privilege of confession is never to become an excuse for sin, i.e., “I can sin as I please because I can always confess it.” Such an attitude does several things, all of them bad:

(1) It treats sin lightly. It fails to see its evil potential and awful consequences on the glory of God, on our witness to others, on its debilitating and degenerating impact on us personally, on our relationships with others, and on eternal rewards.

(2) It misses entirely the point and reason for confession. We confess sin to stop sinful behavior and to reestablish fellowship and the power of God in one’s life. Sin grieves and quenches the power of the Spirit; confession restores us to fellowship so we may then walk by faith in His power.

(3) It ignores God’s goal to transform us into the image of His Son. True happiness and peace is never found in sinful living, only in knowing Christ and His fellowship.

(4) It ignores or forgets about God’s discipline.

Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?
“My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline
or give up when he corrects you.
6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”
7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

Psalm 32:1-5 How happy is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven,
whose sin is pardoned!
2 How happy is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish,
in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)
5 Then I confessed my sin;
I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.
I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”
And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)

The Propitiation ( Satisfaction) for Our Sins

Key Scriptures:

1 John 2:1-2 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

Romans 8:31-34 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

While the goal of this instruction in 1 John is that we might not sin, still the reality is we will. When we do sin, we have Jesus Christ who is the perfect solution for us at the right hand of the Father. That He is the perfect and only solution is brought out by a three-fold description.

Christ Is Our Advocate

This Greek word parakletos means “one summoned alongside as helper, or intercessor.” Though the idea of “advocate” or “defense attorney” was somewhat rare,15 this is clearly the idea here, especially in view of Paul’s instruction in Romans 8:34. As our advocate or defense attorney, if accused by someone like Satan (Rev. 12:10), He declares our forgiveness and righteous standing before God because He himself died in our place and paid the penalty that our sin deserved (Rom. 8:34). Luke 22:31-32 also illustrates how this advocacy works.

Romans 8:34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

Revelation 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying,
“The salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come,
because the accuser of our brothers,
the one who accuses them day and night before our God,
has been thrown down."

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Christ Is Righteous

This declares Christ’s qualification as the God-man Savior (undiminished deity and true, sinless humanity) to take our place as our substitute on the cross and to plead our case as our advocate, intercessor, and helper.

Christ Himself Is the Propitiation for Our Sins

Should any sinning believer wonder on what grounds he might secure God’s forgiveness or think his sin was too bad for God to forgive, the answer is found in this statement:

So adequate is Jesus Christ as God’s atoning Sacrifice that the efficacy of His work extends not merely to the sins of Christians themselves, but also to the sins of the whole world. In saying this, John was clearly affirming the view that Christ genuinely died for everyone (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19; Heb. 2:9). This does not mean, of course, that everyone will be saved. It means rather that anyone who hears the gospel can be saved if he so desires (Rev. 22:17). In context, however, John’s point is to remind his readers of the magnificent scope of Christ’s “atoning sacrifice” in order to assure them that His advocacy as the Righteous One on their behalf is fully consistent with God’s holiness.16

The Provision for Deliverance Over Sin

Key Scriptures:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Psalm 32:6-7 For this reason every one of your faithful followers should pray to you
while there is a window of opportunity.
Certainly when the surging water rises,
it will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
you protect me from distress.
You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance. (Selah)

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

See also Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:15-20; Colossians 3:1-16.

Since God’s desire and goal is that we might not sin, how can we have victory over sin? Here we are dealing with the issue of experiencing God’s victory over the temptation to sin, and over sinful patterns or life-dominating practices that may have defeated a Christian all his (or her) life. Because of the many temptations to sin, believers may wonder how they can handle these temptations. Or because of a pattern of failure, they may wonder if they really can break a habit that has dominated them all their lives. By the grace of God, the believer’s union with Christ, and the power of the Spirit of Christ, the answer is a resounding, YES.

First Corinthians 10:13 is a fitting passage in answer to these questions and gives us a wonderful promise. It teaches us three vital elements about temptation and God’s provision.

The Common Experience of Temptation

By the statement, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others.” Paul is not saying that since we all have the problem of temptation, we should just throw in the towel. After all, we are just human. This verse is not an excuse to give into temptation. Sometimes people try to excuse their sin by saying, that’s just the way I am. The implication is, since this is the way I am, I can’t help it. God is in the business of changing the way we are and the change is always in our best interest. He has our well being in mind, always!

Primarily, however, the Apostle is assuring us that our temptations are never unique just to us. We are not alone in our battle with sin. Others have faced the same thing and have experienced God’s deliverance. All our temptations are common to all men, so we cannot hide behind the idea that our problem is different and thereby seek to excuse our sin by its uniqueness. There is great comfort in knowing that others have faced similar and even worse testings and temptations and have endured by the strength and faithfulness of God.

Hebrews 11:2-12 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. 4 By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. 12 So in fact children were fathered by one man—and this one as good as dead— like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore.

So first, Paul has warned us about the commonality of our temptations. Now, based on the faithfulness of God, he points out two more things that we can count on the Lord for in any temptation.

God Controls the Environment of Temptation

God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle (1 Cor. 10:13-14). He knows our areas of weakness, our level of maturity, and all the particulars of our lives at any particular moment. He guards us against any temptation or testing we can’t handle. When temptation comes we may not handle it, but it is not because we cannot, but because we won’t. It is either because we have presumed upon our blessings or because we have not been careful in our daily walk with God.

1 Corinthians 10:13-14 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.
14 So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

This also means when temptation or testing comes, unless we are presuming upon the Lord, (a) we can handle it by God’s grace, and (b) the Lord, though He never tempts us to sin, has allowed it for His own purposes. This says that God limits the temptations that He allows into our lives.

James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.

This does not mean that we can take the Lord for granted and ignore our responsibilities regarding temptation. For instance, we are told in Scripture:

(1) To flee from certain temptations. Note the response of Joseph when tempted by Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-12.

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

2 Timothy 2:22 But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

(2) To pray regarding temptation.

Matthew 6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(3) That we must not tempt the Lord. We tempt the Lord by unbelief, by not trusting in His power and aid, and by being careless, unguarded, or by failing to take heed.

Deuteronomy 6:16 You must not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

Matthew 4:6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

(4) It is always wise to avoid unnecessary temptation. We are never to presume upon the Lord or tempt Him by playing with fire. When we do, we are going to get burned.

Proverbs 5:8 Keep yourself far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
Proverbs 7:6-20 For at the window of my house
through my window-lattice I looked out
7 and I saw among the naive,
I discerned among the youths,
a young man who lacked wisdom.
8 He was passing by the street near her corner,
making his way along the road to her house
9 in the twilight, the evening,
in the dark of the night.
10 All of a sudden a woman came out to meet him!
She was dressed like a prostitute and with secret intent.
11 (She is loud and rebellious,
she does not remain at home—
12 at one time outside, at another in the wide plazas,
and by every corner she lies in wait.)
13 So she grabbed him and kissed him,
and with a bold expression she said to him,
14 “I have fresh meat at home;
today I have fulfilled my vows!
15 That is why I came out to meet you,
to look for you, and I found you!
16 I have spread my bed with elegant coverings,
with richly colored fabric from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of lovemaking until morning,
let’s delight ourselves with sexual intercourse.
19 For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a journey of some distance.
20 He has taken a bag of money with him;
he will not return until the end of the month.”

God Provides the Escape From Temptation

1 Corinthians 10:13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.

The words “with” and “also” are significant in this promise. This teaches that when we are walking with the Lord and trusting in His provision, i.e., not presuming upon Him (taking Him for granted), or tempting Him, then, temptations and escapes always go in pairs. There is no temptation without the corresponding escape, unless, of course, we are deliberately brazen and careless.

Note also that the verse reads “a way out” and not “an out.” I think this is a warning about seeking unbiblical solutions to temptation. The way out refers to God’s methods for dealing with the problems of life as outlined in the Word of God.

Psalm 119:45 I will be secure,
for I seek your precepts.

Psalm 119:133 Direct my steps by your word!
Do not let any sin dominate me!

Psalm 119:165 Those who love your law are completely secure;
they are not upended.

Proverbs 3:5-6 When Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 At that time King Jehoram left Samaria and assembled all Israel for war.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way of death.

It is used only two times in the New Testament, here and in Hebrews 13:7. In Hebrews it means “issue, result, outcome.” It also had this usage or meaning in extra biblical writings. This is significant. In the Hebrews passage it is used of the outcome of a manner of life. The outcome is godly character—the result of a close walk with God—the fruit of men who spent their lives in the Word walking with the Lord by faith.

Maybe this teaches us something about the meaning of ekbasis in 1 Corinthians 10:13. Our means of deliverance or the way out of temptation is not just the result of one thing or some sudden deliverance which the Lord supplies like a man being snatched out of the fire. Though at times that will occur, that is not the promise here or certainly not the primary thrust. This is suggested from the last word, “endure.” It’s not removal or escape from temptation that God is promising, but the ability to bear up under it. The capacity to handle the temptation without sin.

In summary, this teaches us two things about our temptations:

(1) “The way out” is itself the fruit of something, an outcome. It is the outcome of adhering to the principles of the Word on a daily basis. Of course, the more we grow and the closer our walk with the Lord the greater our ability to handle testing or temptation.

(2) “The way out” means the ability to handle the temptation. It is not necessarily its removal, though ability to handle temptation often means the ability to wisely avoid temptation. And when we can’t, it means the responsibility to flee temptation.

This is further supported by the last clause of this verse which explains what the ekbasis “the way out” means. The verse closes with “that you may be able to bear it.” The NASV, KJV and NIV all translate this as a purpose or result clause. In other words, God gives the way of escape with the result we can endure the temptation or testing without falling. Perhaps a better way to understand this clause is as an explanation telling us what the way of escape consists of, “the ability to endure.”17

The NEB may have had this in mind when they translated this, “enabling you to bear it.” We could translate it, “the way of escape, the enablement to endure.” Ultimately, “the way out” is the fruit, the outcome of walking with the Lord which is at the same time the ability to endure or to handle the testing or temptation.

God, by His grace through the provision of fellowship with Him, provides the capacity to handle temptation and it is our responsibility to responsibly appropriate that into our lives.

A Summary of God’s Way of Escape

(1) Walking in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

Romans 8:2-10 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness.

(2) Living in the Word.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!

2 Timothy 2:16-17 But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, 17 and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group.

Hebrews 3:7-12 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!
8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness.
9 “There your fathers tested me and tried me, and they saw my works for forty years.
10“Therefore, I became provoked at that generation and said, ‘Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known my ways.’
11 “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’”
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

(3) Understanding and reckoning on our position in Christ.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

(4) Fleeing from temptation: The principle of avoiding needless temptation.

1 Corinthians 10:14 So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

2 Timothy 2:22 But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Proverbs 7:6-15 For at the window of my house
through my window-lattice I looked out
7 and I saw among the naive,
I discerned among the youths,
a young man who lacked wisdom.
8 He was passing by the street near her corner,
making his way along the road to her house
9 in the twilight, the evening,
in the dark of the night.
10 All of a sudden a woman came out to meet him!
She was dressed like a prostitute and with secret intent.
11 (She is loud and rebellious,
she does not remain at home—
12 at one time outside, at another in the wide plazas,
and by every corner she lies in wait.)
13 So she grabbed him and kissed him,
and with a bold expression she said to him,
14 “I have fresh meat at home;
today I have fulfilled my vows!
15 That is why I came out to meet you,
to look for you, and I found you!

(5) Praying faithfully and in faith.

Matthew 6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Ephesians 6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

Psalm 119:33-38 Teach me, O Lord, the lifestyle prescribed by your statutes,
so that I might observe it continually.
34 Give me understanding so that I might observe your law,
and keep it with all my heart.
35 Guide me in the path of your commands,
for I delight in walking in it.
36 Give me a desire for your rules,
rather than wealth.
37 Turn my eyes away from what is worthless!
Revive me with your assuring word!
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
which you made to the one who honors you.

(6) Bringing every thought captive—watching and controlling our mental processes and attitudes in the light of Scripture.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments 5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

(7) Walking circumspectly, soberly, alertly, vigilantly.

1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 4:7 For the culmination of all things is near. So be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.

(8) Living by faith.

2 Corinthians 5:7 … for we live by faith, not by sight.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Hebrews 4:1-2 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith.

Hebrews 11:1-6 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. 4 By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

(9) Seeking the right associations and fellowship.

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God—I say this to your shame!

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand in the pathway with sinners,
or sit in the assembly of arrogant fools!

Psalm 119:63 I am a friend of all your loyal followers,
and of those who keep your precepts.

(10) Having the mind of Christ. The right set of perspectives, values, priorities and pursuits.

Matthew 6:21-33 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

2 Corinthians 10:5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.

1 Timothy 6:6-12 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12 Compete well for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses.

(11) Reflecting on the consequences: sin always has its wages—we reap what we sow.

Galatians 6:6-7 Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. 7 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows,

Some consequences of sin are: loss of fellowship, divine discipline, loss of effective ministry, destroyed relationships, loss of rewards, and most of all, dishonor to the Lord.

13 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1986, p. 212.

14 J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, An Introduction and Commentary, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1964, pp. 76-77.

15 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Cambridge, University Press, 1960, p. 623.

16 Zane Hodges, “1 John,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, the New Testament Edition, Editors, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1983, p. 887.

17 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1934, p. 1087; James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, Vol. 1, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Third Ed., 1967, p. 167.

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Assurance of God’s Guidance

The main purpose of this lesson in these studies on assurance is to give Christians some basic biblical concepts about God’s guidance. It is not intended to be a full treatise nor even a full outline on the will of God.

The Problem People Face

Proverbs 14:12 tells us there is a way which seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death. Jeremiah also clearly states the problem of man’s inability to direct his life. In Jeremiah 10:23 he said, “Lord, we know that people do not control their own destiny. It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them.” Because of man’s finite wisdom and ability, his limited understanding of the facts coupled with his sinfulness, man simply cannot direct his steps. What seems right to him results in the way of destruction and death. As man’s thoughts are not God’s, so his ways must likewise fall short of God’s perfect and all-wise plan.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,
and my deeds are not like your deeds,
9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth,
so my deeds are superior to your deeds
and my plans superior to your plans.

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Illustrations:

(1) There was a time back in the 1940s when men thought the atomic bomb would end all wars and bring world peace. It obviously has not.

(2) When faced with the problem of a marriage gone wrong, people often see divorce as the answer rather than face the pain and struggle of working through their problems. Working through problems in a marriage is certainly God’s will according to the Scripture, which is always what is best for man and society as a whole. Recent research is beginning to show that Scripture has been right all along. Over the long haul, divorce brings more pain and difficulties than it relieves both to the society and to those involved in the divorce.

Only the eternal God who is the Alpha and Omega has the infinite wisdom and power, love and mercy needed to direct the affairs of man’s life. As our Creator and the one who formed us in the womb, who better knows us, our abilities, our weaknesses, and all the details of our lives than God?

Psalm 139:13-14 Certainly you made my mind and heart;
you wove me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;

The Promise God Gives

The declaration of Scripture is that God cares about each of us and wants to direct our lives. How infinitely superior His plan must be in every detail with all the wisdom and data He possesses, past, present, and future, and with all the power at His disposal as the sovereign God of the universe. The greatest evidence of God’s desire to guide our lives is found in the fact of the Scriptures. He has given us the Bible that we might know His will and purpose in all areas of life. This means knowing God and the life He has for us to live. Our responsibility, by God’s own direction, is to entrust our way to Him for His direction and leading.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
6 Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:1-4 The intentions of the heart belong to a man,
but the answer of the tongue comes from the Lord.
2 All the ways of a person seem right in his own opinion,
but the Lord weighs the motives.
3 Commit your works to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.
4 The Lord works everything for its own ends—
even the wicked for the day of disaster.

Proverbs 16:9 A person plans his course,
but the Lord directs his steps.

James 1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

1 Peter 5:6-7 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Passages on God’s Will

As you think about God’s will what comes to mind? It has been my experience that many people generally focus on certain things, but ignore the more basic and important areas. For example, guidance or finding God’s will is often restricted to such things as:

  • Whom do I marry? (someone who will make me happy and who is perfect, of course).
  • Where do I work? (where it will be wonderful, challenging, and financially rewarding).
  • What car should I buy? (one that never breaks down).
  • What house should I buy? (one next door to Christians so I won’t have to witness).
  • Should I go to college, and if so, where should I go? (where I can make all A’s, meet the right person, or get away from mom and dad).
  • What kind of pastor does God want our church to have? (someone who can walk on water, leap tall buildings, and fly faster than a speeding bullet) .

As is obvious, when such a list is the primary focus guidance becomes something people want for their own happiness and fulfillment so life will flow along smoothly like an interstate highway. Certainly we should seek God’s guidance and pray about such things as James warned us when he wrote, Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’ (James 4:15). In a similar fashion, Paul wrote, “and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God.” (Rom. 1:10), and Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”

A brief look at those passages where God’s will is specifically mentioned, however, show that our own happiness and the details with which we are so often occupied are secondary, never primary. Such an occupation or attitude typifies the shallow thinking of a society that is out of touch with the purposes of the living God and how He works. We are a consumer-oriented society bent on our own comfort and pleasure, whereas God has much greater goals in mind.

Just a brief glance at passages where the words “will of God” are found quickly show us God’s primary concern is in the realm of the spiritual and concerns the moral will of God or Christlike change.

1 Corinthians 1:1-2 From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, 2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

2 Corinthians 1:1 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia.

Ephesians 6:6 not like those who do their work only when someone is watching—as people-pleasers—but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you. He is always struggling in prayer on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality,

1 Peter 2:15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.

1 Peter 4:2 in that he spends the rest of his time on earth concerned about the will of God and not human desires.

1 Peter 5:2 Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly.

Principles We Must Apply

Devotion and Desire

The essential foundation for discovering and doing God’s will is devotion to God and a desire to do His will—to please and glorify Him.

Psalm 25:12 The Lord shows his faithful followers
the way they should live.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him.

Psalm 37:4-5 Then you will take delight in the Lord,
and he will answer your prayers.
5 Commit your future to the Lord!
Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more.

James 4:3-4 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.
4 Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.

Ephesians 6:6 … not like those who do their work only when someone is watching—as people-pleasers—but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart.

2 Timothy 2:4 No one in military service gets entangled in matters of everyday life; otherwise he will not please the one who recruited him.

We Need Facts and Data

Data From the Word of God

Precepts or Commands: This refers to detailed commands of the Word given to guide our conduct. It is God’s will for us to pray, read our Bibles, assemble together regularly, for husbands to love their wives, etc. We are not to steal, commit adultery, lie, murder, spread gossip, grumble, or be critical. All such commands express the will of God.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!

Romans 12:2 Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.

Illustration: If a road sign reads, “Speed Limit 30 MPH,” this is a precept or command. A biblical precept is “forgive one another.”

Principles or Guidelines: The general directions or guidelines have multiple applications. They form axioms to guide us where Scripture does not give us direct commands.

Illustration: If a road sign reads, “Drive Carefully,” it gives us a general principle to be applied in a variety of conditions. A biblical principle is “Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 10:23). In Christ we have liberty to do a number of things not specifically forbidden in Scripture, but are they profitable for our body or for our testimony to others?

Data From the World

Principles to apply for processing data from the world:

(1) Believers are not of this world but they are in it and must use it wisely not only to sustain life and care for their families, but also to carry on ministry. (Cf. Luke 22:31-36.)

John 17:14-18 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.

1 Corinthians 7:31 those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away.

Ephesians 4:28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.

Ephesians 5:10-18 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

(2) God is transcendent, sovereign, and immanent. He is at work in the world and at work in our lives. So there are legitimate sources of data or facts we can use to discover what God is doing and thus, do the will of God.

Romans 1:10 and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God.

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,

Romans 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.

Romans 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 Consider the work of God:
For who can make straight what he has bent?
14 In times of prosperity be joyful,
but in times of adversity consider this:
God has made one as well as the other,
so that no one can discover what the future holds.

(3) But Satan is also at work, so we must be careful to use the index or screen of God’s Word as a filter to sift out what is contrary to the will of God.

2 Timothy 2:26 and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

Ephesians 5:15-16 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!

Data From Personal Information

Principles to apply for processing data about ourselves:

(1) God is the one who has fashioned us, and raised us up on the scene of human history in our time and particular location according to His purposes. Other than our sinfulness, this includes everything about us—our sex, talents, personalities, IQs, physical features, parents, background, time in history, etc.

Psalm 139:13-16 Certainly you made my mind and heart;
you wove me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;
15 my bones were not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret
and sewed together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb.
All the days ordained for me
were recorded in your scroll
before one of them came into existence.

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you.
Before you were born I set you apart.
I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”

Isaiah 43:7 everyone who belongs to me,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed—yes, whom I made!

Isaiah 54:16 Look, I create the craftsman,
who fans the coals into a fire
and forges a weapon.
I create the destroyer so he might devastate.

Exodus 9:16 But for this purpose I have caused you to stand: to show you my strength, and so that my name may be declared in all the earth.

(2) As Christians, God has also given us spiritual gifts to enable us for spiritual ministries in the body of Christ and in the world (cf. also 1 Cor. 12:3-12).

Romans 12:3-8 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 6 And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.

1 Peter 4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.

(3) Each person is unique with a special design and purpose for his or her life according to the call and direction of God.

Psalm 119:73 Your hands made me and formed me.
Give me understanding so that I might learn your commands.

Psalm 139:14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

Other Data to Consider

(1) Circumstances, open and closed doors.

1 Corinthians 7:20-21 Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. 21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity.

Philippians 1:12-18 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: 13 The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly.
15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

Romans 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

(2) Information, facts, and figures economically, politically, geographically, and socially.

(3) Personal disposition, personality, likes and dislikes.

(4) Gifts, talents, abilities, education, training, experience, and preparation.

(5) Physical condition or health, age.

(6) Sex (male or female).

Illustration: There may be an opening for a guard on a professional basketball team, but I know that is not God’s will for my life. That I’m too old, too slow, and too short would be three very good reasons. The point is, we must learn to see that God is at work through our circumstances. Things do not just happen to us by chance or accident.

Summary Principles

(1) We must learn to be sensitive to use the data of our world (health, gifts, training, finances, sicknesses, and other conditions).

(2) We should seek to learn from these facts, to draw from them and even rest in them, and trust that God is in control and uses and works all things together.

(3) In examining all the data, we need to remember the Word must always be our index for what is right and wrong.

Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

Isaiah 55:7-9 The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them.
8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,
and my deeds are not like your deeds,
9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth,
so my deeds are superior to your deeds
and my plans superior to your plans.

Proverbs 2:9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity—every good way.

God never gives or sends us data contrary to His Word. Satan does and so does the world, but not the Lord. For instance, a Christian woman may be inclined to marry a man named Charlie, but if Charlie is not a believer, she may rest assured, God is not at work in that inclination because of the clear statements (God’s will) in Scripture.

1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord).

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness?

(4) Discerning God’s will is not simply a matter of what is right and wrong, but of what is best according to the priorities of the Word of God.

Philippians 1:10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ,

Philippians 1:20-21 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

Matthew 6:19-20 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

(5) As a rule, God doesn’t give us desires contrary to common sense. A person may be inclined to marry someone they have known for only a few days. That doesn’t make sense. You can’t get to know someone that quickly. Or, someone may want to quit his job and go into business—with a new baby, and no savings, and a pile of debts. But that doesn’t make sense either, at least not for now.

(6) Similarly, the Lord does not give us inner desires which are contrary to other sensible data from the world. A person may want to become an artist or an architect but does he have artistic talent or drafting capabilities? If not, it is probably not of the Lord.

(7) All inclinations to do things that are contrary to Scripture are never of the Lord. The Word of God is the key . Check all desires and inclinations by the Word, its precepts and principles. If they square with Scripture, they could be from God, however, we still need to give it time and check it with the other data. We are to pray and ask for wisdom.

James 1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

(8) The biggest key is personal fellowship. Luke 16:10 sets down a principle that may be applicable here. It says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Crucial to what we think of as the major decisions of life—school, marriage, vocation, purchasing a car, house, etc.—is our faithfulness in our walk with the Lord and our commitment to Him in the routine of our daily life. This not only gives us discernment, but the spiritual ability to make right choices that put God’s interests ahead of our own (cf. also Luke 14:25-27).

Psalm 119:133 Direct my steps by your word!
Do not let any sin dominate me!

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

Matthew 16:23-24 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Ephesians 5:9-18 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

While divine guidance will remove some of the bumps, give rest, and make life more pleasant, its primary purpose is not to make life like an interstate highway, without any bumps, potholes, or dangerous driving conditions. Divine guidance is designed to enable us to glorify the Lord and fulfill His will regardless of what life may bring.

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Assurance of Eternal Rewards

The Doctrine of the Bema

A prominent doctrine of the New Testament concerns the Doctrine of Rewards and the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is a doctrine often ignored or, when taught, it is misrepresented because of the term “judgment” that is used in translating the Greek text. Commenting on this Samuel Hoyt writes:

Within the church today there exists considerable confusion and debate regarding the exact nature of the examination at the judgment seat of Christ. The expression “the judgment seat of Christ” in the English Bible has tended to cause some to draw the wrong conclusion about the nature and purpose of this evaluation. A common misconception which arises from this English translation is that God will mete out a just retribution for sins in the believer’s life, and some measure of retributive punishment for sins will result.18

As will be shown below, though it is tremendously serious with eternal ramifications, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a place and time when the Lord will mete out punishment for sins committed by the child of God. Rather, it is a place where rewards will be given or lost depending on how a believer has lived his life for the Lord.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, the Apostle Paul drew courage and was motivated by the fact of rewards at the return of the Lord for the church which he mentions in every chapter in this epistle and which becomes the primary subject of 2 Thessalonians. The Lord’s return and what this means, not only to the world but to us individually, is a very prominent subject of the New Testament.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? 20 For you are our glory and joy!

It is significant that among the final words of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we find these words of the Lord: “Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done!” (Rev. 22:12).

While salvation is a gift, there are rewards given for faithfulness in the Christian life as well as the loss of rewards for unfaithfulness. Rewards become one of the great motivations of the Christian’s life or should. But we need to understand the nature of these rewards in order to understand the nature of the motivation. Some people are troubled by the doctrine of rewards because this seems to suggest “merit” instead of “grace,” and because, it is pointed out, we should only serve the Lord out of love and for God’s glory.

Of course we should serve the Lord out of love and for God’s glory, and understanding the nature of rewards will help us do that. But the fact still remains that the Bible promises us rewards. God gives us salvation. It is a gift through faith, but He rewards us for good works. God graciously supplies the means by which we may serve Him. Indeed, He works in us both to will and to do as we volitionally appropriate His grace, but the decision to serve, and the diligence employed in doing so, are our responsibility and contribution, and God sees this as rewardable. Note the following passages:

Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

Colossians 1:29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.

Romans 14:10-11 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.”

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

1 John 2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.

Revelation 3:11-12 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. 12 The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well.

The Meaning of the Judgment ( Bema) Seat

Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 speak of the “judgment seat.” This is a translation of one Greek word, Bema. While Bema is used in the gospels and Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence, its use in the epistles of Paul is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests.

Romans 14:10 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed. The victor of a given event who participated according the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory.

2 Timothy 2:5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he will not be crowned as the winner unless he competes according to the rules.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

In all of these passages …

Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.19

We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor.

In other words, it is a reward seat and portrays a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination. But it is not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. Such would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the cross because He totally paid the penalty for our sins. Chafer and Walvoord have an excellent word on this view:

With reference to sin, Scripture teaches that the child of God under grace shall not come into judgment (John 3:18; 5:24; 6:37; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 1 Cor. 11:32); in his standing before God, and on the ground that the penalty for all sin—past, present, and future (Col. 2:13)—has been borne by Christ as the perfect Substitute, the believer is not only placed beyond condemnation, but being in Christ is accepted in the perfection of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:10; Heb. 10:14) and loved of God as Christ is loved (John 17:23).20

Again, Chafer writes concerning the Bema, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the judgment is unrelated to the problem of sin, that it is more for the bestowing of rewards than the rejection of failure.”21

The Time of the Bema

The Bema will occur immediately following the rapture or resurrection of the church, after believers are caught up to be with the Lord in the air as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Arguments or Reasons in Support of This View:

(1) In Luke 14:12-14, reward is associated with the resurrection and the rapture is when the church is resurrected.

Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. 13 But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

(2) In Revelation 19:8, when the Lord returns with His bride at the end of the Tribulation, she is seen already rewarded. Her reward is described as fine linen, the righteous acts of the saints—undoubtedly the result of rewards.

Revelation 19:8 She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen” (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

(3) In 2 Timothy 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 4:5, rewards are associated with “that day” and with the Lord’s coming. Again, for the church this means the event of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

2 Timothy 4:8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

1 Corinthians 4:5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

So the order of events will be (a) the rapture which includes our glorification or resurrection bodies, (b) exaltation into the heavens with the Lord, (c) examination before the Bema and (d) compensation or rewards.

The Place of the Bema

The Bema will occur somewhere in the heavenlies in the presence of the Lord. This is evident from the following passages:

1 Thessalonians 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.

Revelation 4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it!

The Participants at the Bema

All the passages dealing with the Bema are addressed to believers or pertain to believers of the church. Note the emphasis on good works.

Romans 14:10-12 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” 12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

1 John 2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? 20 For you are our glory and joy!

1 Timothy 6:18-19 Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. 19 In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.

Titus 2:12-14 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.

The resurrection program and thus the rewarding of Old Testament saints occurs after the Tribulation, after church age saints are already seen in heaven, rewarded, and returning with the Lord to judge the earth (cf. also Matt. 24).

Revelation 19:8 She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen” (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Daniel 12:1-2 At that time Michael,
the great prince who watches over your people,
will arise.
There will be a time of distress
unlike any other from the nation’s beginning
up to that time.
But at that time your own people,
all those whose names are found written in the book,
will escape.
2 Many of those who sleep
in the dusty ground will awake—
some to everlasting life,
and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.

All believers, regardless of their spiritual state, will be raptured and will stand before the Bema to give an account of their lives. At that time they will either receive rewards or lose rewards. Some believe in a partial rapture theory which says that only those in fellowship with the Lord will be raptured as a form of punishment for sin. As mentioned above, this is not only contrary to the finished work of Christ who once and for all paid the penalty for our sins, but it is contrary to the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:8-18:

8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. 15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. 16 Always rejoice, 17 constantly pray, 18 in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Please note verses 9 and 10. The context suggest that Paul has in mind the return of Christ for the church—the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The rapture is the means of our deliverance from the wrath he discusses in chapter 5:1-3. Further, the words “alert or asleep” of verse 10 refer to a spiritual or moral condition, not whether one is alive or dead when Christ returns as in 4:13-14. This is clear from both the context of 5:4-8 and by the fact he changed the Greek words he used for sleep. In 5:10 he used the Greek katheudo rather than koimao, the word he used metaphorically in 4:13-14 of physical death. Though katheudo was used of physical sleep and even death, it was also commonly used of spiritual apathy or indifference to spiritual matters, and this is clearly the context of chapter 5. The point, then, is this: Because of the perfect and finished nature of Christ’s death (note the words “he died for us” of verse 10), whether we are spiritually alert or not, we will live together with Him through the rapture to face the examination of the Bema.

The Examiner at the Bema

The Examiner is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ who is even now examining our lives and will bring to light the true nature of our walk and works when we stand before Him at the Bema. In Romans 14:10 the Apostle called this examination time the Bema of God while in 2 Corinthians 5:10 he called it the Bema of Christ. The point is that Jesus who is God is our examiner and rewarder.

1 Corinthians 4:5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

1 John 2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.

Romans 14:10 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

The Purpose and Basis of the Bema

The purpose and the basis is the most critical issue of all and brings us face to face with the practical aspects of the Bema. Some crucial questions are: Why are we brought before the Bema? Is it only for rewards or their loss? Will any punishment be meted out? Will there be great sorrow? What’s the basis on which the Bema is conducted? Is it sin, good works, or just what?

Within the church, there exists a good deal of confusion and disagreement concerning the exact nature of the Bema. The use of the term “judgment seat” in most translations, ignorance of the historical and cultural background concerning the Bema, and foggy theology regarding the finished work of Christ have all contributed to several common misconceptions which, in one way or another, see God as giving out just retribution to believers for sin, or at least for our unconfessed sin.

Three Views of the Bema

For a summary of three major views, let me quote Samuel L. Hoyt from Bibliotheca Sacra.

Some Bible teachers view the judgment seat as a place of intense sorrow, a place of terror, and a place where Christ displays all the believer’s sins (or at least those unconfessed) before the entire resurrected and raptured church. Some go even further by stating that Christians must experience some sort of suffering for their sins at the time of this examination.

At the other end of the spectrum another group, which holds to the same eschatological chronology, views this event as an awards ceremony. Awards are handed out to every Christian. The result of this judgment will be that each Christian will be grateful for the reward which he receives, and he will have little or no shame.

Other Bible teachers espouse a mediating position. They maintain the seriousness of the examination and yet emphasize the commendation aspect of the judgment seat. They emphasize the importance and necessity of faithful living today but reject any thought of forensic punishment at the Bema. Emphasis is placed on the fact that each Christian must give an account of his life before the omniscient and holy Christ. All that was done through the energy of the flesh will be regarded as worthless for reward, while all that was done in the power of the Holy Spirit will be graciously rewarded. Those who hold this view believe that the Christian will stand glorified before Christ without his old sin nature. He will, likewise, be without guilt because he has been declared righteous. There will be no need for forensic punishment, for Christ has forever borne all of God’s wrath toward the believer’s sins.22

This last view I believe to be the one that is in accord with Scripture. Reasons for this will be set forth and developed as we study the nature, purpose, and basis for the Bema. But for now, lest we draw some wrong conclusions, we need to be ever mindful that God’s Word clearly teaches there are specific and very serious consequences, both temporal and eternal, for sin or disobedience. Though we will not be judged in the sense of punished for sin at the Bema because the Lord has born that for us, we must never take sin lightly because of its consequences.

The Present Consequences of Sin

While the following is not exhaustive, it demonstrates that sin in the life of a believer is no small issue.

1. Loss of Fellowship With the Lord

Known sin in the believer’s life causes a loss of intimate fellowship with the Lord with the consequent loss of His joy and peace.

Psalm 32:3-4 When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)

2. Divine Discipline From the Lord

We should not think of discipline as punishment. Discipline from God is the gracious work of a Father to train and develop His children. Sometimes this comes in the form of various kinds of testing, trials, failure, and predicaments which He uses to correct us and to train us, and if we have been going our own stubborn way, to increase our misery. The goal, however, is always to bring us back to Him. If the believer remains unrepentant, this can lead to the sin unto death as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), and some of the believers at Corinth who were failing to confess their sin and get right with the Lord.

Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?
“My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline
or give up when he corrects you.
6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”
7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

1 Corinthians 11:28-30 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.

1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.

3. Loss of Power and Production

When we fail to deal with our sinful ways through honest confession, we grieve the Spirit’s person and quench His power in our lives. This means that rather than operating by faith in God’s provision, we end up operating in the energy of the flesh. We turn to our personal bag of tricks by which we seek to handle life. This results in the works of the flesh and their awful and fruitless consequences. Without the abiding life, the life of faith and obedience to the Savior, we can do nothing.

Galatians 3:1-5 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? —if indeed it was for nothing. 5 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Galatians 5:1-5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5:19-21, 26 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!… 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

Jeremiah 2:12-13 Be amazed at this, O heavens!
Be shocked and utterly dumbfounded,”
says the Lord.
13 “Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
they have left me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns which cannot even hold water.”

John 15:1-7 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. 3 You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.

4. Loss of Opportunities

When we are in control of our lives rather than the Lord, we become insensitive to people and opportunities for ministry—we lack vision. Carnal believers have no vision other than their own personal agendas and selfish goals.

John 4:34-38 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! 36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. 37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

5. Loss of Desire and Motivation for Service

Carnal believers are occupied and controlled by their own self-centered desires. Perhaps this is a good place to discuss the concept of selfishness and rewards for some see an appeal to rewards as selfish and therefore carnal.

Galatians 5:16-17 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.

Zane Hodges has some good thoughts on this concept:

Scripture does not teach us to be uninterested in our own happiness or well-being. The very desire to escape eternal damnation is a legitimate and urgent self-interest. The instinct to preserve our lives is the same. Nor are pleasure and enjoyment illegitimate experiences.

When God put Adam and Eve in the garden, He furnished them with “every tree … that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). They could enjoy themselves freely provided they abstained from eating from the one forbidden tree. Similarly, Paul tells rich people that “God … gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17; italics added).

Selfishness ought not to be defined simply as the pursuit of our own self-interest. Instead, it should be defined as the pursuit of our self-interest in our own way, rather than in God’s way. Since “love” is a preeminent virtue in Christianity, true selfishness often involves a pursuit of self-interest that violates the law of love.23

Self-interest in God’s way is legitimate. Self-centeredness or selfishness is preoccupation with self at the expense of others and God’s will in one’s life. When Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they acted in self-centered independence which was idolatry and sin. When they enjoyed each other and the fruit trees and blessings of the garden, they acted in their self-interest but they did so in dependence on and in obedience to the Lord.

6. Broken Relationships and Disharmony

Carnality causes broken relationships and pain to those around us—our families, friends, associates, and co-workers in the body of Christ.

Galatians 5:15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.

Hebrews 12:15-17 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled. 16 And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

7. Loss of Physical Health and Vitality

Of course all sickness, weakness, or suffering is not a product of sin, but it can be and often is.

1 Corinthians 11:29-30 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.

1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.

Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart brings good healing,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 14:30 A tranquil spirit revives the body,
but envy is rottenness to the bones.

8. Loss of Rewards at the Bema

There will be the loss of rewards as seen in the following passage:

1 Corinthians 3:13-15 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The Purpose of the Bema Developed

The Bema is not punitive. It is not to judge believers for sin of any kind, confessed or unconfessed.

Scripture teaches that for the believer God’s justice has already been fully and forever satisfied at the Cross in relation to the believer’s sins. If God were to punish the believer judicially for his sins for which Christ has already rendered payment, He would be requiring two payments for sin and would therefore be unjust. Such a concept (punishment for sin) erroneously disparages the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross.24

Christ paid the penalty for the believer’s pre- and post-conversion sins. The believer will forfeit rewards which he could have received, but he will not be punished in the judicial sense of “paying” for his sins.

Scripture teaches that all sins, both confessed and unconfessed, have been forgiven and taken care of by the work of Christ on the cross, so the Christian will never face those sins again at the judgment. The following verses demonstrate the basic principle of the complete and finished nature of Christ’s Work.

Romans 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”

Hebrews 10:14, 17-18 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy…. then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Isaiah 38:17 Look, the grief I experienced was for my benefit.
You delivered me from the pit of oblivion.
For you removed all my sins from your sight.

Isaiah 44:22 I remove the guilt of your rebellious deeds as if they were a cloud,
the guilt of your sins as if they were a cloud.
Come back to me, for I protect you.

Psalm 103:12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west,
so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.

We cannot come into judgment. Why? Because Christ has born our judgment by being made a curse in our place.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

John 3:18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

John 5:24 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.

Then why do we have to confess sin? And why does God judge believers for unconfessed sin as with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and some of the believers in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:28f? Because this is a completely different matter.

Unconfessed sin relates to fellowship in this life, not to our relationship or standing with God. Unconfessed sin stands as a barrier to fellowship and His control over our life. As Amos 3:3 says, “Do two walk together without having met?” Obviously the answer is no.

Confession means we agree with God concerning our sin and want to get back under God’s control. “Daily forgiveness of those who are within the family of God is distinguished from judicial and positional forgiveness which was applied forensically to all of a person’s sins the moment he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Hoyt, p. 38). We need to distinguish between fellowship forgiveness and legal or forensic forgiveness that justifies us and gives us a standing before God through Christ.

Key Scriptures:

Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?
“My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline
or give up when he corrects you.
6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”
7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

1 Corinthians 11:28-32 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

These passages explain the nature of God’s judgment of believers in this life. It is discipline designed to train and bring us back to a walk with God. They also teach us the basic cause of discipline is failure to examine and confess known sins because they hinder our fellowship with God.

In 1 Corinthians 11:32, “condemned with the world,” most likely refers to the judgment of Romans 1:24f, moral degeneration and the gradual breakdown in the moral fiber of men when they turn away from God. The same thing happens in the life of believers, but God brings discipline to stop the process.

1 Corinthians 11:32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Romans 1:24-31 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, 27 and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. 29 They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless.

God does not judge us for our sin in the sense of making us pay the penalty for that sin.

Scripture teaches that Christ’s death was all-sufficient, completely satisfying God’s wrath toward sin in the believer. The question of sin in regard to God’s justice has been forever satisfied in the mind of God by the all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son. The penalty for the believer’s sins has been fully paid for by Christ, the believer’s substitute. The Christian has been in court, condemned, sentenced, and executed in his substitute, Jesus Christ. God cannot exact payment for sins twice since payment has been fully and forever paid. The believer is seen by the Father as clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God can therefore find no cause for accusing the Christian judicially any more than He can find cause for accusing Jesus Christ. Therefore, at the judgment seat of Christ forensic punishment will not be meted out for the believer’s sins.25

Rather, God disciplines us as a father disciplines his sons to bring us back into fellowship that we might be conformed to His Son. It is a family matter.

The Positive Aspects of the Bema
To Evaluate the Believer’s Work

The Bema will be a time to evaluate the quality of every believer’s work whether it is good or bad, i.e., acceptable and thus worthy of rewards, or unacceptable, to be rejected and unworthy of rewards. Actually an evaluation is going on every day by the Lord (cf. Rev. 2-3).

To Remove Unacceptable Production

The Bema will be a time to remove and destroy unacceptable production portrayed in the symbols of wood, hay, and stubble. All sinful deeds, thoughts, and motives, as well as all good deeds done in the energy of the flesh will be consumed like wood, hay, and stubble in a fire because they are unworthy of reward. Why? This will be answered as we consider the basis on which rewards are given or lost.

To Reward the Believer

The Bema will be the time believers are rewarded for all the good they have done as portrayed by the symbols of gold, silver, and precious stones, that which is valuable and can stand the test of fire without being consumed because they were works done under the control of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

“plainly seen” is phaneros which means “known, plain, visible, revealed as to its nature.” “The Day” refers to a day well known and refers to the day of the Bema after the rapture of the church. “Be revealed” is apokalupto meaning “to unveil.” “Test” is dokimazo and means “to test for the sake of approval.”

1 Corinthians 4:5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

“Bring to light” is photizo, “to bring to light, make visible.” The issue should be extremely clear from these two verses: The Lord will evaluate the quality and nature of every person’s work.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

Revelation 22:12 Look! I am coming soon,
and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done!

The Negative Aspects of the Bema

There are a number of passages that refer to the negative aspects of the Bema which need to be mentioned and explained. In these passages we read such things as “give account of himself,” “suffer loss,” “shrink away from Him in shame,” and “recompense for his deeds … whether good or bad.”

Will believers experience shame, grief, remorse at the Bema? If so, how do we reconcile this with passages like Revelation 7:17, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” and Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist,” or with Isaiah 65:17, “For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore.”

The negative effects involve the following terms or ideas:

The Forfeiting of Rewards

The loss suffered in 1 Corinthians 3:15 refers to the loss of rewards and not salvation as the verse goes on to make clear. Please note that the clause “he will suffer loss” would be better rendered “it (the reward) shall be forfeited.”

1 Corinthians 3:15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Disqualification

The disqualification mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:27 means disqualified from rewards, not loss of salvation. This is clear from the context and the analogy to the Greek athletic games.

1 Corinthians 9:27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

Recompense

The “paid back” of 2 Corinthians 5:10 refers to the dispensing of rewards or their loss. The verb used is komizo and means “to carry off safe,” “to carry off as booty.” In the middle voice as here, it meant “to bear for oneself,”26 or “to receive back what is one’s own.”27

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

Matthew 25:27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!

Ephesians 6:8 because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good, this will be rewarded by the Lord.

That dispensing of rewards is in view is also evident from the Greek words in 2 Corinthians 5:10 translated “good” ( agathos—valuable like good fruit) and “evil” ( phaulos—unacceptable like rotten or spoiled fruit).

