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The Plain Truth About Christmas

The Plain Truth About Christmas

I don’t want to seem like a Grinch, but what bothers me about this time of year is how we (the human race) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Instead of celebrating His birth, we are too busy celebrating a pagan holiday, not the truth.

So, where did we get Christmas? . . . from the Bible, or paganism?

Here are the astonishing facts which may shock you! Test yourself. How much do you know of the origin of the Christmas tree—of “Santa Claus”—of the mistletoe—holly wreath—of the custom of exchanging gifts?

WHEN I was a very little boy, I was taught to hang up my stockings on Christmas eve. When I was awakened the next morning, they were filled with small toys and sacks or little boxes of candy and nuts. And beside the mantle, from which my stockings hung, a Christmas tree has suddenly appeared, decorated with shiny tinsel. And on it hung presents. Other presents for us children were piled on the floor underneath. I was told Santa Claus had come down the chimney during the night and left all these things.

But did I question what my parents told me? Of course not. I accepted it—took it all for granted. Didn’t you?

Stop and think a moment! Very few have ever reflected on why they believe what they do—why they follow the customs they do, or from where those customs came. We were born into a world filled with customs. We grew up accepting them without question.

Why? Sheep instinct? Well, not exactly.

But by nature we do tend to follow the crowd, whether right or wrong. Sheep follow others to the slaughter. Humans ought to check up where they are going.

How—when did Christmas originate?

Does Christmas really celebrate the birthday of Christ? Was Jesus born on December 25th?

Did the original apostles, who knew Jesus personally and were taught by Him, celebrate His birthday on December 25th? Did they celebrate it at all?

If Christmas is the chief of the Christian holidays, why do so many non-Christians observe it? Do you know?

Why do people exchange presents with family members, friends, relatives at Christmas time? Was it because the wise men presented gifts to the Christ-child? The answer may surprise you.

Most people have “supposed” a lot of things about Christmas that are not true. But let’s quit “supposing” and get the facts!

What Encyclopedias Say

The word “Christmas” means “Mass of Christ,” or, as it came to be shortened, “Christ–Mass.” It came to non-Christians and Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. And where did they get it? NOT from the New Testament—NOT from the Bible—NOT from the original apostles who were personally instructed from Christ—but it gravitated in the fourth century into the Roman Church from paganism.

Since the celebration of Christmas has come to the world from the Roman Catholic Church, and has no authority but that of the Roman Catholic Church, let us examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, published by that church. Under the heading “Christmas,” you will find:

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church . . . the first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.” “Pagan customs centering around the January calends gravitated to Christmas.”

And in the same encyclopedia, under the heading “Natal Day,” we find that the early Catholic father, Origen, acknowledged this truth: “. . . In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners [like Pharaoh and Herod] who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world” (emphasis mine).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1946 edition, has this: “Christmas (i.e., the Mass of Christ). . . . Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. . . .” It was not instituted by Christ or the apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism.

The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944 edition, says: “Christmas. . . . It was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth. . . .” (The “Communion,” which is instituted by New Testament Bible authority, is a memorial of the death of Christ.) “. . . A feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”

Now notice! These recognized historical authorities show Christmas was not observed by Christians for the first two or three hundred years—a period longer than the entire history of the United States as a nation! It got into the Western, or Roman Church, by the fourth century AD. It was not until the fifth century that the Roman Church ordered it to be celebrated as an official Christian festival!

Jesus Not Born December 25th

Jesus was not even born in the winter season! When the Christ-child was born “8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night,” (Luke 2:8). This could never have occurred in Judaea in the month of December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them not later than October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed that date. Notice that the Bible itself proves, in Song of Solomon 2:11 and Ezra 10:9, 13, that winter was a rainy season not permitting shepherds to abide in open fields at night.

Song of Solomon 2:11 (NKJV)
11 For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.

Ezra 10:9 (NKJV)
9 So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain.

Ezra 10:13 (NKJV)
13 But there are many people; it is the season for heavy rain, and we are not able to stand outside. Nor is this the work of one or two days, for there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter.

“It was ancient custom among Jews of those days to send out their sheep to the fields and deserts about the Passover (early spring), and bring them home at commencement of the first rain,” says the Adam Clarke Commentary (Vol. 5, page 370, New York ed.)

Continuing, this authority states: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As . . . the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole summer. And, as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact. . . . See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”

Any encyclopedia, or any other authority, will tell you that Christ was not born on December 25. The Catholic Encyclopedia frankly states this fact.

The exact date of Jesus’ birth is entirely unknown, as all authorities acknowledge—though if I had space in this blog I could show you Scriptures which at least strongly indicate that it was in the early fall—probably September—approximately six months after Passover.

If God had wished us to observe and celebrate Christ’s birthday, He would not have so completely hidden the exact date.

How This Pagan Custom Got into the Church

Then how did this pagan custom creep into the Western Christian world?

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains clearly, in its article on “Christmas”: “How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the ‘new sun,’ . . . cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. . . . The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ’s birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their Western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan festival.”

Remember, the Roman world had been pagan. Prior to the fourth century, Christians were few in number, though increasing, and were persecuted by the government and by pagans. But, with the advent of Constantine as emperor, who made his profession of Christianity in the fourth century, placing Christianity on an equal footing with paganism, people of the Roman world began to accept this now-popular Christianity by the hundreds of thousands.

But remember, these people had grown up in pagan customs, chief of which was this idolatrous festival of December 25th. It was a festival of merrymaking, with its special spirit. They enjoyed it! They didn’t want to give it up! Now this same article in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains how the recognition by Constantine of Sunday, which had been the day of pagan sun worship, and how the influence of the pagan Manichaeism, which identified the SON of God with the physical SUN, gave these pagans of the fourth century, now turning over wholesale to “Christianity,” their excuse for calling their pagan-festival date of December 25th (birthday of the SUN-god) the birthday of the SON of God.

And that is how “Christmas” became fastened on our Western world! We may call it by another name, but it’s the same old pagan sun-worshipping festival still! The only change is in what we call it! You can call a rabbit a “lion,” but it’s still a rabbit, just the same.

Again from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Certain Latins, as early as 354, may have transferred the birthday from January 6th to December 25, which was then a Mithraic feast, the birthday of the unconquered SUN . . . The Syrians and Armenians, who clung to January 6th, accused the Romans of sun worship and idolatry, contending . . . that the feast of December 25th, had been invented by disciples of Cerinthus. . . .”

The Real Origin of Christmas

But if we got Christmas from the Roman Catholics, and they got it from paganism, where did the pagans get it? Where, when, and what was its real origin?

It is a chief custom of the corrupt system denounced all through Bible prophecies and teachings under the name of Babylon. And it started and originated in the original Babylon of ancient Nimrod! Yes, it stems from roots whose beginning was shortly this side of the Flood!

Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since—the system of organized competition—of man-ruled governments and empires, based upon the competitive and profit-making economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, many other cities. He organized the world’s first kingdom. The name Nimrod, in Hebrew, is derived from “Marad,” meaning “he rebelled.”

From many ancient writings, considerable is learned of this man, who started the great organized worldly apostasy from God that has dominated this world until now. Nimrod was so evil, it is said he married his own mother, whose name was Semiramis. After Nimrod’s untimely death, his so-called mother-wife, Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod. This is the real origin of the Christmas tree.

