Deceived by Second Chances

We’ve often heard it said: “God is a God of second chances”. For those who have stumbled in life, they find great comfort in the idea that God allows a person the opportunity to hit the reset button and start their game over.

Like many lies, they are often built on partial truths—so it is in this case. The belief that God has made a way to grant a person forgiveness from sins, along with a promise of a new beginning, is right and true. In this sense, there is hope for an opportunity to get it right.

That hope is defined by the Cross. What Jesus did by giving up his life on our behalf, to pay for the penalty before God for our sins, created an open door for grace, through faith in his resurrection to eternal life at the right hand of God.

Those who recognize their dire condition as a sinner before a holy God, and accept what Jesus Christ did, become Christians. Such believers in God, who respond to this message of the Gospel as defined in Scripture, are granted complete forgiveness for their sins. They begin a new life, a second chance to live in right relationship with their Creator.

However, that is not how this popular phrase is often used. Biblically speaking, this is not a second chance. Grace is a first and only chance!

This distinction has to do with how God defines his own message of grace. You cannot find within God’s recorded words the phrase (or similar wording): God is a God of second chances, because that is a humanistic idea. It is a man-made concept that has an appearance of religion, but actually defies what God himself declares about grace.

Since the Fall into sin by Adam and Eve, all of humanity enters this world in a condition of sinfulness before God. We don’t start life with any chance at righteousness. We start without hope beyond this fleshly existence. Without Christ, and without his Cross, we are doomed to destruction.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:1-12)

That hopeless condition didn’t have a chance, until Jesus, who was ordained to be crucified from before the world was even created. As it states in verse 4-5, within the above passage,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

That grace is the first and only chance at true life with God. This truth is not something that many want to hear.

The common preference is to use the idea of God granting second chances to convey the belief that when they sin, God will continually give them another chance. There is no boundary in this phrase, such that a third, forth, or continual chances are promised to be granted. The idea is that there are no limits to forgiveness, or as some have repackaged it: “you can’t sin your way out of the kingdom of God”. But that is not what Scripture teaches.

Remember, the idea of having a chance with God is defined by the Cross, not by popular philosophy. For those who come to Christ and accept his grace as provided through the Cross, this is what God declares about that first chance:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted of the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6)

Many false teachers denounce this word of God, because it clearly refutes their popular ideology. If a person actually comes to faith in Jesus, but later falls away from what God expects from their faith, they will never be granted a second opportunity. God is a God of one chance! There is only one Cross, and it can be applied only one time. This is why the Spirit of God declares: “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” According to the Bible, there is no second chance!

Rather, what God says is to be expected, for those who have started in faith, but then turned their backs on the truth, is:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27)

In explanation of the above disturbing revelation regarding those who have been enlightened in knowing Christ, but are compared to land upon which God graciously pours out rain:

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” (Heb 6:7-8)

The idea above, that God expects a return of fruitfulness from those to whom he grants forgiveness and grace, is often rejected by popular preaching today. However, that is what God says. In fact, he makes it very clear that this grace can not only be rejected after one has initially accepted it, if a person does so, they will never be able to come back to God again. It is over, even if their physical life continues to tick toward their end.

As Paul warned several churches, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”. And as Jesus himself revealed, “He who puts his hand to the plow, but then looks back, is no longer fit for the kingdom of God.” They are considered by God the same as those who commit the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, for which they will never be forgiven either in this life or the next. And, as church members are again warned, “See that no one is…godless like Esau…He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.”

Even Peter reveals this distinction regarding the limits of grace, as he applies it to ministers who are not teaching or doing what is right before God. They deceive their followers with promises of freedom from the burden of past failures, but they misrepresent the gospel in their effort to attract members to their church and readers to their books and money into their pockets—or what many would call evidences of ministerial success:

“These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:17-21)

Notice that Peter identifies these preachers as having actually known Jesus as Lord and Savior. They had been given their one chance, but their teachings emphasized freedom, but not within the limits taught by God. Rather, they distorted the gospel into a license for Christians to live however they want, under the belief that God always gives second chances. They believed in Jesus, but refused to remain submissive to his teachings on grace, and in the end, they (and those who accept their teachings) are guaranteed blackest darkness.

This idea of second chances is often promoted as justification for excusing the pattern of sin in a person’s life. The belief is that God will always forgive them, if they ask for it, but that is not what the Bible reveals. As John warned Christians about how to evaluate true believers in church from false:

“No one who lives in him [Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil…no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God” (1 Jn 3:7-10)

The Apostle of love, is blunt. Those in the church who demonstrate a pattern of repeated sin belong to the devil, not to God. It is the evidence of their “continuing to sin”, that betrays their deception in thinking they are Christians, but are not. With their words they may want to be considered as Christians who are assured salvation, “but by their actions they deny God”, and are viewed by the Lord as detestable and unfit to enter his kingdom.

There is nothing there about second chances at sinning and getting continual do-overs with God. Christians have one shot through faith in Jesus. The Cross is a one-time application. That is what the Bible declares, even though many churches distort this truth.

God is a God of One Chance, and that chance is Jesus. He is the only door through which any human, at any point in earthly history, can find hope in eternal life beyond their penalty for sin. All hope must find its source and justification in Jesus, in his life and words as represented in the Cross.

The error that many fall into is in measuring their apparent chances according to their own successes and failures. In other words, they assume that each time they are confronted with sin, that is a new chance. They fail at marriage, so they think their second chance is found in a second marriage. They fail at raising kids to know Jesus, so they think their second chance is in leading a church youth group. They assume that each time they fall back into drug use, or pornography, or lying, or cheating, or stealing, is another chance to come back to God. They think that getting baptized, then turning away to their own interests, and then coming back to church is a second chance, but these are not right. Most who use the phrase of “a God of second chances” are speaking about their desire to get right again, but all these are self measurements.

Again, Jesus is that chance, not you or what you do. Our chance with God is not defined by our actions or choices; it is only determined by who Jesus is. He is that one door, that only chance to belong to God, to be saved. This is not to suggest that our choices have no eternal impact, as many falsely teach, but rather that they are not the determining cause of righteous standing before God. Don’t make the mistake of measuring by yourself.

When it comes to understanding this one chance, the truth is found in what it means to accept the Cross. His sacrifice is sufficient to cover for all sin, every failure of natural condition, of every past sin, of any sin we commit after having come to faith, and even over any future sins we have yet to slip upon. God does not place a limit on the number of times we can come back to him in repentance for falling into sin, but he does warn against a pattern of repetition that reveals a distorted desire to maintain our deviant behavior in defiance against “cutting off the hand that offends”. The point here is that God is very merciful and forgiving to those who genuinely hate their sin and desire to remain under the grace of Christ.

Those who come to recognize that Jesus is Lord and Savior are granted their chance at eternity with God. That is their one opportunity. It will never come back around again. Today is their day. That recognition is not the same thing, however, as acceptance. It simply means that God has spiritually opened their eyes to be able to see Jesus for who he is. That awareness will only ever happen once.

Read the parable of the soils, if you are in doubt. As Jesus declared: If you don’t understand this, how will you understand anything I say? This parable is key to understanding how it is that a person can hear the gospel, even come to accept it, but then not reach the end with entrance into the kingdom.

Not everyone who physically hears the gospel is simultaneously granted the ears to hear—that can only come from God, not from the lips of man. Not every kid that grows up in church is confronted with their one chance, even if they have gained knowledge of Jesus and have been blessed as one considered holy before God—for each person must be called by God. However, when God does grant that blessed calling, it is that singular moment of truth.

If they reject Jesus at any point thereafter, they will never be given a second chance. The Bible states that they have treated the sacrifice of Jesus as unholy and are subjecting him to repeated public disgrace and God will not allow that to ever happen again. Whether or not you like to hear this, you are not worth that—no one is worth shaming Jesus again. His suffering on the Cross was one time for all, and never again—not in history, and not in personal application.

Be warned. Do not subject Jesus to disgrace again on your behalf. Submit fully to him and never turn away from that commitment. His one-time sacrifice on that Cross is completely sufficient and powerful to take care of everything you need. The covenant he makes with such a believer is defined from that point on as covered under his eternal blood—blood that was spilled in suffering under the wrath of God, and an eternal life that is now resurrected to intervene and provide everything you need from here on out.

So what about sin after this profession of faith? The message of grace has an answer for that, but don’t be deceived by those who twist the gospel into it’s-all-good messages or sin-doesn’t-matter doctrines. Christians still stumble in sin, but that ought to be increasingly rare in one in whom the Seed of God dwells. Nevertheless, it does happen, so then what? Do we need a second chance? NO. A faithful Christian remains under the blood covering, so they don’t need to hit the start-over button. What they need to do, is cry out for forgiveness upon the basis of the eternal blood of Jesus that they remain under.

A believer comes under the Lordship of Jesus through faith as demonstrated in baptism, and even when they thereafter sin, they remain under his authority and covering of righteousness. Sin strains that relationship, but it does not automatically break it. Please be careful here, do not jump to conclusions on what this means. Sin in a believer strains, but doesn’t of itself separate. It inhibits the blessing of an open relationship, but it doesn’t immediately cause that covenant relationship to break, because our identity as believers is established on the righteousness of Christ.

If left untreated, however, it will eventually destroy that relationship. Believers are only assured to remain free from condemnation, if they remain “in him”. Those who disown him, he also will disown them—that is what God himself declares. It is not the sin itself that is the real problem—it is the refusal to repent and stay under Jesus. Those who persist in their sin, push God further and further away, until eventually he will grant them what they desire—to exist in rejection of Jesus who died for them.

“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Pet 2:1)

Those “among you” who were bought with the blood of Jesus, but who insist on pursuing selfish agendas and twisting the words of God, eventually destroy their one chance at salvation. For those who fall from the grace they had initially been granted, the sacrifice of Jesus can only be spoken of as past tense, because his grace no longer covers their sins:

“But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:9-11)

God alone knows whether a person has fallen from his grace. We cannot identify that line, but we are warned that it does exist. What we can somewhat measure, in order to assess where we might need to make some course corrections, is how consistent our lives conform to Jesus and his scriptural instructions. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And, “You will know them by their fruits.”

