Sunday, April 23, 2017

Psalm 145:18-19

Dead to Sin

In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul spoke of the lost as being “dead in sin”.  We understand that one is dead in sin when they willfully choose to embrace the lusts of the flesh.  Through their disobedience they are doomed to a bleak fate with the way of sin only leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Even though we deserve punishment for our former life, God is loving and merciful.  It is by His grace He allowed us a means of escape from condemnation.  Through the sacrifice of Christ, God forgives our sin, thereby making us “alive” so that we may stand before Him redeemed!

Ephesians 2:4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

In a turn of that phrase – “dead in sin” – Paul also spoke of the concept of one being “dead to sin”…  This particular phrase refers to one who has accepted Christ as their Savior!

Dead in Sin versus Dead to Sin

Romans 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One word makes a big difference!  Being “dead in sin” is very different from being “dead to sin”.  As we have seen, being “dead in sin” is a hopeless situation in which the unrepentant are condemned in their sins, eternally separated from God.  Meanwhile, being “dead to sin” offers us redemption, a path to eternal life through God’s grace.

So how do we go from being “dead in sin” to being “dead to sin”?

In Romans 6 Paul related the act of baptism - the avenue by which God provides the remission of sins - to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

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 will see through this lesson, God desires us to be “dead to sin” so that we will have freedom from sin and be once more “alive” in His eyes.  We will find that being dead to sin requires some effort on our part, but that, ultimately, it is being dead to sin that offers us hope for the future.

Freedom from Sin

When one is dead to sin, they are no longer controlled by sin.

Romans 6:6  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.

To the unbelieving of the world, sin might be frowned upon at best, and it is very unpopular to condemn sin outright. In our society especially morals seem to be subjective.  We know all too well that some sins are celebrated as a sort of freedom.

But to one who has committed their life to Christ, sin is recognized for what it truly is:  Tyranny. When were in sin, we were enslaved by our own desires.

Romans 6:7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Through God’s grace manifested by Christ’s sacrifice, we are granted freedom from our sin.

A New Creation with a New Purpose

Upon rising up from the waters of baptism, a Christian has been cleansed of their former sin.  We stand before God renewed…  A new creation with a new purpose!

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…

Some on the verge of accepting Christ find themselves discouraged at the prospect of giving up sin.  This is a spiritually shortsighted attitude!  It’s important to realize that God offers us something so much better than the temporary pleasures of sin.  Not only are we putting away our former desires but we are allowing God to replace them.  Through Christ’s redeeming power we are made new once more!

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The phrase “living sacrifices” would seem at first glance to be a paradox; After all, sacrifices do not live, they die.

But this is a great analogy for the kind of life a Christian should strive toward.  Our devotion to Christ should be so deep that we readily put away our own desires.  A dramatic metamorphosis should occur.  In becoming Christians we should no longer desire to please ourselves, but God!

Colossians 3:1-4  If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set you mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him glory.

Our mindset should change completely and we should live a life that emulates the life of Christ.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Avoiding Sin

Aspiring to be Christ-like requires great commitment on our part.  As we have read, we ought to set our mind on the pursuit of righteousness, doing the will of God.  Accordingly, we should actively be avoiding sin!

Understand that a new Christian will still face temptation, it’s not like being cleansed from your former sin makes one immune to future temptation.  Being imperfect, we will still be tempted.  We will stumble in our Christian walk.  We will – unfortunately – sin.

(We shouldn’t be discouraged by this as God lets us know that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand - 1 Corinthians 10:13)

But as a new creation set upon a new purpose, we will grow in strength as we develop as Christians.  We will dwell upon godly principles (Psalm 1:1-3, Philippians 4:8) and thereby completely change the way we think about the world, the way we approach certain situations.  Our attitude will attune to God’s will.  We will find certain temptations easier and easier to overcome until they are no longer enticing to us at all.  With time we will develop a distaste and intolerance for sinful behavior (2 Timothy 2:22).

However, we cannot allow this newfound confidence to become self-righteousness.  And we certainly cannot allow ourselves to take God’s forgiveness for granted, especially not to the point that we misuse it as a license to sin!

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

In this passage Paul was rebuking Christians who sought to use God’s grace as an excuse to return to a life of sin.  What an awful attitude to have, treating the sacrifice of Christ so irreverently as to casually return to sin, perhaps thinking, “Well, God will just forgive me anyway…”

Peter described just how disgusting it would be to willingly return to the depravity of sin.

2 Peter 2:20-22  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Returning to a life of sin after being forgiven would be like Christ abandoning the glory of His resurrection only to return to the despair of the grave.

Romans 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 

We must not return to our former life of sin, for in doing so we foolishly forfeit our salvation, rejecting the gift of God (Romans 6:23).

Created for Good Works

Therefore, our new purpose should be set upon pleasing the Lord and doing His will through good works.

Of course, in doing these good works, we must always remember that our salvation is attained by works.

Ephesians 2:8-10 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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Indeed we are saved by God’s grace.  However, God expects an obedient faith (James 1:22).

1 Corinthians 6:20  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Therefore we work as “instruments of righteousness” not to be saved, but because we are saved!

Romans 6:12-14  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Alive to God

As we read in Romans 6:11, to be dead to sin is to be “alive to God”.

Let’s attempt to tie together all of the figurative language:

When one decides to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, they repent of their former life of sin…  They put to death the self-serving life of sin that they once led.  They become dead to sin.  But that’s not the end of the story.  As one reborn through baptism, they are a new creation likened to the resurrected Christ.

Romans 6:8 -9  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Just as Christ won’t die anymore now that He has been resurrected, neither will we.  Being alive to God is a blessing while we live in the flesh and onward into eternity.

John 10:10  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

As Jesus points out, through Him our earthly life will be enriched greatly.

No longer burdened by sin and diligently resisting temptation, a faithful Christian lives a fulfilling life with a clear conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21), enjoys the spiritual blessings God offers (Ephesians 1:3), and now has a hopeful future to look forward to as he is guaranteed an eternal home with Jesus!