This is no more a punishment than when a student turns in a worthless assignment and receives an F or a D. His poor work results in a just grade or recompense. This is what his work deserves. When I was at Dallas Theological Seminary there was a sign in the registrar’s office which read, “Salvation is by grace … Graduation is by works.”

Shrinking Away

Another term used of the negative aspects of the Bema is found in 1 John 2:28. This verse undoubtedly refers to the Bema and shows there will be both boldness as a result of abiding, and shame before the Lord as a result of failing to abide.

1 John 2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.

“And now, little children” is John’s term of endearment for his readers as born again people.

The phrase “remain in Him” is a synonym for fellowship which is the subject of the book (1:3-7). It means to remain in Him from the standpoint of drawing on His life as the source of ours and then to obey Him out of that relationship of dependence. This is the basis of rewards, or if absent, the cause of their loss. The abiding, Christ dependent life is the issue.

“So that” points us to the purpose, the return of the Savior and what it will mean.

“When He appears.” “When” points to the imminency of the return of the Lord. It is literally “if He appears.” The conditional clause does not question the reality of Christ’s coming, only the time of it and thereby points to its imminency. “Appears” refers to the rapture which leads quickly into the Bema.

“We may have confidence.” “Confidence” is parresia and means “courage, boldness to speak.” Though none of us are perfect or ever will be, still, faithfulness to abide and obey the Lord will give confidence of rewards.

“And not shrink away from Him in shame when he comes back.” Please note several things here. The verb is what we call in Greek an aorist subjunctive, and with the basic meaning of this verb, the grammar points to a future act, but not a continuous state. This in no way suggests a permanent condition. The voice of the verb is passive. The subject receives the action, that is, he is made to feel shame. But how? There are two views:

(1) The believer who does not abide is made to feel shame by the Lord, i.e., the Lord puts him to shame. This would be somewhat punitive and does not fit the concept of the Bema or the promises of the Lord that we will not come into judgment.

(2) The believer who does not abide is made to feel shame by the revelatory nature of the event caused by his own awareness and realization of what his own failure and sin has caused him in terms of the loss of rewards and loss of glory to the Lord. But this will only be momentary at best in view of passages like the following:

Revelation 7:17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.

Hoyt has a good summary of what this passage is talking about and involves:

The Bible suggests that there will be shame at the judgment seat of Christ to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the measure of unfaithfulness of each individual believer. Therefore it should be each believer’s impelling desire to be well-pleasing to the Lord in all things. Although Christians apparently will reflect on this earthly life with some regret, they will also realize what is ahead for them in the heavenly life. This latter realization will be the source of boundless joy. English strikes a proper balance on this subject.

Joy will indeed be the predominant emotion of life with the Lord; but I suspect that, when our works are made manifest at the tribunal, some grief will be mixed with the joy, and we shall know shame as we suffer loss. But we shall rejoice also as we realize that the rewards given will be another example of the grace of our Lord; for at best we are unprofitable servants.28

The elements of remorse, regret, and shame cannot be avoided in an examination of the judgment seat of Christ. But this sorrow must be somewhat relative because even for the finest of Christians there will be some things worthy of unceasing remorse in the light of God’s unapproachable holiness. This would mean that the finest of Christians could be sorrowful throughout eternity. However, this is not the picture that the New Testament gives of heaven. The overwhelming emotion is joyfulness and gratefulness. Although there is undeniably some measure of remorse or regret, this is not the overriding emotion to be experienced throughout the eternal state.

The emotional condition of the redeemed is that of complete and unending happiness. Emotion proceeds from the realization of facts in personal experience. Hope will at last become reality for all those who are delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:18-25). Elimination of the curse, pain and death will also remove sorrow, tears and crying (Rev. 21:4).

The judgment seat of Christ might be compared to a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder. However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.29

The Nature of the Rewards

What are these rewards? How are they described in Scripture? What we learn about rewards from Scripture is in terms that are more general than specific. These are:

(1) The promise of crowns. This seems to be used as a symbol of victory, authority and responsibility.

(2) The promise of heavenly treasure. This stresses their eternal value and security.

Matthew 6:20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

1 Peter 1:4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you,

(3) The promise of accolades or commendations. This is seen in those passages where a reward is administered in the form of something like “well done good and faithful servant …”

Matthew 25:21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Luke 19:17 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’

1 Corinthians 4:5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

(4) The promises to overcomers. These could refer to special blessing of rewards to those believers who overcome special trials and tests rather than a general promise to all believers.

Revelation 2:7 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’

Revelation 2:11 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.’

Revelation 2:17 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.’

Revelation 2:26 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations

(5) The promise of special responsibilities and authority over the Lord’s possessions.

Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Matthew 24:45-47 Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Matthew 25:21, 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’… His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Luke 19:17-19 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ 18 Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

Luke 22:29-30 Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Revelation 2:26 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations

Analogies to Consider

(1) A Thanksgiving dinner. At a Thanksgiving dinner, each person eats a different amount, but each is satisfied. After our glorification, there will be no sinful nature to produce envy, or jealousy, or resentment, or feelings of dissatisfaction. We will each be enthralled with God and our glorified state.

(2) A bat boy at the World Series. Any young man who loves baseball would be thrilled to be a bat boy in the World Series, and he would not be jealous or resentful because he was not one of the stars of the game. He would just be delighted to be there doing what he was doing.

(3) A graduate at commencement. All the graduates are there and excited about graduating, yet at the time of rewards, some sorrow might be experienced, but it is quickly overcome by the joy of the event.

(4) Our spiritual gifts. Our rewards may be likened to our spiritual gifts. Our rewards seem to be primarily a matter of responsibility and maybe opportunities. They will not be like badges or medals worn in the military. Remember that all of our crowns will be cast at the feet of Christ, for only He is worthy. Also, Matthew 25:21, 23 and Luke 19:17-19 show us our rewards consist of authority over either many things or many cities. They may include galaxies of the universe. All believers will live in the millennium and in eternity with the Lord. Some will reign with Him, but, because of loss of rewards, evidently some will not.

Revelation 4:10-11 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying:
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
since you created all things,
and because of your will they existed and were created!”

Matthew 25:21-23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Luke 19:17-19 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ 18 Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

(5) In Scripture, the church is viewed as the heavenly kingdom and a universal priesthood. This may indicate something of our authority. We may rule over galaxies, celestial bodies, the heavens, and definitely over angels, and the world.

1 Corinthians 6:2-3 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!

1 Corinthians 4:8 Already you are satisfied! Already you are rich! You have become kings without us! I wish you had become kings so that we could reign with you!

(6) Israel is the earthly kingdom … and will undoubtedly have authority over portions and sections of the millennial kingdom and the eternal kingdom as emphasized in Matthew 25:21; Luke 19:17-19 (see above).

Daniel 7:18, 22, 27 The holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will take possession of the kingdom forever and ever.’… 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Then the time arrived for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom…27 Then the kingdom, authority, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be delivered to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; all authorities will serve him and obey him.’

Crowns of the New Testament
Words Used for Crowns
Stephanos

This was the victor’s crown, the wreath given to the victorious athlete before the judge at the Bema. It is the word used of the crowns promised to believers for faithfulness in the Christian life.

Diadem

This was the royal crown, the crown of a king. It is used of the seven diadems of the Beast in Revelation 12:3 and 13:1. To stress that Christ is King of kings, this word is also used of the many diadems the Lord will wear at His return.

Revelation 19:21 The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh.

The Lord Jesus is the Victor, and our victory is really His victory which is appropriated by faith. Crowns are given as rewards for faithfulness to appropriate God’s grace and Christ’s victory in the Christian life. They remind us of our responsibility to abide in the vine.

Significance of the Crowns
The Crown of Thorns

The crown of thorns speaks of Christ’s work on the cross and stands for His victory over sin, Satan, and death.

Matthew 27:29 and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand, and kneeling down before him, they mocked him: “Hail, king of the Jews!”

Mark 15:17 They put a purple cloak on him and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on him.

John 19:2, 5, The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe…5 So Jesus came outside, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look, here is the man!

The Incorruptible Crown

This describes all the crowns. It contrasts our crowns with the temporal and temporary treasure of this life. It is also a special crown given for faithfulness in running the race and exercising self-control in order to serve the Lord and finish the race.

1 Corinthians 9:25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

The Crown of Exultation or Rejoicing

This crown is a reward given for witnessing, follow-up, and ministry to others. In one sense, the Thessalonians will be Paul’s crown, and the effect at the Bema and throughout eternity will be rejoicing or exultation over their presence in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 2:19 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you?

Philippians 4:1 So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!

But what did Paul mean that the Thessalonians will be his crown? In view of his use of “crown” ( stephanos, the victor’s wreath) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord, Paul may also have in mind a personal crown or reward that he will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord. Though, in this passage the Apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages. Though some of them were not living as they should, looking ahead and seeing them in glory brought joy and would bring great rejoicing.

Revelation 4:10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying:

The Crown of Life

This crown is given for enduring testings (trials) and temptation (Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). The crown is not eternal life which is a gift through faith alone in Christ alone, but a reward for enduring trials and overcoming temptation.

James 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.

Revelation 2:10 Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.

John 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Romans 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:15-17 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!

Romans 6:23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God;

The Crown of Righteousness

This crown is a reward given for faithfulness to use our gifts and opportunities in the service of the Lord and for loving His appearing. Note that these two things go together. To love His appearing is to live in the light of it.

2 Timothy 4:8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

The Crown of Glory

The crown of glory is a reward promised to elders for faithfulness in the discharge of their responsibilities in shepherding the people.

1 Peter 5:4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.

The Casting of Crowns

Because Christ alone is worthy and because we can only be fruitful when we abide in Him allowing His life to fills ours, we will all cast our crowns before Him in recognition that all we have done is by His grace.

Revelation 4:10-11 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying:
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
since you created all things,
and because of your will they existed and were created!”

The Many Crowns (Diadems)

These are the crowns of royalty which stand for Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords who alone has the right to rule and judge the world.

Revelation 19:12 His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself.

Conclusion

This concludes our study on the various ways God has assured us of His infinite care and complete love. God’s assurance extends from that past assurance of our salvation in Christ, through the present and all the various needs of life—security, daily provision, forgiveness, victory over sin, and guidance through the maze of life. But by His grace, it doesn’t even stop there. As this last lesson has shown us, His assurance extends beyond to the eternal future. In this we see His blessed assurance that our labors are never in vain in the Lord because it is His plan to reward faithful believers for their service to Him as they overcome by faith in His matchless grace.

Is it any wonder that the author of Hebrews referred to our salvation in Christ with the words, “such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3)? But it is also fitting that we close this study by reflecting on his warning with regard to our “so great salvation.” He wrote:

Hebrews 2:1-4 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Since under the Old Testament Covenant, instituted through angels, Old Testament saints received severe judgments for disobedience, we must never imagine that we, as members of the New Covenant, shall escape the consequences of ignoring our so great salvation accomplished by none other than the Son of God Himself. With this salvation has come the assurance of God’s perfect provision past, present, and future. As good stewards of the blessings God has given us, we have an awesome obligation to act upon our new life in Christ as faithful recipients of such a great salvation.

In regard to this warning Zane Hodges explains:

If the readers lost sight of the ultimate victory and deliverance that was promised to them in connection with the Son’s own final victory, they could expect retribution. What its nature might be the writer did not spell out, but it would be unwarranted to think he was talking about hell. The “we” which pervades the passage shows that the author included himself among those who needed to pay close attention to these truths.

The “salvation,” of course, is the same as that just mentioned in 1:14 … and alludes to the readers’ potential share in the Son’s triumphant dominion, in which He has “companions” (cf. 1:9). The Lord Jesus Himself, while on earth, spoke much of His future kingdom and the participation of His faithful followers in that reign (cf., e.g., Luke 12:31-32; 22:29-30). But this salvation experience, which was first announced by the Lord had also received confirmation through the various miracles and manifestations of the Spirit which His original auditors, those who heard Him, were empowered to exhibit. In speaking like this, the writer of Hebrews regarded these miracles as the powers of the coming Age (cf. Heb. 6:5) and, in harmony with the early Christians in the Book of Acts, saw them as expressions of the sovereignty of the One who had gone to sit at God’s right hand (cf. “signs,” “wonders,” and/or “miracles” in Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 14:3; 15:12; also cf. 2 Cor. 12:12). That the author was indeed thinking throughout of “the world to come” is made clear in Hebrews 2:5.30

The concern is not for the loss of salvation, which is eternally secure in Christ, but for failure to live by faith, sharing daily in His glorious power and life, and doing this always with a view to the eternal rewards of His coming kingdom.

Part Two:
The Transformed Life

18 Samuel Hoyt, “The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1980, electronic media, p. 32.

19 Hoyt, 37.

20 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes: 52 Vital Doctrines of the Scripture Simplified and Explained, revised by John F. Walvoord, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1974, p. 282.

21 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 4: Ecclesiology-Eschatology, Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas, TX, 1948, p. 406.

22 Hoyt, pp. 32-33.

23 Zane C. Hodges, “We Believe in: Rewards,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Vol. 4, No. 2, Autumn 1991, p. 7.

24 Hoyt, pp. 33-34.

25 Hoyt, p. 38.

26 G. Abott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed., T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 252.

27 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Regency, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 468.

28 E. Schuyler English, “The Church At the Tribunal,” in Prophetic Truth Unfolding Today, ed. Charles Lee Feingberg, Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ, 1968, p. 29.

29 Samuel Hoyt, “The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective,” Part 2, Bibliotheca Sacra, electronic media, p. 131.

30 Zane Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Scripture Press, Wheaton, Illinois, 1983, 1985 p. 783.

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Preface to The Transformed Life

Part Two:
The Transformed Life

Preface

Spiritual growth is a life-long, ongoing process. In this process of maturing, every believer needs a thorough grasp of what can be called ‘Truths That Transform.’ These are growth truths of Scripture designed by God to transform us into the image of Christ. These are the truths that enable us to live more and more dependently on the Lord in accordance with the principles of Scripture. This means faith in the power of God rather than faith in our own schemes for how to live the Christian life.

There is a propensity in all of us to try to live the Christian life in our own strength, ever seeking to measure up to what we or someone else thinks we ought to be. The principles found in this series of lessons take believers through the faith/growth truths of Scripture that, when understood and appropriated by faith, enable them to experience change from the inside out through the Spirit of God.

These lessons build on the basics covered in Part One: The Assured Life, and at the same time prepare the way for the studies in Part Three: The Multiplied Life.

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Truths That Transform

Introduction

Do you have one single goal in life that consumes you, something that has become the primary force that stimulates and motivates you daily in everything that you do? Or do you feel like someone in a canoe whose objective seems to change with the various hazards he finds around every bend in the raging river as he is being propelled along trying to navigate white water, logs, and rocks. Life can be like that. If we are not careful, our goals and objectives are set for us by the demands of the everyday forces of life and by false belief systems.

Goals and objectives are tremendously important because they are dynamic and determinative of what we do with the life God has given us. It has been said, “Aim at nothing and you will hit it every time,” and “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Without defining goals and then the objectives needed to accomplish those goals, most people accomplish very little. Of course, we all have goals, even if we haven’t clearly defined them, and these goals determine a great deal of what we do.

Again, let me ask the question, if you could reduce your life to one primary goal, what would it be? On a day-to-day basis, what are you actually focused on and seeking to accomplish? Don’t answer this question with what you think the answer should be, like, “My chief aim in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” Or, “My goal in life is to please the Lord in everything I do!” Be honest. Think about what was on your mind every morning this week when you woke up or as you faced the varied circumstances of the week.

Were your thoughts on how you might change your spouse who doesn’t treat you the way you want to be treated? Or how you might handle your boss who is a bully and unfair? Perhaps your focus was on your car which keeps breaking down, or on some home appliance that would make life easier. Perhaps your objective is to get through school with a 3.5 grade point average. Or maybe your goal is simply to keep your head above water in your job.

The world has a way of intruding like a thief into our lives to steal from us what should be our focus or the major objectives of life. These intrusions have a way of disturbing us, even though we may not realize the source, because in losing sight of God’s purpose or goal we fail to see the problems of life in accord with God’s overall purpose and consequent objectives.

Isaiah declares:

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

God doesn’t expect us to be oblivious to the problems and needs of life, but when our goals are God’s goals we are better able to look through our problems to the Lord and His supply. When our focus is the Lord, something wonderful begins to happen in us: God begins to change us and make us like His Son “For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, …” (Heb. 12:2).

Joy and Peace:
Consequences of God’s Purpose

Isaiah 26:3 The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in Thee (NASB).

One of the consequences of having God’s purpose, as we see from Isaiah 26:3, is a life of peace even in the midst of trials. To prepare His disciples for His departure and absence, the Lord instructed them concerning their purpose in the world (John 13-16). In the midst of this instruction, just a few hours before the Lord Jesus went to the cross to die that we might have peace with God and know the peace of God, He made this very illuminating statement: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.” (John 14:27, emphasis mine).

Then, in Galatians 5:22, we are told that two character traits of the fruit of the Spirit are joy and peace. These verses teach us that when we are experiencing His life within ours (the Christ-exchanged life) we are going to experience joy and peace along with other Christlike qualities even in the midst of pain and suffering.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Many Christians, however, seem to have little joy or peace. One of the reasons is found in the Lord’s statement regarding peace. We too often seek our joy and peace from that which the world gives rather than from the Savior who provides peace and joy in a very different way and from a very different source.

I am not at all suggesting that the goal of the Christian life is to be a self-centered focus like joy and peace. Joy and peace, however, do constitute part of the fruit of a life that is experiencing God and the spiritual transformation that He works within at the core of our being when He is truly the source of our trust. Joy and peace become barometers of how well we are resting all the various facets of our life on Him (Isa. 26:3). It’s like taking our temperature. As a fever is indicative of an illness, so the absence of the joy and peace Christ gives is an indication something is wrong and we need the prescribed remedy of God’s Word and healing touch of the Great Physician.

As illustrations compare the following passages:

Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid,
I trust in you.

Psalm 32:3-4 When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.

Two key notes are sounded in the book of Philippians: “ Joy” is found seven times, and “ peace” is found only three times, but it is still a very important concept in the theme of the book (Phil. 4:6-7).

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Two other books which were written in the same year as Philippians were Ephesians and Colossians. These are companion or sister epistles and there is an interesting relationship that can be observed between these three epistles that is pertinent to the issue of joy and peace, and the transformed life.

Ephesians gives us the truth stated—in Christ ascended, in the heavenlies, blessed with every spiritual blessing. It declares the sublime truth of the believer’s new position and identity in Christ. All believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the realm of the heavenlies in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Colossians gives us the truth guarded—in Christ complete, sufficient in Christ. It protects the believer’s new and glorious identity and what it should mean to his faith as the walk of faith is confronted with all sorts of religious systems claiming to be the answer for the spiritual life. Colossians shows that, since believers in Christ are complete in Him (2:10) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3), they need nothing more for transformed lives than Jesus Christ. He is our hope of glory both for heaven and for transformed living. We don’t need the joy/peace killer of legalism nor the futility of any of man’s religious or philosophical systems. As we have received Christ alone by faith in the message of the Gospel (1:4-5), so we are to continue to walk by means of His life by faith in the truth of God’s Word (2:3-10).

Colossians 1:4-5 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel

Colossians 2:3-10 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. 6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Colossians warns us against accepting man’s substitutes for either justification or for sanctification (transformed living) because man’s substitutes, or those of the world, are always faithless in our complete position in Christ and futile to our sinful condition.

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days— 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! 18 Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. 19 He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.

Philippians gives us the truth practiced—in Christ satisfied, joy and peace in Christ. In a number of ways this epistle promotes the application of the messages of Ephesians (blessed with every spiritual blessing) and Colossians (in Christ complete). Philippians shows us how to know joy and peace as we walk down the path of life with its many ups and downs, its blessings and afflictions, and its pleasures and pain. Knowing we have such a glorious identity in Christ is obviously a cause for great joy and the source of true peace, but so often Christians fail to experience true joy and peace. So enters the book of Philippians, which has much to say about joy and peace in Christ.

Philippians 1:4, 18, 25 I always pray with joy in my every prayer for you all…18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,…25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith,

Philippians 2:28-29 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,

Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.

Philippians 4:1 So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!

Philippians 4:4,7-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!…7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Right in the middle of the book (Philippians 3) is an extended passage which points us to the heart of the issue being discussed here—experiencing Christ’s joy and peace. Biblically, joy and peace are related to the pursuit of the right goal, one that is to become the all-consuming goal of a Christian’s life. Please note especially verses 8-15.

Philippians 3:8-15 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

What’s the thrust of this passage? Notice verse 14. Paul says, “I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This focuses us on the ultimate goal of the passage—possessing and pursuing God’s goal for one’s life. That goal is an upward, heavenward call. Included in that call is spiritual transformation through knowing Christ intimately and the power of His resurrection that we might be made like Him being conformed to or perhaps even, by His death—passing through death into new life, and at last to capture the coveted prize, being in Christ’s presence at the Judgment Seat, or Bema, to receive the awards that will be given on that day (see 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul was living not to gain heaven by his works, but to receive the prize of knowing the power of Christ’s life in his daily life with a view to the eternal rewards that would follow. The goal of the apostle was to live daily in view of the resurrection (literally, “the out resurrection from among the dead”) as mentioned in 3:11. Speaking of this same hope, John wrote, “And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure” (1 John 3:3).

Pressing Toward the Goal

Philippians 3:14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Explanation of the Text

“I strive” is the Greek word, dioko, meaning “to pursue, chase, to press on.” It is used figuratively of one who runs swiftly in a race to reach the goal in order to obtain the prize. The verb is a present of continuous action which shows this pursuit is to be the pattern of the believer’s life on a daily basis.

“Prize” is the Greek, skopos, which refers to an observer, a watchman, or the distant mark on which to fix the eye, the goal or end one has in view. For emphasis, the text literally has, “I strive toward the prize” which highlights the concept of fixing one’s eyes on the goal.

“Prize” is the Greek, brabeion, which refers to “the award given to the victor in the ancient Greek games.” In this context, may I suggest that it refers to two things: (1) primarily, Paul’s focus is on the return of Christ for the church because that will mean (a) glorification and translation into heaven either by resurrection for believers who have died, or transfiguration of those believers who are alive at that time (1 Thess. 4:13-18), (b) examination before the Bema for eternal rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), and (c) compensation, the bestowal of the rewards that await believers for faithful service. “The upward call of God in Christ Jesus” further defines the goal which is also the prize. But I believe this upward call also includes (2) the heavenly reward of Christlike character, transformed lives. In other words, living in anticipation of the awesome event, or with this as the focus of life, should have a transforming impact on the way we live moment by moment (see also 1 Cor. 9:24-27).

This takes us back to the thought of verses 10 and 11, resurrection life, dying and rising with Christ in transformed living by the power of God through faith (cf. vs. 9 for the faith emphasis).

While there is some disagreement about the meaning of the words, “resurrection from the dead,” in 3:11, Paul probably has in mind his hope in the imminent return of Christ with all that event will mean for believers as mentioned above. This is supported in the context with 3:20-21, and by the factor of the doubt and uncertainty expressed in this verse. For instance, the NASB has “in order that I may attain,” but in the margin, it has the more literal translation, “if some how” in place of “in order that.” The KJV has “If by any means.” The Greek text has ei pws (“if by any means”). This construction is found in only three other places in the NT (Rom. 1:10; 11:14; Acts 27:12), and in each case an element of doubt is expressed. This idea of uncertainty is further supported by the use of the subjunctive mood which expresses contingency, potentiality, anticipation, but not certainty, an element reserved more for the indicative mood in Greek.

Was Paul questioning the fact of the resurrection? Of course not, and that is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:1-34. I believe Paul is speaking of not the fact, but the when. He had in mind something he might experience in his lifetime, the rapture of the church, his translation and consequent reward.

Others believe that he is not speaking about the resurrection of the body or questioning it as a fact for the believer, but means he wants more and more to realize in his daily walk what it means to have been co-identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. He has in mind experiencing the truth of Romans 6:4-14 and Galatians 2:20. But ultimately, both concepts are in the apostle’s view as part of the goal with the imminent hope of Christ’s return being one of the motivations that constrained or controlled the life of Paul.

Application of the Text

We Need the Right Goal in Life

Our goals not only say a great deal about us but they also, from a Christian perspective, have everything to do with spiritual change and with our experience of joy, peace, and other Christlike qualities. Lying close to the bottom of all we say and do are our basic aims, whether we are seeking to protect ourselves, meet our perceived needs or desired pleasures, or whether we are seeking to protect someone else. The point is simply that goals are dynamic and determinative. They will strongly affect how we live.

Goals Are Determined by Our Objects of Faith

This includes the concept of motives. Equally important with our goals is the question, why do we have the goals or objectives we pursue? The answer is, we all have certain goals because we believe these goals will somehow meet our perceived needs. We think they will give us joy and peace, security and happiness, significance and meaning. Behind our pursuits are often a variety of motives and false belief systems.

Robert McGee writes:

Many of us tend to approach Christian living as a self-improvement program. We may desire spiritual growth, or we may have one or more fairly serious problems from which we desperately want to be delivered. While there is certainly nothing wrong with spiritual growth or desiring to be rid of a besetting problem, what is our motivation in wanting to achieve goals like these? Perhaps we desire success or the approval of others. Perhaps we fear that God can’t really accept us until we have spiritually matured, or until “our problem” is removed. Perhaps we just want to feel better without having to struggle through the process of making major changes in our attitudes and behavior.

Motivations such as these may be mixed with a genuine desire to honor the Lord, but it’s also possible that deep within us is a primary desire to glorify ourselves. When self-improvement becomes the center of our focus, rather than Christ, our focus is displaced.

It is important to understand that fruitfulness and growth are the results of focusing on Christ and desiring to honor Him. When growth and change are our primary goals, we tend to be preoccupied with ourselves instead of with Christ. Am I growing? Am I getting any better? Am I more like Christ today? What am I learning?

This inordinate preoccupation with self-improvement parallels our culture’s self-help and personal enhancement movement in many ways. Personal development is certainly not wrong, but it is misleading--and it can be very disappointing to make it our preeminent goal. If it is our goal at all, it should be secondary. As we grasp the unconditional love, grace, and power of God, then honoring Christ will increasingly be our consuming passion. God wants us to have a healthy self-awareness and to periodically analyze our lives, but He does not want us to be preoccupied with ourselves. The only One worthy of our preoccupation is Christ, our sovereign Lord, who told the Apostle Paul, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).31

An Adequate Goal

The only adequate goal for the Christian is knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8-10) and Christlike transformation (Phil 3:11-14). This means pursuing Christ which will result in growth in the experience of the character of Christ—his love, grace, mercy, endurance, values, priorities, pursuits, etc.

Since growth and maturity are the subjects of this series of lessons, let’s take a short overview of what Philippians 3 teaches about having the right goal.

(1) As to its Source: Having the goal of knowing Christ and Christlike maturity is a matter of spiritual insight or knowledge of the surpassing value of Christ over anything man or the world has to offer. Faith in Him is the product of that insight (cf. Phil. 3:8-9). But the text reveals several elements that are critical for a faith that has this goal.

Philippians 3:1-15 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

  • We must repudiate our former confidences or sources of trust as meaningless and useless. None of our former confidences can provide salvation in any sense (Phil. 3:1-8a, quoted above). But how do we come to such a place?
  • We must come to the place where we recognize the surpassing value and total sufficiency of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing Him and seeing the value of His person and work replaces all our former confidences or objects of faith—the things we trusted in for peace and joy, for salvation and spirituality, for significance and meaning, etc. (Carefully read Philippians 3:8b-9, quoted above).
  • We need to rest in his life as the source of ours rather than in the strategies people typically depend on for security, happiness, significance, or for salvation and sanctification.

(2) As to its Value: As seen in verse 14, the apostle saw the goal as itself the reward, the prize worth the pursuit of all his being. In addition to the glory this brings to God, nothing is more rewarding, exciting, or causes more joy or peace than to experience fellowship with the Lord Jesus and the character of His life reproduced in ours. By contrast, compare this with the frustration, disappointment, the sense of futility and guilt that people face when they place their trust in any other pursuit.

(3) As to its Attainment: For the Christian, the one who has placed his trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the pursuit of this goal is a process that never ends in this life because no one ever reaches perfect maturity. This is another principle taught in Philippians 3. Other than the Lord Jesus, who could have been more mature than the Apostle Paul? But Paul clearly declared that, though mature, he had not arrived at complete maturity or perfection (Phil. 3:12-15). There will always be room for growth.

(4) As to God’s Will: One question Christians (especially new believers) often ask concerns knowing the will of God. What does God want me to be? What does He want me to do? Usually these questions are aimed at the issues of vocation or occupation or some of the other details of life—marriage partner, geographic location, school, ministry in a church, etc. While these are important matters, they are issues that are resolved from the pursuit of the one great goal of this passage. God’s will is much more basic and is expressed in the words, “but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.” (emphasis mine). God’s goal in saving us, and that of Christ Himself, is not just heaven. Though heaven is assured for believers through the finished work of Christ, God’s desire is to make us like His Son. He wants to conform us into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Growing and reaching greater levels of maturity (another word for Christlikeness) is God’s primary will for all believers. As that occurs, all the other aspects of God’s will fall into place to the degree we are experiencing His life in ours. The need and goal of growth and maturity are expressed in a number of New Testament passages (cf. also 1 Cor. 2:6-3:3).

Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

1 Peter 2:2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. 6:1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Instead, be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

The need for growth and maturity or spiritual transformation is in essence a call to holiness or sanctification. This is a call to wholeness as believers become more and more set apart to God and experience His life in theirs through the work and ministry of the Spirit of God, but always in the light of the Word of God, the Bible. The Word is our foundation and the light that illuminates our path.

1 Peter 1:14-16 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”

Hebrews 12:10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness.

31Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance, Rapha Publishing, pp. 128-129.

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The Faith-Rest Life

Introduction

The Scripture emphatically declares: “For the righteous one will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11); “Now without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6); and “for we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). It is so important that we do not underestimate the importance of faith in the life of the believer that to overemphasize it is almost impossible. Some might respond that works are also important and quote James 2:15f for support. But the emphasis of Scripture is that bonafide works must be the product of faith in the person and plan of God which sets God free to work in the heart and life of the individual.

Faith brings the power of God into the life of the believer. We become the children of God and justified by faith, but we are also to live and experience the Christ-exchanged life by faith. The Christian life from start to finish is of necessity a life of faith—a life of dependence on God and His grace provision for us in Christ. It is a supernatural life to be accomplished by God through faith in the Spirit who, as a gift from God, indwells every believer from the moment of salvation. As God’s gift, the indwelling Spirit accomplishes a variety of ministries each of which are vital to the believer’s spiritual life. We can no more live the Christian life by self effort than we can manufacture a resurrected body by our own effort.

The Apostle Paul rebuked the believers at Galatia for their failure to recognize this very important principle. They began by faith in Christ, but because of the pressure of legalists they had moved into the realm of human achievement through religious works for spirituality. In fact, he viewed their failure to understand this as the result of being bewitched. Such is undoubtedly the product of Satan’s deception.

Galatians 3:1-5 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? —if indeed it was for nothing. 5 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Reasons faith in the power and plan of God is absolutely necessary:

(1) Because of the nature of man.

Ephesians 2:1-3 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest.

(2) Because of man’s inherent weakness.

Romans 6:19 (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Romans 8:3-4 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Matthew 26:41 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

(3) Because of the blindness and deceptive nature of the world in which we live.

John 12:46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness.

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?

Ephesians 2:2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience,

Ephesians 4:19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

(4) Because of the activity of Satan and his forces.

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

(5) Because we are totally inadequate and God alone is adequate, it is vital that we learn to walk by faith with every step.

2 Corinthians 2:16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

As we have received Christ by faith in the message of the Gospel (God’s witness concerning His Son or justification through faith) so we are to walk step by step by faith in the Bible’s message of sanctification.

Romans 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

Colossians 2:6-8 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Faith is such an inherent part of the message of Bible that a study on faith is fundamental and essential to the transformed life. As we think in terms of spiritual growth and the transformed life, I’d like to begin with an emphasis on faith because we need to guard against four serious problems that work against faith and spiritual transformation.

Problems We Must Guard Against

A Spirit of Legalism

Legalism is a disposition in which man seeks to establish his own righteousness with God. It is man doing good deeds or religious works to impress God, to merit God’s blessing, or even to impress people. Legalism relies on human resources rather than on God’s resources of grace, on human abilities rather than on divine enablement. Legalism brings glory to man rather than to God. In summary, we may define legalism as “ my effort using my resources to obtain God’s blessing to my glory.”

Romans 4:1-2 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about—but not before God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

In a number of passages, the Apostle Paul strongly warns against legalism in any form. The author of Hebrews also warns against what he calls “dead works,” a reference to all that men do (any kind of religious works or human good) to meritoriously acquire either salvation or spirituality.

Romans 10:1-4 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

Galatians 3:1-5 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? —if indeed it was for nothing. 5 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Galatians 5:1-5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,

Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

In the life of the Christian, good works, Christian labor, and endurance, etc., are to be the result of spirituality—being rightly adjusted to the Spirit of God through faith. The details of this will be discussed later in the lesson on The Spirit-Filled Life.

Compare the NIV’s grammatically accurate translation of 1 Thessalonians 1:3: “because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (emphasis mine).

Working in the Energy of the Flesh

This means working in the energy of our own strength—our own abilities, talents, or resources. One of the strongest evidences of mankind’s fall into sin and his alienation from God is his proneness, indeed, his commitment to operate independently of God. As in the beginning with Eve, this is where Satan still seeks to deceive and tempt us the most. True, salvation through faith in Christ means the believer is a new creation with a new nature or new capacity for knowing, loving, and choosing for God. But the old nature, the self-life, or the flesh as it is also called, still struggles to control. The most prominent characteristic of the flesh is that of self-dependence—seeking to handle life apart from God’s plan and resources.

A few words are needed regarding the sinful nature or the flesh. The “flesh,” as used metaphorically by the Apostle Paul, may be defined as that indwelling spiritual principle or force, that strong disposition in all of us to operate out of our own resources independent of God to meet our needs and wants, the things we perceive we must have for security and significance, etc. The “flesh” is the opposite of trust in God. It is a spirit of independence and faith in self. As faith in self, it is a commitment to do our own thing, in our own way, and from our own resources. The flesh is evil, sinful, and anti-God. That “flesh” is often used of this propensity within man is clear from Jeremiah’s warning in Jeremiah 17:5.

The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.”

This passage points out four key concepts about the flesh: (a) the act of depending on human resources, (b) the act of depending on human resources rather than on God’s resources, (c) such an act is in essence, a turning away from God, and (d) such an act brings a curse, it is detrimental.

As a force in man’s life, the flesh is man’s natural means of protection. As man’s natural means of protecting himself, it is a way that seems right to man, it feels natural, but its end is the way of death.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way of death.

The Mentality of Our Culture

As never before in human history, the very nature of our modern society undercuts true dependence on God. With all the advances in modern science and technology in health, convenience, comfort, speed, power, amusement, information, etc., man’s natural spirit of independence and self-sufficiency has become even more acute. In spite of the gigantic social and moral problems facing society, mankind generally thinks in terms of “we are sufficient.” The Scripture, however, declares we are not and cannot even direct our lives. Jeremiah wrote, “Lord, we know that people do not control their own destiny. It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them.” (Jer. 10:23).

Jeremiah 9:23-24 The Lord says,
“Wise people should not boast that they are wise.
Powerful people should not boast that they are powerful.
Rich people should not boast that they are rich.
24 If people want to boast, they should boast about this:
They should boast that they understand and know me.
They should boast that they know and understand
that I, the Lord, act out of faithfulness, fairness, and justice in the earth
and that I desire people to do these things,”
says the Lord.

The Imbalance of Passivity

This is the “let go and let God” mentality which teaches believers are to sit back and let God do it all. Ryrie warns about this as an imbalance of what the Scripture teaches. He writes:

… there is the view which emphasizes the idea that God does all that needs to be done for us in the spiritual life. We not only can do nothing; we must do nothing; otherwise we will hinder the work of God in our lives.32

So that we do not misunderstand this emphasis and Ryrie’s comment about it, let me quote what he says just prior to the above quote.

Let it be said, too, … I am not suggesting that the entire teaching is wrong; it contains, in my judgment, an imbalance because some aspect of the spiritual life has been emphasized in a manner disproportionate to the place given to it in the Scripture. 33 (Emphasis mine)

This is basically the issue of taking personal responsibility to appropriate God’s resources. The hundreds of commands in the New Testament make this clear. Certainly, we are to do these things in dependence on God’s resources, but we are nevertheless responsible to do them. God is not going to do them for us.

Dependence on the power of God and effort on the part of the believer are not mutually exclusive. Self-discipline and Spirit-dependence can and must be practiced at the same time in a balanced spiritual life. Dependence itself is an attitude, but that attitude does not come automatically; it usually requires cultivation. How many genuine Christians there are who live day after day without even sensing their need of dependence on Him. Experience, routine, pride, self-confidence all tend to drag all of us away from that conscious dependence on God which we must have in order to live and act righteously.34

In all obedience there must be the balance of disciplined dependence. A number of New Testament passages teach this truth and if we fail to see this balance, we will become imbalanced, and end up in a very unbiblical position. For instance, note the element of personal responsibility in the following passages:

Romans 8:13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

2 Peter 1:5-8 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; 6 to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; 7 to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. 8 For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately.

1 Timothy 4:7-10 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness. 8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers.

To be sure, each of the above commands are to be done in the Spirit by faith in God’s strength, but still we have a vital part—we are responsible. God does not walk in the Spirit for us. We see the blending of these two concepts, responsibility and dependence, in the following two passages:

Colossians 1:29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

Understanding the balance between dependence on God’s resources and expending human energy while depending on God’s enablement protects a believer from two serious errors. It protects him from:

… (1) the error that there is some sort of a switch which he can touch in order to turn off the current of temptation and keep it from coursing through his being; (2) the Christian life is a passive one in which all the believer does is ‘yield.’ If yielding means I decide to be what I truly am in Christ through the Spirit’s power no matter how great the struggle then it is clear that there will be much battle even as Paul stated when he wrote that ‘the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, …’ (Gal. 5:17). The spiritual life is neither automatic or passive.35

We might add, the spiritual life is not only not automatic, or passive, but it is also not painless. Bill Lawrence has a good summary of the issues under a section called, “We are responsible to obey by faith.”

In a sense, the believer’s responsibility in the spiritual life can be summarized in one word: Obedience.

The bottom line of the believer’s responsibility in the spiritual life is obedience. Believers are to do what God has told them to do and they can do what God has told them to do because the Holy Spirit makes this possible, though not without the exercise of discipline.

Discipline is not a matter of obeying God in our own strength even as we obeyed our parents or our employers in our pre-Christ days. Discipline is a matter of faith, because, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Discipline must be an act of trust in God’s resources through which the believer draws upon the infinite power of God and meets His righteous standard.

Obedience by faith means that we act by dependence on the Holy Spirit and count on His enabling power as we trust Him. It means that we do act, that we exercise every ounce of energy the Lord Jesus Christ “… mightily works within …” us (Col. 1:29). We act in His power; we obey through the Spirit’s resources. We act, but Christ does it through us in the sense that it is His power that enables us to do what He commands. In terms of power, He does it through us; in terms of activity, we do it through Him. We do what we could never do in our own capacity: we obey God and live up to His righteous standard.

Your obligation is not to do it in any strength of your own, or to try to do it, but to do it in the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit … You will do it in the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit and this is where the believer’s responsibility brings him. That is the thing that constitutes the ability to live the spiritual life and that is none other than the ability to walk by means of the Spirit in your daily life. That is the salvation from the reigning power of sin … Therefore you fall back upon the infinite power--think of it--the infinite power of the indwelling Spirit.36 (ital. orig.).

We draw on the Spirit’s power through a simple prayer of dependence in which we acknowledge our inability to accomplish anything for God apart from Him. We tell the Spirit, “I cannot do this in my own power. I give myself to You for You to enable me to do what You want me to do and I thank You by faith that You will keep Your promise to me to enable me to obey and serve You.” Then we act on that prayer and move to do the thing for which we are trusting God. In that moment we discover the infinite power which enables us to do what we could never do on our own.37

Any of these dangers will not only kill our joy in Christ, but more importantly, they leave us powerless to truly experience God’s deliverance and the Christ-exchanged life, i.e., Christ producing His character in us or the fruit of the Spirit. Because these two dangers are faithless in our new life in Christ, our position in Him, and in the power of the indwelling Spirit, they leave us powerless to deal with our spiritual enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days— 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! 18 Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. 19 He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.

Among the truths that transform there are those that relate to spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and worship. While these are crucial for building faith and cultivating our walk with the Lord, we should never do them to merit God’s favor because we already have His favor as believers in Christ—we are complete in Him.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Rather, these spiritual disciplines are to be done as acts of simple faith, out of a spirit of faith-dependence on the Lord. We do them to develop and maintain a deeper faith relationship and walk with God—never to achieve status with God.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
6 Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.

Romans 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

2 Corinthians 5:8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Just as we eat wholesome meals for physical strength, so we are to study the Bible and pray that we might grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and experience God’s strength.

1 Peter 2:2-3 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness.

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.

But what is faith? How do we develop faith? What about the object of faith?

The Basics of Biblical Faith

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.

Faith means learning to trust God for what we cannot see with our visible eyes. It means learning to think and act on the principles and promises of the Word regardless of how things seem to us. We are told to walk by faith and not by sight. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God.

2 Corinthians 5:7 for we live by faith, not by sight.

Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

There are two key concepts we learn from these verses:

We Cannot Please God Without Faith

Faith is the modus operandi for the Christian life. It is God’s desire and plan that we learn to live by faith because faith acknowledges our weakness and rests in God and in His provision. It glorifies God. But faith in what?

Faith Consists in Two Concepts

(1) We must believe that He is. We must believe in the existence of God. But according to the Bible, a true belief in God’s existence includes faith in His transcendence and essence. Transcendence is the concept that God exists outside and beyond the universe. Essence speaks of who God is as the independent and sovereign God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, infinite, and unchangeable, holy, love, veracity, etc.

(2) We must believe that He is also a rewarder of those who seek Him. This means belief in the personal love of God, belief in the provision and care of God. Included in this is the concept of God’s immanence, that though transcendent, He is nevertheless involved in the affairs of the universe, and that the creation cannot exist or function properly without Him and His intimate involvement.

Mankind is totally dependent on God for his existence, for his happiness, and for his security and significance. And God cares about us intimately.

For many Christians, the Christian life is devoid of God’s power. It is simply a matter of doing the best they can to conform to certain expected standards. Some are more successful at conforming externally to the pattern of their peers than others, but even for these, there is generally the awareness that something is missing. Some find comfort in the fact that no one is perfect; everyone has their weaknesses. Because they are doing their best, they hope God understands.

Unquestionably, no one is perfect. Maybe we are doing our best and certainly God does understand, but this does not alter the fact that unless we are walking by faith in God and His plan and provision, we are missing the abundant life Christ offers. Our best is not what God wants. He wants faith in His best—the Lord Jesus—His very own Son and the fullness of blessing He has made available for us in Him.

Think about these facts:

(1) No one can live the Christian way of life any more than they can perfectly keep the Old Testament Law or the Sermon of the Mount (cf. also Rom. 7:1-25).

Romans 3:9-20 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one,
11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves,
they deceive with their tongues,
the poison of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.” 11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith. 12 But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.

(2) If we could live the Christian way of life without God’s enablement, why do you suppose God would send the Holy Spirit to indwell us?

John 7:37-39 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

(3) If we could live the Christian way of life and serve the Lord without God’s power through faith, why would the Lord Jesus give the Holy Spirit the title of the “Helper” or the “Enabler” (John 14:16, 26)? Why would He point to the disciples’ inadequacy apart from the Spirit (John 16:7-15) and tell them not to attempt any ministry until the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-8)?