You don’t need a second chance. What you need is Jesus. That is who we all desperately need.

If you have put your faith in him, then never turn away. When you find yourself confronted by your own failures and sin, then be quick to repent and strive increasingly to stay away from whatever entices you. In so doing, you will remain under the protective and forgiving blood of Jesus. If you have wandered, then don’t assume you are God and can label your drifting as having “fallen away”. That is his call. Rather, repent with every fiber of your being, and throw yourself upon his mercy. According to his own divine word, those he doesn’t want to forgive, he blinds, so that they will not repent and then he would heal them.

Such is the condition of many who attend church. They have been blinded to their own desperate condition, assuming that they can live as they like with their false god of second chances. They don’t repent. They don’t even realize that they need to repent. They have been promised freedom, but remain deceived. They are the ones who have fallen from grace and can never return.

But for you, I am confident of better things—things that accompany salvation.

God is a God of Grace. He has offered one chance at grace, through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. As soon as you have the chance, grab on tightly and never let go. When you stumble, repent and let him keep you clean before God by his healing wounds.

God is not like some shifty gambler. He only needs one chance. Through faith, so do you.

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Drawing Your Line In The Sand

Everybody has a breaking point. There exists for every one of us a line in the sand—a barrier beyond which there can be no return.

That line represents the uncompromising reality of who we are in our own minds. Those who push us to that line, can never walk with us again. It is over.

To willingly cross that line in our sand, is to deny ourselves–it is to die. And, for most, that is not an option to be considered without a fight to the death. Somewhere, sometime, down that jungle of life, you and I will find ourselves cornered, and forced to fight for what that line stands for.

You don’t have a choice. You will be confronted. Everyone must deal with their line in the sand. God demands it!

It is what I refer to as a Mt Moriah Moment. That mountain was where Abraham was confronted by God to sacrifice Isaac. He was being asked to kill his blessing—his very heart—the son whom God had miraculously given to him—the one he loved.

God brought Abraham to his own line in his desert and gave him a choice: Me or the kid.

Eve’s line in the sand hung from a stem from a special tree in the middle of the most blessed garden, and it represented her hunger for independence. For believers leading up to the Flood of Noah (those called sons of God), their line was represented by string bikini’s of the daughter’s of men, whom they chose to marry in defiance of God. For Job’s wife, her line was putting up with watching her husband suffer with illness, to which she advised him to curse God and die.

It seems that few get to pass through this life without dealing with their line. And those who do die prematurely will still face judgment, so even for them, their line is coming.

Sampson’s line was resisting the complaining of his wife, who cared more about her own life than his, and by telling her the secret of his super-human strength, he crushed himself to death. King Saul’s line was the shame at listening to his subjects’ praise some upstart kid who killed a giant, rather than shouting God-save-the-king, and he ended up becoming tormented with a demon, and had his line cut short before it could even become a royal line.

Solomon’s line was his passion for foreign women. For many of the Israelite kings, their line was in practicing the mysteries of pagan idolatry and fitting in with the nations around them. For the prophet Balaam, his line was directly measured by the size of his purse string, and how much wealth he could gather in exchange for his religious services.

This line is not simply a matter of sin. It is a do-or-die ultimatum to which humans tell God to get lost.

As Jesus walked this earth, many were exposed to their line. Many early disciples of Christ balked at the Lord’s insistence that they eat his flesh and drink his blood—that was too much to expect, and they turned away from God. The rich young ruler came to Jesus, but turned away when he was told to give up his great wealth and then come follow Christ. Many of the religious leaders believed in Jesus, but refused to confess their faith, out of fear of what other important people would think of them.

For a large number of the Pharisees, their line was in the threat to maintaining their jobs and status, as the go-to religious leaders, if Jesus continued to draw large numbers of followers. For others it was the confrontation to their theology that One God could still exist as One with a separate Son of God who was “equal with God”. Others couldn’t stomach the gut-wrenching disappointment that their Messiah hadn’t come as a conquering hero, but as a suffering loser.

The Lord even drew a literal line in the sand and wrote shocking things at an informal trial of a woman caught in adultery—the details of which caused the pious accusers to turn away until none remained. When facing such a line, that is how it always ends–with only one still standing.

This line looks different for each person; it shows up unexpectedly and at times we are often unprepared to face it; and, it always addresses the deepest desires of our heart or the deepest fears of our mind—things that we likely don’t even know are so extremely important to us, until we reflect on our own drastic response to make it all go away.

Many in the early church drew their line at the seventh day Sabbath or physical circumcision. For others it was angel worship, or endless pursuits of genealogies, or comparisons of who could do the most miracles, or who was the most persuasive preacher, or claims that one race is better than another. For some, their line was in being expected to publicly confess their sin in humiliating repentance; for others it was in the friendship-undermining command to confront sin in others. For some it was in allowing for freedom in others, or perhaps in turn denying themselves the freedom to indulge.

The Christian widow who lives for pleasure is said to already be dead. Those professing believers who continue in their exposed sin display the evidence in their pattern and are said to become known as “children of the Devil”. Those ministers who teach many things well, but are not careful to stay within the revelation of God, are identified as beasts whose purpose is simply to be caught and destroyed.

Every one of us has a line—something so engraved within, that nothing and no one is allowed to cross it. In other words, someone must die, when that line is faced.

Peter faced his line of fear of suffering while the rooster crowed. Paul faced his line of defending the Old Covenant Law, while charging forward on his horse toward Damascus to attack Christians. Thomas faced his line with demands of the scientific method to verify that Jesus had truly come back to life.

So where do you draw your line in the sand?

Where will you take your stand against God?

Don’t deceive yourself by thinking you are above this, or beyond such a struggle, or protected from being exposed for who you really are. Every person who professes faith in Christ must come to an end of themselves.

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. (Mt 10:37)

Is that you? If God challenges you on this, what will you do? What will it take to prove to God that you are willing to face your Mt Moriah Moment with a dying to what is good and right—like your love for your own family?

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 24:10-13)

Jesus prophesied that many Christians would reject their faith in him, without them even realizing it, when false ministers start preaching things that sound good, but actually distort the truth. This popular religion will contribute to an increase in wickedness that will suck the love of Christ out of “most” believers. This line for many Christians is directly related to the theology they swallowed in their favorite church.

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt 10:33)

This is being spoken to those who profess belief in Jesus—Christians. Those who think they belong to Jesus, but ignore the biblical truth that they still remain vulnerable to disowning him…That is their line. And, when it gets confronted, they will disown the one they thought they worshiped. As stated later, “If we disown him, he will also disown us.”

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25)

It doesn’t matter who we think we believe in. If we try to save our life on this earth, when confronted with a circumstance that puts our life-style at risk, our reputation at risk, our comfort zone at risk, our ideas at risk, or even our very physical existence at risk, then we are promised that God will destroy our life a second and final time. As confirmed elsewhere: “Whoever loves this world and the things in it, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Some thing of this world is your line. It might be comfort, it might be freedom, it might be independence, it might be wealth, entertainment, drugs, happiness, experiences, food, attention, influence, successes, pleasures, beliefs, theologies, dreams, identities, abilities, politics, talents, or even plans for your future. Many of these things are right and good of themselves, but when they contribute to us drawing a line in the sand between us and God, they are deceitful and disastrous.

This is part of what is meant by “take up your cross daily, and follow me, or you have no part in me”. Somebody has to die when the lines of our identity and beliefs are confronted. The example of Jesus is demonstrated as accepted when we daily allow ourselves, at the point our ideas and wants are exposed, to be crucified and killed, rather than by trying to nail others to a tree.

What will you do if God confronts your ideas about Christians going into the military, or about women preaching in church, or about getting divorced and remarried, or about illicit sex, or about apparent guarantees for salvation, or about who makes the final decisions in your home, or about your personal habits and side interests?

As the parable of the soils reveals, that line gets exposed at different times for people. For some, it comes right up front, when the truth of God is presented to them. That truth gets snatched right out from under them and they continue on in ignorance to their own impending destruction. For others, there is great joy at coming to know and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, but when difficulties come up in their life, they become disillusioned, thinking that God is supposed to make their life easier, better, and free of pain. They quickly turn away when they don’t get what they expected from God at the time they wanted it. For the third group, they matured in their Christian faith, but some time later on—like happened with Abraham—they come face to face with their Mt Moriah Moment. Unlike the patriarch, however, their anxieties about struggles in this life and their pursuit of wealth choke the life of God out of them. After many years in the church, when they finally stand at their line, they prefer to let God die in them, rather than allow themselves to die. Three out of four groups fail (most of whom believe the gospel), when their line gets challenged.

This is the very issue addressed in red letters by Jesus from the throne of God to the 7 churches in Revelation. Most were commended as doing well in lots of areas, but “this one thing I have against you”. As a congregation, they had come to their line before God. The Lord’s command was repent-or-else. They had a choice to make: surrender and die to themselves on that issue, or face the destructive sword of the Lord as he slaughters those who defend their beliefs against him. Every Christian, on their own as well as in their church associations, will be confronted with their own line in the sand.

Your line is coming. You need to get ready to face it to the death.

Is there anything in your life, your history, your desires, or your fears around which you clench your fist? Learn to expose yourself to God without resorting to fig leaves; to offer every detail of what you possess materially and mentally with an open hand. Give sacrificially of any resource that stands out, especially in areas of obvious blessing, in order to keep personal human nature in submission. Practice restraining, and at times denying yourself, not simply in excesses, but even in those things that naturally contribute to satisfactions that are based in this world. Don’t let yourself become so comfortable that you fall asleep.

In God’s amazing grace, he has revealed that “those who judge themselves, don’t need to fall under judgment”. If we actively engage in disciplining ourselves, in order to stay alert and self-controlled before the Lord, then there is less need for God to confront us with those lines in the sand. It is unlikely that we can dodge all correction, but those who are faithful in the little things, are promised to also be faithful when facing their Mt Moriah Moments.