John 6:40  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Evidences of the Resurrection

With so many celebrating the Easter holiday this week, millions around the world - believers and non-believers - are reminded of Jesus' death, burial, and - most importantly - His resurrection.

The Significance of the Resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important event in the Bible.  Our Lord’s victory over death is the very foundation of our faith.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 …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.

As Paul pointed out, if Christ had not been resurrected, our faith would be useless.  We would still be in our sins.  Life would be as meaningless - and, therefore, hopeless - as unbelievers contend.  There would be no point to us being Christians.

However, as Paul goes on to state, Christ was resurrected.  He is risen.  We serve a living Savior who overcame death.

God Wants Us to be Informed

I think it’s a great misconception that faith ought to be blind.  Time and again, the Bible tells us that God wants us to be informed and search out evidences for ourselves.

Proverbs 3:13  (NIV) Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.

Aside from that, Christians need evidence in order to convince others and lead them to the Truth.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…

Keeping that in mind, let us examine 5 evidences that make the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Evidence #1 – Secular History

Many skeptics will point out that Bible evidence for the very existence of Jesus – including His death and subsequent resurrection – is questionable because of its inherent bias.  Of course the Bible, a book claiming to be the Word of God, would confirm itself as true a skeptic might say in questioning the validity of the Gospels.

Indeed, due to wars, pillaging, and simple deterioration of various writings and artifacts, there is a severe lack of information about the life of Jesus to be found. In fact, few writings from the time of Christ exist at all, even information about important secular leaders of the time such as Julius Caesar, and yet no historian would question the existence of Caesar!

However, Historian Darrell Bock notes that since He wasn’t a great political or military leader that “It is amazing and significant that Jesus shows up at all in the sources we have.”

The sources available today include the writings of Jewish and Roman historians, Roman officials, and pagan sources, none of which would have any reason to want to further the influence of Christianity.

It is through these early non-Christian sources that the following facts about Jesus’ life are confirmed:

Jesus was from Nazareth
Jesus lived a wise and virtuous life.
Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that He performed unusual feats.
Jesus was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at the time of Passover, being considered the Jewish King.
Jesus was believed by His disciples to have died and risen from the dead three days later.
It’s truly as Paul said to King Agrippa, the things Jesus did were “not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)

Evidence #2 – The Empty Tomb

Establishing the reliability of the Bible through the verification of outside, secular sources, let’s examine some of the physical evidence detailed in the Scriptures.

John 20:1-7  Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

Reading this section of verses, it would be easy for skeptics to argue that since believers of Jesus found the tomb empty that their testimony is biased and therefore unreliable.  However, it is important to note that even the enemies of Christ – the Pharisees and others – never denied that the tomb was found empty.

It is also significant that the first people to discover the empty tomb were women.  Taking into consideration historical norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day this detail is especially noteworthy.  As sexist as it may sound today, in this ancient society the testimony of women was not considered reliable.

Therefore, if the Gospel writers were merely making things up surely they would not have reported that it was women who found the empty tomb.  Wouldn’t they have written that it was men instead that made this discovery so as to make their story more believable in that day and age?  However, we read in the Gospels what actually happened as reported by those who were actually there, regardless of the cultural taboos of the day.

Many have sought to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb with various theories such as the body of Jesus was stolen or that Jesus wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  These theories are all easily debunked however.

Take for example the “Stolen Body” theory:  Jesus’ enemies – namely the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin – actually feared that something of this sort would happen, that one of Jesus’ disciples would try to steal His body in order to make the claim that He had been resurrected.

The disciples, however, seem to have little to no motivation for doing this.  In fact, it would seem that the Pharisees had more faith in Jesus’ declaration that He would live again than some of His closest followers.  We read that many of the disciples weren’t even present at the tomb that Jesus was revealed to be resurrected (Luke 24:13).  This is further indicated a lack of faith by expressing disappointment that Jesus had not delivered on His promise (Luke 24:21).

The Pharisees however, were taking no chances, so they took precautions and asked that the tomb be sealed and that Roman guards be stationed at the entrance of the tomb to prevent the stealing of Jesus’ body.  Based on Roman military protocol of the day, historians estimate the number of soldiers guarding the tomb being anywhere from at least 4 to a dozen to possibly even more.  On top of that, keep in mind that Jesus was put to death and buried during the Passover feast, at time at which there were thousands of Jews camping in the surrounding area.

Taking all of this into consideration, the notion that a group of disciples boldly snuck up on these soldiers, rolled away the 1-2 ton stone at the mouth of the tomb and stole Jesus’ body all without being seen or heard by someone is highly unlikely.

Evidence #3 – Post-Resurrection Appearances

It would be all-too-easy to refute the story of Jesus’ resurrection if no one ever saw Him again.  However, we have documentation that people not only saw the resurrected Jesus, but also touched, walked with, ate with, and talked with Him!

Jesus appeared to His disciples on numerous occasions following His resurrection.  Recall that Jesus was among them for 40 days after His resurrection.

Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Thomas famously doubted that Jesus was actually alive again until encouraged by Jesus to touch Him.

John 20:24-28 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Some of Jesus’ own disciples supposed that Jesus’ resurrection – if it took place at all – was going to be a sort of ghostly manifestation in keeping with the Jewish belief that the spirit lingered after the body died.  Taking this evidence into account, however we know that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a spiritual resurrection, but a physical one.

In fact, hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus at one time following His resurrection!

1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

Modern psychologists have confirmed that this could not be could be a case of “mass hallucination”, that all these witnesses merely imagined Jesus among them. His appearing to so many witnesses in the flesh confirmed that He was indeed alive once more!

In a court of law we find ourselves convinced by eye-witness accounts, people who were actually there.  Why then would we question the testimony of those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus?

Evidence #4 – The Radical Transformation of the Disciples and Others

Consider for a moment the life and character of Peter and the other disciples as recorded in the earlier parts of the Gospels.

We read over and over that these eleven men were often proved to be fairly ignorant of the scriptures and slow learners (Even to the point that Jesus Himself actually got frustrated with them on more than one occasion!).  They would jump to brash conclusions and were downright self-righteous at times.  Additionally, they exhibited inconsistent faith time and time again and were even shown to be cowardly, fleeing for their lives as Jesus was being taken away.