John 14:16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

John 16:7-15 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

Acts 1:4-8 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

Because of all we face in the enemies of God who are arrayed against Christians, the world around us, the flesh within us, and the devil against us, the Christian life and ministry is an absolute impossibility apart from God’s supernatural ability which must be appropriated moment by moment through faith. The nature of these forces and our weakness necessitates the need for nothing short of the divine power of God. To think that we can live the Christian life is the height of ignorance or pride. So then, what is faith?

The Details of Biblical Faith

The New Testament Word for Faith

The New Testament word for “faith” is pistis. It means conviction of the truth or reality of anything; belief in something or someone. In the New Testament it is used of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and spiritual things, generally with the included idea of trust or reliance. The verb form is pisteuo which means “to believe, rely on, trust in.” It often occurs with prepositions to stress the concept of “personal trust and reliance as distinct from mere credence or belief.”38

A Definition of Biblical Faith

Biblical faith is confidence and trust in the ability, power, skill, and promises of another—specifically the God of the Bible as He is revealed in Scripture. In terms of New Testament theology, faith or belief is reliance (belief and confidence) on the work and grace of God’s plan. This includes all phases of salvation and sanctification, the past (deliverance from the penalty of sin), the present (deliverance from the power of sin), and the future (deliverance from the presence of sin).

Biblical Faith Is Non-Meritorious

Biblical faith is not a work, it is the one thing we can do without doing anything. Faith consists not in doing something, but in receiving something. Salvation is a gift which one receives by faith. Does a gift cease to be a gift simply because we receive it? No!

John 6:26-29 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” 28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.”

These Jews thought in terms of works for salvation, but the Savior taught that salvation was a gift, the product of the work of God in Christ, which was to be received by believing in the Son of Man, the Messiah, upon whom God had placed His seal.

Faith is an admission of our spiritual inability and helplessness to merit or work for salvation or even to handle our own life apart from God’s grace provision as revealed in the New Testament. When we drive over a bridge to cross a gorge, for which there is no other way to cross, we are saying we are trusting the bridge to get us to the other side. But we are also saying, we can’t get to the other side on our own without this bridge.

Romans 4:1-5 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about—but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Faith is a rejection or repudiation of any confidence in the flesh (cf. Jer. 17:5-9; Rom. 3:9-24). Therefore, recognizing our helplessness and the sufficiency of Christ, biblical faith rests in God’s complete and finished work and provision in Jesus Christ or Christ’s merit. Faith brings merit not to self, but to the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ and all that comes to us in Him.

Philippians 3:1-9 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

Romans 4:25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

Romans 11:6 And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Hebrews 4:10 For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works.

Faith Is Not Always Demonstrated by What We Are Doing for God

This is a popular notion, but not quite true. Works may actually demonstrate faith in oneself or in other false objects of faith as with the Pharisees who were meticulous about works. Certainly, an active and growing faith will produce works in the life of a believer, but in reality, biblical faith demonstrates what God, in His power and grace, is doing for, in, and through the one who is believing God.

Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.

Philippians 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

This is why we should never praise a person for his faith. We may be thankful for having faith and thank God for the faith of others (cf. 2 Thess. 1:3). We may also be rebuked or rebuke others for a lack of faith (cf. Matt. 6:30), but in the final analysis who is glorified by our faith? The object of faith of course! Why? Because faith is simply a disposition which allows something or someone to do for us because of what it is or who they are.

Whenever we sit down in a chair, we exercise faith in the chair. We show we believe the chair will hold us up. Our faith simply brings the chair and our posterity together so we can rest, but we aren’t sitting on our faith. Our faith doesn’t hold us up, the chair does. Who is to be congratulated, us or the chair? The chair, of course, or the one who made it. Our faith glorifies the creator of the chair. Likewise, biblical faith simply allows God to be God in the person; it brings God into action; it glorifies God. Faith is non-meritorious.

We can compare faith to a clutch and its workings in a standard shift automobile. The clutch relates the power under the hood to the wheels on the road. This is how we move an automobile down the road. We get down the road not just by the engine or by the wheels but by that which relates the two together. That’s the part faith is designed to play in the life of the Christian.

Faith Must Have a Valid Object

This is the reason biblical information is so important. It brings our faith to bear on the right objects of faith no matter what area of life is involved. Faith in the wrong object is worse than no faith at all.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. 15 Also, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. 18 Furthermore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Illustration: If we are driving a piece of equipment that weighs 20 tons and try to cross a bridge with a 10-ton load limit because we believe the bridge will support us, the results will be disastrous. Our false confidence will destroy us.

Three things a valid object of faith must be or have:

(1) It must be ABLE and FREE to save.

Hebrews 5:7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion.

Hebrews 7:25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

James 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

James 4:12 But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge—the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor?

(2) It must be AVAILABLE to save.

Acts 17:26-27 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Romans 8:34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

Romans 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Hebrews 7:25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Hebrews 9:24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands—the representation of the true sanctuary—but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us.

Hebrews 13:5-6 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

(3) It must be WILLING to save.

John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Hebrews 10:9-10 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Philippians 2:6-8 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!

1 Peter 5:7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Faith Does Not Operate in a Vacuum

For faith to function accurately and properly it must have information—it must have accurate biblical content to believe and appropriate. In Scripture there is “faith,” trust or confidence in the Lord, but there is also “ the faith,” the objective body of revealed truth which is to be believed or appropriated by faith. “The faith” is the content of our faith, the things we are to believe which form the index for faith.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Acts 6:7 The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

1 Timothy 3:9 holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

If faith is to be effective, it must have a valid object which includes the right content. This is a tremendously important principle. The Lord Jesus reduced all of Scripture to two great commands: loving God and loving one’s neighbor as himself.

Mark 12:28-34 Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The expert in the law said to him, “That is true, Teacher; you are right to say that he is one, and there is no one else besides him. 33 And to love him with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then no one dared any longer to question him.

Those who promote situational ethics often claim that the only thing which should control or dictate what one does is love. They claim the only rule for action is to do the most loving thing. But what is that? With man’s self-centered bent and his natural spiritual blindness, we need the content of God’s Word to show us what the most loving act really consists of or we will be cast on the tossing waves and shifting sand of human ideas.

Others would say, “We have freedom in Christ; we are not under the law. We are simply to follow the leading of the Spirit.” The Spirit, however, does not lead us contrary to the principles of the Word. The Bible is the Word of Truth and the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit never contradicts the Word which He Himself inspired. This is one of the reasons there is such an emphasis in the Bible on knowing what the Word teaches in an accurate way.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

Faith Must Be Personal

We cannot operate on the faith of someone else. Each person must personally receive Jesus Christ by faith.

John 1:12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children

John 12:48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day.

People must personally know and believe the principles and promises of the Word if they are to experience God’s work in their lives so that there is true spiritual change. Each person must mix faith with the promises of God to enter into God’s rest, or His provision for any aspect of salvation.

Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.

Romans 14:5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind.

Romans 14:10-14 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” 12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean.

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it.

Biblical Faith Is Not Blind Faith

(1) God has provided abundant evidence in creation for the fact of His being.

Psalm 19:1-6 The heavens declare God’s glory;
the sky displays his handiwork.
2 Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.
3 There is no actual speech or word,
nor is its voice literally heard.
4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
its words carry to the distant horizon.
In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber;
like a strong man it enjoys running its course.
6 It emerges from the distant horizon,
and goes from one end of the sky to the other;
nothing can escape its heat.

Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.

(2) We have abundant evidence from archaeology, history, fulfilled prophecy and many other things for the reliability and inspiration and acceptance of Scripture.

Psalm 19:9-11 The commands to fear the Lord are right
and permanent.
The regulations given by the Lord are trustworthy
and completely just.
10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.
11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there;
those who obey them receive a rich reward.

2 Timothy 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Peter 1:19-21 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

(3) We have an abundance of evidence for the truth of the resurrection. All this evidence is so tremendous that to deny it one must actually deny his own rational processes because of a prejudice against the miraculous. Faith, however, is not based on rationalism or human reason, nor on experience or empiricism. It is also not irrational nor blind nor contradictory to known and verifiable truth.

Acts 17:31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.

John 7:17 If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority.

Faith Must Be Progressive

There is immature (weak) faith and mature (strong) faith. Like a plant, faith must be fed and strengthened.

Romans 4:20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.

Romans 14:1-2 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables.

Ephesians 4:13-16 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

1 Thessalonians 3:2 We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith,

1 Peter 2:2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.

Faith can and must grow or it will become inactive, non-functional, and dormant. The classic illustration of this is James 2:14-20.

James 2:14-20 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. 20 But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless?

As seen above, biblical faith does not operate out of a mindless vacuum. It is related to what we know and are thinking. The content of our minds, the stuff we think with, is that which gives validity, vitality, and growth to our faith. Bible doctrine gives faith the right object or direction, expression, power, and vigor. How, then, does our faith grow?

(1) Faith grows by hearing and learning the Word.

Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.

(2) Faith grows by the ministry of the teaching, verifying work of the Spirit of God.

John 16:11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

Ephesians 3:16-20 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think,

1 John 2:27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him.

1 John 3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.

(3) Faith grows by the variegated trials of life which cause people to look to the Lord and His provisions for life.

James 1:2-4 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

(4) Faith grows through the encouraging, teaching, and supporting ministries of other believers.

Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

1 Thessalonians 3:2 We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith,

1 Thessalonians 3:10 We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith.

1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.

The Lies We Believe

The lies are beliefs, notions, attitudes, and expectations that do not fit with the truth of the Word of God.

General Nature

These lies include everything from the strategies by which we attempt to handle life on a daily basis to what we believe is needed to be saved or to be spiritual. The Bible refers to these false belief structures through a number of metaphors, some of which are listed below. Regardless, they are the product of ignorance or rebellion and are the execution of our plans and not those of the Lord.

Isaiah 30:1-2 “The rebellious children are as good as dead,” says the Lord,
“those who make plans without consulting me,
who form alliances without consulting my Spirit,
and thereby compound their sin.
2 They travel down to Egypt
without seeking my will,
seeking Pharaoh’s protection,
and looking for safety in Egypt’s protective shade.

Some illustrations of these pictures of self-dependent strategies are:

(1) Trusting in one’s own strength.

Jeremiah 17:5 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.

(2) Broken cisterns that hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:13 “Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
they have left me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns which cannot even hold water.”

(3) Self-made firebrands by which people seek to lighten their path.

Isaiah 50:11 Look, all of you who start a fire
and who equip yourselves with flaming arrows,
walk in the light of the fire you started
and among the flaming arrows you ignited!
This is what you will receive from me:
you will lie down in a place of pain.

(4) Influences from the East—human substitutes for faith in God and His plan of salvation and spiritual deliverance.

Isaiah 2:6 Indeed, O Lord, you have abandoned your people,
the descendants of Jacob.
For diviners from the east are everywhere;
they consult omen readers like the Philistines do.
Plenty of foreigners are around.

Religious Illustrations

These lies include any method that depends on human works for salvation; things people do in the belief this will save them such as attempting to keep the Law or a set of religious rules, keeping the sacraments, asceticism or some form of self-denial.

Romans 10:1-3 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days— 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! 18 Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. 19 He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.

Another variation of this is believing in Christ but, rather than faith alone in Christ alone, adding some religious work such as circumcision, baptism, walking an aisle, promising to give up our sins, etc., as a means of salvation (cf. also Rom. 4:1-16).

Galatians 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?

Galatians 5:1-5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

Other Illustrations

These lies include any method by which people seek to handle life, to find peace, significance, joy, satisfaction, or security apart from faith in God’s plan for us in the person and work of Christ. Such constitutes a false belief system. When we pursue power, position, praise, wealth, pleasure, comfort, acceptance, etc., as our means of joy, peace, security, and significance, we are looking to these false sources of trust in the belief they will give us what we perceive will meet our needs. Whatever they give will be temporary and dependent on good circumstances and desires that are self-centered. This means we will be manipulating, hurting, or walking on others in the process.

Some excellent books that cover this last category in detail are Defeating the Dragons of the World, Resisting the Seduction of False Values, Stephen D. Eyre, InterVarsity Press. The Lies We Believe, Chris Thurman, Thomas Nelson Publishers. Myths the World Taught Me, R. Scott Richards, Thomas Nelson Publishers. Why Settle for More and Miss the Best, Tom Sine, Word Publishing.

Explanation of the Faith-Rest Life (Heb. 4:1-16)

Hebrews 4:1-16 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,” 5 but to repeat the text cited earlier: “They will never enter my rest!” 6 Therefore it remains for some to enter it, yet those to whom it was previously proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience. 7 So God again ordains a certain day, “Today,” speaking through David after so long a time, as in the words quoted before, “O, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken afterward about another day. 9 Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. 10 For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works. 11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. 14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

The Meaning of “Faith-Rest”

The noun used for “rest” in Hebrews 3 and 4 is the Greek katapausis, “a putting or causing to rest.” It means “resting” (active) or “rest” (passive). It is common in the Septuagint for God’s rest (Isa. 66:1), the people’s rest (1 Kings. 8:56), or the Sabbath rest (Ex. 35:2).

In Acts 7:49 (based on Isa. 66:1) it denotes God’s rest, i.e., the place where he fixes his presence. The verb form is katapauo and means “to cause to cease or rest” with the following shades of meaning, “to end” (actions or conditions), “to restrain” (used of persons), “to give rest” (i.e., cause suffering to cease), usually with God as the subject in the Septuagint, and “to rest or cease from works” (cf. Ex. 20:11). As we will see, it looks at a rest which God gives because of the work God has accomplished.

Usage of the Word “Rest”

Eight times katapausis is used in Hebrews 3 and 4 and in each case it is used of God’s rest or the rest that God supplies (3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5, 10, 11). Once the noun sabatismos, “a Sabbath rest,” is used in 4:9. This word is found only in this passage and seems to have been coined by the author to express the rest of God anticipated in God’s creation rest and in that of the Old Testament ordinance. The verb form, katapauo, is used three times: of God who rested after He finished creation (4:4), of Joshua’s failure to give rest in the ultimate sense (4:8), and of those who enter God’s rest as He rested from His works in creation (4:10). God rested when He had finished the work of creation and a rest for the people of God has been available ever since.

Contextual Meaning

Hebrews 3 begins with a comparison between Christ and Moses (3:1-6). This naturally leads to a comparison between their followers. The writer uses the conduct of the Israelites as a means of challenging his readers to a walk of confident faithfulness with God through a faith that rests in the sufficiency of Christ who is the fulfillment of all that is seen in the Old Testament. There was a promise in the Old Testament that God’s people would enter into God’s rest, one anticipated by God’s rest after creation. The writer sees this promise as ultimately fulfilled only in Christ. In drawing attention to this, he shows from another angle that Christ is God’s final word to mankind (cf. 1:2); He is the means of God’s rest both now and in the future.

Doctrinal Meaning

The term “rest” is a descriptive synonym of God’s various provisions for man, ultimately including His provision of salvation. It describes God’s provision from the standpoint of means, resting by faith in God’s work, and the results, ceasing from works, enjoying and resting in what God has provided. Let me elaborate.

(1) The term “rest” is used because it portrays the results of God’s work as historically illustrated in creation (vv. 3b-4). It refers to what has been accomplished by God for man. Eden was a place of rest and dominion for man where he could enjoy the perfect provision of God. In Eden, man could enter into the fruit of God’s labors. This was lost, however, by the fall. There is the need, then, of another rest.

Hebrews 2:5-10 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere:
“What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?
7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while.
You crowned him with glory and honor.
8 You put all things under his control.”
For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone. 10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

(2) The term “rest” is used because God’s provision is entered by faith apart from human works. The rest (a picture of deliverance) is based on the work God Himself has accomplished as in creation, and symbolized in the Sabbath rests of the Old Testament.

(3) The term “rest” is used because, as God rested because of His creative labors, so He gives man rest in the sense of repose, deliverance, or salvation. Rest, as a picture of God’s salvation, has three aspects:

  • Salvation from sin’s penalty (analogous to Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt which was to be remembered by keeping the Sabbath rest).

Deuteronomy 5:15 Recall that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there by strength and power; therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

  • Salvation from sin’s power (analogous of Israel’s entrance into the land).

Deuteronomy 12:10 When you do go across the Jordan River and settle in the land that he is granting you as an inheritance and you find relief from all the enemies who surround you, you will live in safety.

Joshua 21:44 The Lord made them secure, in fulfillment of all he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could resist them.

  • Salvation from sin’s presence. The future hope and inheritance of believers when they will have rest from their labors on earth, from their enemies, and when they may also have the privilege of reigning with Christ (cf. Heb 2:5-10).

Hebrews 1:13-14 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?

This is the primary focus of Hebrews 3 and 4. Reigning is dependent on faithfulness as members of the household of Christ. To be faithful, however, we must hold fast our confidence in Christ, i.e., resting by faith in the sufficiency of the Savior rather than turning back into some form of legalism

The faith-rest life is a life which encompasses three aspects:

First, it is a life in which the believer rests through faith in the finished work of God in Christ as God’s final word to man.

Second, stemming from this basic confidence in Christ, it is then a life which the believer enters through faith into God’s daily rest, His provision for strength and faithfulness, prayerfully and dependently laboring in the strength which our great High Priest supplies (4:16).

Third, it is a life in which the believer, through faith, anticipates God’s final rest, the rest of His inheritance in the kingdom of God.

In essence then the faith-rest life includes the three phases of God’s salvation—past, present, and future. Works or fruit in the Christian life are to be a result of the faith-rest life.

The “Rests” of Scripture

1 Corinthians 10:6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did…6:11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Based on the use of the word “rest,” “Sabbath,” the analogy of Scripture, and the concept of Old Testament types or examples, the following is a suggested amplification for the various rests of the Bible.

Creation Rest

God rested on the seventh day, after the completion of creation (Gen. 2:1-3). He rested not because He was tired, but because He had finished His work of creation. This points out one of the basic elements of God’s rests, the cessation of labor because the work is done, finished by God. Adam and Eve were able to enjoy this rest of God in a perfect environment. Adam and Eve had a vocation: they were to care for the garden, and were to populate and have dominion over the earth. They were to walk with God in perfect fellowship, and there was no toil nor sweat of the brow as in a cursed earth.

Genesis 2:1-3 The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. 2 By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. 3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.

Sabbath-Keeping Rest

The Sabbath rest was inaugurated for Israel as a special sign for the nation. It stood for:

(1) God’s emancipation of Israel from bondage in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 5:15 Recall that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there by strength and power; therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

(2) An ordinance to give rest from labor.

Exodus 23:12 For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help may refresh themselves.

(3) A sign to the nation that it was the Lord who sanctified them as a people for His own and who supplied their needs.

Exodus 16:23 And he said to them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a time of cessation, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Whatever you want to bake, bake today; and whatever you want to boil, boil today; and whatever is left put aside for yourselves to be kept until morning.’”

Exodus 31:13-17 “Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 14 So you must keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. Everyone who defiles it must surely be put to death; indeed, anyone who does any work on it, then that life will be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the seventh day must surely be put to death. 16 And the Israelites must keep the Sabbath to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”

Ezekiel 20:9-12 I acted for the sake of my reputation, so that I would not be profaned before the nations among whom they lived, before whom I revealed myself by bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10 So I brought them out of the land of Egypt and led them to the wilderness. 11 I gave them my statutes and revealed my laws to them. The one who obeys them will live by them! 12 I also gave them my Sabbaths as a reminder of our relationship, so that they would know that I, the Lord, make them holy.

This was a sign for Israel that as God had provided creation for man, so He had redeemed them, would provide for them, and would one day provide a new spiritual creation that would also lead to a restoration of all that was lost.

Canaan Rest

Entrance into the land of promise with the promise to defeat Israel’s enemies was also viewed as a rest provided by God.

Deuteronomy 12:10 When you do go across the Jordan River and settle in the land that he is granting you as an inheritance and you find relief from all the enemies who surround you, you will live in safety.

Joshua 21:44 The Lord made them secure, in fulfillment of all he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could resist them.

Psalm 95:11 So I made a vow in my anger,
‘They will never enter into the resting place I had set aside for them.’”

Hebrews 3:11-19 “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” 12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end. 15 As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For which ones heard and rebelled? Was it not all who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership? 17 And against whom was God provoked for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose dead bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear they would never enter into his rest, except those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief.

Numbers 14:23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it.

By way of an analogy for the Christian, this is a daily rest, a faith rest for the problems of life, a rest amidst pressure and the enemies of God with the promise of a God-provided victory. Even though Joshua took Israel into the land of promise and they experienced a great deal of victory over their enemies, another rest was still anticipated in the Old Testament. This is clear in that the author of Hebrews quotes David from Psalm 95 to show a rest still remains for the people of God in David’s time. If Joshua had given them the final rest, David would not have spoken of another rest (Heb. 4:4-10). Four times the author shows a rest remains today (4:1, 6, 9, 11 quoted above).

Salvation Rest

The salvation rest ultimately anticipates the millennial and eternal rest. The fall of man in sin resulted in the loss of creation’s rest or the loss of dominion. It was wrested from man by Satan who became the god of this world. The promise of Genesis 3:15 anticipated the regaining of this rest through the seed of the woman.

Genesis 3:15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
her offspring will attack your head,
and you will attack her offspring’s heel.

The Sabbath rests of the Old Testament, while they had special historical significance to Israel, anticipated the work that God would do through the One who would come. This is the focus of Hebrews 1:4-4:13. God’s Son, the final Word from God, will restore all that was lost by man as the victorious God-man King. This ultimate rest has three aspects:

(1) An Eternal Rest: Salvation from sin’s penalty, the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ.

John 1:12-13 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

This was accomplished by the finished work of God in Christ and is received as a free gift through faith in Christ. Thinking that salvation or God’s blessings could be worked for, Jesus was asked what they might do to work the works of God. Christ answered, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” (John 6:29). Salvation is the work of God in Christ and it can only be received as a gift through faith.

(2) A Daily Rest: Every day is a Canaan type of rest in that we can possess our blessings and have victory over our enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil. For this to occur, however, we must rest by faith in the sufficiency of God’s complete work and provision for us in Christ. We must know what we have in Christ (Rom. 6:1-7), believe and count on it to be true (Rom. 6:8-11), and present ourselves by faith to the Spirit of God to reproduce the character of Christ in us (Rom. 6:12-14).

Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

In that this rest constituted a call to discipleship, I believe this is the rest offered by the Savior in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.

(3) An Eschatological Rest: This is the millennial rest in which believers, as rewarded saints, will be able to reign with Christ. While heaven is guaranteed for all believers, rewards and reigning with Christ depend on faithfulness in the daily rest, walking by faith as partners with Christ who overcome through the strength of the Savior’s life (cf. also Gal. 5:1-26; Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 9:24-27).

Revelation 2:26-27 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations—
27 he will rule them with an iron rod
and like clay jars he will break them to pieces,

Revelation 3:21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The Danger of Failing to Live the Faith-Rest Life (4:1)

The rest that God offers is still available today (Heb. 4:1, 6, 9). Some might think that Joshua had been given the promised rest, but the author stresses the rest still remains both for the present and the future (cf. vss. 8-9). Therefore, just as Israel failed to enter God’s rest (their inheritance in Canaan) because of an unbelief that led to disobedience through the hardening of the heart, so today there must be a godly fear and diligence (vs. 11) lest we too come short of God’s rest (cf. 3:18-19).

This is the daily rest which gives God’s strength to His people to overcome and the privilege of reigning with Christ as rewarded saints in the Savior’s future kingdom on earth. But why is this such a danger?

The Means and Nature of the Faith-Rest Life (4:2-3, 10)

God’s rest is declared and explained in the promises of His Word—the good news of salvation in Christ—past, present, and future. This good news they (and we) have had preached to us. Those promises, however, must be believed or rested in through faith. We must mix faith with the promises of God.

The recipients of this book were believers who had trusted in Christ for salvation (3:1; 4:3; 10:19-25), but there are three phases of God’s salvation rest. They had entered into the first phase, the rest of God’s salvation from sin’s penalty. Heaven was assured, but not heavenly rewards. There was grave danger of failing to finish their work on earth and therefore of losing rewards because of failing to continue to cling to the Savior through faith.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

To be rewarded and reign with the Savior in the future rest, there must be faithfulness in phase two of God’s rest—the daily rest of faith in the fullness and sufficiency of Christ (4:16). The daily faith-rest leads to a life of obedience as active partners with the Savior who partake of His saving life through fellowship (3:1, 14). This is phase two, the faith-rest of deliverance from the power of sin, overcoming evil, and the power to do good through faith in the power of God.

Finally, there is phase three, the rest of ultimate salvation which includes special rewards or crowns for faithful service when our work on earth is finished just as God rested when His work of creation was finished (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15 quoted above).

1 Corinthians 15:57-58 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

These Hebrew Christians were being pressured to return to the Old Testament system of the Law and its legal demands or Judaistic works as a way of life. As in the books of Galatians and Colossians, they were being told they needed something more than Christ. The main issue here is not faith versus works for salvation (the author considered them saved), but a strong confidence in the sufficiency of Christ who is superior to everyone and everything in the Old Testament. Such confidence or rest in Christ should lead to productive works that result in rewards in Messiah’s kingdom because the believer will have finished his course (cf. Heb. 12:1-2; with 2 Tim. 4:7-8).

The History of the Faith-Rest Life (4:4-9)

In verses 4-9 the author explains why the rest still remains today and traces a brief history of the rest of God. Even after Joshua’s time, David spoke of the rest of God in Psalm 95. “Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.” (4:9).

The Characteristics of the Faith-Rest Life (4:10-16)

1. It is a life that rests in God’s finished work by faith (v.10)

Entering God’s rest in any phase of His rest means resting from one’s own work just as God did from His. This is an instruction in that it reminds us that all phases of God’s rest can only be entered through faith. This is also, and this is the primary focus here, a reassurance that one day, just as God rested when He completed His work of creation, so we too will enjoy our eternal rest or inheritance when we have completed our task, the race laid out before us (cf. Heb. 12:1-2).

2. It is a life that is diligent to enter God’s rest (v. 11)

Since the rest remains and since we can one day enter our ultimate inheritance of reigning with Christ, we need to be diligent that we might enter that final rest as overcomers when our labor on earth is over. Since, however, faithfulness in the daily rest is a matter of faith in the sufficiency of the Savior who gives help in our time of need (4:16), this is also a call to diligence to enter the daily rest of continued confidence and trust in Christ.

It is important to remember that the disobedience of Israel to which the author again refers in this verse had its source in unbelief, in a failure to mix faith with the promises of God (3:18-19; 4:2). The warning here is not against losing eternal life, but of being disqualified for rewards which will include reigning with Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

Revelation 2:26-27 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations—
27 he will rule them with an iron rod
and like clay jars he will break them to pieces,

Revelation 3:21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

3. It is a life that is open to God’s Word (v.12)

Early on in this warning, there was the call to listen and heed the voice of the Spirit of God (3:7, 15) which of course is heard in the Word of God. Failure to listen to God’s penetrating Word, which reveals the inner life with its motives and causes of unbelief, will result in a failure to walk by faith.

The Word of God is itself a protection against a life of unbelief when it is cherished and carefully listened to. Faith comes by carefully hearing and taking heed to the Word of Christ. The Psalmist declared: “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11).

Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

Not only is God’s Word a power the Spirit uses to keep us from sin, but it is a power He uses to enable us to detect sin because, like a judge and a sword, it is able to penetrate and reveal the condition of the inner life.

4. It is a life that knows we are accountable before God (v. 13)

We must never suppose that the true condition of our inner life is undetected before God. He knows all the details of our lives inwardly and overtly and we must know and live in view of the fact we will all be held accountable for the use of our lives at the judgment seat of Christ. If at this time our lives have been marked by disobedience because of a failure to walk by faith, we will suffer loss of rewards. This undoubtedly includes the loss of our inheritance rest in the sense of reigning with Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

5. It is a life that is confident in our access to God (vv. 14-15)

We can be confident in our access to God because we are resting in the finished work of Christ and His priestly ministry at God’s right hand (4:14-15). There is every reason to hold firmly to the Savior and walk by faith because He sits as our sympathetic and concerned High Priest at God’s right hand where He acts as our advocate and intercessor. He is one who, though without sin, has been tempted in every way and who can feel for all we are going through.

6. It is a life that goes confidently to the throne of grace (v. 16)

With such a High Priest, we can go boldly (confidently) to the throne of grace to find the mercy and help we need. Here is the assurance that we have access through this sympathetic High Priest to a sovereign God and His gracious and sovereign provision (brought out in the words “throne of grace”) for whatever life might bring. Our need is to daily and dependently rest in and look to our all-sufficient Savior.

One of God’s provisions for prevention against a life of sin is the high priestly ministry of the Savior as our intercessor and advocate in which He prays for us, and where we have the privilege of going to Him for aid. This is beautifully illustrated in a number of ways in the gospels (cf. Mark 6:45-52; Luke 22:31-32; John 17:1ff).

Hindrances to the Faith-Rest Life (Heb. 5:11-6:6)

1. Ignorance

Ignorance of God’s Word and its revelation of God, of man and his true condition in sin, of what He has done for us in the person and work of Christ, of what believers have in Christ, etc., is, of course, fundamentally the greatest hindrance to the faith-rest life.

Both the written Word (the Bible) and the Living Word (Jesus Christ) are God’s revelation to mankind to move people from unbelief and their attempt to live life apart from the true God to faith in God and His plan of salvation as it is found solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Jesus, speaking to those who had believed in Him, said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Then, when praying to the Father regarding His disciples and all who would believe in Him, He said, “Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The book of Hebrews was written to remove the ignorance of its recipients concerning the superior ministry of the Lord Jesus. It declares Him to be the final revelation of God and the ultimate vehicle of God’s revelation to man. He is far superior to the prophets, to angels, and to Moses in that He is no less than God’s Son and God of very God Himself (Heb. 1:1-14).

The recipients of this letter, and this includes all believers of all ages, needed to rest in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus as their Savior and get on with the walk of faith and the ministry to which God had called them. Their lack of understanding in the superiority and sufficiency of Christ’s person and work, however, was hindering their walk of faith. People can only walk by faith when they understand and believe they are perfected once-for-all by simple faith in Christ as the all-sufficient Savior.

Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

Hebrews 10:10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14-19 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. 15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” 17 then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

One of the problems they faced was a doctrinal ignorance that was foundational to a walk of faith. They needed to grow and press on toward maturity and so must we (cf. Heb. 5:12-6:1). Unless we are resting in the sufficiency of Christ, we will turn to some form of dead works or human achievement for spirituality or to meet felt needs.

2. Indifference

Hebrews 5:11-12 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food.

Coupled with the problem of ignorance was the age-old problem of a spirit of indifference or apathy toward spiritual things (verse 11). Continuing his desire to remove their inadequate understanding, the author of Hebrews was encouraging his readers to a greater confidence of faith in the ministry of the Savior as a priest because of the greatness of His priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. He sensed it was hard to explain, however, because of his readers’ apathy or slowness to learn. As verse 12 indicates, plenty of time had lapsed for them to have moved on to maturity, but their apathy had held them back from growing and grasping the fullness of what they had in Christ.

What causes apathy or a sluggishness toward attentively listening and learning the truth of God’s Word? Spiritual apathy is basically caused by a spirit of self-sufficiency. Here again is the problem of the flesh with man neglecting the grace of God and trying to operate from his own resources apart from faith in God.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.

Galatians 3:1-5 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? —if indeed it was for nothing. 5 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

This self-sufficient mentality, which results in indifference to God’s truth, manifests itself in many ways: in materialism, in religionism, in legalism, in emotionalism, in the occult, or in any of the substitutes by which man seeks to achieve happiness, security, or acceptance with God apart from faith in God’s plan as it is revealed in the Bible. Dependence on human works or achievement whether religious, ritualistic, or altruism is one of the most prominent ways.

Analogies to Warn
Us Against Independent Living

We have mentioned these previously, but because this is such a constant problem, let’s review them.

(1) We tend to turn to the influences or substitutes of the world for our needs, rather than to the Lord.

Isaiah 2:6-15 Indeed, O Lord, you have abandoned your people,
the descendants of Jacob.
For diviners from the east are everywhere;
they consult omen readers like the Philistines do.
Plenty of foreigners are around.
7 Their land is full of gold and silver;
there is no end to their wealth.
Their land is full of horses;
there is no end to their chariots.
8 Their land is full of worthless idols;
they worship the product of their own hands,
what their own fingers have fashioned.
9 Men bow down to them in homage,
they lie flat on the ground in worship.
Don’t spare them!
10 Go up into the rocky cliffs,
hide in the ground.
Get away from the dreadful judgment of the Lord,
from his royal splendor.
11 Proud men will be brought low,
arrogant men will be humiliated;
the Lord alone will be exalted
in that day.
12 Indeed, the Lord who leads armies has planned a day of judgment,
for all the high and mighty,
for all who are proud—they will be humiliated;
13 for all the cedars of Lebanon,
that are so high and mighty,
for all the oaks of Bashan;
14 for all the tall mountains,
for all the high hills,
15 for every high tower,
for every fortified wall,

(2) We tend to walk by our own firebrands by which we seek to find our own way.

Isaiah 50:10-11 Who among you fears the Lord?
Who obeys his servant?
Whoever walks in deep darkness,
without light,
should trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
11 Look, all of you who start a fire
and who equip yourselves with flaming arrows,
walk in the light of the fire you started
and among the flaming arrows you ignited!
This is what you will receive from me:
you will lie down in a place of pain.

(3) Like sheep, we tend to wander, go astray by turning to our own way.

Isaiah 53:6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.

(4) We tend to build our own cisterns to quench our thirst, but these are always broken cisterns that actually hold no water and they constitute forsaking the Lord, i.e., independent living.

Jeremiah 2:13 “Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
they have left me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns which cannot even hold water.”

(5) We tend to lean on the arm of the flesh, here defined as trusting in man rather than on the mighty power and provision of God (Jer. 17:5).

Self-Protective Strategies of Human Independence

These include unconscious human strategies people use for avoiding pain and gratifying personal desires such as:

  • Retaliation, revenge tactics
  • Withdrawal, hiding, running away, avoidance
  • Activity—overwork, busyness
  • Overly talkative, dominating conversations
  • Denial, projection
  • Narcotization—drugs, alcohol
  • Striving for recognition, power, money, position, etc. for security or significance
  • Blaming others or conditions
  • Compensation—covering up undesirable traits by focusing on desirable ones

Conclusion

So what’s the need? Psalm 51:16-17 gives us the answer.

Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;
you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.
17 The “sacrifices” God desires are a humble attitude—
O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject.

The need is brokenness. Brokenness occurs when we come to the end of ourselves so that we experience, recognize, and confess the futility of our own strategies by which we have attempted to live life apart from faith in God’s full provision for us in Christ.

What does God do regarding our self-sufficiency? He works in the lives of believers as a Father who disciplines (Heb. 12:5-15) and as the Vinedresser who prunes the branches to make them more productive (John 15:1-7). He does this to bring us to the point where we will stop struggling to handle life apart from the faith-rest life, i.e., apart from faith in the person, promises, principles, purposes, and plan of God for every area of life. In this regard note the comments of the Psalmist in Psalm 119 regarding affliction.

  • Verse 67: I used to suffer because I would stray off, but now I keep your instructions.
  • Verse 71: It is good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes!
  • Verse 75: I know, LORD, that your regulations are just. You disciplined me because of your faithful devotion to me.

The Psalmist clearly saw the affliction of his life as the tool of a loving and faithful God to remove his self-sufficiency, to draw him back to God, and please note, to rekindle his hunger for and trust in God’s Word which the Spirit of God uses to reveal our sin and to keep us from sin.

Psalm 119:11 In my heart I store up your words,
so I might not sin against you.

James 1:2-4 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

1 Peter 1:6-9 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 4:12-13 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.

Carefully read Psalm 119, but as you do, note that, with the exception of verses 1-3 and 115, the entire Psalm is addressed to the Lord in praise, petition, and confession. In this Psalm, the Psalmist praises God for the power and greatness of His Word. He refers to God’s Word in every verse except verses 90, 122, 132, and to show the nature and its dynamics, he uses ten different terms for it. He also prays for deliverance and strength according to the principles and promises of God’s Word, but chiefly he is acknowledging his own insufficiency to handle his sin and life in general apart from God and His Word.

A Proper Response

Dear Heavenly Father, I confess my total insufficiency to handle life apart from you; You alone are sufficient. I confess that I have been trusting in my own strength and struggling to live my life through my own strategies for security, significance, and happiness. I admit I have been trying to get my needs met through (replace the following with what applies to you) controlling people and circumstances, through seeking praise or recognition from people, through my achievements, through possessions, through pleasure, etc. I ask you to revive and strengthen me according to the promises of your Word and the new life I have in Christ. Help me, by your grace, to walk in the power of your life through the Holy Spirit. Give me the grace to replace my self-dependence with a deep dependence on Christ.

32 Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, Moody Press, Chicago, 1969, p. 183.

33 Ibid.

34Ibid., p. 189.

35William D. Lawrence, Dallas Seminary notes, 1993, p. 13-15.

36 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “The Believer’s Responsibility,” transcription of a class lecture, Dallas Theological Seminary, pp. 1, 5.

37 Lawrence, pp. 13-6-7.

38 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 361.

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The Christ-Centered Life

The Doctrine of Positional Truth

Introduction

A foundation is the basis upon which a thing stands, is founded, or is supported, but a solid foundation is necessary to withstand the storms of life. Build your house on sand rather than on a rock and it will crumble under the tempests of life.

As the Lord taught in Matthew 7, the same is true for our spiritual life. The only adequate foundation for eternal life and a life that results in true spiritual transformation is the person and work of Christ and the spiritual wealth of our position in Christ—our co-identification or union with Christ in His person and work.

This study introduces us to the concept of positional truth. Positional truth has to do with who we are in Christ as believers. Since it has to do with who we are in Christ, it will also affect our self-concept. The focus, however, is on who we are in the Savior through faith in Him and how that should impact our lives as believers.

We must understand that the first key to effectiveness in living a godly life is to know what God has done for us. This forms the foundation for our response. Only as we understand and rest in how God has acted in Christ are we able to act through Christ. In terms of all aspects of our salvation and all that it brings we must know and consider that God has done it all.

Begin to show [people] what they are in Christ and all that the Great Physician is and they will apply it to their own life. … That is why preaching positional truth always proceeds in point of importance to life truth. In the great epistles, the doctrinal epistles like Romans and Ephesians you have this order. Take Ephesians and its six chapters. The first three chapters tell you what Christ has done for you and then the next three chapters tell you what you can do for Him.39

Understanding what God has done for us and who we are in Christ is foundational to having the right motive in living the Christian life, and the right motive is a vital key in the process of transformation. Chafer called this “the right motive.” Lawrence quotes Chafer who said:

What is your motive for doing right? I suppose that above anything else in the world you want to honor God with the right kind of a life. I believe that, men. You do not need to convince me of that. But what is your motive? Why do you want to live right? Is it in order that God might accept you or is it because He has accepted you? … Ninety-nine out of one-hundred people who are members of our Protestant churches today … think their job is to win the favor of God and they do not know that they have the favor of God from the moment they believe on Christ. … He has given you everything that He ever required and that is yours right now when you believe. Never are you called to fall back on the merit system. … Are you living the best you could because you were set right, or did you live the best you could hoping to be set right?40

Commenting on this statement by Chafer, Lawrence writes: “This is the foundational factor in obeying God’s commands: obedience is a response to God’s provisions for holiness, not an attempt to earn God’s blessings and provisions (cf. Rom. 8:32).”41

We hear a great deal today about our self-worth, self-esteem, self-image, and learning to love yourself. Many psychologists focus on self-worth with the goal of simply helping people feel good about themselves. Understanding just who we are and self worth are important aspects of emotional and spiritual stability and are a driving force within all human beings. As human beings created in God’s image, we each have value, meaning, and purpose in the plan of God. Having a right concept of ourselves is biblical, but only if we keep the right focus and purpose.

For instance, in Romans 12:3 we are told to think properly about who we really are according to God’s grace. The means for knowing who we are, so that such knowledge transforms our motives and thinking, is a renewed mind in the Word (12:2).

Romans 12:1-3 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.

The goal and motive of a right self image, rather than self-centered objectives, is loving ministry to the body of Christ that is empty of hypocrisy.

Romans 12:4-9 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 6 And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness. 9 Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.

An accurate and biblical self concept has two important sides or contrasts. It contains both strength and humility. It contains both a deep concern over the fact of our sin and joy and relief over forgiveness, and both a strong sense of our inadequacy and need of God with an understanding of how God in grace has perfectly met that need in Christ.

As human beings who are spiritually weak, we not only need a proper self-concept we need God’s power and ability to change and overcome the sinful nature (the flesh) and those patterns of life that are so destructive to ourselves and to others. The Christian’s position in Christ and his co-identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection form the foundation for victory over the flesh and a new capacity for life.

To be sure, the Spirit of God, whose responsibility it is to glorify Christ and mediate His life to you and me, will never produce spiritual power or bring true spiritual change into any life that is not resting in the merit, significance, and sufficiency of Christ as the source and ground of all life and meaning. Such would be out of the question due to the purpose of the ministry of the Spirit as declared in Scripture.

If we want to experience the transformed life, we must understand who we are in Christ by God’s grace and how that affects our walk in life. Understanding the practical ramifications of our position and union in Christ (Romans 6) is foundational to the walk in and by the Spirit of God (Romans 8).

The Holy Spirit cannot cooperate or engender any reality of experience when the very basis of a grace relationship to God is ignored. How, indeed could the holy Spirit empower a life which is wholly misguided and wrong in its objectives, methods, and motives? His benefits, of necessity, have significance only for those who recognize and believe that they are perfected once-for-all by simple faith in Christ as Savior and that their new obligation is not to make themselves accepted but rather to walk worthy of the One in whom they are accepted.42

A Note of Warning

In Colossians 2:8 the Apostle Paul gives us a word of caution and one that is particularly fitting for our focus in this study:

Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Satan is a master of deception and, aided by his world system in which we live and by our own blindness, he seeks (as he did in the beginning) to hold us captive as slaves to a whole range of false beliefs and strategies by which we attempt to achieve that which only God can give. Ironically, we seek to achieve by our own self-effort that which we already have in Christ. The result is we often become focused on false goals which, like a hypnotic spell, hold us captive and keep us from experiencing God’s love, strength, and freedom, and the significance of life in Christ. These goals we so often pursue involve standards of achievement we (or others) have established as evidences of our success and thus of our self-worth.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with doing our best and in doing things well for God’s glory and for the blessing of others as well as for our own enjoyment. However, when this becomes the focus, we can become a slave to perfectionism or to defeatism. Note some of the problems which typically occur with the perfectionist or those who are under pressure to meet self-imposed standards to feel good about themselves:

  • They usually base their self-worth on how well they do things and on the response of others to how well they have performed.
  • They tend to be critical and look down on those who don’t do so well.
  • If criticized they are devastated and become defensive because they seek their value through their performance. Perfectionists tend to be vulnerable to big mood swings depending on their success.
  • In their pursuit of a perfect standard, they tend to become controlling as they fight to have things perfect so they will feel okay.
  • The self-imposed standards usually result in a rule-dominated life. They set rules and schedules for nearly every area of life and focus their attention on their ability to accomplish the rules and meet their schedule.

In contrast to this, the Christian’s focus needs to be on Christ and his new life in Him, not on self-imposed regulations, schedules, achievements, etc., regardless of their nature whether religious, social, or secular. Christ will bring order with spiritual control and ability into the life, but He will be the center, the focus, motive, and source of what we do and how we do it rather than neurotic motives to achieve.

Definition of Positional Truth

Positional truth is the doctrine of the believer’s heavenly, spiritual, and eternal position in Jesus Christ by which a person spiritually and positionally is united and identified with Christ in His person and work—past, present, and future. This truth is especially seen in the Pauline epistles where, over a hundred times, the apostle uses such phrases like “in Christ,” “in the beloved,” “in Him,” “with Christ,” etc. These phrases draw attention, indeed, they put the focus on the secure position and many blessings that all believers are given through their union with Jesus Christ. The basis of these blessings is the finished work of salvation accomplished through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.

Scriptures Showing the “In Christ” Concept

1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love.

Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

Colossians 2:6-12 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 In him you also were circumcised—not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. 12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 3:1-3 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, 3 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

2 Timothy 1:1 and 9 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, to further the promise of life in Christ Jesus,…9 He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

Compare also Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:4-10.

The Mechanics
(Who, When, Where, How)

When people receive the Lord Jesus Christ (the who and when) by personally believing in Him as their Savior (trusting in His person and work on the cross for their sinful condition) they are placed into vital union with the Savior (the where) through the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit (the how) so that they become co-identified spiritually and actually with Jesus Christ in His person and work (the results).

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body—though many—are one body, so too is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

Romans 6:3-5 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.

Colossians 2:12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

Key Concepts of Positional Truth

It’s the Foundation for Growth and Change

As stressed in the introduction to this lesson, understanding positional truth is foundational for growth in the Christian life. When properly grasped, it protects against man’s and Satan’s substitutes for spirituality, and it forms the foundation for spiritual victory over the sinful nature or the flesh. In other words, the truth of Romans 6, our position in Christ, is crucial for the truth of Romans 7 and 8, overcoming the power of indwelling sin by means of the Spirit who indwells within. One finds the same concept in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians.

Positional truth means we share in all that Jesus is in His person and we share in what He did and will do, His Work. Thus:

  • As He died unto sin, so we too have died unto sin.

Romans 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?

  • As He rose from the dead, so have we.

Romans 6:5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.

  • As He is seated at God’s right hand, so are we.

Ephesians 2:6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

  • As He is the Son, so we are now sons.

Galatians 3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.

  • As He is eternal life, so we have eternal life.

Romans 6:23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • As He is perfect righteousness, so we have His righteousness.

Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

Note the chart on Positional Truth.

The Nature of Our Position in Christ

Our position in Christ is not a conscious experience, an emotion, or a second blessing to be sought. It is a spiritual fact and takes place as a grace work of God when one believes in the Savior, and this is true for all believers regardless of feelings or understanding. Of course, understanding positional truth is important to experiencing the benefits of being in Christ. This is most obvious in Colossians 2:6-12 quoted above and in Romans 6:3-12.

Romans 6:3-12 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires,

The Believer’s Position Is Perfect and Complete

Unlike spiritual growth and maturity in the Christian walk, positional truth is not progressive. From the moment of salvation, having been placed into Christ by the Spirit, believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing and are complete. They lack nothing, but they do need to grow in their understanding of what they have in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Hebrews 5:11-14 When someone’s prosperity increases, those who consume it also increase;
so what does its owner gain, except that he gets to see it with his eyes?
12 The sleep of the laborer is pleasant—whether he eats little or much—
but the wealth of the rich will not allow him to sleep.
13 Here is a misfortune on earth that I have seen:
Wealth hoarded by its owner to his own misery.
14 Then that wealth was lost through bad luck;
although he fathered a son, he does not have anything left to give him.

1 Peter 2:1-2 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.

Positional truth means at least three wonderful facts for every believer:

  • Christ totally surrounds us; we are enveloped by His life.

Colossians 3:3 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

  • Christ protects us from everything that is hostile or dangerous.

Romans 8:32-39 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • Christ supplies us with every possible need for life.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Raymond Ortland writes:

We’re in Him the way a baby’s in a womb—but better.
We’re in Him the way a moth is in a chrysalis—but better.
We’re in Him the way a deep-sea diver’s in his diving suit—but better.
We’re in Him the way birds are in the air, or fish are in the sea—but better.43

The Believer’s Position Is Eternal and Permanent

Salvation is totally a work of God’s grace and based on the merit and worth of Christ and His finished work rather than our works. Since that is true, there is nothing we can do to lose it. In addition to Romans 8:32-39 quoted above, note our Lord’s promise.

John 10:28-30 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.

This truth is evident from the fact that the carnal believers at Corinth are still viewed as permanently set apart, sanctified in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

“are sanctified in Christ Jesus” represents the perfect tense which looks at an event or fact completed in the past with results going on in the present. Though he declared them carnal in chapter 3, the apostle viewed them as still positionally in Christ.

The Wealth of the
Believer’s Position in Jesus Christ

As to Christ’s PERSON

Being in Christ we share in the following:

  • As He has perfect righteousness, all believers have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them.

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

  • As He has eternal life, so all believers have eternal life.

Romans 6:23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • His eternal destiny becomes the destiny of all believers.

Ephesians 1:4-5 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—

Ephesians 1:10-11 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ—the things in heaven and the things on earth. 11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will

  • As He is the Son of God, so all believers become sons and members of God’s family by adoption and by regeneration, the new birth.

John 1:13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

Ephesians 1:5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—

Galatians 3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.

1 John 3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.

  • As He is the Father’s chosen One, so all believers are chosen ones. [Some see this as a corporate choosing, others as personal and corporate which fits best with Scripture as a whole.]

Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.

  • As He is the Heir of God, so all believers are heirs of God.

Ephesians 1:11-14 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory. 13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

  • As He is the Great High Priest, so all believers are priests of God.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

But being in Christ, believers also share in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

As to Christ’s WORK

Being in Christ, we share in His work past, present, and future:

  • In Christ, believers are reconciled to God by His substitutionary death.

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?

  • In Christ, believers have peace with God.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

  • In Christ, believers have His righteousness imputed to them.

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

  • In Christ, believers are justified, declared righteous.

Romans 5:9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.

  • In Christ, believers are redeemed by His blood and have forgiveness of sin.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

  • In Christ, the demands of God’s holiness have been satisfied; God has been propitiated.

Romans 3:25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.

  • In Christ, there is now no condemnation.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

  • In Christ, the penalty of sin has been expiated, removed.

Colossians 2:14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.

  • In Christ, believers are no longer guilty or under the condemnation of the Law and its sentence of death.

Romans 7:4-6 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.

Colossians 2:14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.

  • In Christ, believers are accepted, made fit and sufficient to be partakers in God’s family and inheritance.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

Colossians 1:12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

All the above deal with Christ’s substitutionary death for sin’s penalty as He died in our place, bearing our penalty. But Christ’s death also includes His judicial work against the reign of sin.

Christ also died unto sin’s power to break its reign. He died for sin and unto sin and its reign.

Romans 6:10-12 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires,

  • In Christ, believers have also died with Christ in His death and burial.

Romans 6:3-4 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

Colossians 2:12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

  • In Christ, the believer’s relationship to Adam has been severed and the dominion of the sinful nature, though still present, has been broken.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

  • In Christ, believers have been raised together with Him in His resurrection.

Ephesians 2:5-6 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

  • In Christ, believers have been raised with Him for a walk in newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:8-12 above).

Colossians 2:12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

  • In Christ, believers are seated with Him in the heavenlies at the right hand of the Father.

Ephesians 2:6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

  • In Christ, believers have an eternal access to God, they are made nigh to God, translated into God’s kingdom, and delivered from Satan’s kingdom and the power of darkness.

Ephesians 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness.

  • In Christ, believers have a perpetual and effective High Priest, an advocate and two intercessors, the Son at God’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit who dwells within (Rom. 8:26-27, 34; 1 John 2:2).
  • In Christ, believers have special significance and the basis of a true self-concept as the children of God. Being in Christ, the believer is one who is God’s child by spiritual birth and legal adoption. This means believers are in the royal family of the King of kings. Believers are royal sons of God, a holy and royal priesthood, ambassadors of the King, and partners with the Savior. How could we possibly be more significant and have a greater reason to live than that?

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy , but now you have received mercy.

Hebrews 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.
So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.

Hebrews 2:11-13 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am, with the children God has given me.

Application

There are a number of ways we could apply the truth of our position in Christ, the truth of identification. Let me suggest just two, with the second being a further outworking of the first.

Concerning Obedience

First, concerning obedience or overcoming the pulls of indwelling sin and the passions of the flesh. After declaring the believers identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, the apostle says: “So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11). The KJV translated “consider” as “reckon,” and it is truly the reckoning that counts. The Greek word is logizomai. It means “to calculate, count on as true” as in adding up a set of numbers to arrive at their true sum. By calculating the facts presented in verses 1-10, we are to know for certain that we are dead to the power and rule of sin and alive for the power of Christ. This means the ability for obedience to God (Rom. 6:12-18). Our union with Christ is made up of two aspects: death and resurrection (life). Identification with Him in His death leads to identification with Him in His resurrected life.

  • We must know the facts of identification with Christ.
  • We must count on these facts as spiritual realities by faith.
  • Knowing and believing in our new identification, we are to present ourselves to God for obedience.

This presentation is ultimately carried out through walking by faith in the Spirit who dwells within (Rom. 8:1-13). Being instruments of righteousness as seen in Romans 6:13 is equivalent to the fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

Romans 6:13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

However, before we experience the life of identification (death and life) through this reckoning that counts, we too often have to experience the failure and weakness of Romans 7:15-25, the futility of trying to live according to law by our own resources and good intentions. Faith in God’s resources only really begins when we stop trusting in our resources.

Concerning Man’s Behavior

Robert S. McGee writes:

What a waste to attempt to change behavior without truly understanding the driving needs that cause such behavior! Yet millions of people spend a lifetime searching for love, acceptance, and success without understanding the need that compels them. We must understand that this hunger for self-worth is God-given and can only be satisfied by Him. Our value is not dependent on our ability to earn the fickle acceptance of people, but rather, its true source is the love and acceptance of God. He created us. He alone knows how to fulfill all of our needs.44

All believers have the perfect basis for a proper sense of identity or a good self-concept, one dependent on who they are in Christ and, please note, one dependent on the value God places on their lives rather than on the value they or others may place on their lives. Whose opinion is the most important? Yours and mine, or God’s? Do we properly grasp how foolish it is to live our lives for the opinions of man? Compare the following verses:

1 Corinthians 3:3-7 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? 4 For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. 7 So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 One should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. 3 So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. 5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

2 Corinthians 10:12 For we would not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

The three fundamental needs people have for a sense of purpose and significance are Acceptance, Belongingness, and Competence, and each of these is found in Christ. Our life, therefore, is to be directed away from ourselves, the carnal and the visible, to the secret source of life—the risen Savior and our perfect union in Him and His life.

(1) We are Accepted in Christ with free access to God.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

Ephesians 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness.

Romans 14:3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him.

(2) We Belong to the family of God as adopted children.

John 1:12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children

1 Corinthians 3:23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Galatians 3:26-29 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

(3) We Have Competence, ability in Christ to be and do what God calls us to.

Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.

Philippians 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

Our union in Christ (our position) is a call for us to be Christ-centered and oriented in our thinking. For a practical application of what this means regarding who we are as individuals compare the two self-concept diagrams at the end of this lesson.

In view of these many declarations of Scripture which use “in Christ,” or a similar term, it is clear why Paul said that in Christ we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing and that we are therefore “ complete in Him.”

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Conclusion

Since believers are complete in Christ, there is nothing they can add to gain salvation, or to maintain their salvation (cf. Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 8:32-39). We are saved by the record of the Savior, not ours.

Likewise, there is nothing believers can add to the work of Christ or to their new life in Christ in order to walk with God and experience true spirituality. The need is to reckon, to rely on this new spiritual life and these marvelous resources we have by grace in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 2:1-23; Gal. 3:1f; 5:1f).

Colossians warns believers against being led away from full confidence in their complete position in Christ. Similarly, Hebrews and Galatians warn against moving into legalism or into some form of works and away from trust in the finished work of Christ as the ground of one’s spiritual life. To trust in anything other than God’s full provision for us in Jesus Christ is to be faithless in our position and futile to our condition.

As a result of union with Christ, the believer’s life is hidden permanently in God through this union and identification with Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:1-3 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, 3 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

There are two ideas in these verses:

(1) Safety: Believers are doubly safe with Christ in God.

John 10:28-29 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand.

(2) Secrecy: Believers’ lives are nourished and supplied by hidden resources which the world cannot know or give.

In conclusion, let me repeat what was said at the beginning of this lesson. The Spirit of God, whose responsibility it is to glorify Christ and mediate His life to you and me, will never engender spiritual power or bring change into any life that is not resting in the merit, significance, and sufficiency of Christ as the source and ground of all life and meaning. Such would be out of the question.

If we want to experience the transformed life, we must understand and count on who we are in Christ and how that affects our walk in life. Romans 6, understanding the practical ramifications of our position and union in Christ is foundational to Romans 7 and 8, the power of indwelling sin and the walk in and by the Spirit of God.

39 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “ The Believer’s Responsibility,” transcription of a class lecture, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1948, taken from class notes by William D. Lawrence, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993, p. 13-3.

40Ibid., p. 13-3.

41 Ibid., p. 13-3.

42 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. VI, Pneumatology, Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas, Texas, 1984, p. 164.

43 Raymond C. Ortland, Circle of Strength, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1978, p. 5.

44 Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance, Rapha Publishing, p. 15.

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The Spirit-Filled Life (Part 1)

The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

Introduction

The Apostle Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power (1 Cor. 4:20), and that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in (or “by” pointing to the means) the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). The message of the Gospel brings the power of God into every believer’s life through the person and work of the Lord Jesus and the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 24 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Far too many Christians, however, are not experiencing the enabling power of God. For these believers it is simply a matter of doing the best they can to conform to certain expected standards. On the surface, some appear to be more successful at conforming to the rules than others, but if they are honest with themselves, and this is no easy task because of our bent for self-deception, there is the ever present awareness that something is wrong.

In our attempt to rationalize, we may seek to find comfort in thoughts such as: “No one is perfect, we all have our weaknesses,” or “I am doing the very best I can, and I am sure God understands.” Of course, no one is perfect, and certainly God does understand. Let’s assume we are doing our best, but this does not alter the fact that unless we are walking by faith in God and in His abundant resources in Christ, we are missing the abundant life Christ offered when He said, “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Is our best what God wants? No! He wants faith in His best, the Lord Jesus, and in the person of the Spirit whom God has sent to indwell us and empower us so we can experience the power of Christ and the ability to do our best, not in our own strength, but in the strength which God supplies. “Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29, author’s translation).

Because of human weakness, no one can live the Christian life any more than one can perfectly keep the Law of the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 3:9-20; Gal. 3:10-14). If we could live the Christian life without God’s enablement, why do you suppose God would promise the Holy Spirit to indwell the church (John 7:37-39; 14:17)? If we could live the Christian life and serve the Lord without God’s power through faith, why would the Lord Jesus give the Holy Spirit the title of “the Helper” or better, “the Enabler” (John 14:16, 26), then point out the disciples’ inadequacy apart from the Spirit (John 16:7-15), and tell them not to attempt any ministry until the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-8)? Yet, it seems to me that we so often try to do just exactly that. So often, we tend to run off to do this or that in our own steam because we are all so prone to trust in our own resources.

Since the Spirit is our Enabler, the doctrine of the filling of the Holy Spirit (like positional truth) is critical to fellowship with God and to obedience. Without an understanding of this doctrine the believer cannot properly function in the Christian life.

It is sometimes said, Christianity is not a way of life, it is a life to live. It is the reproduction of Christ in the believer’s life by faith just as the apostle stated in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” However, it is God the Holy Spirit who reproduces the character of Christ in the life of the believer. This has both a positive and a negative side.

(1) The Positive Side: Paul had the positive element in mind in Romans 8:4 when he wrote “so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Positive righteousness, i.e., the fruit of the Spirit or the character of Jesus Christ, is reproduced in the believer who is under the Spirit’s control.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law

(2) The Negative Side: In Romans 8:13 Paul added, “(for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” This teaches that, on the negative side, the deeds (sins) of the flesh are put off, not by will power—though our will is certainly involved—but by the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Note Galatians 5:16, But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” Producing the character of Christ from both the negative (putting off the deeds of the flesh) and from the positive (putting on godly characteristics) is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The necessity of a proper understanding of the filling/controlling ministry of the Spirit is intensified by such passages as Galatians 4:19 where Paul prayed, “My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you!” Included in the meaning of the Greek word translated “formed” ( morfow) is the concept of giving outward expression of inward character. “The form means the essential form rather than outward shape. The idea is therefore of real Christlike character.”45 Paul is praying for Christ to be outwardly expressed in the believer, but from within through the power of the Spirit. Mere external conformity is not the goal. Note also that the verb “formed” is passive. This means the subject receives the action rather than produces the action.

Christ formed in one’s life is not something the Christian can do, nor is it something Christ does Himself. Christ does not manifest Himself in the life of the Christian. This ministry has been given to the Holy Spirit and that fact is born out in numerous passages such as John 16:14 where the Lord says of the Spirit, “He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.” Compare also, the following passages:

Ephesians 1:16-19 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength.

Galatians 5:16-25 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

Perhaps it can be illustrated this way if one doesn’t take the illustration too far. The believer is like an automobile whether new and beautiful or old and not so pretty. Either way the automobile has all the equipment necessary to run with power—a transmission, an engine, a carburetor, wheels, tires, etc. But without one ingredient, gasoline, the car cannot function. All of its equipment is there, but it is useless unless there is gas to bring about internal combustion. The Holy Spirit is that combustion power for the believer, who, unlike the gas in our cars, is always present since He comes to permanently indwell every believer (Eph. 4:30).

In Romans 6, Paul points to our wonderful resources (our position in Christ) which provide the basis for newness of life. But in Romans 7 he teaches us two important truths with regard to deliverance and spirituality. First, the Law or any other system of ethics, while it exposes our sin, cannot make us righteous or deliver from the power of sin. Second, the apostle teaches us our new position, though absolutely necessary for spiritual transformation, is powerless by itself. It is the necessary foundation for deliverance, but with this new position, we need the empowering work of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as described in Romans 8 to utilize our new resources in Christ.

We need to understand that every believer has been indwelt by the Spirit and has both the resources and the power necessary for the abundant life that the Savior promised us in John 10:10b. Our problem is not putting gas in the tank, but using (walking in dependence upon) the power that is there. The need is for every believer to understand and follow the biblical injunctions of Ephesians 5:18, “be filled (be controlled) with (by means of) the Spirit,” and Galatians 5:16, “live by the Spirit.” Later in this study, support for this view of Ephesians 5:18 will be given.

Learning to walk by the Spirit, however, is not so easy. In the first place, the Scripture does not give us a simple definition of how to be filled, and it is not learned by a casual reading of the New Testament. In the second place, there are all kinds of erroneous concepts floating around in Christian circles today. Some teach a spirituality by works (legalism) or will power. Legalism (spirituality by the keeping of the Law) was the problem at Galatia. Others teach a relative concept of filling in that they treat the Spirit as a substance which we get a little at a time. Still others today are viewing the filling of the Spirit as merely a quality of life that is somewhat analogous to spiritual growth. They may even talk about the control of the Spirit, but when you carefully look at their whole proposition for the Spirit-filled walk, it seems to me it borders on a form of self-reformation wherein one simply learns to replace old life dominating patterns with a new lifestyle patterned after the Scripture. There is truth in this approach, but not the whole truth. It lacks the concept of the moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit coupled with the concept of growth.

Many fail to understand the difference between indwelling, anointing, sealing, and baptizing, and the filling of the Spirit. We often hear people pray for a special anointing. Hymns are sung such as Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, or Fill Me Now which do not reflect sound theology in relation to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The second verse of Fill Me Now says, “Thou canst fill me, gracious Spirit, though I cannot tell Thee how; But I need Thee, greatly need Thee, Come, O Come, and fill me now.” Surely the writer of this old hymn was expressing our need of the ministry of the Spirit and His control, but the wording is inaccurate and misleading because it fails to distinguish between the indwelling of the Spirit and the filling (control) of the Spirit. The same applies to the chorus Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh On Me. The Spirit, as will be explained in more detail later, is not a substance which comes to fill us, but a person who has come to indwell us if we have trusted in Christ. Indeed, one of the proofs of salvation is the presence of the Spirit. Romans 8:9 reads, “…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.”

The purpose of this study is to:

(1) Define and clarify just who the Holy Spirit is and what it is that He does.

(2) Understand the unique age in which we live as it relates to the Holy Spirit.

(3) Define and clarify the terms used of the Holy Spirit such as anointing, indwelling, and filling, etc.

(4) Demonstrate from Scripture how to be filled with the Spirit, i.e., how to walk under the control of the Holy Spirit in order to experience the character of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ will not express Himself in the life of the believer apart from the ministry of the Spirit. If the Spirit’s ministry is not understood, then His work in reproducing Christ in us is hindered, if not completely quenched.

Before we actually begin to deal with the Spirit-filled life, what it means, and how we can experience it, there is some ground work that must be laid or we could quickly go off into error with regard to the ministries of the Spirit.

The Person of the Holy Spirit
(Who the Spirit Is)

The Personality of the Holy Spirit

The least understood person of the Godhead is the Holy Spirit. Yet a proper understanding of the truth of His personality is crucial to a number of other doctrines of Scripture, including the ministry of the Spirit Himself.

To deny the personality of the Spirit is to “deny His real existence, the existence of the Trinity, and the teaching of the Scriptures on the subject. Nevertheless, His personality has been denied throughout the ages, first by the Monarchians, the Arians, … and the Socinians in the days of the reformation.”46 In modern days, His personality has been denied by one Pentecostal group and by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The name “Holy Spirit” occurs 89 times in the New Testament, and this number does not include the times He is referred to simply as “Spirit.” This, plus the fact He is promised in the Old Testament and is a special gift from God in the New Testament, should show just how important it is to understand what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit.

He Has the Attributes of Personality47

(1) Intellect.

These verses show the Holy Spirit has a mind, that He thinks, searches, and teaches. When we combine this with the other attributes of the Spirit set forth in the Bible, we see this is not like a programmed computer with memory, or like a sign that gives direction along the road, but the Holy Spirit has a mind and does things as a person.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.

Romans 8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

(2) Emotion.

We cannot grieve or cause pain to an influence. We are only able to grieve a person who can love and feel. Because of the Spirit’s holy character—another element of personality—He is grieved by our sin. Note in particular the statement in James 4:5: Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning?” An “influence” or an “it” does not envy or jealously guard another.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Hebrews 10:29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace?

James 4:5 Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”?

(3) Will.

Concerning the will of the Holy Spirit, Ryrie writes:

The distribution of spiritual gifts is said to be according to the will of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11), and He is able to direct the activities of God’s servants. This is well illustrated by the Spirit leading Paul at Mysia and Troas. He forbade Paul to preach in Asia and Bithynia, …48

We can translate, “as he decides” of 1 Corinthians 12:11 as “as He purposes or determines.” This could hardly be predicated of a mere it.

1 Corinthians 12:11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.

Acts 16:6-11 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this, 8 so they passed through Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul during the night: A Macedonian man was standing there urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After Paul saw the vision, we attempted immediately to go over to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We put out to sea from Troas and sailed a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis,

He Performs the Actions of Personality

(1) He teaches.

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

John 16:13-15 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

(2) He testifies or bears witness.

John 15:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me,

(3) He guides or leads.

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

(4) He performs miracles.

Acts 8:39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any more, but went on his way rejoicing.

(5) He convinces.

John 16:7-8 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment—

(6) He restrains.

Genesis 6:3 So the Lord said, “My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years.”

2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way,

(7) He commands and directs people.

Acts 8:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”

(8) He intercedes in prayer.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.

We can learn from books or from our experiences, but they do not really function as teachers who possess will and purpose. Handcuffs can restrain, but in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 (if this refers to the Spirit through His role in the church, and many believe it does) the restrainer is spoken of as “he”—a person. (See below on the concept of accidence.)

2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way,

The aspect of bearing witness is presented as the work of one who is a person. All of these actions of the Spirit are presented in Scripture, especially when taken as a whole, as the work of a person who is vitally involved with us as people in a relationship. For instance, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and performs miracles—things which only a person can do.

He Receives Ascriptions of Personality

Ryrie writes: “Certain acts are performed toward the Holy Spirit which would be incongruous if He did not possess true personality.”49

(1) He can be obeyed.

Acts 16:6-7 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this,

(2) He can be lied to.

Acts 5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land?"

(3) He can be resisted.

Acts 7:51 You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did!

(4) He can be blasphemed.

Matthew 12:31 For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

(5) He can be grieved.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

(6) He can be insulted.

Hebrews 10:29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace?

He Receives Accidence of Personality

The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma which fundamentally means “breath, wind.” “Wind” in John 3:8 is pneuma. From this word, we derive English words like “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.” Pneuma is a neuter gender word and would normally require a neuter gender pronoun according to a rule of Greek grammar called concord. However, because the Holy Spirit is a person, the New Testament writers sometimes used a masculine pronoun in place of a neuter pronoun for the neuter noun pneuma. Masculine pronouns are used of the Spirit in John 15:26; 16:7, 8, 13, and 14.

Ramifications of the Personality of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is related to people as a distinct person rather than simply an influence. The following are some illustrations:

(1) He is related to the apostles as a distinct and separate person who thought about what was best and related that to the apostles who were in accord with the Spirit.

Acts 15:28 For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules:

(2) He is related to the Lord Jesus as a distinct and separate person.

John 16:14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

(3) He is related to the other persons of the Godhead so as to indicate personality. Concerning this, Ryrie writes:

In the passages where this occurs it would be completely unnatural to regard the Spirit as a thing while understanding the Father and the Son as persons. The baptismal formula is in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). Not only does the association of the Spirit with the Father and the Son argue for the Spirit’s personality, but the use of the word “name” in the singular also indicates that He is a person just as the others are. The apostolic benediction leads to the same conclusion: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14).50

(4) He is distinguished from His own power as a person. Ryrie writes:

Further, the Holy Spirit is related to His own power and yet distinguished from it, so that one may not conclude that the Spirit is only power. “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:14). A verse like this leads one to understand that the Spirit is a person who has power, and not that the Spirit is simply a powerful force or thing. Other examples of this distinction between the Spirit as a person and that person’s power are found in Luke 1:35; Acts 10:38; Romans 15: 13; I Corinthians 2:4. The phraseology of these verses would be useless and inexplicable repetition if the Holy Spirit were conceived as merely a power or influence and not a distinct personality with power of His own.51

The Deity of the Holy Spirit

Proofs for the Deity of the Holy Spirit

The fact that the Holy Spirit is a person does not prove that He is God, but the reverse of that is true. If He is God, then He must be a person as God is. However, the denial of His deity and personality usually go together. Erickson writes:

The deity of the Holy Spirit is not as easily established as is that of the Father and the Son. It might well be said that the deity of the Father is simply assumed in Scripture, that of the Son is affirmed and argued, while that of the Holy Spirit must be inferred from various indirect statements found in Scripture. There are, however, several bases on which one may conclude that the Holy Spirit is God in the same fashion and to the same degree as are the Father and the Son.52

Proven by His Titles

The title “the Holy Spirit” is in itself an affirmation that He is God in keeping with the emphasis of God’s holiness found throughout the Bible. His deity, however, is further borne out by the various references to the Spirit which are clearly interchangeable with references to God, and in essence speak of Him as God. Two prominent illustrations show this.

The first illustration is Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-4. Concerning this Erickson writes:

Bringing a portion of the proceeds to the apostles, they represented it as the whole of what they had received. Peter spoke harsh words of condemnation to each of them, and both were struck dead. In rebuking Ananias, Peter asked, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” (v. 3). In the next verse he asserts, “You have not lied to men but to God.” It seems that in Peter’s mind “lying to the Holy Spirit” and “lying to God” were interchangeable expressions. It could, of course, be argued that two different referents were in view, so that Peter was actually saying, “You have lied both to the Holy Spirit and to God.” The statement in verse 4, however, was apparently intended to make it clear that the lie was told not to humans, to someone less than God, but to God Himself. Thus, we are led to the conclusion that the second statement is an elaboration of the first, emphasizing that the Spirit to whom Ananias had lied was God.53

A second illustration is found in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 where again the titles “Holy Spirit” and “God” are used interchangeably in the apostle’s discussion of the body of Christ and believers as individuals.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

It is also significant that the word for temple is the Greek naos which was used of the Holy of Holies portion of the temple, the place where the Ark was and where God dwelt in the Old Testament before the parting of His glory. Today, the believer’s body is the naos—the dwelling place of God through the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

This was apparently in the apostle’s mind when he chose the word naos.

Proven by His Attributes

(1) Omniscience.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 combines both the personality of the Spirit as one who knows and thinks, and His omniscience. The Spirit could not possibly know the thoughts of God who is omniscient and omnipresent unless He too possessed these attributes. This shows the Spirit fully comprehends the depth of God’s thoughts and plans of grace. Who but God could comprehend the thoughts of God?

(2) Omnipotence.

Regarding this attribute of the Holy Spirit, Erickson writes:

In Luke 1:35 the phrases “the Holy Spirit” and “the power of the Most High” are in parallel or synonymous construction. This is, of course, a reference to the virgin conception, which must certainly be considered a miracle of the first magnitude. Paul acknowledged that the accomplishments of his ministry were achieved “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:19). Moreover, Jesus attributed to the Holy Spirit the ability to change human hearts and personalities: it is the Spirit who works conviction (John 16:8-11) and regeneration (John 3:5-8) within us. It should be borne in mind that Jesus had elsewhere said with respect to this ability to change human hearts: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; see vv. 16-25). While these texts do not specifically affirm that the Spirit is omnipotent, they certainly indicate that he has power which presumably only God has.54

(3) Omnipresence.

Psalm 139:7-10 Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
8 If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
9 If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
10 even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.

(4) Eternality.

Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The eternality of the Holy Spirit is affirmed in Hebrews 9:14 which states that Christ offered Himself “through the eternal Spirit.” Some have suggested that this is a reference to the human spirit of Christ, but it is more consistent to see this as a reference to the Holy Spirit since, from the standpoint of His humanity, Jesus Christ always lived His earthly life under the control and leading of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:18-28).

Proven by His Works

(1) Creation.

Genesis 1:2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.

Psalm 104:30 When you send your life-giving breath, they are created,
and you replenish the surface of the ground.

Erickson writes:

He was and continues to be involved with the creation, both in the origination of it and in the providential keeping and directing of it. In Genesis 1:2 we read that the Spirit of God was brooding over the face of the waters. Job 26:13 notes that the heavens were made fair by the Spirit of God. The Psalmist says, “When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they [all the parts of the creation previously enumerated] are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground” (Ps. 104:30).55

(2) Inspiration of Scripture.

2 Timothy 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Peter 1:21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (literally, “God-breathed”). This verse declares the fact and value of the inspiration of the Bible. In 2 Peter 1:21 we are given the how of inspiration: men were moved by the Holy Spirit, borne along like wind in the sail of a ship. Here again the titles God and Holy Spirit seem to be used interchangeably of the person of the Spirit.

(3) Regeneration, Illumination, and Sanctification.

Considering the nature and condition of man, these are things which are miraculous and which only God can do as stressed by the Lord in Matthew 19:26.

John 3:5-8 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,

Romans 8:11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.

Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Proven by Equal Association

Concerning this evidence, Ryrie writes:

One of the strongest proofs of the deity of the Spirit is the identification of the Spirit with Yahweh of the Old Testament. This is seen in passages where the Old Testament records that Yahweh said something and the New Testament quotation of that same passage is attributed to the Spirit as the Speaker. That would seem to say clearly that the Spirit, like Yahweh, is fully divine (Is. 6:1-13 and Ac 28:25; Jer 31:31-34 and Heb. 10:15-17).56

Along these same lines, we find another line of evidence in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is associated equally with the Father and the Son.

(1) The Great Commission.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Interestingly, the word “name” which refers to all three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is singular. There is one God, and yet, in some mysterious way, three distinct persons who are equal.

(2) The Pauline Benediction.

2 Corinthians 13:13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(3) Declaration Regarding Spiritual Gifts.

As Paul discusses spiritual gifts In 1 Corinthians 12, he equally associates and coordinates the three members of the Godhead:

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

(4) Peter’s Salutation in 1 Peter 1:2.

In the salutation of his first epistle, Peter links all three persons of the trinity together, pointing to their respective roles in the process of salvation.

1 Peter 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father by being set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with Jesus Christ’s blood. May grace and peace be yours in full measure!

Clearly, all of these instances argue that the Holy Spirit is not only a person, but God, the third member of the Trinity. Now that we have some idea of who the Spirit is, we need to consider what the Spirit does for and in believers since He is God’s special gift and resource for living the Christian life.

The Advent and Age of the Spirit

Understanding the uniqueness of this age as the Age of the Spirit is crucial for our ability to correctly interpret the teaching of the New Testament on the Spirit and His ministry for today. The Church Age is often referred to as the Age of the Spirit because of His distinctive ministry during this time.

This truth needs to be stressed because the Holy Spirit is God’s special gift and means of power to experience Christ’s life in ours. In fact, there is no aspect of the Christian life, Bible study, prayer, witnessing, growth, etc., that is not vitally dependent on the enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. Though God gives us spiritual gifts and a new capacity for life through the Spirit’s work of regeneration, it is the Holy Spirit, as our divine Enabler, who empowers our lives for both worship and service.

The Promise of the Spirit as God’s Special Provision

That God would one day do a unique work through the Holy Spirit in His people is not new revelation. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the object of many marvelous promises in both the Old and New Testaments in anticipation of what God would do through the Spirit for His people.

Ezekiel 36:24-27 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my laws.

Ezekiel 37:14 I will place my Spirit in you and you will live; I will give you rest in your own land. Then you will know that I am the Lord—I have spoken and I will act, declares the Lord.’”

Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.

Joel 2:28-29 After all of this
I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your elderly will have revelatory dreams;
your young men will see prophetic visions.
29 Even on male and female servants
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

John 7:37-39 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

John 14:16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—

Acts 1:4-8 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

The Fact of the Spirit’s Coming

When we come to Acts 2 and the events that follow in the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, we have the declaration that the Holy Spirit has come to indwell believers with an explanation of His new and distinctive role. No longer is His coming an anticipation; it is a blessed fact.

Acts 2:1-4 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:14-17 But Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them: “You men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, know this and listen carefully to what I say. 15 In spite of what you think, these men are not drunk, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 But this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says,
‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people,
and your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
and your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.

Acts 10:44-45 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,

Acts 11:15-17 Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave them the same gift as he also gave us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?”

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

Ephesians 1:13-14 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

An Explanation of the Age of the Spirit

The following chart illustrates the change in the ministry of the Spirit from the Old Testament to that of the New Testament. From Acts 2 onward, the Spirit’s ministry took on a new and distinctive change beginning with the events of Pentecost as promised both in the Old Testament and by the Lord. From this point on we have the formation of the body of Christ, the church, and the universal indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is when the church began and when the Spirit began to indwell all who believed in the Savior. This is proven by the following:

(1) In Acts 1:5, the Lord gave the promise of the baptizing ministry of the Spirit. “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

(2) Baptism is a form of identification. “With the Spirit” may also be translated “by the Spirit” and should be in view of 1 Corinthians 12:13. First Corinthians 12:13a describes what the baptizing work of the Spirit consists of. It is the work by which the Holy Spirit joins every believer into union with the body of Christ so that the believer becomes identified with the body of Christ and with Christ Himself. This occurs simultaneously with the indwelling of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13b). When we trust in the Savior, the Spirit joins us into union with the body of Christ, the church (Rom. 6). As a result, we become identified with Christ in His person and His work.

(3) In Acts 11:15-16, Peter equated the coming of the Spirit on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius with that which had occurred to them as Jews in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. But he also equated Acts 2 with the fulfillment of the promise of Christ regarding the baptism of the Spirit in Acts 1:5. In other words, Acts 2 began the indwelling and baptizing work of the Spirit for the body of Christ. This began the unique age of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The following chart illustrates the difference.

The Primary Ministry and Purpose of the Spirit

The Principle of Focus

As we may need light to bring the printed page into focus, so we need the illumination of Scripture to shed light on the primary ministry of the Spirit in connection with all His ministries. Getting the Spirit in focus means (a) thinking rightly about Him and (b) thinking rightly about our relationship to Him: what He is to believers, and how this relates to Jesus Christ. Great emphasis is often given to the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately, it is very often not in accord with the clear teaching of the Word.

Scripture’s Focus on the Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Some see the chief purpose of the Holy Spirit as power, some as performance, some as unity, some as the administration of the gifts of the Spirit, some as teaching, some as His miraculous workings, and so on. All of these either are or have been ministries of the Spirit and are important to the body of Christ. However, to emphasize any one of these while minimizing the others and ignoring the chief emphasis of the Word is to go off into error.

This is vitally important because Jesus Christ is our life. He is the hope of glory and the focus of the Bible.

Colossians 1:27-28 God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all people with all wisdom so that we may present every person mature in Christ.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Therefore, the chief focus given to us in the Word is that the Holy Spirit in all His ministries is given to mediate the presence of Christ. He is given to manifest the person and work of Jesus Christ, to make us aware of all He is to us, and to enable us to experience Christ’s life in ours.

John 16:13-15 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Galatians 5:16-25 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our Enabler and the power for the Christian life, and we are to walk by faith in dependence upon the Spirit’s control (Gal. 3:3; 5:5; 16-25 quoted above). However, Galatians 2:20 when considered in light of Galatians 4:19 and 5:1-5 gives us the primary focus—Christ living in believers or being formed in them by the power of the Spirit of God. Even when we are trusting in the Holy Spirit to empower our lives, our faith is ultimately in the Son because the Spirit proceeds from the Father through Jesus Christ at His request as one of His gifts to us. But the purpose is that we might share in the life of Christ.

John 14:16-20 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. 20 You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.

The ministry of the Spirit is Christ-centered. It is neither man-centered with an emphasis on our gifts, personalities, and experiences, nor Holy Spirit centered with an emphasis on Him and His miraculous activities or ministries, as important and rich as they are. This scriptural focus is seen in the following passages:

(1) John 7:37-39

On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Concerning the promise of the Spirit, the text says He was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. The Spirit is promised as a gift from God to indwell believers, empowering and energizing them, but the focus here is on the glorification of the Savior. This is a reference to Christ at God’s right hand following His finished work on the cross, the resurrection, and ascension into glory. The basis for the gift of the Spirit is the glorification of Christ. He proceeds from the Father, through the Son to believers because Jesus has accomplished our justification.

John 15:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me,

(2) John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15

John 14:16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

John 15:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me,

John 16:7-15 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

In each of these passages the Spirit is called “the Advocate,” ( parakletos) which, due to the nature of His ministry, might better be rendered, “the Enabler.” Parakletos contains the ideas of comforting, exhorting, encouraging, interceding, advising, and strengthening. He strengthens or enables us through His various ministries. But in none of these four passages does the gift and ministry of the Holy Spirit overshadow the person and work of the Son, the Lord Jesus. Rather, the focus is on how the Enabler (a) is sent in the name of Christ, (b) brings to remembrance what Christ taught the disciples, (c) bears witness of Him, (d) is sent by the Savior Himself, (e) does not speak on His own initiative, (f) glorifies the Savior, and (g) takes of the things of Christ and discloses them to us.

The Holy Spirit calls attention to neither Himself nor to man, but focuses all attention on the Lord Jesus Christ and what God has done in and through His Son. His purpose via all His ministries is to develop our faith, hope, love, adoration, obedience, fellowship, and commitment to Christ.

This truth and this focus becomes a criterion by which we may judge any spiritual movement and its biblical authenticity. Swindoll writes:

Let me pass along something I hope you never forget. If you get involved in a ministry that glorifies itself, instead of Christ, the Spirit of God is not in that ministry. If you follow a leader that is getting the glory for that ministry, instead of Christ, the Spirit of God isn’t empowering his leadership. If you’re a part of a Christian school or mission organization or a Christian camping ministry in which someone other than Christ is being glorified, it is not being empowered by the Spirit of God. Mark it down: THE SPIRIT GLORIFIES CHRIST. I’ll go one step further; if the Holy Spirit Himself is being emphasized and magnified, He isn’t in it! Christ is the One who is glorified when the Spirit is at work. He does His work behind the scenes, never in the limelight. I admire that the most about His work.57

The Work of the Spirit

As a matter of clarification and in preparation for what the Spirit is to believers, it would be helpful to note the following facts:

Negatively: The believer is never told to seek or commanded to be (a) baptized with or in the Spirit, (b) or to be indwelt with the Spirit, (c) or to be anointed with the Spirit, (d) or to be sealed with the Spirit, (e) or in our age to even pray for the Spirit (Luke 11:13 was pre-Pentecost). Rather, these are all presented by the New Testament as accomplished facts during the Church Age.

Positively: The only commands in the New Testament given to believers in relation to the Holy Spirit deal with the filling of the Holy Spirit or with walking by means of the Spirit who already indwells us. There are only four direct commands that relate to the Spirit and the believer’s life. Two are positive and two are negative.

(1) The Positive Commands: We are commanded to be “filled with the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

Galatians 5:16 and 25 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh…25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

(2) The Negative Commands: We are commanded to “ not grieve the Spirit” and to “not extinguish the Spirit.”

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.

In addition, the following are some passages one might view as commanding the filling of the Spirit indirectly or by implication because the need of His ministry in the issue involved.

John 4:24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Ephesians 6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials

Romans 8:4-13 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

What the Spirit Is to Believers in His Indwelling Presence

In anticipation of the coming of the Spirit, in John 14:17 Christ spoke of the unique change that would occur in the Spirit’s relationship with believers when He said, “… because he resides with you (Old Testament economy) and will be in you (New Testament economy).” Through this universal indwelling of all believers, the Spirit becomes a seal, an anointing, a pledge, and our enabler. All of this stems from the fact of His indwelling presence from the moment of salvation.

(1) A Seal

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

Ephesians 1:13-14 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

According to 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, God the Father (the subject of the verb) does the sealing. The Holy Spirit is the seal, and believers are those who are sealed with God’s seal (the Spirit). The seal suggests the ideas of ownership and security.

A further consequence of the Spirit’s presence is the seal of ownership (cf. Eph. 1:13-14) which also is accomplished at the moment of faith. A seal on a document in New Testament times identified it and indicated its owner, who would “protect” it. So too, in salvation, the Holy Spirit, like a seal, confirms that Christians are identified with Christ and are God’s property, protected by Him (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20). It was probably this thought that caused Paul to describe himself as a slave of Christ. (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1).58

(2) An Anointing

1 John 2:20 and 27 Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know…27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him.

Again, God the Father, as the subject of the verb in 2 Corinthians 1:21, does the anointing; the Holy Spirit, as 1 John 2:20 and 27 make clear, is the anointing; and we as believers in Christ are the ones who are anointed.

Persons and things were anointed, in the OT, to signify holiness, or separation unto God: pillars ( cf. Gen. 28:18); the tabernacle and its furniture (Ex. 30:22ff.); shields (2 Sa. 1:21; Is. 21:5: probably to consecrate them for the ‘holy war,’ see Deut. 23:9ff.); kings (Jdg. 9:8; 2 Sa. 2:4; 1 Kgs. 1:34); priests (Ex. 28:41); prophets (1 Kgs. 19:16). … Fundamentally the anointing was an act of God (1 Sam. 10:1), and the word ‘anointed’ was used metaphorically to mean the bestowal of divine favour (Psa. 23:5; 92:10) or appointment to a special place or function in the purpose of God (Ps. 105:15; Is. 45:1). Further, the anointing symbolized equipment for service, and is associated with the outpouring of the Spirit of God (1 Sa. 10:1, 9; 16:13; Is. 61:1; Zech. 4:1-14). This usage is carried over into the NT (Acts 10:38; 1 Jn. 2:20, 27).59 (Emphasis mine.)

The identification of the Spirit as our anointing is a portrait of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as an act of God which separates us, appoints us, and equips us for ministry in the purpose of God. Strictly speaking, then, it is doctrinally incorrect to ask God to anoint a believer today with the Spirit in preparation for a particular task. A more accurate prayer would be that the one involved in the task at hand be truly under the power of the Spirit, or that he or she might experience the work of the Spirit in a marvelous way because the Spirit is already present as God’s anointing.

(3) A Pledge

The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in believers’ lives is also viewed by God as His personal pledge (i.e., earnest or down payment) that God will fulfill His promises to believers and that our salvation will be consummated (Eph. 1:14).

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

Present redemption is only a foretaste of what eternity holds (cf. Rom. 8:23), and the presence of His Spirit in our hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:5) is like a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. These last seven words are a translation of one Greek word arrabona , a down payment which obligates the payer to make further payments. The same Greek word is used again in 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14 (cf. “the first fruits of the Spirit,” Rom. 8:23).60

(4) An Enabler

John 14:16 and 26 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever…26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

John 16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.