Through her scheming and designing, Semiramis became the Babylonian “Queen of Heaven,” and Nimrod, under various names, became the “divine son of heaven.” Through the generations, in this idolatrous worship, Nimrod became the false Messiah, son of Baal the Sun-god. In this false Babylonish system, the “Mother and Child,” (Semiramis and Nimrod reborn), became chief objects of worship. This worship of “Mother and Child” spread over the world. The names varied in different countries and languages. In Egypt, it was Isis and Osiris. In Asia, Cybele and Deoius. In Pagan Rome, Fortuna and Jupiterpuer. Even in Greece, China, Japan, Tibet is to be found the counterpart of the Madonna, long before the birth of Christ!

Thus, during the fourth and fifth centuries, when the pagans of the Roman world were “accepting” the new popular “Christianity” by hundreds of thousands, carrying their old pagan customs and beliefs along with them, merely cloaking them with Christian-sounding names, the Madonna and “Mother and Child” idea also became popularized, especially at Christmas time. Every Christmas season you’ll hear sung and chanted dozens of times the hymn “Silent Night, Holy Night,” with its familiar “Mother and Child” theme. We, who have been born in such a babylonish world, reared and steeped in these things all our lives, have been taught to revere these things as holy, and sacred. We never questioned to see where they came from—whether they came from the Bible, or from pagan idolatry!

We are shocked to learn the truth—some, unfortunately, take offense at the plain truth! But God commands His faithful ministers, ” Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1) Shocking as these facts are, they are the plain facts of history and the Bible!

The real origin of Christmas goes back to the ancient Babylon. It is bound up in the organized apostasy with which Satan has gripped a deceived world these many centuries! In Egypt, it was always believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for “Queen of Heaven”) was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the birth of Christ.

December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus the true Christ! The apostles and early
true Church never celebrated Christ’s birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible—rather, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not!

Thus the ancient idolatrous “Chaldean Mysteries,” founded by this wife of Nimrod, have been handed down through the pagan religions under new Christian-sounding names.

Origin of Holly Wreath, Mistletoe, Yule Log

Now, where did we get this mistletoe custom? Among the ancient pagans the mistletoe was used at this festival of the winter solstice because it was considered sacred to the sun, because of its supposed miraculous healing power. The pagan custom of kissing under the mistletoe was an early step in the night of revelry and drunken debauchery—celebrating the death of the “old sun” and the birth of the new at the winter solstice. Mistletoe, sacred in pagan festivals, is a PARASITE!

Holly berries were also considered sacred to the sun-god. The Yule log is in reality the “sun log.” “Yule” means “wheel,” a pagan symbol of the sun. Yet today professing Christians speak of the “sacred yule-tide season!”

Even the lighting of fires and candles as a Christmas ceremony is merely a continuation of the pagan custom, encouraging the waning sun-god as he reached the lowest place in the southern skies!

The Encyclopedia Americana says: “The holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log . . . are relics of pre-Christian times.” Of paganism!

The book Answers to Questions, compiled by Frederick J. Haskins, found in public libraries, says: “The use of Christmas wreaths is believed by authorities to be traceable to the pagan customs of decorating buildings and places of worship at the feast which took place at the same time as Christmas. The Christmas tree is from Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long anterior to the Christian Era.”

What About Santa Claus?

Surely dear old Santa Claus is not a creature of pagan birth? But he is, and his real character is not so benevolent and holy as many suppose!

The name “Santa Claus” is a corruption of the name “St. Nicholas,” a Roman Catholic bishop who lived in the 5th century. Look in the Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 19, pages 648-649, where you’ll read: “St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, a saint honored by the Greeks and Latins on the sixth of December. . . . A legend of his surreptitious bestowal of dowries on the three daughters of an impoverished citizen . . . is said to have originated the old custom of giving presents in secret on the eve of St. Nicholas [Dec. 6], subsequently transferred to Christmas day. Hence the association of Christmas with Santa Claus. . . .”

Through the year, parents punish their children for telling falsehoods. Then, at Christmas time, they themselves tell their little children this “Santa Claus” lie! Is it any wonder many of them, when they grow up and learn the truth, begin to believe God is a myth, too?

Is it Christian to teach children myths and falsehoods? God says 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) It may seem right, and be justified by human reason, but God says “12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) “Old Nick” also is a term for the devil! Is there a connection? Satan appears as an “angel of light,” to deceive! (II Corinthians 11:14; Revelation 12:9)

2 Corinthians 11:14 (NKJV)
14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

Revelation 12:9 (NKJV)
9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

And so when we examine the facts, we are astonished to learn that the practice of observing Christmas is not, after all, a true Christian practice, but a Pagan custom—one of the ways of Babylon our people have fallen into!

What the Bible Says About the Christmas Tree

But if the Bible is silent about telling us to observe Christmas, or recording any such observance by the apostles or early true Church, it does have something to say about the Christmas tree!

This will come as a real surprise to many. But here it is:

Jeremiah 10:2-6, “2 Thus says the Lord, Do not learn the way of the Gentiles. . . . For the customs of the peoples are futile; . . . For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.”

There is a perfect description of the Christmas tree, termed by the Eternal as “the way of the heathen—the custom of the people.” We are commanded not to learn that way or follow it! It is also viewed in this passage as idolatry. The fifth verse shows that these trees cannot speak—cannot walk—must be carried. “Do not be afraid of them, for they [the trees] cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.” They are not gods to be feared. Some people misread this to make it say there is no harm in having a Christmas tree, but that is not what it says.

Is Exchanging Gifts Scriptural?

But when it comes to the most important part of all in this Christmas observance—the Christmas SHOPPING season—the buying and exchanging of gifts—many will exclaim triumphantly, “Well, at least the Bible tells us to do that! Didn’t the wise men give gifts, when Christ was born?”

Again, we are due for some surprises, when we learn the plain truth. First, let’s look at the historic origin of trading gifts back and forth, then see exactly what the Bible does say about it.

From the Bibliotheca Sacra, volume 12, pages 153-155, we quote, “The interchange of
presents between friends is alike characteristic of Christmas and the Saturnalia, and must have been adopted by Christians from the Pagans, as the admonition of Tertullian plainly shows.”

The fact is, this custom fastened upon people of exchanging gifts with friends and relatives at the Christmas season has not a single trace of Christianity about it, strange though that may seem! This does not celebrate Christ’s birthday or honor it or Him! Suppose someone you love has a birthday. You want to honor that person on his or her birthday. Would you lavishly buy gifts for everyone else, trading gifts back and forth with all your other friends and loved ones, but ignore completely any gift for the one whose birthday you are honoring? Rather absurd, when viewed in that light, isn’t it?

Yet this is exactly what people the world over are doing! They honor a day that is not Christ’s birthday by spending every dime they can scrape together in buying presents to trade back and forth among friends and relatives. But I can say by years of experience that when the month of December rolls around, almost all professing Christians forget to give gifts to Christ and His cause almost altogether! December always is the most difficult month to keep Christ’s work from dying! People are too busy trading gifts back and forth among themselves to think of Him and His Work, it seems. Then, in January and even into February it seems they have to catch up from what they spent for Christmas, so they seldom get back to normal in supporting Christ and His Work before March!

