Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Forward

“I do not advise that we end the year on a somber note. The march, not the dirge, has ever been the music of Christianity. If we are good students in the school of life, there is much that the years have to teach us. But the Christian is more than a student, more than a philosopher. He is a believer, and the object of his faith makes the difference, the mighty difference. Of all persons the Christian should be best prepared for whatever the New Year brings. He has dealt with life at its source. In Christ he has disposed of a thousand enemies that other men must face alone and unprepared. He can face his tomorrow cheerful and unafraid because yesterday he turned his feet into the ways of peace and today he lives in God. The man who has made God his dwelling place will always have a safe habitation.” 

— A.W. Tozer

2017 Bible Reading Schedule

For anyone wanting to read the Bible in its entirety in 2017, here is a 5 days-a-week Bible reading schedule released by

2017 Bible Reading Schedule

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Significance of Baptism

“Why Do You Preach So Much On Baptism?”

An all-too common complaint we regularly hear made against the church concerns the preaching of baptism.  The world and various denominations argue that the Church of Christ puts too much emphasis on baptism.  They might even go as far as to accuse us of elevating the act of baptism above God’s grace.

So why do we stress baptism so much?

The short answer:  The world doesn’t preach it enough…  If at all!

Baptism is listed some 116 times in the New Testament.  In nearly every example of conversion and salvation, baptism is mentioned.  With that much Scriptural support, how could any believer overlook the significance of baptism?

The Symbolism of Baptism

Let’s begin by examining the symbolic significance of baptism…

Baptism and the Flood

Peter likened baptism to the waters of the Flood.

1 Peter 3:21 ...Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Notice that baptism is more than just a mere physical bathing.  It is through the resurrection of Christ, the power of God Himself that this simple physical act is imbued with its soul-saving power.  Baptism is not a work of man, but of God!

Baptism and Circumcision

Paul called baptism a sort of spiritual circumcision.

Colossians 2:11-12 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

There is a notable difference between the physical circumcision of the Old Testament and the spiritual circumcision of baptism in the New Testament.  While in the Old Testament circumcision was done shortly after birth, there is no evidence of baptizing infant in the New Testament.  Belief in the Word of God is meant to precede baptism according to New Testament examples.

Baptism and the Gospel

Consider this:  During the act of baptism we are reenacting the Gospel story.  The Bible tells us as much!

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…

Compare the synopsis of the Gospel story recorded in 1 Corinthians to what is said of baptism in Romans…

Romans 6:3-7 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.

As we can see, the act of baptism is a reenactment of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection:  In baptism we “die” to sin, are “buried” in the water of salvation (the blood of Christ), and a “resurrected” free from sin!

This idea of baptism being a reenactment of a burial accounts for only one method of baptism (Ephesians 4:5)…  Baptism by immersion which is exemplified at various points in the New Testament (Mark1:10 – Jesus “came up out of the water”, Acts 8:38 – Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch “both went down into the water”).  This excludes other methods such as sprinkling.

Baptism is Endorsed by Jesus

Baptism is also significant because it was endorsed by Jesus Himself in three ways:

Jesus’ Example

One of Jesus’ first recorded acts of His earthly ministry was being baptized.  At first, John didn’t feel that He had the right to baptize the Son of God, but Jesus pointed out that it was necessary.

Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

While Jesus, being sinless, did not technically need baptism, He pointed out that it was fitting for the fulfillment of righteousness.  This account affirms that baptism is the means by which God makes men righteous.   Jesus was baptized to set an example for us!  Additionally, we see that God was so delighted with His Son’s obedient example that He commended Jesus by audibly speaking.

Sometimes I feel like this miraculous event is almost treated as a side note, but isn’t it interesting that of the two times God directly spoke in the Gospels that one of these instances was to approve of Jesus’ baptism?

Jesus’ Sacrifice

Our entire faith hinges upon Christ’s death upon the cross.  Baptism is connected to that major event as well!

Matthew 26:28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Notice that the language used here to describe the intended effect of Christ’s blood is identical to the purpose of baptism that Peter detailed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38)!

Additionally, Jesus’ self-sacrifice also references the Old Testament account of the Passover which involved the blood of lambs as a signal to spare the Israelites in the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:13 - "When I see the blood, I will pass over you").

1 Peter 1:18-19 …Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

John pointed out a blatant parallel between baptism and Christ’s sacrifice in his description of Jesus.

1 John 5:6-8  This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.

Jesus’ Command

Jesus, the Son of God Himself, commands that believers be baptized.

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

As Jesus points out here, baptism and salvation are inexorably linked.

Why Reject Baptism?

In spite of all this evidence we have discussed so far concerning baptism, many still reject baptism as God’s means of salvation for one reason or another.

Consider the account of Naaman recounted in 2 Kings 5:1-14.

If you recall, Naaman was a commander of the Syrian army who was afflicted with leprosy.  The abridged version of the story goes like this:

The prophet Elisha was sent to heal Naaman of his leprosy.  Elisha gave Naaman some simple instructions.  He told him to “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”  (2 Kings 5:10)

However, Naaman rejected these directions…  He even “became furious”!  He didn’t agree with the method by which he was to be healed.  He questioned Elisha’s instructions:  Why couldn’t Elisha just call on the name of the Lord and wave his hand over me?  Aren’t other rivers besides the Jordan just as good if not better to be cleansed in?