In these passages the Lord promised the disciples He would give them “another Advocate.” “Another” is the Greek allos which means “another of the same kind.” This is a reference to the Holy Spirit who, as the third person of the trinity, is of the same essence and power as the Lord Jesus Christ. In His absence, there would be no lack. In fact, it would be for their advantage (John 16:7) that He leave so the Holy Spirit could come in His place and indwell their lives.

The Spirit is called “Advocate.” This is the Greek parakletos and refers to one who is called alongside on behalf of another as an intercessor, mediator, helper. It is translated variously, “helper,” “counselor,” and “comforter.” In view of the purpose and ministry of the Spirit along with the meaning of this word, perhaps “Enabler” is a better translation. He comes not just to give help, as a servant might help his employer or as one person helps another. Rather He comes and indwells us to enable—to empower us for the Christian life in witnessing, in prayer, in obedience, etc. The title “Enabler” not only teaches us what the Holy Spirit is to us, but what we are apart from His control and ministry—without ability or enablement.

What the Spirit Does For Us

There is no part of the believer’s life for which the Spirit is not needed. The following illustrates just how complete is the work of the Spirit who is our Enabler.

(1) He convicts and reveals Jesus Christ to men.

John 16:8-11 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

(2) He restrains sin in the world.

2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way

(3) He regenerates to new life.

Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,

(4) He baptizes into Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

(5) He empowers and reproduces the character of Jesus Christ in those who submit to Him by faith.

Galatians 4:19 My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you!

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5:16-23 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

(6) He promotes spiritual maturity. (Cf. also Gal. 5:1-5; Heb. 5:11-6:6.)

Galatians 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?

(7) He teaches: gives understanding in the Word. (Cf. also 1 Cor. 2:9-16; John 16:11-15.)

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

Ephesians 3:16-18 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

(8) He applies truth to our experience. (Cf. also John 14:26; Eph. 6:18.)

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

(9) He gives power to our prayer life.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit,

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.

Psalm 66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart,
the sovereign Master would not have listened.

(10) He promotes meaningful worship. (Cf. also John 4:23-24; Eph. 5:18-21; Isa. 59:1-2.)

Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials

(11) He gives capacity, burden, and direction for witnessing.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

1 Thessalonians 1:5 in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (surely you recall the character we displayed when we came among you to help you).

(12) He gives capacity for ministry. This refers to gifts of the Spirit which are to be exercised in the power of the Spirit from the motive of love—which is also a work of the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 1:12-14 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,

1 Peter 4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.

The fact that the Holy Spirit is our Helper, indeed, our Enabler for these varied ministries demonstrates just how tremendously important the Spirit is to our daily walk. It shows how necessary it is that we walk by means of the Spirit, i.e., by constant dependence upon Him (Gal. 5:5, 16; Eph. 3:16-17). The lessons that follow are devoted to more biblical principles and promises that teach us more about the ministry of the Spirit and how to walk in His power.

45 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Regency, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 513.

46 Charles C. Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, Moody Press, Chicago, 1965, p. 11.

47 The outline and basic argument used in this section, with slight variation, is taken from The Holy Spirit, by Charles C. Ryrie.

48 Ryrie, p. 12.

49 Ryrie, p. 13.

50 Ryrie, p. 16.

51 Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 16.

52Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1990, p. 857.

53Erickson, p. 857.

54Erickson, p. 858.

55Erickson, p. 858.

56 Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine, Moody Press, Chicago, 1972, p. 70.

57 Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Multnomah Press, Portland, 1986, p. 188.

58David K. Lowery, “2 Corinthians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1985, p. 557.

59 New Bible Dictionary, quoted from Logos CD.

60 Lowery, p. 557 .

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The Spirit-Filled Life (Part 2)

The Walk by Means of the Spirit

The Difference Between Indwelling and Filling

The Indwelling of the Spirit

As shown in the previous lesson, a number of New Testament passages call attention to the fact and nature of the Spirit’s indwelling of New Testament believers. Some examples are:

John 7:37-39 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Romans 5:5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

In the ministry of indwelling, the New Testament describes the Holy Spirit as an anointing, a seal, a pledge, and our Helper or Enabler. Regarding indwelling, Ryrie writes,

The indwelling ministry of the Spirit is the heart of the distinctiveness of the Spirit’s work in this Church Age. It is also the center of our Lord’s promises to His disciples concerning the ministry of the Spirit after His departure from earth. Too, the doctrine of the indwelling is foundational to the other ministries the Spirit performs today.61

Indwelling is, however, distinct from the filling of the Spirit and the two should not be confused. There are a number of biblical facts which demonstrate this distinction.

(1) Indwelling is a distinctive ministry that is true of only believers in Christ. The only condition for indwelling is the obedience of faith in Christ (John 7:37-39) whereas the filling of the Spirit is dependent upon faith in the Spirit for His control.

Ephesians 1:13-14 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

(2) Though all believers are indwelt regardless of their spiritual state (even when living in carnality as seen in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), all believers are not filled with the Spirit.

(3) This indwelling is declared as permanent and a declaration of a believer’s security. It is described as “forever” and “until the day of redemption.” Romans 8:9 teaches us that indwelling is a proof of the believer’s salvation, “…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.” Compare also John 14:16-17 and Ephesians 4:30.

The indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit is that ministry wherein the Holy Spirit comes to make the new believer His permanent dwelling place, the place of His personal presence as the foundation for all the various ministries He will have within the life of the believer.

The Filling of the Spirit

While believers are never commanded to be indwelt with the Spirit, they are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. Because our perception of the word “filling” suggests the intake of something, many have equated the filling of the Spirit with getting the Spirit within, or getting more of the Spirit. They have confused the filling of the Spirit with His indwelling. This is false and leads to erroneous ideas about the filling of the Spirit.

After the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we have a number of references in the New Testament which refer to the filling of the Spirit using such words as “full” or “filling” or “filled.” A sample of these verses are Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3-5; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9, 52; and Ephesians 5:18. The questions is, what does the concept of “full” or “filled” mean?

In the Acts passages only two Greek words occur, the noun plerhs, “full,” and the verb pimplhmi, “fill, be filled.” The noun form is also used of “wisdom, rage, envy, power, grace,” etc. As a noun it looks at a state or condition which, however, refers to what takes control and possesses the person so that it becomes the dominating force. When a person is full of rage, they are clearly out of control and the trait which characterizes them is rage. A person who is full of the Spirit as mentioned in Acts 6:3 and 5, is one whose life is animated and controlled by the Spirit.

The use of the verb form in Acts as it pertains to the Holy Spirit seems to refer to a special filling that is a sovereign work of God in contrast to the normal filling of the Spirit that is commanded in Ephesians 5:18. Several things support this idea:

Pimplhmi always occurs in the aorist tense and generally in the indicative mood (emphasizing an historical event and not a state). Acts 4:8 is an aorist participle and could be translated, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, …” The same idea applies to Paul in Acts 9:17 and 13:9.

It is always in the passive voice (pointing to a sovereign work of God). No conditions of filling are mentioned, only that the recipients were filled by the Spirit.

The filling was for a specific task and was temporary. This can be seen by comparing Acts 2:4 with 4:8 and 31. Acts 4:8 seems to refer to Peter’s normal walk under the control of the Spirit, but in the other two passages, a special filling occurred for a special task.

But because of the analogy and comparison used, and because it is the one passage where believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, the meaning of “filled” is best seen in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

“Filled” is the verb pleroo, “to fill, make full, fill to the full.” It is used of things such as sounds and odors (Acts 2:2; John 12:3), and of persons with powers or qualities like joy, righteousness, wisdom (Acts 2:28; 13:52; Phil. 1:11; Col. 1:9). But how do we understand the word “filled” with regard to the Spirit? Is He the content with which one is filled, or the means by which one is filled?

Some understand the Spirit as the content with which one is filled like water in a jar, but grammatically this is very unlikely. It is better to understand the Spirit as the means by which one is filled, not the content. Greek is an inflectional language that uses various cases that determine how a word is being used in a clause or sentence. And it is a rule of Greek grammar that a verb may be used with more than one case in order to distinguish certain ideas or to make ideas clear.

In the Greek text, “with the Spirit” represents the preposition en plus the noun pneuma in the dative case ( pneumati). To interpret this construction to refer to the Spirit as the content with which one is filled is grammatically suspect since normally a verb of filling takes a noun in the genitive case to express the idea of content, not the dative. Such a genitive is called a genitive of content.62 Let me illustrate it this way.

  • With the genitive case, the noun in the genitive refers to the material, the content of filling, as when the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus (John 12:3).
  • With the dative case, the noun in the dative refers to the agent or instrument that causes the filling, i.e., “be filled by means of the Spirit.”
  • With the accusative case, the noun in the accusative refers to the thing filled, as when grief fills the heart (John 16:6).

In Ephesians 5:18, the contrast with wine shows that the obvious idea in “filled” is that of spiritual control by means of the Spirit who already indwells and is present in believers. The analogy with a drunk person is designed by the apostle to make the issue crystal clear: to be drunk with wine means to be controlled, brought under the influence of wine. Visible behavior characteristics begin to take place as a person comes under the influence of wine.

In contrast, to be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit so the filled believer does things that are unnatural for him under the control of the Spirit even as the drunken individual does things that are unnatural for him under the control of the spirits.63

The comparison is in the matter of control. A drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he has consumed. Because of this he thinks in ways normally unnatural to him. Likewise, the man who is Spirit-filled is controlled, and he too acts in ways that are unnatural to him. This is not to imply that these ways are erratic or abnormal, but they are not ways which belong to his old life. Thus being filled with the Spirit is simply being controlled by the Spirit.64

The issue is not getting the Spirit within, but of allowing the indwelling Spirit to take charge and move into every area of the believer’s life.

Reduced to its simplest terms, to be filled with the Spirit means that, through voluntary surrender and in response to appropriating faith, the human personality is filled, mastered, controlled by the Holy Spirit. The very word filled supports that meaning. The idea is not that of something being poured into a passive empty receptacle. “That which take possession of the mind is said to fill it,” says Thayer, the great lexicographer. That usage of the word is found in Luke 5:26 (KJV): “They were filled with fear,” and in John 16:6: “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” Their fear and sorrow possessed them to the exclusion of other emotions; they mastered and controlled them.65

The Nature and
Purpose of the Filling of the Spirit

What exactly is the nature and purpose of the filling of the Spirit? Is it enablement for service, or is its design the sanctification of the believer? In Acts the filling of the Spirit is clearly seen as God’s enablement for service and for witness and proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. also Acts 4:8; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9, 52).

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

Acts 4:31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously.

In the book of Ephesians, the filling of the Spirit produces worship, submission, and changed relationships in the home and on the job (cf. Ephesians 5:18-6:9).

As in other similar situations the question arises, why make a choice? There is an evident connection between the character of the witness and the impact of the witness; furthermore, the call to be filled with the Spirit comes in a context of concern for the lost and the impact of believers on the world. There is a call for moral purity in Eph. 5:1-14 and a call for careful commitment in Eph. 5:15-16 followed by the command to be filled with the Spirit, which results in the worship, submission, and relationships mentioned above.66

It is evident that these results from the filling of the Spirit in Ephesians 5 occur in a setting of witness and testimony on the part of the church. As a result, the most effective way to resolve the issue is to answer that the filling of the Spirit is both an enduement of power for sanctification and service, and that there is a direct relationship between service and sanctification, since character confirms witness (note particularly the relationship between unity and witness in John 13:34-35 and John 17:21-23).67 (Emphasis mine.)

The Walk by Means of the Spirit

Is there any difference between the command to be filled with the Spirit and the command to walk by means of the Spirit? Though they would seem to be basically synonymous, there does seem to be a difference in focus or emphasis.

Walking by the Spirit Described

Galatians 5:16 commands Christians, “live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” It is an imperative of the daily life—not an option. The verb “live” is in a tense (continuous present) that stresses a continuous, moment-by-moment responsibility and need. In essence, all believers are responsible to walk by the Spirit. Failure to do so constitutes a sin of negative volition to God’s grace, an act of failing to walk by faith in God’s resources. Just as a person who walks with the aid of a cane, leans on and depends on the cane so to walk by the Spirit is to be faith-dependent on the Spirit for each step of one’s daily life. The promised result that comes from walking by the Spirit is simply that the believer begins to experience behavioral changes: growing deliverance from the control of the flesh or from the reign of sin, but also the positive production of the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 stresses that the alternative to walking by the Spirit is the control of the flesh. Unless the believer walks by the Spirit, he will fulfill the desires of the flesh. In essence, then, the believer is either controlled by the Spirit or controlled by the flesh. That which he depends on as his resource for daily living determines who or what controls his life and the direction his life will take.

Walking by the Spirit Defined

Walking by the Spirit is a Spirit-dependent walk which means a conscious determination to trust or rely only on the resources of the indwelling Spirit for strength to obey God and overcome the desires of the flesh. It is negative, a turning away from, and positive, a turning to, i.e., the believer chooses to turn away from self and turn to the Holy Spirit for ability to live the Christian life. This is accomplished through faith (cf. Gal. 5:5). But vital to an attitude of moment-by-moment dependence is the study of the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship with others, and keeping short accounts with God through bonafide, honest to God confession that seeks to maintain a right relationship with God. The results will be the fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh.

Galatians 5:18-26 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

Distinction Between the Filling of the Spirit and Walking by the Spirit

The filling of the Spirit initiates the Spirit’s control through submission, whereas walking by the Spirit maintains the Spirit’s control through step-by-step dependence. In filling we submit or yield to the Spirit—in walking we depend on the Spirit. As we saw, to walk by means of anything is to depend on that element in order to walk. In that sense, walking by the Spirit means depending on the Spirit for daily living. However, in the Greek text, both commands are present imperatives of continuous action; both are the products of faith and obviously occur simultaneously. The main difference is in the meaning of the verbs and in their voice.

“Filled” is the passive voice while “live” is active. The idea of “filled” meaning “control” and the passive voice suggest the concept of submission or being yielded. We are volitionally to continue to release control of our lives to the Spirit. He is allowed to take control and make Christ at home in the believer’s life (Eph. 3:16-17). In the filling of the Spirit, we give up the right to run our lives; we submit to Him. The filling of the Spirit is very much parallel with Romans 6:12-13.

Ephesians 3:16-17 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love,

Romans 6:12-13 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

The active voice plus the basic meaning of the word “live” places stress on actively choosing to take each step by faith in the Spirit as the means of walking. The goal is to maintain the Spirit’s control along with an attitude of submission or yieldedness. In reality, the two commands are just two ways of saying the same thing, but with a different focus.

Why We Must Be Filled With and Walk by the Spirit

1. It is commanded in the Word

God would not give us these commands if they were not necessities. The fact God has commanded it, settles it. This is not a matter for debate nor an option that can be ignored without serious consequences.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

Galatians 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

2. There can be no production without it

Since the flesh (our human resources) profits nothing and gives no capacity for real spiritual life, we desperately need God’s resources—the filling of the Holy Spirit. The great necessity of the filling (control) of the Spirit is evident by the many ministries He alone can accomplish in our lives. As the Lord reminds us, “The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63).

Romans 7:15-25 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want—instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

3. We cannot please God without it

The opposite of the filling of the Spirit is to be fleshly minded. To be fleshly minded is to have a flesh-dominated life, one that is concerned with self-centered pursuits, with the earthly, and with the temporal at the expense of the spiritual, the heavenly, and the eternal. We are in the world, we can use the world and enjoy the blessings God gives, but this is not to be our focus or that which controls us. Take time to read and think on Matthew 6:19-33; and 1 Timothy 6:6-19 as well as the passage below.

Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

4. There is no spiritual growth without it

A casual reading of John 16:7-15; 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:3; Galatians 3:1-3; Ephesians 3:16-19 show how involved the Holy Spirit is in our ability to understand and apply the Word and, as a result, grow in Christ. After all, He is the Spirit of Truth.

John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

Sin in a believer’s life grieves the person of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and quenches His power (1 Thess. 5:19). Fellowship and submission to the Spirit is broken. The Spirit is still present and at work in the believer’s life, being grieved, the control of the Spirit is hindered, quenched. The solution for known sin is confession (1 John 1:9) which is basically synonymous for repentance. When we truly confess sin with the goal of spiritual change and the Spirit’s control in mind, the control of the Spirit is restored as is fellowship with the Lord. This truth is evident in two passages that deal with growing in the Word. Note 1 Peter 2:1 dealing with sin (which must include confession) precedes the exhortation to hunger and growth through the Word in verse 2. The same emphasis can be seen in James 1:21a when compared with 1:21b.

1 Peter 2:1-2 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

James 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

5. We cannot glorify God without it

When we walk by the Spirit, we are walking by faith in God’s resources and will be concerned with God’s purposes. This is true even more so as we grow and mature in the Lord (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When we walk by the flesh, we are arrogantly walking by our own resources. This is a lack of trust in God and amounts to seeking to handle life apart from Him (Jer. 17:5). This obviously dishonors God, even if we are involved in religious activity or works. Glorifying God always begins with the Spirit-filled life.

Jeremiah 17:5 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.

6. We are powerless without it

This should be obvious, but since the Spirit is our divine Enabler, to walk without the control of the Spirit is to walk in the weakness of our own resources (cf. also Rom. 7:15-25; 8:3-13; Gal. 5:16-25).

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

7. We cannot know joy and peace without it

Note this clear emphasis in the following passages:

Romans 8:6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace,

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Psalm 32:4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)

Psalm 51:12 Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!
Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!

How to Walk by or Be Filled With the Spirit

The commands to be “filled with the Spirit” or “live by the Spirit” are commands for believers to get in proper adjustment to the Holy Spirit through faith so they are brought under the control, enablement, and direction of the Spirit who already indwells them. It is a spiritual state where the Holy Spirit is free to fulfill all that He came to do in the heart and life of believers.

Note the following five points by way of clarification and review:

(1) All believers, whether babes or mature, may enter into all the ministries and blessings of the Holy Spirit when properly related and adjusted to the Spirit through faith.

(2) The filling of the Spirit is not a matter of securing more of the Spirit, nor of gaining the presence of the Spirit again after some sin. The Holy Spirit comes to permanently indwell the believer from the moment of personal faith (John 7:17-39; 14:16). The presence of the Spirit is a proof and guarantee of salvation (Rom. 8:9). Though any known sin grieves His person and quenches His power, it does not remove His presence which is promised “unto the day of redemption,” a reference to glorification at the return of the Lord (Eph. 4:30).

(3) The filling of the Holy Spirit is a matter of submitting to and being properly adjusted to the reality of His blessed presence through faith so that He is free to enable and take charge of the believer’s life—mind, heart, and will.

(4) The filling of the Holy Spirit is a moment-by-moment relationship with the Spirit that may be hindered at any time by failing to actively trust and live by those principles and promises of Scripture that tell us how to be properly adjusted to the Spirit’s presence.

(5) The Spirit-controlled walk seems to have both an absolute and a relative aspect. As to fellowship either we are under His control, enjoying His fellowship, or we are controlled by the flesh, grieving the person of the Spirit. Romans 8:4-7 shows that either we are walking according to the flesh, minding the things of the flesh, or we are walking according to the Spirit, minding the things of the Spirit. But in another sense, there are degrees depending on one’s growth, and this is somewhat related and maybe a little confusing. On the one hand, the element of degrees is related to maturity wherein believers learn to surrender and depend more completely on the Holy Spirit for strength as they more and more come to realize their total inability to handle their lives. So even when in fellowship with no known sin unconfessed and walking in dependence on the Spirit, because of the matter of maturity, no one is totally under the Spirit’s control. If they were, there would be sinless perfection, a state impossible in this life. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive…” (Italics mine.)

Furthermore, it seems clear that the Spirit may empower a person more at certain times than at other times, but if we are in fellowship and walking with Him, this then becomes more a matter of His sovereign purposes than of our fellowship (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-12). As explained earlier, this was the case in several instances in Acts (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31). It is certainly not a matter of receiving more of the Spirit.

As we have seen, there are four simple commands in the New Testament with regard to the ministry of the indwelling Spirit. As commands to believers, these undoubtedly point out the issues involved with being controlled by the Spirit of God. The two negative commands clearly show us that there are things which may hinder His control just as the two positive commands point out definite positive conditions we must meet (by faith) if we want to be controlled by the Spirit and experience His power.

It would seem logical that there is a relationship between these four commands. How can believers be filled with the Spirit if they are grieving the Spirit? By the same token, how can believers be walking by the Spirit if they are quenching the Spirit? It is theologically and scripturally sound to conclude that if we deal with that which grieves and quenches the Spirit, we are then in a position to submit to and walk by faith in the Spirit.

That this is scripturally correct is clear from the following considerations:

(1) The ministry of the Spirit is vital to fellowship with the Savior, i.e., to sharing in His life so that Christ is literally “at home” in the believer’s life.

Ephesians 3:16-17 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love,

(2) Walking in the light and fellowship are synonymous. To walk in the light is to have fellowship with the Lord and to have fellowship with the Lord is to walk in the light (1 John 1:7). By the same token, to walk in darkness is to be out of fellowship (1 John 1:6). To walk in darkness is to live in disobedience. Since the Spirit is crucial for fellowship and obedience, the Spirit must be both grieved and quenched so that His ministry is clearly hindered, stifled.

1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The Negative Aspect: Hindrances to His Control and Ministry

(1) Sin Grieves the Person of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 warns “do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” “Grieve” is the Greek lupew which means “to make sorrowful, grieve, pain, offend.” That sin is the cause of the pain or grief or of what is offensive is clear from the context and the use of the adjective “holy” to describe the Spirit. In both the preceding and following context, the apostle is encouraging believers to put off old sinful patterns and to replace them with patterns of righteousness.

Ephesians 4:24-32 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.
25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood , each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor , for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. 27 Do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need. 29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

Further, that known sin is the issue is obvious in that no person can intelligently deal with unknown sin, and only known sin directly constitutes overt rebellion or disobedience. Of course, all sin is ultimately the result of our rebellion and failure to appropriate God’s grace.

Known sin in the life of a believer grieves, pains, and offends the heart of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit is holy and abhors sin. In the interest of God’s glory and His purpose to indwell us, He longs to control or empower us for God’s service, and to transform us into the character of Christ. When He cannot, He is grieved because He is offended by the sin, particularly by the sins of self-reliance and rebellion which hinder His purpose in indwelling us. Note James’ comment on this, “Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning?” (James 4:5)

(2) Sin Quenches the Power of the Spirit. First Thessalonians 5:19 warns, “Do not extinguish the Spirit.” It is used of extinguishing fiery arrows (Eph. 6:16), a smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20), and of the unquenchable fire of hell (Mark. 9:44). Since the Holy Spirit is sometimes likened to fire (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3), Paul used it figuratively in the sense of stifle, resist, or suppress in relation to the ministry of the Spirit. This does not, however, suggest the Spirit may be extinguished or removed.

In the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:19, the command “do not extinguish the Spirit” comes as part of a series of exhortations which end Paul’s message to the Thessalonians. The epistle praises the Thessalonians for their spiritual walk and witness (1:2-9), but it also challenges them to continue to live obediently, orderly, and in harmony with one another and with those in leadership. These praises and challenges are given in the light of the rapture and the imminent return of the Lord mentioned in every chapter of the book.

Verse 20 warns against despising prophetic utterances which entailed direct revelation from God (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Prophetic utterances in Paul’s day are comparable to the Bible in our day since the primary function of the prophet was to speak forth God’s revelation in a day when God’s Word was not yet complete as it is today. To despise prophetic utterances is the same as despising or treating God’s Word with contempt by resisting or refusing to obey it. To refuse to obey God’s Word is to walk independently according to the flesh; it is to think and act as though one has the ability to guide his own life (cf. Jer. 10:23).

To quench the Spirit, then, … is to act consciously and willfully against God’s written word, to deliberately disobey a known command of Scripture, and to do so in such a way that the promptings of the Holy Spirit are silenced in the conscience of the disobeying believer.

It is evident, once again, that such a believer cannot be depending upon the Spirit in such a response so he can neither be filled nor walking by the Spirit. As in grieving the Holy Spirit so in quenching it is inevitable that the flesh will be controlling such a believer and sin will be accomplishing its purpose in that person’s life.68

Writing regarding what he called the second condition of true Spirituality, Chafer wrote:

The Spirit is “quenched” by any unyieldedness to the revealed will of God. It is simply saying “no” to God, and so is closely related to matters of the divine appointments for service; though the Spirit may be “quenched,” as well, by any resistance of the providence of God in the life.69

Just what is the difference between grieving and quenching the Spirit?

In grieving the stress is on the person of the Spirit who, being Holy, is pained and offended by known sin in the life of any believer. Why? Because He longs to make us holy, separated unto God and His will. Grieving brings out the concept of fellowship and focuses our attention on what sin does to that fellowship with the Lord and the Spirit. Though a believer’s relationship as a child of God remains secure, fellowship is broken. There is a barrier that stands in the way (cf. Isa. 59:1-2). I am reminded of Amos 3:3: “Do two walk together without having met?”

Grieving the Spirit points to the need of readjustment to the Spirit or restoration to fellowship through confession of all known sin. Grieving occurs because of sin, because of disobedience. While obedience does not produce the filling of the Spirit—obedience is a product of the Spirit’s control over the flesh—disobedience does grieve because it constitutes unyieldedness and a failure, at that point, to depend, rely on the Holy Spirit.

In extinguishing the Spirit the stress is on resisting the enabling ministry of the Spirit who longs to enable and lead believers in obedience to God’s will. Extinguishing is directly related to yieldedness or the dedication of our lives to God. Writing in connection with “do not extinguish the Spirit” in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, and in a section dealing with the yielded life in Romans 12:1-2, Chafer wrote:

What greater evidence of the fall do we need than that we must struggle to be yielded to Him? … It is because our daily life will be helpless and a failure apart from the leading of the Spirit, and because the Spirit has come to do this very work, that we cannot be rightly adjusted to Him, or be spiritual, until we are yielded to the mind and will of God. … A full dedication of our bodies to be a “living sacrifice” is the “reasonable service” and is an issue of first importance for the child of God. … There is no mention here of some particular service that might be made an issue of willingness. It is only self-dedication to whatsoever God may choose for us now, or ever.70

The opposite of quenching is the positive presentation or dedication of one’s life to God for His control as an act of faith that reckons on the reality of our new life in Christ.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,

Romans 6:8-11 and 13 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus…13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

The believer simply will not experience the control of the Spirit without this yieldedness on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis. But our yieldedness, as with all of the Christian life, is really a matter of trust or faith. The unyielded person is the person who thinks he can run his own life, who believes his way is best, and who therefore is trusting in his own ability and wisdom. Yieldedness grows with the realization of I can’t, but He can, and therefore, with faith in God and in the fact His will is always perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

The word “present” in Romans 12:1 is the same Greek word, paristemi, used by Paul in Romans 6:13 of presenting, offering, or yielding one’s life and members to God as those alive from the dead. Note the following translations:

Romans 6:13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

Romans 6:13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (NIV)

Romans 6:13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (KJV)

Note several things that work against the Spirit-controlled walk:

(1) The two pulls—legalism and license. Legalism is man, operating in the energy of his own resources, seeking to do good deeds or religious works, and then thinking this somehow merits standing with God, or makes him better than others. In legalism, man’s faith is in his own ability. Christianity is reduced to a set of rules and laws without the inner heart relationship of faith and trust reaching out to God’s mercy. License, on the other hand, is the tendency of those who may know God’s grace and freedom in Christ, but abuse it for self-centered reasons in the pursuit of their liberty. This is the opposite of love and an evidence that this person is really not controlled with the Spirit but by his or her own self-centered desires. Galatians deals with both of these pulls (cf. Gal. 5:1-15 with Rom. 14-15; and 1 Cor. 8).

(2) The three powers vying to control us—(a) the world around us (Rom. 12:2), (b) the flesh (self-dependent living) within us (Gal. 5:16-17), and (c) the devil who is always against us (Eph. 6:10-18).

1 John 2:12-17 I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil one. 14 I have written to you, children, that you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young people, that you are strong, and the word of God resides in you, and you have conquered the evil one. 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

(3) Four problems hindering growth and spiritual change by the Spirit—(a) ignorance of God’s Word (Rom. 6:1f), (b) bias: preconceived ideas from one’s background that blocks out the truth of Scripture (Mark 7:6-13), (c) unbelief or a spirit of self-trust (Jer. 17:5; cf. Gal. 3:3, 5; with 5:1-5), and (d) dishonesty with ourselves, our proneness to rationalize our sin rather than confess our sins in a truly biblical manner (Psa. 32:3-5; 51:6, 10, 16).

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness

1 Corinthians 11:28-32 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

(4) There are a number of crucial lust patterns through which man typically seeks to find happiness in the form of satisfaction, significance, and security—desires for position, possessions, wealth, power, praise, and pleasure. These are the killers. But they are also idols—gods of man’s making that he thinks will meet his needs and satisfy his longings. Each of these desires represent false sources of faith, things we depend on rather than the Lord and the ministry of the Spirit. They are the products of Satan’s and the world’s delusions—the lies people believe.

The Positive Aspect: The Spirit-Controlled Walk

This aspect revolves around two positive commands of the New Testament. As mentioned earlier, these are Galatians 5:16, “live by the Spirit” and Ephesians 5:18, “be filled with the Spirit.” There are other relevant passages like Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20, both of which call on believers to pray in the power of the Spirit. They show our prayer life must likewise be dependent on the ministry of the Spirit.

Ephesians 6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit,

But what do we do when we have grieved and quenched the Spirit through some form of sin? What exactly is the process to both re-establish and maintain fellowship and the Spirit’s control in the life?

The first step of faith necessary to walk by the Spirit in submission to Him is honest confession of all known sin. This restores fellowship so the process of the Spirit’s control can continue if we immediately deal with our sin. Or, if we have been out of fellowship for a period of time (like David in the Old Testament who refused to deal with his sin until confronted by Nathan the prophet) confession restores the Spirit to control again (cf. also 1 Sam. 12:1-13; Psa. 32:3-4; 1 John 1:9).

Proverbs 28:13-14 The one who covers his transgressions will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and abandons them will find mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who is always cautious,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into evil.

Again, let me repeat, the first step of faith, submission, and positive volition to walk by the Spirit, where known sin has occurred, is confession, deep down honest to God acknowledgment of our sin and its effects on our walk with God and the ministry of the Spirit. But our understanding and confession need to go deeper!

The need is to see what is at the bottom of our behavior, namely, faulty sources of trust, as well as false perceptions of what we think we need for happiness or security. Remember, this too is a matter of trust and biblical insight. Until we see this as the real issue, the Spirit will leave us floundering in our own weakness. But why? To bring us to the end of ourselves and self-trust because at the core of our lives is faith in the wrong things. Here again we see the element of growth. This is the issue we need to see and that we must confess.

Further, confession needs to be done with a view to establishing the Spirit’s control so the flesh can be controlled and God glorified.

Included here is the need and the issue of brokenness wherein we come to the end of ourselves and our sources of self-trust. So, while on the one hand we may think we are submitting to the Spirit by faith, on the other hand we may still be trying to manage our own lives, and in reality we are walking by faith in our own machinations.

Once we have confessed known sin with a view to yielding our lives to the Spirit’s control and God’s glory, what else is needed for the Spirit-controlled walk to be consistent and continuous? Well, obviously, believers need a continuously yielded life of faith-dependence on the Spirit as the source of strength and guidance. After all, in reality, the failure to walk dependently is the bottom line cause of all known sin. But how is this maintained and developed? That’s a key question!

Keys for Maintaining the Control of the Spirit

Comprehending the Truth of Identification (Rom. 6)

We dare not miss the importance of our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection to the Spirit-controlled walk. That it is basic, vital, and motivational for walking by faith in the Spirit’s control should be clear from the fact Paul placed the identification truth of Romans 6 before the ministry of the Spirit in Romans 8.

Why is Romans 6 important to the walk of faith in the Spirit’s control? Because it declares the believer’s liberty and assures us we do not need to “remain in sin” (Rom. 6:1). “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). We have the glorious potential of walking in newness of life because of our identification with the Savior in His death unto sin’s reign and with His resurrection unto newness of life. But as with all aspects of the Christian life, we must know, believe, and apply the truth we know.

Let’s note briefly the structure and truth of Romans 6:

The Foundation: Things to know and comprehend (Rom. 6:1-4). Because believers have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection that they might also walk with Him in newness of life, it is inconceivable, a moral contradiction, that they would continue allowing sin to reign in their lives.

The Implication: The resulting certainty (Rom. 6:5). Union or identification with Christ in His death also necessitates identification with Him in His resurrection. The “if” in verse 5 represents a condition in the Greek text which assumes the reality of the condition. In this context, it can be translated “since.” “Certainly” represents the Greek alla, the strongest conjunction of contrast in the Greek New Testament. It emphatically declares that if the first clause and fact is true, and it is, then so is the second clause a fact.

The Application: Truth to believe, count on as true, and obey (Rom. 6:6-14). The application of the truth of verses 1-5 is seen and expressed in four key words:

(1) Know (vss. 6-10): Knowing we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, we believe that we too may have the fruit of both in our experience.

(2) Consider or Count on as true (vs. 11): With this knowledge as a foundation for faith, we are to count ourselves as dead unto sin’s reign and alive to God in Christ Jesus. “Consider” (NASB), “count” (NIV), or “reckon” (KJV) is the Greek logizomai, “calculate, count on as true.” It was a mathematical term used of calculating a row of numbers to come to the exact sum. By adding up the truths of verses 1-10, we are to think and believe accordingly. This reckoning is not a “make believe” kind of response, nor simply positive thinking, but the reckoning of reality. Here are spiritual truths that must be seized by faith. The verb is a present tense of continuous action. Here are spiritual facts that must be seized and applied moment by moment as the foundation for deliverance, yielding by faith to the power of the Spirit.

(3) Yield, Present, Offer (vss. 12-13): Note in these verses the emphasis on our personal responsibility for obedience is presented both negatively (“do not let sin reign,” “do not present”) and positively (“but present yourselves to God”). While deliverance is supernaturally wrought in us by the power of God, it is our responsibility to appropriate God’s deliverance through presenting or yielding our lives to God. This is dramatically brought out in the Greek text. In these verses we have both a present imperative of prohibition which means “stop presenting,” followed by what grammarians call an ingressive aorist imperative meaning “but start presenting.” We accomplish the negative by the positive. Putting off is accomplished by putting on through the yielded life.

But what does it mean to “present yourselves to God as those alive …”? “Present” is the Greek paristhmi, “to place beside, to put at one’s disposal, present, offer.” It was used as a technical term in the language of sacrifice. This is the word the apostle uses in Romans 12:1 where he exhorts us to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. There is, therefore, an active concept of presenting ourselves to God, but this is followed by the passive idea of yieldedness because in presenting ourselves to God we also place ourselves at God’s disposal for His power and will to be wrought in our lives.

(4) Obey (vs. 14): The concept of obedience is explicitly brought out in verse 12 and implicitly in verse 13, but that this obedience is not the product of human will power, but the grace of God working in the heart of the believer by faith, is made clear in the declaration of verse 14. Under the Law, we are left to our own strength while under grace we are brought under the power of God through our identification with Christ, and as chapter 8 teaches, through the ministry of the Spirit. But the point must also be made that if there is no obedience, then there is no corresponding reckoning on our union with Christ and no dependence on the Spirit.

Comprehending the Truth of Brokenness (Rom. 7)

We might title Romans 7 “Powerless Sanctification.” In it we see that the death of Christ delivers us from the Law as a rule of life (vss. 1-6), and that the life of Christ delivers us from the old nature as a hindrance to life—the two natures of the believer in conflict (vss. 7-25).

The Theme: The Law cannot produce sanctification in the life of believers and believers cannot produce sanctification in their life by depending on the desire of the new nature to try to keep the Law.

(1) The Believer’s Deliverance From the Law. Using the illustration of marriage under law and freedom through death, Paul shows believers are freed from the jurisdiction of the Law because of their co-identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (7:1-6).

(2) The Purpose of the Law (7:7-13). Being holy, the Law reveals sin (vs. 7). Being sinful ourselves, the Law provokes or arouses sin in us (vss. 8-9). The Law, though designed for man’s blessing, becomes a killer because of our sin (vss. 10-11). The Law, being holy and good, reveals the sinfulness of sin (vss. 12-13).

(3) The Inability of the Law and the Struggle with Sin (7:14-25). The Law, because of the power of sin, cannot change us (vs. 14). The Law, because of the presence of indwelling sin, cannot enable us to do good (vss. 15-21). The Law, though holy and good, cannot set us free because of the law of sin dwelling in our members (vss. 22-24).

In Romans 7:24, “wretched” is a Greek word which means “enduring toils and troubles, afflicted, wretched.” It was used of a person who is exhausted after a battle.

The suggestion here is that we will not find true deliverance until we come to the point and place of Paul’s cry in verse 24. This is the place of brokenness, the place of giving up so that we will turn to our resources in the Savior, not only our position, but God’s provision of the indwelling Spirit of God. Compare Psalm 51:1-17, but in particular, verses 16-17. “humble” and “repentant heart” are basically synonymous. Both verbs mean “to be broken, crushed.” As verse 16 suggests, it is not religious works that God wants or that we need. Rather it is coming to the end of ourselves, becoming crushed, broken by the load of trying to run our own lives or attempting to deal with our sinfulness apart from God’s provision of grace and the ministry of the Spirit.

Comprehending the Truth of Being More Than Conquerors (Rom. 8)

In answer to the cry of Romans 7:24, “Who will rescue me,” one of the keynotes triumphantly played in Romans 8 is that of freedom or emancipation. Even though the Christian still faces the conflict of the sinful nature or indwelling sin (Rom. 7:23), he can overcome the ruling power of sin through the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, this chapter is the believer’s emancipation proclamation that expands the length, breadth, height, and depth of life.

Borrowing from Ryrie’s Study Bible, Romans 8 can be outlined as follows:

  • Emancipated Living: living victoriously by the power of the Spirit (8:1-11)
  • Exalted Living: living as mature sons of God (8:4-17)
  • Expectant Living: living joyfully in the midst of suffering (8:18-30)
  • Exultant Living: living gloriously as super-conquerors through Him who loved us regardless of what life may bring (8:31-39)71

For the Christian, there is:

(1) Freedom from judgment because for the believer in Christ, there is no condemnation (8:1-3).

(2) Freedom from defeat, no more under bondage to sin if we will but walk by the Spirit (8:1-17).

(3) Freedom from discouragement even in the face of the sufferings of life because of the glory to be revealed and the prayer ministry of the Holy Spirit (8:18-30).

(4) Freedom from anxiety because, as super-conquerors, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:31-39).

The revelation of this passage concerns the marvelous ministry of the Spirit of God as God’s perfect supply for living the Christian life. Building on the identification truths of Romans 6, the great obligation of Romans 8 concerns the Christian’s need to put to death the sinful deeds of the body by walking according to the Spirit (cf. 8:4-6, 12-13).

Comprehending the Consequences of Carnality

The American Heritage Dictionary (electronic version) defines “carnal” as: (a) Relating to the desires and appetites of the flesh or body; sensual. (b) Worldly or earthly; temporal. [ME < Lat. carnalis < Lat. caro, flesh.] carnality ( karnalite). Scripturally, the term comes from 1 Corinthians 3:3 which is translated variously:

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (KJV)

For you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (NASB)

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (NIV)

for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like ordinary people? (NET)

In the Greek text, the word translated above as “carnal,” “fleshly,” or “worldly” is sarkikos from sarx, meaning “flesh.” Sarkikos means “fleshly, adapted, fitted to the flesh” and thus controlled by the flesh. Words ending in ikos denote an ethical or dynamic relationship.72 This word is equivalent to kata sarka, “according to the flesh” in Romans 8:4, 5. In 2 Corinthians 10:4 the apostle wrote, “for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons” ( sarkikos).

The “flesh” may be defined as that strong and rebellious disposition in people to operate out of their own human resources to meet their needs and wants, the things they perceive they must have for security, satisfaction, and significance. Rather than trust in God, “flesh” as a ethical term, represents a spirit of independence, a commitment to do one’s own thing, in one’s own way, and from one’s own resources. Thus, to be carnal means to adapt our lives to the flesh way of life, to use fleshly resources or weapons to manipulate and handle life rather than the spiritual resources given to us by God such as the indwelling Spirit, the Word, and prayer.

Scripture is full of warnings concerning the disastrous consequences of carnality, the pursuit of life apart from faith in God, living independently of His direction and power, or pursuing our own way. For instance, compare just the small sampling of the following verses:

Jeremiah 17:5 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.

Isaiah 50:11 Look, all of you who start a fire
and who equip yourselves with flaming arrows,
walk in the light of the fire you started
and among the flaming arrows you ignited!
This is what you will receive from me:
you will lie down in a place of pain.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way of death.

Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

(1) Loss of Fellowship. The first consequence is the loss of fellowship with the Lord plus the absence of the control of the Holy Spirit and His fruit in one’s life (cf. 1 John 1:5-7). When the Spirit is grieved and quenched (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19), we are hindered in prayer (Ps. 66:18), in witnessing (Acts 1:8), in Bible study (1 Cor. 2:10-16; Eph. 3:16f), i.e., in all the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. To trust in one’s self is to fail to trust in the Spirit.

The ministry of the Spirit when He is grieved and quenched must of necessity be turned from His positive ministry of enabling to one of pleading and convicting concerning sin. As the one who convicts the world of sin (John 16:8), so the Holy Spirit pleads and works to convict believers to bring them to repentance and a return to fellowship. In this condition, there is the consequence of misery and the loss of joy and the blessedness of fellowship with the Lord. This pleading, reproving ministry is obviously also connected with the message of the Spirit in the Word. The letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, with the exception of one, were letters of rebuke designed to convict and restore these churches. Each is concluded with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Psa. 32:3-4).

(2) Dissipation of Resources. When believers are controlled by the flesh, another consequence is dissipation or wastefulness of their spiritual, mental, and physical resources (Eph. 5:18). Included in this are the works of the flesh with their awful destructive consequences to health, integrity, human relationships, and society as a whole.

Galatians 5:15, 19-21 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another…19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.

(3) Divine Discipline. Because God is our Father and the Vinedresser of His vineyard, carnality will eventually result in divine discipline—the heavy hand of God designed to train and restore His people to Him (cf. also Heb. 12:5-11).

Psalm 32:4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)

1 Corinthians 11:29-32 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

(4) Loss of Testimony. Another consequence of not walking in fellowship is the loss of our testimony in the world and dishonor to the Lord (cf. also 1 Pet. 3:15-17; 4:15-16).

1 Peter 2:12-17 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. 13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.

(5) Loss of Rewards. Another consequence is the loss of rewards at the Bema (Judgment) Seat of Christ (cf. 1 John 2:28-3:3). See Part 1, Lesson 7 for a study on the Bema.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

In addition to the above, if we continue to live in open rebellion and refuse to get right with the Lord, the following consequences may occur:

(6) Increased discipline from the heavy hand of God.

Psalm 32:4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)

Hebrews 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”

(7) Continuation in rebellion may require the church to take action even to the point of excommunication. The church today often fails to exercise church discipline or it is done in the wrong manner (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Cor. 5).

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.

(8) Divine discipline to the point of physical death may also occur.

1 Corinthians 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that.

Other Truths Important to
Maintaining the Control of the Spirit

As expressions of faith and as further acts of yieldedness, believers need:

(1) Bible study and the hearing of the Word.

2 Timothy 2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

James 1:21-25 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

(2) Scripture memory.

Psalm 119:11 In my heart I store up your words,
so I might not sin against you.

Proverbs 3:3 Do not let truth and mercy leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.

(3) Prayer (cf. Ps. 119). Almost the entire Psalm is addressed to the Lord and concerns sanctification.

Psalm 139:23-24 Examine me, and probe my thoughts!
Test me, and know my concerns!
24 See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me,
and lead me in the reliable ancient path!

(4) Fellowship with believers, and public worship.