The faithful in Christ, who endure to the end, like Abraham, will raise their knife over any blessing, if or when it stands between them and God. It is when standing at this line, that God will then announce, to those who consistently carry their cross:

“Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son. I will surely bless you…because you obeyed me.”

Whether God speaks audibly, or by impression, or simply through a collision of circumstances, will you surrender anything and everything in order to honor your Lord ahead of sustaining the good in your life?

That line can be drawn anywhere, at any time, in any shape, and at any number of occurrences. In whatever way we find ourselves at such a crossroads, we have a choice: cry out for wisdom and help, fully prepared to die to whatever we hold dear, or scream “crucify him”.

Remember, our Lord raises the dead, so fear nothing in the sand!

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Secret Power in Disability

Should we celebrate in our weaknesses? It seems so counter-intuitive, when strength, power, success, beauty, talent, and winning can only be lauded when set in contrast to everything else that doesn’t stand on the top of the pile. But that isn’t what Paul thought about himself before God.

God said to Paul: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses”. (2 Cor 12:9)

It is only natural to ask, What in the world does he mean? If on one hand, he teaches that believers ought to run the race of life “so as to win”, then how in God’s name can that be attained, if a person is celebrating disability when running? That doesn’t seem to make much sense.

A number of years ago, during a church celebration of youth who were graduating from school, one young man gave his testimony about how he struggled with sin, but was grateful that God’s power is made perfect in him because of his moral weaknesses. To this, the congregation erupted into applause, and again repeated it when they heard that he had signed up to go and learn how to be a professional killer for his godless country. None of the other 20 or so kids received such an honor that day. It made me sick to witness the widespread distorted beliefs.

It has been observed that the Bible has often been used to justify just about any ideas that a person desires, but that doesn’t mean that such claims actually submit to the truth of Scripture as restrained within the biblical context of such quotes. To rightly understand what is meant by celebrating weakness, one needs to more carefully listen to what is actually being said by the Spirit of God.

In larger context of chapter 12 of the second letter to Christians in Corinth, Paul is confronting their challenge to his authority when compared to other leaders who were also doing amazing things and teaching ideas that differed from his. Paul is making a case for why he ought to be trusted, and his teachings followed. Toward this objective, he shares many things about his personal life in Christ, from the shocking amount of suffering while serving in ministry, to his powerful displays of miraculous activity.

At this juncture, he tells them that he had seen a heavenly vision of unparalleled greatness—something that no other leader there had experienced. To counter the human tendency to elevate himself as a result of this glorious blessing, he was given “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” The text tells us that Paul pleaded to be healed of this, but God refused; instead, telling him that God’s power is perfected through human weakness.

The specific weakness here is the suffering in him brought on by this thorn. It was a gift to prevent the sin of conceit which could develop, but was not a sin that he had committed. Some might think that it could also be said that the weakness could be the natural human condition of susceptibility to sin, but that wouldn’t make much sense. Paul is not delighted that he could sin, if left to his own ways. He is delighted that he can more clearly recognize how much he needs God to live honorably in Christ.

The text actually tells us what he means by delighting-in-weakness:

“That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)

When doing ministry, Paul had to push through insults—criticisms that likely recognized some things that Paul was not so good at—that naturally made him feel low, but would allow God to be more clearly honored within him. Words do hurt, even if they are not entirely correct. The constant pounding of hardships, that so easily drains a person of energy and motivation, could easily derail him, if he relied on his own strength, but when infused by the power of God, it actually would serve to increase God’s power within him. Persecutions and pain normally make us shy away and seek more comfortable circumstances, but in a faithful believer, they turn us more regularly toward God, for relief and protection and endurance, for Christ’s sake. Persecutions don’t scare Christians away; rather, they serve to embolden them to stand their ground, because the power of God is made perfect in such weakness. This is the shift that begins to develop in a Christian who faces such difficulties.

This weakness has nothing to do with sin! It has to do with our tendency to naturally seek relief and comfort, which can turn us away from continuing to do the work of Christ. When we are weak, it allows God’s power to do what we can’t. It brings honor to his name, rather than occurring because of our talent, abilities, or strength.

With regard to sin, in context Paul confronts those in that church who “sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.” He is clearly not delighting in their weakness to sin, nor is he suggesting that God gives power to those who admit that they sin but continue in their abusive behavior.

Those who believe and teach others that God’s power is made perfect in them because of their weakness in sin, their failures, their rebellion, their dysfunctional behaviors, their desires that violate the word of God, speak from their father the Devil. God’s power is not made perfect in sin.

So the question should be raised, what then should be our view of weakness toward sin in this context? Christians rightly believe that it takes God’s power to overcome sin, so isn’t that the same thing? It is not the same thing as what Paul was referring to when he said that he “delighted in weaknesses”. In context, he is not speaking about his tendency toward sin; rather, he is speaking about his acknowledgment that God is glorified when we cry out for help in order to be able to continue doing the work he has called us to do. It is in that specific context that we ought to celebrate our disability to do everything ourselves.

As far as weakness toward sin, Paul admits that he is just as susceptible as everyone else toward struggling with temptation toward sin, but sinning is not the type of weakness that he delights in. It could be said, however, that the weakness-to-be-tempted might well fit. Such weakness is not of itself sin, for even Jesus was tempted like we are, yet was without sin; rather it is the humble acknowledgement that we desperately need help in order to not sin.

“Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cor 11:29)

Like the rest of us, we all experience that burning feeling to satisfy our natural desires, but such inclination is not sin, unless we indulge it. To recognize that we have certain temptations that have a stronger appeal for us than for others is natural and not wrong to admit. For some, the effects of drugs and alcohol have overwhelming appeal; to others it comes out of the closet in certain types of sexual interests; for others it is anything that makes them feel good or distances their suffering; and for many it is whatever route of life that seems easiest in getting what we want. The recognition of these interests are not sin, so long as we deny them. It becomes wrong when we entertain it and allow it to seduce us.

“but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin”. (Jms 1:14-15)

The weakness to be tempted, when surrendered to God and overcome by allowing his power to operate in us, is worthy to be exposed without shame. However, when that weakness succumbs to the temptation, it dishonors God and has nothing in which to delight. In the Lord’s amazing grace, however, the weakness of having sinned, can be thereafter still turned into strength. This never can occur because of sin, but rather because of repentance and acceptance of God’s grace. Don’t confuse the two.

God is rightly praised when his grace overcomes our sin, forgives it in Jesus’ name, and establishes us morally as white as snow in his sight. But this is not because of our sin, nor as a result of having sinned, but because of his mercy that enables us to admit and repent of such selfish rebellion. In this way, we never delight in our sinfulness, nor in our natural tendency to fall into sin, but rather in our universal need to be healed, forgiven, and made righteous in Christ.

In this detail about how we ought to view our struggle with sin, Paul himself confronts the distorted teachings that had infected the Roman church (and remains common in many churches today):

“’If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’ Why not say—as we are slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—‘Let us do evil that good may result”?

Some Christians were teaching and believing that God’s glory and power were increased because of sin, to which Paul concludes: “Their condemnation is deserved.” The weakness of sin, is not something we delight in. We ought to be disgusted and ashamed of such sick theology. Rather, when we repent and call out for help, God is glorified in our admission of weakness and our recognition of how much we need him and want to honor him instead of continuing in our sin. In this way, it could be said that we are delighting in our admission of weakness to overcome and resolve sin on our own, not in our commission of weakness in sin.

In this way, those who are humble enough to admit that they are disabled—whether in body, or in mind, or in ability, or in the power to save ourselves—through faith in Christ, are in a perfect position to experience the divine power that raises the dead. Nothing can stop us: no hardship, no uncertainty, and no persecution, for we may be struck down, but not destroyed, if we seek and celebrate his strength rather than our own.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7)

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Truth or Knowledge: A Lesson of Pursuit

To catch a bird as easily as a mouse, a cat must be more than just faster, craftier, or in possession of sharper weapons. In order to be a skilled hunter, he must also be intimately familiar with his prey. Both may be desired for an evening meal, but the pursuit requires a very different approach in order to be successful. In short, birds take to the sky, and mice head to ground.

To mis this split-second difference can leave a cat empty-clawed, if he jumps in the air when he should have lunged for the corner exit. Those who view themselves as intellectually advanced beyond that of a cat, may find their equalizer when confronted with the challenge of pursuing knowledge and truth. To many an educated mind, knowledge is the pinnacle of pursuit, and truth is but a subset of what can be known.

At least as far as Western thought is concerned, the educational system strives for knowledge, and tends to give sideline treatment to the idea of truth. The rarity of capture, when citing truth, indicates that few seem cognizant of the difference of prey—that one goes to ground, while the other takes flight.

The intent here is to raise the awareness regarding differences in pursuit between seeking knowledge and seeking truth. For our species, that of human, we are endowed with an amazing capacity to learn. Although there are repetitive methods of learning that can improve physiological responses, the type of learning that we will consider here will focus on that conscious territory of the mind: what is often called head-knowledge and intellect.

The process required to develop knowledge around a particular subject is relatively the same for most any subject. The starting point may differ from person to person, but intellectually we come to know something by using our senses to measure whatever might be related to that topic. We see, we hear, we poke and prod, until we develop some consistent evidence of what is, from what isn’t. This requires travel all through a subject, to its most distant boundaries, and even beyond, so that we can identify and know that topic, from what doesn’t belong.

Upon this research, we form a mental image, and then put words to it, so that others can nod their agreement or dissent according to how their own developed knowledge matches what we have discovered. In a nutshell, that is how we humans pursue knowledge. For many, that is the end of it, but that is not how the Bible speaks of the difference.

In Scripture, God declares that many seek after knowledge, but refuse to go after truth.

“always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7)

Truth cannot be pursued in the same way as knowledge. Both require a knowing of the mind, but the two must be approached differently. Perhaps the most obvious distinction is that a person must first come to recognize that truth cannot be found by the tools and tactics common to academia. Truth cannot be discovered through research. It is not accessible through the measurements of any human sense. It is not a product of scientific methodology.

Knowledge always goes to ground. It is earth based and never takes flight. The pursuit of knowledge requires the testing of boundaries to learn the extent of a subject. It researches into the unknown. It measures and identifies what can be tested through human senses and natural logic.