One of Naaman’s wise servants came and tried to reason with him, saying “…If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  (2 Kings 5:13)

Naaman finally did as Elisha said and, sure enough, he found that “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:14).

While this account does not directly refer to baptism, it does make an important point about God’s instructions:  If God offers us a means of salvation… who are we to question or reject His terms?

Conclusion:  What is Your Condition With and Without Baptism?

I read the following in a tract during a Bible study years ago and always thought it brilliantly summed up just how vital baptism is...


Put on Christ

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Wash Away Sins

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Have Remission of Sins

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”

Are Made Free from Sin

Romans 6:17-18 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Benefit by Jesus’ Death

Romans 6:3-4 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Enter the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.


To recap and hopefully drive these final points home:  If through baptism one puts on Christ, washes away their sin, have remission of their sins, benefits by Jesus' death, and enters the Body of Christ - if Scripture tells us that baptism does all these things - then surely our condition without baptism is the opposite of these!

We cannot disregard the significance of baptism!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

“Baptism is a Work, and We are Not Saved by Works!”

There is a great deal of confusion concerning baptism’s role in salvation.

Some argue that baptism cannot be a vital component in salvation because being baptized is a work.  They may cite the second chapter of Ephesians as evidence for this view.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Certainly baptism is something that is done and – in that sense at least – it could be considered a “work”.

However, there are some important questions to answer in approaching this matter:  Is baptism a work of merit, by which one earns salvation?  Or is baptism a work of faith, by which one receives salvation?

When we consider the work involved in baptism, it has to be asked:  Who is the one truly “at work”?  Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed?  Or is it God who forgives and regenerates through the blood of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit?

As we address this misconception and look into the Word of God for the answers to these questions, I think that we will find that there is in fact no contradiction between the idea that we are saved by faith and not by works and that – at the same time – we are saved by baptism.

Works of Merit versus Works of Faith

We must understand that there are different kinds of works.

First, there are works of merit.

These works are done to “earn” something.  Those that have done such works believe that they deserve something in return for what they have done.

Some people think that merely being a good person is a sufficient work to earn salvation.  Others believe that how well they keep the Ten Commandments or benevolent works or even their church attendance somehow grants them the right to salvation.  However, as we previously read in Ephesians, this is a mistake!

There is no way that we can earn salvation!  All of the good that we might do cannot outweigh even one sin.

James 2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Those that make this argument against baptism make the mistake of lumping baptism in with works of merit.

However, we must recognize that there are also works of faith.

While these works are done to receive something, those who do such works believe that they deserve nothing in return.

Works of faith are done by believers with the understanding that their obedience does not earn or merit salvation.  Additionally, believers understand that their salvation rests upon the mercy of God and His grace.

These works could be called “works of God”.  Take belief for example, which Jesus Himself calls a “work”.

John 6:28-29 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Other works of faith commanded by God include repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Romans 10:9-10).

Even though belief, repentance, and confession are commanded works we recognize that, like baptism, these are not meritorious works and we do not earn salvation through them.  Instead, these are works that God Himself has ordained that we do to receive His salvation…

Therefore baptism is not a contradiction; When all is said and done, salvation is still through God’s grace and mercy!

Baptism is a Work of Faith, Not Merit

Another scripture that is often misused to discredit baptism is found in Mark.

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Some would argue that since baptism is not mentioned in the second part of this verse that belief is what is truly important.  However, this verse actually further confirms the point that baptism is work of faith and is necessary for salvation!

No one would argue with the logic of a similarly worded statement such as:  “He who eats and digests will live, but he who does not eat will die.”  The two acts are jointly necessary for survival.

 Thus, it is obvious that Jesus’ words clearly indicate that belief and baptism go hand in hand.

After all, if one does not believe, why would they bother going through baptism - or any other act of faith?

We understand that belief is prerequisite of baptism.  Faith in God and His Word come first.  We are compelled by that belief to be baptized!

Acts 8:36-37 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Continuing on we see that baptism is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns)…

The Forgiveness of Sins and the Gift of the Holy Spirit 

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”

A Union with Christ

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Baptism not being a work of merit is further emphasized in Titus.

Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…

Notice that the allusion that Paul makes to baptism in this verse: “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  Notice also that Paul points out again that we are not saved by “works of righteousness” (works of merit), but it is God who saves us through this “washing”.
Clearly, baptism is not some work of righteousness done to earn salvation!

Who Does the Work in Baptism?

I suppose if we approach baptism from a purely physical standpoint, then the one performing the immersion is doing the “work”.  However, as we have already established, baptism is more than just a physical action.

1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

No, baptism is a spiritual work of faith, but the question remains:  Who actually does the work in baptism?

Colossians 2:12  …Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

It is God who is at work in baptism.  Ultimately, it is God who does the work, not man!

Colossians 2:13  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…

As we just read, man is dead in his sins, but God makes him alive by forgiving him of his sins.  Thus, it is God who saves us, not we ourselves.  Baptism just happens to be the chosen mode through which God decided salvation would be offered to us.

Baptism:  The Most Passive Act of Faith?

Many people reject baptism because they see it as something you do.  But if we truly think about it in the context of the Word of God, baptism is actually the most passive of the acts of faith.