How is it then that these same men would so suddenly become such knowledgeable and bold evangelists responsible for spearheading a religious movement that would go on to last some 2000 years and counting?  Something very real happened to them that transformed their lives!

Perhaps the best example of such a drastic 180-degree turn is that of Paul.  Previously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was once an extremely devout Pharisee and one of the harshest persecutors of the early church.  A religious zealot, Paul was responsible for having many Christians imprisoned and even put to death.

However, on the road to Damascus, Paul encountered Jesus.  While this was not Jesus in the physical form as we previously discussed, this was no mere subjective vision.  Paul’s travelling companions also perceived the bright light and voice of Jesus as He appeared to Paul (Acts 9:7, 22:9).  After meeting the Lord, Paul repented of his wicked ways and became a changed man.  He went on to become a great leader of the early church and wrote the bulk of the New Testament.

Many unbelievers claim that all religions – including Christianity – only exist to control the masses and that they are all ultimately based upon some kind of lie.   But by the world’s standards, what did the Apostles have to gain in preaching Christ?  In the physical sense they had nothing to gain and everything to lose!  The disciples never gained worldly riches from their evangelical work, and yet they were willing to face imprisonment, exile, torture, and even death in order to preach Jesus!  This simply isn’t something that anyone would be willing to do if it was all simply based upon lie.

The fact is they knew that Christ truly had risen from the dead!

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Evidence #5 – The Birth and Growth of the Church

It was during the first century that the church was established and it wasn’t long before the movement exploded onto the scene.  This wasn’t merely some short-lived cult; it was a huge movement that came suddenly and hasn’t gone away since.  The church positively thrived in the first century and beyond.

From the beginning the Church saw a huge, instantaneous shift in the religious landscape of the day.  The Day of Pentecost was a major turning point.  Occurring 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and just 9 days after His ascension into Heaven, thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  Many of those present had been witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd.  Notice the reaction of this huge crowd after hearing the first Gospel sermon.

Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

Following the church’s establishment, the Christian faith continued to gain incredible momentum.  It wasn’t long before Christianity would become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, impressively overthrowing pagan practices that had went on for centuries.

In our modern era, we see movements spring up almost overnight thanks to our advanced transportation and communication technology.  However, Christianity spread like wildfire without the aid these modern devices.

Only something as compelling and persuasive and real as Jesus’ resurrection could account for this widespread conversion.

Responding to the Resurrection – “What Shall We Do?”

Regardless of the evidences we have discussed today, ultimately, it all comes down to faith…
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

However, God requires more than just mere faith.  There is a call for obedient action on our part.  Recall on the Day of Pentecost that the crowd was moved by Peter’s sermon.

Acts 2:36-38 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Perhaps, like those gathered on the Day of Pentecost, you find yourself convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior who overcame death through the resurrection.

Perhaps you likewise find yourself “cut to the heart” in recognizing that you are guilty of sin and that you desire God’s forgiveness.

If that is the case then you will want to know the answer that Peter gave to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, for it is the same offer of salvation that Jesus provides to all of us today…

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...”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Romans 8:11

Concerning Angels – Part 2

In the previous lesson we discussed the appearance of angels, learned what angels are and are not, and defined some of the roles that angels fulfill.

The subject of angels is a dense one.  I started out the previous lesson thinking it would be easy, only to find myself unsure of where to begin and conclude.  There is still more to learn about angels, and this lesson will continue to just scratch the surface.

The Fallibility of Angels

We’ve all heard of someone being referred to as being a “perfect little angel” – usually in mocking tone – the implication being that all angels are pure and holy.

However, this is not entirely the case.  In the previous lesson we discussed the fact that angels are somewhat similar to humans in that they are apparently sentient beings with free will. Therefore, like humans, angels are imperfect and just as capable of making mistakes.  Angels can turn away from God.

Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
In addition to turning away from God, we see that some angels actively work to turn humanity away from God.  

Concerning Demons

“Demon” (from the Greek word daim┼Źn, translated “devil”) is another name for these fallen angels.  While the origin of demons is not explicitly discussed in the Bible, there are verses that speak of the fall of angels and their leader Satan.

Revelation 12:7-9 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,  but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them  in heaven any longer.  So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

After rebelling against God, Satan and his angels (as many as one third of all the angels – Revelation 12:4) were cast from Heaven.  Since that time, Satan has taken on the role of tempter and his primary goal is turning the hearts of men away from God (Genesis 3).  Like their leader the devil, demons actively seek to contaminate the human race, damage our relationship with God, and thereby condemn us to a fate similar to their own.

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.

There is not much said about demons in the Old Testament, but some Scriptures describe “distressing – or evil – spirits from God” (1 Samuel 16:15-16, 23) or “lying spirits” (1 King 22:21-23) that afflicted kings and prophets of the age.

In the New Testament they are usually called “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7), “wicked – or evil – spirits” (Luke 7:21, Acts 19:12-13), “deceiving spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1), or “spirits of divination” (Acts 16:16).

As disturbing as it may sound, Satan and his demons have some degree of power in our world.  Satan is even sometimes called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) or “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  While he does not have complete rule over this world – God is still above all – it is unsettling to realize that in some way that the devil rules over the people of this world.

The book of Job describes an instance in which Satan was allowed by God to do anything but kill him (Job 1:6-12).  In our time Satan and his followers are more subtle in their work.  They utilize deceit as a means to manipulate mankind into rebelling against God by appealing to the lusts of the flesh (1 John 2:16).

Some pagan worshippers apparently had dealings with demons.  Whether this was done unknowingly or intentionally is unclear.  Regardless, it is certain that demons delight in the making false idols to draw away worship from the true God (Leviticus 17:7, Psalm 106:37).  I wonder how many false religions today owe their existence to the work of fallen angels?