The pursuit of truth, however, requires the restraint of approach within the limits of revealed boundaries. It refuses to stray, as if in the name of discovery, because it isn’t after discovery as much as acknowledgment. The pursuit of truth is about identifying what has already been named, what already exists as it should, what is completely and perfectly right. We don’t give truth a definition, we submit to its revelation.

Rather than an assessment of correct versus incorrect (like true and false), truth represents an unchanging standard of reality. It is certainly something to know, but it cannot be attained without guidance from God, because it directly represents all that he declares is right. Truth doesn’t exist anywhere other than in rightness with God. That is why it is imperative to know the Lord, in order to pursue truth.

Like the fable of the fox who disdained the grapes that he couldn’t reach, so many ridicule what they cannot find. As important as knowledge is to our development, it remains a dead end without truth. Truth is essential to our design. Humans will never function rightly on a diet of knowledge without truth.

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thes 2:10)

Truth is a worthy prey, but it cannot be hunted like vermin on the ground. When compared, knowledge seeks what-can-be-known, whereas the truth emphasizes what-ought-to-be-declared. To seek after truth, one must learn to reach for the sky.

Humanly, it is possible to pursue and attain knowledge, but in order to acknowledge truth, one must know their “pray”.

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Interpreting Within the Limits of Why

Striving to understand the specific purpose for which a Bible author wrote what they did is essential to right interpretation. That might seem obvious, but history demonstrates that it is rarely applied. What is far more common is to take a topic recognized in a specific book or verse of the Bible, and remove it from its’ context and filter it backwards through a preferred theology.

Take the concept of Justification for example. The Apostle Paul wrote about justification within his letter to the Roman Christians, and it has become the defining theology of Protestantism.

Much can be gleaned from what is preserved in that important letter of Scripture regarding how believers ought to understand justification, but it would be a grave mistake to form a theology based exclusively on what is presented there. The reason? Paul did NOT write to the Romans to teach on the subject of justification!

Careful exegesis or interpretation of passages and subjects within Scripture must restrain themselves within the context within which they are presented, or risk dire distortions of the truth. The evidence within the letter to those Rome-dwelling believers reveals a purpose for which he wrote what he did, but when a scholar or minister or zealous believer takes that subject out from those boundaries and tries to reapply them, without recognizing the limitations from the change of context, will inevitably repackage biblical concepts into unbiblical meanings.

It is critical and necessary for believers to apply the truths of Scripture to their own lives and understandings, but that cannot be rightly and wisely done while ignoring the differences of context. Rather, it is imperative that interpretation begin by seeking what God means, by restraining our views within his revealed “Why”, rather than putting history at the center, or putting our culture in front, or by elevating how it might speak to our issues. Opinions, cultures, applications, desires, needs, and knowledge, all contribute demands on our interpretations, but a wise student will seek first to hear what God intends, before injecting their thoughts, and keep their ideas restrained within those revealed boundaries.

To understand how this error has undermined the truth within the Church for the past half a century, one must retrace the steps of theology back to their foundation. Within Protestant theology, that foundation was set by Martin Luther as he struggled against the blatant and distorted practices spewing out of the Catholic church of which he had been a leader. Indulgences and other religious excuses for taking advantage of people had reached a boiling point, and Luther wrote that his own understandings on why these practices were wrong, developed from his own personal study within the book of Romans.

In particular, the pivot point shifted on his interpretation from one specific verse and his view of the meaning of what it contained:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom 3:28)

Luther seized on the concept of justification and concluded that a believer is declared permanently justified with God through faith and will be assured salvation without any contribution of any human effort. In a phrase, he called this “faith alone”, and in so doing, rendered human choice and free will irrelevant and even non-existent. In fact, he was so convinced that this was the meaning of this text, that when he translated the Latin version of Scripture into his native language of German, history records that he printed this phrase directly into his translation; not as a footnote or other type of suggested interpretation, but directly into the text itself, as if it was God-breathed Scripture.

The glaring problem here, is that Scripture doesn’t say that in that passage.

Luther didn’t just provide a paraphrase; he changed the meaning to fit his developing theology. He made the Bible say what he wanted it to say, so he could point to the authority of God’s words as his own personal justification for defying the authority of the church that had ordained him as a priest. In his zeal to confront errors in his church, he appears to have lost sight of the original context and purpose for which Paul wrote what he did.

Again, Paul was not writing specifically to teach about how to understand the subject of justification. The actual purpose for which he was bringing up the subject of justification, is addressed throughout the letter, but can be clearly recognized in the very next verse:

“Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too”. (Rom 3:29)

Christians living in Rome were struggling with mis-teachings surrounding the widespread lie that God belonged to the Jews. This distorted belief was that anyone who wanted to claim belief in the One True God, must become a Jew. They needed to do what Jews were commanded to do under the Mosaic Law; that claiming to be a Christian was not sufficient; that Jews were better. Paul disagreed—as, of course, did God.

It was for this purpose that Paul used the concept of justification to make a specific point—that contextual meaning was simply to make the case that God declares a person justified, or right-with-him, by faith and not by what they do. It is critically important to understand that Paul was not teaching on justification specifically, but on a limited aspect of justification regarding what actually makes a person joined to God. His intent is to focus just on that detail of the specific cause of right standing, not to present the meaning of justification.

His entire letter focuses on teaching that faith in Jesus, who died on the Cross as a God-planned atonement for resolving the wrath of God against the condemnation for human sin, is what causes that blessed connection, and not keeping the Jewish Law, not measuring oneself to the 10 Commandments, and not by racial or physical connection to the Patriarchs. Faith in Jesus makes that connection.

Once that point–that faith is the reason for identity with God–was stated, Paul continues thereafter to expand on that point. He does NOT continue to expand on the meaning of understanding justification. Notice that immediately after this pivotal passage, Paul expands this point by referring to Abraham and what he “discovered in this matter”. This “matter”, in context, was about what causes a person to be declared blessed in becoming identified as belonging to God, NOT about understanding the extent of what the word justification means.

As a result of this purpose, Paul shows that Abraham was declared blessed because he took God at his promised word. In fact, he hones in on the detail of the timing to show that this blessing was declared upon him as righteousness before he was circumcised. His point is to show the timing and thus the reason for being declared righteous; it was NOT to instruct on the extent of what justification means.

If he had intended to instruct on the fullness of what justification means, he would have (as he did numerous other times on other subjects in other letters) raised the question about what would have happened if Abraham decided not to obey by getting circumcised.

For Luther, whose theology developed into what is now called “hard-determinism”, Abraham simply couldn’t ever fail, even if he disobeyed. Allegedly God forces believers into his kingdom. If Paul had the same belief as Luther—that Abraham was guaranteed to get circumcised, or that it didn’t matter if he refused to obey—then he wouldn’t have written the conditional “if” in chapter 8. But that is not what happened.

Look at the repeated, conditional warning that Paul wrote to the Christian believers in Rome:

“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:12-13)

Paul believed that believers, like Abraham, have an obligation to follow through in obedience, and that it remains conditionally possible for these Christian brothers to choose to “live according to the flesh” of their natural desires. However, as he made clear in chapter 3 and 4, that condition of obedience is not what makes us justified. Faith is the reason and the point in our relationship with God upon which righteousness is declared on a believer. However, that is not the end of the story. Paul teaches, even here specifically in this letter of Romans, that believers have an obligation to thereafter continue to live out their faith obediently to what he says is “Christ’s law”.

Luther missed this truth, because he changed God’s words to bolster his own theology. That unwise choice has distorted the foundation for Protestant theology ever since.

God does not leave the truth about justification open-ended or vague. Paul may not have been writing specifically in Romans to teach on the full extent of how to rightly understand the meaning of justification, but the Holy Spirit has specifically addressed this subject within the larger context of Scripture. In fact, he returns to this very issue of Abraham and his follow-though in circumcision and how necessary this was before God.

To the difficult question of can a believer, who is declared to be justified by faith, ever lose that blessed standing with God of having been divinely pronounced as righteous, let’s look to God’s own revelation both to his Prophets and through his Apostles:

“If I tell a righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.” (Eze 33:13)

“You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (Jms 2:20-24)

God’s theology of justification reveals that a believer is declared righteous by faith and not by what they do. His theology also teaches that justification will not be completed into salvation without sanctification, which requires a combination of Spirit transformation along with human obedience. By God’s own word, if such a person has been declared righteous, but he doesn’t follow through in sanctification, then he will not be granted glorification when Christ returns to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Paul wasn’t teaching specifically on understanding justification in Romans, but (to those who rightly-divide-the-word-of-truth) the Holy Spirit HAS taught on how to rightly define justification! Forming a theology of justification primarily from Romans is unwise, because the teaching on that subject was not the reason why it was partially addressed in that letter.

Luther apparently didn’t understand that the Holy Spirit is the primary author of Scripture, or it should have been considered very foolish to call the word of God written by James just some “epistle of straw” at the lowest level of Scripture. But that is how Luther viewed the Bible—that one part was better than another.

Curious isn’t it? Many Christians being addressed in the letter of Romans thought they were better connected to God as Jews. In a similar way, Luther thought his theology developed out of that letter to those Romans was better connected to God than what James wrote. Do you recognize the similarity of error?

As I write this, I am humbled by my own heritage as a Protestant Christian. In many ways, the entire facade of Protestant theology has been erected upon the foundation of Luther’s “faith alone” meaning. Although I strongly disagree with the ultimate package of this teaching, and all those subsequent doctrines built upon this viewpoint, I am not ashamed of having come to Jesus through Protestantism. Rather, I am immensely grateful for those who have gone before me, like Luther, who struggled to take a stand against dishonoring God, especially by fellow Christians. And yet, how easy it is for all of us to strain against the sliver in others, but miss the mote in our own eye.

If you are a Christian of Protestant pedigree, are you sensitive to recognizing truth? Can you acknowledge the truth about justification as presented by God, or will you insist on perpetuating human tradition? Do you care more about promoting the name of Jesus as he defines himself, or will you defend your own history?