Acts 2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Hebrews 10:23-24 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,

Such are all to be done in the power of the Spirit, but they are nevertheless vital to one’s spiritual walk, to faith, and to a Spirit-dependent life. These biblical disciplines are designed by God to promote and cultivate a dependent walk with Him through faith. Though they are never to be done out of a spirit of legalism, when we neglect these things, we are quenching the Spirit by an unyielded life and by a life of unbelief. We are in essence seeking to live by the light of our own man-made firebrands, leaning on the arm of our flesh (our human resources), and building our own cisterns (Isa. 50:1-11; Jer. 17:5).

The author of Hebrews shows us the vital relationship between daily hearing the voice of the Spirit of God from the Word of God, and having a yielded and believing heart—a heart of faith that is so vital to walking by means of the Spirit. He shows this relationship in Hebrews 3 and 4.

First, there is the warning against failing to hear the voice of the Spirit which leads to a hardened heart of unbelief. Faith comes from hearing the Word.

Hebrews 3:7-8 and 15 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!
8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness…15 As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 3:12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God.

Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

Second, as a protection against an unyielded, hardened heart of unbelief, there is the encouragement for fellowship with believers (vs. 13 and 10:23-24), and the need for the Word of God itself which is always the place where the voice of the Spirit of God is heard.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

Peter implicitly gives us the same emphasis in 1 Peter 2:1-2, “So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,”

Peter speaks of growing “up to salvation.” Since the word “salvation” can refer to any kind of preservation or deliverance depending on the context (cf. Acts 7:25; 27:34; Phil. 1:9; Heb. 11:7), it should always be understood from the context. For instance, in Hebrews 11:7 it is used for the deliverance of Noah and his family from the waters of the flood.

Here in 1 Peter 2:2, Peter is not writing about gaining eternal life or an entrance to heaven. Rather, he is writing about experiential sanctification (phase 2 of salvation), specifically, deliverance from the fleshly patterns mentioned in verse 1. And while deliverance is through the power of the Spirit, as the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit never operates independently of the Word of Truth.

There is the need, then, of a healthy appetite and a regular diet of the “pure, spiritual milk,” a clear evidence of a yielded life versus one that quenches the Spirit through a spirit of independent living. Remember, the command “do not extinguish the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19) is followed by “do not despise prophetic utterances,” a reference to the proclamation of God’s truth, which for us today, is equivalent to the Word. The truth of 1 Peter 2:2 can also be found in James 1:21f.

Keeping in mind the element of growth or maturity, the following chart illustrates the Spirit-dependent life:

The studies that follow will focus on those faith disciplines of the Word (Bible study, prayer, worship, etc.) that will enhance and develop yieldedness and faith in the indwelling presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit and His direction in the believer’s life.

61Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 67.

62Daniel B. Wallace, Selected Notes of New Testament Greek, 4th Edition, p. 65.

63 William D. Lawrence, Class Notes, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993, p. 11-14.

64 Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 93-94.

65 Oswald J. Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Moody Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 101.

66 Lawrence, pp. 11-13.

67Ibid., pp. 11-14.

68Lawrence, pp. 12-13.

69 Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That is Spiritual, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1967, p. 86.

70Ibid., pp. 87-88.

71 The Ryrie Study Bible, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1976, 1978, pp. 1712-1714.

72 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key To The New Testament, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Regency, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 393.

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The Word-Filled Life

Developing the Mind of Christ

Introduction

The Bible is the Christian’s resource book, his manual for living, the light to his path, and the index for faith and practice. The Bible is God’s Word—His special revelation by which man is to cleanse and direct his way. As God’s revelation to man, it teaches man things he absolutely cannot learn about life and death apart from this very special revelation as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

Psalm 119:9-11 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!
10 With all my heart I seek you.
Do not allow me to stray from your commands!
11 In my heart I store up your words,
so I might not sin against you.

This revelation includes things such as the truth about God as a triunity or trinity (His essence, character, purposes, and plan); things about man (his origin, make up, fall, sin, and need); about the physical world and its true origin as the creation of the Creator and its future redemption; about Satan and the forces of evil in the world; about God’s plan of salvation for man through faith in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ (salvation from sin’s penalty, power, and one day from its presence); the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit; and about things to come. Because of man’s finite limitations, his natural spiritual blindness, and his spiritual condition in sin, the Bible is (as the late Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote) a book that man could not write if he would and would not write if he could.

Because of what it is and does, the Bible is the most important book of the Christian’s life. Note the following sampling of verses:

Matthew 5:18-19 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:18-21 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Christians not only need to know their Bibles, but they need to know about their Bible. It is important to be carefully informed as to its value that they may be more motivated to use it and use it properly in view of its character, purpose, and origin. Because spiritual understanding, faith, practice, and obedience to God is dependent on the Bible, the doctrine of the Bible (bibliology) is one of the most important doctrines of Scripture that a person can know.

David wrote, “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Ps. 138:2, KJV) (emphasis mine). The NASB renders the second portion of this verse “For Thou hast magnified Thy Word according to all Thy Name.” The NIV has “for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”

“According” or “above” (KJV) represents in the Hebrew text, the hiphil stem of the verb gadal plus the preposition al. This would normally mean “above” as translated by the KJV, but all these are possible translations. Regardless of which translation one accepts, the text is declaring the importance of God’s Word to both the knowledge and worship of God. Knowing God, which the mention of God’s name includes, is dependent on knowing God’s Word. As it is sometimes said, “a man’s name is as good as his word,” so God’s name and knowing God is dependent on the truth, faithfulness, and accuracy of His Word and one’s knowledge of the Scripture. With this in mind, let’s consider what the Bible is.

The Attributes of the Bible

Psalm 19:7-14 The law of the Lord is perfect
and preserves one’s life.
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable
and impart wisdom to the untrained.
8 The Lord’s precepts are fair
and make one happy.
The Lord’s commands are pure
and give moral insight.
9 The commands to fear the Lord are right
and permanent.
The regulations given by the Lord are trustworthy
and completely just.
10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.
11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there;
those who obey them receive a rich reward.
12 Who can avoid sinning?
Please do not punish my unintentional sins.
13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins;
do not allow such sins to control me.
Then I will be blameless,
and innocent of blatant rebellion.
14 May my words and my thoughts
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my protector and my defender.

It Is God-Breathed: Inspired Revelation From God

A proper definition of inspiration must naturally be formed on the basis of the teaching of Scripture. With this in mind, Ryrie gives the following definition and explanation:

… God superintended the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded without error His message to mankind in the words of their original writings.

Notice carefully some of the key words in this definition. (1) The word “superintend” allows for the spectrum of relationships God had with the writers and the variety of material. His superintendence was sometimes very direct and sometimes less so, but always it included guarding the writers so that they wrote accurately.

(2) The word “composed” shows that the writers were not passive stenographers to whom God dictated the material, but active writers.

(3) “Without error” expresses the Bible’s own claim to be truth (John 17:17).

(4) Inspiration can only be predicated of the original writings, not to copies or translations, however accurate they may be.73

The following data presents the testimony of the Bible concerning itself as the inspired revelation of God. This is testimony which needs to be heard, but should one not want to listen to this testimony—and many do not—they not only ignore the testimony of the Bible, the witness of the defendant to itself, but they also ignore a large amount of other evidence which has tremendous weight and substantiates this testimony of the Bible.

This evidence includes the inexhaustible depth of the Bible; its marvelous continuity from Genesis through Revelation; its world-wide circulation, the purity and ethics of the Bible; its unrelenting faithfulness to present truth and its refusal to hide the sin of its heroes; its relevance in all generations; the testimony of archeology; the fulfillment of prophecy; its prevailing power to change not only individuals, but whole societies; and its preservation and survival in the face of one attack after another to either destroy or discredit it.

This is particularly significant when we compare the Bible’s preservation with all the other writings of antiquity.74

The greatest testimony to the authenticity of the Bible as God’s Word is the Lord Jesus. Why is His testimony so important? Because God authenticated and proved Him to be His own divine Son by the resurrection (cf. Acts 2:22-36; 4:8-12; 17:30-31; Rom. 1:4). Christ clearly confirmed the authority of the Old Testament and promised the New Testament.

Note what Christ taught about the Old Testament:

  • Its Authority (Matt. 22:43)
  • Its Reliability (Matt. 26:54)
  • Its Finality (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10)
  • Its Sufficiency (Luke 16:31)
  • Its Indestructibility (Matt. 5:17-18)
  • Its Unity (Luke 24:27, 44)
  • Its Clarity (Luke 24:27)
  • Its Historicity (Matt. 12:40)
  • Its Facticity (scientifically) (Matt. 19:2-5)
  • Its Inerrancy (Matt. 22:29; John 3:12; 17:17)
  • Its Infallibility (John 10:35)75

With this in mind, let’s look at the testimony of the defendant itself. In any just court of law, the defendant has the right to be represented and heard.

The Fact of Inspiration

2 Tim. 3:16-17 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

All Scripture is inspired, literally, “breathed out ( qeopneustos) of God.” We could translate it, “all Scripture is God-breathed.” This points to the means and source of inspiration. Our English word “inspire” carries the idea of breathing into something. The Greek word, however, teaches us God breathed out the Scripture. Though God used human authors to record His message, the Bible has its source in God who breathed it out through the human authors. He used their vocabularies, experiences, and personalities, but He was the ultimate source and they were but the human instruments. More will be said on this below when we consider “the how of inspiration.”

The Extent and Nature of Inspiration

All Scripture, the entire Bible, Genesis through Revelation, is inspired and profitable. This points to the extent of inspiration. It is all inspired. Theologians often refer to this as plenary inspiration. The result is that the whole Bible is “true, tried, perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, more desirable than gold, and sweeter than honey” (Psa 19:7-9; 119:140). Such descriptions point to the verbal, plenary, unlimited inerrancy and infallible nature of the Bible (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-13). Note the following verses where the argument hinges on one word (Gal. 3:16, “seed”; Matt. 22:31-32, “am”).

Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Matthew 22:31-32 Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!

Galatians 3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ.

Regarding the true nature of inspiration and the attack that has gone on for years over the truth of inspiration, Ryrie writes:

While many theological viewpoints would be willing to say the Bible is inspired, one finds little uniformity to what is meant by inspiration. Some focus it on the writers; others, on the writings; still others, on the readers. Some relate it to the general message of the Bible; others, to the thoughts; still others, to the words. Some include inerrancy; many don’t. These differences call for precision in stating the biblical doctrine. Formerly all that was necessary to affirm one’s belief in full inspiration was the statement, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.” But when some did not extend inspiration to the words of the text it became necessary to say, “I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible.” To counter the teaching that not all parts of the Bible were inspired, one had to say, “I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible.” Then because some did not want to ascribe total accuracy to the Bible, it was necessary to say, “I believe in the verbal, plenary, infallible, inerrant inspiration of the Bible.” But then “infallible” and “inerrant” began to be limited to matters of faith only rather than also embracing all that the Bible records (including historical facts, genealogies, accounts of Creation, etc.), so it became necessary to add the concept of “unlimited inerrancy.” Each addition to the basic statement arose because of an erroneous teaching.76

The Value of Inspiration

Since all Scripture is God-breathed, being the product of an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful and loving God, the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 goes on to state that the entire Bible is profitable for four things: for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

(1) Teaching—“Teaching” is the Greek didaskalia and means “doctrine” or “teaching.” It is used in both the active sense (i.e., the act of teaching), and in the passive sense (what is taught, doctrine). In the pastoral epistles, Paul uses it of the act of teaching (1 Tim. 4:13, 17; 2 Tim. 3:10), and of what is taught as in sound doctrine (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 4:6, 16; 6:1, 3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1; 2:7, 10). As many of these passages show, especially Titus 2:1, our teaching must be in accord with sound doctrine. And for doctrine to be sound, it must be in accord with the inspired Word. Ultimately, teaching or doctrine—the content—refers to God’s fundamental principles for man’s life, both eternal and abundant, the basics, the fundamentals upon which life is to be built.

(2) Reproof—This is the Greek elegmos which means “proof, conviction, reproof.” The mos ending shows this is a passive noun which looks at the result of the process of the convicting ministry of the Spirit through the Word—personal conviction through exposure to truth. One might compare elegmos to another Greek word, elenxis, an active noun which looks at the process of reproving or exposing. Both need to go on in the life of a believer. The goal, however, is not simply the process. It’s the result—personal conviction. Like the light it is, the Bible reproves and exposes us to the various ways we violate the plan and principles of God in all the relationships of life, with God and with people such as in one’s family, in the church, and in society. Once we have been reproved and experience conviction (reproof) to the violations, we each face a very important decision. We can move toward God and respond to His correction and training, or we can rebel and resist. If we resist, then, as a Father, He disciplines us to draw us back to Him.

(3) Correction—This is the Greek epanorqwsis which means “setting up straight, setting right.” It stresses the restorative nature and capacity of Scripture and points to the more immediate work of the Word to set our feet back on course. The Psalmist wrote, “The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one's life” (Psa. 19:7a).

(4) Training in righteousness—“Training” is paideia which basically means “training, instruction, discipline,” not in the sense of punishment, but in the sense of the disciplines that train and develop character, strength, skill, etc. This is undoubtedly more long range and refers to those truths that develop godly character and spiritual strength—growth truths and procedures like Bible study, meditation, and prayer.

The Purpose of Inspiration

The purpose is that “that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:17). The Bible offers us God’s comfort and His peace as it reveals His love, care, and mercy, but this is always in the context of conforming us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29) and equipping us for a life of good works (Eph. 2:10). Equipping us is designed to produce righteousness and ministry rather than self-indulgence.

Being “fit” looks at the result or the intended result of a process, the aim in view. I think the process itself is seen in the word “equipped.” Note these three points about this word:

(1) “Equipped” is the Greek exartizw which means “to outfit, fully furnish, fully supply” as in fitting out a wagon or a ship for a long journey. It was actually used of outfitting a rescue boat.77 We might compare our Coast Guard vessels and their crews that are so well equipped to go out and rescue ships in trouble.

(2) “Equipped” is an adverbial participle which points us to the mode or the means of becoming “adequate,” “capable,” or “competent.” We might translate the verse as “that the man of God may be capable, by having been thoroughly equipped.”

(3) Finally, the verb is in the perfect tense which, in Greek, often looks at the results of preceding action or a process. In the context, the process is that of studying, knowing, and applying God’s inspired Word while the result is ability for ministry through spiritual growth.

God’s goal, in giving us His Word and our goal in studying and knowing God’s Word, is to thoroughly fit us out that we might become fully competent servants of God for every kind of good work in the midst of a dark and needy world, like thoroughly equipped rescue vessels on missions of mercy.

The How of Inspiration

2 Pet. 1:20-21 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

No passage of Scripture tells us as much about the how of inspiration as does this passage in 2 Peter. Though all of 2 Peter 1 does not deal with the how of inspiration, there are four important things that it would be well to note about this first chapter and its context.

First, there is the context and purpose of this passage. Since God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the great and precious promises, i.e., the Word of God, Peter was writing to challenge his readers to diligence in becoming fruitful in their knowledge of the Savior (1:3-11). In other words, faith must not stand still; it must grow. Further, he wanted to remind them and us that our faith does not stand on the shifting sands of man’s cleverly devised fables or human ideas. Rather, it is grounded in the marvelous revelation of God in the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the written Word, the prophetic Word of God to which we do well to pay close attention.

2 Peter 1:12-21 Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. 13 Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, 14 since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. 15 Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.
16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

In the process of setting forth this focus, Peter mentions his personal experience of seeing the majestic glory of the transfiguration of Christ when he heard from heaven, “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted” (vss. 16-17). But He goes on to teach us something that is tremendously important, especially in our day when so much is made regarding personal experiences which often take precedence over Scripture. Note that in verse 19 Peter writes, “Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this…” We need to ask, “More sure than what?” More sure than even his experience of seeing Christ’s transfiguration. Now that which Peter, James, and John saw has become a part of the record of the Word and provides important revelation of the person of Christ. But the point is, our experiences, as bonafide as they may be, never take precedence over the authoritative Word of God because it is more sure, steadfast, and reliable. The Word is our authority and it alone must judge our experiences and determine faith and practice.

The NIV’s translation of verse 20 is much closer to the original Greek, more in accord with the preceding and following context, and clearly expresses the truth to be gleaned here. It reads, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” This simply declares that whatever the prophets wrote or whatever we find in the Word, it was not the product of the author’s own ideas or human opinion. In verses 16-19, the issue being discussed is the source of the apostolic message. Was it human fable, or was it from God? Verse 20 answers the first part of this question. It was not from man. The second part of the question is found in the next verse. Note the connecting and explanatory “For” of verse 21.

Verse 21 teaches us that both God and man were involved in the production of the Bible, but in such a way that God was not only the ultimate source, but He both directed the writing and guaranteed the accuracy of the product. The human authors actively spoke God’s Word and they were more than dictation machines, but to insure the accuracy of what was spoken, the human authors were moved and carried along by the Holy Spirit. “Moved” is feromenoi, a Greek passive participle meaning, “to be carried, be borne along.” This word was used of a ship being carried along by the wind in its sail in Acts 27:15, 17.

Catching the import of this, Ryrie writes:

Though experienced men, the sailors could not guide it so they finally had to let the wind take the ship wherever it blew. In the same manner as that ship was driven, directed, or carried about by the wind, God directed and moved the human writers He used to produce the books of the Bible. Though the wind was the strong force that moved the ship along, the sailors were not asleep and inactive. Similarly, the Holy Spirit was the guiding force that directed the writers who, nevertheless, played their own active roles in writing the Scriptures.78

This verse, then, teaches us two things regarding the “How” of inspiration: (a) The will of the human authors never directed the writings of the Bible and (b) the Holy Spirit as the ultimate source ensured the accuracy of what they wrote in every way.

The Breadth of Inspiration

2 Pet. 1:3-4 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

It is clear from verse 4 and the reference to “his precious and most magnificent promises” that Peter has the Word of God in view in these two verses. First, there is the declaration that God “has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness.” Second, life and godliness come through the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus, but such knowledge comes through the Word, the precious promises. In essence then, this points us to the breadth of what God’s Word covers, “everything pertaining to life and godliness.”

While God does not reveal everything that He could reveal, many things He has chosen to keep to Himself (Deut. 29:29), the Bible does cover all that man needs for life and godliness through its revelation of God and of Jesus our Lord. We have everything we need, nothing is missing. Consequently, being God’s inspired Word, the following is also true …

It Is Alive and Powerful

In this attribute of the Bible, we see the quickening and energizing power of the Word of God to regenerate and change or transform the lives of men as it reveals the very wisdom of God and brings men into a vital relationship with Him through its truth.

1 Peter 1:23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

It Is Perfect, Without Defect

(1) It is without blemish, complete, pure, tried, and thus truth, true.

Psalm 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and preserves one’s life.
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable
and impart wisdom to the untrained.

(2) It is uncontaminated, flawless.

Psalm 12:6 The Lord’s words are absolutely reliable.
They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground,
where it is thoroughly refined.

(3) It is thoroughly tested and found flawless by testing.

Psalm 119:140 Your word is absolutely pure,
and your servant loves it.

(4) Scripture declares its own inerrant and unadulterated character, unblemished by the myths and fallacies of man.

Psalm 19:8-9 The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one happy.
The Lord’s commands are pure and give moral insight.
9 The commands to fear the Lord are right and permanent.
The regulations given by the Lord are trustworthy and completely just.
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.

James 1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

It Is Sure and Trustworthy

The testimony of God’s Word is sure, that is reliable, trustworthy, with the inherent capacity to impart God’s wisdom to the simple, to those who come to him in childlike openness rather than depend on their own human wisdom.

Psalm 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and preserves one’s life.
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable
and impart wisdom to the untrained.

It Is Right (Righteous)

As the righteous revelation of God, Scripture enlightens and brings men into a right relationship with the God for whom man was created. Nothing can give joy to the heart like knowing God through His righteous Word.

Psalm 19:8-9 The Lord’s precepts are fair
and make one happy.
The Lord’s commands are pure
and give moral insight.
9 The commands to fear the Lord are right and permanent.
The regulations given by the Lord are trustworthy and completely just.

It Is Great and Precious,
More Valuable Than Gold, and Sweeter Than Honey

In these pictures we see the inherent value of the Bible and our need to evaluate our priorities and pursuits.

2 Peter 1:4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

Psalm 19:10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.

It Is God’s Channel of Faith and Deliverance

It is through the Scripture that God builds our faith and is able to bring us into the power of His life through the person of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

2 Peter 1:4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

Psalm 119:9-11 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!
10 With all my heart I seek you.
Do not allow me to stray from your commands!
11 In my heart I store up your words,
so I might not sin against you.

It Is Inexhaustible

No matter how deep we dig into the rich treasures of the Word, we barely scratch the surface. This is only to be expected since it is the revelation of an infinite God to finite man. Have you not said or heard others say, “You know, I have studied that passage for years, but I never saw that truth until today.”

Ephesians 3:2-8 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me—less than the least of all the saints—this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (italics mine).

Actions of the Word
(What It Does )

Picture 1: A Sword

The Greek word for sword is macaira, the short, two-edged sword of the Roman soldier. With this weapon a soldier was never left off balance, nor was he as vulnerable to the thrusts from the weapons of his enemy because it was easier to use.

Passages:

Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

Principles Portrayed:

(1) The fact of our warfare or conflict: This is the emphasis in Ephesians 6. The Word of God is our offensive and defensive weapon against all of our enemies—the World with its anti-God influences, the Flesh and its many strong desires, and the Devil with his devilish schemes. With this picture God is warning us that without the Word we cannot defeat any of these enemies. The Scripture is our sword, a sharp two-edged sword, one we can wield effectively and actively without being thrown off balance as with the weapons of the flesh. It is significant that when the Lord was tempted by the Devil, He repeatedly parried the thrusts of Satan’s temptations with “It is written” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).

(2) This picture also portrays penetration: It portrays the capacity to cut deep and penetrate into the innermost part of our being and meet our innermost needs, the spiritual needs of the soul. This is the emphasis in Hebrews 4:12. The Word has the capacity to deal with our deep-seated problems of guilt, fears or anxieties, wrong motives, angers, frustrations, and our need for significance, meaning, and purpose.

Problems We Face—Use and skill:

In Ephesians 6:17 Paul is telling us we need to take up our armor. This means learning to know our sword and how to use it by daily practice.

In Hebrews 5:12 the author is dealing with the problem of negligence. Because of the amount of time these believers had been saved, they should have been teachers of the Word. They had neglected the assembling of themselves together to hear the Word, however, and were woefully unskilled in the use of Scripture.

Hebrews 5:11-12 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food.

Picture 2: A Critic, Judge

Passage:

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

Principles Portrayed:

This teaches us that the Word is God’s personal analyzer of our lives. It is a critic, a judge of what is right and wrong. It tells us how we are doing, where we are going wrong, why, and how to correct it. Just as a performer has critics of his performance, so the Word is a critic of both our attitudes and actions, our performance, our inner life, and our overt behavior.

Problems We Face:

We must be a people who have ears to hear and submit to the judgment of the Word on our lives. We need to be a submissive people, but as John R. Stott accurately writes,

Seldom if ever in its long history has the world witnessed such a self-conscious revolt against authority. … What seems new today, however, is both the world-wide scale of the revolt and the philosophical arguments with which it is sometimes buttressed. There can be no doubt that the twentieth century has been caught up in a global revolution … All the accepted authorities (family, school, university, State, Church, Bible, Pope, God) are being challenged. Anything which savors of ‘establishment,’ that is, of entrenched privilege or unassailable power, is being scrutinized and opposed.79

Questioning what people say, if we use God’s Word as our index, is not always bad and is even commended by Luke in Acts 17:11. But if we are not careful we can be caught up in the mood of the day and become insensitive and unresponsive to the preaching and teaching of the Word. We treat it as though it were merely someone’s opinion and we can become too impressed and filled with our own opinions. Stott continues,

Now everybody has his own opinions and his own convictions, and considers them just as good as the preacher’s. ‘Who does he think he is,’ people ask—silently if not aloud—‘that he should presume to lay down the law to me?’80

But the issue is does the message (whether in a book, on a tape, or from a pulpit) reflect the truth of Scripture? Is it based on Scripture and sound exegesis according to grammar, context, and the analogy of Scripture, or is the preacher or teacher abusing the Word? Is he guilty of eisegesis, reading into it his own ideas to promote his own agendas?

Picture 3: A Lamp, Light

Passages:

Isaiah 5:20 Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead,
who turn darkness into light and light into darkness,
who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.

Isaiah 50:10-11 Who among you fears the Lord?
Who obeys his servant?
Whoever walks in deep darkness,
without light,
should trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
11 Look, all of you who start a fire
and who equip yourselves with flaming arrows,
walk in the light of the fire you started
and among the flaming arrows you ignited!
This is what you will receive from me:
you will lie down in a place of pain.

Psalm 36:9 For you are the one who gives
and sustains life.

Psalm 119:105 Your instructions are a lamp that shows me where to walk,
and a light that shines on my path.

Psalm 119:130 Your instructions are like a doorway through which the light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Proverbs 6:23 For the commandments are like a lamp,
instruction is like a light,
and rebukes of discipline are like the road leading to life,

Principles Portrayed:

The purpose of a lamp is its light-bearing capacity. In Scripture, light has a three-fold use and significance:

(1) The Operational Use: This use of light emphasizes the action of light. Light gives illumination or sight. Light shines in our lives to dispel darkness, to illuminate our path or our walk step-by-step. Light keeps us from stumbling and running into those things which can harm us. Light, as such, is protective.

(2) The Intellectual Use: This use of light stands for the concept of truth and is opposed to error and that which deceives and deludes. It is through the light of the Word that we are able to recognize and avoid the myths and heresies of a satanically-inspired and deluded world. A reporter asked a pedestrian if he knew what the two greatest problems in the world were. The man answered, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” The reporter replied, “You’re right, how did you know?”

What we do not know about God’s Word not only can hurt us, but in time it will. Why? Because throughout history people have fallen victim to lies—myths that become accepted as truth. Say it often enough and in the right setting and people will eventually begin to believe it—believe it or not! Where do these myths come from? They come from the brainwashing we receive daily from our cultural environment as well as the rationalizations (a nice word for the lies we often tell ourselves to get our own way).

Let me share a few myths:

  • The myth that God is pleased with our religiosity—that all we have to do is put in our appearance at church once a week, sing a few hymns, get a rosy glow, and look interested in what the preacher has to say. But as one whose life was meshed with God’s Word and speaking to the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus quoted Isaiah and said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:6-7; 1 Cor. 11:17ff).
  • The myth that we can ignore God’s Word and be okay. But the Word says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness.” (Hebrews 3:7-8a). The author is showing us that if we do not listen to the Spirit of God daily, we are going to be influenced and hardened by sin.
  • The myth that temptation is some overt, momentary solicitation to evil and that our strength lies in what we do at that moment—when the truth is that victory is based upon growing in faith, in attitudes, conditioning, and patterns, that have been forming for weeks, months, even years.
  • The myth that because we hear thunder and don’t see the immediate wrath of God that we are getting away with sin and can neglect spiritual priorities.

Note the following illustrations:

Because they wanted to settle east of the Jordan where they could pasture their herds, Moses warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad concerning failure to help the rest of the nation drive out the inhabitants of the land,

Numbers 32:23 But if you do not do this, then look, you will have sinned against the Lord. And know that your sin will find you out.

In Galatians Paul wrote,

Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

In Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 we read these words,

When a sentence is not executed at once against a crime,
the human heart is encouraged to do evil.
12 Even though a sinner might commit a hundred crimes and still live a long time,
yet I know that it will go well with God-fearing people—for they stand in fear before him.

(3) The Moral Use: In this use we see the final product of light is righteousness. In Isaiah God reminds us that our ways are not His ways—and they are not because our thoughts are not His thoughts. Righteousness and morality simply cannot exist in a doctrinal vacuum where God is not known in truth because it is the truth, it is the light of Scripture which sets us free (Isa 55:8f).

Problems We Face:

No lamp is useful unless it is switched on and directed to one’s path or on the details of one’s life (cf. Matt. 5:14f). Being a light to others begins by living in God’s light (the Word) ourselves. We must know how to use our lamp. It is not really our lamp until we have studied it and are willing to apply it. The world is full of darkness, but the lamp of the Word—God’s truth—dispels the darkness of the world. It is instructional for us to note Paul’s warnings and commands in Ephesians 5 where he warns us that it is all too easy for us to walk in darkness even though we are children of light. It requires an active response and commitment to the Word before we will expose our lives to the light of Scripture.

Jeremiah 10:23 Lord, we know that people do not control their own destiny.
It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them.

In Philippians 1:10 the word sincere is the Greek eilikrinhs . While the entomology and derivation of this word has been questioned, one suggestion is that it is composed of $eilh , sunlight, and krinw , to judge. It means to judge or see by the light and describes what can stand the judgment of the light of the sun. It refers to a man whose life is free from falsehood and deceitfulness. In ancient times the word was used of the practice of shoppers concerning articles in the marketplace. Ancient shops were dark and imperfections in a piece of furniture or a vase could easily be hidden and covered over with wax or paint. Because of this practice, shoppers would take the article out into the sunlight to see if the merchandise was free from flaws, to see if it was eilikrinhs . Friends, this is what we all need. We need to daily and weekly expose ourselves to the sunlight of God’s holy Word.

Philippians 1:10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ,

Picture 4: A Mirror

Passages:

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

James 1:22-25 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

Principles Portrayed:

A mirror is a reflector of one’s likeness. It reflects our image. Fortunately, unless it is twisted or deformed in some way, a mirror does not lie. The Bible is a perfect mirror—it reflects reality, the reality of what we are. A color photograph can be touched up here and there to hide a mole, wart, wrinkle, or scar, but a mirror shows us exactly what we are. But fortunately the Bible, as a mirror, has a dual purpose or a dual reflection.

When a little boy stands in front of a mirror with his dad, he sees himself and his dad whom he would like to be like when he grows up. It provides him with a model for how he would like to look. God’s Word is like that. It not only shows us who and what we are, but it also shows us the Lord Jesus—our example and goal. But this only happens as we learn to focus on Him in the mirror of His Word and walk by the Spirit.

Problems We Face:

Like the other pictures of the Word, a mirror must be used properly or it has no benefit. By the non-use or misuse of our mirror, we can fail to benefit by this marvelous gift of God for our transformation and healing. I am reminded of the morning miracle my beautiful wife performs daily in the presence of a mirror. In fact, think about what most people would look like if they gave no heed to what they saw in the mirror each morning before they washed, brushed, curled or used a little makeup.

The emphasis in James 1:19-25 is that we cannot afford to be superficial believers who take just a casual look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. It is too easy for each of us to do that through mere religious activity like going to church and Sunday school or spending ten minutes in a daily devotional booklet. Contextually, James is talking about having a faith that is active and productive so that it results in spiritual deliverance and practical demonstrations of righteousness in transformed living.

Note James 2:21 where James asks the question, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” James is not contradicting Paul. When Paul talks about justification by faith he is referring to justification before God, but James is writing about justification before men, the practical proof and manifestation of real fellowship with God in contrast with mere religiosity.

The Greek word for “justified” is dikaiow . This word has two main uses. (a) It may mean “to declare, pronounce righteous or treat one as righteous.” In this sense it means to declare guiltless, to acquit of a charge. Paul uses dikaiow or the idea of justification in this sense. Because of the work of Christ and through personal faith in Christ, our sins are forgiven, the penalty of sin is removed, and we are declared or pronounced righteous in Christ. (b) But dikaiow may also mean to show or exhibit or prove that one is righteous.81 This is the sense in which James uses the term. With this in mind, read James 1:19-21.

The subject here is the positive production of God’s kind of character, positive righteousness or transformed living accomplished through faith in our new regenerated life in Christ. As regenerated people who have faith in Christ, our lives should be different.

James 2:1 My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

James 1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

But if our faith in the living Christ is to actively appropriate His life in ours in a consistent life-changing way that demonstrates our justification, the new life must be brought into a right relationship with the living Word, which, like seed that is planted, germinates and takes root, grows and produces (another picture), resulting in spiritual deliverance. This is the thrust of verse 21.

In James 1:22-25, James tells us that unless we are carefully using God’s Word to bring about personal deliverance and spiritual change, we are deceiving ourselves and circumventing (bypassing) God’s purpose and design.

“Prove” in the NASB is a present imperative of the Greek verb, ginomai. It means “become” and refers to a process of learning to apply the Word consistently. The KJV reads, “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only …” “Doers” is poihths and refers to productive action according to a design.

“Not merely hearers” is literally “and not hearers only or alone.” “Only” or “alone” is the Greek monos which means “to be without a companion.” Bible study and religious activity must be married to application and positive righteousness and ministry or it leads to deception.

“Who delude themselves.” “Delude” is paralogizomai from para, “along side” or “by, past,” plus logizomai, “to think, reckon, calculate.” James is warning against thinking in such a way that one passes by the truth and its design or purpose and thus becomes deceived.

How do we deceive ourselves? We deceive ourselves when we think one thing while the opposite is true (cf. vs. 26). In this way we actually circumvent the truth and annul its design. Scripture is designed to bring Christlike change. If this is not happening, then, we become further deceived by remaining dupes and pawns for Satan’s tricks and the world’s deceptions because we refuse to get with God’s Word (cf. vs. 27). If we don’t live deeply and reflectively in the Word, we are going to be affected deeply, even subliminally by the world. So what is God’s design?

  • Reading and Hearing the Word which should lead to …
  • Reflection as in meditation on the Word, contemplation which should result in seeing our image and His (revelation from God).
  • Response (positive response to God) should lead to …
  • Reformation (transformation and production through personal application).

But

  • Revelation without an adequate response (meditation and application) leads to …
  • Rebellion through misconception, deception, pretense, indifference, and betrayal, etc.

Or we face the alternatives:

  • Rote—catechistic religion, mechanically learned religion (Isa. 29:13). This is the mere memorization of rules and regulations or doctrines and precepts. It looks at a fixed course or routine and repetition without attention to meaning and application. This leads to:
  • Rut—mere religious habits, going through the motions without spiritual reality. Rut is walking in a religious routine of ritual and memorized sayings and ideas, but without spiritual and personal appropriation—failing to become hearers and doers. This leads to:
  • Rot—failure to produce. Christians who are basically nonproductive and may eventually experience God’s discipline. Rot can of course be caused by the spiritual deadness of religious unbelievers, like the Pharisees of Christ’s day—white washed tombs. They were painted white on the outside, but rotten and dead on the inside. The concept is also applicable to carnal Christians who, though saved, fail to abide in the Vine (John 15) and thus fail to produce.

Picture 5: Rain, Snow, Water

Passages:

Isaiah 55:10-11 The rain and snow fall from the sky
and do not return,
but instead water the earth
and make it produce and yield crops,
and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat.
11 In the same way, the promise that I make
does not return to me, having accomplished nothing.
No, it is realized as I desire
and is fulfilled as I intend.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.
6 They will be like a shrub in the desert.
They will not experience good things even when they happen.
It will be as though they were growing in the desert,
in a salt land where no one can live.
7 My blessing is on those people who trust in me,
who put their confidence in me.
8 They will be like a tree planted near a stream
whose roots spread out toward the water.
It has nothing to fear when the heat comes.
Its leaves are always green.
It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought.
It does not stop bearing fruit.

Ephesians 5:26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word,

Principles Portrayed:

(1) The Picture of Cleansing: The word “prunes” in John 15:2 is the Greek word, kaqairw, literally, “to cleanse.” It was used of pruning useless branches. Read Matthew 15:1-20 and 12:33-35. Do you get the picture? The Pharisees were meticulous about their external religious activities, but they were filthy inside because they were neglecting the water of the Word which would cleanse their hearts and fill them with what was good.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person maintain a pure lifestyle?
By following your instructions!

John 15:2-3 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. 3 You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Scripture reveals what is wrong with us and provides the proper motivation for change. But it also provides us with the power for change through the truth that it reveals to us in Christ, thus, cleansing our lives from sin and the defilement of this world.

(2) The Picture of Refreshment, Renewal: Like a cool drink of water on a hot day, the Word refreshes and renews the inner man.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

(3) The Picture of Production: Apart from the Word of God, we are like a man wandering in the dry, parched desert, exhausted, sapped of energy and spiritual strength, dried out by the heat of life as he is faced with its pressures and his own inability to count for God. Without the Word to guide, renew, refresh, and inspire us, we will invariably end up expending our energy for the husks of the world.

We may gain much of the world and its riches, or perhaps spend life in its pursuit, but, either way, if God’s Word is not the wellspring of our lives, we will waste our lives as far as God’s purposes are concerned. But with the Word as the river or wellspring of life, we become like the man who trusts the Lord in Jeremiah 17:5-8 and Psalm 1:2-3.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 The Lord says,
“I will put a curse on people
who trust in mere human beings,
who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,
and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.
6 They will be like a shrub in the desert.
They will not experience good things even when they happen.
It will be as though they were growing in the desert,
in a salt land where no one can live.
7 My blessing is on those people who trust in me,
who put their confidence in me.
8 They will be like a tree planted near a stream
whose roots spread out toward the water.
It has nothing to fear when the heat comes.
Its leaves are always green.
It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought.
It does not stop bearing fruit.

Psalm 1:2-3 Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he intently studies his commands day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;
it yields its fruit at the proper time,
and its leaves never fall off.
He succeeds in everything he attempts.

Problems We Face:

We tend to be like a man in the desert who sees a mirage and thinks it is the means of quenching his thirst. Similarly, men often pursue what they think will give them happiness and fulfillment, and the pleasures and possessions of the world. But it is a mirage. It is an illusion placed there by Satan which men believe because they aren’t properly rooted by the streams of the Word. Such have sought to live their lives by trusting in their own resources and have cast themselves out into, as it were, a wasteland of human solutions and delusions. They haven’t learned to recognize the difference between true happiness and mere pleasure.

A man may commit adultery or fornication and experience sexual pleasure, but by no means does he experience true happiness. And, as it is true in sexual fornication, so it is equally true with every form of spiritual fornication where men prostitute themselves to the world and turn away their ears and hearts from their God. Are you a tree planted by the streams of living water? Or are you like a tumbleweed without stability being tossed about by every wind of influence and temptation?

Picture 6: Food, Bread

Passages:

Job 23:12 I have not departed from the commands of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my allotted portion.

Jeremiah 15:16 As your words came to me I drank them in
and they filled my heart with joy and happiness.
That is because I belong to you.

Ezekiel 2:8 As for you, son of man, hear what I say to you: Do not rebel like that rebellious house! Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.

Ezekiel 3:1-3 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you see in front of you—eat this scroll—and then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth and he fed me the scroll. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, fill your belly and your insides with this scroll I am giving to you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Principles Portrayed:

(1) Sustenance, Strength, Endurance: Just as man needs physical food to sustain his health and life and give him strength, so God has created us that our spiritual life must be fed and nourished on the spiritual food of the Word. The following are two passages that attest to this.

Job 23:12. “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my allotted portion.” In answer to the accusations of Eliphaz, Job declared he had faithfully followed the path of God. How? Because of his relationship with God’s Word. To him it was like the necessary food of life.

Jeremiah 15:16. “As your words came to me I drank them in and they filled my heart with joy and happiness. That is because I belong to you.” Jeremiah found strength in the midst of his persecution by the nation because, unlike the nation who had repudiated God’s Word, Jeremiah eagerly welcomed it like food and enjoyed it as the nourishment of his soul.

These two passages demonstrate the necessity of a life fed and sustained on the resources of God’s Word in order to run the race that is laid out before us—God’s plan and purpose for each of us in the midst of the ups and downs of life.

Under this same picture of the Word as our necessary food, these verses demonstrate the importance of God’s Word for motivation, courage and strength, and capacity for ministry. Living on the Word, because it tunes our ear into God’s voice, produces the burden, the willingness, and the courage necessary for ministry regardless of our fears or the obstacles we face. Scripture brings us in touch with the heart of God.

See Appendix 1 for a short exposition of Ezekiel 2:8; 3:1-3, 14.

When we aren’t living in the Word and allowing it to saturate our hearts and minds, we will either (a) fail to minister or, (b) we will minister for the wrong reasons and always without a sense of God’s purpose and without the joy of the Lord.

One of the things which hinders our response to God, to His Word, and the ministry God wants us each to have as He works and leads in our lives is slavery to the details of life or preoccupation with the “good life.” The parable of the sower, the soil and the seed illustrates this in Mark 4:18-19:

Mark 4:14-20 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: Whenever they hear, immediately Satan comes and snatches the word that was sown in them. 16 These are the ones sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root in themselves and do not endure. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 Others are the ones sown among thorns: They are those who hear the word, 19 but worldly cares, the seductiveness of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it produces nothing. 20 But these are the ones sown on good soil: They hear the word and receive it and bear fruit, one thirty times as much, one sixty, and one a hundred.

(2) The Insufficiency of the Details of Life: This picture of the Word as our necessary bread is also designed by God to portray and teach the fact of the insufficiency and futility of the so-called details of life, or even the normal physical necessities of life. It teaches us that man cannot (and was never designed to) live by bread alone. Bread stands for the normal necessities and details of this life by which man attempts to find happiness, fulfillment, or strength.

Deuteronomy 8:3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth.

“He humbled you by making you hungry.” God led Israel into the desert where they had no alternative but to trust Him or murmur against Him. In the desert they could not produce their own food: they had to depend entirely on the Lord. This was both humbling and instructive. But God had a special purpose—“that He might teach you (and so also us) that mankind cannot live by food alone …” This meant that their food, their clothing, everything (vs. 4) was the result of the decree or command of God and His sovereign provision.

God speaks and our needs are either provided or withheld. Man is dependent not just on bread, but on God who makes our bread available. But that’s not all.

This also included God’s purpose for Israel as a nation. The Word that proceeded out of God’s mouth not only set forth His decree as to provision for the physical needs of life, but it included His purpose for Israel to function as a nation of priests to the nations of the world. Remember, the nations had, under Satan’s lies and delusions since the garden of Eden, turned away from God. They had sought to live, in essence, by bread alone, independently of God. They sought to act as though God did not exist (Gen. 3:11). It was because of this that God called Abraham out of Ur through whom would come the nation of Israel who in turn would be: (a) God’s representative to the world, (b) the custodians of God’s Word, and (c) the channel of the Redeemer (Ex. 19:5, 6; Deut. 4:4-8; Rom. 9:4-5).

One of the great motivations and reasons for living is an awareness of God’s purpose, to know life has meaning and goes beyond the day-to-day details and routine. For life to have meaning, men need to sense the destiny and hand of God on their lives. Life without that is a life of futility, as the book of Ecclesiastes makes clear.

Man is totally dependent on God and His Word—on that which proceeds from His mouth. We are dependent on His commands, promises, and purposes, not just for our daily bread, but for an adequate sense of living. Since this is so, shouldn’t we be living in constant dependence on the Lord by living in His Word? God’s Word is our source of faith and our means of occupation with the Lord and His heart.

Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

We were not created to simply make a living and luxuriate on the physical blessings of life independently of God, or even in dependence on God. We were created to function according to God’s purposes, to live through Him and for Him. Anything other than that is utter futility. It’s the picture of the gerbil on the proverbial wheel—constantly on the go but going nowhere. To drive this picture home more convincingly, let’s look at a few more passages.

The place where the events of Numbers 11 occurred was called Kibroth-hattaavah, “graves of craving.” Craving the details of life led to the untimely death of a large number of the people. But more importantly, the people were nostalgically yearning for Egypt and their past in the world rather than focusing on getting into Canaan and God’s purpose for the nation. The complaining of verse 4 started with the rabble, those who were not Israelites and had come with Israel out of Egypt. But as verse 10 shows, this was like leaven, soon spreading throughout the camp.

As Americans with the abundance of food and variety of choices we have, we might be tempted to sympathize with the complaints of the Israelites, but neither God nor Moses did (cf. vss. 1, 10). Please note that with this complaining and these nostalgic remarks concerning the past, the people were actually expressing their opposition to God’s purposes: (a) to bring Israel into Canaan so they could accomplish His priestly purposes for the nation, and (b) to learn the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3—that they must learn to live in joyous dependence on the Lord, His holy purposes, and in what He was doing (cf. 11:20).

Psalm 106:14-15 In the wilderness they had an insatiable craving for meat;
they challenged God in the desert.
15 He granted their request,
then struck them with a disease.