Another tactic employed by the devil and his infernal cohorts is the twisting of the very word of God (Satan himself actually quoted Scripture in an attempt to corrupt Christ – Matthew 4:5-6) and the enabling of false teachers to spread their perverted gospels.

Revelation 16:14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Therefore, as Christians we are warned to be aware of spiritual threats…

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.

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

But we are also encouraged with the knowledge that God has the ultimate power over all.

James 2:19  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

1 John 4:4  You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

What about Demonic Possession?

Of course we cannot discuss demons without delving into the topic of demonic possession…
During a demonic possession, an unclean spirit would personally attack a human with various afflictions.  Demons could cause diseases such as muteness (Matthew 12:22), deafness (Mark 9:25), blindness (Matthew 12:22), and bodily deformations (Luke 13:10-17).  Additionally, we read of demons capable of inflicting mental problems (Matthew 8:28, Acts 19:13-16) such as ranting and raving (Mark 1:23-24, John 10:20), uncontrolled fits (Luke 9:37-42, Mark 1:26), and antisocial behaviors (Luke 8:27, 35).

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He healed people who had been possessed by demons (Mark 1:22-28, Mark 5:1-16).   Through such miraculous acts, Jesus established His power over Satan and his demonic forces.  Jesus needed only to issue a simple verbal command to expel demons.  Meanwhile, His disciples would invoked Christ’s name (Luke 9:49) or prayed (Mark 9:29) to cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A question that often comes up while discussing demonic possession is whether or not such things still happen in the modern age.  It is worth noting that the Gospel writers would often distinguish between sickness and demonic possession and point out that not all diseases were caused by demons.
For example, in Matthew 12:22 a man was brought to Jesus “who was demon-possessed, blind and mute…” in this instance the infirmities of this individual appear to be caused by the demon.  However, in John 9, Jesus healed a blind man who was “blind from birth”.  Apparently this was a natural, rather than supernatural affliction.

The point being that it is unclear whether or not some of the diseases and mental illnesses we see today are caused by demonic possession.  However, it’s worth pointing out that the age of miracles has apparently ended (1 Corinthians 13:8-13) and the ability to cast out demons is listed among the miraculous abilities (Mark 9:38-41).  Therefore, if mankind no longer has the ability to cast out demons, then perhaps it can be assumed that God no longer allows people to be afflicted by demons in this way.

Interestingly enough, following the book of Acts there is no mention of exorcisms in the latter part of the New Testament.  It’s almost as if that particular threat from the demonic realm was phased out altogether.  Perhaps the power of demons is significantly limited now that they are bound in Hell…

2 Peter 2:4  For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

We know that some will still claim even to this day to have the ability to cast out demons in Christ’s name.  However we are warned against such false teachers by Jesus Himself.

Matthew 7:21-23  Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Should we fear demons today?  Not if we are in Christ!  Christ’s power over demonic forces is just as potent today as it was when He walked the Earth.

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

Angel Worship

While it’s obvious that seeking communicate with demons or otherwise dabbling in the occult is forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, Leviticus 19:31), one might think that conversing with righteous angels might be an acceptable practice.  I’ve heard of some individuals seeking to direct prayer to their “guardian angel”.

We can read of instances in which mankind encountered angels and began to worship them.  In such cases we can read of the angels actually rebuking them for doing so!

Revelation 22:8-9  Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.  Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

It’s important to make clear that the worship of anything/anyone other than God is forbidden by Scripture!

Colossians 2:18  Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind…

Humanity and Angels within the Spiritual Hierarchy

How often after a loved one has died have we heard somebody seeking to comfort us by saying “Heaven has gained another angel”?  We must realize that humans do not become angels after they have died! As we have studied in both parts of this series of lessons, angels are created beings distinctly different from mankind.

For further proof of this truth we can look to the words of Christ Himself when He was discussing marriage in the afterlife.

Matthew 22:29-30  Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.

Notice that while making this point Christ differentiates between angels and human souls.  Humanity and angels are distinct and unique creations!

Within the spiritual hierarchy, we read that mankind is ranked just below the angels…

Psalm 8:4-6  What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

…And yet, as we just read, the psalmists said that mankind holds a favored position.
Isn’t it amazing to consider that humanity actually possesses a few distinct advantages over the angels?

First, we know that mankind is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  This cannot be said of the angels (whose appearance we discussed in the previous lesson).

Additionally, we see that mankind was actually made privy to knowledge withheld from the angels through the revelation of the Gospel.

1 Peter 1:12  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

We tend to think of the angels as always being positioned above humanity, holding some unattainable degree of righteousness over us.  However, it’s incredible to realize that Scripture tells us humanity will actually be charged with judging the angels!  Obviously not just any humans, but rather it will be the Saints – the Church – that will take on this role.

1 Corinthians 6:3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels…?

What an awesome responsibility for mankind to take on, exercising authority over some of Heaven’s original inhabitants!

The Eternal Fate of Angels

So what happens on the Day of Judgement and beyond?

The righteous angels will accompany Christ when He returns.

Matthew 25:31  When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

From there, the “holy angels” will enjoy the pleasures of the “new heavens” (2 Peter 3:13).

As for the demons, those fallen angels…

Jude 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day...

And there they will remain in torment.

If any of this sounds familiar, that is because the eternal fate of angels is more or less identical to our own destiny…

One final point to consider:

When it comes to deciding how one will spend eternity, it appears that humanity have a privilege that angels never had. To my knowledge there is no Scriptural evidence of fallen angels ever repenting or even having a chance at repentance...  Once they turned their back on God, there was no chance of rejoining Him.  It’s almost as if the angels were given one chance to choose whom they would serve, whether it be God or Satan.

That is the same choice that we face every day of our lives, isn’t it?

On that last day Jesus will judge the nations…

Matthew 25:41  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…

Will that be our eternal fate?  Or will we be those “on His right hand” who gladly hear Him say…

Matthew 25:34 …Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reaching Across Generations

Malachi 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…

If you’re not already familiar with the term millennial, this is “the name given to the generation born between 1982 and 2004…  The last generation to be born in the 20th Century.

Reportedly, millennials currently outnumber the “Baby Boomer” generation, making them the (currently) largest age-demographic in the United States.

