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.

Questions about the Christian Life: Are We Supposed to Let Go and Let God?

 

“Let go and let God” is a phrase that cropped up some years ago and still enjoys some popularity today. Actually, the Bible never tells us to “let go and let God.” In fact, there are so many commandments about what we are to do that it completely contradicts the way most people interpret “let go and let God.” The popular idea of “letting go” is to adopt a sort of spiritual inertia wherein we do nothing, say nothing, feel nothing, and simply live allowing circumstances to roll over us however they may.

The Christian life, however, is a spiritual battle which the Bible exhorts us to prepare for and wage diligently. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12); “Endure hardship … like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3); “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). Letting go in the sense of sitting back and watching events unfold however they may is not biblical.

Having said that, though, we have to understand that the things we are to do, we do by the power of God and not on our own steam. The truth is that working at “letting go” is just as much as an effort-filled work as anything else we try to do for God and not nearly as easy to do as some things. So let’s look at the Christian life and see just exactly what we are to do.

To begin with, Jesus was clear that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). The truth being imparted here is that we can do nothing of eternal value apart from Christ and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We can do lots of “stuff” and assume we’re doing it for God, but if we are doing it on our own power, we get the credit, and there is little or no eternal value to it. The picture of the vine and the branches in John 15 is very appropriate. Christ is the vine; we are the branches. Everything branches need to bring forth fruit comes from the vine—water, nutrients, the genetic material of life itself—while nothing is provided by the branches. The branches are simply something to hang the fruit on. The same is true of the Christian life. We are a conduit through which Christ displays His (not our) fruit.

So what has all this to do with “letting go”? Many people believe that if we are truly in a state of “letting go,” we will be able to cease from striving and struggling. But Jesus said that we are to “strive” to enter the narrow gate to eternal life (Luke 13:24), not to sit by and wait to die so we can gain heaven. By striving, He means that we should be diligent, active, and earnest and that we should make every effort to overcome our sinful tendencies, in order to prove that we are truly His children. We are also to strive to do the work of the kingdom, whatever form that takes in our lives. This is the reason He gives us spiritual gifts, so that we can edify one another and bring glory to Him.

Furthermore, when we struggle, we assume the problem is that we are not letting go and letting God. The reality is that we struggle for a variety of reasons. One is that we have a weak faith. We just don’t have enough confidence in God to rest in the reality of His nature and have the peace that comes with a strong faith in Him. For instance, when trials come or we experience illness, financial ruin, or the death of a loved one, do we really believe that “God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)? If we don’t know God intimately, it’s very hard to trust that He is working all things together for good. But if we do know Him, if we have spent time digging into His Word and meditating on His works and His nature, we have faith in His plan and purposes, His love for us, His sovereign control over all circumstances in life, and we rest in the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But if we don’t know Him, we will always struggle against life’s hard circumstances.

On the other hand, there is a positive reason for struggling—it is good for us and is God’s plan to grow and mature us into the people He wants us to be. Struggles are just one of the ways He strengthens us for the hard things life throws at us. Each one enables us to be stronger and better able to handle the next one. Trials are designed to show us and others that our faith is real. “Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns” (1 Peter 1:7). In Christ, we can face the trials of life with grace and good humor and complete faith that whatever God has for us is ok. This comes from years of walking with Him, trial upon trial, struggle upon struggle.[1]


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

Questions about the Christian Life: What Is Friendship Evangelism?

 

Friendship evangelism as a method of bringing people to Christ or sharing the gospel of Christ has several meanings and connotations. Some people believe that friendship evangelism requires Christians to become friends with unbelievers, establishing a relationship before attempting to address their need for a Savior. Some see friendship evangelism as living a solid righteous life—a living testimony—before others so that they desire that kind of life and ask how to achieve it. At that point, the gospel is shared. Still others believe that living a righteous life in the world is evangelism enough and that no further efforts are necessary. The theory is that unbelievers will be so convicted of his need for that kind of life that they will seek God on their own. What does the Bible say about friendship evangelism?

Each of the three above-named methods of friendship evangelism fall short of the biblical method of evangelism. The first method, becoming friends with unbelievers in order to gain enough credibility so they will listen to the gospel, fails to recognize several important biblical truths. For one thing, believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14–17). The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles. But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever? In light of James 4:4 and Ephesians 5:11, such a relationship is not biblical. The unsaved person is part of the world which hates God and the people of God. How can such a person have affection and respect for believers who are part of the kingdom of God? Are we to be friendly towards unbelievers? Absolutely! Are we to have intimate relationships with unbelievers? Biblically speaking, no.