Luke 12:23 For there is more to life than food, and more to the body than clothing.

(3) The Principle of Hunger: As Deuteronomy 8:3 and Numbers 11:4f show us, God often has to let us experience trials and the emptiness and the indigestion of the world’s diet before we will become hungry for His truth and dependent on Him.

Numbers 11:4-6 Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except the manna.”

(4) The Principles of Mastication and Digestion: We need to slowly chew the Word and thoroughly digest it. This means not only study, but careful reflection and meditation with a view to application. We need to ask questions such as: what does this mean? What does it mean to me? How should it affect my life?

Problems We Face:

Satan, the old serpent who deceived Eve (like the snake in the grass that he is) works night and day to deceive men into thinking they can live by bread alone, that man can get by without God and His Word. This is secularism—seeking to live without God in arrogant dependence on ourselves and the details of life.

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, 13 when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, 14 be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery, 15 and who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, an arid place with no water. He made water flow from a flint rock and 16 fed you in the desert with manna (which your ancestors had never before known) so that he might by humbling you test you and eventually bring good to you. 17 Be careful not to say, “My own ability and skill have gotten me this wealth.” 18 You must remember the Lord your God, for he is the one who gives ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm his covenant that he made by oath to your ancestors, even as he has to this day. 19 Now if you forget the Lord your God at all and follow other gods, worshiping and prostrating yourselves before them, I testify to you today that you will surely be annihilated. 20 Just like the nations the Lord is about to destroy from your sight, so he will do to you because you would not obey him.

Today, for the most part, our nation has forgotten God. It has turned away from the absolutes of the Word to a secularistic outlook that seeks to live on the details of life and the husks of the world. Unfortunately, this outlook and condition is not limited to the unbelieving world, but like Israel of old, it has saturated the mindset of much of Christianity. Because of this, Israel failed in their ministry as a nation of priests to the nations, and like Israel, the Christian community is failing in its ministry of outreach to a lost and dying society. The following are some important questions we should ponder:

  • Are we more hungry for the material goods of the world than for the spiritual food of the Word?
  • Do we have time to eat our physical food daily, but no time for the spiritual food of the Word?
  • Do we have time for the news, but no time for the Bible?
  • Do we have time for our favorite TV shows, but no time for Bible class on a regular basis?
  • How is our appetite? When the dinner bell is sounded, when it is time to assemble together to feed on the meat of the Word, are we eager to come and put our feet under the table of Bible study? Or are we ruining our appetites for the Word with the junk food of a secular society?

Picture 7: Gold and Silver

Passages:

Psalm 19:10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.

Psalm 119:72 The law you have revealed is more important to me
than thousands of gold and silver shekels.

Psalm 119:127 For this reason I love your commands
more than gold, even pure gold.

Proverbs 8:10-11 Receive my instruction rather than silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold.
11 For wisdom is better than rubies,
and desirable things cannot be compared to her.

Proverbs 8:19 My fruit is better than pure gold,
and what I produce is better than choice silver.

Principles Portrayed:

In none of these passages is Scripture actually called or directly likened to gold or silver, yet, because of the comparisons and contrasts with gold or silver, these precious metals form another picture with which we may liken God’s Word.

(1) Supreme and Intrinsic Value: Two of the most valuable and precious commodities of the ancient near East were gold and silver. To compare God’s Word with either formed an obvious picture that would dramatize the supreme and intrinsic value of His Word. The Word—like gold and silver—has value the world over. Both are rare and beautiful metals with intrinsic value—especially gold. While other things may lose their value, the Word, like gold, is valuable any place and at any time. In fact, the biblical emphasis is that Scripture is much more valuable than gold, even the purest of gold.

Why is it so valuable? The Psalmist writes, “The law you have revealed is more important to me than thousands of gold and silver shekels.” (Ps. 119:72). In Psalm 19:1-6 the Psalmist discusses the glories of the creational revelation of God and how creation reveals the fact of God and declares His glory. But then, he goes on in verses 7-14 to discuss the inscriptural revelation of God, the Scripture and its character and nature—what the Bible is and does. Because of the attributes and actions of the Word, in the midst of this the Psalmist exclaims, “For this reason I love your commands more than gold, even pure gold”

Scripture is the supreme value of life because it is the Word of God’s own mouth. It is the very revelation of the living God. It is inerrant, infallible, true, tried, and completely trustworthy. It is God’s Holy Word and contains the words of life.

But there is even more that this picture portrays. This picture comparing Scripture with gold teaches us that the Bible, even more than gold, has a redemptive value and a purchasing power that gold or silver can never have.

(2) Redemptive Value or Purchasing Power: Because gold has value, it has purchasing power. Things can be acquired with gold. You can have possessions, land, houses, clothing, gadgets, jewels, furnishings, power, and pleasure with gold. But there is a limit to what money or gold can buy. That which actually counts the most, money or gold is unable to buy. For this we need a different kind of gold, the gold of the truth of the Word of God. In fact, a preoccupation with the gold of this world and what it can buy will keep us from the gold of God’s Word and from the blessings of God.

It is through the Word that we find the Gospel message of our redemption purchased for us, not by the gold and silver of the world, but by the precious blood of Christ. Money can buy neither salvation from sin’s penalty nor deliverance from sin’s power, only faith in the grace of God in Christ can give that. And it is the Word—more precious than gold that perishes—that produces faith.

1 Peter 1:18-19 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ.

Further, as a part of the salvation which the Word gives, it is through the Word that we are able to redeem the time and acquire those things which the world cannot give like security, true happiness, forgiveness of sin, freedom from guilt, an adequate purpose for living, and insight for living. The wisdom of God’s Word is available for all. It is there for the taking, but only those who love her and seek her will find her. Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” Only those who, recognizing the Bible’s value, will go digging for the gold and silver ore of the Word will be able to enrich their deposits of spiritual discernment and capacity for life.

Proverbs 2:4-12 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it like hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand how to fear the Lord,
and you will discover knowledge about God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
7 He stores up effective counsel for the upright,
and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,
8 to guard the paths of the righteous
and to protect the way of his pious ones.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity—every good way.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and moral knowledge will be attractive to you.
11 Discretion will protect you,
understanding will guard you,
12 to deliver you from the way of the wicked,
from those speaking perversity,

This picture of the Word as gold, indeed, as more valuable than gold, necessitates another action on our part—the reevaluation of our values and priorities.

(3) The Reevaluation of Our Values: What do we do when we find something valuable? Read carefully Matthew 13:44-46. This picture of the value of the Bible as gold and silver instructs us to seriously examine and evaluate our values and priorities in life. It challenges us to ask some heart-searching questions.

  • What do I value most? If I say it is God, the Bible, my family, etc., do my actions and the use of my time demonstrate it?
  • What am I pursuing and what am I expecting from the so-called good life?
  • What are we expecting from the world? Are we expecting too much? Are we putting our trust in its gold rather than in the gold of the Word which teaches us about the Lord and draws us to Him?

Isaiah 55:1-3 Hey, all who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come!
Buy and eat!
Come! Buy wine and milk
without money and without cost!
2 Why pay money for something that will not nourish you?
Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing!
Enjoy fine food!
3 Pay attention and come to me!
Listen, so you can live!
Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you,
just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.

This Old Testament passage in Isaiah 55:1-3 has a very special message for us. It does three things: First, it issues a special invitationthat God offers all men. Second, it challenges us to a careful evaluationof the places we have placed our trust, and of our values and pursuits. Finally, it calls us to an investigationof God’s Word to find the real values of life. (See Appendix 2 for a brief exposition of Isaiah 55:1-3.)

Picture 8: Fire

Passages:

Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my message like a fire that purges dross? Is it not like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? I, the Lord, so affirm it.

Jeremiah 20:9 Sometimes I think, “I will make no mention of his message.
I will not speak as his messenger any more.”
But then his message becomes like a fire
locked up inside of me, burning in my heart and soul.
I grow weary of trying to hold it in
and I just cannot do it.

Principles Portrayed:

Fire is used for the concepts of warmth, for tempering and hardening metal, of the smelting process in the production of precious metals like gold and silver, of burning away stubble in preparing a field for production, of burning and consuming what is worthless and to be destroyed, and of cooking food for palatability and consumption. When God compares His Word to fire, what’s the point? What does He want us to learn from this figure or picture? Fire is a picture of:

(1) Warmth: God has designed His Word to warm our hearts for Him, to change hearts that are cold or lukewarm to hearts that are on fire for God, that are burning with His truth, with His values, purposes, and concerns, and sovereign love, grace and control.

(2) Cleansing: The Word burns away and cleanses what is impure and superfluous (useless) in our lives as it is allowed to purify our values, priorities, purposes, attitudes, thinking patterns, and standards of right and wrong (Jer. 20:9).

(3) Judgment: In Scripture, fire is often associated with judgment. God’s Word judges our lives but if we do not judge our lives by the Word, we will eventually be judged by the Lord through His fatherly discipline and eventually at the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ in connection with receiving or not receiving rewards. (For a study on the Bema, see Part 1, Lesson 7.)

1 Corinthians 11:28-32 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15 each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

“Is not my message like a fire?” declares the LORD? (Jeremiah 23:29 ). The context of Jeremiah 23 is that of false prophets who refused to spend time in the counsel of God listening to His Words, giving heed in personal obedience, and proclaiming His truth to the people (23:18, 21-22). Instead, they were pronouncing a vision of their own minds. They were rejecting the warnings of Jeremiah claiming there would be peace and prosperity and no Babylonian captivity. God, therefore, declares that His Word would be to them like a fire, efficacious and powerful and the basis of their own downfall or destruction. Just as a fire consumes chaff, so God’s Word would consume the false prophets.

Problems We Face:We too often fail to judge our lives by God’s Word. We fail to allow the Word to burn away the stubble of our own ideas, agendas, goals. If we fail to allow the Word to do its work, then we will face the consequences.

Picture 9: A Hammer

Passages:

Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my message like a fire that purges dross? Is it not like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? I, the Lord, so affirm it.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments 5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.

Acts 20:32 And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Principles Portrayed:

Besides being good for busting your finger, we all know that a hammer has two main uses— construction and destruction. But when God likens His Word to a hammer, what is He portraying by this picture? Again in the Jeremiah passage, the problem is the same as seen above, the problem of false prophets who were operating on the vision of their own minds. This meant they were rejecting God’s Word through His true prophets, that they were trusting in their own viewpoints, and that this would ultimately result in their own destruction. They were refusing to build their lives on the sure and infallible truth of God. So what are the principles?

(1) Construction, building up: Only the Word, combined of course with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, has the power to build us up in Christ and to develop spiritual maturity and stability (cf. Acts 20:32). We must be constantly building and erecting the spiritual structures of God’s truth into our hearts and minds or we will be building carnal and worldly structures of the false and destructive and humanistic ideas of man. All such humanistic and arrogant ideas first exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. They are ultimately anti-God and anti-man. They hinder our capacity to be what God has designed us to be as His people. In addition, man’s ideas, the visions of man’s own heart, always result in his ruin. They leave us at the mercy of the spiritual elements—the storms and winds of the world just like a man who builds his house on the sand rather than on the rock, Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture.

(2) Destruction, tearing down: Often, in fact generally, before we can build, we must first do demolition work. We must tear down old structures, the human viewpoint, that stand in the way of new construction.

The Problem We Face:

A “fortress” is something arrogantly raised up against the knowledge of God and what that knowledge means to man in its implications, blessings, and responsibilities. It is anything that hinders authentic Christianity. These include anything that works against the application of the knowledge of God and its impact on the life of man. This would include all forms of selfism, humanism, religionism, emotionalism, secularism, cultism, materialism, etc. But it would also include wrong mental attitudes that simply fail to act on the promises, principles, and purposes of the Word.

In other words, the fortresses or strongholds are the arguments, attitudes, and designs which present an obstacle to a proper impact of Scripture and its revelation of God. Through prayer and accurate study of the Word, we should be accomplishing two things: (a) the destruction of any attitude, viewpoint, or thinking that is opposed or is contrary to the viewpoint of Scripture, and (b) in its place, we must be building God’s viewpoint as both the foundation and superstructure of our thinking and living.

Picture 10: Seed

Passages:

Mark 4:14 The sower sows the word.

Mark 4:26-28 He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. 27 He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

Colossians 1:5-7 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. 7 You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—

Principles Portrayed:

(1) The Need of Cultivation: The preparation of the human heart for the Word.

(2) The Goal of Production: The capacity to produce spiritual fruit for God.

(3) The Fact of Automation: The capacity to work automatically, spontaneously.

In Mark 4:28, the words, “by itself,” are the translation of the Greek automatos from which we get our word, automatic. It means “self moved, spontaneously, without external aid, and also beyond external control.” This word is used only one other place in the New Testament, Acts 12:10. There the gate of Peter’s cell opened of its own accord, automatically, without human intervention.

The stress here is that the earth, really the seed planted in the earth, produces fruit automatically. It does so because it is within its nature as created by God to do so. Without the living seed, all the other ingredients, the soil, sun, rain, and cultivation would be futile. These are all cooperative factors, but the life principle, the power for reproduction, is in the seed.

This parable is about the power of the Word of God and how God brings about production and harvest in the lives of men. The Word of God, when sown in the hearts of men, produces fruit. The soil needs cultivation and the seed needs watering, but without the Word, nothing happens. The all important ingredient is the Word which is alive and powerful, the very power of God unto salvation.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

In witnessing God may use our lives and often does to prepare the soil of the hearts of others for the seed of the Word, but ultimately it is the Word that men must hear, the message about Christ.

In our own lives, God may use many things for our spiritual blessing and to aid our growth—singing, encouragement, and the love and fellowship of other believers. But ultimately, it is only the Word sown and cultivated in the heart and mind that results in true and complete spiritual change and fruitfulness.

We each need to ask ourselves some questions: How is my attitude toward God’s plan and will for my life, for the things happening to me, for the ministry God has for me now or in the future? Am I cold, depressed, wanting to run away? Do I lack incentive, motivation, vitality, excitement with what God has for my life? If so, then clearly, my spiritual furnace needs stoking with the hot coals of the Word through daily time in God’s Word.

Am I lacking in stability? Do I tend to fold every time I come under pressure? Is my life and understanding of God’s Word and what He wants for my life marred by bad mental attitudes, preconditioned ideas, background, human tradition, or past ways of doing things? Then again, I need to start both a demolition and a building program.

How is my response to the Word? What kind of soil am I? Am I like a beaten path or like rocky soil with no depth? Or am I like a patch of earth filled with weeds and briars which choke out the growth of the seeds of God’s truth? If so, I need to prepare the soil of my heart. And how can we do that? Let me make some suggestions:

(1) Be in fellowship—we must come to the study of the Word having confessed all known sin.

1 Peter 2:1-2 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

James 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

(2) Be prayerful, dependent, and expectant of God to teach us and make His truth clear—we need to be like the Psalmist who prayed, “Uncover my eyes so I can gaze at marvelous things out of your law!” (Psa. 119:18).

(3) Be open, teachable, but objective—allow the Word to speak for itself according to the facts of the passage so it is free to teach us the truth. Otherwise, because of our background or prejudice, we will be forcing our ideas on the text and what we end up with will be only error.

(4) Be studious—learn and apply yourself to the principles of methodical Bible study.

2 Timothy 2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

(5) Be diligent—in applying and judging our lives with the Word by faith.

Picture 11: Honey, Honeycomb

Passages:

Psalm 19:10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.

Psalm 119:103 Your words are tastier
in my mouth than honey!

Psalm 81:16 “I would feed Israel the best wheat,
and would satisfy your appetite with honey from the rocky cliffs.”

Proverbs 24:13 Eat honey, my child, for it is good,
and honey from the honeycomb is sweet to your taste.

Ezekiel 3:1-3 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you see in front of you—eat this scroll—and then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth and he fed me the scroll.
3 He said to me, “Son of man, fill your belly and your insides with this scroll I am giving to you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Principles Portrayed:

(1) Honey portrays the Bible as one of the greatest blessings and sources of sweetness and joy in life. Fifty-eight verses in the Bible contain the word “honey.” Some of these verses may refer to a syrup made from boiled down grape juice called dibs and may well be what was called honey in many places in the Bible.82 The honey that “flowed” in the land may refer to this syrup. Though the Egyptians kept colonies of bees in hives, this was not developed by the Jews until Roman times. One reason, however, may be that the reference to the land being full of the honey was a reference to the honey of wild bees rather than to the syrup. Honey could be found in a hollow tree (1 Sam. 14:25-27), in a hole in a rock (Ps. 18:16; Deut. 32:13), and even in an animal carcass (Judges 14:8-9).

Honey was a symbol of blessing, of prosperity, value, luxury, and was viewed as one of the basic commodities of life. It gave sweetness to food and was even used as food itself. To stress the value and blessing of the land which the Lord was giving Israel, He described it over and over again as a land flowing with milk and honey.

(2) Like honey, the Bible has its ultimate source in God alone.

Despite extensive scientific research, modern man has been totally unsuccessful in finding a way to synthetically fabricate anything that even remotely resembles the properties of honey. Only God can handle the highly complex process of hatching honey through buzzing bees and honeycombs. Nutritionists agree that God has uniquely hand crafted honey as one of nature’s purest and most complete foods. It contains some of every nutrient required to maintain good health. In the same way only God could craft and preserve His completed Word, the Holy Bible. It is a supernatural book that man can neither better nor imitate, refine, take away from, nor add to in any way. It is pure, spiritual food containing every spiritual vitamin and nutrient we need in this life concerning our walk with God.83

(3) Like honey, the Bible is given through instrumentality.

When God created the earth He gave bees the exclusive contract for honey. They alone are licensed to make and market honey to the world. No birds, buffaloes, or bugs, just bees. Technically, bees don’t really make honey. They’re simply the airborne cargo ships that transport flower nectar to the warehouse division of the hive, called honeycombs. The process of pure nectar becoming honey is a total mystery to man. Though its constituents come directly from nectar, bees neither add to nor take from the nectar they ferry from flower to comb. The color, flavor, and aroma of honey however, depends directly on which kind of flower nectar the bees predominantly draw from. Similarly, the human authors of Scripture were simply conduits of pure revelation without negating their own peculiar style and personality. The emphases, word choice, and style of each author depended on their particular background, education, and knowledge.

Like bees, human authors were God’s exclusive agents for writing, collecting, and preserving the Bible. These human authors of Scripture, somehow, through God’s sovereign superintendence, in no way corrupted the precise revelation He was giving through them.

The parallel to God’s mystery of honey is striking. Agricultural scientists have tested honey produced from plants heavily sprayed with pesticides, and found it never contains even a trace of any foreign chemical.84

(4) Like honey, God’s Word and the revelation it gives us is selectively chosen.

Bees don’t reap every flower they see. In fact, they are very particular about what brand of nectar fills their tanks. They’re connoisseurs, specializing in certain flavors only.

Once they find what suits their fancy, they lock ‘n load. Over two million round-trip nectar-gathering bee flights are required to produce just one pound of honey! They carefully store their hand-picked honey in one central place, the honeycombs. It’s always fresh and ready to eat for quick get-up-and-go. Just think, eating only one teaspoon of honey is tapping into the best energies of the lifework of hundreds of bees.

God too is a specialist. He hasn’t given us the whole ball of wax. He’s selective, revealing only the essentials securing our salvation through Christ and growth in Him. John, at the end of his Gospel, says it best. “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.”

I can’t wait to one day read and browse in the great library of heaven. But for now, God has personally and painstakingly chosen one Book to be enough. Like honey, His Word is conveniently stored in one central place, the canon of Scripture, ready to eat for quick spiritual energy. Eating even one little devotional nugget from the Bible is tasting some of God’s most exquisite spiritual revelations, brought to us by hand-picked human authors. Just holding a copy of the Bible is an act of receiving the best energies of tens of thousands of people who gave their very lives to its careful preservation down through the centuries.85

(5) Like honey, God’s Word is delicious, attractive, and invites us to come and eat, but it is only beneficial if personally eaten and used for the specifics of one’s life (Psalm 19:9-10).

When a boy first went to school in New Testament times, he went down to the synagogue while it was still dark to listen to the story of how Moses received the law. Then he was taken to the teacher’s house for breakfast, where he received cakes with letters of the law written on them. In school, the boy received a slate with passages from the Scriptures written on it. The slate was smeared with honey. He had to trace the letters through the honey with his pen, and it was natural to lick the nib of the pen as he proceeded. The idea was that he would realize that the purpose of his going to school was to absorb the Scriptures. This learning practice seems to have been based on an old custom that David refers to in the Psalm.86

Perhaps this custom was also designed to communicate how God’s Word adds sweetness to life as it reveals God and His grace. The Psalmist encourages us to taste and see that the Lord is good in Psalm 34:8. Where do we taste of God’s goodness but in God’s Word? Similarly, using the analogy of milk, Peter implores us to desire the pure milk of the Word of God, and then, as a motivation, he adds, “if (or “since”) you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

Problems We Face:

(1) Proverbs 5:3, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her seductive words are smoother than oil,” reminds us that Satan and the world system have their counterfeits, that, like honey, are used to allure us away from the Lord and into sin. Thus, there is the need for constant diligence to pay attention to God’s Word (cf. Pro. 5:1-2).

(2) Proverbs 27:7, The one whose appetite is satisfied loathes honey, but to the hungry mouth every bitter thing is sweet.

(3) Proverbs 25:16, “When you find honey, eat what is sufficient for you, lest you should become filled with it and vomit it up.” This can only apply to the Word when we fail to properly digest it and apply it to our lives.

Attitudes Toward the Bible
(How We Should View It)

We Should View It as Sufficient and Authoritative

The Bible is our final authority for belief and practice and is absolutely sufficient to deal with the non-organically caused spiritual and emotional problems of life (cf. also Ps. 19:7-14).

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.

James 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

1 Peter 2:2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,

2 Peter 1:3-4 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

2 Peter 1:19-21 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

However, there are other sources of authority people use which often nullify the Scripture’s authority on their lives. Some of these are human tradition (including history), institutionalism, reason or rationalism, mysticism, emotionalism, empiricism, moral conscience and situation ethics, human philosophy, psychology, and fan clubs (cf. Mark. 7:6-13; Col. 2:16-23; 1 Cor. 3:3-5).

We Should Guard Against Other Sources of Authority

Human Tradition

First we need to distinguish between biblical tradition and human tradition. Biblical tradition is that which is handed down through the teachings and writings of the apostles and prophets and this, of course, is authoritative because it is inspired revelation from God. Human tradition, however, consists of the mere teachings of men. This is not authoritative and must never be allowed to take precedence over and so nullify the Word of God. We see the two types of tradition in the verses below.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you received from us.

Colossians 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Where there is conflict or disagreement, the Scripture must be our authority. But so often church or religious tradition, family tradition, and various forms of secular tradition are given priority over the Holy Bible. Many times the Scripture is simply ignored. People often give lip service to the Bible while treating their tradition as though it had its foundation in the Word and was scriptural when in reality it is not. Whenever that happens, we make void or invalidate the authority of the Word.

Matthew 15:1-6 Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, 2 “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” 6 he does not need to honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. (emphasis mine).

All traditions are not bad or contrary to the Word. Our need is to distinguish human tradition from biblical truth by examining our beliefs and practices under the light of Scripture. We need to examine all the varied types of human tradition, not just some, under the light of our inspired authority, the Bible.

Some illustrations or sources of traditions are:

(1) Church Councils: The formulation and definition of Christian doctrines did not all occur at one time or at an equal rate. Sometimes the spotlight would focus on one doctrine and then another as issues and questions arose through various movements or teachings that began to occur. To establish what the Bible actually taught on these varied issues, councils were held by church leaders to examine and establish what the church should believe on various doctrines. Some illustrations are the councils of Nicea (318), Constantinople (381), Chalcedon (451), and the Synod of Toledo (589). Such decisions must be investigated in light of the Word. Many times their decisions were in accord with the clear teaching of the Word of God. The point is our authority is the Word—not the councils.

(2) The Pope: We are referring to that which has been set down by the various Popes over the centuries and then handed down from generation to generation as law and gospel. The pronouncements or teachings of the Pope (or any man) should never be our authority—only the Bible.

(3) Denominational Creeds and Church Doctrinal Statements: This consists of creeds or statements of denominations or individual churches concerning their doctrinal beliefs. These are designed to present what they believe the Bible to teach, but since only the Bible is inspired, these statements must never be viewed as a substitute for the Bible or as its equal.

(4) Church Programs or Structure: In practice, these often become traditions that are treated as though they were written in stone like the Ten Commandments. Try to change the program or the way things are structured and it is like denying the faith. Many times these programs become virtual “sacred cows” and more important than anything else. We hear statements like, “That’s not the way it ought to be done. We have never done it that way before.” I remember hearing about a deacon who was upset with the pastor one Sunday morning when they were about to enter the pulpit area in the auditorium for the eleven o’clock service. They had a visiting speaker and when the pastor decided to enter through a different door, the deacon remarked to the pastor they shouldn’t enter from that door. Perhaps he was thinking it would be too big a surprise to the people who were expecting them to come in from a different entrance. At any rate, the deacon muttered under his breath, “Highly irregular, highly irregular.” We laugh, but this sort of thing happens in a thousand different ways—many of them involving things much more serious.

(5) The Talmud, Mishna: Jewish writings which contain Jewish tradition.

(6) Political or Scientific Theories as Evolution: Evolution is, of course, nothing more than man’s theory based on a strictly secular interpretation of certain geological data and man’s bias against the knowledge of God. But evolution has become a tradition that permeates our society regardless of the data that stands against it. As such, it often colors man’s interpretation of the first chapters of the book of Genesis.

(7) Church Constitutions: Church constitutions have their place, especially if they were framed with the Word as the guiding authority. But they can become straight jackets that hinder biblical goals, actions, and ministry if they are treated with the same authority as the Bible. For instance, let’s say that the bylaws or constitution of a church states that it must have a certain number of elders. What happens if there are not that many men in the church who are truly qualified according to the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Does the church follow the Word and wait until the Lord raises up qualified men to serve? Or, does it ignore the Word and select the number called for by the Constitution regardless of their qualification? The answer should be obvious, but I have known churches that ignored the Word and followed their Constitution.

(8) Church History: We can learn much from history, and we should never ignore it. Church history and the thinking of those who have studied the Word before us represents the work of God among His people in ages past. Regardless of the value, however, what God’s people thought and taught in times past was not inspired. We should not ignore their voice, but neither should we make it our authority for only the Bible is inspired. This historical argument sometimes becomes a straw man that is used to argue against certain doctrinal positions no matter how clearly they may line up with the sound exegesis of Scripture. The straw man goes something like this:

If something was taught by the early church, then it must be true. If a teaching is more recent, then its truthfulness is at least suspect, if not untrue. …

The antiquity or recency of a teaching and the number of people who are for or against it make for interesting study, but neither factor proves or disproves the truth of that teaching.

The charge of newness was leveled against the teachings of the Reformers. With characteristic straightforwardness, John Calvin responded to it this way:

“First by calling it ‘new’ they do great wrong to God, whose Sacred Word does not deserve to be accused of novelty. … That it has lain long unknown and buried is the fault of man’s impiety. Now when it is restored to us by God’s goodness, its claims to antiquity ought to be admitted at least by right of recovery.”87

(9) Numbers: In the quote above, Ryrie calls our attention to another straw man and another form of authority that can nullify the authority of the Bible. It is very similar to the straw man regarding history. It goes like this:

Not only does the antiquity of a view make it truthful but the number of people who held or hold it makes it true. The more the better, to substantiate its truthfulness.88

Ryrie shows the fallacy of this:

Of course, the smoke screen this straw man and its mate throw up can be easily dispelled. The fact that something was taught in the first century does not make it right (unless taught in the canonical Scriptures), and the fact that something was not taught unless, of course, such teaching is clearly unscriptural. Baptismal regeneration was taught in the early centuries, but it is wrong. The majority of the church believes in nonimmersion. Does that make immersion wrong? The majority of the church is not premillennial. Does that make that doctrine wrong?89

(10) Fan Clubs: This issue here is too often people place more stock in what their favorite preacher says than in the Word itself. Luke reminds us that the need is to search the Scripture as to whether the matter taught is true (Acts 17:11).

1 Corinthians 1:11-14 For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? 4 For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. 7 So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work. 9 We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Self or Subjectivism

This also takes a number of forms:

(1) Reason or Rationalism: This refers to:

The theory that the exercise of reason, rather than the acceptance of empiricism, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the only valid basis for action or belief, and that reason is the prime source of knowledge and of spiritual truth.90

As is obvious from this definition, human reason becomes one’s authority or criterion which governs what one believes or thinks. Human reason is the absolute criterion. If truth is to be found it must be found by human reason alone; faith is excluded on the grounds it is not reasonable or scientific.

(2) Empiricism: This is the view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only valid source of knowledge.

(3) Scientific and Psychological: Scientific empiricism is the:

… philosophical doctrine holding that all knowledge is derived from experience, whether of the mind or of the senses. Thus it opposes the rationalist belief in the existence of innate ideas. A doctrine basic to the scientific method, empiricism is associated with the rise of experimental science after the 17th cent. It has been a dominant tradition in British philosophy, as in the works of LOCKE, HUME, and George BERKELEY. Most empiricists acknowledge certain a priori truths (e.g., principles of mathematics and logic), but John Stuart MILL and others have treated even these as generalizations deduced from experience.91

Obviously, such a system makes the experience of experimentation, or what one learns or observes through sense phenomena—touch, taste, smell, sight, etc., the criterion or authority for what one believes or accepts as true. Again, such a system is very subjective, obviously limited, and dependent on man’s powers of observation. This is the system of science and social studies. It has its place and use in society, but the God who is eternal, all-wise and knows all things has given us His Holy Word and this must remain our authority where God has spoken.

(4) Religious Experience, Mysticism: This is the system of authority whereby the criterion for one’s religious convictions or ideas is based primarily or solely on feelings, emotions, or someone’s personal religious experience.

Several years ago when the Neo-Pentecostal movement was just beginning on the west coast one of the movement’s leaders, Father Dennis Bennett, was speaking on Ezekiel 37 to the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship in Portland, Oregon. He told the people, “There are many different interpretations of this passage, but I believe that this passage is a prophecy of the present glosalalia movement. This is a vision of the rise of the gift of tongues in our day. But because the interpretation of Ezekiel 37 is so diversified between so many people; because there is not agreement as to what Ezekiel 37 means, I will therefore give you my experience and then we will have something solid to base our thinking on92 (emphasis mine).

Those were Bennett’s words. His statement—as ridiculous as it may seem—is not all that unusual in contemporary evangelicalism. A person has an experience and regardless of what the Word of God says, their experience is the final authority for them. They judge the truth or interpret the Bible by their experience rather than judge their experience by the Word of God. Remember Peter’s declaration in 2 Peter 1:16-19.

2 Peter 1:16-19 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

(5) Practical Experience: Many people today depend more on what they think they have learned by practical experience than on the Bible. But what if one’s experiential knowledge seems to contradict Scripture? Some would then elevate their experience to the level of Scripture or even above it. If you are following the teaching of Scripture in raising your children and one of them becomes rebellious, do you then turn from the authority of Scripture to follow the ideas so prominent in the world today? Or do you, recognizing the inspired and infallible nature of Scripture, evaluate your understanding and application of the Bible as it applies to raising children, or look for and evaluate other factors that could be involved? Does the problem lie with the Scripture or with my understanding and application of the Scripture?

(6) Moral Conscience or Situation Ethics: Here again, the authority is not the Bible but the situation. In this system the authority or criterion is that we must do the most loving thing. But what is that? In this system, there is no absolute guide for the most loving thing, only the narrow, and very often the self-centered viewpoint of the person.

We Should View It With Love, Value, and Respect

We should view the Bible with the kind of love, value, and respect that leads to desire and a diligence to know and apply it.

Psalm 119:72 The law you have revealed is more important to me
than thousands of gold and silver shekels.

Psalm 119:140 Your word is absolutely pure,
and your servant loves it.

Isaiah 66:2 "My hand made them;
that is how they came to be,” says the Lord.
I show special favor to the humble and contrite,
who respect what I have to say.

2 Timothy 2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

Axioms (Principles) For Using the Bible

One Needs the New Birth

People need spiritual regeneration to understand and relate to the spiritual truth of Scripture. First Corinthians 2:14 says that a natural (i.e., the unregenerate) man does not accept (welcome) the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Understanding the spiritual truth of the Word requires the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. Prior to salvation, the Spirit of God works to enable the unbeliever to understand the issues of salvation and to bring people to faith in Christ.

John 16:8-11 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 But we ought to give thanks for you always, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before salvation, however, and the new spiritual capacity it provides, the unsaved person cannot open up the Bible and personally understand and relate to even the simplest truth. To the unsaved person, it is foolishness. This is not to imply the unbeliever cannot use the Bible in a moral way such as a code of ethics. Many do this very thing. They use certain parts of the Bible like the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount to establish their own righteousness or gain a standing with God, but miss the truth of man’s depravity and need of the righteousness that comes only by faith. The Pharisees did this very thing. They were blind leaders of the blind and did not truly understand the truth of the Scripture and their need of a suffering Savior.

Matthew 15:12-13 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that when the Pharisees heard this saying they were offended?” 13 And he replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted.

Romans 10:1-4 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

John 16:8-11 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

John 16:8-11 teaches us the Spirit’s work of illumination for the unbeliever is primarily restricted to overcoming the unregenerate person’s blindness to those truths that are pertinent to salvation through faith in the person and work of Christ. When a person trusts in Christ, however, they are regenerated, given new spiritual life, and their innate spiritual blindness is removed. This seems to be what the apostle has in mind in Ephesians 1:17-18,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

In verse 17, Paul prays for the Ephesian believers to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Verse 18 gives us either (a) the reason why Paul can pray for their understanding, “since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened” through spiritual regeneration so they may know and truly grasp God’s truth, or (b) he is looking at the results of his prayer in verse 17—enlightened hearts for the purpose of understanding. Either way, he prays for them because they are new spiritual creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) who can now grasp spiritual truth. Literally, the Greek text reads, “the eyes of your heart having been (or being) enlightened, that you may know …” “Enlightened” is a perfect participle which looks at past completed action with present results. The Greek perfect participle may focus on the completion of the action, on the results, or both. In the first view mentioned above, the focus is on both through spiritual regeneration, while in the second, the focus would be on the results anticipated through the apostle’s prayer.

One Needs to Be in Fellowship

The Spirit of Truth is a special title of the Spirit because of His ministry of teaching us the Word of Truth (John 4:24; 15:5; 1 Cor. 2:15-3:3; Eph. 3:16-19).

Spiritual illumination to the Word of Truth is always a work of the Spirit of Truth. The born again believer, though now spiritually alive and possessing a new spiritual capacity, still needs to be under the control of the Spirit if he is to experience the teaching ministry of the Spirit. The disciples were regenerated men, yet they faced the need of the indwelling and controlling ministry of the Spirit. Christ told them, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.” (John 16:12-13).

Compare also Paul’s words to the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Since known sin and spiritual apathy grieves the Spirit’s person and quenches His power, it is evident that a carnal Christian (one in whom the Spirit is grieved and quenched) will not be able to understand the deeper things of the Word nor truly relate his or her life to even the simplest truth. “The appalling ignorance of many Christians concerning the things of the Word of God is directly traceable to their carnality and failure in seeking the blessings of a life filled with the Spirit.”93

Both the Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews wrote directly to this issue in 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3; and Hebrews 5:11-14.

One Needs to Read, Study, and Meditate With the Right Attitude

(1) We need to be expectant.

Psalm 119:148 My eyes anticipate the nighttime hours,
that I may meditate on your word.

(2) We need to be teachable.

Psalm 119:33 Teach me, O Lord, the lifestyle prescribed by your statutes,
so that I might observe it continually.

Acts 17:11 These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.

(3) We need to be prayerful and dependent.

Psalm 119:18 Uncover my eyes so I can gaze at
marvelous things out of your law!

(4) We need to be believing.

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible.

One Needs to Handle God’s Word Accurately

As skillful and accurate handlers of the Word, we need a method of study and interpretation that allows us to come away from the text with the true meaning and intent of the passage. This would necessitate an approach which allows Scripture to be authoritative and speak for itself.

2 Timothy 2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

2 Peter 3:16 speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.

Our tendency is to read our own ideas and prejudices into Scripture. This means we need to study the Bible inductively (reasoning from the particular, the details of the text, to the general, the meaning of the text).

In our interpretation of Scripture we must discover the meaning of a passage, not attribute one to it. Luther wrote that “the best teacher is the one who does not bring his meaning into the Scripture, but brings it out of the Scripture.” Exegesis is bringing the meaning of a text to the surface; eisegesis is reading our ideas into the text. Induction in exegesis means that the Scripture is allowed to speak for itself.94

The method that best promotes induction or good exegesis is the literal or normal method of interpretation. We need to prayerfully and dependently investigate and observe a passage for details drawn from the context, cultural, and historical background, the normal meaning of words, grammar, and the analogy of the Bible as a whole, then based on these details, prayerfully seek to interpret the passage for its meaning. With this derived meaning clearly in mind, we then need to formulate biblical concepts and principles. (See diagrams at the end of this lesson.)

One Needs to Study With a View to Application and Internalization

The revelation of God’s Word deserves a response that is in keeping with its character as God’s Holy Word to man. The goal of all Bible study must always be the careful application of God’s truth by faith, i.e., truly hearing the voice of God in Scripture. Spiritual growth and maturity—the right objective of knowing God’s truth—is obviously impossible apart from its application and internalization to deepen intimacy with God, bring conviction where needed, develop faith and the obedience of faith, and display the character of Christ in one’s life (cf. also 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 1:9-12; Luke. 8:21; 11:28).

Proverbs 20:27 The human spirit is like the lamp of the Lord,
searching all the innermost parts.

Psalm 139:23-24 Examine me, and probe my thoughts!
Test me, and know my concerns!
24 See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me,
and lead me in the reliable ancient path!

Psalm 119:59 I consider my actions
and follow your rules.

James 1:22-27 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

We must always remember that our goal in the study of Scripture is its application in obedience to the living God, however, there is a word of caution that is needed here. Zuck, who has an excellent chapter on applying God’s Word today, writes:

Christians tend to make one of two errors in applying the Bible. Either they give too little attention to application or they give too much attention to it.

In the first error some feel interpretation is enough, that Bible study is complete when a passage has been interpreted. In the second error others tend to move toward application before fully and accurately interpreting the passage. However, application without interpretation leaves us open to applying the Bible improperly.

Neglecting to apply the Scriptures reduces Bible study to an academic exercise in which we are concerned only for interpretation with little or no regard for its relevance for and impact on our lives. It is wrong to think of the Scriptures as only a source book of information, as a book to be examined merely for the knowledge we can gain from it.95

In addition to knowing God more intimately and loving Him more deeply, may we never forget that another of the crucial goals of the study of God’s inspired Word, as Paul exhorts us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, is to become a people of God who are thoroughly equipped for good works of ministry. As a people for God’s own possession, we are to be a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14).

While academics are an important part of a careful and accurate study of God’s Word, it is also, of course, a spiritual exercise since the Spirit of Truth is our ultimate teacher who convicts and enables us to relate our lives to Scripture’s truth. For some thoughts on preparing the heart to hear God’s Word see Appendix 3.

May God bless you in your study of His most holy and powerful Word.

“And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32).

73 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.

74For a thorough explanation of such evidence and as a sampling of what has been written on this subject, see Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, and When Skeptics Ask, by Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, pp. 141-161.

75 Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1990, p. 143.

76 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1986, p. 67.

77 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Regency, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 647.

78Ryrie , Basic Theology, p. 69.

79 John R. Stott, Between Two Worlds, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1982, p. 51.

80 Ibid., p. 52.

81 Abbot-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 116.

82Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, Moody Press, Chicago, 1987, p. 108.

83 Emmett Cooper, “Sweeter Than Honey,” Kindred Spirit, Dallas Seminary, Autumn, 1991, p. 14.

84 Ibid., p. 15.

85 Ibid., p. 15.

86 Gower, p. 86.

87 Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1989, pp. 32-33. Quoting John Calvin, “Prefatory Address to King Francis,” Institutes of Christian Religion, p. 3.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 The American Heritage Dictionary and Electronic Thesaurus, Houghton Mifflin, 1986, 1987.

91 The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, 1989, 1991.

92This account was taken from a booklet entitled “Controversial Spiritual Gifts” by Dr. Earl Radmacher who at that time was president of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland.

93 John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, Dunham, Grand Rapids, 1958, pp. 220-221.

94Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, W. A. Wilde, Boston, 1956, p. 119.

95Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1991, p. 279.

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The Prayer-Filled Life (Part 1)

Praying Biblically and Effectively

Introduction

One of my favorite portions of the Bible is Psalm 119. One reason is that in these 176 verses, the Psalmist points us to the irreducible. By this I mean he focuses on the two most basic elements of our spiritual life—the Word and prayer. Just a casual reading of this Psalm shows this, but note the following facts: (a) Except for verses 1-3 and 115, every other verse (172 verses) is a form of prayer addressed to the Lord. It provides us with a marvelous illustration of how to pray. (b) In addition, the Psalmist uses ten different terms for the Word of God and all but verses 90, 122, and 132 mention at least one of these terms. The large number of terms is designed to call our attention to the sufficiency of God’s Word and the number of ways God has designed it to meet our needs. Most study Bibles give a list of these with a basic explanation of each term in the footnotes to this Psalm.

Psalm 119 teaches us the truth that, regardless of what life brings, God has given us two sources that are totally sufficient and contain everything we need: (a) We have God’s holy Word that gives us wisdom from God, and (b) we have the awesome privilege of prayer that brings the power of God into one’s life for strength, courage, endurance, and deliverance along with spiritual growth and change.

Further, the Psalmist teaches us that the Word and prayer are like inseparable twins because, as the Word reveals God, His all-sufficiency, infinite goodness, love, mercy, and grace, it also reveals man in his insufficiency and total need. But in the process of this, God also offers man the opportunity (through His revealed plan of salvation in the Savior) to come humbly to Him in prayer for His direction and supply.

As I read this Psalm, I am further challenged by some other observations. First there is the way the Psalmist consistently turned his focus on the Lord rather than the problem he was facing at any given time, regardless of its nature. A second observation is his constant dependence on God to answer (lead, direct, sustain, deliver, etc.), but never just according to his own personal desires or wants. His prayer was that God would answer according to His Word. Let me illustrate:

First, in at least fifteen places we have a clear contrast where the Psalmist calls out to God regarding a particular problem, but he always turns his gaze immediately to the Lord and His Word. He gets his eyes off the problem by keeping his eyes on the Lord through the Word. Note the following illustrations from Psalm 119:23-24, 51-52, 61, 59-70, 78, 141-143, 161.

Second, though the concept of praying according to the Word is implicit throughout this Psalm, some 15 or more times the Psalmist specifically makes his requests dependent on the principles of God’s Word with phrases such as, “according to Thy Word.” Note the following examples in verses 25, 41, 58, 116, 145, 156.

What is the point? In view of the rest of this Psalm, the Psalmist was not simply praying, help me because you have promised in the Word to do so. For the Psalmist, prayer wasn’t just a matter of “naming and claiming.” Rather, he was praying that God’s purposes and plan might be accomplished in his life. He wanted God’s deliverance, of course, but in ways that would honor the Lord and produce spiritual change and growth in his own life. Psalm 119 is one prayer after another, but always according to the principles, purposes, and directives of the Word. Note in verses 59, 67, 71, 75 and 133 how the Psalmist was committed to what God was doing in his life and this commitment controlled and directed the way he prayed.

Third, repeatedly the Psalmist prayed for insight and ability to both understand and apply God’s Word. He recognized his complete inability to properly understand and respond in faithful obedience apart from the work of God. Verses 17-19, 26, and 33-38 will illustrate the point.

Our last lesson was devoted to the Word-filled life and it is only fitting that we now focus on the prayer-filled life as another key element of God’s gracious provisions that are so vital for our spiritual journey. For the most part, the first section of this study will be little more than an outline on some of the key principles of the Word on prayer. The verse references are self-explanatory when read in connection with the content of the outline. This will be followed by an exposition of a few key passages on prayer.