Consider that belief, repentance and confession are all active acts of faith on our part.  These are all things that we do.

However, we baptism is different.  Baptism is something that is done to us.  This makes baptism a passive, submissive act of faith in which we submit to the work of God in our lives.

If we were to object to baptism because it requires one to do something, then – by the same logic – we would have to object to belief, repentance, and confession!

Baptism According to Martin Luther

It was Martin Luther that coined the phrase, “salvation by faith only.”  However, in spite of this doctrine he helped give birth to, it’s ironic to know that even Luther understood the role of baptism.

When presented with the question, “What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow?”  Luther responded, “It affects the forgiveness of sins.”

In regards to baptism’s impact on a sinner, Luther wrote, “To put it most simply:  The power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is to save.”

Finally, in response to those who would call his view a salvation by works, Martin Luther wrote, “Yes it is true that our works are of no use for salvation.  Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s.”

Obviously, we should be more concerned with God’s Word than what any man says, but it’s interesting to see that the originator of this misconception had a firm understanding of baptism’s role in salvation.


As we have seen established throughout this lesson:  Baptism is a Work of God, and We are Saved by Faith in the Working of God!

Have you submitted to the working of God in baptism?

Acts 22:16  And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’.

Serving in Sincerity: Giving God Your Whole Heart

The smile means nothing without sincerity.” 
– Joshua Hamlet

When you know someone well enough, it’s not difficult to tell when they are forcing a smile in a given situation.

There are actually studies on this that focus on how to tell how genuine a smile actually is based on facial muscles.  Apparently a “true” smile involves the flexing of muscles near the eyes and the mouth while a fake smile flexes just one muscle in the mouth region.  The “Pan Am smile” is a term commonly given to faked or forced smiles usually used in customer service, named for the put-on smile employed by flight attendants when dealing with passengers.

Whether it’s a fake smile or an inauthentic tone of voice, people can’t stand it when others aren’t genuine.  We don’t like half-heartedness or insincerity

It should come as little surprise – seeing that we’re made in His image – to know that God doesn’t appreciate insincerity either, especially among His followers!

God desires sincerity and wholeheartedness in our service to Him.

God doesn’t want us to serve sincerity, but rather He wants us to serve in sincerity!  God desires our whole heart!

Joshua 24:14  Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!

Psalm 9:1 I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius is credited with the saying:

 “Sincerity and truth are the basis of every virtue.”

I think that there is a great deal of truth to that statement.  Any good that we seek to do must be done with a sincere heart – otherwise, can we actually call it good?

Remember: God Knows Us

We need to always remember that God knows us through and through.  God knows the true intentions of our heart.  While we may fool others into thinking that we are sincere in our service, God knows us better than anyone and can easily see through any facade that we might hide behind.

Psalm 44:21  Would not God search this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.

We may think that we can hide something from God, but we only deceive ourselves.  Recall the account of Aninias and Sapphira, for example:

Acts 5:1-4  But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

The Danger of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is pretending to be what one isn’t.

When we go to worship the Lord, is it for real or is it just and hypocritical act that we engage in to impress others with how spiritual we are?

Jeremiah 3:10 “…And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says the Lord.

We know that the Scribes and Pharisees were regularly rebuked by Jesus for putting on false righteousness.  Jesus rightly called them hypocrites for their insincere service.

Matthew 23:27-28  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Luke 16:15  And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God..."

The Importance of Sincerity

We must understand that it is not enough to please God by merely “going through the motions”.  We must be sincere in our service, obeying from the heart.

Romans 6:17  But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

Ephesians 6:6  ...Not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…

Colossians 3:22 Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.

We know that when we give we make an offering that we do so from the heart.

2 Corinthians 9:7  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Likewise, worshiping without sincerity of the heart is worthless, to truly worship we must do so “in spirit and in truth."

John 4:24  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

We talk a lot about that verse, stressing the importance of the truth aspect.

Indeed, our doctrine is certainly important, but this verse can also apply to the true nature of our attitude toward worship!

Additionally, it is not enough to merely say that we love our neighbor, our love must be sincere!

Romans 12:9  Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

1 Timothy 1:5  Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith…

I worry sometimes that we allow being a Christian to become a sort of routine aspect of our lives rather than the primary focus of our life.  We go to church on Sundays because that’s what we’ve always done.  Perhaps abstaining from certain things (drunkenness, profanity) is easy for us because it’s merely against our nature to begin with, not necessarily because God’s commandments one way or the other.  So how can we tell if we are actually sincere toward God?

John 14:15  If you love Me, keep My commandments.

Do we say that we love God, yet not obey Him?  Do we ignore the commandments that we don’t like or are difficult for us to follow?  Do we say that we love God, but not spend much time in prayer?  Is it a chore for us to study our Bibles or attend worship services?

We know when someone truly loves us in the flesh because their actions reflect their words.  It’s no different with God.  If our actions are not congruent with what ought to be the conduct of a Christian, then perhaps we aren’t as sincere in our devotion as we would like to think.

1 John 3:18  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

The old saying “actions speak louder than words” rings true.  Time and time again, we are reminded that mere words are not enough.  Our love and devotion to God, to our neighbors should be evident based on our actions.