If you are willing, commit yourself to take up the revealed Cross of Jesus and promote his truth within the limits of what he has revealed about why he worded what he wrote.

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Faith is not Conviction

When conviction for a desired outcome defines our faith, we have gotten off track. Many believers have stumbled over the belief that God will grant whatever we ask, if we are convinced of getting what we want and don’t allow doubt to creep into our thoughts.

In all fairness, Scripture sure seems to indicate that Christians ought to be convinced in receiving. All it takes is a willingness to declare out loud what we want, and then be convinced it is coming as we desired.

“For everyone who asks receives”. (Mt 7:8)

How straight forward simple. Ask and you will get what you want. That is the promise of the Lord! Those who believe what God says here are understandably convinced. However, the caution here is that this sentence is spoken in a larger context and those who prefer to isolate it, like some magical phrase, and expect to get what they ask for are deluded. There is more to this promise.

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”. (Mt 21:22)

Later, the same writer records a caveat—those who ask, must believe. This is not “also believe” (as in belief needs to accompany conviction), nor is it about believing in the outcome (as in faith in getting what you want). Such belief is not what the Lord expects of his followers, even though many think that is what he taught. Here is the larger context to this belief-in-prayer expectation:

“Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did this fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked. Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,‘ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’” (Mt 21:19-22)

The context shows that Jesus expects that his followers ask in “faith and do not doubt”, but the error that many swallow is in assuming that this faith-without-doubt is about the conviction in getting, but that is not what Jesus meant. That assumption is the natural interpretation for those who are devoid of the Spirit and are not careful in listening for the truth. On the surface, it looks like a recipe for how to get what we want, but that is not correct.

Again, Jesus instructs on what he specifically means by ask-and-you-will-receive, when he spoke about himself as the Vine and believers as the Branches. In this teaching, he reveals that it is in the producing of godly fruit, as a result of “If you obey my commands”, that sets the required context for God to grant “whatever you ask in my name”.

“I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn 15:16)

In contrast to this necessary evidence, the Lord makes it very clear that those who come to him, but don’t “remain in me and my words remain in you”, can’t produce the kind of life-choices that display the fruitful evidence of Christ-likeness. Such barren trees, who think they are Christian, but don’t show this transformational evidence in their life, will be “thrown away” and burned (if they persist in their sin and refuse to repent). According to these words of Scripture, they should not think that God will answer their prayers, because that promise is extended only to those who “produce much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

The same teaching is repeated by James, regarding asking in faith for what we desire and doing so without doubt:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jms 1:5-8)

This faith, at face value, appears to be expressed in not doubting that we will get what we ask for, but that is not what either Jesus or James meant. That kind of faith—a conviction in getting what we want—is not Christian faith!

It is an ache to hear the lament of believers who express their disappointment and disillusionment when their child dies from an illness (as an example), that they had prayed earnestly about and were absolutely convinced that God would heal them. It is a hard burden to empathize with a heart-broken person (as another example), who prayed with conviction for the salvation of their loved one, but they have since rejected the Lord all the way to their death-bed. Why didn’t the Lord fulfill his promise to give them what they asked for in faith and without doubt?

The inverse of this same problem is observed in those who view answered prayer as proof of faith because God gave them what they wanted. This stems from pagan religions where followers become convinced that their god answered their prayer because they got what they desired. The idea of conviction, that God favors someone because they received what they wanted, is not Christian. There are numerous godless reasons for why a person might get what they want:

  1. Time-and-chance, or what many view as luck, or being in the right place at the right time;
  2. Cause-and-effect, like when a basketball player practices hard and then becomes skilled at making baskets for his team, which is a skill/talent issue where one gets a good return when they invest themselves;
  3. Kisses-of-an-enemy, which the Bible describes as favor from the Evil One to entice a person to continue down a dark and sinful path (yes, Satan can grant wishes in this temporary world);
  4. Divine-testing where God grants what a person asks, but not for their good (as Scripture warns “be careful what you ask for, for I may well give it to you”).

God commands believers to “test the spirits” and not to believe everything, even when it appears to be favorable to what we desire. Assessing our belief according to what we get is foolish and very dangerous to genuine faith.

The problem here with what we expect to receive when we pray, and in how we interpret the evidence of what we do receive, is in the focus of the faith. To those who are well-meaning (but still deceived), their type of faith focuses on a conviction for an outcome, but that is not godly faith. The results should be desired and anticipated, but should not be the reason for having faith in prayer. Genuine Christian faith focuses on the Lord, not primarily on the desired results. It focuses on pursuing and upholding the revealed will of God, not on getting what we want, the way we want it, or in being convinced in receiving it right when we ask for it. Conviction may produce wishful thinking, but it is not faith.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12)

Biblical faith focuses on Jesus. It concentrates on following him, obeying the details of his words, honoring his name is everything we do and ask. In fact, it never asks for anything other than what the Lord wants. This kind of faith emphasizes trusting him, not in getting what we personally desire. It restrains personal wants to only those pursuits that submit to the will of Jesus, to what pleases him.

“and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:22)

” When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (Jms 4:3)

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Mt 12:39)

God will only answer prayers that fit with his will, that please Jesus, that submit to the righteous motives of the Lord. Personal motives—like seeing a loved one healed, or a marriage saved, or a job become successful, or pain removed, or the bad guys get what’s coming at the moment we ask for justice—can all come from wrong motives, because they are likely asking according to our human will. Those who pray such requests, can strain with all the conviction they want in things working out, but God will not likely give them what they want, when the expectation is about getting rather than honoring. Asking God to act according to what we pray is not a magical talisman to force outcomes to our ways and wants.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 Jn 5:14)

Prayers in faith are about requests that fit within the will of God, that depend upon our trusting in who Jesus is and what he has revealed he wants to do. It submits our will to his intentions, and avoids making foolish requests to get what we desire.

Those who have this kind of faith, who believe in the Lord this way, will only ask God to curse a tree, when God shows them that is what he specifically wants to do in that circumstance. They will never astound their audience by casting mountains into the sea, unless God makes it clear that that is exactly what he wants done at that moment. The power of this kind of submissive trust in God and his leading is capable of doing the impossible and nothing they request will be withheld.

This is not to say that believers should only pray for what the Bible says specifically to pray for. Since Scripture doesn’t actually state our personal names, we wouldn’t have much to pray about then. Rather God’s word gives us parameters and guidelines to help us narrow our choices in how to act. Real faith strives to bring our desires under his will, but even when it looks like we are operating still within biblical boundaries, we can be mixing good requests with selfish motives, or in other ways not entirely submitting to his holy will. That truth should produce a fear of the Lord in how we approach prayer.

In this way, a faithful believer will be cautious in what and how they pray, rather than convinced they deserve whatever they ask. Their faith-without-doubt will focus on unwavering trust in his goodness, love, sovereignty, and plan of salvation, rather than in being convinced that trees will wither when we tell them to, or that mountains will jump into the sea at our voice, or anything else that we might be convinced we can get simply by asking for it.

Doubting the goodness of God is foolish. Doubting that Jesus is capable of saving us, in spite of disease, death, or sin, is the kind of doubt that the Bible condemns. However, doubt in our own goodness, is very right and necessary. Doubting that we have it all figured out is perfectly acceptable and appropriate. If we recognize we are in need of wisdom or other traits of Christ, and we strongly desire it, we should ask, not doubting that God might be unlikely to grant our request because of our struggles with imperfection and sin.

None of us are deserving of his grace, but that is not something we are to allow to prevent us from asking for it. We ought to doubt our goodness and worthiness, but not doubt that God desires to grant us his favor and grace because of his mercy and love. We doubt our abilities, but not him or his willingness to give good things to those believers who ask according to his will.

When Scripture declares that “Faith is being certain”, it is speaking of the certainty of “what we hope for” in who Jesus is, what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, and in his promised return to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him; it is NOT in the certainty of getting what we hope to receive in prayer. Biblical certainty and assurance is in God, not in getting things.

In this way, we don’t insist on getting what we want; rather, we insist on trusting in Jesus. We ask without doubting his righteousness and intent on doing good even for those who are not worthy in themselves. Asking in faith, then, is not about conviction in getting what we ask, but rather in trusting that God delights in giving what is good.

With this kind of faith, we are encouraged to share our desires with God. We may restrain some of what we naturally desire so that we don’t make requests that are wrong or contrary to his revealed will. However, so long as we are striving to obey him, to produce fruit that displays the transforming and internal presence of his Spirit in us, to please him with our requests, then we are encouraged to share our heart’s desires.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (Jn 15:16)

Those who think they know what God wants, who have had some private communication from God, some vision of insight, some emotional swelling that strongly inclines them toward seeking something from God, should be wary of the source. The exact same experience can come from Satan, demonic influence, false teachers, deceitful friends, twisted motives, lusts, and wants of this life. God condemns those who claim that God spoke to them, when he didn’t. It doesn’t matter how convinced they are that they heard something. God doesn’t leave his communication open to doubt. He will eventually reveal what is of him, one way or another.

God may expose false faith by not answering according to what a person is certain about receiving. He may reveal those who don’t belong to him, by not allowing their prophetic declaration to come true as stated. He may leave a minister or over-zealous Christian hanging out to dry by themselves, in what they expect to get through their prayers, by not providing an interpreter or a confirming second witness to establish every matter as of God. He may test his own children by delaying the answer or even by not allowing things to turn out as desired at the moment, to see if they will trust in his goodness toward them even when disappointment feels crushing. Answers to prayers may often have more to do with revealing those “chosen by God” from those deceived into thinking they are Christians, but are not. God is more interested in seeing the fruit of Christ developed in a believer, than in our satisfaction at getting whatever we like at this time.

God wants to know what each of us like, what we desire, what is special to us personally. As long as it doesn’t extend beyond the boundaries noted in his word, it is perfectly fine to share it with God. This type of prayer is just fine, but the one asking should be cautious about what they expect to receive.

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (Jn 14:14)

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.“ (Jn 15:7)

The promise of receiving what we ask for in prayer, only applies to those believers who make their requests in submission to his name. As the second quote defines it, doing things in his name means that we remain faithful over time to what the Bible means to be a Christian, and that his words continue to fit with how we think and live. The expectation of answered prayer is conditional on “if you remain in me”.