The Nature of Prayer:
Worship and Service to God

The basic meaning of the English word “worship” (originally “worth + ship”) is “to act in accord to the worth of something or someone.” Worship is in essence anything we do which honors God, demonstrates devotion to Him, and acts in accord with who and what God is. In John 4:21-24, the word for worship is proskunew which means “to kiss the hand, do reverence to.” It referred to an act of obeisance or reverence whether to express respect and devotion or make supplication.

John 4:21-24 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

When we go to God in prayer, we are doing honor to Him in that we recognize Him as the all-sufficient one and ourselves as truly insufficient or inadequate. This is suggested in the primary and general words for prayer in the New Testament. These are proseucomai, the verb found 85 times, and proseuch, the noun found 37 times. Pros means “toward,” and eucomai means “to make request, invoke.” These two words are only used of God in the New Testament. The preposition pros adds the ideas of direction, closeness, or approaching God to make requests. Certainly as the general and primary New Testament words, proseucomai and eucomai contain the idea of worship in the sense mentioned.

However, prayer, as a further evidence of reverence and honor for God, must also be seen as service and ministry. In Philippians 3:3 the word for worship is the Greek latreuw which basically means “to serve.” "For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials”

When Satan offered the Lord Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship him, the Lord Jesus responded by using both proskunew and latreuw. This should broaden and give us some interesting insight into the concept of worship. True worship in spirit and truth, regardless of the nature, includes service to God. Note Jesus’ reply when Satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him in Matthew 4:10: “Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship ( proskunew) the Lord your God, and serve ( latreuw) only Him.”’”

Worship is not simply something we do in religious ceremonies and rituals in which we are supposed to be demonstrating devotion to God. Regarding several words in the New Testament which contain the idea of worship, Vine writes:

The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment.96

We might note how latreuw is used in the New Testament. (a) Latreuw was used of temple service in Hebrews 9:9, “This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper (literally, “the one who did the service”).” (b) Latreuw was used of any kind of service to the Lord in Hebrews 9:14, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship ( latreuw) the living God?” (c) Latreuw was used of the service of one’s life accompanied by reverence and awe as in Hebrews 12:28, “So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship ( latreuw) pleasing to God in devotion and awe.” (d) Latreuw was also used of the preaching of the gospel, “For God, whom I serve ( latreuw) in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you” (Rom. 1:9).

Though prayer may take on various forms and roles, all prayer is clearly an aspect of worship in which we demonstrate both reverence and service to God as an expression of the believer’s priesthood and ministry as an ambassador of Christ.

The Types and Role of Prayer as Worship

(1) Confession of sin. We can immediately see how confession is a form of worship or reverential fear in that it is a response to the holiness of God. It acknowledges not only that God is holy, but that unconfessed sin forms a barrier to fellowship and hinders God’s answer to prayer. Obviously, if our prayer is to be effective, sin must be dealt with. Prayer, to be effective, needs to begin with confession where we acknowledge sin to the Lord (cf. Isa. 59:1-3; Psa. 66:18).

Isaiah 59:1-2 Look, the Lord’s hand is not too weak to deliver you;
his ear is not too deaf to hear you.
2 But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God;
your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers.

Psalm 32:5 Then I confessed my sin;
I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.
I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”
And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

(2) Praise.

Hebrews 13:5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.”

(3) Thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

(4) Intercession. Praying for others in specific requests in service to God as a ministry of the priesthood He has given us.

Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to conduct ourselves rightly in every respect.

1 Peter 2:5 and 9 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Romans 10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation.

(5) Petition. Prayer for our own needs in acknowledgment of our inadequacy and His sufficiency.

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.

The Divine Order of Prayer

(1) We pray to the Father—our PROVIDER.

John 16:23-26 At that time you will ask me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete. 25 “I have told you these things in obscure figures of speech; a time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in obscure figures, but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf.

James 1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.

Ephesians 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him,

(2) We pray in the name of the Son—our ACCESS. (Cf. also John 16:23-26 above.)

Ephesians 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

(3) We pray in the power of the Holy Spirit—our MEANS.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit,

Categories of Prayer

Understanding that the Christian life is a spiritual warfare, the following, based upon praying according to military objectives, is suggested.

(1) Strategic—long-range goals.

Colossians 1:9-12 For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

Matthew 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

(2) Tactical—immediate goals and needs.

Colossians 4:2-4 Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may make it known as I should.

Ephesians 6:19 Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel,

(3) Logistic—physical and support needs (cf. also Jam. 5:13-20).

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him.

Acts 13:3 Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.

Philippians 1:19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

It has been my observation that most people and most prayer meetings focus primarily on logistical needs, particularly as they relate to illnesses. Our prayers often lack in vision for the great strategic and tactical objectives for which the Lord has left us here on earth. In fact, when we pray for the logistical needs of food, clothing, jobs, health, etc., what is our motivation? Is it primarily our comfort and pleasure? Or is it for the provision of God so we can fulfill His purposes for the body of Christ in the Great Commission—evangelism and building people in Christ for ministry? The prayer life of the believer ought to revolve around: (a) who we are—ambassadors of Christ, (b) where we are—on temporary assignment in the world, and (c) why we are here—to represent the Lord Jesus to a dying world.

Times of Prayer

(1) Private

Scheduled:

Psalm 5:3 Lord, in the morning you will hear me;
in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.

Psalm 88:13 As for me, I cry out to you, O Lord;
in the morning my prayer confronts you.

Psalm 119:147 I am up before dawn crying out.
I find hope in your assuring word.

Matthew 6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Spontaneous:

Nehemiah 2:1-4 Then in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought to me, I took the wine and gave it to the king. Previously I had not been depressed in the king’s presence. 2 So the king said to me, “Why do you appear to be depressed when you aren’t sick? What can this be other than sadness of heart?” This made me very fearful. 3 I replied to the king, “O king, live forever! Why would I not be dejected in appearance when the city with the graves of my ancestors lies desolate and its gates destroyed by fire?”

Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid,
I trust in you.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 constantly pray,

(2) Family

Proverbs 22:6 Train a child in the way that he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

(3) Team

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them.

(4) Public

1 Timothy 2:8 So I want the men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without anger or dispute.

Prerequisites for Effective Prayer

There are prerequisites for prayer. We cannot just go dashing into the presence of a holy God in just any spiritual condition. I grew up on a small cattle ranch in East Texas and obviously, in the process of working in such an environment, our boots could become pretty filthy. My mother used to say, “You don’t come into this clean house without either cleaning or removing your boots. This is not a horse stall!” She was right and to do otherwise was being inconsiderate of her and the place we lived in together. The Lord made a similar point in John 13 when He washed the feet of the disciples. When our feet are dirty, a picture of the sin that occurs as we walk down the streets of life, we cannot have fellowship with Him and prayer is a vital element of fellowship (cf. John 13:1-17). See Appendix 4 for a brief overview of the believer’s need of daily cleansing from John 13:1-17.

Note the following important prerequisites for effective prayer:

(1) Personal relationship with Jesus Christ as one’s Savior.

John 14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

(2) Walking in fellowship: Sins confessed and Spirit-controlled.

Psalm 66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart,
the sovereign Master would not have listened.

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

Ephesians 6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

(3) Living by the Word (cf. Ps. 119).

Proverbs 28:9 The one who turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.

(4) Praying in faith trusting in the will of God.

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.

Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

James 1:5-8 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.

Hindrances to Effective Prayer

(1) Failing to pray or ask.

James 4:2 You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask;

(2) False motives in prayer.

James 4:3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.

(3) Broken relationships.

1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.

Mark 11:25-26 Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins.

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,

(4) Pretentiousness in prayer.

Matthew 6:5-6 Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

(5) Fainting, giving up, failing to wait on the Lord.

Psalm 27:14 Rely on the Lord!
Be strong and confident!
Rely on the Lord!

Psalm 37:7 Wait patiently for the Lord!
Wait confidently for him!
Do not fret over the apparent success of a sinner,
a man who carries out wicked schemes!

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.

Reasons and Motives for Prayer

Because it is Commanded in Scripture

This alone is sufficient reason. God has spoken on the matter and it must be important or He would not have given us this privilege and responsibility.

Because of God’s Perfect Provision

God has made perfect provision through the person and work of each member of the trinity which gives us access into the presence of God that we might tap in on the very resources of God’s grace, wisdom, and supply.

(1) God the Father: As Christians, we have an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and father kind of God who cares for us with the heart of a father, but who, unlike earthly fathers, is infinite in His fatherly wisdom, love and care (cf. also Eph. 3:20).

Matthew 6:7-8 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

(2) God the Son: Through the person and work of God the Son, we have perfect access into the presence of God. We have one who cares and feels for us as our Great High Priest, one who intercedes on our behalf, and one who is the perfect example of prayer. (Cf. Eph. 3:12; Rom. 8:34.)

John 16:23-24 At that time you will ask me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete.

Ephesians 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Hebrews 7:25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

(3) God the Holy Spirit: Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have one who, as the Spirit of grace and supplication (Zech. 12:10), assures us of our relationship with God as a child, guides us in our prayer life, helps and intercedes for us, and enables us to pray. In other words, with this kind of provision, what possible reason can we have for not praying? God has made perfect provision for us to come into His presence with our needs. (Cf. also Eph. 6:18; Jude 20.)

Zechariah 12:10 I will pour out upon the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn.

Romans 8:14-15 and 26 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”…26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.

Because of Our Need

(1) The problem of our inadequacy: There is the need of prayer because of our great inadequacy versus God’s perfect sufficiency and ability to meet our needs and provide for our lives. He is the all-sufficient one with whom nothing is impossible, while we are just the opposite. With man many things are impossible but with God nothing is impossible (cf. also Luke 1:37; 19:26; Mark 9:23; 10:27; 14:36; Luke 18:27).

2 Corinthians 2:16b And who is adequate for these things?

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Matthew 17:20 He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”

(2) The problem of demonic powers: There is the need of prayer because of the battle with demonic forces and powers who are many times stronger than we are. Prayer is needed to employ our armor and experience God’s super-abundant power against the enemy (cf. Dan. 10:1f).

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

(3) Our inability to bear fruit apart from God: Prayer is needed for fruit bearing. Without the Lord we can do nothing. Prayer is one of the ways we bring the power of Christ to bear on our ministries and service.

John 15:5-9 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.
9 “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love."

(4) The issues of our total dependency on God: We need prayer because of our needs in general in the many details of life for which man is dependent upon God whether he realizes it or not. The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains belongs to Him. It is He who gives to the sons of men (cf. Ps. 24:1 with 23:1; 50:10; 89:11; Acts 14:17; and 1 Tim. 6:17). Everything comes from Him—food, clothing, housing, travel, sickness, ministry, open doors for the Word, prepared hearts, laborers for the harvest, and on the list goes touching and encompassing every area of life—spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, everything (Eph. 6:18f; Luke 10:1f).

Colossians 4:2-4 Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may make it known as I should.

Because of What Prayer Accomplishes

The prayer of faith accomplishes much and moves mountains.

James 5:16 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

Matthew 17:20 He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”

Because of What Happens Without Prayer

Without prayer we faint and we fail.

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.

Because It Is Part of Our Service to God and Others

Prayer is a privilege and responsibility God has given us as believer priests to serve or minister to and on behalf of others in displaying the loving concern and care of God.

1 Peter 2:5-9 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in scripture, “Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” 7 So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. 16 And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

Because It Glorifies the Lord

As stressed above, when we go to God in prayer, we are acknowledging things about God that glorify Him. We are acknowledging our insufficiency, and His all-sufficiency, love, fatherly care, and gracious provision.

John 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:7-8 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.

Romans 15:6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Objects of Prayer:
Things for Which We Should Pray

(1) Needs in general.

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

1 Peter 5:7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

(2) Deliverance from temptation.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.

(3) Leaders in government

1 Timothy 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

(4) Our enemies

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,

(5) The sick

Matthew 14:36 They begged him if they could only touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

James 5:13-15 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up—and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

(6) A sinning believer

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that.

James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up—and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

(7) Effectiveness in fulfilling the great commission: (a) for laborers in the harvest; (b) for open doors for the Word; (c) for clarity in giving the Gospel; and (d) for boldness and courage to speak.

Luke 10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.

Colossians 4:3 At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Ephesians 6:18-19 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints. 19 Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel,

Ephesians 6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.

(8) The edification and growth of believers in the Word and in Christlike character (cf. also Eph. 3:14-19; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14).

Ephesians 1:15-18 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Guidelines for Group Prayer

(1) Be conversational—use simple and direct language. Just talk to God as you would talk to a father, but also with reverence for who God is, the Lord of the universe.

(2) Be spontaneous—pray as God leads, not with vain repetitions and memorized phrases.

(3) Be clear—loud enough so others can hear, understand, and share in what is being said (1 Cor. 14:16).

(4) Show wisdom—do not use prayer to air sin—yours or others, or gossip in the name of a “prayer request.” Do not preach, exhort or answer or get back at someone in a prayer meeting through your prayer. I have seen this happen, but such ceases to be prayer.

(5) Silence—do not get nervous between audible prayers. Use that time to keep on praying silently.

(6) Focus—learn awareness of Him and not others.

(7) Team effort—prayer is for every believer, not just a few super-duper saints. Every believer is a priest and has access into the very throne of God (Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 2:4, 9).

96W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Fleming H. Revel, Westwood, NJ, 1966, p. 236.

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The Prayer-Filled Life (Part 2)

Principles of Prayer From Luke 11

Introduction

It has been rightly said, “the secret of all failure is our failure in secret prayer.” Not just our failure to pray, but our failure in prayer. In the story of the Pharisee and the publican the Pharisee is one who prayed long and often, but he was a miserable failure. His prayers were never heard by God because neither he nor his prayers were ever right with God.

I think it was Oswald Smith who said, “when we work, we work, when we pray, God works.” Throughout history, the men and women that God has used mightily have been people who knew how to pray and for whom prayer was both a priority and a necessity. As we study the gospels and the training of the disciples by the Lord, we find that prayer is to be a vital part of a disciple’s life. For a couple of illustrations compare the following verses:

John 14:12-13 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.

An electronic concordance quickly shows the importance of prayer in the Word of God. Variations of the word “pray” such as “prayer” and “praying,” etc., occur 331 times in the NASB, 545 in the KJV, and 375 times in the NIV. The difference in numbers is caused by the fact some Greek and Hebrew words are translated differently in the different translations. For instance, the KJV might use the word “pray” while the NASB or NIV might use “ask.”

Most Bible believing Christians recognize and accept, at least intellectually, the need and importance of prayer. We read books on prayer, we talk about it, we ask for prayer from time to time, but somehow, the church today is anything but a praying church. We may have a few real prayer warriors, but the VISION AND DISCIPLINE of biblical praying as committed disciples of the Lord Jesus has somehow escaped the body of Christ. We talk of its necessity, but too often we fail to accomplish its reality.

The disciples had this same experience. They too fell short in their prayer life and they felt it deeply. In this lesson we want to look at Luke 11:1 and the request of the unnamed disciple who was probably asking on behalf of the entire group. Here is a very important passage for learning some of the key issues of prayer that are so crucial to our walk with the Lord and the fulfillment of His purposes.

Luke 11:1-4 and the parallel passage in Matthew 6:9-11 is sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer, but in reality it is the disciple’s prayer, a model prayer teaching them important principles of prayer.

The Plea of the Disciple
(11:1)

Luke 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

The Motivation for the Question

The disciples had obviously heard that John had taught His disciples on prayer and they too wanted instruction (11:1). But was there not something more, something much deeper that provoked this request? It was Howard Hendricks who, several years ago in a message at a pastor’s conference, called our attention to the fact that if we were to open our Bibles and read starting with Matthew and were to read through John we would never find an instance where the disciples asked, “Lord teach us how to witness,” or “teach us how to perform miracles,” or “teach us how to teach.” But in this passage, we do find one of the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray …” Wow! How significant!

This was a very wise question, a very needed question, and from these disciples who were sometimes so slow about spiritual values, this question becomes extremely significant. What was the motivation behind this question, and why is this so important?

Again, I am reminded of something Professor Howard Hendricks once said. Can you imagine what life with Jesus Christ was like during His ministry on earth? One amazing experience after another! He was forever a source of joy and bewilderment, and I am sure people were constantly trying to explain Him to their own satisfaction with their own kinds of answers. (Cf. Mark 4:41.)

For a long time I can imagine they tried to explain Christ with typical human explanations—training, IQ, natural abilities, or whatever. At least at first. They regularly saw demonstrations of His power. They both heard His wise words and saw His wonderful works. They saw the lame walk, the blind see, the sick healed, the deaf hear, and the demon possessed dispossessed. Furthermore, they had all experienced the emptiness of the religion of their day and so, through all of this, you know they were watching the Lord and seeking answers to the miracle of His life.

As they studied His life one of their conclusions was that He was God incarnate (John 1:14). But is that conclusion what evoked this question? I don’t believe so. It was something else they constantly saw in the man Jesus that they began to suspect was part of the answer to His life. What was it? Our immediate response is of course, “It was prayer.” Right? Not exactly! It was not just prayer.

The Pharisees prayed and so did the disciples. It wasn’t just prayer; it was the way He prayed in relation to all that He was and all that He did in His life on earth. It was His manner and attitude in prayer that saturated His total being and living, His every step and action, and that manifested the intimacy of His relationship with and dependence on the Father. Prayer was never just a religious responsibility nor exercise Christ engaged in because He was obligated to do so.

Then what? Prayer for our Lord proceeded out of a basic attitude of deep dependence that resulted in a very intimate fellowship that He always had with the Father because, from the standpoint of His humanity, He was totally convinced He could do nothing of His own resources. It is this that undoubtedly brought deep conviction and longing in the lives of the disciples. They came to recognize that, while they could be believers in the Lord, they could not be true disciples who became like their teacher (Luke 6:40) unless they learned to pray to the Father like the Lord Jesus in the intimacy and dependency that He constantly demonstrated.

Christ’s Attitude in Prayer

This incorporates one of the basic principles that governed the life of the Savior. In John 5:19 Christ said, “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative.” Then, in John 8:28-29 and 14:10 He repeated the principle. The principle should be obvious for us. For Jesus Christ, prayer was a way of life, an absolute necessity: it was a means of communion with the Father and the means of bringing the power of God the Father to bear on the humanity of Jesus Christ moment by moment. We see this in Matthew 12:18 and 28.

Note that for the most part, it appears the Lord performed His works and spoke His words by the power of God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit whom the Father had given Him. Though God of very God Himself, Jesus generally did not perform His works independently of the Father nor the Spirit’s leading (Acts 2:22). It was the Father working through Jesus, the man.

As we study the life of Christ in the gospels, we note a consistent pattern:

(1) In the midst of a busy schedule, when men were clamoring in their need for His attention, Christ retired to pray and to draw upon the resources of God the Father for He knew that “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative” (Mark 1:32-37).

(2) When it was time to choose the disciples we don’t find Christ reviewing the qualifications of each of the disciples. Rather we find Him retiring to pray. This is clear in Mark 3:13 and Luke 6:12-13. Why? Because “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative.” He needed the direction and provision of the Father.

(3) When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus He raised His eyes heavenward in dependence and thanksgiving for what the Father was about to do (John 11:40-42). The actual prayer of Christ is not given, only the fact of His dependence, thanksgiving, and confidence that His prayer had been heard. The words of verses 41 and 42 imply, however, that not only did He pray to the Father, but that He wanted all those standing around to know it as well that they might learn the secret of dependence. This teaches us that when performing miracles, though not always heard by men, Jesus the man was praying in dependence upon the Father from the standpoint of His humanity.

(4) When He fed the five thousand. The words “and looking up to heaven” demonstrate the Lord’s prayerful dependence (Mark 6:41). Also, “he gave thanks” which shows He thanked God the Father for it and for what He, the Father, was about to do through Jesus, the man, a God-dependent, God-approved man.

Think of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, God incarnate, the perfect man and the absolute Creator God who also as the God-man adequately and continuously fulfilled every expectation of God for man. He was the constant delight and joy of the Father’s heart. He always pleased the Father. Now, thinking of Him as such, ask yourself this question. How much did He personally, as man, contribute to His mighty works, deeds, and ministry? NOTHING! Christ Himself gives us the answer, “…but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds” (John 14:10). And how did that come about? Through prayerful dependence on the Father!

When we work, we work. When we pray, the Father works. So out of this conscious and constant sense of need, there arose a continuing attitude of prayer: a continual expectation in the Lord Jesus that if anything was to be done, the Father must do it both by way of initiative, and wisdom, and power. Now if this was true of Jesus Christ, how much more shouldn’t this also be true for us? Indeed, prayer according to the pattern of the Lord Jesus is to be a vital goal of true disciples.

The disciples saw in Christ’s life, not only prayer, but a prayer life which demonstrated a dependency upon and intimacy with the Father unlike anything else they had ever seen and they wanted to know the secret of this.

What was the request posed by the unnamed disciple? It was, “teach us to pray.” Not just how to pray, the MECHANICS, but how in the sense of the MOTIVATION. The how aspect is included by Christ in His answer in Luke 11:2-13.

(1) Prayer should demonstrate a total consciousness of our need, a sense of our complete inadequacy along with a sense of God’s complete adequacy and willingness.

2 Corinthians 2:16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

(2) Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of God’s ever present willingness.

(3) Prayer is not for emergency use only, when we get in a pinch and need someone to bail us out.

(4) Prayer is not an “Aladdin’s Lamp” or a trip to a wishing well for our wants.

(5) By contrast, prayer is a means of intimate communion, fellowship, and dependence upon God the Father who has promised to work in and through us through His Son, just as God worked through Him.

(6) Prayer is for everyday living, moment by moment.

(7) Prayer is a means of claiming God’s promises and knowing and becoming abandoned to God’s will.

In John 14:10-14, note the relationship to prayer mentioned in verses 13-14 and the works we, as disciples, are to do in verse 12.

John 14:10-14 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

There is no activity in the life of a believer which does not require a prayerful attitude—a prayerful dependence on and an expectation that God is at work and will work according to His purposes and leading. In ourselves we can do nothing. Christianity is living by faith in the Creator God who dwells in us, and prayer is God’s means for us to draw upon Christ’s miraculous life. Christianity is as Paul expressed it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith for a committed believer is expressed in intimate, prayerful living.

In practical terms what exactly does this means?

  • We can’t really handle the phone call we are about to make, at least not in Christ’s power and life, apart from prayer.
  • The lesson we are preparing to teach, we can’t do effectively without prayerful dependence.
  • It means that while we usually recognize our need of God’s enablement in things like witnessing, we nevertheless tend to take God for granted and operate in our own abilities in other areas because we think a task doesn’t seem too difficult or it is within our area expertise.

As an illustration let’s look at the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:5-11. What was Peter thinking in this passage? Probably something like, “Lord, you’re a great teacher, you’re the Son of God and Messiah, but we can handle this ourselves; we are expert fishermen. We have been fishing these waters for years. Besides, Lord, we fished these waters all night and we know the fish are simply not biting now.” But you see, biblical Christianity is living by faith and prayerful dependence upon God and under the power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of how things appear to us.

Biblical Christianity is never a matter of living by who and what we are—our insight, our background, our experience, our training, our giftedness, etc. Rather it is a matter of living by faith in God’s Word, biblical insight, and by faith in Jesus Christ, the Creator God and His availability to work through us as we are available and submissive to Him. But such only happens when we live by intimate prayerful dependence upon the Father through a life of prayer, a life of praying without ceasing, and a life devoted to special times of prayer alone with the Father and His Son in the power of the Spirit.

The Pattern for Prayer
(11:2-4)

Luke 11:2-4 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And do not lead us into temptation.”

We have observed something of the prayer life of our Lord which undoubtedly was a large part of the motivation behind the request of the unnamed disciple in verse one, “Lord, teach us to pray.” For our Lord, prayer was the most natural and necessary aspect of His existence. In answer to this request of Luke 11:1, our Lord gave what is popularly known as the Lord’s Prayer. In reality, it was the disciples’ prayer and provides us with a model or pattern for biblical and effective prayer.

This is an excellent passage in teaching new believers about prayer because it covers a number of categories which are important to prayer.

Two things this prayer is not:

(1) It is not and was never intended to be a ritual prayer to be formally and liturgically recited. It was a model designed by our Lord to show the nature of prayer and what prayer should consist of by way of content. There is nothing wrong, of course, with reading or reciting it together as we would any passage of Scripture for a certain focus or emphasis or as a reminder of truth. I am convinced, however, it was never meant to be simply recited as a prayer to God in place of personal prayer poured out to God from the heart. Compare the translation of the Living Bible: Luke 11:1b reads, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

(2) It was never intended to be used as an amulet or special words to protect someone when in danger. Perhaps you have seen films where people were in some kind of danger and they prayed the Lord’s Prayer in this fashion.

The prayer divides into two sections marked out by the pronouns “your” and “us.”

  • The “your” section points us to God and concerns our relationship with Him regarding His person, character, being, purposes, and activity on earth.
  • The “us” section deals with our needs as they are related to God and His activity and purposes in our lives here on earth.

This is no accident. First, we start with God and then we go to ourselves. Here is an important principle in all worship of which prayer is but one mode and means. In prayer, as in everything, our Lord teaches us to put God first. Why? Because this puts everything in the right perspective, it gives us the right viewpoint about life, one that sees beyond our own very limited scope. This is important so that we might genuinely focus our hearts and minds on the who and what of God, that we might seek first the rule and righteousness of God, and that we might walk with Him in obedience and under His enablement, direction, and protection.

As a tear magnifies sorrow and as laughter magnifies joy, so prayer (a form of worship wherein we count on the worth of God) must first magnify the Lord if our prayers are to have the proper result in our lives—confidence, faith, and direction into the will of God.

Prayer is a means of entering into the joy and confidence of God’s love, provision, direction, and presence. It is a way to focus on the Who and What of God—God’s person, plan, principles, promises, and purposes. This kind of praying glorifies the Lord and demonstrates our desire for relationship with God, along with obedience. It is comforting to our hearts because it brings God into our vision along with His purposes.

This first emphasis by our Lord exposes what is often a fatal weakness in our own prayers. We tend to begin with “us” rather than with “Your.” We rush into God’s presence pleading for “our” petitions, “our” needs, “our” problems and, as a result, we become problem oriented and frantic rather than God oriented and relaxed in His sovereignty (cf. Ps. 46:10, "Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!”).

We need to focus on the Lord first to get the perspective of Jeremiah 32:27. Concerning the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel and to keep the Prophet’s eyes on the Lord, we find this word to the Prophet: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. There is, indeed, nothing too hard for me.” (Jer. 32:27).

We need the praise and focus of God in Psalm 100 before the petitions of Psalm 102.

When We Pray: The Time Element (v. 2a)

When you pray say.”

It is significant, I believe, that no commands are given as to time or how often. Why? Because prayer is more than a mere religious routine we go through as it is in some religions in which worshippers recite certain words and bow in a certain direction specified times of the day. Scheduled prayer is certainly scriptural and a godly pattern to have as with Daniel (Dan. 6:10), and David (Ps. 55:16-21), but, as with both David and Daniel, it should always be the response of a heart which desires communion with God and depends on Him in the same way man naturally takes in oxygen through the process of breathing. This is seen in the cry of the Psalmist, “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God!” (Ps. 42:1).

Two things about this cry of the Psalmist: First, his entreaty expresses our need. We need the Lord and we need to drink from His fountain of life through the Word and prayer—our means of hearing Him and responding to Him. But second, his entreaty also expresses what should be a recognized reality in each of us. As the Psalmist, we should long to communicate with our God. Prayer is to be an expression of our longing for intimacy with God and to enter into His strength and will.

Why We Pray: The Nature of Prayer (v. 2a)

“When you pray say.”

“Pray” is the Greek word proseucomai from pros, stressing direction, closeness, and eucomai, “to ask, request.” The basic meaning of this word (along with its uses) looks at prayer as an avenue of drawing near to God in worship and dependence because we see Him as the all-sufficient one and ourselves as insufficient. Prayer becomes one of the means by which we draw near to the Lord and His sufficiency and submit to Him.

“Say” is the Greek word, legw. It gives prominence to the thought processes in choosing the words spoken because of their meaning. Originally, it meant “to pick and choose” and this is precisely what we generally do in speech unless we are talking gibberish. Legw reminds us of our need to carefully choose our words as opposed to praying as mere religious rote without careful thought. It should remind us of the conversational nature of our prayer or communication with God.

“Say” is what we call in Greek grammar, a present iterative imperative. As an iterative present it describes an event which is, as a command, to occur repeatedly, over and over again. The idea is when you pray, consistently pray in the following manner or example, but not repetitiously by rote, reciting these words as a mere repeated ritual, the problem Jesus addressed earlier in Matthew 6:7.

Reasons why it does not refer to a prayer to be merely recited.

(1) Matthew 6:5-7 is a specific warning against praying in a repetitious manner and the warning there is followed by this teaching which gives us a model for prayer. To view this as a prayer to be repetitiously repeated would be in conflict with the previous command.

(2) The parallel passage of Matthew 6:9 adds the words “this way.” This is the Greek $outws which could very will be rendered, “in this manner” or “after this manner.” In other words, what follows is to be taken as a model for prayer, not as a prayer to be memorized and merely recited.

(3) In the epistles of the New Testament, this prayer is never repeated though its pattern or principles are basically followed in one way or another.

(4) This understanding fits with the warning of Isaiah 29:13 which the Lord quoted against the religious externalism of the Israelites of His day.

Prayer is the thoughtful exercise of the heart and the mind through which we seek to draw near to God in worship and dependence on Him because of who He is as our sovereign God and support.

How to Pray (vv. 2b-4)

Pray as a Child

This command demonstrates the need of the new birth or spiritual regeneration. Scripture teaches us that prayer, other than the call to know God or for salvation, is really only applicable to believers in Jesus Christ who are brought into a relationship with God as His children through faith in Jesus Christ. This is accomplished by the new birth, the regenerating work of the Spirit of God (cf. John 1:12; 3:3-7; 14:6).

Our prayer is to be addressed to God using the term, “Father.” The basic plan of prayer for the New Testament saint is not to Jesus, but to the Father. He is the one to whom we are to pray, THE GIVER, through the name of the Son, THE ACCESS into God’s presence, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, THE MEANS (cf. John 14:6; 16:23-24; Eph. 2:18; 3:14; 1:17; 6:18; Jude 20; Col. 1:13; Heb. 7:25).

“Father” is a term of honor or reverence and relationship. Coming to God in prayer as “Father” is designed to demonstrate: (a) our attitude toward God as one of honor, respect, and trust, and (b) our understanding of the relationship we have with Him as a child; God is a father kind of God who cares for us as only a parent can care for a child.

How should this affect our prayer life?

(1) When we pray as New Testament believers, we are to talk with God as our Father, not simply about God in a theological monologue of high sounding and pious phrases and tones. True, we should exalt the Lord in our prayers through praise, adoration, and thanksgiving for His person, His essence, and His works in creation, history, and salvation. Our need, however, is to come to God as a child and talk with Him as our Father (Ps. 103:13).

(2) It means we are to talk with Him as a Father who loves and cares for us as His children. We will praise Him for His divine essence and being, and for His wonderful and mighty works, but ultimately it means praying with the frankness of a child while counting and resting in God as a Father who has a father’s heart, love, understanding, wisdom, and strength. To pray to God as our Father means recognizing that He is a person who is intimately concerned about us more than we could possibly be concerned about ourselves. He is not a blind or impersonal force.

(3) Calling God our Father means believing Him to be so. Such a relationship and conviction could never really be expressed if we were to address God as simply, “Almighty God, the great and terrible one,” or “Dreadful Creator and Ground of all Being.” This kind of approach to God would actually betray one’s ignorance of the nature and relationship of God to us in Christ, or one’s unbelief in Him as a loving heavenly Father.

How easy would it be to pray or how confident would we be if we could only approach God as an impersonal “ground of all being” or as “the great and terrible one?” The word “Father” draws our attention to the nature of our relationship with God as a result of the new birth and our access to God through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it emphasizes the ease and willingness with which we should come into His presence, boldly, with the confidence of a child who knows he or she is loved with an unconditional love (Heb. 4:16). By ease, however, I do not mean disrespectfully and without regard to His holiness and majesty or without concern about sin in our lives. We dare not ignore our responsibility to deal with our sin by confession (Ps. 66:18). Rather, by ease, I mean an awareness of this fatherly kind of care, the love of God, and our provision and access through the finished work of Christ.

Pray to honor God’s name

In Scripture, much more so than today, names represent who people are and what they represent—their reputation. This clause means, “may your person be hallowed.” “Hallowed” is the verb $agiazw “to set apart, make holy, venerate, or treat as holy.” But how can we do this? As God’s children we bear his name and represent him before the world. How we act affects His name and reputation before others.

Paul reminded the Jews of this very concept in Romans 2:23-24, "You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law! 24 For just as it is written, 'the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'"

To hallow God’s name or sanctify it means to turn my life over to Him for sanctification. This means opening up my life and all its closets to His work of making me like His Son. Surely this is to be a prayer of surrender or commitment for God’s name is never going to be hallowed (at least by us) as long as we are walking in rebellion and self dependence. Compare Ephesians 3:16-21 which expresses a desire and a request for the veneration of God’s person in general throughout society.

Pray for God’s will on earth

This is a prayer for God’s reign on earth, that soon the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our LORD. It demonstrates a belief and recognition that this world is a fallen world that has rejected its Creator (Rom. 1:18f), that this world is not God’s ultimate goal, and that a new and glorious world is coming (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-8, 13-17; Rev. 11:15).

Praying for God’s kingdom also shows a longing and a hope for the return of Christ to earth and the fullness of our inheritance. It means living in view of the blessed hope as sojourners who love and pray for His kingdom (Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11).

It is also a prayer for the reign of God within us so that God’s will can be done now in and through our lives. It is a desire to fit into His plan no matter how small and in accord with what he is doing through the various trials, defeats, successes, provisions, and circumstances He brings. I am reminded of a line in a poem by Cowper which reads, “Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.”

In the parallel passage, Matthew 6:10, “your will be done” is added. This teaches us to pray as our Lord did when facing the cross. “your will be done” means help me to surrender my life to that which will further your kingdom, your will on earth, and your purpose for me. I am to prayerfully accept the truth that “out of darkness God calls forth light; out of despair, hope. From death comes resurrection.” It is often “by means of defeat the kingdom of God is born in human hearts.”97

Pray for daily, physical needs

In verse 4 the Lord deals with forgiveness and thus, the needs of the immaterial man, the soul and spirit. If you or I were giving these instructions we would probably have inverted the order to spiritual needs first and then we would turn to physical needs. So, why this order?

The Lord created our bodies—the body is important to the function of men. The body is not evil; it is a vehicle of service and of good. In another place he says in relation to the physical needs of the body, “seek first the kingdom of God …” There He shows that the spiritual man is a priority and does take precedence over the physical. But this does not mean the physical man or the needs of the body are unimportant, that they are to be neglected, or that it is spiritual and more holy to neglect the body and to treat it carelessly. The Lord may have used this order to deal a blow against some of the pagan ideas of his day and to some of the imbalances believers can so easily slip into—and always have.

The Greeks regarded the body as evil and believed pure spirit was of greater value. Many rejected the idea of the resurrection because they believed all matter to be evil. They taught it didn’t matter what you did with the body. They either tortured it in various forms of asceticism, or misused it in licentiousness. This is why some of the Greeks at Corinth did not want to believe in the resurrection and part of the reason why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Concerning their attitude about the body and resurrection, Ryrie writes: “In general they believed in the immortality of the soul, but not the resurrection of the body. To them, the body was the source of man’s weakness and sin; death, therefore, was the welcomed means by which the soul was liberated from the body.”98

Even today many Christians take their bodies for granted. We over-feed them, under-exercise them, often fail to give them enough rest, and in general, many times fail to take care of the body’s daily needs. In Philippians 3:21, the translation of the KJV could leave a wrong impression about the body. It reads: “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” The translation, “vile body,” can suggest the body is evil, but literally, the Greek text means “body of humility,” i.e., a non-glorified body. This body is mortal and subject to age, disease, death and decay—so it needs special care if we are to maintain it as a useful tool of God.

First Timothy 4:8 puts this into the right perspective, "For 'physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.'” It reminds us that bodily discipline is profitable for a little while. It keeps the old machinery in good working order as long as it is being exercised and cared for properly on a daily basis. But of course, godliness is profitable both for now and for eternity.

Man is a unity of body, soul and spirit. What affects one part affects the other. Neglect the body and it can affect the spiritual life. Neglect the spiritual life and it definitely will affect the body. So our Lord here teaches us balance—to care for both, to pray for both body and soul. The prayer for daily bread represents the whole concept of the needs of the body—food, clothing, shelter and whatever the human body needs to function effectively for the Lord. Our bodies belong to Him; He has bought them with the price of His Son (1 Cor. 6:19).

Note that He teaches us “give us today our daily bread.” This is a prayer for daily supply to be made available to us for our physical needs. This is to be prayed daily. We should never take the Lord for granted. Compare Paul’s emphasis in 1 Timothy 4:4 “For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

This also teaches us that our primary concern is to be our daily needs—day by day living as sojourners rather than storehouse living like the rich fool.

Luke 12:16-21 He then told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, 17 so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.

The purpose of this request is to get us to consciously place our security and our trust in the Lord’s hands on a daily basis as a protection against: (a) false security, and (b) the wrong pursuits for life, i.e., living life with a view to one day at a time can help us maintain the right goals or purposes (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8-19; Matt. 6:19-34).

The prayer is designed to help us realize that the daily supply of the physical needs of life come from the Lord regardless of our resources or reserves, or how wisely we think we have planned for the future. Planning for the future has its place, but only as we keep such plans in proper perspective.

It is also designed to remind us that though God is the transcendent and sovereign God of the universe, He is also our personal and immanent heavenly Father who is concerned for and the Provider of even our daily physical needs. But wait a minute, didn’t Jesus Christ also say, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8, 32).

If He knows, why ask daily?

(1) Prayer is obviously not something by which we inform an omniscient God of our needs. Prayer is for us, to influence us and to keep us depending on Him.

(2) The principle of prayer is not that God needs to be told, but that we need to tell Him because of what true prayer does to us. It is a means by which we submit to God’s will and learn to wait upon God as we delight our hearts in Him (Ps. 37:4-6).

(3) Prayer is a means by which we draw close to God so that He may draw close to us to bless us, not just with our needs as we may conceive them, which may not at all be what we need, but with the awareness of God Himself (James 4:8). What happens when we fail to praise and thank God and fail to bring our needs to the Lord? We begin to pull away from Him, to take Him for granted, and eventually we succumb to the delusion that we can handle life alone.

God is influenced by biblical steadfast praying, not because we have informed Him of something or because we have influenced God to change His mind, but because it has affected our lives, demonstrated our faith, obedience and submission to Him (Ps. 33:13-22; 34:4-9). God answers and honors trust.

Pray for spiritual needs

(1) Regarding personal sin—“and forgive us our sins,” (11:4a)

First of all this verse deals with the subject of the forgiveness of the child of God, not the forgiveness of the unbeliever. The unbeliever is not forgiven by praying this prayer or by confessing his sins as though that would win his forgiveness. Instead, the Bible reveals that he must acknowledge his sinfulness, that he is a sinner separated from God, helpless in himself, and in need of the saving grace of God through faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.

The passage is addressed to disciples, to believers who can call God their Father as the regenerated children of God through faith in Christ. Judicially, for those who have trusted in Christ the penalty of sin has been settled by the cross (Rom. 3:21-24; 5:1-2; Col. 1:14), but as we see in John 13, we all face the problem of personal sins that we incur as we walk down the defiled streets of this world. Known sin hinders our fellowship with God, it quenches His power and control of our lives, and it hinders our ability to grow and be truly changed by the grace of God. Therefore, in this model prayer, the Lord shows us that we must deal with the problem of personal sin.

We must remember that this prayer gives us a pattern for prayer in its general content. Here, it deals with the subject of forgiveness as a very important part of our prayers if they are to be answered and significant in our lives and our walk with God. This passage does not give us an explanation of the mechanics or details by which the believer is to handle sin and experience forgiveness. For this, God expects us to turn to the rest of the Word for instruction and insight. Rather, this model of prayer reminds us of our sinfulness, shows us our need of cleansing for fellowship with God, and demonstrates our responsibility to deal with the problem of personal sin in all its many categories as:

  • Mental attitude sins—resentment, envy, jealousy
  • Sins of the tongue—lying, gossip, criticism, abusive language
  • Overt sins of every kind—stealing, fornication, adultery, murder, substance abuse, fraud, etc.
  • Root sins—failure to appropriate God’s grace and live dependently on Him, false values, false motives, and false patterns of thinking and dealing with life. This involves the defense and escape mechanisms and the independent strategies of self protection or self management that we all tend to use to control our lives and protect ourselves rather than trusting in the Lord.

Let’s look for a moment at Luke 11:4a “And forgive us our sins.” The verb, “forgive,” as it is first used in this verse, is a construction in the Greek text (an aorist imperative) which adds a note of urgency—undoubtedly because of the consequences of sin. The Lord spoke here of specific sins. The word sins has the article and is in the plural. In light of the analogy of Scripture, the Lord is talking about specific personal sins that we are responsible to acknowledge as sin because of what it does to our fellowship with the Lord and our capacity as believers to love and minister to others.

This means we are not to take this request, “forgive us our sins,” as just a broad all inclusive and sweeping prayer for forgiveness of sin in general, i.e., “Lord, forgive me of all my sins.” That would avoid specific conviction and acknowledgment of specific sin, and leave us with non-convicting generalities. Such a prayer would simply sweep sin under the rug. It would clean up the outside of the cup but ignore the filth on the inside.

Matthew 12:34-35 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury.

Matthew 23:25-26 Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!

The verb is afihmi and means literally, “to send away, let go.” It comes from a preposition, “from” and a verb, “to be.” It had, however, a legal use and meant “to cancel, remit, or pardon.” It was used of a loan or debt and also of the guilt or debt of sin which, as a result of forgiveness, removed the penalty or consequences of sin. The consequence in view here is broken fellowship which is restored by honest confession. (See Appendix 5 for an overview of the key issues in forgiveness for the believer.)

(2) Regarding relationships with others—“For we also forgive everyone …” (v. 4b)

Here and in Matthew 6:12b this is stated in the form of a principle rather than a request, but it deals with a subject which certainly needs to be a matter of prayer. It is an area we each need to turn over to the Lord for management. God holds us responsible for our relationships with others and the focus here is when we think we have been mistreated and would tend, then, to hold grudges and seek revenge.

In relation to forgiving others, there are always two dimensions involved: the Godward or vertical element, and the manward or horizontal element.

In relation to God: All sin against others is first of all a sin against God because it is a transgression against the law of God to love one another. Therefore, when we sin against another human being, we must first confess the sin to God.

In relation to men: In the horizontal relationship, we have a dual set of obligations: those of the offended party (the one sinned against), and those of the offending party (the one sinning against another).

THE OFFENDING PARTY

THE OFFENDED PARTY

Vertical responsibility—Confess to God the sin against the other party.

Responsibility—Forgive the offending party.

Horizontal responsibility—Ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation with the person offended. This can include making restitution.

Responsibility—If necessary for unity, healing, restoration, etc., go to the offending party to seek reconciliation and restoration.

The offended party, as a forgiven person in Christ, has a two-fold obligation. First, he or she is to show the same unqualified forgiveness they received from Christ. This is the point of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Second, if the offending party does nothing, then in obedience to Scripture and for the purpose of unity, restoration, and healing, the one offended should go to the offending party to correct the problem even if it means rebuke (Luke 17:3-4). If the offending party does not repent, then the offended party may need to follow the procedures of Matthew 18. This, however, never means the right to harbor resentment or anger.

If God by His grace and mercy has forgiven us such an enormous debt, one we could never pay because of our own sinfulness, how much more shouldn’t we forgive others the debts or sins against us as mere fellow-servants regardless of how much we have been hurt. What we suffer cannot compare to what Christ suffered for us. But forgiving others is never to be viewed as a work by which we seek forgiveness for our own sins because our de