Do You Already Have Your Reward?

The attitude of the heart is what we need to actively monitor.   Before doing anything, we should be mindful of our motivations.  As with all things, self-control and discipline are key.

We must always remember that a Christian’s motivation should be seeking to glorify God alone, not himself.

Recall the Parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee…

Luke 18:9-10 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector..."

First, notice how Jesus details the prayer of the Pharisee...

Luke 18:11-12  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

Elsewhere, Jesus described the deeds of other Pharisees…

Matthew 6:1-2, 5 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward;  And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Jesus points out the folly of those that do charitable deeds and publicly pray for selfish reasons.  Calling them hypocrites, He goes on to say that “they have their reward.”

Friends, if we already have our reward through the adoration of others, then that’s a serious problem!

Now take a moment to notice the difference between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector…

Luke 18:13-14  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

The tax collector was far more sincere in his dedication to God and – as Jesus points out – his service was pleasing to God!  Let us strive to be like the Tax Collector, not the Pharisee.  Let us have a wholehearted, sincere dedication in our service to God!

Unlike the Pharisee, we should be striving toward the ultimate reward, a home in heaven!

Proverbs 11:18 The wicked man does deceptive work, But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Empty Manger: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?

Some convoluted background before we begin this particular lesson:  As a Science Fiction buff and avid comic book reader, I've long been fascinated by the idea of alternate realities.

Marvel Comics had an ongoing series entitled "What If...?" in which one tweak was made in the superhero continuity.  The interesting part was seeing how interconnected everything turned out to be and how just a single, seemingly insignificant change had enormous consequences.

Perhaps more famously - especially this time of year - you might be familiar with Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life".  This classic film follows its main character, George Bailey, as a distraught man on the verge of suicide who wishes that he had never been born.  An angel appears and grants George a view of what his family, friends, and community would be like without his presence, how his absence would send shockwaves through the lives of others that he touched.  This heartwarming tale serves as a powerful reminder of the immeasurable value of even a single human life.

Consider the life of Jesus Christ for example...

While it is very likely that December 25 is not the actual birth-date of Jesus, at this time of year it is difficult not to think about Christ's birth with so many celebrating Christmas.

During this holiday season we can't help but be reminded of this significant event throughout the month as we see countless displays depicting the Nativity.  

But what if on that fateful night some 2,000 years ago the manger remained empty?  

What if...  Jesus had never been born?

In the process of writing this lesson, I began by wondering about what the world would be like if Jesus had never been born.  After all, a lot of people seem to think that we would be better off if religion didn’t exist, especially Christianity, the religion that Jesus is responsible for.  

So that’s the inspiration and premise for this lesson.  Join me as we explore the possibilities and ramifications - both secular and spiritual - that would be found in this hypothetical world in which Jesus was never born.

Secular Ramifications of a Christ-less World

Dr. James Allan Francis once wrote the following poem about the life of Jesus:

One Solitary Life  

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop 
Until he was thrity, when public opinion turned against him.

Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled more than two hundred miles,
From the place he was born.
He did none of the things,
Usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty three.

His friends ran away.
One of them denied him.
He was turned over to his enemies,
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, 
The only property he had on Earth.

When he was dead,
He was laid in a borrowed grave,
Through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, 
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race, 
And the leader of mankind's progress.
All the armies that ever marched, 
All the navies that ever sailed, 
All the parliaments that ever sat, 
All the kings that ever reigned, put  together,
Have not affected the life of mankind on Earth 
As powerfully as that one solitary life.
Outside the realm of religion and philosophy, countless advancements in society can be accredited to the spread of Christianity and its various forms.  

One of the most obvious areas of impact is in the way we count years.  The modern calendar that we use is a testament to the legacy and impact that Jesus had on the world.  The abbreviations BC and AD divide time into two parts: BC is the period of time “Before Christ” and the term AD is from the Latin phrase “Anno Domini” which is translated “The year of our Lord”.  Believers and non-believers alike use this calendar world-wide even to this day!

In a world in which Jesus was never born, illiteracy would be a major problem worldwide, since in many centuries past, Christian missionaries encouraged and often educated converts to read in order to have a better understanding of Scripture.  In the United States (Which, by the way, is a country that was founded on Christian principles) early Americans learned to read using the Bible.  It is ironic to know that of the first 123 colleges in colonial America all but one was founded as a Christian institution.
Without Jesus, our culture would be drastically different, especially in the realm of the Arts.  Da Vinci and other Renaissance artists would never have created some of their greatest and most-widely recognized works (The Renaissance movement itself would likely never have taken place without the influence of Christianity!). Likewise, some of the most beautiful (and at the time, most advanced) architecture in the world would not exist since many advancements in architecture were made in the creation of cathedrals and other places of Christian worship.   In the area of music, Bach, who is credited with changing the direction of Western music, would likely not have been inspired to create his renowned musical compositions (Bach is said to have dedicated every note he wrote to God’s glory).

Author Cynthia Pearl Maus wrote:  

More poems have been written, more stories told, more pictures painted, and more songs sung about Christ than any other person in human history, because through such avenues as these, the deepest appreciation of the human heart can be more adequately expressed.

