Life-long Faith.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? – Galatians 3:1-6 ESV

You can sense the frustration in Paul’s words as he begins his theological defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. From his perspective, it is as if his readers had been cast under a spell. His previous efforts, while living and ministering among them, seem to have been in vain. He had gone out of his way to convince them of the grace of God made available through the cross of Christ alone, but now they were allowing themselves to be ‘bewitched” into believing that more was necessary. They were buying into the lie that circumcision was an added requirement to salvation. Paul’s problem was not so much with the rite of circumcision as it was with the problem of legalism.

Jesus Christ had died a gruesome death on the cross in order to provide a means of salvation for men and make possible their justification before God. He did for humanity what humanity could not do for itself. He satisfied God. His death was the propitiation for our sins. He fully satisfied the righteous wrath of God against the sins of mankind. And yet, here were the Galatians allowing themselves to be convinced that His death had not been enough. They needed to do more!

Paul was not against good works. He was not propagating a life of moral, ethical and spiritual complacency. Paul’s issue is with works being tied to and made a requirement for salvation and justification. Jesus paid it all. His sacrificial death on the cross was fully and completely sufficient to ransom men and women from their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God.

The message of false teachers will always fall into one of two categories. Either you have not done enough to be truly saved or now that you are saved, you don’t have to do anything. Theologians refer to these two extremes as nomism and antinomianism. We might recognize them as legalism and license. One promotes a doctrine of salvation based on religious rule-keeping. The other can result in a rejection of any moral requirements altogether. In essence, it teaches that we are no longer obligated to keep God’s moral law because we have been set free from it. And while there is a degree of truth to that assessment, it can easily lead to a justification of sin and a life of moral ambiguity. Both legalism and license share the same root problem: Self-centeredness. One places self at the center of man’s redemption, making human effort the key to salvation. The other promotes self to the point of making salvation all about self-gratification. Rather than holiness, license preaches happiness. Instead of encouraging death to self, license promotes a life of self-satisfaction.

Both of these extremes are dangerous. And Paul was constantly having to deal with both. In the case of the Galatians, the greater threat was legalism. They had placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but now they were being convinced that there was something missing. Which is why Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2 ESV). The answer was obvious. As Gentiles, they had done nothing in the way of keeping the law of Moses. And yet, they had come to faith in Christ and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. None of them had done anything to deserve this incredible gift of grace from God. And Paul took it a step further, asking them, “After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). In other words, Paul was asking them if they thought their salvation was up to God, while their sanctification was up to them.

The issue Paul was raising was regarding their sanctification. Not only are we saved by faith in Christ, we are transformed or made Christ-like by the very same process. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves. God doesn’t save us, then leave it up to us to perfect ourselves. Again, Paul is not discounting the role of good works in the life of the believer. He is simply emphasizing the source from which those good works are to flow. Paul told the believers in Philippi, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). Later on in this same letter to the believers in Galatia, he will write, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22 ESV). God not only saves us, He sanctifies us. Paul told the Corinthians, “And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). We don’t make ourselves more like Christ, that is the Spirit’s job. Our role is to remain submissive and obedient to His activity in our lives. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13 ESV).

For Paul, the entire process of salvation, justification, and sanctification was the work of God. At no point does the responsibility for redemption fall on man. The only thing we are required to do is trust. We are to submit our lives to His will and relinquish our right to self-autonomy. Paul stated his position well back in chapter two: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). Faith isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event, it is a life-long pursuit. Faith is a lifestyle, a way of life, and the key to our salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification.

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Divine Protection.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. – 1 John 5:18 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

The possibility of committing sin is an ever-present reality for believers, as much as it is for the lost. John made it clear earlier in his letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). It is essential to remember that John was writing to believers in Jesus Christ, those who had placed their faith in Him as their Savior and sin-substitute. Jesus had died as the propitiation for their sins, completely satisfying a just and holy God by paying in full the penalty due to God for the sins of all the world – for all time. But while our sins are paid for and there is no longer any condemnation or death sentence hanging over our heads, we still have the capability to commit sin. Which is why John went on to say, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). In John’s understanding of the doctrine of salvation, there is no doubt that he believed in the complete effectiveness of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. He knew and believed that Jesus “appeared to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). With His death, Jesus made it possible for those who believed in Him to live their lives free from the control of sin. He set them free from slavery to sin. Jesus made a life of righteousness not only possible, but the expected norm for His followers.

John gives us the encouraging and comforting news that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18 ESV). Sinfulness is no longer the normal behavior for believers. Before Christ, our entire lives were marked by sin. It was our only nature. All that we did was done in rebellion to and in defiance of God – even our best efforts and most righteous behavior. Prior to placing our faith in Christ, we followed “the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT). We were driven by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We couldn’t stop sinning. But all that has changed. We have received new natures. We have been given the Spirit of God to indwell and empower us. God has provided us with a new capacity to live in keeping with our new identity and standing. We are righteous, because of the righteousness which was imputed to us by Christ. On the cross, He exchanged our sin for His righteousness. Jesus, the one “who was born of God protects him” – the one who has faith is Jesus (1 John 5:18). Not only does Jesus save us, He protects us – preventing the evil one from touching us. On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden praying to His Father. One of the things He prayed was, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). It was His desire then that we be protected from Satan, and it is still His desire today. While “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV), we are protected by God as we continue to live in the midst of it. Praying on our behalf, Jesus asked the Father, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 171:17 ESV). Why, because we are not of this world any more than He was. We don’t belong here. We are in enemy territory. We are surrounded. But we have divine protection. From sin and Satan. We know that, because we are born of God, we are no longer children of this world. We are no longer slaves to sin. “We know that we are from God” (1 John 5:19 ESV) and “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he was been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). God’s DNA has been implanted within us. We have been rewired from the inside out. As God’s children, we are loved by Him, and because He loves us, He protects us. He watches over us. He will not leave us or forsake us. And He has His best in store for us.

Listen Carefully.

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. – 1 John 4:5-6 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

John made a fairly bold claim when he wrote, “We are from God.” He was telling his readers that he could be trusted because what he wrote, he had received directly from God. He was making it up. It wasn’t his opinion or his fading recollections of how things had happened. John had received his message directly from the Spirit of God, just as Jesus had promised. “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26 NLT). John had special help and assistance. So did Paul and the other writers of the Old and New Testaments. Paul made a similar claim when he wrote the church in Corinth, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). Paul and John both believed that what they were writing, teaching, and proclaiming was the very Word of God. Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). And Paul was not just referring to the Old Testament. The authors of what would become the New Testament believed what they were writing was from God. Peter said this of Paul, “just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures” (2 Peter 1:15-16 NET). These men were penning the words of God. They were prophets acting on behalf of God. Listen to what Peter claimed:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,i with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

Peter was confident that what he wrote was from God, given to him by the Holy Spirit. So what they taught concerning Jesus was God’s words, not their own. That is why they were so adamant that their readers, those who believed in Jesus, not be deceived by any other messengers who might teach a different Jesus, a different gospel, or a different Spirit. Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote under the divine influence of the Spirit of God. They were not just motivational speakers coming up with their own version of the truth or their own take on spiritual life. Paul wrote, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4 NLT). He claimed, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:!4 NLT). The things of God are impossible for the non-spiritual to discern or understand. “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT). But they can understand the things of the world. The non-spiritual, those who do not know Christ, are susceptible and receptive to falsehood, because they don’t know any better. But believers have the Holy Spirit, who helps us discern the difference between truth and fiction, the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. But we must learn to listen carefully to what He is saying. We must spend time in the Word of God in order that the Spirit of God can educate us and equip us for life in this sometimes very confusing world. We have the truth, as revealed in the Word of God. We have the ability to understand God’s Word because we have God’s Spirit. And we have the promise that “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). 

That’s the Spirit!

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:2-3 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

That’s the Spirit. Or is it? Eight times in these six verses, John uses the Greek word, pneuma. And like a lot of Greek words, this one has a variety of meanings. It can refer to a breeze or movement of air; the soul of a man; the source of any power, affection, emotion, or desire; or it can be used when talking about the Spirit of God. The definition is established by the immediate context, including the words around it. But not only do we need to determine which pneuma John is referring to, he wants us to know how to figure out the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the antichrist.

Not only does John repeatedly use the word, pneuma, he keeps bringing up the topic of confession. He does so in a variety of way, referring to prophets, hearing, speaking, confessing, and listening. In other words, John puts a high priority in these verses on communication. Prophets, by definition, were to speak on behalf of God. They were to be His mouthpieces, declaring the words of God to the people of God. When they spoke, the did so on His behalf. But John also puts a lot of responsibility on those who hear. They weren’t just supposed to listen, but they were to be discerning. Why? Because not every pneuma or spirit is from God. Not every influence or power that appears to be spiritual is from God. The Old Testament had some clear indicators as to whether a prophet was speaking truth or not. You couldn’t just go by what he said or did. You had to dig deeper and look at the root of his message. God gave the people of Israel the following standard:

“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. The false prophets or visionaries who try to lead you astray must be put to death, for they encourage rebellion against the Lord your God, who redeemed you from slavery and brought you out of the land of Egypt. Since they try to lead you astray from the way the Lord your God commanded you to live, you must put them to death. In this way you will purge the evil from among you.” – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NLT

If they dreamed dreams and talked about signs and wonders, but encouraged the people of God to worship false gods, they were false prophets. And the penalty for their deception was death. Pretty serious stuff. In the book of 1 John, the apostle gives a similar warning to test the spirits or spokesmen declaring to be representing God. And the criteria for the test was simple: What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? Was He the Son of God? Was He the Savior of the world? “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). It is the lie of Satan. People can claim to have the truth, know the truth, and speak the truth. They can claim to speak for God. But if they do not confess Jesus as the Son of God, sent by God to pay for the sins of man, they are not of God. They are from the world, John says. Not only that, they speak from the world, and the rest of the world listens to what they have to say. But John made it clear that he and the other apostles were from God. They spoke on behalf of God, because they confessed the same Jesus that God confessed. And they spoke to those who were also from God. The children of God recognize the voice of God. Over in his gospel, John recorded an incident that occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus found Himself surrounded by a crowd who demanded, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 NLT). Jesus responded, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:25-30 NLT). John follows this up in his letter with the declaration, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). We have the Spirit of God within us. We have the power of God available to us. We have the truth of God made known to us. All because we believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the sole reason we have a right relationship with God the Father. And anybody who teaches anything else is dead wrong.

Staying Power.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. – 1 John 2:24 NLT

There are always going to be reasons for believers to lose hope and doubt their faith. The enemy is real, his attacks are relentless and the pressure to doubt God is ever-present. John knew that those to whom he wrote were faced with all kinds of questions regarding their beliefs. They were having the very foundation of their faith shaken by those who claimed to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their fellowship had been rocked by the recent departure of a group who no longer believed what they believed. They had a different view about Jesus. At first glance, their perspective probably hadn’t sounded all that different, but over time it became clear that they were espousing a radically different doctrine regarding the identity and role of Jesus. Evidently, they had come to believe that Jesus was nothing more than a man. He was not the Son of God. He was not God in human flesh. In other words, they were rejecting the very idea of the incarnation. And it seems clear from John’s letter, that they were even doubting their need for a Savior, because they were denying their own sinfulness. John called this “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). Their views regarding Jesus were more than just opinions, they were heresy, dangerous and destructive teachings that undermined the very foundation of the faith and denied the Word of God. John called them what they were: liars. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22 ESV). To deny that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world, was to deny that He was God. It was to disagree with what God said about Jesus and what Jesus claimed about Himself. It was to reject the teaching of the apostles, like John, who had been eye-witnesses of not only His earthly ministry, but His death and resurrection.

So John gives his struggling flock two ways for staying strong in the face of unrelenting attacks on their faith. The first was that they must remain faithful to what they had been taught. They must consider the source. John wrote, “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father” (1 John 2:24 NLT). The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father.” Where did that original message come from? The apostles. They had been the messengers sent by Jesus to spread the good news regarding the gift of eternal life made possible by His death on the cross. They had brought the message of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that Jesus’ death and resurrection had made possible. And their message hinged on the reality of Jesus being the sinless Son of God. He was NOT just a man who lived a good life and died a martyr’s death. He was God’s own Son, and He had taken on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, as a payment to satisfy the just penalty required by a righteous and holy God. That is what the apostles had been taught. That is what they had shared. That is what the recipients of John’s letter had originally believed, and it had radically changed their lives. So John was encouraging them to remain faithful to what they had heard. There would be plenty of other opinions about God. There would be other views regarding Jesus and the way of salvation. But Jesus had said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He had boldly claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ESV). And John, who had personally seen Jesus in His post-crucifixion, resurrected state, had written, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

But there was one more thing John told his readers to remember. “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you” (1 John 2:27 NLT). They had experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised. When they had believed what the apostles had taught, it had been confirmed by the filling of the Spirit. John reminded them that because the Spirit of God lived or remained within them, they could know that what they had been taught by the apostles had been true. They didn’t need any “new” teaching. “…so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). This did not mean that they were omniscient or all-knowing. It simply meant that they already knew the truth regarding Jesus and His claim to be the Son of God. The very presence of the Holy Spirit within them was the proof. Just like those to whom John was writing, we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have the testimony of the apostles and the presence of the Spirit. We know the truth. We know Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life. He is who He who claimed to be. The Word of God declares it. The apostles gave their lives to defend it. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God makes it impossible to deny it.

Our Spiritual Lie Detector.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. – 1 John 2:27 NLT

Jesus called Satan the father of lies. Paul, when confronting a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, called him “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10 ESV). In the days immediately after Pentecost, Peter had to confront one of the new converts for falsely claiming to have sold land and given all the proceeds to the church. “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3 ESV). Paul had to warn the Colossian believers, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NLT). Peter made it clear that false teachers would be a constant threat to the church. “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered” (2 Peter 2:1-2 NLT). The reality is that, as Christians, we are surrounded by lies and constantly tempted to buy into the subtle deceptions of the enemy. It can become increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between what is true and what is false. But we have been given a reliable resource for determining right from wrong and truth from fiction. Jesus promised that when He left, He would not leave us alone, but would send the very Spirit of God to fill us and help us. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 NLT). John reminds us that the Holy Spirit lives within us, and He is not only our comforter and helper, He is our source of all truth. He can help discern what is a lie of the enemy and what we can trust as a word from God. We have not been left defenseless. We have been given the Spirit of God and therefore, we can understand the will and the mind of God. “For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12 NLT). 

John reminds us that we have the very Spirit of God living within us. He indwells us. He is our resident lie detector, providing us with the ability to know what is true and what is false. But we have to listen to Him. We have to seek His help and want to hear what He has to say. But the temptation is to ignore His promptings and to refuse to listen to His voice. One of the primary tools the Spirit uses to speak to us is the Word of God, the Bible. As we read it, He helps us understand it and apply it to our lives. He gives us the capacity to hear the voice of God through the written Word of God. But if we don’t read it, He can’t speak to us through it. It is impossible for Him to apply the truth of God’s Word if we refuse to take it in. The temptation we all face as Christians is to allow the philosophies of this world to fill our minds and deceive us with a reasonable sounding variation of the truth. Our sinful flesh, always at battle with the Spirit within us, constantly urges us to listen to its selfish demands and give in to its subtle suggestions. And unless we are filling our minds with the Word and listening to the voice of the Spirit, we will find ourselves deceived and distracted by the lies of the enemy. So Paul tells us, “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). As John warned earlier, we are constantly faced with the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of our possessions and accomplishments. We need the Holy Spirit to see the danger we face and to give us the strength we need to stay in step with the truth. Left to our own devices, we will fail. But with the Spirit’s help, we can live discerning and disciplined lives. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 NLT). God didn’t leave us defenseless. But we must learn to live dependent upon the Spirit if we are going to live powerfully and profitably in this life.

Isaiah 57-58, Revelation 12

God, Our Healer.

Isaiah 57-58, Revelation 12

“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.” Isaiah 57:18-19 ESV

The Israelites of Isaiah’s day were marked by idolatry and spiritual adultery. Over time the numbers of truly righteous individuals dwindled, leaving a spiritual vacuum among the people. But rather than mourn the loss of the righteous, the majority of the Israelites failed to even notice their passing. They continued to practice their idolatry and forsake God. When faced with difficulty or trouble, they turned to their false gods or sought help from foreign kings. Yet they also continued to hedge their bets, turning to God in times of trouble, going through the religious ritual of fasting in the hopes of gaining favor from God. But God wasn’t interested in watching His people go through the motions of false humility. He would not tolerate their false acts of piety. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). They wanted God to do the right thing, but they were unwilling to do what was right in His eyes. And they couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t answer their prayers and take notice of their acts of humility. But God informed them, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4 ESV). It wasn’t enough for them to look the part of the humble, repentant servant, wearing sackcloth and bowing down before God. He wanted to see true heart change. God wanted their fasting to be accompanied by acts of justice, compassion, kindness, and a reverence for the things of God

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. He had made it clear to the nation of Israel, that their unique status as His chosen people came with a non-negotiable expectation: They were to be holy. “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26 ESV). Their lives were to be lived according to His exacting standards, not those of the world. His people were to keep His law and maintain their moral and ethical purity through the ongoing use of His sacrificial system. But sacrifice without true repentance and sincere heart change was meaningless. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God had declared that the Israelites were simply going through the motions: “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). They seemed to say and do all the right things, but their hearts weren’t in it. They had given their affections to other things. But God told them what His idea of true fasting and mourning looked like. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV). God had nothing against fasting and mourning, but He wanted the act to be accompanied by changed attitudes and heartfelt expressions of love for others. This kind of fasting would result in God’s favor. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 ESV). The psalmist expressed it succinctly. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 ESV). God told Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).  

What does this passage reveal about man?

But men find it hard to express humility. Even those of us who claim to love and follow God have a difficult time coming before Him with a contrite and lowly spirit. Our pride gets in the way. We refuse to see ourselves as He sees us. We justify our sin and rationalize our behavior. We compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves somehow worthy of God’s favor. But God sees us differently. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if there were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). Just like the people of Israel, we can so easily find ourselves seeking God and acting as if our so-called righteous deeds somehow earn us favor with Him. We go through the religious motions, showing up at church and doing our daily allotment of pious activities that make us look good to others, but do little to impress God. All the while we fail to realize that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor or live up to His exacting standards. Holiness is impossible for us to pull off, just as it was impossible for the people of Israel. We can’t maintain a lifestyle of righteousness in our own strength. The Israelites knew what they were supposed to do, but just couldn’t muster up the determination to do it on an ongoing basis. And we find ourselves in the same boat. If we are not careful, even as believers, we will find ourselves attempting to live the spiritual life in the strength of our own flesh. We will attempt to live up to God’s standards without His help. Our own pride will convince us that we can somehow pull it off. But like Paul, we simply need to reach the point where we cry out daily, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). We simply need to confess our insufficiency and turn to God for the help He has provided through His Son. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

One of the amazing aspects of God’s great redemptive plan for mankind is revealed in His faithful, consistent and loving interaction with the people of Israel. In spite of their rejection of His sovereign rule over their lives for generations, He never gave up on them. Even when they failed to accept His Son as their Messiah, instead demanding His death on the cross, God did not turn His back on them. While they have never been able to live up to His standards or maintain the life of holiness He demanded of them, He still has plans for them. He is still going to keep His promise to them. In the book of Revelation we get to see into the future where God reveals how He is going to redeem and restore His people. There is a day coming when He will heal them. He will do for them what they could never seem to do for themselves. Even in the midst of the Great Tribulation, when the people of Israel will suffer the most intense persecution they have even had to endure, God will be there. John is given a vision of a woman who is pregnant. She will give birth to a baby, “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5 ESV). The woman represents Israel. The baby is Jesus Christ. After His death and resurrection, God literally “raptured” or snatched up Jesus, taking Him to heaven where He awaits His second coming at the end of the Great Tribulation. But during the last three and a half years of that great time or tribulation, Satan will wage war against the people of Israel. They will have to run for their lives. Jesus warned of this day. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV). But God will protect His own. “…and the woman [Israel] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:6 ESV). God will miraculously protect His own. He will care for them, even during one of the most difficult times the earth has ever known. And ultimately, God will bring healing to His people. He will redeem and restore them. God promises, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him,; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners” (Isaiah 57:18 ESV). God is the great healer. He is the redeemer and restorer. He will do for Israel what He has promised. He is faithful, trustworthy and true to His Word.

Father, thank You for the reassurance of Your faithfulness. You have not abandoned Your people Israel and You have not and will not abandon me. You have even made it possible for me to live uprightly and righteousness in this life. You have given me the capacity, through the power of Your indwelling Spirit, to live humbly and to practice acts of justice, compassion, and kindness – not in my own strength, but Yours. You have made it possible to experience Your healing and help in this life and You have promised me complete healing in the life to come. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Kings 11-12, Galatians 2

Partial Restoration.

2 Kings 11-12, Galatians 2

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:19-20 ESV

Every now and then, we get a feint glimmer of light shining in the darkness that seems to characterize the histories of Judah and Israel. The house of Ahab, the wickedness of Jezebel, and the ongoing dynasty of godless kings is occasionally broken by a single individual who provides a small degree of hope that things might change – that reformation and repentance might come to the people of God. But these moments of spiritual change and national restoration are short-lived and woefully incomplete. In the midst of all the murder, insurrection, and royal intrigue going on in these chapters, we are introduced to the story of Joash, a young boy who had to be hidden from his own grandmother in order to prevent her from killing him along with his siblings. Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah, upon learning of her son’s murder, decides to make herself the queen of Judah. To secure her reign, she has all the royal family murdered, but her grandson, Joash, is secreted away by the chief priest and hidden in the temple for six years. At the age of seven, he is crowned the king of Judah and given the responsibility to lead the people of God and attempt to restore them to a right relationship with Him. His reign starts off well, as they renew their covenant with God. They even “went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars” (2 Kings 11:18 ESV). Joash would reign over Judah for 40 years, and, for the most part, he would prove to be a good king who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Jehoiada, the chief priest, proved to be a worthy mentor. “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 12:3 ESV). The temple, long neglected during the years when the people were worshiping Baal, was in desperate need of repairs. Funds had been set aside for that purpose, but after 23 long years, the priests had failed to spend a single cent on the repair of the temple. As a result, Joash had to intervene and give the money directly to the workers just to ensure that the work was done.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In chapters 11 and 12, there is no direct mention of God’s divine interaction in the events that took place. While we know He is sovereign and in control of all situations, it is interesting to note His perceived silence in all that goes on during the 40-year reign of Joash. Jehoiada, the priest, “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people, and also between the king and the people” (2 Kings 11:17 ESV), but we do not hear anything from God Himself. The efforts of the people to destroy the house of Baal and eliminate the worship of this false god from their midst was admirable, but it appears to have been nothing more than an outward display of faithfulness. Their hearts were still not wholly dedicated to God. They continued to worship false gods and treat the one true God with contempt. As a result, God would allow the Syrians to besiege Jerusalem, prompting King Joash to raid the treasury of the temple and use the sacred gifts to pay off King Hazael. Rather than turn to God for help, they relied on the gifts that had been dedicated to God to buy their protection and safety. Unlike the great king, Solomon, Joash knows no peace during his reign. He is powerless against his enemies and seems to have no hope that God will intervene on his behalf. From what we know of God, He stood ready to help His people at any time, but He required that they return to Him and obey Him faithfully and completely. As long as they worshiped other gods they would find Him distant and unwilling to act on their behalf. Their attempts at reformation would prove inadequate and their redemption and restoration would be incomplete. Joash himself would end up murdered by his own servants.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The apostle Paul reminds us that self-reformation never measures up. It is impossible for man to redeem or reform himself. Joash put in a noble effort, but all his reforms proved inadequate. Regardless of the covenant he and the people made, they would find it impossible to remain faithful to their promises. Like all those who had come before them, they just couldn’t muster up the energy to keep their end of the covenant they had made with God. Paul writes, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV). The Old Testament continually reveals man’s incapacity to live in obedience to God’s commands. Even the good intentions of some of the best people always fell short. Joash meant well, but he could not reform the nation or restore the people of Judah to a right relationship with God. Neither he or they had it in them. But Paul realized that it was through the law that he discovered his true nature as a transgressor of the law. His efforts to attempt to keep the law only revealed his incapacity to do so. Self reform was never going to accomplish what he needed. Any attempt by man to redeem or reform himself will always fail. Which is why God sent His Son to accomplish what no other man had been able to do. Paul makes it clear that if “righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21 ESV). If man could reform himself, Jesus never would have had to come and would have never needed to die. But He did.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My attempt to live the godly life does come from my own self-effort. It comes from Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). I cannot reform myself. I cannot change myself. I must rely on the grace of God and the power made possible through the indwelling Spirit of God. I must recognize that any reformation on my life is made possible by Christ’s death, His righteousness and God’s power. I must regularly remind myself that God not only saved me, He must sanctify and change me. I must regularly rely on His strength to do the impossible in my life. Like Joash, I will find myself confronted by the enemies of God, but I must trust in Him to deliver me. I must not attempt to bargain with the enemy or try to buy him off. God wants to give me complete victory over the enemy and reveal His power in my life. But I must continually realize my need for and dependence upon Him.

Father, self reform has never worked for me. Yet I keep trying to do it on my own. Help me to learn the invaluable lesson that the spiritual reformation of my life is a work of the Spirit accomplished through Your power. I must turn to You. I must rely on You. I must acknowledge my own human weakness and rely on Your divine power. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Samuel 9-10, Romans 7

The Problem of Sin.

1 Samuel 9-10, Romans 7

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. – Romans 7:18 ESV

The people demanded a king, and they were very specific as to the kind of king they wanted. “But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV). And God was very specific as to the motivation behind their demand. “…but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). The people of Israel were dissatisfied with having God as their King and Judge. They wanted an earthly king, just like all the other nations. But the problem with any earthly king is always the problem and presence of sin. God was not opposed to Israel having kings, because He already planned for them to have one. It was that the people were rejecting Him as their rightful sovereign. They didn’t want to listen to Him and live under His leadership. They thought the answer to all their problems was a powerful warrior king who could deliver them out from under the constant oppression of their enemies. But as the book of Judges reveals, their problem was sin. The reason they had ongoing problems with their enemies was their ongoing problem with sin, and an earthly king was not the solution. But God would give them exactly what they asked for. He would give them Saul. Saul had it all. He was wealthy, tall, handsome and from the tribe of Benjamin. “He was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2 ESV). He looked like a king. He walked like a king. He was from a wealthy family, so according to the mindset of most Jews in that day, he obviously had the blessings of God on his life. But it would quickly be revealed that Saul had a sin problem, because he was human.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is sovereign. He is the King. He is in control of all things. So while men were clamoring to have their own earthly king, God was revealing His ultimate sovereignty over all things by the way this whole story unfolds. From the search for the lost donkeys to the unplanned encounter with Samuel the prophet, the divine influence of God can be seen all throughout the events surrounding Saul’s selection as king. God had even told Samuel in advance that He was sending “a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel” (1 Samuel 9:16 ESV). When Saul arrived, God told Samuel, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you!” (1 Samuel 9:17 ESV). God even arranged for the lost donkeys to be found. Everything about this story reveals the sovereignty of God. He was still the King of Israel. Their desire and demand for an earthly king had not changed the fact that God was still on His throne and was clearly ruling over the affairs of men. God even provided three signs for Saul to prove that the words Samuel had spoken were true. Each of these signs were highly specific and revealed that God knew ahead of time what was going to take place. He was orchestrating events in such a way that they were as good as done before they even happened. And when it came time for Samuel to announce to the people that God was going to give them the king they so greatly desired, he also warned them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the and of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us’” (1 Samuel 10:18-19 ESV). The people were expecting an earthly, human king to do what only God could do. They were desiring a flawed, faulty man to serve as their savior and god. But without God, all men have the same problem: SIN.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There is nothing inherently wrong with Saul, except for his own sin. Just like the rest of us, Saul was a man who struggled the constant presence of sin in his life. He may have been tall, handsome, wealthy and kingly in his countenance, but his problem was an internal one. Like every other Israelite, Saul lived his life under constant condemnation from the law, because he couldn’t keep it. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t live up to God’s holy, righteous standards. The apostle Paul clarifies the real purpose behind the law of God. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Romans 7:10-11 ESV). God’s law promised life to all those who lived up to its standards – perfectly and completely. But no one was capable of keeping the law to the letter. The law was given so that men might know exactly what sin was. Paul wrote, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7 ESV). The law clearly commanded that men were not to covet. But as a result of God’s law, the sin in men created within them an even greater desire to covet. “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8 ESV). Due to their own indwelling sin nature, men tend to make lousy kings, because they are all inherent rule-breakers. As kings, they are to enforce law, but their own natures cause them to do just the opposite. The same would prove true of Saul, but also of David and Solomon. The only thing that could make the reign of any earthly king even remotely righteous was their relationship with God, the one true King. Dependency on and submission to God was the key to a successful reign. Ultimately, earthly kings must bow before the heavenly King. If they recognize that their authority is God-given and their power is delegated to them from a much higher authority, to whom they must one day answer, they stand a much greater chance of ruling righteously, in spite of their own sinful tendencies.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It would be so easy to find fault in Saul and make him the villain of this story. But Saul was simply a painful illustration of what happens when sinful men reject the rule and reign of God in and over their lives. God gave Israel just what they demanded: a king just like all the other nations. Saul was a well-qualified candidate for the kingship, but his sin nature would end up making him a lousy leader. His disobedience, doubt, stubbornness, fear, pride and a host of other sinful characteristics would show up in no time. He is the perfect illustration of a man who wanted to do what was right, but didn’t have the capacity to pull it off. The apostle Paul paints this human dilemma all too well. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 ESV). “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV).

Men make lousy kings, especially those who refuse to allow God to be king over their lives. And the same is true of me. When I refuse to let God rule and reign over my life, it is because I prefer to manage my own affairs. I want to do things my way, not His. But because of my sin nature, I prove to be a lousy king. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. And like Paul, I find myself crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV). And the answer is always the same. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I have been delivered from the rule and reign of sin in my life by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don’t have to live under the control of my own sin nature any more. I have the God-given capacity to live differently and distinctively – through the indwelling power of God’s Spirit.

Father, I would have made no better a king than Saul did. Apart from Your Son’s work on the cross and Your Spirit’s presence in my life, I would be left to my own sinful nature, and I would find myself living in a constant state of sin and rebellion against you. But when I submit to Your authority and live according to Your Spirit’s power and not my own, I find that I am able to accomplish so much more than I ever could have dreamed of. I find I have strength to face any obstacle and peace to endure any trial. May I never forget that You are King, and not me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

The Heart of Man.

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” ­– Judges 11:7 ESV

The Bible gives us a glimpse into the character and nature of God. From the very beginning, recorded in the book of Genesis, all the way to the end, chronicled in the book of the Revelation, we are able to witness God in action, creating, calling, commanding, loving, caring, leading, conquering, and faithfully carrying out His divine plan for mankind. The stories found in the Bible provide a well-rounded portrait of God and allow us to see His divine nature in all it’s glory. He is holy, righteous, transcendent, loving, gracious, powerful, all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign. He is judge, king, creator, warrior, father, benefactor, provider, and deity. His image is revealed through the pages of Scripture. But while the Bible allows us to discover much about God, it also shows us exactly what man is like. And it is not a pretty picture. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the moral and spiritual trajectory of mankind seems to be on a perpetually downward path. On rare occasions we are allowed to see a few individuals whose hearts seemed to defy the odds and whose lives were marked by a love for God. But in most cases, the portrait of man is a dark and depressing one. In the book of Judges, we see the repetitive cycle of sin that plagued the people of God. They just couldn’t seem to stop rebelling against God. And in spite of His patience and faithful deliverance of them, they continued to turn against Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Man is wicked. He has been from the beginning. And there came a time when God determined to destroy mankind for its wickedness. The book of Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). So God brought a world-wide flood. His righteousness required Him to mete out justice. But He preserved a remnant. He rescued Noah and his family. He preserved a handful of representatives of the human race, because He was not done yet. He had a preordained plan to restore His creation to its original splendor and it would be accomplished through mankind and in spite of them. His will regarding mankind would be fulfilled. His desire to rectify all the problems created by sin would come about – in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plan. And it is amazing to watch His plan unfold through the pages of Scripture, even as man’s wickedness is revealed on virtually every page.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The story of Jephthah is a perfect illustration of man’s heart problem and God’s faithfulness. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who had been ostracized by his own half brothers. They refused to share their inheritance with him and forced him to give up his rights as a brother. This sad story begins with Jephthah living as an outside, surrounded by “worthless fellows.” And then the story takes a twist. The Ammonites show up. The enemies of Israel arrive on the scene, threatening war and creating panic among the people. And what do they do? They turn to Jephthah, who just happened to be a mighty warrior. This man who was not enough to share their inheritance becomes the perfect person to save their skins. They even agree to make him their leader if he will only help them defeat the Ammonites. What a perfect picture of the heart of man – fickle and unfaithful, opportunistic and always self-serving. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible makes it clear that the heart of man is inherently and irreparably wicked. You see it in the repetitive cycle of rebellion portrayed in the history of the people of Israel. You see it in the hatred of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who adamantly refused to accept Him as their Messiah, instead demanding His execution, rather than acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Those same men would continue their opposition to the cause of Christ through their persecution of His apostles. Paul encountered these same men, and was dragged before them because of his efforts on behalf of the Gospel. During his trial before the Jewish council, we see a glimpse into the heart of these men as they bicker and fight amongst themselves, arguing over the issue of resurrection from the dead. Even their common enemy, Paul, could not keep them from fighting amongst themselves, revealing their selfish, vain, and wicked hearts.  “…a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10 ESV). Their hatred for Paul was only surpassed by their hatred for one another.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As human beings, we tend to want to think the best of ourselves. We have a hard time recognizing or admitting our own wickedness. But the Scriptures make it painfully clear. When more than 40 men swore a vow to assassinate Paul, simply because they didn’t like what he was teaching and preaching, it is hard to justify their actions. What would cause these men to risk their lives against the Roman cohort, just in order to eliminate one man? As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But God does understand man’s heart. He knows full well the wickedness that permeates it. And that is why He sent His Son to provide the only means for restoring man’s heart to its pre-fall condition. But it is essential that we understand and acknowledge our own sinful condition and the undeniable reality of our heart problem. I must regularly remind myself of my own heart condition. My heart has been damaged by sin. My predisposition is towards rebellion and rejection of the will of God. My sin nature wants me to resist the will of God and do things my way. My heart is prone to do what I want to do, rather than what God would have me do. Which is why God has placed His Spirit within me, to provide me with a new way of thinking and processing. I have been given a new capacity to live in obedience to God that comes from the very Spirit of God within me. I can’t trust my heart, but I can fully rely on the Spirit of God. Paul reminds me, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 ESV). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God. But it is essential that I acknowledge my need for the Spirit. I must come to grips with my own sin nature and deadly heart condition. I must daily recognize my need for the transformative power of the Spirit of God in my life, providing me with the capacity to live differently and distinctively in a world where man’s wickedness is on constant display.

Father, I should have no problem admitting the wickedness of my own heart. I get to see it in full living color every day. It reveals itself in so many ways that it is impossible to deny it. But You are in the process of transforming my heart and renewing my nature. Your Spirit is providing me with a capacity to live righteously that I never possessed before. But I must constantly recognize the true condition of my heart and my indisputable need for His power to live the life You have called me to live. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org