However - despite their large numbers - millennials are generally characterized in various media as being “misunderstood” and there is a lot of research that goes into characterizing the “typical” millennial as an – apparently – atypical generation with their own strengths and weaknesses.

A Snapshot of Millennials, According to their Press:

Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world. They are the generation that has received the most marketing attention. As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of difference. Having been raised under the mantra "follow your dreams" and being told they were special, they tend to be confident. While largely a positive trait, the Millennial generation’s confidence has been argued to spill over into the realms of entitlement and narcissism.  

There’s hardly a day that goes by in which I don’t come across some article trying to figure out millennials:

Companies worry about appealing to millennials with their products and advertising.  Business owners fret over creating a workplace that accommodates the unique needs of millennials.

Even churches seem to be unsure of how to reach out to millennials, leading to many congregations scrambling to re-brand themselves so as to attract this younger demographic.

It’s All Been Done Before:  The Generation Gap

Before we go any further I’d like to point out what you have probably already realized…
Basically, what we have here is an older generation not fully understanding the up-and-coming generation and vice-versa.  But hasn’t this always been the case?  And won’t it continue to be long into the future?

There will always be a divide between the younger and older generations…  The younger generation will inevitably feel that the older generation is “out of touch” while the older generation will usually claim that the younger generation is disrespectful at best, flat-out rebellious at worst.  The older generation may feel threatened by new approaches and ideas while the younger generation thinks conventional wisdom is antiquated and useless.

In other words:  This isn’t a new problem.

Ecclesiastes 1:9  That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.

All of this isn't to say that this is a problem we should ignore.  Indeed, we ought to be concerned about the spiritual well-being of all, but I wonder if some approach this issue in the wrong way...

Attempts to Appeal to the Younger Generation

In an attempt to bridge the generation gap, various churches use a variety of strategies in an attempt to appeal to younger generations.  They may try:

Making Worship More Exciting – Churches sometimes will attempt to appeal to younger generations by creating worship “experiences”.  In these churches, the “traditional” is replaced in favor of the “alternative”.  Sitting in a stuffy pew singing hymns is replaced by a concert-like atmosphere where everyone is engaged and caught up in the emotion of the music and ambience.

Offering Social Activities – Another strategy churches will employ is creating recreational community centers.  They build huge complexes to offer organized sports and other programs to appeal to those seeking “fellowship”.

Altering the Message – Sometimes churches will go as far as to soften their stance on issues to appeal to younger generations.  Preachers may take on the role of motivational speakers whose lessons primarily consist of anecdotes, occasionally peppered with the more “uplifting” verses from the Bible.  Maybe they won’t preach about Hell because they want to play up the positive.  Perhaps they will avoid discussing God’s disapproval of homosexuality because it doesn’t sound “tolerant”.

The problem with all these approaches is three-fold:

First, most people – young or old – are wise to nearly every trick of this kind.  They can see right through the bait-and-switch and may even come away insulted by the shallow effort.

For example, I'm reminded of an awkward situation years ago during the my Freshman year of college:  An older gentleman came to address the student body during a convocation, bringing what started out as a decent message on resisting the pressures of the world.  But then, in an attempt to convince us that he was "hip" he proceeded to put on a baseball cap…  Only to make a point of turning it backwards.  And then he began to rap.  Yes, a sixty-something man rapped to an audience of college students about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  I’m pretty sure it was an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Nobody appreciated being pandered to, this technique usually turns away the ones to which its mean to appeal to and alienates everybody else in the process.

A second problem is if these tactics do work then what what’s the true motivation for those attending such churches?  What happens when the music is no longer appealing or another organization offers a better sports program?  What’s really the focus of a church if it’s comprised of people who come merely for the entertainment, free food, etc.?  It’s unlikely that in such congregations that God is being glorified.

Third – and most important – these methods deviate from Scripture.  While such churches try to promote the Gospel, they actually stray from God’s Word in doing so!

Worship in Spirit and Truth – Worship may appeal to the emotions, but that should be a happy byproduct, not the primary focus.  God is meant to be at the center of worship, not us.  Additionally, we know that God has given specific instructions for worship.

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

True Fellowship – Fellowship is more than just merely hanging out with other Christians.  The term actually refers to a very deep spiritual relationship between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Christian fellowship should involve confessing sin to one another (James 5:16), edifying and encouraging each other (Romans 15:2), and bearing each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

God’s Changeless Word – The Bible remains just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  Jesus Himself is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8).  Therefore God’s Word does not change with any new societal norms or popular man-made doctrines.  If we alter Scripture in any way we allow ourselves to become false teachers.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

What does the Church Really Have to Offer?

The young, old, black, white, male, female, whoever, whatever the demographic…  They’re all souls in need of a Savior.

Whether they realize it or not, they’re all looking for fulfillment.

People from all walks of life turn to the various religions of the world looking for answers.  Others turn to self-help books, exercise, or diets to help them find value in themselves.  Many others rely on their career and pursuit of status.  Fame, money, drugs, sex – isn’t ironic that the people who seem to have the most in life often seem to be the most miserable?

It’s as if everyone is born with a God-shaped void in their heart and they keep looking for the square peg to put into the round hole.

When churches resort to gimmicks to advertise and draw people in, they’re announcing to the world that they have nothing truly different to offer…

I think such churches forget the single most valuable asset they have to offer:  access to Jesus Christ Himself!

The world is dying for fulfillment and we can lead them to Him!

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

What sets the church apart from everything else in the world is our relationship with Christ, our devotion to God’s Word, our emulation of Jesus through the loving of all.  If this isn’t what the world sees when they see Christians, we need to work to change that!

The Obligations of the Younger Generation

I think in some ways the younger generation feels that they deserve to be pandered to.  However, Scripture reveals that young people have obligations when it comes to serving God...  Some more difficult than others to accept!

The “come as you are” approach is prevalent among many churches today who tweak Scripture to attract socially-conscious youth.   Indeed, God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11) and accepts any and all regardless of gender, social status, etc. (Galatians 3:28).