Now consider what the Bible says about giving gifts when Christ was born. It is in Matthew 2:1-11. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ . . . And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold and frankincense, and myrrh.”

Matthew 2:1-11 (NKJV)
Wise Men from the East
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why Gifts Presented to Christ

Notice, they inquired for the child Jesus, who was born KING of the Jews! Now why did they present gifts to Him? Because it was His birthday? Not at all, because they came several days or weeks after the date of His birth! Was it to set an example for us, today, to trade gifts back and forth among ourselves? No, notice carefully! They did not exchange gifts among themselves, but “they presented unto HIM gifts.” They gave their gifts to Christ, not to their friends, relatives, or one another!

Why? Let me quote from the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 46: “Verse 11. (They presented unto Him gifts.) The people of the east never approach the presence of kings and great personages, without a present in their hands. The custom is often noticed in the Old Testament, and still prevails in the east, and in some of the newly discovered South Sea Islands.”

There it is! They were not instituting a new Christian custom of exchanging gifts with friends to honor Christ’s birthday. They were following an old and ancient eastern custom of presenting gifts to a king when they come into his presence. They were approaching Him, born KING of the Jews, in person. Therefore custom required they present gifts—even as the Queen of Sheba brought gifts to Solomon—even as many people today take a gift along when they visit the White House for an appointment with the President.

No, the custom of trading GIFTS back and forth does not stem from this scriptural incident at all, but rather, as quoted from history above, it is the continuance of an ancient pagan custom. Instead of honoring Christ, it invariably retards His Work, often sets it back, at the Christmas season every year.

Does It Really Honor Christ?

There are two arguments often used to justify Christmas observance.

1) Many will reason this way: “But, even though the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, should we not select some date to celebrate as His birthday?” The answer is positively NO! Did you not notice the statement quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthdays.” The celebration of birthdays is not a Christian, but a pagan custom, observed by sinners!

2) But, many still reason, “Even so—even though Christmas was a pagan custom, honoring the false sun-god, we don’t observe it to honor the false god, we observe it to honor Christ.”

But how does GOD answer in His Word? “30 Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them [the pagans in their customs] after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31 NKJV).

God says plainly in His Instruction Book to us, that He will not accept that kind of worship, even though intended in His honor. To Him, He says, it is offering what is abominable to Him, and therefore it honors, not Him, but false pagan gods. GOD says we must not worship Him according to the “dictates of our own conscience”—a term we often hear. But Jesus says plainly, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). And what is truth? God’s Word—the Holy Bible—said Jesus is truth (John 17:17); and the Bible says God will not accept worship when people take a pagan custom or manner of worship and try to honor Christ with it.

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

Again, Jesus said: ” 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9). Christmas observance is a tradition of men, and the commandments of God, as quoted, forbid it. Jesus said, further, ” 9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition..” (Mark 7:9)

That is precisely what the millions are doing today. They ignore the commandment of God. He commands, regarding taking the customs of the pagans and using them to honor or worship God: ” 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” (Deuteronomy 12:31) Still, most people today take that command of God lightly, or as having no validity whatsoever, and follow the tradition of men in observing Christmas.

Make no mistake! God will allow you to defy and disobey Him. He will allow you to follow the crowd and the traditions of men. He will allow you to sin. But He also says there is a day of reckoning coming. As you sow, so shall you reap! Jesus was the living Word of God in Person, and the Bible is the written Word of God. And we shall be judged, for eternity, by these words! They should not be taken lightly or ignored.

We’re in Babylon, and Haven’t Known It

Christmas has become a commercial season. It’s sponsored, kept alive, by the heaviest retail advertising campaigns of the year. You see a masqueraded “Santa Claus” in many stores. Ads keep us deluded and deceived about the “beautiful Christmas spirit.” The newspapers, who sell the ads, print flowery editorials exalting and eulogizing the pagan season, and its “spirit.” A gullible people has become so inoculated, many take offense when told the truth. But the “Christmas spirit” is created each year, not to honor Christ, but to sell merchandise! Like all Satan’s delusions, it appears as an “angel of light,” is made to appear good. Billions of dollars are spent in this merchandising spree every year, while the cause of Christ must suffer! It’s part of the economic system of Babylon!

We have professed to be Christian nations, but we’re in Babylon, as Bible prophecy foretold, and we don’t know it! “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.”—now soon to fall—is the warning of  Revelation 18:4.

Revelation 18:4 (NKJV)
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.

This year, instead of gift trading, why not put that money into God’s Work?

Deception, Idolatry and The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

In keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God’s purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.

I Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.

Let me change just a few words so it will clarify it and maybe a few minutes later, it will mean a little bit more to you.

I Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will abandon, or some will withdraw, or some will apostatize from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.

The ones who are going to depart are not necessarily the ones who are doing the preaching—they’ve already departed. Paul is talking about something that was in progress or was shortly to begin taking place. The ones who are going to depart are the ones who are going to be misled, not the heretical teachers.

Let’s think about this in the context of our time, in terms of deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. If by chance you were somehow invited to attend a séance in which the leader called out for the spirits of those who were dead to arise and speak, I am pretty sure such a thing would not take you in. You wouldn’t have any trouble at all identifying such a practice as being evil and demonic.

We’re also pretty much aware that Ouija boards, black magic, sorcery, and like things lead to very dreadful spiritual consequences. We also know that compared to the vast majority of people, there are very few victims of these overt hoaxes of Satan the Devil.

We’re not deceived at all when we’re passing a Catholic Church, by seeing the statuary, the crucifixes, and even though we know that other people are bowing down before these things and they put their superstitious trust into these representations of these people that they believe are alive—we wouldn’t be taken in by something like that. But we do need to consider that Satan is the author of both overt and covert deceptions.

There was a time when these deceptions that are so obvious to you and me that we wouldn’t be taken in by them were they not overt but covert, where he was moving inch by inch to take people in and take them away from the path toward God’s kingdom.

I don’t think we can come up with any exact ratio, but I am pretty sure that for every person deceived by Satanism and astrology there must be hundreds of people covertly deceived by false doctrines.

Christ warned us in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and he is the father of lies; that he has been lying from the beginning and he speaks what is natural to him; that lies come out of him just as easily, just as naturally as truth comes out of God.

You might recall from Colossians 2, that if you read the entire chapter you would have found that Paul, in the very last verse of chapter 2, said that this philosophy that he was talking about had a show of wisdom, but that this philosophy, this show of wisdom, included the worship of angels—demons. He also showed (in that very same chapter) that the taproot of that philosophy went straight back into what has been translated as the elemental or the rudimentary elements of the world. You can see that modern Protestant commentaries admit that that is demonic and is not something that is hidden.

Colossians 2:23 (NKJV)

23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

So here is a philosophy that had a show of wisdom, but yet its taproot was in demonism. The important thing to you and me is that the apostle Paul was writing to a Christian church, converted people having God’s Spirit, and they were being taken in by this philosophy that had a show of wisdom. What were they doing? They were departing; they were abandoning; they were apostatizing from the faith that had been delivered to them.