Finally, innumerable scientific principles and medical advancements would not exist in a world in which Jesus was never born.  Nearly all of the founders of modern science were Christians.  Many historians attribute the creation of the hospital itself to Christianity because in the United States, the first hospitals were started by believers. 

The following is an article I read last year on the Christian Post's website:

Jesus Reigns Even on Wikipedia

"Who's the most significant person in human history? Professor Steven Skiena (of Stony Brook University in New York) and Charles Ward sought to answer that question by sifting through more than 1,000 historical figures and prominent people while applying quantitative analysis to the popular online information source Wikipedia. The researchers analyzed the impact historical figures had on other people's opinions throughout the eons, and the ranking formula was very similar to the way Google ranks webpages in its search engine. At the top of the researchers' list: Jesus. He is followed (in descending order) by Napoleon, William Shakespeare, Muhammad, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson." 
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Jaroslav Pelikan wrote the following in his 1985 book, "Jesus, Through the Centuries":

"Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominate figure in the history of Western Culture for almost twenty centuries.  If it were possible, with some sort of super-magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left?  It is from His birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by His Name that millions curse and in His Name that millions pray."

It is impossible to know all of the areas in which Christianity has had an impact on the world as it is today.  What we've discussed thus far is probably just scratching the surface. 


But what would it mean to us as Christians if Jesus had never been born?  What would be the spiritual ramifications?

In a world without Jesus, there would be...

No Church

Obviously, without Jesus, there would be no Christianity, which means no Christians and no Church.  The Church was established based on the teachings of Jesus and Jesus even died so that the Church could be created

The Church was purchased by Christ’s blood. 

Acts 20:28   Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

No Moral Compass

Without the religion of Christianity, many would be without a moral compass to guide them in life.  I think that it’s safe to say that Jesus’ teachings are the moral compass of modern civilization!  

Think of one of the first rules you likely learned in grade school.  Without Jesus, the “Golden Rule” - ‘Do unto others as you would have them to unto you’ would not exist.  It’s ironic that this is a saying which many, even the most staunch unbelievers, use but fail to give the credit to Jesus for having said it!  In fact, a variation of this very teaching was recently written as part of an "Athiest's Ten Commandments"!

Matthew 7:12  Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 
Jesus taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Matthew 22:37-40  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The idea of putting others first is foreign to mankind.  This is a concept that could only have come from a loving and divine entity such as Jesus!

As bad as our society is today, just imagine how much worse it would be if we removed the teachings of Jesus!  Sadly, many are trying to do just that!  

No Perfect Example

Why would anyone want to follow a hypocritical God who said one thing, but did another?  

Indeed, we can see that throughout His time on Earth that Jesus “talked the talk and walked the walk!”  He practiced what He preached!  Jesus came to Earth for many reasons, but certainly among them was the purpose of setting an example of righteousness for us to follow.

John 13:15  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

Romans 13:14  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

1 Peter 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps...

No Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecies

If Jesus had never been born, there would be numerous Old Testament prophecies that would not have been fulfilled.  This would not only have left the Bible incomplete, but also would make God out to be a liar!  

Throughout the Old Testament prophecies were made about Jesus’ coming.  Among the many prophecies of the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled one of the earliest promises made to mankind.  

God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.  Jesus was and still is the fulfillment of that prophetic promise. 

Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Everything that Christ did while He was on Earth was to fulfill scripture.  We know from our studies that a common phrase written throughout the Gospels is “that the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 

Mark 14:49  I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.

No Fulfillment of Old Testament Law

Additionally, if Jesus had never been born, there would be no way we could be saved from our sins because we would still be under the Law of Moses. 

Why would this be a problem?  The Bile tells us that righteousness and salvation could come not through the law, but through the grace of God. 

Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

Only those of the Hebrew nations were considered God’s people under the Law of Moses.  

Under the Law of Moses, Gentiles (anyone who wasn’t Jewish) were not considered one of God’s chosen people. 

Thankfully, Jesus put an end to the Law of Moses when he fulfilled it with His death on the cross. 

Romans 7:6  But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Ephesians 2:11-17 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.  And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.

No Way to Heaven

If Jesus had not been born, we would not have a Savior.  

Jesus’ primary objective in coming to earth and living as a man was to do away with sin.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to save us!   

Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Our sin separates us from God and condemns us.   

Isaiah 59:1-2  Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

The wages of sin, which is what we really deserve, is death.  But Jesus the gift Jesus offers to us through His sacrifice is life.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John the Baptist accurately described Jesus in John 1:29 as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Therefore, without Jesus, there would be no way to Heaven.  

John 14: 1-6  “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Conclusion:  An Empty Manger and an Empty Tomb

As great as the Christmas season is for reminding us of Christ's birth, does it cause us to lose focus on the purpose of His birth?

In celebrating what happened that night in Bethelehem, do we forget what happened that day on Calvary?

Throughout this lesson we discussed the empty manger as a horrible alternative…

But we must always remember and be thankful that the empty tomb is a blessed reality!

I Corinthians 15:17-22 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

If Christ had not been born, had not lived, died and - most importantly - He would not been resurrected, and - as Paul points out - our faith would be useless.  We would still be lost in sin!

To make a long story short, in a world without Jesus, the future would look very bleak.

If Jesus had never been born there would be no hope.

But as these verses point out, Christ was born.  He did live and die.  But most importantly, He arose, thereby justifying our faith and giving us the hope of a home in Heaven!

However, consider this:  If you are here today and you are not a Christian - to you, Christ might as well have not been born.

If you are living a life without Jesus, then what is your condition?

We’ve spent a long while discussing what a world without Jesus would look like, but what does a life without Jesus look like?  Does it look like your life?

Are you among the hopeless?  Are you among the lost?  Are you sick of a life of sin?  Are you seeking a relationship with your Creator and Redeemer?

If so, you have a choice:  Will you continue to live your life without Jesus?  Or are you willing to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Caricatures of God

More than likely you have seen a caricature before.  Perhaps you’ve even commissioned one of yourself.  In the most conventional sense, a caricature is an artist's depiction of someone in which prominent facial features are exaggerated for comical effect.  Sometimes we see that cartoonists and comedians will often present political caricatures; Phrases or stances of public figures might be overstated in order to make some kind of point on a particular issue.

In the spiritual realm, believers and unbelievers will sometimes create their own representation of who they think God is.  Like caricatures, these views of God may be exaggerated or distorted.  Sometimes they have preconceived notions of who God is and sometimes they make the mistake of thinking of God in human terms.  They may cite portions or scriptures or take verses completely out of context to support their viewpoint.

Of course, as the problem with such ideas is that they may only be half-true or completely contrary to what God’s Word actually says!

Proverbs 18:2 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.

For this lesson I would like to focus on three caricatures of God and examine the validity of each.

God of Wrath – “The Sky Bully”

One of the most unfair caricatures of God is presenting God as an irrationally angry God who is just itching to rain down some fire and brimstone on everyone.  The “God of Wrath” or “Sky Bully” is always looking for an excuse to destroy and smite his created for just being themselves or not living up to His lofty standard.  Supporters of this view of God often describe the Bible as a moral code that no one could possibly abide by.  They believe that God is merely an enforcer of these arbitrary instructions.

The irony is that many people who have this view of God aren’t even believers to begin with.  I’ve had conversations with atheists who will call into question the character of God – whom they view as an imaginary character – and cite verses from the Old Testament to point out instances of God wiping out entire nations.  They will go as far as to say, “If there is a God, He’s not the morally repugnant, hatefully murderous God of the Bible.”

Sometimes believers also hold similar outlook on God.  Oftentimes they will only preach on God’s wrath toward sinners, giving the impression that we only ought to serve God out of fear.
Looking to the Bible for answers, we can clearly see that this view of God is based on many half-truths.

Indeed, the Bible does show us that God has a wrathful side.  It’s also true that He delivers punishment to mortals.  However, it is important to notice who exactly God’s wrath is reserved for.

Romans 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…

God’s wrath is reserved for the unrighteous and ungodly, not for random innocents and certainly not for those seeking to do right.

One thing that needs to be understood concerning God is that He allows us free will.  We get to choose how we want to live our lives.  When we make the choice to engage in unrighteousness, that is when we risk the wrath of God upon us.

Romans 2:5  But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.”

When discussing only the wrath of God it is easy to overlook the fact that God’s mercy is towards us is so great.  Consider this:  We have already established that God’s wrath is directed toward the unrighteous.  Unfortunately, we are all guilty of sin!

Romans 3:23  …For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Since we are all guilty of sin, we deserve God’s judgement and subsequent wrath!  Thankfully, however, our God is a merciful God.  His mercy is as great, if not greater, than His wrath!

Romans 3:24-25   …Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…

Through the willing sacrifice of Christ, God offers us salvation from our sins.  While unbelievers will struggle to reconcile the wrathful God of the Old Testament with the merciful God of the New Testament, a true student of the Bible knows that this is not two different gods, but that they are one and the same.  Flip through a concordance sometime and you’ll likely find far more instances of God’s mercy and love than you will mentions of His wrath.  That’s in both the Old and New Testament.  The character of God is consistent throughout the Scriptures.

A final thought on this point:  If God is so full of wrath, why hasn’t He put an end to this wicked world already?

2 Peter 3:14  Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation…

Once again we see that the mercy and love of God prevails.  It is through God’s patience with us that the unrighteous are granted a chance of salvation… and that’s what God wants for all of us!

God as Santa Clause

Another caricature of God is the idea of God being a Santa Clause-like figure whose only purpose is to shower us with blessings.  The mindset is that if we just believe in Him that, like jolly old Saint Nick, God will give us goodies and stuff. Therefore this becomes the only motivation for serving God, for the material rewards.

God is indeed benevolent and abundantly generous with His blessings, the Bible tells us as much.

Matthew 6:30-33  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Unfortunately, those adhering to the “prosperity gospel” misuse verses like this to support the ideology that the pursuit of God is the pursuit of material wealth.

However, further study reveals that Jesus Himself dispels such a notion when speaking to the rich young ruler.

Matthew 19:23-24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

We can’t make the mistake of thinking that God’s primary purpose is to deliver us material wealth…  For in doing so we allow our love for that wealth to replace God as our focus!

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Additionally, if we allow ourselves to concentrate only on God’s material blessings we make a huge mistake in overlooking God’s spiritual blessings which are far more valuable!