However, the Bible teaches us that God doesn’t want us to remain as we are.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the message that many preach today, the idea that we don’t need to change to have a closer relationship with God.

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

We must understand that God seeks to transform us and therefore repentance should be taught as a central theme of the Bible (Isaiah 30:15, Matthew 3:8, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17).  If anyone tells you any different, they are misleading you!

So perhaps sometimes it isn’t the church making changes isn’t the problem…  I’ll be bold enough to suggest that maybe the younger generation needs to make some changes if they truly desire to have a relationship with Christ!

Young people:  If a relationship with Christ is indeed what you desire, submit to God’s will instead of your own.

Direct your passion and zeal toward Godly pursuits!

Ecclesiastes 12:1  Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”

1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

And - finally - don’t reject the teachings of older Christians who have your best interests at heart!

Deuteronomy 32:7  Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you…

Don't forget:  We will all - if God so blesses us - become the older generation at some point!

The Obligations of the Older Generation

The older generation doesn't get a pass - They too have responsibilities!

Indeed, anyone – young or old – should seek to submit to God’s will…  And not attempt to alter it in some misguided attempt to play a numbers game as we discussed earlier.

Likewise, some criticisms directed at the older generation are justified.  Perhaps the older generation could learn something from the younger!

For example, older generations tend to get in the mindset that the way things have always been done are the only way.  Obviously, we ought to submit to God’s unchanging Word, but we must also re-examine from time to time to make sure we aren’t caught up in traditions we ourselves have created (Matthew 23:4, Mark 7:8-9, 1 Timothy 4:3)!

Matthew 15:3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition..?”

Sometimes we impose dress codes, or refuse to change the time of services, or otherwise seek to impose rules with no Scriptural basis but rather based on habit or "the way we’ve always done things."  Not all change is bad and some is actually necessary, therefore the older generation should not be so resistance to making such changes!

Obviously, the older generation is obligated to train up the younger, passing on their knowledge of God’s Word through instruction and example.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the some of the older generation fell short in this duty.  Perhaps this is why many young people have either left the church or never even joined to begin with!

It's certainly a great responsibility to bear, but God is with us and through His strength the older generation has the opportunity to have a profound impact on the younger generation!

Psalm 71:18  Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.

Psalm 145:4 One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.

Each generation should build upon the foundation put down by the other!

Generational Unity in Christ

We know that Christ unifies us regardless of our nationality, social status, and gender…

Galatians 3:28 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.

But recall that God also unifies us into a single generation!

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…

As we can see, every generation has an obligation not only to God, but also to each other.

Let us look beyond our differences and reach across generations to build each other up, always respect one another in Godly love, and seek to forge genuine relationships with the goal of encouraging and edifying one another.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Concerning Angels

Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

Considering that we never know when we are in the company of angels, it is fitting that we learn more about these heavenly guests!

Many people would probably be surprised to find that much of what we think we know about angels actually comes from sources outside of the Bible.  Paintings, books, cartoons, and movies have shaped the popular perception of angels, rather than study of Scripture.

The appearance, temperament, and tasks of angels is just a few of many Biblical truths that would likely shock those in a secular understanding, but even seasoned students of the Bible might find themselves surprised by this topic.

Christians themselves sometimes have great misconceptions when it comes to angels!  For example, one might think that there’s not to say about angels, that there’s just a limited amount of Scripture dedicated to them, or that angels are more of an Old Testament subject.

However, a further study reveals that angels are actually brought up in the Bible in almost 300 instances, with 108 mentions occurring in the Old Testament and 187 mentions in the New Testament!  It turns out we can actually gather a great deal of understanding about these beings!

The Appearance of Angels

When someone brings up the topic of angels, a few different mental images probably come to mind.  We might envision harps and halos.  Perhaps we think of an adorable cupid-like figure, a chubby baby with tiny wings.  Or maybe we envision a beautiful woman arrayed in glowing, flowing white robes.

Halos are never mentioned in the Bible.  Harps are mentioned once (in Revelation 14:2 – but the reference may actually be a description of the unique singing voices of angels).  Interestingly, Jesus taught that angels are without gender.

Matthew 22:29-30  Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven…”

So what do angels actually look like?  It turns out, the various angels described in the Bible might actually be kind of terrifying to behold in real life.  In fact, most people who encountered angels in the Bible fell flat on their face in terror.

The first angel mentioned in the Bible was the Cherub* with a flaming sword (Genesis 3:24) assigned to guard the Garden of Eden once Adam and Eve were sent away by God.  Cherubim – the subgroup of angels most commonly depicted as flying babies in secular media – aren’t actually as docile… or even the least bit cute.

Ezekiel details the frightening visage of Cherubim as seen in one of his prophecies.

Ezekiel 1:4-14  Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.  As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.  And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.

An artist's depiction of a Cherub

This account seems to be but an approximation attempting to describe the indescribable, using worldly terms to define something otherworldly in nature.

Other angels are just as strange and imposing.  Seraphim** – “burning ones” or “nobles” in Hebrew – are another class of angels described in the Bible described by the prophet Isaiah who had seen them in a vision of God in the Temple.

Isaiah 6:1-7  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.  So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”

An artist's depiction of a Seraph

Most of the time however, it is written that we would be unaware of an encounter with an angel in their true form (Hebrews 13:2).  Typically angels are invisible to mankind or come in the guise of humans as we see in the accounts with Balaam (Number 22:31-39) and Abraham (Genesis 18) for example.

What are Angels?

Despite the abundance of knowledge to be found in Scripture concerning angels, there’s certainly an aura of mystery that surrounds them.  In some ways they are like mankind and in other ways they are completely different.  Despite their heavenly heritage, it would be a mistake to think of angels as being comparable to God.

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

Angels are spiritual entities created by God, possibly existing before the creation of the Universe (there is no mention of them recorded in Genesis 1 where most of the created things are mentioned by name).

Like humans, they are sentient beings with free will.

Unlike humans, angels are not wholly physical but they are not without bodies.  They are described as spiritual, metaphysical creatures with “celestial bodies”.

