Did you Miss the End of the World?
According to some people, today (Sept 23rd, 2015) is the last day many of us will be on earth. And so, today’s episode covers how Christians should respond to the many, many predictions about the end of the world.
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Anyone else surprised by all the rainbows on their Facebook feed? Anyone surprised where they came from? It’s no surprise when Hollywood actors, companies, and Silicon Valley icons jump on the rainbow train, but I’m guessing that it was a bit surprising to see your friends and family members covered in a rainbow hue. Perhaps that led to some conversations about your beliefs. Despite all the other things happening in the world, because of the American Supreme Court’s decision to allow Same-Sex Marriage, homosexuality is almost all anyone is talking about these days.
Homosexuality was once a taboo subject, but it is now everywhere in our culture. 10-15 years ago we started seeing the first gay characters on TV, but now we have shows that have homosexual families as the main characters. Television, YouTube and Netflix have show after show dedicated to the homosexual movie watcher. Many celebrities are “coming out of the closet” and proudly call themselves homosexuals. Schools have signs that say “homophobia free zone” and many businesses in Carleton Place and Ottawa have a rainbow sticker on the front door. On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the approval of the Civil Marriage Act. This is a current, cultural issue.
Not too surprisingly, more and more people who claim to be Christians are coming out as pro-homosexual too. Some because they feel pressure to, others because they know some nice LGBT people and feel they can’t condemn them, some because they have no idea what the Bible says about the subject – and have heard someone saying that the Bible is ok with it, they assume it’s ok with God. Between political pressure, cultural pressure, and biblical ignorance, there are a lot of people who claim to be followers of Jesus who believe the Bible, and are more than willing to support same-sex marriage.
The fact that our surrounding culture has decided that there are only two positions: pro-gay or homophobic, doesn’t help. They’ve decided that to disagree with someone means to hate them – and therefore words like extremist and bigot get thrown at anyone who disagrees with popular opinion. So the pressure to conform is HUGE – and more and more Christians, pastors, churches, and even formerly conservative denominations are changing their historic stance on marriage to conform. Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians… they all have churches and sects that have decided to conform to the new ethic.
I still remember in 2008, reading about when Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson married his partner, telling his churches that he is “doing what God is telling him to do,” even saying at the announcement that he has “always wanted to be a June bride.” He divorced in 2014.
People of the Word
But Christians are people of The Word. We believe that God has revealed Himself, His Law, and His Will, in His Word, the Bible. We are people who believe that God gets to tell us what to do and how to do it, regardless of how we feel or what culture and politics say. We don’t believe we have the right to reinterpret the God’s Word to fit the cultural shifts happening around us. God’s word is declarative, not suggestive. Something to be followed, not something that changes according to the opinion of the day. Christians believe God has given us an immutable, unchangeable, moral law. And so we work hard to read His Word to understand it well, so we can follow it wholeheartedly.
Why? Because we love God and want to obey Him. Because we fear God and don’t want to face His wrath. Because we believe God knows better than we do about how the world works. Because we know that God’s ways are higher than ours and His thoughts are higher than ours. Because we trust God and know He wants the best for us.
Responding to Homosexuality
But following Jesus and God’s Word will, as Christ said it would, rile up our spiritual and worldly enemies, bring us into conflict with others, and lead to attacks and misrepresentation (John 15:18; Matthew 5:11). Which is part of the reason that there is a perception by many people outside the church that we are homophobic, afraid of homosexuals, that we hate them, or believe ourselves to be better than them; that we do not demonstrate the love of Jesus toward the homosexual community. And part of that is, sadly, true. Many believers, talk a lot about love, but have not done well at loving our gay neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31).
So today I want to talk about two things: First, if we are going to be a people that holds the position that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, then we must be people who know from the scriptures what we believe, and why we believe it. Second we need to determine in our own hearts and minds whether we are perpetuating the problem of hating homosexual people.
My Bias & Agenda
I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t have a lot of experience with LGBT people. I don’t think I know any. I want you to know that when I speak of homosexuality, I’m not speaking as someone who is in relationship with anyone who is gay… that I know of. Not on purpose, but simply because it hasn’t happened. Everything that I know about the homosexual culture is based on second hand information from newspapers, articles, books and stories from friends of friends. That’s why I’m going to stick to what the Bible says. I’m not going to give personal commentary, because I don’t have any.