You ought to be able to see my point—that this is something of concern for you and me. Just because this happened back in the first century A.D. indicates that it ought to be able to happen now. We too can be taken in by something that has a show of wisdom.

Consider this proposition—that the best liars are those who speak things that are almost true. Satan is described as being the most subtle beast of all. Surely he presents assertions that sound true and can only be found false when somebody honestly evaluates what he says in the light of God’s truth. Somebody not equipped to be able to identify the real, absolute truth from God’s Word is very likely going to be taken in by the things that he says.

The Feast of Tabernacles of 1992 is history and is going to go down in our record as one of the best that we have ever had. But before it is put completely on the back burner, let us all reflect on something concerning the Feast. I want to help you understand, through an illustration I am going to give, how false doctrine is injected into the church.

One of the things that I admire about God is that He is so logical. That doesn’t mean that I always understand His logic. I didn’t always understand my parent’s logic when I was a child, whenever they would either permit or deny something I requested of them. Sometimes they would say yes and sometimes they would say no, but as I have aged, I have come to understand that their much broader and more general experiences that life gave to them gave them perceptions and insights into things that I simply could not grasp as a child.

I am sure that this same principle is at work in regard to our relationship with God—that I don’t always understand why He does or He doesn’t do something. I don’t understand why at times He heals and at other times He doesn’t heal. I don’t understand why at times some people are prospered and others are not.

Yet on the other hand, as I grow, my understanding increases and I begin to see reasons, to get perceptions on why a healing does not occur or why prosperity does not occur. Each piece of knowledge begins to fit beautifully into the overall picture.

There is no doubt that the Bible presents God as Creator and Ruler of His creation. Can you imagine a manufacturer, a creator—one who manages and governs his company, his corporation, his creation—without laws or policies to govern his operation? We would never think of that in human terms. No corporate president could operate that way. He would say that’s stupid. And yet, we know there are many people who are deceived into somehow thinking that God as Creator and Ruler doesn’t require obedience to law by many or all of His people.

In like manner, every manufacturer has a plan to carry out his purpose. God also has a plan to carry out His purpose—that is the very purpose for which He created everything. In addition to this, the whole creation screams at us that God is organized.

In an article written by Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist, he states that he did not give his loyalty to any particular religious group, yet he confessed to all the world that his studies of the laws of nature and the universe led him to the conclusion that there absolutely had to be a Creator, because everything was so organized, that something that just randomly happened could not have occurred. That impressed him.

I have read that Albert Einstein said virtually the same thing. Though he did not give his allegiance to any particular group, yet he was so impressed by the organization of the creation that he had to come to the conclusion that indeed there was a Creator.

God is organized. Doesn’t that give weight to believing that God has a purpose for what He created and He has a plan by which He is working that purpose out; that He is organized; that things are moving toward a conclusion that He has designed?

Every government, every nation, every team, and yes, even families have to have plans; a framework within which to work; budgets to give control over financial resources. So does God.

This is important to you and me in relation to the Holy Days, because the Holy Days are the framework of God’s plan. They give us insight into the direction toward which everything in history is moving and they give shape and form, not only to your life annually, but also shape and form to your entire life once the Holy Days become a part of your knowledge and you begin to operate according to them.

Anyone who has been in the church of God is going to have to agree that his year is organized around the Holy Days; that what anyone of us does in the way of planning for a year, usually the first thing we will mark down is when the Holy Days are. For a week, it automatically comes to our mind that the Sabbath is going to come up and our plans have to include thinking about the Sabbath. The Holy Days are important in order to structure our life for a year and also to instruct the entirety of our life.

What if Satan moved to destroy the unity of the Holy Days? What would happen? People would very quickly lose their direction. That is exactly what has happened! During the first century, one of the first things Satan began to do was to remove the authority of the weekly Sabbath.

As he did that, he also began removing the authority of the Holy Days and he destroyed the direction of the Christian church.

It didn’t happen all at once. It happened over quite a number of decades because he knows the general framework of time and he knew that he had plenty of time to work with, at least plenty of time in terms of human life. Do you think Satan would be so stupid as to cause something to occur for the removal of the weekly Sabbath or the removal of the Holy Days that was so abrupt that anybody would catch on to it right away?

No, he would move covertly, inch-by-inch, maybe millimeter-by-millimeter, so that people could slowly adjust to the idea of getting along without (or undermining) the authority of the laws of God.

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NKJV)

16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain.18 If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

What we are looking at is a prophecy that pertains to the period of time after the return of Jesus Christ. That’s what Zechariah 14 is all about—the period of time after the return of Jesus Christ. People are going to be required to keep the Feast of Tabernacles and it will not just be the people of Israel.

Every nation on the face of the earth is going to be required to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Why? Because the Feast of Tabernacles is an integral and perhaps, for the period of time we are talking about, the most important feast of all.

Why keep the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location? There are two overall purposes:

Number one: in keeping it at a central location it enables us to better realize that we are part of something bigger than just our own personal salvation. The Feast has the effect of developing within us a sense of mission. Even though we seem (personally) ineffectual, insignificant, and puny whenever we’re confronted by each day’s challenges and events, the Feast helps us to realize that we are part of something that is big and eternal.

Big—it portrays the salvation of all of mankind that comes after the first resurrection. That is multiple billions of people big! When we keep the Feast now in this age of God’s church, it connects us to them and it connects us to each other.

People come from Washington. People come from Oregon. People come from California. People come from Chicago, but we all come together and we begin to realize that we’re part of something that is universal and eternal.

So we see here that all nations are going to worship the Lord and it shows us its worldwide purpose. There is one more thing and that is that it also tends to show that there is order to life and that the events of history are moving toward a well-designed conclusion. We see in the Feast of Tabernacles the whole world coming to conversion.

Number two: it has the effect of unifying us to God’s purpose. The Feast was designed by God to give us a sense of unity with each other as we sit and learn together, and as we fellowship with  people who are of the same mind, that maybe live thousands of miles away and whom we do not see except maybe from year-to-year. We begin to have family feelings toward those people. It is a family; it is God’s family.

The world has absolutely nothing like the Feast of Tabernacles. It has conventions, but it doesn’t have a religious convention anything at all like the Feast of Tabernacles on an annual basis.

They all can see this. They don’t keep it, but they can see the principle that is involved with God’s Holy Days and the Feast of Tabernacles. They say that Zechariah is saying that the Feast of Tabernacles will be the external bond of unity among all the nations after Christ returns.

The internal bond is God’s Spirit. The external bond will be the Feast of Tabernacles. Think of that in relation to us and the importance of keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. If you wanted to destroy the unity of God’s people, if you wanted to destroy their knowledge of the purpose that God is working out and the plan by which He is working that purpose out, don’t you think that you would take aim at the Feast of Tabernacles? That would be very high on your hit list if you wanted to get rid of this church of God.

History shows us (the history that is recorded in the Bible, as well as secular history) that Judah lasted a great deal longer (after the division of Israel and Judah) than Israel. The Jews had their times of sliding away, but they revived again and again.

Have you noticed in your reading of II Kings and II Chronicles that almost every time they had a revival there was a Holy Day involved? Frequently, it was the Feast of Tabernacles. A second one would be the Passover/Days of Unleavened Bread area.