Matthew 6:19-21  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

God does not want us to have a covetous heart, but to be content with the blessings He gives to us.

Hebrews 13:4-6  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you…”

The God of “Unconditional Love”

In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, asking Him if she should be stoned for this sin.  Jesus famously said, “Let who is without sin cast the first stone.

This a favorite verse of many that subscribe to the idea of God being a God of “unconditional love” who loves us so much that He ignores sin altogether - and that Christians ought to do the same and not be “so judgmental”

 “God loves me just the way I am.  I don’t need to change to please God.”

We’ve all probably heard that statement at some point.  The mindset here is that we do not need to change in order to please God.  Basically, we can just ignore the things that God says are displeasing to Him because He will simply overlook our sin.

It’s true that we have a God whose love exceeds all understanding.  However, to please God we must understand that He does require repentance and avoidance of sin. Therefore, we cannot use God’s love to justify sin.  Indeed, our God is an all-loving God who loves us in spite of our differences.  In that way His love is unconditional

Romans 2:11 For there is no partiality with God.

However, we must understand that God’s salvation is conditional and that is through His love for us that He wants us to change.

Acts 17:30  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…

The words “repentance”, “repent”, and “repented” are mentioned over 100 times throughout the Bible.  Unfortunately some believers ignore this vital component of God’s instructions for salvation!

Recall the rest of the aforementioned account of John 8 for further insight.  At this point, the scribes and Pharisees were convicted by their conscience and left Jesus and the woman alone.  Notice what Jesus says to her.

John 8:10-11  When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Yes, Jesus defended the woman from her detractors by pointing out that no one is without sin.  But that wasn’t the end of the story.  While she was not condemned to death, we read that Jesus acknowledged that what she had done was sinful and told her to repent!

This misunderstanding of the character of God reveals not only a misunderstanding of God, but also a misunderstanding of love itself.  Love does not mean that we have to agree with every decision or action someone makes.  We know all too well that some decisions and actions are destructive.  If we love someone and see them going the wrong direction, don’t we have an obligation to warn them?  Merely pointing out to someone that something is sin does not equate judgement on our part.

A Christian knows that sin is contrary to God’s will and that it actually severs our relationship with Him.

Isaiah 59:1-2  Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God;  And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

It’s really quite simple:  God loves us so much, that is why He wants us to change and repent.  Turning away from sin is turning toward God!

Conclusion:  Two Fallacies

I would like to conclude this lesson by addressing two fallacies, one that contributes to the misunderstandings about God’s nature we have covered and another that could keep us from a closer relationship with God.

Fallacy Number One:  We can understand God completely

Isaiah 55:8-9  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says 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.”

Oftentimes we make the mistake of thinking of God in human terms, but God is not like us.  We were created in His image, not the other way around.  God is eternal, His wisdom is eternal.  We might think we understand righteousness, but only God is righteous.  Therefore we cannot fully understand or comprehend our eternally righteous God.

Fallacy Number Two:  God cannot be understood at all

While we never fully understand God, the Bible does give us a great amount of insight on the character of God.  It is through this knowledge that we can be assured that He doesn’t just leave us hanging;  He reveals to us what we can comprehend and what we need to know.  Through God’s Word that we are given understandable instructions for how we ought to live and attain the salvation He freely offers to us.

Romans 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…

As we have seen from this lesson, God’s mercy and love are as great, if not greater than, His wrath.  He wants us to choose to be saved.

While He is not Santa Clause, He has given us a blessing beyond measure, the gift of His Son who gave His life for us so that we could have salvation.

Finally, we know that God wants us to make changes.  He wants us to repent of our sins and turn to Him so that we are no longer spiritually separated.

Spiritual Warfare

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads again the foe; Forward into battle, see His banner go!” 
– S. Baring-Gould, from the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers

Frequently throughout Scripture we find our spiritual struggles likened to earthly warfare.

Christians understand that this is not a literal call to arms, a militant commandment to bend the wills of others to Biblical ways of thinking.  Rather,  it's an analogy, a very appropriate one as we will see.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

The spiritual battle so often discussed in the Bible takes place in the heart/mind/soul of each individual Christian.

Know Your Enemy

Every good military strategist will point out that before any beginning any fight that it is necessary to have an understanding of your enemy.

Around 2100 years ago, the Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote the following in The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” 

In our spiritual battle, our enemy is no less than Satan himself, a rebellious fallen angel bent on destruction of all that is good.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

In order to attain victory, good strategists familiarize themselves with their enemy’s methods.  We know that the devil typically tends to appeal to our desires through various temptations.  He turns us against ourselves!

James 1:14-16 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

We read that in order to achieve his goals Satan’s primary method is to deal in deception.

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

One of Satan’s greatest advantages is the number of ways he can win, for we know that “broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).  The “lord of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) has many agents throughout the physical realm, in our own nation, state, city, and even sometimes in our own homes and churches!

Our society has been constantly trying to entice us with temptations of a wide variety from the day we were born.  Make no mistake, as Christian soldiers, we are in a battle whether we like it or not – and we are behind enemy lines!

1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

However, as we will see throughout this lesson, one of the greatest weapons we can use against our unholy adversary is the Truth of God.  It is only through committing ourselves fully to God can we hope to defeat the devil.

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Preparing for Battle

“Gird your loins!”  

If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself wondering what in the world this saying meant when Peter wrote the phrase.

It turns out that in ancient times, tunics were the common fashion.  The loosely flowing garment was not exactly ideal for intense physical activity of any kind – certainly not for the battlefield!  Could you imagine launching into war stumbling over all of that loose fabric?

Therefore, when battle was imminent, warriors would gird their loans:  They would collect the loose fabric and tighten it up around their waist, re-purposing their garb into something more suitable for action.  Taking this into consideration, let’s reread Peter’s words…

1 Peter 1:13-14 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance…

Basically, if we hope to have any kind of chance in whatever spiritual battle we face, we must take a cue from the warriors of old.  Rather than tighten our garments for physical battle, our mind must be properly prepared.  We have to focus fully on the matter at hand.  We have to commit full obedience to Christ, letting go of the cares of the world that could trip us up.

For victory to be assured, preparation is key.  Let us examine the ways in which we must prepare for the spiritual battle at hand.

The Armory of God

Earthly soldiers recognize the importance of the proper gear with which they are outfitted.
As Christian soldier, we are not being sent into battle naked and empty-handed!

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...

Let us briefly examine each of the components of the armor:

First, truth serves as a belt.  It may not seem like it, but the belt actually a very important piece of equipment as it serves to secure all other pieces of armor.  Additionally, wearing a belt indicates that a soldier is ready for battle, only loosening his belt when off duty.  In the spiritual sense, Truth is just as integral.  Surrounding us like a belt, God’s Truth directly deflects the lies of Satan.  It’s interesting that Paul chose the belt to signify Truth since it is the part all the other pieces hinge upon.

Next, our breastplate is righteousness.  Obviously, a breastplate protects the chest region which contains one of the organs most central to our survival: the heart.  This shouldn’t be surprising since we well know that God desires our hearts to be pure and righteous.  A Christian giving in to sin without repenting is the equivalent of rushing into battle without a breastplate!  One wouldn’t last too long without this vital piece of armor!

Shoes might be easily overlooked as they are probably the least exciting piece of armor, but I would imagine that a bare-footed march across harsh terrain would likely make one realize just how necessary proper footwear must be for going to war!  We are told to shod our feet with “the preparation of the Gospel of peace”.  Just as one’s shoes help them to stand firm, the Gospel serves as a stable foundation for the Christian soldier.

Faith is our shield in spiritual warfare.  A shield is primarily used for defense, repelling weapons that may be used against a combatant.  Our faith acts in a similar manner, guarding us from spiritual attacks such as temptations.  Shields may be used in offensive maneuvers as well, especially in great numbers.  Roman soldiers employed a strategy called the phalanx in which their shields were joined together in close formations.  Pressing forward as a single unit, the army could repel enemy forces and gain ground.  Likewise, Christian soldiers draw strength from one another through their common faith and love.

A helmet is necessary for protection against blows to the head.  One wouldn’t make it far with an unprotected skull!  Damage to the brain can temporarily stun a soldier, inhibit their judgement, or – at worst – kill them instantaneously!   Our helmet in the spiritual battlefield is hope.  In the spiritual sense, it is our mind that needs protection.  In the tumultuous world we live in we need all the hope we can get!  A Christian focuses on Christ’s love and His assurance of an eternal home in Heaven.  This great hope guards our minds from the discouragements and despair we face on a daily basis.

For the most part, each of the components of God’s armor is defensive in nature.  However, God also gives us a powerful offensive weapon to utilize as well:  The sword of the Spirit!

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

It is interesting to note that the word of God is likened to a “two-edged sword”.  To me, this implies that this weapon can be used against us if we are unskilled in our wielding of it.  We must be knowledgeable in God’s Word, yes, but more importantly, we must live it day in and out (James 1:22).  How often is a Christian discredited due to their being a hypocrite?  Therefore, we see that not only is it important to have a knowledge of Bible content and “theory”, but also to be skilled in applied “practice”.

However, as long as our skilled in the use of this sword, God’s Word can be used to devastating effect against even the most powerful foe.  Recall in Matthew 4:1-10 that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil himself.  Satan tried every enticement he knew in attempting to corrupt Christ, but remember how Jesus responded?  Each time the devil sent a volley of temptation at Him, Jesus simply responded with, “It is written…

Indeed, Jesus defeated the devil by simply quoting Scripture!  How often do we take for granted this wonderful weapon God has provided us with?

How Do Attain Victory?

Once you are outfitted for battle, preparations still aren’t quite complete.  In order to win a battle, a solider must have a strategy.

Proverbs 20:18 Plans are established by counsel; By wise counsel wage war.

Thankfully, as we well know, God has provided us with a guide.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

As we read here, the Bible lays out God’s wisdom in such a way that we can follow it and be assured of victory in any battle.

Conclusion: God is on Our Side

In addition to all of the personal preparations we ourselves can make, we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we have an ally who is all-powerful!  That’s right; God Himself is on our side!

Remember in the Old Testament how the Israelites could march bravely into physical battles with the knowledge that God would provide them with victory?

Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.

It’s no different in the spiritual battlefield.

Romans 8:31-35 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

In spite of the potentially overwhelming odds we face while living in this world, God will deliver us!

Romans 8:37-39  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.