1 Corinthians 15:39-40 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.  There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

Being heavenly inhabitants, it’s easy to think of angels as sharing characteristics with God.  However, this is not the case at all; God is a completely different being with His own totally unique characteristics.    

Angels are Heavenly, but not Eternal.  God is called everlasting because He has no beginning or ending.  He exists beyond time.  Since angels – like all other creatures – were created by God, they have a beginning.  Now, like humans, they may very well endure into eternity, but they cannot be considered eternal in the same sense as God.

Angels are Spiritual, but not Infallible.  It’s easy to think of angels as being completely righteous beings like God, but it is important to remember that angels do have free will, and are therefore fallible.  Like mankind, they can choose to whether serve God or not.  The most infamous of angels is the fallen Satan who led a rebellion against God.  Therefore we read that some angels actually can’t be trusted.

Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

Angels are Wise, but not All-knowing.  We may think of angels may be privy to information withheld from mankind.  This may be the case as they have the benefit of residing Heaven, but humanity has had knowledge revealed to them by the Holy Spirit that angels weren't previously aware of.  Additionally, we see that God keeps some knowledge to himself.  Therefore, angels are are far from omniscient.

1 Peter 1:12  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

Matthew 24:36  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.

Angels are Swift, but not Omnipresent.  We know that God’s presence is universal, His spirit spans all of creation and cannot be contained (1 Kings 8:27, Isaiah 66:1).  Angels, however fast they may be with their movements likened to lightning cannot be “two places at once”.  In every mention of angels appearing on Earth, their manifestation appears to be localized and limited to one location.

Angels are not All-powerful.  While they have powers over mankind, their strength pales in comparison to the power of our omnipotent, almighty God.  We know that most angels are subservient to God.

Psalm 103:20 Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word.

A Warning against Angel Worship

Since we see that angels are lesser beings than God, it is important to note that angel worship is a form of false worship that would be unacceptable to God!  We can not lift any created thing above the Creator!

Romans 1:24-25  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Colossians 2:18  Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind...

What is the Role of Angels?

Popular depictions in various media would have us thinking that angels mainly spend their time hanging out around Heaven singing in choirs.  While there is some evidence that angels do engage in such activities (Revelation 14:2-3, Luke 2:13-14), they actually are quite active in the Earthly realm.  In Hebrews 1:13-14 angels are described as “ministering spirits” and at various points in Biblical history, angels have taken on a number of roles.

Angels Reveal God’s Will.  The Greek word “angelos” and the Hebrew word “malak” are both more or less translated as “messenger.”  In fact, there are some instances, these words occasionally refer to prophets or other human messengers (Haggai 1:13; Malachi 2:7, 3:1).  Most of the time, however, these words refer to angels.  Certainly, this is in keeping with what we see angels doing in Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments.

We can read of angels providing revelations to Daniel by the Archangel Gabriel, an angel appeared in the dreams of Joseph to notify him of Jesus’ coming birth in first two chapters of Matthew, “an angel of God” brought instructions Cornelius in Acts 10:1-6 that led to his salvation, and Philip was led to preach to the Ethiopian by “an angel of the Lord” in Acts 8.  While it's unclear if this is a present activity of angels, it’s abundantly clear that, at least in the past, angels have been actively involved in revealing God’s will.

Angels Protect God’s People.  Throughout the Bible, angels have taken on the role of protectors.  In the Old Testament angels provided miraculous protection of Israel.  Today it seems that angels offer spiritual protection to the saints.

Psalm 34:4-7  I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.  They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.

Psalm 91:11-12 For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

While we do read of angels serving as defenders in some unseen fashion, it is a bit of a leap to go as far as to say all of humanity is assigned a personal “guardian angel” that protects them from all harm as we know all to well that saints get sick, are persecuted, and die in spite of angelic protection.

Angels Execute God’s Judgement.  In the spiritual realm we read of how angels fought against Satan and his demons, ultimately casting them out of Heaven.

Revelation 12:7-9 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

But angels have also been tasked with executing God’s judgement on Earth.  The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and the punishment of Israel with pestilence in 2 Samuel 24 were both carried out by angels.

In the future, angels will continue playing a role in this area.   On the Judgement Day angels will accompany Jesus when He returns (Matthew 16:27, 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7) and it will be the angels who gather the wicked on that day.

Matthew 13:41-42 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Angels Accompany the Righteous Dead.  On the positive side, as they await the Judgement Day angels are kept busy with the receiving of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) and taking them into Paradise as we see in the account of the rich man and Lazarus.

Luke 16:22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

Angels Praise and Worship God.    Finally, angels are praising and worshiping God in Heaven in glorious scenes such as those found in Revelation.

Revelation 5:11-14 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

Angels and Our Salvation

I hope that this has been a beneficial study that has revealed some insights concerning a very deep topic.  Certainly, this is just scratching the surface on the subject of angels.  In a future lesson I hope to discuss a few more topics concerning angels.

But before we conclude this lesson, I’d like to turn our attention to the matter of salvation.

It should be encouraging to us to know that angels are concerned with our salvation.

Luke 15:10  Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

All the more reason that we heed the Word revealed by God!

Hebrews 2:1-4  Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

* Cherub is the singular form, Cherubim is the plural
** Seraph is the singular form, Seraphim is the plural

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Danger of the Tongue

The picture used in the header is a collage of photographs that Norman Rockwell would utilize as a reference to create his painting "The Gossips."  While the piece is meant to be whimsical, it also serves to demonstrate the how gossip can spread across and entangle a community and reminds us to avoid the practice.

We'll return to the topic of gossip later, but for now, let's talk about words.

We're familiar with the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Unfortunately, we know all too well that this is not always true.  We know that words can actually be quite devastating...

The Powerful Tongue

Proverbs 18:21 says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue…" 

How is it possible that the tongue, something so small, could hold so much power?

James 3:5-12 explains "…So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."

We must understand that we are not only responsible for the actions that we make in this life, but also the words that we speak.

The tongue is capable of good or evil and even though we just read that we cannot fully tame it, we need to do our best to try.