By “in my name”, the Lord is conditioning the prayer. This is not specifically about using the label of “Jesus” or “Lord” in the wording of what we ask. Rather, what we ask for needs to come under the will of Jesus, fit within the boundaries of his own recorded words in Scripture, and strive to entirely represent Jesus as fully and carefully as his own name perfectly represents him. In this way, such prayers fit with Jesus like his name fits him. They represent him without blurring his identity with our own names, wills, wants, preferences, social pressures, agendas, and sin.

Prayers offered in the name of Jesus will always be presented in complete submission to what God wants, what Jesus represents, and in bringing unadulterated honor to the Lord. Whatever we ask for in this way, filters our expressed desires into words that submit to the leading desire of our Lord, and never stray from that priority, nor mix with ulterior motives. When God hears prayers that produce such a naming of Jesus for who he is, those are the type that God will “give you whatever you ask for in my name”.

It seems that many well-meaning Christians have replaced the meaning of faith with conviction, and thereby lost touch with what having faith in Christ is all about.  Our faith should be in him, his promises, his goodness, his plan, his ability to always work things out for our good even when it appears hopeless. It should not be in the conviction of getting what we want or ask for. If our faith is rightly placed in him, and we allow for sharing our personal desires without expecting that God always give us what we want, then we show that our true heart’s desire is for what he desires even above and ahead of our own personal interests.

Those who pray with that kind of focus, know that God will give whatever we ask for in prayer, because what we really want is for him to do whatever He Wills.

“Lord, not my will, but your will be done. And that is really, really what I want!”

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Blind to Blindness

As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Someone who is physically and completely disabled in their eyesight, knows they are blind, but when blindness is referenced as an analogy, it implies that a person doesn’t realize their real condition.

A person who is blind in how they think and in what they claim to understand, doesn’t know that they are blind—they think they can see just fine, and that is the very substance of their disability. Jesus spoke to the devoutly religious about their belief in their own condition before God:

“If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (Jn 9:41)

The Lord confronts those who accuse others of ignorance, error, sin, foolishness, and so on, but don’t turn the mirror toward themselves. Such spiritual and intellectual blindness results from an incorrect view of ourselves. Sin distorts everyone. It twists our spirits, our thoughts, and our desires toward self and away from submission to our Creator. Sin damages our eyesight, preventing us from seeing how rotten we really are before a holy God.

Everyone suffers from this distorted condition. Our natures are dark and so oriented toward sinfulness that we all are blinded to our own blindness. Education, authority, desire and money are only surpassed in depth of blindness by religion, which is why most Christians can’t even imagine that they could be blind.

Those who claim to be able to see rightly, who do not think they are handicapped by blindness, remain in their sin. This truth, declared by Jesus, applies as fully to those early Pharisees as it does to professing Christians today. The problem for many believers, is they have been lied to and told that their faith in Jesus has healed their vulnerability to blindness.

Entire you-are-good-to-go doctrines have been formed over the centuries, convincing many believers that forgiveness-of-sin is the same thing as healing-from-sin. They believe that since they have been granted forgiveness through faith in Christ, that they are already healed from their sinful nature. As a result, Christians don’t think they can be blind.

Many Churches teach the idea of a guaranteed salvation, that warnings in Scripture don’t ever apply to believers, and that the dire consequences for spiritual blindness certainly won’t ever apply to them. It is believed that blindness is someone else’s problem. Surrounding themselves with those who will say what their itching ears want to hear is what other churches do, never one’s own church–which surrounds itself with ministers who promote that denomination, and with membership requirements that require signing forms of agreement to what those leaders say should be taught.

Those passages of Scripture that speak about false ministers, distorted teachings, and rejected claims of faith in Jesus, are typically assumed to apply to the church down the road, not to us, our minister, or ourselves. That is the problem with such blindness—it prevents the person from seeking help, because they claim they have it pretty well all figured out. They think their church is closest to heaven, that their denomination is the best, that their understanding of truth is better than others.

It is true that God expects Christians to test the spirit of those who try to teach God’s word, to see whether they represent God in everything they present, but the Bible also commands believers to examine their own selves as well. The only possibility of understanding and dealing rightly with our condition is in accepting the diagnosis of our humanity as presented in Scripture. Those who understand their broken nature, their natural inclination toward hatred of God, their ongoing struggle between submitting to the Spirit of God versus surrendering to selfish desires, will approach life with humility and a fear of the Lord. Being born again doesn’t eliminate this human nature; it is transforming us in spite of it.

They will admit that forgiveness sets them free, but while they remain in this life, their nature will constantly be in conflict with the will of God. Their healing—the removal of all blindness of mind and spirit—will be granted when finally transformed at the resurrection. For now, they will admit their vulnerability to blindness.

Such a view of one’s self enables a believer to navigate faithfully, even if they can’t see everything. They are the kind who admit that they remain in need of guidance and don’t claim that they can see everything clearly at this time. They may resist the recognized error of false teachers, but they also approach themselves, their own church and pastors, with a mix of love and caution, because the blind don’t know they are blind. A humble believer knows this about themselves and all the other Christians around them.

This was the heart of the problem for the Church in Ephesus, when Jesus confronted them through the Revelation given to John. Many focus on trying to interpret what the Lord meant by them losing their “first love”, but they don’t seem to catch the double reference that directly contributed to their serious condition.

“I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false…Yet I have this against you. You have forsaken your first love…But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Rev 2:2,6)

The Christians in that church were directly commended twice by God for rejecting others who claimed to be Christian, but who taught and did things that violated God’s word. Jesus “hates” the behaviors of those who think they are Christian, but who are not careful in what they believe or do. They were doing what Scripture commands upon believers in not tolerating sin or wrong beliefs in the church. They could see the sin and distorted practices of others who claimed to follow Jesus, but they were blind to their own condition. They match the blindness of the Corinthian Christians who accused fellow believers of being sinners, but couldn’t see that “you who pass judgment do the same things”.

Consider the irony. These Christians could clearly see problems in other professing Christians, but they couldn’t see their own problem. They were blind to their own blindness. And this is no small issue. Jesus commands them to repent of what he has exposed as not right in them and go back to obediently doing what they had formerly been doing. They may have been blind, but he is now exposing a dark detail in their natural condition, and they have been put on notice of a dire consequence of separation from being with the Lord, if they think they can stay as they are.

Those Ephesian Christians who may have thought they were guaranteed salvation with the Lord, even if they refused to repent of this newly revealed sin, to which they had been blinded, would remain under sin, and would die in their blindness. Those Christians today, who have swallowed the doctrinal lie that they can’t ever lose their salvation, are blinded by their own beliefs, much like those who claim “But Lord, Lord”.

Those who are blind, don’t know what they don’t know. The key is not knowing your are blind in some area, but in knowing that you can be blind without recognizing it. Those who know this about themselves, will constantly turn the mirror toward themselves, humbling themselves in recognition of the sin that so easily entangles—that sin of blindness to our own wretched tendency to think more of our self-goodness than we ought to.

The solution is not trying to eliminate blindness, but rather submit to the constant leading and course-corrections of the Spirit. We view ourselves with distrust–in constant need of discipline and healing. We view God as the only one possessing goodness and truth. We view our churches and leaders as worthy of honor, while just as likely as ourselves to being blind without realizing it. We resist the natural tendency to hid our condition with fig leaves, and instead we allow ourselves to be exposed to the humiliating light of correction from the Spirit of the Lord.

The disability of blindness is a natural human problem, humbling to be sure, but not something to be ashamed of. We can’t see what we can’t see. Admit it. Let the Lord be your light. As he shines more specifically into your life, change. Correct your course. Allow your doctrines and claims to be tested, exposed, and even corrected to come in closer alignment with the truth of God.

Those who are more intent on saving their history, their church, their ministry, their denominational beliefs, their reputation, their beliefs, their own lives—remain blind. Those who fix their eyes on what cannot be seen, have the eyes of the Spirit and can navigate that straight and narrow path to the glories that await the faithful at the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Immortal Jelly

Creation exists, in part, to make us reflect on God: that includes contemplating jellyfish.

I came across an article on a curious scientific discovery (www.bbcearth.com/blog/?article=the-animal-that-lives-forever).

Apparently several types of jellyfish can grow, age, and mature, then when in danger of meeting their end, they can actually shift their cell’s in reverse and age-backwards.

Makes me think about Christians and the necessity to be born again. “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom”. When we choose to submit our lives in faith to the Lord, and we recognize the terminal threat of the penalty of death for sin, do we spiritually and fundamentally age-backwards to start again as a new creation? Can jellyfish help us think about eternal life and the need to approach life again as a babe in Christ?

As the article concludes, Jellies are not really immortal, they can and do die, but what a phenomena to become born again.

You are amazing Lord!.

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Woe to us when men are tempted to change the words of God. The religious leader of the largest denomination of professing Christians, with influence over the beliefs of a billion members, is suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer teaches error and needs to be changed to his improved wording.

At issue is the idea that a loving Father would never need to be asked to not lead his children into temptation. It is an understandable quandary: Does a righteous and good God lead people into temptation?

To begin, we must consider carefully what the Lord taught about how to pray to God:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:9-13)

Within the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus instructed on how to pray in a manner and with words that would be acceptable to God. He sets the stage by criticizing the common approaches to prayer of the Jewish religious leaders. Prayer is a powerful means of getting what we want, and if God doesn’t answer, then it can still be used to get public attention from others. That was the context when Jesus walked the earth, and such distortions in how we are taught to communicate with God are just as common today, even to the point of changing the very words of Holy Scripture, in order to gain the public favor of those who frown at the idea of a good God having anything to do with leading people into temptation.

Luke also records this Prayer as follows:

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Lu 11:2-4)

Although in Luke’s reference it appears much shorter in the above translation (NIV ’84), the main phrases are the same. And, depending on what early manuscripts are used, all the other extended phrases also appear in the Gospel of Luke. In other words, the prayer is essentially the same in both accounts, and in particular, the concluding phrase regarding temptation is identical. The Holy Spirit inspired both writers to document this prayer and in so doing confirms by two witnesses the authenticity and trustworthiness of phrase: “lead us not into temptation”.

So, what was Jesus talking about? What does God have to do with temptation? Does God actually lead people into temptation? And if so, how can that be right?

First of all temptation is a reference to the human inclination to sin. Since the fall of Adam, all have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness of God. We all are susceptible to sin. In our freedom to make choices, we are naturally inclined toward satisfying ourselves in ways that disobey and dishonor God. Although we could choose differently, we are easily tempted—we are easily enticed to think and do what is not right.

Even as Christians, filled with the Spirit of God, we remain vulnerable to the temptations of seeking the very same thing that Eve sought when she reached out for the fruit of the Tree that represented good and evil. All humans want to do life their own way, to decide on our own what is right for us, to even tell God what he should have said in Scripture. The Spirit in a believer doesn’t prevent temptation, rather it gives us the power to resist and submit to God’s will, timing, and ways.

God doesn’t make people sin. That is our own choice. He created us with the freedom to choose, and even though we remain fully capable of choosing either right or wrong, our innate desire to do it our own way has rendered us powerless to select anything other than what is wrong. In this condition, all it takes is a temptation that is tailor-made to what is desired by each person, and we will collapse in sinful indulgence.

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jms 1:13-14)

It is a divine truth that God neither tempts people, nor is capable of being tempted himself. To many, this seems to fly in the face of needing to then pray that God not lead a person into temptation, but the two concepts are not the same. Listen more carefully to what you have heard, if you want to know the truth, and not drift away from the salvation first announced by the Lord. Scripture declares that God doesn’t tempt people. It also declares that he leads people into circumstances with choices that can tempt them.

“Leading” is a reference to God remaining sovereign and in full control of the unfolding of life. His dynamic plan, which includes the Fall of Creation, the continued exposure to temptation, and the consequences of dealing with the resulting filth of sin remain entirely under his authority. God is in charge, even while sin does its dreadful work. God doesn’t tempt, but he does use temptation; just as God is not evil, but he does use Satan to accomplish his glorious plan.

Disturbing as this is to our fragile feelings, God allows Satan to tempt. The “evil one” is the culprit of temptation—he is the one who tempts people to sin, not God. However, do not be deceived into thinking that Satan and God are opposing powers competing for the attentions of humanity. God alone is God Almighty. Unlike the Tempter, God does not want people to sin. Rather, he allows the evil one to infect the path along which people travel. Incredible as it sounds, he allows it, for the ultimate purpose of doing good.

God knows our vulnerable and broken tendency toward sin, but he also has established a masterful plan that depends on his own resistance to temptation. His plan is to provide salvation through his own righteousness over temptation. This is the amazing context of the Lord’s Prayer—the temptation of Jesus.

Notice carefully the context of salvation. Jesus was baptized in water at the hand of John as a sign of repentance “to fulfill all righteousness”. He had not, nor ever would sin—thus he had no personal reason to repent—but on our behalf, he would take on the full weight of our sin and thus the consequence of divine wrath in Hell’s death. Under the sovereign plan of God, Jesus was led by God to face temptation, to completely resist the Tempter, and to set the way of overcoming temptation through faith in him and what he accomplished.

So, hear Scripture, and answer for yourself, ‘Does God lead people into temptation, but without tempting them’?:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt 4:1)

This is how the entire ministry of Jesus began: God led Jesus through his Spirit to be tempted. “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord”, established the pattern of sinless perfection in the face of temptation immediately after being baptized. God led Jesus along a 40 day path in the desert for the specific purpose of facing temptation. By facing temptation, Jesus was exposed for who he was, God-with-us: the Righteous One who “cannot be tempted with evil”.

This is God’s purpose in leading people along paths whereby they can be tempted by the evil one, not to make them sin (which is what Satan is trying to get them to do), but rather to expose their identity. God doesn’t tempt people to sin against him, but he does lead people down paths that have been corrupted with temptation minefields. The purpose is to expose the truth.

So, if temptation exposes truth, why did Jesus say we should pray that God not lead us down such paths? Because of what he has already done for us! In our fleshly condition, even as faithful believers, we remain vulnerable to failure when tempted. Our identity doesn’t need to be tested, because we have a far, far greater evidence of righteousness: the presence of Christ himself, dwelling in us through his Spirit.

Our “identity is hidden in Christ”—so Scripture declares. Our sinful condition, that penchant to succumb to our natural desires, to fail when enticed by Satan, which still haunts our humanity, has been dealt with by Jesus by completely resisting the temptations experienced along the path that God led him. We now are granted the right to request relief from such pressure, and such exposure, and the likelihood of slipping into what we hate to do against God.

Those who prefer to follow the path of Eve in reaching out for their own way of doing life, will be led down paths littered with temptations, to expose their real heart’s desires. Prior to Christ’s first coming, Job was led by God through intense suffering at the hand of Satan, who vowed to tempt the man of God to sin. As a type of Jesus, he resisted the Devil, but the account makes it clear that as an individual he spoke about what he didn’t understand and was humbled by God. God led him to face temptation, but Satan was the one doing the tempting.

So it was as well with David, when God wanted at one point to judge the Israelite people for continually sinning. God already had evidence of sin in the people, but they would likely have had a hard time connecting the specific punishment to their personal sins that had been piling up before God over the years, so he intended to use David to cause a specific reason for God to bring punishment on the people for their sins.

God was going to lead David down a path that would expose him to temptation, that Satan could tempt him to disobey God by counting how many men among the people could be used as soldiers. Remember, much of David’s life is meant to reflect the Messiah. Listen to David’s prayer to God and think of how it represents Jesus:

“When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.’” (2 Sam 24:17)

God is light—by nature he exposes right from wrong. When we pray that God not lead us into temptation, we are pleading with him on the basis of what Jesus did for us. Like David, Jesus cries out to God, “I the shepherd have done wrong”, not by personal sin, but by taking on all the sin of those who put their trust in him.

God led Jesus to be tempted for us, so that by demonstrating his glorious success at resisting the Tempter, we don’t need to be exposed as sinners through temptation. He has taken the entire burden of our sin, as well as our condition to fall when tempted, and triumphed through the desert, upon the Cross, into Hell, and up from the grave to the right hand of the Most High. The hand of divine judgment, as David prayed, fell upon “me and my family”—meaning Christ, and meaning the Messiah that would come from the family of David—rather than the sheep.

That is the glorious truth behind Jesus’ instructions on why to pray that God not lead us into temptation by the evil one. Through faith in Jesus, we are asking that God shine his light of exposure on the identity of Christ, rather than on the weakness we still fight with tendencies toward sin. Those who show a life lived by dependence on being “led by the Spirit”, can pray that Jesus be exposed in us, rather than our sinful nature.

Of course, those who insist on satisfying their personal lusts and natural cravings, deny the internal presence of the Spirit, and should expect to face the overwhelming choices of temptation. God doesn’t tempt people to sin against him—that is not his purpose for allowing people to be exposed to such temptation. But, the wicked are assured that the path along which God will lead them will result in facing temptation fueled by the Devil, to their ultimate expose and destruction.

Humanity is being exposed. We are being tested by a holy God. As Scripture declares, “I the Lord, search hearts and minds.” From the beginning, God set before mankind, “blessings and cursings, life and death”, as a type of crossroads that forces us to reveal whether or not we trust and follow his leading word, or whether we insist on going our own way.

As world events continue to tumble toward finality, God intends to expose everyone to choices. God leads people to face temptation, for the purpose of revealing what lurks deep down in our hearts, motives, and minds–things that we cannot even see about ourselves. This frightening reality doesn’t need to apply, however, to faithful believers. Notice how Jesus speaks of what is coming:

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (Rev 3:10)

To those who have ears to hear what the Spirit says in the above quote to Christians: life is heading toward one grand test that will reveal those who really belong to God from those who claim to be good. The Lord gives an amazing promise, but it doesn’t apply to all professing Christians. Listen to the words used: the great temptation is coming on everyone, but those who keep the New Covenant commands of Jesus and endure patiently, even though they personally have little strength on their own, won’t have to face this test.

Jesus faced this test for us. We don’t need to go through it ourselves, if we submit under him and show it by how we follow him. Consider the other words to the other Christians in these 7 churches–some believers are promised protection, but most are confronted with the warning that they had better repent and get back to obeying his words more carefully, or the Lord will come and fight against them himself–something far worse than facing temptations.

Protection from temptation is not automatic to those who profess Christ–it is a privilege that we are granted the right to pray for, in hopes that God will exchange the temptation of Christ in the place of facing our own test.

This never removes choices from challenging a Christian–we never have freedom taken away, we never become robots. Individually, we still face difficult choices and circumstances. We are warned that Satan is constantly on the hunt to find a way to break us, and apostasy in rebellion against God remains a very real threat to our eternity. We are warned against falling away and never being able to come back to repentance. We are warned against returning to the vomit of our independent desires against Christ. As such, we need to recognize that temptation lurks around every corner, and we must learn to submit our choices to the leading of the Spirit and away from following the common desires of our nature.

But this is different from being specifically led by God into dark shadows full of temptations. Regarding that dangerous path, we can cry out for relief from exposure, in the name of Jesus, if we are living out his commands faithfully as he expects of us.

As God reveals about himself: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” God doesn’t create sin, rather he takes full responsibility for establishing the environment that allows sin to operate. God leads people through a life that is exposed to the temptation toward choosing sin, but his purpose is to expose what is right, as only found in Jesus who resisted the temptation and revealed the righteousness of God.

That is what we pray for—relief from exposure to temptation, since we rely upon his identity and do not seek to have our own exposed independently.

In reflection, the entire prayer, taught by Jesus, is a reflection of his foundational temptation experience. Seeking our daily bread from God, rather than as tempted by Satan to produce it through our own effort and power, connect the prayer to that 40-day-fast of the Lord. To seek God’s kingdom to come according to his will and timing, is set in direct contrast to Satan’s effort to tempt Jesus to reach out for it now—and confronts our human desire to control and do things our way. Jesus’ purpose of providing a way for sinners to repent and receive forgiveness is central to his mission, and so we are instructed to repent in baptism and immediately be led by the Spirit to pray for that forgiveness in reflection of how we, like Jesus, grant forgiveness for those who have harmed us.

God doesn’t need ministers or priests to improve his words. They have been tempted, and by suggesting changes to his holy words, exposed as false teachers who don’t know the truth.

God promises faithful believers that he will not allow them to be tempted beyond what they can endure. It comes as a three-part assurance: 1) that the detail of whatever we are exposed to will remain common to man and not be something inhuman; 2) that the specific temptation will be restrained within boundaries that we can personally resist; and 3) that we will be granted specific grace that will enable us to fight successfully against falling into sin. These only apply to faithful Christians, however. Non-believers and false believers will likely face supernatural temptations that are beyond human ability to resist, in spite of the freedom of choice; that God will remove restraints on the temptation so that our personal strength and abilities will be overwhelmed by the exposure; and most significantly, he will withhold the power to overcome.

One of those powers of grace that enables a believer to “stand up under it” is the right to pray for relief by God from exposure to temptations targeted at us by the evil one. It is the request for “cool still waters” even through we may find ourselves traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death”. As believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are granted the privilege of seeking relief and protection from temptation. We can ask for deliverance.

Don’t be deceived into thinking that God doesn’t allow temptation. He allowed Adam and Eve to meet the Snake, knowing full well what they were up against and what would happen. He led his promised people for 40 years in the desert, to be tempted:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in year heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Dt 8:2)

He specifically let his own Son be led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days, as a mirror to the failure of Israel when thoroughly exposed as sinners on their path through the desert. And, he continues to expose humanity through the process of facing choices, including his church–those who profess faith in Jesus, but who still struggle with temptations natural to this fleshly existence.

You have a choice to make…accept the righteousness of Jesus that resisted temptation on your behalf, and pray for relief on that basis; or, reach out for the fruit of independence and be consumed by your own desires.

As for me, I will continue to pray:

Our Father in heaven…lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one!

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Talented vs Gifted

Measuring excellence is a tricky business. It assumes that the one doing the measuring is especially skilled at recognizing the difference between what is normal and what is extraordinary. In a sense, it takes talent to identify talent, but when it comes to the things of God, that is not the same thing as being gifted.

The words are often used interchangeably, but here we will make a distinction between the two in order to highlight an important detail about what is out-of-this-world extraordinary versus what is on-top-of-this-world extraordinary. For our purposes, a talented person is someone who exhibits uncommon ability over and above most other people. A gifted person is someone infused by the Spirit of God in order to accomplish some intended purpose of God.

Christians accept that all good gifts come from God, and that a savant, or maestro, or master craftsman can certainly be called gifted, but in terms of how Scripture uses the term, recognizing a person gifted by God will require a completely different method of measurement than can be used to identify someone with great talent.

A talented person is someone who demonstrates great ability in something. They are recognized by comparing them to the majority around them using natural methods of observation. On the scale of talent, some will show slight achievements, while others astound with their over-the-top performance. In every case the ability, which likely reflects a combination of innate inclination coupled with developed training, is entirely measured by our natural senses and human comparisons one to another.

A talented dancer will often show early signs of skill, ability, insight, and balance even before any training, but then when more formally taught, and refined with long hours of practice, will leap over most others with a naturally-developed grace that rightly astounds those who marvel at her performance. She has been graced by God with specialized talent in a common way, but not likely divinely gifted.

Gifts are very different. To be gifted by God, means that a person has been identified by God for a special purpose in carrying out his divine will in some particular way. So as not to confuse who should receive the credit, a gifted person–one filled by the Spirit for some task–is rarely the same person who is talented. God has little interest in sharing his glory with another, except by those who submit all honor to him for who they are and what they do.

In order to identify a spiritually gifted person from a talented person, both that person as well as any measuring observer, must test for the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Though this Spirit of God endows all Christians to some degree, a Christian who has been specially gifted in prophecy, speaking, showing mercy, or in serving (as examples), will show evidence of a specialty in their calling. That gift cannot be measured with natural means.

This is the reason that many churches fail at teaching believers how to identify their spiritual gifts, because they use godless personality tests, observations of historic ability, and questions about personal interest and aptitude to identify in what ways an individual might stand out from others. That is about talent, but not about giftedness. Such methods are limited to natural observations that compare people to other people, but do little to distinguish the work of the Spirit.

Churches who hire ministers and staff based on their track record, numbers, degrees, resumes, and reputations, do so mostly upon assessments of talent with little if any regard for measuring of the Spirit’s specific giftedness. Few seem willing to test the spirit, and prefer to make judgments based on natural observations of ministerial success. They tend to look for Sauls, who stand head-and-shoulders over all others, to stand as their king, rather than Davids, who smell of sheep, are undersized, and play harps instead of manly drums.

To recognize the specialized work of God in ourselves and in others, we must learn to test the spirit.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1)

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)

Testing ministers who try to teach us about God (the context of the first command quoted above), and testing of our own selves in our claim of being Christian (as commanded upon believers in the second quote above), is about recognizing God in a person by measuring for the confirming evidence of spirit activity rather than by natural talent. It demands that we look for and learn to test for the supernatural evidence that fits within the guidelines of Scripture, and cannot be naturally recognized.

Do not be deceived. This testing is not about dramatic displays, astounding activity, shocking pronouncements, or penticostal shaking, for it is a wicked generation that seeks after miraculous signs. What it really is about is the will of God.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:21-23)

A Christian gifted by God will show evidence of the Spirit’s activity in ways that are well beyond that person’s natural abilities, that completely submit to all the boundaries noted in the Bible, that bring honor to the Lord, that accomplish the kingdom-purpose for which they have been gifted, that depend far more upon faith than skill to follow through, that weigh heavily on their own spirit out of devotion to following the inclinations of the Spirit rather than the preferences of the natural flesh. What they do will depend heavily upon divine intervention because they have little natural talent in that specific area to otherwise fill in the gaps.

This is much like the Apostle Paul who had very little ability in public speaking compared to those who were formally educated: He was gifted to preach, whereas many others stood out well beyond him in their talent at speaking. Or like the leader Moses, who was talented and trained in all the excellence of Egyptian royalty, but whose giftedness in leadership came through meekness by the Spirit after wandering with sheep in rejection for 40 years.

Being gifted is seldom left to private assumptions or unverifiable claims. Very often God will confirm his choice through others, like when providing interpreters for those speaking in tongues, or by announcing his plans to his prophets before he enacts those plans, in keeping with his own law of confirming matters with two or more witnesses.

Ultimately, the measuring for the Spirit’s activity will require that the one doing the assessment be gifted with the Spirit for that purpose of identifying what cannot be physically tested. It might be a granted gift for a moment, to fulfill the will of God when and where needed, or it might be an ongoing gift of the Spirit for accomplishing that divine will over time. Either way, such gifts are a matter of spirit and not of natural ability.

Both talents and gifts are blessings of God and ought to be pursued, encouraged, and used in the service of the Lord. A wise Christian will invest their life in developing themselves to serve. They will pursue advanced education. They will discipline their bodies to precise expressions of talent. They will challenge their minds and train their bodies. In doing so they will have more to offer to God in gratitude for the gift of life.

Talents are something we can participate in developing, but history demonstrates that most often they make us prideful, self-impressed, and deceived into thinking that we are amazing all on our own with little need for God. In the Garden of Eden, Eve wanted to be wise on her own, without submitting to God–she sought to be talented but not gifted. This is how talents and gifts differ, the former brings attention to us, whereas the latter gives all credit to the activity of God.

Gifts are something we can submit to and prioritize over our natural abilities, and ahead of relying upon our talents. Emphasizing and seeking spiritual gifts is to be highly encouraged, without rejecting personal development towards becoming more talented. Within the extraordinary freedoms granted by God, we should devote ourselves to developing, maturing, producing, expressing, and advancing out of honor to God. We may gravitate toward focusing on improving our natural talents and interests in some areas, and pass by other pursuits that we might have otherwise been able to stand out in doing. Talent development is something we get to invest into within our God-granted freedoms.

Gifts, however, ought to take precedence. As the specialized activity of God is recognized, it ought to capture our attention and shift our priorities, even to the point of setting aside reliance upon our talents, or even putting our own natural pursuits to death. Gifts can be enhanced by “fanning into flame the gift of God”, or it can be denied by “quenching the Spirit”. We are allowed to seek special gifts from God, or strive to identify what may be planted within already, but however they come to us, God expects that believers put a significant priority on expressing those gifts, through all obstacles, against our own natural preferences, as a reflection of bearing the Cross.

In God’s economy, gifts are much greater than talents, though they rarely stand out in our world with such amazing distinction as talented super-stars. Talents are like free-will offerings we can offer to the honor of the Lord. Gifts are like God’s own provided sacrifice offerings placed within a willing person. Gifts are direct infusions of the Holy Spirit that focus on expressing the work and will of God for some specialized purpose. God uses talented people, but true power will be reserved for those gifted by God.

If you desire to mature in Christ, spend increasing time sitting at the feet of those gifted by God, even if they don’t stand out as impressively as those talented at teaching, writing, and speaking. If you want to please the Lord, strive to identify and express what can only be credited as a gift of the Spirit, to the subordinating of talent. Don’t look for the majority, the popular, the big, or the successful–look for the faithful in obscure packages, along the sidelines of life, in the discarded churches left to wander in desert places. The gifted are typically found among the weak of this earth.

This is not to say that the gifted are talent-less. Those who are granted such special gifts of the Spirit are those who also actively invest their talents. The gifted are often talented as well, just not in the same way or in the same abilities, so their gifts are easily missed by those who don’t know what to look for. God uses talents in people, but he leads with gifts, so that all will see that this surpassing power is from God and not from human ability. It is a matter of how he chooses to display himself through jars of clay.

Put a priority on what God confirms when you test the spirits and your own discernment will deepen and strengthen. If you long to hear the “well done my good and faithful servant”, then encourage talents, but elevate gifts of the Spirit.

 

 

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