To help set the stage look at II Kings 10. The story here is about God’s destruction of the house of Ahab and Jezebel, and He used Jehu in doing this.

2 Kings 10:11 (NKJV)

11 So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his close acquaintances and his priests, until he left him none remaining.

2 Kings 10:31 (NKJV)

31 But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.

Jehu had a wonderful opportunity. God gave him the opportunity to lead a revival of the truth of God in Israel after one of the worst reigns of the worst king (possibly) that the nations of Israel ever saw—Ahab and his wife Jezebel. But we see here that he didn’t take advantage of it and instead he walked in the sins of Jeroboam.

Who was Jeroboam and what did he do? In order to find out, we’re going to have to go back into I Kings, all the way back to the end of the reign of Solomon and get a running start on what occurred.

1 Kings 11:4-6 (NKJV)

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.

Notice that this occurred when he was old and that his heart went not fully after the Lord. He did go after the Lord, but he did it in a haphazard way. His downfall began with laxity toward being careful about keeping God’s commands regarding idolatry. Laxity is the first stage of lawlessness. The more lax he became, the more double-minded he became.

A double minded person loses his grip. Can you understand that? Just think of grasping something with your hand. If you’re not really sure what you want to hang onto and your mind is playing back and forth between two different things, your grip is going to loosen on one or the other, because you’re going to want to let go of the one and maybe get the other. Your grip is going to loosen. I’m talking about a mental grip, but I think we get the idea.

Solomon gradually came to the place where he was not really hanging onto anything, but he was straddling between choices, gradually becoming more and more unstable, unsettled, and even deceitful until he became completely reintegrated into the world. He began to be moved almost entirely by human nature once again.

Why is the first commandment listed first? The reason is it is the most important of all the commandments. God wanted to draw special attention to it because it is the one that is also most easily broken.

Do you realize that five commandments bear directly on idolatry? Numbers one, two, three, four, and ten. The tenth one brings you right back around to the first. That’s why the Bible describes them as a chain. Covetousness is idolatry. That’s the way the apostle Paul wrote it.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (NKJV)

So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded. 11 Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.”

You can see from these three verses that idolatry came to the place where it dominated Solomon’s relationship with God. Also, this verse begins to lead into Jeroboam. You ought to be able to begin to see from what I have said so far; that what Jeroboam did had something to do with the Holy Days and also with idolatry.

Notice also in verse 11, where God says, “Because you have done this and have not kept My covenant and My statutes.” The Holy Days are statutes. Tell me something: Could Solomon be keeping the Holy Days of God and worshipping Milcom and Chemosh? Wouldn’t they have holy days? Something very wrong was being done here.

1 Kings 11:26 (NKJV)

26 Then Solomon’s servant, Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite from Zereda, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also rebelled against the king.

1 Kings 11:28 (NKJV)

28 The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph.

We begin to see something taking shape. This is like a flashback to what occurred in verses 9-12—that Jeroboam was somebody who came to Solomon’s attention and he promoted Jeroboam. Jeroboam became renowned within the kingdom.

 I ings 11:29-31, 34-35, 37-38 

 1 Kings 11:29-38 (NKJV)

29 Now it happened at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two were alone in the field. 30 Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you 32 (but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because they have[a] forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David. 34 However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and give it to you—ten tribes. 36 And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there. 37 So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.

 Footnotes:

a. 1 Kings 11:33 Following Masoretic Text and Targum; Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate read he has.

Solomon died and his son, Rehoboam, came on the scene as the king. The people of Israel are complaining to Rehoboam because of the heavy taxation under Solomon. They’re asking him for relief. “Give us a break and we’ll be your servant.”

 I Kings 12:4-8, 10-11 

 1 Kings 12:4-8 (NKJV)

“Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.”

 So he said to them, “Depart for three days, then come back to me.” And the people departed.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lived, and he said, “How do you advise me to answer these people?”

And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”

But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him.

1 Kings 12:10-11 (NKJV)

10 Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’—thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! 11 And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!’”[a]

 Footnotes:

a. 1 Kings 12:11 Literally scorpions

The stage is set for a secession to occur. A civil war is on the horizon because Rehoboam rejected the advice and gave Israel an ultimatum—either you accept the terms that I give to you, or else.

Jeroboam and Israel rejected what Rehoboam offered to them and it says in verse 16:

1 Kings 12:16-17 (NKJV)

16 Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying:

 “What share have we in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Now, see to your own house, O David!”

So Israel departed to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah.

Israel returned to their tents and Jeroboam became their king. When he took over he enacted certain measures that were designed to accomplish something. So what we see happening here is how false doctrine is introduced and eventually becomes established as orthodoxy, because the true doctrine eventually becomes forgotten because of a lack of practice.

 1 Kings 12:26-27 (NKJV)

26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David:

27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.”

It’s a real fear that the man had. But what he did was motivated by a selfish regard for his own life and his own position as king, and a disregard of the promise that God had made to him. God had already told him, “You obey Me, and I will establish you as king.

Obviously, Jeroboam was not walking by faith, because he was more concerned about the people leaving him, because down in Jerusalem was the temple; down in Jerusalem was the brazen altar where the sacrifices were made; down in Jerusalem was the central spot of the worship of God.

What could he do to keep the people from going down to Jerusalem and having their loyalty shifted back to King Rehoboam through religion? Jeroboam was no dummy when it came to political things. He was politically astute. He was a real man of the world. He was pragmatic; he was a very clear practitioner of situational ethics.

 1 Kings 12:28-33 (NKJV)

28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. 31 He made shrines[a] on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.

 32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that wasin Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.

 Footnotes: 

a. 1 Kings 12:31 Literally a house

Now what did he do? Let’s clarify. First of all, he established new centers of worship—Bethel in the south of Israel and Dan in the north. Two, he replaced the God-ordained Levites with men of other tribes as the nation’s spiritual leaders. Three, he did away with the Feast of Tabernacles and he substituted another feast of his own devising.

Don’t get the idea that all of this was done in the blink of an eye. Sometimes the Bible fools us that way because the history that is written is written in such a way to conserve a great deal of space. It appears to us as though Jeroboam just snapped his fingers and issued orders of all these things to be done at once. But the Bible does not say that. These things could have taken months; they could have taken years to evolve into practices that became orthodoxy.

“It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem.” Notice this appeal, because here is how idolatry gets started. Make it easier, more convenient, for the people.

Don’t we always have a tendency to attempt to make things easier for ourselves in worshipping God, in obedience to God? But the strange thing is we don’t make it easier. It only appears easier for the short period of time. All of history that is written in the Bible screams that God’s way is the easy way, but it is something that has to be viewed over a lifetime, over longer periods of time than we like to think.

We have the tendency to make things easier for the immediate moment, forgetting about the long-term effect of what we are going to do. Jesus said to take My yoke upon you for it’s easier, it’s lighter than the way of this world. There is a way that seems right unto men but the end thereof is the way of death.

But the way idolatry gets started is the thought; “I will make it easier, more convenient on myself.” So what did Jeroboam do? He cleverly gave the people something that would satisfy their itching ears—convenience.

Ok now, ask yourself this question: In what way is our twentieth century, western culture superior to what these people (we might say) in biblical times were living in? I think the reality is the that the only way it is better is in material comforts and conveniences. To us, convenience equals progress. That is a carnal, human way to think. But even physically in this nation and in other nations, we are gradually being led to see from what we are doing to the environment that material progress begets problems that are devastating in their effects in terms of water pollution, soil pollution, air pollution, and on and on it goes. All of this is being done in the name of progress, i.e., convenience. Convenience is not progress in terms of obedience and character building as it relates to God.

But Jeroboam appealed to their carnality—let’s make it easier. Undoubtedly, traveling to Jerusalem from Samaria or from Dan—way up on the extreme north end of the nation—was not all that convenient. Jerusalem was not just around the corner to those people who were confined to walking, riding a donkey, or maybe riding in a cart. It would take them days, not hours, to get to a service that was being held at the Temple.

There is a clear lesson here: that is that sacrificing (that would take place at the Temple) is not convenient.

Jeroboam knew what he was doing. As I stated earlier, he was astute in terms of a politician. He knew what he was doing when he did this.

During my research, I came across a book – the Story of Civilization, Volume 1, entitled “Our Oriental Heritage.” It’s by Will and Ariel Durant. This comes from chapter 12, page 308. The chapter is about Judah.

Next to the promulgation of the Book of the Law, the building of the Temple was the most important event in the epic of the Jews history.

This, of course, is just one historian’s conclusion, that the second most important thing that ever happened to Israel, once they were called out of Egypt, was the building of the Temple. Do you think Jeroboam was dumb?

Durant goes on: It not only gave Yahweh a home, but it gave Judea a spiritual center and capital, a vehicle of tradition, a memory to serve as a pillar of fire through the centuries of wandering over the earth, and it played its part in lifting the Hebrew religion from a primitive polytheism to a faith intense and intolerant; but nonetheless, one of the creative creeds in history.

Jeroboam was not dumb. He knew how important that Temple was. So, the first thing he did was come up with what appeared to be (and indeed was, as history shows) an appeal to convenience. “Oh, it’s too far to go to Jerusalem. Take it easy. God is the God of all the earth. God is everywhere. You can talk to God, worship God, pray to God, sacrifice to God anywhere you want.” It sounds logical, carnally.

The second thing he did was he connected what he was instituting to something already somewhat popular, and also this thing had a connection to Israel’s ancient history. Again, very astute.Jeroboam disconnected the people from their immediate headquarters, and in so doing he (at least somewhat) discredited the previous administration—their roots, one might say. It made it seem as though he was saving them from the deviations of Solomon. Remember, his motivation was to establish himself as king. He was making it more convenient. He was liberalizing. He was the friend of the people.

In order to help himself, he did not entirely disconnect them from their history and traditions. This made the changes seem that much more acceptable. “Oh, our ancestors did that. All the people of the land are already doing this.” What he did was he reached back into the history of Israel to some things they might connect to.

In Genesis 28 is the story of Jacob fleeing for his life whenever he stole the birthright away from Esau. He hightailed it out of there at the urging of his mother who conspired with him.

Genesis 28:10 (NKJV)

10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.

Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)

12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

It really made an impact on Jacob’s mind. Then, God spoke to him and He said in verse15:

 Genesis 28:15, 19

 Genesis 28:15 (NKJV)

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

Genesis 28:19 (NKJV)

19 And he called the name of that place Bethel;[a] but the name of that city had been Luz previously.

 Footnotes:

a. Genesis 28:19 Literally House of God

Jacob was the father of the Israelite people. Jacob had a life changing experience with God at Bethel. From that time on, Bethel became a place of special regard, an honor, an awe and respect to the people who were descended from Jacob. Jacob passed the knowledge of that on to his children, who in turn passed the knowledge of that on to their children.

So Bethel was almost like a holy place, because God Himself had actually been there. Of all the places in the nation of Israel, that was one place that they could say that God had actually been there. It was a place of special regard to them.

You can begin to see why Jeroboam, astute politician that he was, reached back into the past and said we’re going to set up an altar (which there had never been) at Bethel. “Our father Jacob was there.” Sounds good. Sounds logical. Why didn’t somebody think of that before? New knowledge; new doctrine; God is revealing things to us.

Does God change His mind about things like that? He said to go to Jerusalem not to Bethel. But the people bought it! And Jeroboam did the same thing with Dan.

In Judges 17—a man named Micah hires himself a Levite to be his own personal priest. In the course of this Levite’s service to Micah, the Danites come through the area and they steal this Levite away. Micah wasn’t going to fight against six hundred armed men, so they took his teacher (his father as he called him, the Levite) and they took his idols and statues that were there, and they took this Levite to Dan—the city that was named after their father.

 Judges 18:30 (NKJV)

30 Then the children of Dan set up for themselves the carved image; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh,[a] and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.

 Footnotes:

a. Judges 18:30 Septuagint and Vulgate read

It says Manasseh in most Bibles, but if you will look in your margin it says Moses. The Jews were ashamed that a grandson of Moses would be caught up in something like this and so they changed it.

What bigger name was there in Israel’s history than Moses? Do you see why he picked Dan? Do you think Jeroboam was dumb? “Hey, Moses’ grandson had set up an altar there. This is a holy place. There isn’t any place in the nation, except maybe Bethel, that can even begin to approach, in terms of holiness, in terms of religious value, the city of Dan. Let’s set up an altar there too. Doesn’t that sound good? After all we need to honor Moses. What greater honor could there be than we establish an altar, a place to make sacrifice? All the time we go there to honor God, we’ll also remember Moses as well.”

You can come up with all kinds of arguments in terms of carnal, logical arguments. He could have never done this unless the people were agreeable to it. But you see, little by little, using arguments that were very close in some areas to truth and people wanting something convenient in terms of a religion, because God requires an awful lot of us to go all the way down to Jerusalem. He’s the God of the whole earth. We can do it just as well here. Inch-by-inch, millimeter-by-millimeter they were weaned away from the truth of God.

Remember the scripture in Jeremiah 5? God said to Jeremiah, “Go out and see if you can find one person in the whole city of Jerusalem who is seeking truth and if you can find one person, I will spare the whole city.” Jeremiah could not find one person and God said at the end of the chapter the reason this happens is that the people love to be lied to!

That sounds almost impossible, but I’m not going to argue with God. If He said they love to be lied to, then they must love to be lied to.

Do people today love to be lied to? America is about to celebrate Halloween on October 31, 2016. Do people love to be lied to about Halloween? They show by their actions they love to be lied to, because people know better than that. They know it came out of paganism. But they love to have it so because it’s part of tradition. If we stop doing those things we cause problems in the family.

Jeroboam didn’t stop there. He went on to the golden calf. Did you notice what he said? “This be your god O Israel.” He quoted Exodus 32—lies in the name of scripture. See how he was connecting it to their history? Jacob, Moses, the golden calf. It seemed so logical to do something like that.

Exodus 32:4 (NKJV)

And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.

 Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

We find in the golden calf incident in Exodus 32 that those people were motivated by their impatience. People were no different then. They said they didn’t know where Moses went. He’s been up there so long and they wanted to do something, so they immediately reverted to the things they had learned in Egypt. Their impatience for the return of their leader led them back to the things that they had done. Carnal thinking—“These be your gods O Israel.”

Now tell me something: Were the bulk of the Israelites in the golden calf incident revolted by what they saw? They loved it—the lie. Their own experience told them it was not the golden calf who devastated Egypt; it was not the golden calf that had split the Red Sea; it was not the golden calf that was in the cloud and the pillar of fire; it was not the golden calf that brought the water out of the rock; it was not the golden calf who brought the manna every morning—they loved to be lied to because it was convenient, and it was inconvenient to change their mind and their lives. That would cause trouble.

I mentioned Halloween. I cut this article out of the Charlotte Observer dated Thursday, October 29, two days before Halloween 2015. The writer of the article is a man named Alan Norwood and it begins this way:

When the Reverend John Alexander was with a congregation in another town, a woman would visit every year and complain that Halloween was demonic, Satanic, and otherwise anti-Christian. The lady came by and gave me down in the country,” said Alexander, Pastor of Charlotte’s Sharon Presbyterian Church. “She visited all churches. We passed it off as her annual crusade.”

Well, it kept her out of trouble on Halloween.” That’s what the preacher said.

“Well I hope so [said the writer of the article], “but I hope she didn’t ruin the occasion for the little ones. A grownup who would steal the smile from a five year old Ninja Turtle at a carnival in a church basement is one curmudgeonly grump.”

Now you know why Christ was killed—because He told people the truth. When people are confronted by truth that they recognize, they are at a crossroads.

A little further in the article, the Observer gets letters each year saying that Halloween is anti-Christian. This is not something that is hidden in a corner.

We received a few this year, although they haven’t been published in deference to readers who want to comment on the important elections. The letters typically say that Halloween was born in pagan festivals. Seven of thirty-three Halloween festivals lifted in a calendar in some editions of the Wednesday paper were being sponsored by churches and two more were being sponsored by YMCA’s. Alexander said he never has heard of anyone complain about the annual Halloween festival at the Sharon Presbyterian Church.

People love it.

“It was established,” he said, “before I came. It is seen as nothing more than fellowship—an alternative to knocking on doors to trick or treat.”

Further on in the article, another pastor reports that it’s nothing more than good fellowship.

Another pastor says, “I don’t believe Halloween is Satanic. I believe it is a Christian feast. It comes from All Hallows Eve—the eve of the feast of all saints. Children will hear that. They’ll also hear that the pumpkin is a gift of the harvest and the candle inside is a reminder that the light of Christ should shine from their faces.”

Do you know what the lesson of the golden calf is? It is in there for one major reason and that is to show us very clearly that we cannot take anything at all from paganism and use it in the worship of God. God will not accept it because it is misleading in terms of His purpose, and He doesn’t want anybody deviating because it’s going to destroy them!

“It doesn’t mean a thing,” people say. Exodus 32God’s truth disagrees.

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.

The Devil Made Me Do It!

 

The first instance of “the devil made me do it” used as an excuse was in the Garden of Eden. Eve says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Her excuse did not get her off the hook (verse 16), and it won’t help us much, either.

Yes, the devil and his demons tempt us to sin (Genesis 3; Luke 4; 1 Peter 5:8). But “the devil made me do it” is far too often used to excuse our own bad choices. Except in an instance of demon possession, the devil cannot make us do anything. The devil is absolutely worthy of blame for much of the evil in the world, but using the devil as a scapegoat for our own sinful choices is counterproductive to achieving victory over sin.

Demon possession (see below) is a condition in which a demon or demons have complete control over a person. Demon possession involves demons actually inhabiting a person and controlling his or her actions (see Mark 9:22). Christians cannot be demon possessed. The indwelling Holy Spirit will not allow it (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 5:18). Therefore, the devil and his demons cannot control a believer. They cannot make us do anything involuntarily. So, rather than blame the devil, we need to look at ourselves.

James 1:4 declares, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (emphasis added). Why do we sin? We sin because we are sinners. We are plagued by and infected with sin (Romans 3:10-23). While demonic oppression (see below) and influence are real, the primary problem is our sinful natures. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). Notice, it’s the “works of the flesh” in this list, not the works of the devil.

As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us overcome sin (1 John 4:4). We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). If we sin, we have no excuse. We cannot blame the devil. We cannot blame our circumstances. We can only blame ourselves. And, until we recognize that the problem resides within us (Romans 7:20), we will never arrive at the solution.

It may sound harsh to tell someone that the problem is himself and his own choices. But it’s no harsher than a doctor telling a patient to quit smoking and that the tobacco company is not to blame for his poor health. To find a cure, you have to start with a correct diagnosis and then move to the correct treatment. The correct diagnosis is sin. The treatment is to submit to God and obey His Word. God can enable us to achieve victory over sin (Romans 7:24-25; 1 John 5:3-5).

If you are a Christian and you commit a sin, the devil did not make you do it. He may have tempted you to do it. He may have even influenced you to do it. But he did not make you do it. You still had a choice. God never allows you to be tempted beyond your ability to withstand, and He always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). A Christian saying “the devil made me do it” is denying the truth of 1 John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Demon Possession / Demonic Possession

The Bible gives some examples of people possessed or influenced by demons. From these examples we can find some symptoms of demonic influence and gain insight as to how a demon possesses someone. Here are some of the biblical passages: Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22; 17:18; Mark 5:1-20; 7:26-30; Luke 4:33-36; Luke 22:3; Acts 16:16-18. In some of these passages, the demon possession causes physical ailments such as inability to speak, epileptic symptoms, blindness, etc. In other cases, it causes the individual to do evil, Judas being the main example. In Acts 16:16-18, the spirit apparently gives a slave girl some ability to know things beyond her own learning. The demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes, who was possessed by a multitude of demons (Legion), had superhuman strength and lived naked among the tombstones. King Saul, after rebelling against the LORD, was troubled by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-15; 18:10-11; 19:9-10) with the apparent effect of a depressed mood and an increased desire to kill David.

Thus, there is a wide variety of possible symptoms of demon possession, such as a physical impairment that cannot be attributed to an actual physiological problem, a personality change such as depression or aggression, supernatural strength, immodesty, antisocial behavior, and perhaps the ability to share information that one has no natural way of knowing. It is important to note that nearly all, if not all, of these characteristics may have other explanations, so it is important not to label every depressed person or epileptic individual as demon-possessed. On the other hand, Western cultures probably do not take satanic involvement in people’s lives seriously enough.

In addition to these physical or emotional distinctions, one can also look at spiritual attributes showing demonic influence. These may include a refusal to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10-11) and the belief in and spread of false doctrine, especially concerning Jesus Christ and His atoning work (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-151 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 John 4:1-3).

Concerning the involvement of demons in the lives of Christians, the apostle Peter is an illustration of the fact that a believer can be influenced by the devil (Matthew 16:23). Some refer to Christians who are under a strong demonic influence as being “demonized,” but never is there an example in Scripture of a believer in Christ being possessed by a demon. Most theologians believe that a Christian cannot be possessed because he has the Holy Spirit abiding within (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Spirit of God would not share residence with a demon.

We are not told exactly how one opens himself up for possession. If Judas’ case is representative, he opened his heart to evil—in his case by his greed (John 12:6). So it may be possible that if one allows his heart to be ruled by some habitual sin, it becomes an invitation for a demon to enter. From missionaries’ experiences, demon possession also seems to be related to the worship of heathen idols and the possession of occult materials. Scripture repeatedly relates idol worship to the actual worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20), so it should not be surprising that involvement with idolatry could lead to demon possession.

Based on the above scriptural passages and some of the experiences of missionaries, we can conclude that many people open their lives up to demon involvement through the embracing of some sin or through cultic involvement (either knowingly or unknowingly). Examples may include immorality, drug/alcohol abuse that alters one’s state of consciousness, rebellion, bitterness, and transcendental meditation.

There is an additional consideration. Satan and his evil host can do nothing the Lord does not allow them to do (Job 1-2). This being the case, Satan, thinking he is accomplishing his own purposes, is actually accomplishing God’s good purposes, as in the case of Judas’ betrayal. Some people develop an unhealthy fascination with the occult and demonic activity. This is unwise and unbiblical. If we pursue God, if we are clothing ourselves with His armor and relying upon His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18), we have nothing to fear from the evil ones, for God rules over all!

Demonic Oppression

There is strong biblical evidence that a Christian cannot be demon possessed. The question then arises regarding what influence/power a demon can have over a Christian. Many Bible teachers describe demonic influence on a Christian as “demonic oppression” to distinguish it from possession.

The Bible says that the devil seeks to devour believers (1 Peter 5:8), and Satan and his demons “scheme” against Christians (Ephesians 6:11). As Satan attempted with Jesus (Luke 4:2), demonic forces tempt us to sin and oppose our efforts to obey God. Should a Christian allow the demons to succeed in these attacks, oppression results. Demonic oppression is when a demon is temporarily victorious over a Christian, successfully tempting a Christian to sin and hindering his ability to serve God with a strong testimony. If a Christian continues to allow demonic oppression in his/her life, the oppression can increase to the point that the demon has a very strong influence over the Christian’s thoughts, behavior, and spirituality. Christians who allow continuing sin open themselves up for greater and greater oppression. Confession and repentance of sin are necessary to restore fellowship with God, who can then break the power of demonic influence. The apostle John gives us great encouragement in this area: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him” (1 John 5:18).

For the Christian, the power for victory over and freedom from demonic oppression isalways available. John declares, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) is always available to overcome demonic oppression. No demon, not even Satan himself, can prevent a Christian from surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby overcoming any and all demonic oppression. Peter encourages believers to resist the devil, “standing firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:9). Being firm or steadfast in the faith means relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to successfully resist demonic influence. Faith is built up through the spiritual disciplines of feeding on the Word of God, persistent prayer, and godly fellowship. Strengthening our faith by these means enables us to put up the shield of faith with which we can “extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

What Does the Name Legion Mean?

In Mark 5, Jesus visits the region of the Gerasenes and is immediately confronted by a demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs, cut himself with stones, and could not be kept in captivity (Mark 5:1–5). When Jesus asked the demon what its name was, the demon replied, “My name is Legion . . . for we are many” (verse 9).

In common usage, a legion was the largest unit in the Roman army. At that time, a legion averaged about 5,000 fighting men, though it could have thousands more or fewer. So the term legion refers to any large number of beings; a multitude. When the demon in Mark 5 said that its name was Legion, it meant that the demoniac of the Gerasenes was possessed by a large number of unclean spirits.

Scripture does not say exactly how many demons comprised the Legion within the man. However, when Jesus cast them out, they entered a herd of pigs feeding nearby. Legion caused the pigs to rush down a hillside and into the sea, where they were all drowned (Mark 5:13). The number of pigs killed was “about two thousand.” That detail suggests that Legion was composed of about two thousand demons. The large number of demons may account for the afflicted man’s untamable nature and great strength—strength that was no match for God, of course.

There is one other mention of a “legion” in the context of spirit beings, this time of good angels. When Jesus was being arrested, Peter pulled out a sword and wounded a nearby member of the mob. Jesus healed the wound (Matthew 26:51) and told Peter to put away his sword. The Lord reminded Peter that, if He needed help, He could have God send “more than twelve legions of angels” (verse 53). That might total 60,000 angels, but the exact number wasn’t the point Jesus was making. Rather, it was to remind the terrified disciples that God is always in control of all circumstances, even during the horrible injustice of the murder of his own Son.

It is interesting that the Bible refers to both holy angels and demons as forming legions. Legion is a military term, one that fits the Bible’s descriptions of spiritual warfare in several places (Daniel 10:13; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7).

How can we stand against such numerous and powerful foes? God completely equips believers for battle against satanic forces: “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13). As Christians, we are “more than conquerors” through Christ (Romans 8:37). Jesus is our Commander. He is the One who dispatched the demons named Legion with just a word. He it is who will someday throw Legion and all the other demons “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41; cf. Revelation 20:10).

Jesus Allows the Demons to Enter the Herd of Pigs

The story of Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs is found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:27-38. Only Matthew mentions the more prominent of the two demoniacs involved. Demoniacs were persons whose minds came under the control of an evil spirit or spirits. That such phenomena were especially prominent during the days of Christ’s earthly ministry is consistent with Satan’s efforts to counteract God’s program. It also allows us to witness the spiritual warfare in which our Savior was constantly engaged. Demons knew exactly who Jesus was—“Son of God”—and were aware of their ultimate doom (Matthew 8:28-29).

As Jesus was traveling in the hilly region east of the Jordan River, the path of this man who was controlled by demons and lived among the tombs crossed that of Jesus. Because of the physical strength the demons gave the man, he was able to break and throw off the chains with which people tried to bind him. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had.

Why the demons begged to be allowed to enter the swine is unclear from the account. It could be because they didn’t want to leave the area where they had been successful in doing their mischief among the people. Perhaps they were drawn to the unclean animals because of their own filthiness. The demons may have made this strange request because it was their last chance to avoid confinement in the Abyss, the place of confinement to which evil spirits are doomed (Revelation 9:1-6). Whatever their reasoning, it is clear from the account that demons had little power of their own and were unable to do anything without Jesus’ permission. As Christians, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the forces of the enemy of our souls are under the complete control of God and can only act in ways He allows.

The Bible doesn’t explain to us Jesus’ reasoning, but displaying His sovereign power over demons could be one reason why Jesus sent them into the pigs. If the pigs’ owners were Jews, Jesus could have been rebuking them for violating Mosaic law which forbids Jews from eating or keeping unclean animals such as swine (Leviticus 11:7). If the swineherds were Gentiles, perhaps Jesus was using this miraculous event to show them the malice of evil spirits under whose influence they lived, as well as displaying His own power and authority over creation. In any case, the owners were so terrified to be in the presence of such spiritual power that they made no demand for restitution for the loss of their property and begged Jesus to leave the region. The people were awe-struck but unrepentant—they wanted no more of Jesus Christ. This shows the hardness of their hearts and their desire to remain in sin. The healed demoniac, on the other hand, demonstrated the true faith and repentance of a changed heart and begged to be allowed to follow Jesus. Perhaps the unmistakable difference between the saved and the unsaved was an object lesson for the disciples and all who witnessed the event. Jesus sent the healed man away, giving him a commission that he joyfully obeyed: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:17-20).