A saying that we are all familiar with:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Unfortunately, this is not always true!

Words have meaning.  Words are powerful.  We forget sometimes just how powerful our words, for good or evil, can be!

Offensive Language

One of the most obvious ways that our tongue can lead to sin is through the use of offensive language.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “They’re just words!”  Words have meaning and overuse doesn’t diminish the meaning.  Just because someone has personally become desensitized to using racial slurs, curse words, and other forms of offensive language doesn’t mean that others have.

For those that think that “they’re just words” and it doesn’t matter what kind of language they use, Ephesians 5:3-5 states:  But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

In this verse we see offensive language as being equal with fornication, uncleanness, covetousness and idolatry and is apparently serious enough that those who use it should not inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.

I think that one of the major reasons that offensive language is such a problem is that people can become callous to it, not only using it in moments of wrath but integrating it into our everyday speech.  Thanks to our music, movies, TV, and the internet, we are ever-increasingly exposed to this filthiness (dirty language), foolish talking, and coarse jesting (dirty jokes).  We must be extremely careful to not conform to the world and become callous to the use of offensive language.

I was listening to a song the other day that mentioned offensive language:  “Ever since I learned how to curse, I’ve been using those sorry old words. But, I’m talkin’ to these children, and I’m keeping it clean. I don’t need those words to say what I mean. No, I don’t need those words to say what I mean...”

Curse words don’t enhance our language in any way and, as the song pointed out, we don’t need them to say what we mean.

Just as we read earlier in Ephesians, instead of engaging in unrighteous ways, we should seek what is fitting for saints and live worthy of our calling.

Angry Words

One of the easiest ways for the tongue to cause trouble is when we exhibit anger.  In the heat of an argument, we say many things which are hurtful.  We can never take these words back once they’ve escaped our mouths.  In an instance, a relationship can be damaged forever.

We sometimes sing a song from our hymn book called “Angry Words”.  Let us examine the lyrics:

Angry words! O let them never,
From the tongue unbridled slip,
May the heart's best impulse ever,
Check them ere they soil the lip.

Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment's reckless folly,
Thus to desolate and mar.

Angry words are lightly spoken,
Bitterest thoughts are rashly stirred,
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

Love one another thus saith the Savior,
Children obey the Father's blest command,
Love each other, love each other,
'Tis the Father's blest command.

In the latter part of Matthew 12:34, Jesus says that "...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  

What is in our heart?  Hopefully, like our Savior, its love.

1 Corinthians 13:5-8 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth...

A Christian’s speech should reflect the love and truth that is in his/her heart.

When anger strikes, which it does when we sometimes least expect it, we need to remember these words:  Psalm 4:4 Be angry, and do not sin.  Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Just as it says in the Psalms, it’s OK to be angry, but not to sin.  When we get angry, instead of responding with words that we’ll only regret saying later, we need to take a deep breath and take a moment to gain perspective and calm down.


When I was in elementary school we would sometimes play the “telephone game”, in which someone in the class would make up a message and whisper it to another classmate who would whisper it to another and so on and so forth until finally the last student in the class would repeat the message that was whispered to them.  Often times, the final message would bear little resemblance to the original.

The results of the telephone game were comical, but the game reveals a very real and scary truth about gossip.  Someone sees or hears something and tells somebody else and before long, everyone has heard the news.

Ecclesiastes 10:14 Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness— and fools multiply words.

Gossip can be devastating.  We all know of marriages, jobs, and even churches that have been torn apart by gossip.  The tragic part is that sometimes the tales being told in gossip aren’t even true to begin with!  A life can be destroyed through false testimony!

Proverbs 25:18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. 

Long story short:  At the workplace, among friends, wherever:  A Christian should make every effort to not participate in gossip!

Additionally, we must be extra careful with our opinions because sometimes we can become unwilling participants in gossip.

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

Therefore, we must always be careful in our words, because sometimes they can become gossip when our conversations are overheard.


We might think that making a promise would be a good thing, a sign of trustworthiness.  However, another way our tongue could land us in trouble is when we make promises and oaths.

Proverbs 6:2 You have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth.

When we make an oath, we are obligated to perform what we have promised.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5:33-37: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  

Jesus states that under the Old Law that it was forbidden to make false oaths or to go against your word.  But Jesus takes this to the next level and states that we shouldn’t even make oaths at all, but instead let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No”!

Our simple statement of “Yes” or “No” should be our oath.

I know people that can’t even be trusted unless they make an oath of some kind.  They can’t let their “Yes” be “Yes” and their “No” be “No”.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, half the time you can’t even trust their promises.  They have become so callous to lying that it is like second nature to them.

The Deceitful Tongue

In writing about the wicked man, Psalm 10:7 says: His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.

Proverbs 17:20 He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, And he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil.

This one is a bit of a "no-brainer":  A lying tongue produces evil.  False witness is a sinful practice.  Jesus Himself was crucified over false witness.

Empty Words

The devil can be very subtle in his workings.  Sometimes things that appear to be harmless and the farthest thing in the world from sin can become so.  I would argue that the phrase “just kidding” can become problematic.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36-37 "But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

The phrase “empty words” could be interpreted in any number of ways.  To me, it seems that “empty words” are words that have we intentionally or unintentionally put no meaning behind.  Empty words are words that we are not taking seriously.  As we read earlier, our “Yes” should be “Yes” and our “No” should be “No” and to me it seems that all of our words should be taken as it is.

If we say something untrue or hurtful, we’ve already said it and we can’t take it back and we can’t just turn around and then say “just kidding”, and just expect it to go away.

Speak Wisely

Proverbs 10:19 says, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise"

Reading this verse, I can’t help but be reminded of the quote by Mark Twain:  “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Proverbs 12:18 There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health. 

Let us be wise in our words.  Let us use our words to build others up rather than tear them down.  Let us speak positively and seek to encourage and edify.

Some practical advice when it comes to our use of words: Think first, speak second...  And remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth; Perhaps that means that we should listen more than we should speak!

Let our pledge be that of the Psalmist in Psalm 39:1: "I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle."