Category Archives: Christian Life Questions

Questions about the Christian Life: Why Is Following Christ so Difficult?

 

No sane parent has ever said, “I wish my children would misbehave,” and there’s never been a self-help book entitled How to Live an Unhappy Life. We all want blessings, happiness, and fulfillment, and we associate a happy condition with a certain amount of ease. Jesus promises blessing and fulfillment to those who follow Him (John 4:14), but many people have been surprised that the way of Christ is not as easy as they had hoped. Sometimes, following Christ can be downright difficult.

The fact is, blessing and hardship are not mutually exclusive. The disciples “left everything” to follow Christ, and the Lord promised them “a hundred times as much” blessing in return (Mark 10:28–30). Jesus warned that all who follow Him must deny themselves and bear a daily cross (Luke 9:23). Hardship, to be sure, but hardship with a purpose and leading to the joy of the Lord.

Followers of Christ also face resistance from the world. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus did not promise His disciples that everything would be coming up roses for them; just the opposite—He promised that they would have trials in this world (John 16:33). “But take heart!” He told them, “I have overcome the world.”

God’s moral laws have been written on the heart of every human—giving all people a conscience to aid them in determining wrong from right (Romans 2:14–15). When a person becomes a follower of Christ, he not only has God’s laws in his heart, but he also has the indwelling Holy Spirit to compel him toward living righteously (Romans 8:11). This in no way means the Christian will stop sinning, but it does mean the Christian will become more aware of his own personal sin and have a genuine desire to do what is pleasing to Christ (Romans 8:14–16).

In many ways, it is after a person is saved that the struggle against sin really heats up in his life. All people are born with a nature that is bent toward sin, which is why children do not need to be taught how to misbehave—that comes naturally. When a person is converted, the sin nature does not disappear—and so the internal conflict begins in the life of every believer.

The apostle Paul, who called himself a “bondservant to Christ,” writes of the struggle with his sin nature in Romans 7:14–25. In verse 15 he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Christians engaged in this battle have a true desire to avoid sin, but they also have a natural desire to indulge the flesh. They become frustrated when they find themselves “doing what they don’t want to do.” And to further complicate matters, Christians not only do not want to sin, they hate sin. Yet, they still sin.

Paul goes on to write, “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:17). Paul is referring to the dichotomy caused by the new birth—Paul is a “new man” through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). But he still sins because sin is still alive in the human flesh—the sin nature survives the new birth (Romans 7:18). Paul calls the internal strife a “war,” as the new man battles the old man. Paul found the battle quite distressing because he wanted to do well (Romans 7:23). “What a wretched man I am,” Paul cries out in his distress (Romans 7:24).

Every Christian who is attempting to live righteously is called to this battlefield for his entire life. We are in a spiritual battle. But in grace and mercy, God gives the faithful believer an entire suit of armor for the fight (Ephesians 6:13).

The Christian life is never easy, but the difficulties do not negate the joy. We consider Jesus, who “for the joy set before him … endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). God has set us free from the slavery to sin. The victory is ours (2 Corinthians 2:14). Through the Holy Spirit, believers receive encouragement, strength to persevere, and reminders of their adoption into the family of God. We know that our “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: How Interested Are Christians Supposed to Be in the Spirit World?

 

The simple answer to this question is “very interested.” A human being is comprised of body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 3 John 1:2; Psalm 16:9). However, human beings tend to rely on the body for input and the soul for decisions, while ignoring the spirit. This is unfortunate. The human spirit without God is like a deflated balloon. A disregard for the spiritual often results in depression and emptiness. When a sinner repents and turns to Jesus for salvation, God sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within the spirit of that believer (Luke 24:49; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit breathes life into that deflated human spirit, and a new creature is born (2 Corinthians 5:17). The more room a person gives to the Holy Spirit, the more power he or she experiences in living for God.

God is spirit (John 4:24). If we want to know God, we must experience Him spiritually. Although God works in tangible, physical ways through His creation (Psalm 8:3; 107:24), we come to know Him personally through the union of our spirits with His (Romans 8:16). As we allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, we learn to live by the Spirit, rather than by emotion, impulse, or fleshly indulgence (Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:14). We learn to discern the voice of God as distinct from our own thoughts (John 10:27). All of this takes place within the spirit, invisible to the other senses, but as real as touch, taste or smell.

However, the term spiritual does not necessarily mean “godly.” Satan is also a spirit and does his evil work by attacking our minds (James 3:14–15), our bodies (Luke 9:42; 2 Corinthians 12:7), and our spirits (Matthew 16:23; 2 Corinthians 10:3–5). Some have delved into an exploration of the spirit world to their own destruction. The seven sons of Sceva are a case in point. They were assuming a knowledge of the spiritual realm and an authority they did not possess. They learned the hard way that spiritual warfare is not to be taken lightly; it can only be fought successfully by those who are in Christ and equipped for battle (Acts 19:13–16). Also, many people consider themselves “spiritual” while completely bypassing the true God who is the King of the spirit world (Mark 3:11). Such people are deceived by the “god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Bible is clear that the spirit world is every bit as real as the physical universe (Ephesians 6:12). There is an unseen battle taking place around us every moment between God’s holy angels and the forces of darkness (Daniel 10:12–14; Ephesians 6:10–17; Jude 1:9). If we are vigilant as the Lord commands, we will not be caught unprepared by Satan’s attacks (1 Peter 5:8; 2 Corinthians 2:11). And we have the promise of God that His Holy Spirit is stronger than any of Satan’s schemes (1 John 4:4). God has given His children everything we need to stand firm against any spiritual attack of our enemy. The apostle Paul calls this the “armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11).

The spirit world is very real, but an unbalanced focus on demonic powers is not healthy and does not glorify God. The Holy Spirit is the only Spirit we should ever invite into our lives, and He has all the power we need to overcome anything Satan uses to defeat us (Isaiah 54:17).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean to Walk with God?

 

There are several people described as “walking with God” in the Bible, beginning with Enoch in Genesis 5:24. Noah is also described as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God (Genesis 6:9). Micah 6:8 gives us a glimpse into God’s desire for us: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Walking with God is not an activity reserved for a select few. God desires all of His children to walk with Him.

What happens when we walk with someone? Imagine that you and a close friend are enjoying a walk down a country lane. You are in close proximity. You talk, laugh, listen, and share your hearts. Your attention is focused on this person to the exclusion of almost everything else. You notice the beauty around you or an occasional distraction, but only to point it out to your companion. You share it together. You are in harmony, and you both enjoy the peaceful camaraderie.

Walking with God is like that. When we enter into an intimate heart relationship with God through faith in His Son (Hebrews 10:22), He becomes our heart’s greatest desire. Knowing Him, hearing His voice, sharing our hearts with Him, and seeking to please Him become our all-consuming focus. He becomes everything to us. Meeting with Him is not an activity reserved for Sunday morning. We live to fellowship with Him. A. W. Tozer states that the goal of every Christian should be to “live in a state of unbroken worship.” This is only possible when we walk with God.

Just as walking with a close friend requires saying “no” to many other things, so walking with God requires letting go of anything that would be a distraction. If you were on a walk with a friend, but you brought a kazoo and played it the whole time, the walk would not be satisfying for either of you. Many people attempt to walk with God, but they bring along kazoo-like habits, sins, worldly entertainments, or unhealthy relationships. They know these things are not God’s choice for them, but they pretend everything is fine. The relationship is not satisfying to either of them. To walk with God means that you and God are in agreement about your life. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3, KJV). To walk with God means you have aligned your will with His and seek every day to consider yourself “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). You don’t have to be perfect, as none of us are (Romans 3:10). But your heart’s desire is to be pleasing to God, and you are willing to let His Spirit conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