Furthermore, neither Jesus nor the disciples practiced this type of friendship evangelism. Jesus didn’t limit His gospel presentations to His friends and relations. He preached to complete strangers the message of repentance from sin and salvation through Him. He sent His disciples out two by two and they “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). If they refused to listen to them, Jesus instructed them to “shake the dust” off their feet and move on to the next town. He never encouraged them to settle down for a few months and develop friendships with those who rejected His message. Nor did He tell them to avoid quoting Scriptures so that their hearers wouldn’t be offended or turned off to the Gospel. He knew that the “message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18), and that most people will reject that message, no matter how friendly the manner in which it is presented. Christ was rejected by the world and He told us to expect the same reaction (John 15:18–20).

What about the method of “evangelizing” through our living testimony? There is no doubt that we are to live righteous lives before the watching world, and there certainly is power in the testimony of a life transformed by Christ. A classic example of this is Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–42). Jesus was able to tell her everything about her life, including the life of sin she was living now. Jesus, in His infallible way, gave her the gospel, and, of course, she believed. John 4:39 picks up the story: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39–41).

Everyone in that town knew this woman and the sordid life she lived. What caused them to believe in Christ was not only her words about Jesus, but her transformed life. She was a living testimony to the power of the gospel of Christ. So impactful was the change in her life that they knew something miraculous had happened and they asked Jesus to remain with them, which He did for two days, preaching the same gospel of repentance and the offer of the living water of eternal life through Him. “And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41). In this instance, both the preaching of the Word of God and the testimony of a life changed by that Word bore the fruit of repentance.

But was the woman’s changed life sufficient to bring others to the Savior? No, but it was the impetus for them to seek more information. Can we today expect that our lives will be sufficient testimony to convince unbelievers of their need for Christ? The problem that arises in this third type of friendship evangelism is that too often the lives of Christians are not a good witness of the Lord and Savior we profess to know and serve. Too often the world sees in us more of a reflection of them than a reflection of Christ. To rely exclusively on the “living testimony” by redeemed sinners who, while saved by grace, still battle the flesh on a daily basis—without the testimony of the truth of Scripture—is to handcuff ourselves in a way the Bible never bids us to do. Not even the most perfect life can compare with the power of the Word of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

Clearly the biblical method of evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the truth of Scripture in conjunction with the living testimony of those who have been changed by that truth. When Jesus went about teaching the gospel message of salvation, He taught love and forgiveness, being kind and compassionate. But He went to sinners in order to convict them of their sins. A case in point is the very Samaritan woman we’ve been talking about here. Remember … the very first word Jesus said when He began His ministry was “Repent!” “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). We are commissioned to bring that same message to the world, speaking the truth in love from a heart changed by the Savior.[1]

 


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

Questions about the Christian Life: How Can I Find Joy in the Midst of Trials?

 

James 1:2–4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is the very first thing James writes in his letter after his salutation. Why? Because of its import. Many Christians think once they’ve made that decision for Christ that everything will fall into place and life will be that proverbial bowl of cherries. And when trials and tough times come upon them or continue, they begin to question, “why?” Wondering how they could possibly endure horrible circumstances and consider it joy.

Peter also tackles this subject of joy through trials. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6–9).

In both of these passages, we see the instruction of what we should do. ‘Consider it pure joy …’ ‘In this you greatly rejoice …’ Why? Because trials make us stronger. The James passage clearly states that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. And the Peter passage states that our faith, which is priceless, will be proved genuine and result in praise to God. But how? How can we find joy in the midst of all the junk, hardships, and painful circumstances?

First, we need to understand that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness comes and goes sometimes as often as waves hitting the shore. Happiness isn’t something you can cling to when you’ve lost a loved one, or are facing bankruptcy. Joy, on the other hand can stay with you for the long haul. The reason? Real joy is from God. For the believer, it is like a bottomless well of water—always an abundant supply. Even in the darkest days, when sadness, grief, and loss may threaten to overwhelm you, God’s joy is there.

Second, we need to understand that God’s joy cannot be taken away. Oh, you might think that it’s gone—that the hands of misfortune have snatched it from you—but it’s not. As believers, we are promised the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. We are promised His joy. Just as our salvation is assured through Jesus’ one-time sacrifice for all. Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Other examples, Acts 13:52, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 16:34, “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”

Third, we need to stop wallowing, whining and complaining and grab onto God’s joy. Just like salvation is a free and perfect gift from Him, we must reach out and accept that gift. Grab onto it. Like a lifeline. Choose joy. Over bitterness, anger, and sorrow. Make a decision to choose joy every day. No matter what. Look at these great examples in Scripture: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:2–3). “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:34). And the best illustration of all, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, 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).

All through Scripture we see the persecution of the church, the trials, and hardships that believers have faced. The challenge then is to truly learn how to consider each trial joy.

This topic is very near and dear to my heart because it is a lesson I’m relearning each and every day. My daughter has a rare nerve disorder, she’s had brain surgery, and we’ve faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, mountains of medical bills, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. But you know what I have discovered? God’s joy really is there. You can consider each trial joy, you can greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory even when you feel like you are face-first in the mud puddle. You can endure whatever circumstances are making you quake in your boots right now. If you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have all you need.

Grab onto God’s joy.[1]


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

Questions about the Christian Life: Is ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (WWJD) Something We Should Seek to Live By?

“What would Jesus do?” is a popular religious expression on bracelets, necklaces, and T-shirts with the initials WWJD. The idea behind WWJD is that to know how to do the right thing, we simply ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” At first glance, this appears to be a good idea. However, is this something Christians should live by?

First, to claim we can conclusively know what Jesus would do in any situation is somewhat presumptuous. If we were to ask ten people what Jesus would do in a given situation, we would probably receive nine different answers. People conjure up in their minds their own image of who Jesus is and what He would do. Sadly, WWJD often becomes WDIWTD (“What Do I Want To Do?”). Simply put, we justify our behaviors, actions, and reactions by falsely imagining that Jesus would agree with us.

The following is an example of this: During the time Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people thought “that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). However, what was lost on them was the fact that, though Jesus was the Messiah, He would suffer horribly and die for their sins. They should have known this from reading Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Instead, they wanted Him as their new king, on their terms, one who conformed to their image, their plans. Their idea of a king bent on destroying the oppressive yoke of Rome was not who Jesus really was nor why He had come. His kingdom was not about destroying Rome. His kingdom was about providing salvation from sin and its consequences. Their idea of “WWJD” was false.

Many do not know what Jesus would do because they simply do not know what Jesus did do. They know the stories about His life. However, they know little or nothing about what He taught or the example He left for us to emulate. Jesus is about denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following Him (Matthew 16:24).

Second, it is presumptuous of us to believe that we know the mind of Christ: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV). Can we comprehend the mind of God through our own limited intellect? Are we capable of probing into areas that God has not revealed to us? There is a point where we must draw the line between what the Bible reveals and what we do not know. God Himself draws the line for us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Going beyond what He reveals can be deceptive (Psalm 75:5; Matthew 7:21).

Instead of WWJD, JWSID “Jesus, what should I do?” would be better. We cannot always know the mind of God. We cannot always conclusively know what Jesus would do in a given situation. Further, what Jesus would do might not always be the same thing as what God wants us to do. As God in human form, the Messiah-Savior, Jesus had a mission and calling higher than ours. Yes, of course, we are to follow Jesus and seek to emulate Him. But that might not always mean doing the same thing that He would do, even if we could conclusively know what He would do. So, while WWJD is an infinitely better method to decision-making than most people use, it is not a fully accurate representation of how God wants us to live our lives.[1]

 


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

Questions about the Christian Life: Should a Christian Be Involved in Mentoring? What Does the Bible Say about Mentorship?

The word “mentor” is defined as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Although “mentoring” doesn’t appear in the Bible, Scripture does give us numerous examples of mentoring. Moses was mentored by his father-in-law Jethro, first as son-in-law and then as a leader (Exodus 18). The mentoring relationship between Eli and Samuel prepared Samuel for the tasks and responsibilities that were his after Eli’s death (1 Samuel 1–4). Jesus mentored His disciples (Luke 9), and both Barnabas and Paul excelled in mentoring (Acts 9–15).

Jesus made His style of mentoring clear: He led so that we can follow. He said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24–26). Because He is our leader and we are to follow Him, Christian mentoring is a process dependent upon submission to Christ. Neither the mentor nor the candidate controls the relationship. As such, the process is best characterized by mutual sharing, trust, and enrichment as the life and work of both participants is changed. The mentor serves as a model and a trusted listener. The mentor relies on the Holy Spirit to provide insight, change lives, and teach through the modeling process.

The Apostle Paul spelled out mentoring as his leadership model very simply. “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In essence, he is saying, “Let me mentor you. Let me be your role model.” He reminds the new Christians at Thessalonica to “follow our example” (2 Thessalonians 3:7). Example. Teach. Model. These are all facets of mentoring which are indispensable in developing fully devoted followers of Jesus and in transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. It goes without saying that if mentors expect others to follow their example, they must be wholeheartedly committed to following Christ. Any hint of hypocrisy—“do what I say, not what I do”—will be detrimental to both the mentor and his charge.

Not only Jesus and the apostles, but elders in the local church also do their work by mentoring. Peter commands, “Be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), and Paul explains to the elders at Ephesus, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you” (Acts 20:17). In other words, Paul is telling the elders, “I showed you, now you show them.” In all truth, if a Christian leader is not mentoring someone, to that degree he or she is not living up to his or her calling.

Of course, God has filled the body of Christ with many potential mentors besides those who are named as elders or shepherds. The official church leaders cannot personally meet all the mentoring needs of everyone. While it may not be possible for shepherds to personally, intentionally, hands-on mentor each sheep that needs mentoring, they are to help these needy sheep find godly mentors. To provide for the mentoring needs of their local community of faith, the leaders must be intentional, continually expanding the circle of mentors by “equipping others” to mentor.[1]

 


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

Questions about the Christian Life: Is It Important for a Christian to Have Daily Devotions?

“Daily devotions” is a phrase used to describe the discipline of Bible reading and prayer with which Christians start or end their day. Bible reading can take the form of a structured study using a devotional or simply reading through certain passages or perhaps reading through the Bible in a year. Prayer can include any or all of the different prayers—praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition, and/or intercession. Some people use prayer lists for their daily devotions. Others prefer to pray as they read the Word in an interactive manner, listening for God speaking to them through the Bible passages and responding in prayer. Whatever the format, the important thing is that our daily devotions, as the name implies, be truly devoted to God and occur daily.

Yes, it truly is important to spend time with God daily. Why? Paul explains it clearly: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The experience of having His light shine in our hearts comes in our times spent in the presence of God. Of course, this light comes only from knowing God through Christ. This marvelous treasure of the Holy Spirit is given to each of us as Christians, and we need faith to believe it and act upon it. In all reality, if we truly yearn to experience the light of our Lord, we will need to be with God … every day.

Someone once said, “The gospel brings man to God; devotions keep him close to God.” It was James the half-brother of Jesus who wrote: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). In essence, James is telling us that the children of God will yearn to seek a closer relationship with God, to draw near to His heart, to understand more and more about Him, to obey His commands, and to hold onto His promises. The impure and double-minded will have no such yearning in their hearts. In fact, they will seek to separate themselves from God as much as possible.

The expression “draw near” was originally associated with the priesthood in Israel. Under the regulations of the Old Covenant, the priests represented the people before God. However, prior to coming near God’s presence, the priest had to be washed physically and be ceremonially clean. This meant he had to bathe, wear the proper garments, and offer sacrifices that made his own heart right with God. Then he could “draw near” to God on the people’s behalf. In time, the Hebrew word for “drawing near” meant anyone who approached the presence of God in worship and prayer. The term became synonymous even of those whose hearts were far from God when they “worshiped” Him. For example, Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”

But the sincere believer, the one who has truly humbled himself before God, knows that God wants His people to draw near with true and pure hearts: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). This applies the language of the Old Testament ceremonial system to us today. It tells us that, as those ancient priests prepared themselves to be near God, we also should prepare ourselves spiritually to worship Him, whether in formal worship or in our personal devotional times.

We know that the humble person comes to God for his salvation and submits his life to Him as Lord, but also the truly humble person will see that his relationship to God is inherently more than that. In claiming to be a true follower of Christ through our having a saving relationship with the Father through the Son, we can readily understand the psalmist who wrote, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:28).[1]

 


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

Questions about the Christian Life: How Should a Christian Respond to Persecution?

There’s no doubt that persecution is a stark reality of living the Christian life. The apostle Paul warned us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus told us to expect persecution from the world because if they persecuted Him, they will persecute His followers also. Jesus has made it very clear to us that those of the world will hate us because they hate Him. If Christians were like the world—vain, earthly, sensual, and given to pleasure, wealth, and ambition—the world would not oppose us. But Christians do not belong to the world which is why they hate and persecute us (John 15:18–19). Christians are, or should be, influenced by different principles from those of the world. We are motivated by the love of God and holiness, while the world is driven by the love of sin. It is our very separation from the world that arouses the world’s animosity toward us. The world would prefer that we were like them; since we are not, they hate us (1 Peter 4:3–4).

As faithful Christians, we must learn to recognize the value of persecution and even to rejoice in it, not in an ostentatious way, but quietly and humbly because persecution has great spiritual value. First, persecution allows us to share in a unique fellowship with our Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul outlined a number of things he surrendered for the cause of Christ. Such losses, however, he viewed as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8), or “dung” (KJV), that he might share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The noble apostle even counted his chains as a grace (favor) which God had bestowed upon him (Philippians 1:7).

Second, in all truth, persecution is good for us. James argues that trials test our faith, work or develop (endurance) in our lives, and help develop maturity (James 1:2–4). For as steel is tempered in the flames of the forge, trials and persecution serve to hone down those rough edges that tarnish our character. Yielding graciously to persecution allows one to demonstrate that he is of a superior quality than his adversaries. It’s easy to be hateful, but an ugly disposition throws a light upon our human weakness. It is much more Christ-like to remain calm and to respond in kindness in the face of evil opposition. Without question this is a tremendous challenge, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us and the wonderful example of the Lord to encourage us. Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Third, persecution enables us to value the support of true friends. Conflict sometimes brings faithful children of God together in an encouraging and supportive way they might not have known otherwise. Hardship can stimulate the Lord’s people toward a greater resolve to love and comfort one another and lift one another to the throne of grace in prayer. There’s nothing like an unpleasant incident to help the more mature rise toward a greater level of brotherly love.

So, when we think about it seriously, we can move ourselves forward, even in the face of antagonism, whether from the world or within the church, and press on. We can thank God for His grace and for His patience with us. We can express gratitude for those whom we love in the Lord and who stand with us in times of distress. And we can pray for those who would accuse, misuse, or abuse us (2 Corinthians 11:24; Romans 10:1).[1]

 


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

Questions about the Christian Life: Should a Christian Tithe off Miscellaneous Income, E.G. Inheritance, Gifts, Winnings, Tax Refunds, Legal Settlements, Etc.?

Whether or not a Christian should give a percentage of an inheritance—or for that matter any source of income—to the church or other Christian ministry is the subject of debate within the Christian community. There is also the question of whether or not an inheritance can even be considered income. As for the amount of our giving, some in the Christian church have taken the 10 percent figure from the Old Testament tithe and applied it as a “recommended minimum” for Christians in their giving. Some say give on what you make before taxes (gross income), and others say give on what is left over after taxes and deductions (net income). Much debate and argument on the details of tithing and giving have needlessly occurred, sometimes even splitting churches and dividing Christians from one another.

It should be remembered that the tithe was a requirement of the Mosaic Law in which all Israelites were to give 10 percent of everything they earned and grew to the Tabernacle/Temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). In fact, the Old Testament Law required multiple tithes which would have pushed the total to around 23.3 percent, not the 10 percent which is generally considered the tithe amount today. But the Bible is clear that tithing was part of the Mosaic Law for the nation of Israel, not for all mankind. Just as Christians are not required to sacrifice animals or observe the ceremonial laws regarding washing and other rituals, neither are we required to give a set percentage of our income, regardless of how it is acquired.

The New Testament references giving in 1 Corinthians 16:1–2, and there we find the principle for giving for Christians. Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to set money aside “for God’s people,” to do it on the first day of the week, and to save it and set it aside in keeping with the income of the giver. “Income” is not defined, except that in the King James Version, the word is translated “as God has prospered him.” From this we can say that inheritance, gifts, winnings, tax refunds, legal settlements, etc., are part of being prospered by God and should be included in income. But, again, the amount of the inheritance to be offered is not defined. Another principle for offerings is found in 2 Corinthians 9:6–7 where Paul again exhorts the Corinthian believers to give generously from their hearts, each one deciding before God what to give. Paul explains that it is not the amount or the percentage or the source of the income, but the attitude of the heart that is important to God. Each should give “cheerfully,” not as one under the compulsion of a legalistic mindset or the requirements set down by others. We should never give to get, never give to be noticed, and never give to be spiritually rewarded. If we are in fellowship with God and at peace with our giving, then all is well. As with all things, wisdom should be sought from God, who has promised to give it generously (James 1:5), just as we are to generously and cheerfully give back to Him.[1]

 


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