Tag Archives: God

Who Needs God With Andy Stanley

Who Needs God Episode 1: “Atheist 2.0”

INTRODUCTION

Americans are migrating away from religion, particularly Christianity, at an unprecedented rate. Once upon a time, Americans believed religion offered solutions. Today, religion is viewed by many as the problem.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What kind of faith or religion was a part of your upbringing, if any? What has been your experience as an adult with what you were taught as a child to embrace?
  2. Do you agree with the idea that when we move away from something, we are in essence moving toward something else? If so, when it comes to faith, what do you feel  you are moving away from? And as a result, what do you feel you are moving toward?
  3. Andy stated that just because something is unsettling doesn’t mean it isn’t true. What about Christianity unsettles you the most? What about atheism unsettles you the  most?
  4. Do you believe the process of walking away from faith or religion is more personal or more intellectual? Explain.

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from something moves us in the direction of something else.

Who Needs God Episode 2: “Gods of the No Testament”

INTRODUCTION

Typically, people who don’t believe in God don’t believe in a particular version of God. But what if they have the wrong version? What if you have the wrong version? If you’ve walked away from faith or religion, it could be that your version of god never existed in the first place.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Where did your view of God originate?
  2. Did you inherit any of the following “growing up gods”? If so, which one(s)?

        Bodyguard god: prevents bad things from happening

On-demand god: honors fair and selfless requests

Boyfriend god: makes its presence known

Guilt god: controls through guilt and fear

Anti-science god: forces trade of the undeniable for the unreliable

Gap god: becomes the explanation for the unexplainable

  1. If at any point in life you decided to walk away from faith or religion, would you say that any of these “growing up gods” contributed to that decision?
  2. To what extent do you associate religion with guilt?
  3. During this episode, Andy said the choice between God and science is a false alternative and that, “If everything were explained and explainable, it would not explain away God.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from a god that never existed doesn’t mean there isn’t one that does.

Who Needs God Episode 3: “The Bible Told Me So”

INTRODUCTION

If the Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, then as the Bible goes, so goes the legitimacy of Christianity. But what if the Bible shouldn’t hold that much weight in the debate? In this episode, Andy explains that Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. In the stories you’ve heard from others about their decision to walk away from Christianity, or perhaps in your own story, what have been the reasons? Do any of those reasons  stem from what they’ve been told is true about God or the Bible?
  2. Describe one question or concern you have about something you’ve read or heard about in the Bible. Do you believe it must be resolved in order to further consider Christianity?
  3. How do you think 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century Christians managed to endure significant hardship and effect change in the political landscape of their time without access to a  Bible? What do you think inspired or compelled them forward?
  4. If debates about Christianity no longer centered around Is the Bible true? but shifted to Who is Jesus?, how might the conversation change?

BOTTOM LINE

Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible; Christianity exists because of something that happened.

Who Needs God Episode 4: “The God of Jesus”

INTRODUCTION

It’s easy to get caught between doubt and despair when we’ve always assumed God to be bodyguard god, on-demand god, guilt god, etc. If God has lost his appeal because we’ve mixed him up with a gaggle of gods that don’t exist, then how can we know what God is really like?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is your reaction to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t rooted in blind faith, but in observable evidence? Do you agree with Andy that Christianity never would have made it out of the first century otherwise?
  2. Given the evidence for the viability of Christianity as it’s been presented so far in the series, do you think what Jesus had to say about the nature of God is worth considering?
  3. God is Spirit. In your opinion, is it plausible that God as “spaceless, timeless, and immaterial” could be the “first cause” that science is looking for?
  4. God is Father. Is it difficult for you to view God as a perfect father? Why or why not? What is one thing in your life that could change if God became that personal to you?
  5. God is Love. Much like in Andy’s analogy of shade requiring sun in order to exist, do you agree that evil requires good? If so, does that help to explain how God, in his essence,  could be love, despite the existence of evil in the world? What are the holes in that  idea?

BOTTOM LINE

The God of Jesus is Spirit. The God of Jesus is Father. The God of Jesus is Love.

Who Needs God Episode 5: “In-Justice For All”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to rid the world of injustice. But we can only recognize injustice if we know what justice is to begin with. We don’t always agree about what is just. So, who gets to define justice?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. When have you seen injustice in your world? How did it influence the way you see God?
  2. Do you believe there is an objective standard of “dignity and justice for all”? If so, where do you believe it came from? Do you think it varies from one culture or society to the next?
  3. During the message, Andy said, “When we reject God because of injustice, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.” Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  4. Is it easier to regard pain and suffering in the world as an argument against the existence of God or as a reminder of our need for God? Explain.
  5. Does it make sense why God provided a way to save humanity from its shortcomings instead of choosing to judge humanity for them? Are you glad that God went that route? Why or  why not?

BOTTOM LINE

When we reject God because of injustice in the world, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.

Who Needs God Episode 6: “I Do”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to be masters of our own destinies. We all want to feel in control of our lives. The idea of autonomy is attractive; it makes life feel ordered and predictable. One of the biggest barriers to belief in God’s existence is that we don’t want to need God. But what if autonomy is an illusion?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Talk about a time when you admitted you were wrong about something. How difficult was it for you to change your mind? What happened to cause that change?
  2. “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Be honest with yourself: how does this quote by Blaise Pascal  apply to your belief in or rejection of the existence of God?
  3. Assume for a moment that God does exist. What is your reaction to that notion, and how does it make you feel? As Andy describes in the episode, can you relate to feeling guilty,  accountable, or wrong?
  4. If unaccountable people make regretful decisions, to whom would you say you are ultimately accountable?
  5. What if the existence of God brings forgiveness, relationship, and truth? What is attractive or unattractive about each of those ideas?

BOTTOM LINE

Humility makes us wiser, smarter, and open to growth. Humility is the way forward.

Advertisements

Ring of Truth

The Greatest Gift

God is a giver, not a taker. Throughout Scripture, we find evidence of His great generosity towards His creation. From the beginning of time as we know it, when He called forth Creation — when He gave existence to things that had never before existed — we can see the true heart of God. He literally gave of Himself to make each one of us. 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 (NKJV))

The very nature of God is to give, to create, and to bless His creation. Unfortunately, many of us are so self-absorbed and greedy for gain that we do not even have the eyes to see the countless gifts that God has already worked into our lives. Yet, God wants us to be givers too. He created us to be like Him – to pour of ourselves into other people, and to reciprocate His love for us. God created us with the power to be able to give back to Him! When I really stop and think about this, it truly amazes me – that God – the sum of ALL good things, who holds ALL power and authority, would humble Himself in this way.

He didn’t make himself entirely independent of His creation, or set Himself up as a mere casual observer of humankind, though He certainly had the power to do so. Instead, He allowed Himself to love us to the point where our returned love would be a blessing to Him. Each one of us, little and insignificant as we are, has been given the profound gift of the ability to bring joy to the heart of God. It is extremely humbling to me, when I stop and consider that God has thus set the laws of His creation into motion. That the One who is Love personified, would actually be blessed by the love that I could offer Him. This is the greatest gift of all, and it is given to every human being who has ever lived or will live–the ability to give of ourselves to God and to each other. Without this gift, life would be very empty indeed.

Bible Says Christmas Is Time of Blessing

In the mad rush of the holiday season, the true meaning of giving is often forgotten. What is meant to be a time of blessing and joy becomes instead, a time of stress and depression. Recently, as I was praying for the church and the nations of the world, a great sorrow began to rise up inside of me. God has placed so many gifts within His church. Each member of the Body of Christ has been given strategic giftings and a unique place that none other can fulfill in quite the same way. Yet, so many are not moving into their rightful place. They are afraid to use their gifts, or they think their gifts are insignificant. Many are secretly hurt and angry at God because they feel they haven’t been given anything remarkable. They mistake God’s anointing and talent in certain individuals as a sign of God’s approval of those people, and they assume their “lack” is a sign that God doesn’t love them as much as He loves others…that God is somehow “prouder” of other people than He is of them. Because of this fear and resentment, they are crippled in taking their proper place in God’s kingdom, falling short of the gift they were created to be.

Others are busily using their gifts, and by their own efforts are successful in the eyes of the world. Maybe they have a thriving ministry. Maybe they are making good money. Maybe they have the respect and admiration of those around them. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that their actions are a blessing to the heart of God, or that they are even obeying what God has told them to do. Ecclesiastes 4:4 (NKJV) says, 4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. Many are so busy creating their own kingdoms, that the kingdom of God suffers a great lack. Their pride and busy occupations have blocked the measure of their true worth in God’s kingdom.

Who will fill these missing places in the body of Christ? Even now as we go about our daily lives, all creation groans in frustration, waiting for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-22). There is so much work to be done, and so few who are willing to do it. John 4:35-36 (NKJV) says, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” God intends both the sower and the reaper to share the same joy of the harvest. There should be no competition among God’s faithful servants, no jostling each other for the “prime” positions, no envy or personal ambition. If we truly love the Lord, our only goal should be to bless Him, to serve Him, and to advance His kingdom.

As I was praying, I saw a vision of the Lord, manifested in the person of someone I love very much. In the vision, I saw this person laying in bed, exhausted after a hard day’s work. The Lord said to me “What do you think she would like right now? How could you bless her?” I could instantly see that a cup of hot tea and a home-cooked meal would be just as much, if not more of a blessing to her than whatever big, distant work I could conjure up to show her my love. Immediately, I could see what God was trying to show me. We are created like Him. If we appreciate a “small” gift given in love more than the fanfare of a “big” gift given in insincerity, how much more does God?

As the vision continued, I could see Jesus sitting alone by a road with people running up and down it. They were all very busy. Some were stopping and chatting with Him for a moment here and there, but as I overheard their conversations, they were mostly to inform Jesus of what they wanted from Him, or what they were going to do for Him. One man in particular ran up to him. “Oh, Jesus, I’m so excited,” he cried. “I’m off to tell the world all about you!” Quickly he ran off before Jesus could say anything at all. My heart broke, as I saw Him there, sitting by Himself. Yes, He wanted to bless those people with things beyond their wildest imagination. Yes, He wanted them to find fulfillment in serving Him. But what He really wanted most of all was for those people to come and sit with Him and talk awhile…to hold His hand and look deep into His eyes…to share their dreams and sorrows, and to hear His joys and sorrows…to let Him simply give His love to them. In all their mad rush to give and get, they missed the greatest treasure of all, sitting right in front of them.

So much of what we do for God is with mixed motives for our own personal fulfillment. We all want to have a purpose and reason for living. We all hope that if we were to die tomorrow, we would leave a legacy of some kind behind us. Yet for most of us, this becomes the end to which we live. Sadly, when we make anything other than God our reason for living, that thing will become an idol in our lives. Even if it is a good thing, like a ministry or a mate, it can still never fulfill us because it wasn’t designed to. It simply can’t! It doesn’t even have the ability to fulfill. In fact, those idols will begin to work against us, and cause us to suffer spiritual barrenness. They will put us on a treadmill until we become broken-hearted and exhausted trying to keep it all alive. On the other hand, if we receive them simply as the gifts they are and continue to love God first in our lives, we will be given the ability to enjoy them, for this too is a gift. Ecclesiastes. 3:13 (NKJV) says, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. The key is simply to: 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)).

When all is said and done, only those things which were done “as unto the Lord” will count for anything. In God’s eyes, there are no “big” or “small” things done for His Kingdom. All He asks of us is to obey Him in what He tells us to do. Let us follow through and obey Him, whether His commands seem great or small. After all, it is Jesus we are talking about here! The One who left His home in glory to bleed and die a humiliating, painful death for each one of us. The One who made himself vulnerable to us, by giving us the ability to bless him or hurt him. As we obey Him, we bring such joy to His heart! Then His joy, which is a strength to the spirit of man, becomes our joy as well. God is not impressed, nor is He blessed by the best of our works done in self. He is only impressed by the attitude of our hearts.

As we look around the world this holiday season, let us stop and consider Whose birthday we are celebrating. Let us not forget to offer sincere thanks to our precious, precious Lord for His many blessings in our lives. And let us show our thankfulness by our actions! Let us offer the same mercy that God has given us to those around us. Let us press deeper into the heart of God, that we may have something to offer this world besides the same old cycle of greed, pride and rebellion. Let us not be ashamed to become the servant of all, showing our love for God by laying down our rights, our plans, our time and money for the sake of others. Let us demonstrate our love to God by giving Him the very things we are afraid to lay down, trusting that He has the best plan for our lives and would never use or abuse us. Let us truly fulfill the greatest commandment, which is to 27 So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’[a] and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27(NKJV)). Each of us is destined to make a profound difference in the world. Let us not fall short of our destinies! Let us give the greatest Christmas gift that we have been afforded to give; one that we can give year-round – to bless the heart of God!

If you do not know God the way you want to, you can receive the gift of knowing Him right now. Simply pray to Him from your heart and ask him to forgive you for your sins and turning your back on Him. Romans 10:9 (NKJV): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  Ask Him to come into your life and make you a new person, born of His spirit. You can give to Him a gift He considers more dear than anything else in the world – yourself. In return, you will receive eternal life with Him, which begins the moment you are born again. May God bless each of you richly as you seek to give unto Him your all.

If you just prayed to ask God into your heart, or you would like to know more about becoming a Christian, please visit the link on becoming born againhttp://bibleresources.org/how-to-be-born-again/.

 

Can We Win People for Christ?

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more . . .” —I Corinthians 9:19

In John 10:35Jesus Christ makes a parenthetical statement that is easy to overlook, and yet it is a foundational principle when it comes to understanding the Bible. He says, “. . . and the Scripture cannot be broken. . .” (emphasis mine throughout).

John 10:35-36 (NKJV)

35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

The written Word of God is another part of His creative work, and in His inspired words, we see the same forethought, consistency, and magnificence that we see in everything that God does. Because His character is true and constant, the Scriptures can never be contradictory. When we encounter something in them that seems incongruous, the defect is only in our understanding, not in what God has provided for us.

The religious tradition that took root and gained prominence after the deaths of the first-century apostles did not hold this principle unscathed, and as a result, formal Christianity today holds doctrines that are an unholy mixture of portions of the Scripture, along with pagan beliefs and philosophies that have been picked up through the millennia. In contrast, true doctrines fit together in a unified whole, each one supporting and reinforcing the overall body of beliefs. Because of this, if one doctrine is changed or misapplied, the consistency of the whole begins to unravel.

A clear example of this is what the Bible steadfastly shows regarding God’s calling and election. Scripture teaches that a man cannot even approach the Messiah unless the Father draws, or calls, him (John 6:44: 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”). In other words, salvation is not available to all people right now. But because not all professing Christians truly hold to the infallibility of God’s Word, many believe that anyone can accept Jesus Christ as his Savior, and all that is needed is for other Christians to win over the unsaved. Sometimes this belief is pure and altruistic, and at other times the belief is shaded by a desire to win a person over to a particular denomination or administrative entity. Either way, the conventional religious wisdom is that we can—and should — “win people for Christ.”

However, this belief does not exist in a vacuum. A person’s understanding of God’s calling is linked with his belief in the different resurrections. It is crucial to the understanding of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles because these festivals symbolize different physical and spiritual harvests—one early, smaller harvest and one later, much larger harvest. It shapes the understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom and tempers expectations on the effect when the world hears the gospel. If the scriptures about God’s calling are broken, then many other core beliefs begin to break down as well.

 Winning the More

However, one passage seems to suggest that Paul tried to win people for Christ. It is found in  Corinthians 9:19-22:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as wIithout law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul mentions five times here that he is trying to “win” different people, and in verse 22, he writes that he is trying to “save some.” This passage is commonly interpreted that Paul would present himself differently in various circumstances to win people for Christ; he became all things to all men in order to “save” at least some of them. This interpretation fits the general evangelical belief that Christians should do whatever is necessary to “win souls for Christ” and to get all manner of people “saved” before they die.

However, if that is what this passage means, then holy Scripture is broken! Such a reading contradicts numerous other clear biblical statements. For example, as alluded to above, in John 6:44,  Jesus says, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” A little later in John 6:65, He reiterates this: “. . . no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” Without the Father providing an individual an approach to Christ, he cannot come to Him for salvation. The Father must intervene first—human intervention makes no difference.

Acts 13 contains the story of Paul and Barnabas preaching to Gentiles in Antioch. Luke writes in verse 48: “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Even though the apostles preached to many, only certain people believed what they heard because only they had been appointed to eternal life.

John 17:3 provides a basic definition of the eternal life to which some were appointed: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life, then, is not merely endless living, but is the quality of life that comes from having relationships with the Father and the Son—and only the Father determines who will have such relationships during this age. Those who are not appointed to eternal life now will have their opportunity in the second resurrection.

This parallels Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8 that grace and saving faith are both gifts from God (For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,”). He is not beholden to give the faith that saves—that is why it comes as a gift only to some. In fact, in II Thessalonians 3:2, the apostle says that “not all [men] have faith.” An interlinear Bible will show that the Greek contains a definite article— “the”—before “faith”: “not all have the faith.” There is a specific faith, but only those to whom God gives it have it.

Jesus declares, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Claiming Jesus as our Lord has no effect if He does not know us ((23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ verse 23), and as John6:44   shows, the Father determines whether a person can even approach Jesus Christ (44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”).

In Acts 2:38, Peter speaks about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then he says, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call (verse 39). But without that calling, the promise does not apply. Likewise, Jesus declares that many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 20:1622:14).

Many verses mention God’s specific foreknowledge, calling, and election of some and not others (Acts 13:222:14Romans 1:6-78:28-309:1111:216:13I Corinthians 1:91:24-28Galatians 1:65:8Ephesians 1:4;4:1Colossians 3:15I Thessalonians 1:42:124:75:24II Thessalonians 1:112:13-14I Timothy 6:12II Timothy 1:9Hebrews 3:19:15I Peter 1:22:95:10II Peter 1:10Jude 1Revelation 17:14).

Clearly, God has specifically determined who will come into a relationship with Him during this age—and it is not everyone!

If the scriptures are to remain unbroken, either all of these examples of God limiting salvation right now are wrong, or the common interpretation of I Corinthians 9:19-22 misses the mark!

 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (NKJV)

 Serving All Men

 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[a] that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[b] but under law toward Christ[c]), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as[d] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

 Footnotes:

a. 1 Corinthians 9:20 NU-Text adds though not being myself under the law.

b. 1 Corinthians 9:21 NU-Text reads God’s law.

c. 1 Corinthians 9:21 NU-Text reads Christ’s law.

d. 1 Corinthians 9:22 NU-Text omits

To Win Is to Gain

What Paul means in this passage becomes clear when we understand the sense and usage of two Greek words, those translated as “win” and “save.” In the evangelical world, both of them have taken on lives of their own, but with just a little digging, we will see that no contradiction lies between this passage and the numerous other clear statements.

The word translated as “win” is kerdaino (Strong’s #2770), and its basic meaning is “gain,” which is how it is typically translated. It means “to acquire by effort or investment.” It can mean “to earn” or “to make a profit.” The flipside is that it can also mean “to cause a loss not to occur.”

This word is used infrequently, but the verses that contain it are well known. For example, Jesus uses it when He cautions against gaining the whole world yet losing one’s own soul (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36Luke 9:27). The gain is a physical or material one—it is not speaking of evangelizing the whole world. It also appears in the Parable of the Talents, where two of the servants gain more talents through their efforts and investments

(Matthew 25:16-22).

 Kerdaino is also found in the well-known Matthew 18:15, where Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” The gaining here is not about “winning” someone “for Christ.” When we gain our brother, we are gaining a better relationship. We are keeping a breach in the relationship from continuing. We receive a profit, as it were, by enhancing the connection or bond between us. There is no implication that we are opening his mind to the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. It simply means that after bringing a sin to his attention, if he hears and receives us, then we have gained our brother because the relationship has been restored. There is a similar usage in I Peter 3:1-2:

“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”

Quite a number of translators and commentators read into this verse that the example of the godly wife wins the husband to Christ. But Peter makes no mention of Jesus in these verses, nor is he saying that a godly wife has the ability to call, let alone convert, an unbelieving husband. As shown already, God alone retains the power to open a person’s mind and give him the faith that produces spiritual salvation.

This is not to deprecate the power of a good example in the least. Our example is a large part of whether we are upholding the holiness of God’s name or bearing it in vain. Our example gives evidence of our spiritual paternity, for either we will resemble Satan or we will resemble God. When we display the same characteristics as our heavenly Father, He is glorified, and those who observe our good example can see that God’s way of life produces good results.

However, even the very best example will not convert another unless God is also calling him or her. Even after 3½ years of walking and preaching on earth, the perfect witness of the Son of God did not convert everyone He encountered! If a good example were all that was needed, we could expect that everyone who observed Jesus would come to Him—but that is not what happened at all! After His death, there were only about 120 disciples (or perhaps 120 families; Acts 1:15). Obviously, God did not call every person who encountered Jesus—He will call them when they are resurrected.

Clearly, the conduct of a child of God is of utmost importance, particularly in the case of one spouse being called and converted while the other is not. Yet, even if the believing spouse sets a perfect example, “chaste conduct accompanied by fear” will not win the unbelieving spouse for Christ. Instead, the “winning” or the “gaining” in I Peter 3:1 is similar to the gaining of our brother in Matthew 18:15. Just as it may be possible (through our efforts) to have a more profitable relationship with a brother who sinned against us, so it may also be possible for a godly wife to gain the heart of an unbelieving husband, so that he respects her more and begins to let go of his animosity.

1 Peter 3:1-2 (NKJV)

Submission to Husbands

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.

Matthew 18:15 (NKJV)

Dealing with a Sinning Brother

 15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.

This is similar to Proverbs 16:7: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” God can cause an enemy to begin looking favorably upon one of His children, and thus the former foe is gained. By our efforts, though, we can only gain a person in terms of the human relationship. We cannot cause a relationship to occur between man and God—only God can initiate that.

In the same way, the winning or gaining that Paul is striving for in I Corinthians 9:19-22 is simply protecting or improving the connection he had with the people he encountered. His gaining of these people was not the same thing as converting them or of opening their minds to the reality of God. He was trying not to be unnecessarily offensive, but the scope of his behavior was entirely on the level of human interaction, not on getting people saved in a spiritual or eternal sense.

Save Some” From What?

This leads us to verse 22, where Paul speaks of “save [ing] some.” Sometimes we have an automatic tendency to think of eternal salvation, or at the very least justification, whenever we hear the words “save” or “saved.” However, that is only one facet of the Greek word translated as “save,” sozo (Strong’s #4982), whose basic meaning is “to make safe.” It can be expanded to mean “to deliver or protect, either literally or figuratively.”

1 Corinthians 9:22 (NKJV)

22 to the weak I became as[a] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

 Footnotes:

a. 1 Corinthians 9:22NU-Text omits

This word is frequently used in reference to physical deliverance from a dangerous or undesirable situation, and is often translated as “heal,” “preserve,” and “make whole.” When healing people, Jesus would tell them, “Your faith has made you whole. He was essentially saying, “Your faith has saved you”but the salvation was a physical one. The person was saved from a condition of misery.

In the highest sense, a person is not ultimately saved — “safe”—until he or she is no longer subject to death or to sin, which earns death. That is, we are not truly safe until “this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:54). Until resurrected or changed at Christ’s return—until we are “like Him” (I John 3:2), and “death is swallowed up in victory” (Isaiah 25:8)—we are subject to the corruption of our human nature, the breakdown of our physical bodies, and the cessation of life, all things that keep us from being eternally safe. Until we are spirit beings, we will always be in need of deliverance, protection, healing, and restoration. Even the salvation that takes place upon our repentance and the forgiveness of our past sins does not guarantee our future safety, for until we take our final breath, it is possible for us to turn away from God and reject His way of life.

When analyzing I Corinthians 9:22, then, we have to consider what kind of salvation Paul is talking about. Since no man is saved eternally at the point of conversion, he is not referring to eternal salvation. We also know that he could not have meant justification here either, because even an apostle does not have the power to justify. Nor was he given the authority to impart true belief. As we saw, only those whom God appoints to eternal life at this time are going to believe. So that sort of saving is not what Paul is talking about.

Before we get to the full explanation, we need to take a step back and understand how this passage fits with the rest of the epistle. I Corinthians 8-10 relate to the controversy over eating meat offered to idols. Paul’s basic teaching throughout these chapters is that it was far better for the Corinthians to deny themselves a perfectly lawful thing than to risk causing a brother to stumble. Through much of this instruction, he uses his own pattern of self-denial as an example, showing in various ways that he would go without lawful things to keep from causing unnecessary offense.

Thus, if he were interacting with the Jews, he would deny himself things that could be offensive to them but that technically would have been fine. It is not that he would compromise with God’s standards, but he would limit himself for the sake of not turning people away. This is what he was doing to gain them. By these means, he was working for a more profitable relationship. His basic point in the overall context is that, if he were willing to do this to gain people who were not even converted, then the Corinthians should be willing to limit and restrain themselves for the sake of gaining their own brethren. A person who is “gained” is more likely to hear what we have to say, so we may be used to help them in some way.

Seeking Positive Rapport

So what does Paul mean by writing, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”? He may have been referring to their eventual salvation, which he might play a part in, but which he could not actually claim as having brought about. As he had previously written: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase”(I Corinthians 3:6-7).

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NKJV)

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.

However, there is a type of “saving” that Paul could have a hand in through his preaching: “My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

James 5:19-20 (NKJV)

Bring Back the Erring One

19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul[a] from death and cover a multitude of sins.

Footnotes:

a. James 5:20 NU-Text reads his soul.

James is not referring to eternal salvation or justification. He means making a man safe by helping him to stop a sin. If a person is sliding into apostasy, and someone turns him back, a type of salvation has occurred, for the one who had been going astray is now on a safer trajectory. If an individual helps another avoid or overcome any sin, a type of salvation has occurred because there is always greater safety where sin has been diminished. This salvation is only a shadow of the kind that God gives, but a saving nonetheless occurs anytime protection or deliverance is provided.

Thus, I Corinthians 9:19-22 shows that, wherever possible, Paul practiced self-denial so that he could gain a positive rapport with others. In this way, he might help them because his preaching of the truth could stir repentance in some area. He is not suggesting that through his preaching or example a person would be justified and brought into a relationship with God, but that his life would be better because there would be at least a little less enmity toward God and His way.

Without compromising, Paul kept the door open so that he could preach, and perhaps his preaching would protect or deliver someone in a small way, even if God was not calling the individual. Nevertheless, Paul was not bringing people into a relationship with Christ, nor is he suggesting that we try to do that either.

 

The Pressure to Succeed

So how do I start this story? My heart is racing. I am getting heartburn. I’m not shaking outside, but inside I could make a milkshake. I’m nervous. My mind is going a million miles an hour, yet I am lacking as to what to put down on paper. I feel hot and my palms are sweaty.

I want to write something that will be of help to others, but what do I say? How do I explain my life of failures because I am a people pleaser that wants to be accepted and liked for who I am as well as what I am able to accomplish? If you were to look at my résumé, you would probably shake your head and throw it into the trashcan. More jobs than one should have because I “wasn’t perfect enough to accomplish what was expected of me”, so I gave up.

Failures! The story of my life. My dad was a good man with an extremely high IQ. The one thing you didn’t do with my dad was to pick an argument with him. You would lose every time. You had better have your ducks in a row or face rejection and disappointment because you couldn’t meet his standards. And they were high. If I got a B, he would want to know why I didn’t get an A. If I got an A, why didn’t I work hard enough to get an A+? A “perfectionist” at heart and that’s what was expected of me.

I got through college on my dad’s tailcoats because he spent almost a life time working the stock market. And yes, he wanted me to follow in his footsteps. But that wasn’t me. I loved the fine arts – classical music, dance, art, drawing. I was not and probably never will be business oriented even though at one time my wife and I ran an accounting and tax business. I started college taking courses for a business degree, changed to the fine arts, failed there and went back to the business administration side with a degree in public administration, recreation as a field. Great. NO JOBS were there, so I went into retail.

The gist of all this is the fact that it was the beginning of a very long journey trying to discover who I was and where I belonged. And yes, I’m still running the gauntlet with no success. Why you ask. Because I fear walking out my front door just to go to McDonald’s to get some milkshakes for me, my wife and step-daughter.

I feel safe inside, to a point. It’s like my safe haven where no harm or faulty expectations or demands can get to me. It’s my fortress, my bastion where I can hide from those with needs and wants I can’t fulfill because their expectations are too high. It’s my blanket that keeps the anxiety and frustrations at bay. Sounds ridiculous you say.

Yes, it does. But how do I explain to you the real feelings that are going on inside me? How do I explain something I don’t really understand the whys and hows of? What is anxiety? What is fear? Where does it come from and why can’t I gain control of it to stop it from controlling me and ruining my life? I am taking medications for depression, anxiety, glaucoma, A fib, cholesterol, restless leg syndrome. I’ve seen therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, etc., but they haven’t really done me any good. I am now fully retired and am taking care (am a caregiver) for my wife who has a degenerative/debilitating back disease and my step-daughter who has Down Syndrome, an aortic heart valve and is on blood thinners, and is diabetic.

They need me and there is no escape. I don’t want to run away because they are me and I am them. But the demands are endless; I can’t and won’t walk away from them. God gave me this responsibility for a reason and I have to believe that He will guide me and keep me strong so I can do what is necessary in caring for them.

Believe it or not, I do love life. The struggle, like all who are in the same boat as I am as far as feelings of anxiety and depression, is to find a balance in life where I can cope and heal from these perplexities. One thing I can say that may hopefully resound in your minds and mine – NEVER GIVE UP!!!

Below you will see four sets of verses from the bible. They are in the New King James Version and the New International Version (in case the New King James Version is confusing to some of you). Both Timothy and Paul are trying to tell us not to give up. We are in a race. A race for peace of mind and a fulfilled and happy life. A race that will take everything we have to run and win. A race in which the winners get to hang on to life, not lose it.

Dare to read them and dare to take them to heart. Know that we are not the only ones to have gone through what we are currently experiencing. History attests to that. The bible if full of desperate, anxious, fearful individuals whom God has used mightily. The point is you and I need to find a positive way to deal with what we are experiencing and not to give up just because we think what we are doing is not working. It is, just not as fast as maybe you or I would like it to.

1 Timothy 6:12 (NKJV)

12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

__________

 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NKJV)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

__________

 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV)

Striving for a Crown

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

The Need for Self-Discipline

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

__________

2 Timothy 2:10 (NKJV)

10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:10 (NIV)

10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

I can’t give up because God won’t let me. Otherwise I would have been dead a long time ago. So don’t you give up either. Let’s together help one another find that balance in life that will help keep us going no matter what we are experiencing at the time. No, it won’t be easy, but know you are not alone. God is there and I am there if you need a shoulder to lean on. I may need one too and it helps to know that there is one I can rely on.

Depression: God Is Not Silent When We Suffer

If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word “Depression”. It feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. I felt numb. Perhaps the worst part is that I remember when I actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about my life were difficult. Things I used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seemed beyond my reach. My relationships with others were also affected. The people who loved me were looking for some emotional response, but I didn’t have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what I know as a Christian was that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV):

Seeing the Invisible

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Come to God with your suffering

I started to experience an inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when I came to God with my suffering. God seemed far away at first. I truly believe that He exists, but it seems as if He was too busy with everything else, or He just didn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end my suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by His Heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here I saw that love and suffering can co-exist. And when I started to read the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, I got a sense that suffering was actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. I wasn’t alone. If I knew anything about God, I knew that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life. 

  • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
  • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
  • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
  • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
  • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
  • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seemed impossible. How could I live without feelings? Without them I had no drive, no motivation. I couldn’t imagine walking without any feeling in my legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps I could walk if I practiced in front of a large mirror and watched my legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As I walked, I found that it was necessary to remember to use every resource I had ever learned about persevering through hardship. It involved lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

I needed to do this with my relationships, too. You see, when you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As I put one foot in front of the other, I needed to remind myself that depression doesn’t exempt me from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. I needed to look carefully to see if my depression was associated with things like:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Was I holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? These were parts of my life I want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What was at the root of my fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you.

Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

The question I continually struggled with was “Will I always struggle with depression?” That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, people who are depressed can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

Questions I Frequently Asked God

As a Christian, is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes one welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

  • How long will it take before the medication is effective?
  • What are some of the common side effects?
  • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, “What is best and wise?”

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, which I did, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you (see Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:15; Psalms 1:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:16). They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before I realized my depression, I could not imagine thinking of suicide. But during those deep moments of depression, my thoughts about death changed. I just wanted to get rid of the pain. A passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death became like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, “Everyone will be better off without me.”  But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all your faculties, keep things simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has a purpose for your life. One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor. Get help!

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

Life's Images

Spiritual Warfare

 

There are two primary errors when it comes to spiritual warfare—over-emphasis and under-emphasis. Some blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons that need to be cast out. Others completely ignore the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible tells us our battle is against spiritual powers. The key to successful spiritual warfare is finding the biblical balance. Jesus sometimes cast demons out of people; other times He healed people with no mention of the demonic. The apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6) and warns us to oppose the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–18).

Ephesians 6:10–12 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This text teaches some crucial truths: we can only stand strong in the Lord’s power, it is God’s armor that protects us, and our battle is ultimately against spiritual forces of evil in the world.

Ephesians 6:13–18 is a description of the spiritual armor God gives us. We are to stand firm with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and by praying in the Spirit. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent in spiritual warfare? We are to know the truth, believe the truth, and speak the truth. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the gospel no matter how much resistance we face. We are not to waver in our faith, trusting God’s promises no matter how strongly we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, an assurance that no spiritual force can take away. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. And we are to pray in the power and will of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is our ultimate example of resisting temptation in spiritual warfare. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). Each temptation was combatted with the words “it is written.” The Word of the living God is the most powerful weapon against the temptations of the devil. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

A word of caution concerning spiritual warfare is in order. Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to cast out demons or even to speak to them. The name of Jesus is not a magic incantation that causes demons to flee from before us. The seven sons of Sceva are an example of what can happen when people presume an authority they have not been given (Acts 19:13–16). Even Michael the archangel did not rebuke Satan in his own power but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9). When we start talking to the devil, we run the risk of being led astray as Eve was (Genesis 3:1–7). Our focus should be on God, not demons; we speak to Him, not them.

What are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? We rely on God’s power, not our own. We put on the whole armor of God. We draw on the power of Scripture—the Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. We pray in perseverance and holiness, making our appeal to God. We stand firm (Ephesians 6:13–14); we submit to God; we resist the devil’s work (James 4:7), knowing that the Lord of hosts is our protector. “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress; I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2).

The Full Armor of God

The phrase “full armor of God” comes from Ephesians 6:13-17: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Ephesians 6:12 clearly indicates that the conflict with Satan is spiritual, and therefore no tangible weapons can be effectively employed against him and his minions. We are not given a list of specific tactics Satan will use. However, the passage is quite clear that when we follow all the instructions faithfully, we will be able to stand, and we will have victory regardless of Satan’s strategy.

The first element of our armor is truth (verse 14). This is easy to understand, since Satan is said to be the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Deception is high on the list of things God considers to be an abomination. A “lying tongue” is one of the things He describes as “detestable to Him” (Proverbs 6:16-17). We are therefore exhorted to put on truth for our own sanctification and deliverance, as well as for the benefit of those to whom we witness.

Also in verse 14, we are told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. A breastplate shielded a warrior’s vital organs from blows that would otherwise be fatal. This righteousness is not works of righteousness done by men. Rather, this is the righteousness of Christ, imputed by God and received by faith, which guards our hearts against the accusations and charges of Satan and secures our innermost being from his attacks.

Verse 15 speaks of the preparation of the feet for spiritual conflict. In warfare, sometimes an enemy places dangerous obstacles in the path of advancing soldiers. The idea of the preparation of the gospel of peace as footwear suggests what we need to advance into Satan’s territory, aware that there will be traps, with the message of grace so essential to winning souls to Christ. Satan has many obstacles placed in the path to halt the propagation of the gospel.

The shield of faith spoken of in verse 16 makes Satan’s sowing of doubt about the faithfulness of God and His Word ineffective. Our faith—of which Christ is “the author and perfecter” (Hebrews 12:2)— is like a golden shield, precious, solid, and substantial.

The helmet of salvation in verse 17 is protection for the head, keeping viable a critical part of the body. We could say that our way of thinking needs preservation. The head is the seat of the mind, which, when it has laid hold of the sure gospel hope of eternal life, will not receive false doctrine or give way to Satan’s temptations. The unsaved person has no hope of warding off the blows of false doctrine because he is without the helmet of salvation and his mind is incapable of discerning between spiritual truth and spiritual deception.

Verse 17 interprets itself as to the meaning of the sword of the Spirit—it is the Word of God. While all the other pieces of spiritual armor are defensive in nature, the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon in the armor of God. It speaks of the holiness and power of the Word of God. A greater spiritual weapon is not conceivable. In Jesus’ temptations in the desert, the Word of God was always His overpowering response to Satan. What a blessing that the same Word is available to us!

In verse 18, we are told to pray in the Spirit (that is, with the mind of Christ, with His heart and His priorities) in addition to wearing the full armor of God. We cannot neglect prayer, as it is the means by which we draw spiritual strength from God. Without prayer, without reliance upon God, our efforts at spiritual warfare are empty and futile. The full armor of God—truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer—are the tools God has given us, through which we can be spiritually victorious, overcoming Satan’s attacks and temptations.

The Belt of Truth (Ephesians 6:14)

The belt of truth is the first piece of the “full armor of God” to be listed in Ephesians 6:10–17. The passage begins with the admonition from the apostle Paul to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” This is the key to understanding the armor of God. All the pieces of the armor belong to Him and come from Him. Truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, and salvation—all are gifts of God to His people for their defense. All except “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (verse 17) are defensive in nature. All are designed to help us “stand against the schemes of the devil” (verse 11). The belt of truth is the first part of the armor listed because, without truth, we are lost, and the schemes of the devil will surely overpower us.

It is fitting that the belt of truth is the first piece of the whole armor of God. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and it is only through Him that we come to God. Therefore, truth is of the utmost importance in the life of a Christian. Without truth, the rest of the armor would be of no use to us because we would not have the Spirit of truth (John 15:26).

In referring to the whole armor of God, Paul invokes the image of a soldier ready for battle. The belt of a Roman soldier in Paul’s day was not a simple leather strap such as we wear today. It was a thick, heavy leather and metal band with a protective piece hanging down from the front of it. The belt held the soldier’s sword and other weapons. The belt of truth of the spiritual armor holds the sword of the Spirit, linking truth and the Word of God (John 17:17). The Word of God is truth.

Depending on the translation of Ephesians 6:14, we are to fasten the belt of truth around us (ISV), buckle the belt around our waists (NIV), gird our waists with truth (NKJV), or gird our loins with truth (NASB). No matter the wording, we are to actively lay hold of the truth and use it. The belt of truth is a crucial piece of defensive armor guarding our inmost being in the battle against the lies and deceptions of the enemy. Without an understanding of truth, we are left vulnerable to being “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). The belt of truth protects us and prepares us for the battle that is part of every Christian’s life.

The Breastplate of Righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)

Ephesians 6:11 exhorts believers to “put on the whole armor of God” in order to stand firm against the attacks of our enemy, Satan (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12). Verses 14 through 17 say, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The imagery is of an armed Roman or Israelite soldier, prepared for battle. A typical armed soldier wore a breastplate made of bronze or chain mail. It covered the vital organs, namely, the heart, and was fitted with loops or buckles that attached it to a thick belt. If the belt was loosened, the breastplate slipped right off.

When Paul compares the armor of God with military gear, each piece represents a part of God’s strength that He extends to us when we become His children. The breastplate of righteousness refers to the righteousness purchased for us by Jesus at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). At salvation, a “breastplate” is issued to each repentant sinner. It is specially designed by God to protect our heart and soul from evil and deception. Our own righteous acts are no match for Satan’s attacks (Isaiah 64:6). The breastplate of righteousness has Christ’s name stamped on it, as though He said, “Your righteousness isn’t sufficient to protect you. Wear mine.”

We are instructed to “put on” this armor, which implies that we do not automatically wear it all the time. Putting on the armor of God requires a decision on our part. To put on the breastplate of righteousness, we must first have the belt of truth firmly in place. Without truth, our righteousness will be based upon our own attempts to impress God. This leads to legalism or self-condemnation (Romans 8:1). We choose instead to acknowledge that, apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We see ourselves as “in Christ” and that, regardless of our failures, His righteousness has been credited to our account.

We “put it on” by seeking God and His righteousness above everything else (Matthew 6:33). We make Him and His ways our dwelling place (Psalm 91:1). We delight in His commands and desire for His ways to become our ways (Psalm 37:4; 119:24, 111; Isaiah 61:10). When God reveals an area of change to us, we obey and allow Him to work in us. At the point where we say “no” to God, we open a little crack in the armor where Satan’s arrows can get through (Ephesians 6:16).

As we wear Christ’s breastplate of righteousness, we begin to develop a purity of heart that translates into actions. Wearing this breastplate creates a lifestyle of putting into practice what we believe in our hearts. As our lives become conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), our choices become more righteous, and these godly choices also protect us from further temptation and deception (Proverbs 8:20; Psalm 23:3).

When armor is abused or worn incorrectly, it can malfunction. Likewise, there are several factors that can interfere with the effectiveness of our spiritual breastplate. Carelessness (1 Peter 5:8), unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), abusing grace (Romans 6:1–2), or disobedience (1 John 3:4; Hebrews 4:6) can hinder our ability to stand firm and defeat the enemy in our lives. When we tolerate sin, refuse to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10–11), rely on personal righteousness (Titus 3:5), or allow earthly concerns to crowd out time for an intimate relationship with God, we, in effect, take off the breastplate of righteousness, minimizing its power to protect us.

We need our breastplate of righteousness in place in order to gain the victory specified in 2 Corinthians 10:15: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” When we quickly reject heretical ideas, idolatry, and the “counsel of the ungodly” (Psalm 1:1) and instead “keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), we keep our breastplate securely fastened.

The Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15)

Ephesians 6:11–17 instructs believers in Christ to “put on the whole armor of God as a defense against Satan’s attacks. This armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Verse 15 says, “And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” The New Living Translation words it this way: “For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.” The gospel of peace is the message that Jesus gave to those who trust in Him (John 14:27; Romans 10:15). It comes with the assurance from God that we are His children and nothing can snatch us out of His hands (John 10:29; 1 John 5:13). It outlines clearly what is required to become a child of God (1 Corinthians 15:1–6; John 1:12; Romans 10:8–10). Any other message is a false gospel.

The word readiness implies constant vigilance. A victorious soldier had to be prepared for battle. He had to have studied his enemy’s strategy, be confident in his own strategy, and have his feet firmly planted so that he could hold his ground when the attacks came. A soldier’s battle shoes were studded with nails or spikes, like cleats, to help him keep his balance in combat. He knew that, if he lost his footing and went down, it wouldn’t matter how great the rest of his armor was; the enemy had him. When we are ready with the gospel of peace, we live with the understanding that we are continually under attack from Satan. Second Timothy 4:2 says to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”

The “peace shoes” that God supplies His soldiers have two purposes: defensive and offensive. In order to defend ourselves against the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16), we must have confidence of our position in Christ. We must stand firm in the truth of God’s Word, regardless of how terrifying the circumstances may be (1 John 5:14). We must understand grace without abusing it (Romans 6:1–6), remember that our position in Christ is not based on our own abilities or worthiness (Titus 3:5), and keep our belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness securely fastened (2 Timothy 1:12).

When Satan attacks with a flaming missile of doubt, such as “If God really loved you, He wouldn’t have let this happen,” we dig our peace shoes into the turf of God’s Word and reply, “It is written: All things work together for the good to them who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). When Satan stabs from behind with “Remember what you did?” we dig in more deeply and reply, “It is written: If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

In addition to standing our ground, shoes are also for moving. God expects us to go on the offensive and take the gospel of peace to others. First Peter 3:14 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Sharing our faith is one of the best ways to maintain our own sure footing. God knows that, when we are active in speaking of Him to others, we not only charge into Satan’s territory, but we dig our shoes more deeply into truth and will be much harder to dislodge. When we have “studied to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15), we are ready to stand firm in the gospel of peace no matter what the enemy brings against us (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

The Shield of Faith (Ephesians 6:16)

The shield of faith is part of the armor of God described in Ephesians 6:10–17. After summarizing the gospel and giving the Ephesians various instructions, Paul concludes his missive to them saying, in part, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10–11). About the shield, Paul writes, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (verse 16). The ESV puts it this way: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

The Roman shield of the time was called a scutum. This type of shield was as large as a door and would cover the warrior entirely. Such a shield was not just defensive but could also be used to push opponents. When fighting as a group, a phalanx of soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (“tortoise”). This was especially helpful to protect against arrows launched from the walls of cities they were attacking. Shields, often made of wood and then covered in hide, when wet, could extinguish flaming arrows.

Clearly, a shield is vitally important to a soldier. It provides a blanket of protection. It is meant to be taken up in all circumstances. It is the first barrier against the enemy’s attack. Often, shields were painted with identifying marks; a Christian who takes up the shield of faith identifies himself as a foot soldier who serves the Commander of the Lord’s army (see Joshua 5:14).

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Verse 6 stresses the importance of faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Satan’s attacks can sometimes cause us to doubt God. Faith prompts us to believe God. We give in to temptation when we believe what it has to offer is better than what God has promised. Faith reminds us that, though fulfillment of God’s promise may not be readily visible to us, God is true to His Word. When Satan attempts to plague us with doubt or entice us with instant gratification, faith recognizes the deceptiveness of his tactics and quickly extinguishes the arrows. When Satan accuses us, faith chooses to believe that Jesus has redeemed us and that there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1, 34; Revelation 12:10–12).

Faith is one of the greatest gifts (1 Corinthians 13:13), and it is the means by which we receive grace and come into right relationship with God (Ephesians 2:8–9). It is because we have been justified through faith that we belong to God and have peace with Him (Romans 5:1). Faith is the doorway to hope in God (Romans 5:2). Because we have faith in God, our suffering need not faze us; in fact, we can persevere under it (Romans 5:3–5). The things Satan attempts to use to discourage us can actually become tools in the hands of God.

All believers have this promise: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Faith is a protective barrier between us and the schemes of Satan. When we believe God and take Him at His word, we remain grounded in truth, the lies of the enemy lose their power, and we become overcomers. In that way, faith is our shield.

The Helmet of Salvation (Ephesians 6:17)

Ephesians 6:17 instructs us to put on the whole armor of God and to “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” When a soldier suited up for battle, the helmet was the last piece of armor to go on. It was the final act of readiness in preparation for combat. A helmet was vital for survival, protecting the brain, the command station for the rest of the body. If the head was badly damaged, the rest of the armor would be of little use.

The assurance of salvation is our impenetrable defense against anything the enemy throws at us. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The idea in this verse is that, as we prepare for Satan’s attacks, we must grab that helmet and buckle it on tightly. Salvation is not limited to a one-time act of the past or even a future hope. God’s salvation is an ongoing, eternal state that His children enjoy in the present. It is daily protection and deliverance from our sin nature and Satan’s schemes.

Because of the power of the cross, our enemy no longer has any hold on us (Romans 6:10; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 1:18). He knows that, but he also knows that most of God’s children do not know that—or, at least, they do not live as if they know. We must learn to keep our helmets buckled so that his fiery missiles do not lodge in our thoughts and set us on fire. Through this helmet of salvation, we can “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

There are several actions a believer can take to keep this helmet fastened and functioning:

1. Renew our minds. Our minds are battlefields. The outcomes of those battles determine the course of our lives. Romans 12:1–2 instructs us to renew our minds by allowing the truth of God’s Word to wipe out anything contrary to it. Old ideas, opinions, and worldviews must be replaced. We must allow God’s truth to continually wash away the world’s filth, lies, and confusion from our minds and adopt God’s perspective.

2. Reject doubts that arise from circumstances. Human beings are sensory creatures. What we cannot fathom with our five senses, we tend to disregard. If we allow them to, circumstances may convince us that God does not really love us or that His Word is not true. It is impossible to have faith and doubt at the same time. God rewards our faith. With the helmet of salvation firmly in place, we can choose to believe what appears impossible (Hebrews 11:6; 1 Peter 1:8–9).

3. Keep an eternal perspective. When life crashes in around us, we must remember to look up. Our salvation is the most precious gift we have received. Keeping our eyes on that can help us weather life’s storms. We can choose to live our lives by the motto “If it doesn’t have eternal significance, it’s not important” (see Matthew 6:20; 1 Corinthians 3:11–13).

4. Remember that victory is already accomplished. When we consider ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God” (Romans 6:11), we eliminate many of the opportunities Satan uses to entrap us. When choosing sin is no longer an option for us because we recognize ourselves to be “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 3:9), we effectively cut off many avenues of failure.

5. Find all our hope in Him. Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? Besides you, I desire nothing on earth.” Our helmet is most effective when we treasure what it represents. The salvation Jesus purchased for us cannot share the place of importance in our hearts with earthly things. When pleasing the Lord is our supreme delight, we eliminate many of Satan’s lures and render his evil suggestions powerless.

As we wear the helmet of salvation every day, our minds become more insulated against the suggestions, desires, and traps the enemy lays for us. We choose to guard our minds from excessive worldly influence and instead think on things that honor Christ (Philippians 4:8). In doing so, we wear our salvation as a protective helmet that will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7; Isaiah 26:3; 1 Peter 1:5).

The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)

The phrase “sword of the Spirit” is found only once in Scripture, in Ephesians 6:17. The sword is one of the pieces of spiritual armor Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to put on as part of the “full armor of God” that will enable us to stand our ground against evil (Ephesians 6:13).

The sword is both an offensive and defensive weapon used by soldiers or warriors. In this case it is a weapon belonging to the Holy Spirit. Swords were used to protect oneself from harm or to attack the enemy to overcome or kill him. In both cases it was necessary for a soldier to get rigid training on the proper use of the sword to get maximum protection. All Christian soldiers need the same rigid training to know how to properly handle the Sword of the Spirit, “which is the word of God.” The sword that Paul refers to here is the Holy Scriptures. We know from 2 Timothy 3:16–17 that the word of God is from the Holy Spirit and written by men. Since every Christian is on the spiritual battle with the satanic and evil forces of this world, we need to know how to handle the Word properly. Only then will it be an effective defense against evil, but it will also be an offensive weapon we use to “demolish strongholds” of error and falsehood (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).

God refers to His Word as a sword in Hebrews 4:12. Here the Word is described as living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword. The Roman sword was commonly made in this manner. The fact that it had two edges made it easier to penetrate, as well as to cut in every way. The idea is that of piercing, or penetrating; the Word of God reaches the “heart,” the very center of action, and lays open the motives and feelings of those it touches.

The purpose of the sword of the Spirit—the Bible—is to make us strong and able to withstand the evil onslaughts of Satan, our enemy (Psalm 119:11, 33–40, 99–105). The Holy Spirit uses the power of the Word to save souls and then to give them spiritual strength to be mature soldiers for the Lord in fighting this corrupt and evil world we live in. The more we know and understand the Word of God, the more useful we will be in doing the will of God and the more effective we will be in standing against the enemy of our souls.

Praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18)

Praying in the Spirit is mentioned three times in Scripture. First Corinthians 14:15 says, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Jude 20 says, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” So, what exactly does it mean to pray in the Spirit?

The Greek word translated “pray in” can have several different meanings. It can mean “by means of,” “with the help of,” “in the sphere of,” and “in connection to.” Praying in the Spirit does not refer to the words we are saying. Rather, it refers to how we are praying. Praying in the Spirit is praying according to the Spirit’s leading. It is praying for things the Spirit leads us to pray for. Romans 8:26 tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Some, based on 1 Corinthians 14:15, equate praying in the Spirit with praying in tongues. Discussing the gift of tongues, Paul mentions “pray with my spirit.” First Corinthians 14:14 states that when a person prays in tongues, he does not know what he is saying, since it is spoken in a language he does not know. Further, no one else can understand what is being said, unless there is an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). In Ephesians 6:18, Paul instructs us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” How are we to pray with all kinds of prayers and requests and pray for the saints, if no one, including the person praying, understands what is being said? Therefore, praying in the Spirit should be understood as praying in the power of the Spirit, by the leading of the Spirit, and according to His will, not as praying in tongues.

Free Will and Wisdom

Police Shootings, ISIS Terrorism, Addictions, And Domestic Violence: Psychologists Explain Why It All Happens

Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence are increasing in our society. Many have described these incidents as senseless, but is it really?

Theories

 Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence are increasing in our society. Many have described these incidents as senseless, but is it really? Psychologists Sean Seepersad, Ph.D., Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., and Amanda Taub, who holds the unusual title of Senior Sadness Correspondent, and human rights expert, approach various aspects of society in a quest to make sense of the senseless.

 Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence are all symptoms and not the disease, according to these experts. Their separate conclusions weave a cohesive picture of a society breaking down because the building blocks of that society, namely people and relationships, are eroding.

 Fear, isolation, and a need for control seem to be the unholy trinity of all modern ills, based on the work of these experts.

 Reality

 Free will. According to Oxford Dictionaries, free will is defined as “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.”

According to Theopedia: Probably the most common definition of free will is the “ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition, and specifically that these “free will” choices are not ultimately predestined by God.

 So the question we as Christians need to ask ourselves is: “Do human beings truly have a free will?”

 Were the incidents described above due to “a society breaking down because the building blocks of that society, namely people and relationships, are eroding.” Or were they because we as a human race exercised our free will to decide without wise counsel. We reacted instead of being proactive and making wise decisions as to how to handle the outcomes.

 So, the answer to the above question as to whether or not human beings truly have a free will is YES! If “free will” means that God gives humans the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny, then yes, human beings do have a free will.

 The world’s current sinful state is directly linked to choices made by Adam and Eve. Both Adam and Eve had a choice to make: to take a bite out of the apple or not take a bite. We already know the answer to their dilemma, but even though we say that man is born to sin (Romans 5:18-19), free will does not mean that mankind can do anything he pleases.

Our choices are limited to what is in keeping with our nature. For example, a man may choose to walk across a bridge or not to walk across it; what he may not choose is to fly over the bridge—his nature prevents him from flying. In a similar way, a man cannot choose to make himself righteous—his (sin) nature prevents him from canceling his guilt (Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”). So, free will is limited by nature.

This limitation does not alleviate our accountability. The Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely (Proverbs 12:26, Psalms 1:1-6). In the Old Testament, God chose a nation (Israel), but individuals within that nation still bore an obligation to choose obedience to God. And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well (e.g., Ruth and Rahab).

 In the New Testament, sinners are commanded over and over to “repent” and “believe” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). Every call to repent is a call to choose. The command to believe assumes that the hearer can choose to obey the command.

 Jesus identified the problem of some unbelievers when He told them, “You refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). Clearly, they could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7), and those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21).

But how can man, limited by a sin nature, ever choose what is good? It is only through the grace and power of God that free will truly become “free” in the sense of being able to choose salvation (John 15:16). It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through a person’s will to regenerate that person (John 1:12-13) and give him/her a new nature “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Salvation is God’s work. At the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them. But is all the pain and suffering in the world from the gift of free will worth it? Is free will the cause of evil? Some people think so and want to take away our freedoms. But, free will is not the issue. It never has been the issue. Jesus had free will and went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Jesus chose wisely, always thinking, saying, and doing the will of the Father (John 6:38).

 As stated above, the Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. Why would God allow men to have free will when their hearts and minds do evil unceasingly (Genesis 6:5)? Is free will really that important to God? Yes, it is. The entire Gospel is all about free will and wisdom, letting men discover the truth and then choose wisely or unwisely. As an unknown author wrote, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it does not come back, it was never meant to be.” “The Prodigal Son” is a parable that nicely personifies this quote (Luke 15:11-24).

From the beginning, God knew all the risks and vowed to never let go of His eternal purpose for men, which is to let them choose, whether wisely or unwisely. God knew the risks and declared “free will” would be every person’s right no matter what. (Deuteronomy 30:19).

God set all men free with the hope they would choose to return (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God knew the risks but drank the bitter cup of rejection knowing many would never return. He allowed men to have free will. He allowed them to go. But in doing so, He also gave them the Gospel, a path back to the Father should they chose to return, like the Prodigal Son (John 14:6).

 Did God make the right decision by giving men the gift of free will? Yes, absolutely! Again, “Salvation is God’s work. At the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them.”

If you were to ask your children if we (as parents) made the right decision to bring them into a fallen world they would answer, “Yes, absolutely!” They would answer in the affirmative not because life has been easy or fun or grand. It hasn’t always been, not for any of them. They would answer “yes” because they know free will is a gift and wisdom a means to manage the troubles and struggles on the narrow pathway of life (Ephesians 5:15-16).