When the Bible speaks of “walking,” it often refers to a lifestyle. We can walk in the ways of the world as well (2 Kings 8:27; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 3:7). In the New Testament, walking with God is often called “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16; Romans 8:4). To walk with God means we choose to glorify Him in every way we can, regardless of personal cost. And there is a cost. Walking with God also means we cannot also walk with evil people as companions (Psalm 1:1–3). We choose the narrow road over the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). We don’t live to please our sinful flesh (Romans 13:14). We seek to eliminate from our lives everything that does not enhance our walk with Him (Hebrews 12:2). We apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 literally: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” God’s ways are reflected in our thoughts, our actions, our motivations, and our life choices because we spend so much time with Him.

It is not difficult to identify people who walk with God. Their lives are a stark contrast to the world around them, like stars in a nighttime sky (Philippians 2:15). They produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) rather than the fruit of fleshly desire (Galatians 5:19–21). In Acts 4:13 Peter and John had been arrested for preaching and were brought before the authorities. “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” When we walk with God every day, the world cannot help but recognize that, in spite of our imperfections and lack of knowledge in some areas, we have been with Jesus.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: How Does God See Me in Christ?

 

Several places in Scripture refer to believers being “in Christ” (1 Peter 5:14; Philippians 1:1; Romans 8:1). Colossians 3:3 gives a little more insight: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” When we come to Christ as broken sinners, He exchanges our sin nature for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We cannot remain as we were and enter into the presence of a holy God. We must “die” to self and be “hidden” in the righteousness of Christ. Galatians 3:27 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Here the purity of Christ is presented as a garment we wear when we repent and accept God’s offer of salvation.

Imagine this scenario: A powerful king sits on his throne, judging the people. Guards attend him, and commoners wait in long lines for an audience. Suddenly, the doors of the throne room burst open. Heads turn, and everyone gasps. There stand two little boys. One is clean, but one is covered in mud and crying. With brazen boldness the unsullied boy tugs the other down the red carpet toward the throne. The guards pull their swords, waiting for a nod from the king to get rid of the intrusion. But the king holds up a hand, and his face softens into a smile.

The first little boy stops at the king’s knee and pulls his buddy into the circle of his arm. “Dad, this is my friend. He’s scared and hurt. I told him you could help.” The king opens his arms to envelop both boys, not caring that mud is smeared on his royal robe. He looks into the frightened eyes of the muddy waif and says, “Any friend of my son’s is welcome here. How can I help you?”

We cannot come to God on our own merit. We must be escorted by His Son. No amount of self-cleansing can make us pure enough to warrant the attention of Perfection. The Bible says that in our natural, sinful state we are enemies of God (Romans 5:10). But, escorted by the Son, we are welcomed into His presence. Through repentance and acceptance of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we are even called His children (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26). God no longer sees our imperfections; He sees the righteousness of His own Son instead (Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 8:12). Because we are in Christ, God sees Christ’s righteousness covering us. Only “in Christ” is our sin debt cancelled, our relationship with God restored, and our eternity secured (John 3:16–18; 20:31).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean to Surrender to God?

 

This world is a battleground. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17–19), the world God created has been in conflict with Him (Romans 8:20–22). Satan is called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and due to Adam’s sin, we are born on his team (Romans 5:12). John Bunyan pictured this conflict in his allegory The Holy War. Prince Emmanuel besieges the city of Mansoul to wrest it from the power of Diabolus. Unfortunately, the citizens of Mansoul are blindly committed to Diabolus and fight against Emmanuel, to their own detriment.

When we reach the age when we can make moral choices, we must choose whether to follow our own sinful inclinations or to seek God (see Joshua 24:15). God promises that when we seek Him with all our hearts, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). When we find Him, we have a choice to make: do we continue following our own inclinations, or do we surrender to His will?

Surrender is a battle term. It implies giving up all rights to the conqueror. When an opposing army surrenders, they lay down their arms, and the winners take control from then on. Surrendering to God works the same way. God has a plan for our lives, and surrendering to Him means we set aside our own plans and eagerly seek His. The good news is that God’s plan for us is always in our best interest (Jeremiah 29:11), unlike our own plans that often lead to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). Our Lord is a wise and beneficent victor; He conquers us to bless us.

There are different levels of surrender, all of which affect our relationship with God. Initial surrender to the drawing of the Holy Spirit leads to salvation (John 6:44; Acts 2:21). When we let go of our own attempts to earn God’s favor and rely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, we become a child of God (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But there are times of greater surrender during a Christian’s life that bring deeper intimacy with God and greater power in service. The more areas of our lives we surrender to Him, the more room there is for the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we exhibit traits of His character (Galatians 5:22). The more we surrender to God, the more our old self-worshiping nature is replaced with one that resembles Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Romans 6:13 says that God demands that we surrender the totality of our selves; He wants the whole, not a part: “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Jesus said that His followers must deny themselves (Mark 8:34)—another call to surrender.

The goal of the Christian life can be summed up by Galatians 2:20: “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.” Such a life of surrender is pleasing to God, results in the greatest human fulfillment, and will reap ultimate rewards in heaven (Luke 6:22–23).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: How Can I Overcome Having a Critical Spirit?

 

A critical spirit is not difficult to recognize. Its fruit is usually evident. Someone with a critical spirit is prone to complaining, seeing the glass as half-empty, ruing unmet expectations, sensing failure (in others more than in oneself), and being judgmental. Critical spirits are no fun to be around; neither are they fun to possess.

As with most sin, having a critical spirit is a perversion of something God made to be good—in this case, a longing for God and His perfection. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We live in a fallen world, and we are often impatient to enter into the glorious perfection for which we were originally created. In a sense, it is good that we can see what’s lacking in this world; after all, the world is not as it should be, nor are we as we should be. Recognizing the world’s insufficiency helps us to acknowledge our need of a Savior. But having a critical spirit can blind us to the grace and beauty that God continues to bestow every day. A critical spirit can also be seen as a perversion of discernment. Often, those accused of having a critical spirit make valid points. They just make their points in an unpalatable manner.

Obviously, critical spirits are destructive, tearing down both the recipient and the giver of the criticisms (Galatians 5:14–15). The Bible speaks against such critical judgment. In Matthew 7:1–2 Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Jesus is not saying that we should not be discerning or that we should ignore the fallen nature of the world. He is also not saying that we must never, under any circumstance, criticize anyone else. In fact, the Bible tells us that we are to judge rightly (John 7:24). However, we are not to criticize with malicious intent or out of pride, hypocrisy, or self-righteousness. We cannot assume that we are impartial or that we can fairly exact our standards on others. Humans have naturally deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) that allow for blind spots and inappropriate comparisons. Only God can judge with perfect accuracy (Hebrews 4:12; James 4:11–12; 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Isaiah 11:4; Revelation 19:11). And our discernment is only valid when it is informed by a renewed nature in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14–16; John 16:13). Only when we are submitted to Christ and honest with ourselves will our judgment serve to edify rather than destroy.

So how do we overcome a critical spirit? The condition of our heart is crucial. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Critical words spring from a critical heart. And a critical heart generally comes from a misunderstanding of God’s grace—either due to pride or a simple lack of information about God’s character and the meaning of salvation. Only when we understand our depravity apart from God and the depth of His grace will we be able to bestow grace to others (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Colossians 2:13–15; Ephesians 2:1–10). Those who struggle with a critical spirit know that they can never live up to their own standards. They are constantly judging others and themselves and always coming up lacking. But Christ fills this lack! He is perfect and righteous, and He freely grants that righteousness to those who believe in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). The better we understand God’s grace, the more gracious we will be with others (1 Peter 2:1–3). And the more grateful we will be. The giving of thanks is a strong antidote to a critical spirit.

Another important area is our thought lives (Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 10:5). Rather than focus on what is missing, we should think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). This is not to say that we should ignore falsehood, injustice, ugliness, or imperfection. However, we should not dwell on the negatives. Paul instructed the Ephesians regarding this, “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ … so that [the body] builds itself up in love.… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:15–16, 29, 31–32). Sure, things could be better than they are, but love covers many sins (Proverbs 10:12). Forgiveness is a priority. As the Body of Christ, we speak out of a heart of love in order to build each other up. A critical spirit only serves to tear down (Ephesians 4:1–3; Galatians 6:1–5).

It can also be helpful to remind ourselves that we do not know the thoughts and intentions of others. At times, behavior reflects motivation, but not always. Before making a critical remark (whether aloud or to ourselves), we should pause and consider other possibilities. Is this person truly an uncaring jerk, or is he perhaps going through a difficult situation and in need of grace? The Golden Rule is a very helpful tool.

A critical spirit tears down those around us and robs us of our own ability to enjoy life. When we become overly critical, we miss out on the beauty that God has placed in this world. Small blessings go unnoticed, and we stop being thankful. Overcoming a critical spirit requires gratefulness, a willingness to forgive, an accurate understanding of God’s grace (it’s free!), an intentional refocusing of our thoughts, and a commitment to share the truth in love. Overcoming a critical spirit is a matter of sanctification, and we have the Holy Spirit’s help with that (2 Thessalonians 2:13). As we submit to God, read His Word, and pray for grace, we will find that the critical spirit gives up control to the Holy Spirit of Christ.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean that We Are Not to Love the World?

 

First John 2:15–16 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” Yet John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the world …” So, God loves the world, but we are not supposed to? Why the apparent contradiction?

In the Bible, the term world can refer to the earth and physical universe (Hebrews 1:2; John 13:1), but it most often refers to the humanistic system that is at odds with God (Matthew 18:7; John 15:19; 1 John 4:5). When the Bible says that God loves the world, it is referring to the human beings who live here (1 John 4:9). And as His children, we are to love other people (Romans 13:8; 1 John 4:7; 1 Peter 1:22). The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear we cannot pick and choose whom to love (Luke 10:30–37).

When we are told not to love the world, the Bible is referring to the world’s corrupt value system. Satan is the god of this world, and he has his own value system contrary to God’s (2 Corinthians 4:4). First John 2:16 details exactly what Satan’s system promotes: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Every sin imaginable can be summed up in those three evils; envy, adultery, pride, lying, selfishness, and more spring from those three roots.

The world is what we leave when we come to Christ. Isaiah 55:7 says that coming to God involves a forsaking of our own ways and thoughts. John Bunyan, in his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, pictures the believer’s position as having “his eyes lift up to heaven,” holding “the best of books” in his hand, and standing with “the world as cast behind him” (p. 34). >br /> The world often applauds sin. Hollywood encourages us to envy sinners and to foolishly compare ourselves with the “beautiful people” (see Proverbs 23:17). Often the popularity of “stars” is due to their ability to stir in us dissatisfaction with our own lives. Advertisers prey on our natural tendency to love this world, and most marketing campaigns appeal in some way to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life.

Loving the world means being devoted to the world’s treasures, philosophies, and priorities. God tells His children to set their priorities according to His eternal value system. We are to “seek first” God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and we cannot be devoted to both God and the world at the same time.

When we enter God’s family through faith in Christ, God gives us the ability to exit the world’s rat race (2 Corinthians 5:17). We become citizens of another kingdom (Philippians 1:27, 3:20). Our desires turn heavenward, and we begin to store up eternal treasure (Luke 12:33; Matthew 19:21; 1 Timothy 6:18–19). We realize that what is truly important is eternal, not temporal, and we stop loving the world.

To continue to love the world the way unbelievers do will cripple our spiritual growth and render us fruitless for God’s kingdom (Matthew 3:8; Luke 6:43–45; John 15:1–8). In John 12:25, Jesus took this thought a step further when He said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Not loving the world extends to our own lives as well. Jesus said if we love anything more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–38).

In general, the term world in the Bible refers to the evil system controlled by Satan that leads us away from worship of God. John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” We can make idols out of anything. Any passionate desire of our hearts that is not put there by God for His glory can become an idol (1 Corinthians 10:31). Loving the world is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7, 14). So, while we are commanded to love the people of the world, we are to be wary of anything that competes with God for our highest affections.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean to Love God?

 

First, loving God requires knowing Him, and that knowledge begins with His Word. It may sound glib, but to know Him is to love Him.

To love God is to worship and praise Him. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’ ” (Luke 4:8). The book of Psalms provides many beautiful examples of how to worship and praise our Creator (e.g., Psalms 8, 19, 23, 24, 67, 99, 117, and 150).

To love God is to put Him first. The number-one commandment is to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). It’s an undivided love. God is our priority. If we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, then we won’t allow other things to crowd in. Our love for God is manifested by loving people (Mark 12:31), but we do not love the things of the world. “Earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). We cannot love this present world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15); love for what the world offers can lead us astray (2 Timothy 4:10).

To love God is to desire Him, to yearn for His righteousness, His Word, and His grace. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). Once we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), we want more of Him. If we love God, we will be like Mary of Bethany, “who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). If we love God, the psalmist’s description of the Word of God will resonate within us: “[it is] more precious than gold, than much pure gold; … sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” (Psalm 19:10).

Suppose a man is separated from his sweetheart and receives a letter from her. His first action will be to eagerly open the letter and pore over its contents. His love for his beloved will naturally cause him to love her correspondence with him. The same is true with our love for God’s Word. Because we love the Author, we love His message to us. We read it avidly and often, we hold it close, and we hide its words in our hearts.

Finally, to love God is to obey Him. Jesus tells us, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, 23; 15:10; 1 John 5:3). However, this is not a matter of merely following rules and registering good deeds. It is about having God’s love written indelibly on our hearts. We naturally wish to please those we love. When we love God, we will want to please Him and obey His commands eagerly. “I delight to do your will” (Psalm 40:8).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean to Be Chastened? How Does God Chasten Us?

 

Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (KJV). Another word for “chasten” is “discipline.” The passage goes on to quote Proverbs 3:11–12, which says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proper discipline is a proof of love.

Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as a Father. Those who have received Jesus as Savior are His children (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26). He uses the analogy of father/son because we understand it. He compares Himself to a loving father who not only blesses but disciplines His beloved children for their own good. Hebrews 12 goes on to show that those who do not receive God’s discipline are not legitimate children (verse 8). A loving father carefully watches his son, and when that son defies his orders and heads for danger, the father disciplines him to keep him safe. God does that with us. When a born-again child of God heads for sin or refuses to resist temptation, our Heavenly Father brings chastening into his life to direct him back to holiness.

Chastening can come in the form of guilty feelings, unpleasant circumstances, loss of peace, relationship fractures, or any number of negative consequences for choosing sin. Sometimes, the chastening of the Lord can be physical illness or even death (1 Corinthians 11:30).

Often, people ask if God is “punishing” them for wrong choices in the past. All our punishment for sin was exhausted upon Jesus on the cross (Romans 5:9). The wrath of God was poured out on Him so that for those who are “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) no wrath remains. When we give our lives to Christ, our Substitute for sin, our sin is forgiven and God remembers it no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:15–18). However, often, our wrong choices in the past have brought about unpleasant consequences now. God does not necessarily remove the natural consequences of sin when we repent. Those consequences are tools God can use to teach us, to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes, and to remind us of God’s grace.

Examples of chastening are found throughout the Bible. The Israelites were continually disobeying God’s commands (Numbers 14:21–23; Judges 2:1–2; 2 Kings 18:12). He was patient with them, He sent prophets to plead with them, and He warned them many times. But when they dug in their heels and embraced idols or evil practices, God brought chastening upon them in the form of plagues or enemy attacks (Jeremiah 40:3). He still loved them, and in His love He could not allow them to continue in behavior that would destroy them.

There are many examples of personal chastening in the Bible, as well, even upon those in whom the Lord most delighted—Moses (Numbers 27:12), David (1 Chronicles 28:3), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:11), to name a few. Notice that, although these men made mistakes and were chastened for them, God did not stop loving or using them. He brought discipline appropriate to the crime, but always forgave the truly repentant heart. God always restored the relationship.

When we sin, we can expect that our loving Heavenly Father will not let us get away with it. Because He loves us, He desires us to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15–16; Romans 8:29). If someone professes to know Christ but is living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin and claims to “feel fine about it,” with no qualms, then that person is not a legitimate child of God (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5–11; Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; I John 3:4–12). God “punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean to Love the Lord with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength?

 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is known as the Shema, taken from the first word “hear” in Hebrew. Modern Jews consider the recital of the Shema both evening and morning to be one of their most sacred duties. It was cited by Jesus as the “greatest commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36–37).

This command seems to be impossible to obey. That’s because in the natural state of man, it is impossible. There is no greater evidence of the inability of man to obey God’s law than this one commandment. No human being with a fallen nature can possibly love God with all our heart, soul and strength 24 hours a day. It’s humanly impossible. But to disobey any commandment of God is sin. Therefore, even without considering the sins we commit daily, we are all condemned by our inability to fulfill this one commandment. This is the reason Jesus continually reminded the Pharisees of their inability to keep the Law of God. He was trying to get them to see their utter spiritual bankruptcy and their need for a Savior. Without the cleansing of sin that He provides, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of the redeemed, loving God to any degree is impossible.

But as Christians, we have been cleansed from sin and we do have the Spirit. So how do we begin to love God the way we should? Just as the man in Mark 9:24 asked God to help his unbelief, so too we can ask God to help us in areas where we don’t love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is His power that we need to do the impossible, and we begin by seeking and appropriating that power.

In most cases, our love and affection for Him grows more intense as time goes by. Certainly, young Christians newly saved are very much aware of the love of God and their love for Him. But it is through the witness of God’s faithfulness during times of struggle and trial that a deep love for God grows and grows. Over time, we witness His compassion, mercy, grace and love for us, as well as His hatred for sin, His holiness and righteousness. We cannot love someone we don’t know, so knowing Him should be our first priority. Those who pursue God and His righteousness, who take seriously the command to love Him above all else, are those who are consumed with the things of God. They are eager to study God’s Word, eager to pray, eager to obey and honor God in all things, and eager to share Jesus Christ with others. It is through these spiritual disciplines that the love for God grows and matures to the glory of God.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: What Does It Mean that Christians Are Not of This World?

 

The phrase “not of this world” is perhaps most well-known for being a Christian apparel company (http://www.notw.com/). But what exactly does it mean that Christians are “not of this world”? The phrase comes from John 18:36 where Jesus says that His kingdom is “not of this world.” As His followers, Christians are members of His kingdom which is “not of this world,” that is, heaven (Philippians 3:20). Yes, we are on earth for now, but our earthly lives are nothing but a vapor (James 4:14). But eternity, now that is a long time, and that is where a Christian’s focus should really be (1 Peter 5:10).

The things of this world, wars, famine, suffering, poverty, etc., impact Christians and non-Christians alike. By remembering that we are “not of this world,” remembering that these things are just for a little while, we can see them in a different light. We are still in this world but we are no longer of it (John 17:14). We are still surrounded by all the horrors and tragedy of this life, but this is not our life (Philippians 3:8–14). The knowledge that we are not of this world gives Christians hope even in the darkest times (1 Peter 1:6–9); hope that this will pass and at the end of it we will be in heaven with our God, face to face forever (Revelation 21:3–4). This cracked and broken place is not where we belong, and it is not where we will stay (1 Corinthians 3:12).

Christians are not of this world. We have been adopted as heirs of heaven by God Himself and that is our world, our citizenship (Titus 3:7). And in the meanwhile we wait (2 Corinthians 5:12), and we hope (Romans 5:5), and we do what we can to bring others into the “not of this world” relationship with Jesus Christ. But this world is not our home, and never will be.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Christian Life: How Can I Learn to Trust that God Is in Control?

 

Before we can learn to trust that God is in control of all of life’s circumstances, we have to answer four questions: Is God really in control? How much control does He have? If He is not in complete control, then who/what is? How can I learn to trust that He is in control and rest in that?

Is God really in control? The concept of the control of God over everything is called the “sovereignty” of God. Nothing gives us strength and confidence like an understanding of the sovereignty of God in our lives. God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. God is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes.

“The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand’ ” (Isaiah 14:24). Nothing is random or comes by chance, especially not in the lives of believers. He “purposed” it. That means to deliberately resolve to do something. God has resolved to do what He will do and nothing and no one stands in His way. “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” Isaiah 46:10). This is our powerful, purposeful God who is in control of everything. That should bring us great comfort and help to alleviate our fears.

But just exactly how much control does God have? God’s total sovereignty over all creation directly contradicts the philosophy of open theism, which states that God doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future any more than we do, so He has to constantly be changing His plans and reacting to what the sinful creatures do as they exercise their free will. God isn’t finding out what’s going to happen as events unfold. He is continuously, actively running things—ALL things—here and now. But to think He needs our cooperation, our help, or the exercise of our free will to bring His plans to pass puts us in control over Him, which makes us God. Where have we heard that lie before? It’s a rehash of Satan’s same old lie from the Garden—you shall be like God (Genesis 3:5). Our wills are only free to the extent that God allows us that freedom and no farther. “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:35). No one’s free will trumps the sovereignty of God.

Some people find it appealing to think that Satan has control over a certain amount of life, that God is constantly revising His plans to accommodate Satan’s tricks. The book of Job is a clear illustration of just who has the sovereign power and who doesn’t. Satan came to God and in effect said “Job only serves you because you protect him.” So God gave Satan permission to do certain things to Job but no more (Job 1:6–22). Could Satan do more than that? No. God is in control over Satan and his demons who try to thwart God’s plans at every step.

Satan knew from the Old Testament that God’s plan was for Jesus to come to the earth, be betrayed, crucified and resurrected, and provide salvation for millions, and if there was any way to keep that from happening, Satan would have done it. If just one of the hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah could have been caused by Satan to fail to come to pass, the whole thing would have collapsed. But the numbers of independent, “free will” decisions made by thousands of people were designed by God to bring His plan to pass in exactly the way He had planned it from the beginning and Satan couldn’t do a thing about it.

Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). No action by the Romans, the Pharisees, Judas, or anyone else kept God’s plan from unfolding exactly the way He purposed it from before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1 says we were chosen in Him before the world was even created. We were in the mind of God to be saved by faith in Christ. That means God knit together Satan’s rebellion, Adam and Eve’s sin, the fall of the human race, and the death and crucifixion of Christ—all seemingly terrible events—to save us before He created us. Here is a perfect example of God working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

Unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty, and not thwarted by anything outside Himself, our God is in complete control of all circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

Finally, the only way to trust in God’s sovereign control and rest in it is to know God. Know His attributes, know what He has done in the past, and this builds confidence in Him. Daniel 11:32b says “the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Imagine that kind of power in the hands of an evil, unjust God. Or a god that really doesn’t care about us. But we can rejoice in our God’s sovereignty, because it is overshadowed by His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, and His holiness.

But we can’t trust someone we don’t know and there is only one way to know God—through His Word. There is no magic formula to make us spiritual giants overnight, no mystical prayer to pray three times a day to mature us, build our faith and make us towers of strength and confidence. There is only the Bible, the single source of power that will change our lives from the inside out. But it takes effort, diligent, everyday effort to know the God who controls everything. If we drink deeply of His Word and let it fill our minds and hearts, the sovereignty of God will become clear to us, and we will rejoice in it because we will know intimately and trust completely the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.