I certainly can’t address everything there is to say about homosexuality in culture, the church, and the scriptures in one sermon, but there are some things that I think we need to know about this topic today. Christians can’t be people who say “God says that homosexuality is wrong” and not be able to turn to the chapter or verse that says so – and then be able to make a coherent argument that intelligently and lovingly explain why it says that.
So what I want to do is take a tour through the bible and look at some of the key scriptures that are in debate among the various groups regarding Homosexuality in the Bible. I hope this will help you understand part of the confusion in the minds of many, and also give you the strength to defend what you believe.
Marriage in Genesis
First Genesis 2:18-25:
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
We need to start here by talking about the original, normative order of creation. This is the beginning of humankind, the prototype and model for how it is supposed to be. The first couple was created by God, and the first marriage was presided over by God. He made them male and female, and only together could they represent His image the best. Adam searched all over creation for another mate, and none was found, and turned to God for a proper, equally glorious, yet complimentary being.
This is the normative model, and is the one that is intended by God. This is the most specific reference we have in the Bible for God’s perfect intent for human relationships and sexuality: a husband and wife that go forth, enjoy life together and have children. It is quoted at the beginning of the story of the world, and then again by Jesus in Matthew 19 when He talks about marriage. He adds: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
When Jesus is asked about divorce, instead of giving a simple yes or no answer, He goes back to the book of Genesis, the original created order, and sets out the standard by which God will judge all sexual matters, and then tells us not to mess with it. This is how the Chrisitian Church should speak about marriage too: One man and one woman becoming one flesh in a loving, committed relationship that produces a loving, committed family that grows in love and obedience to God. God didn’t call it “good” until that was done.
The church has done a very poor job of communicating this over the past century as we have changed marriage to simply being about “two people that love each other”, even giving advice such as: “Find your soul-mate before you get married.” and “Don’t have kids for the first few years so you can enjoy one another.” – assuming that the true joy of marriage only happens with the man and woman. In truth, that’s only part of the package.
Homosexuality breaks this normative model in multiple ways.
- Two people of the same gender cannot fully represent the image of God.
- Two people of the same gender cannot “go forth and multiply”, filling the earth, and making new believers and servants of God.
- Two people of the same gender do not “compliment” one another, being equal but necessarily different in order to create something greater.
The Destruction of Sodom
Next we turn to Genesis 19, the story of the destruction of Sodom. If you don’t know the story, please take a minute to read it. For a long time heinous sexual sins (including homosexuality) were simply called “sodomy”. Because of that some Christians will use this story as God’s number one place of condemnation of homosexuals. “See how much God hates them? He destroyed the whole city because they were practicing homosexuality!”
That’s actually an incorrect interpretation of what happened. In fact Ezekiel 16:49 tells us that there was a list of offences against the city, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” and Jude 7 says nothing of homosexuality in particular, but as only one of the many sexually immoral things they were doing to offend God.
The story of Sodom is similar to that of the world before the Flood. The depravity of the city was so deep that they it was actually normal and acceptable to homosexually gang-rape some new people that came into town. In verse 9 they say, “How dare you judge us! You’re a foreigner who doesn’t know how it goes around here.” Basically saying that they couldn’t care less what God’s people thought or how anyone else would feel, because the city had all decided to accept that behavior as ok. It wasn’t just the one group that was judged, but the whole city. It was only by supernatural intervention that Lot and his family were able to get away. And even after God struck the mob blind, they kept coming at the door trying to please their own selfish desires. They were like animals. This was a spiritually blind city full of deplorable sins of multiple kinds. God did not destroy it only because they practiced homosexuality, but that was certainly one of their sins.
God’s Law for Israel
Next we turn to Leviticus 18:22 (and 20:13). These chapters contain a large portion of the Law of God regarding how His people were supposed to have sex – and it’s very specific. One of the many laws was “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” but if you look up and down either chapter there are a number of unlawful sexual practices, and many of them hold the punishment of death, and are also described as “detestable, perverse, profane, unclean and abominations” to God.
Verses 1-5 are a reminder to Israel that it doesn’t matter what’s going on around them, but that they need follow God’s standard. This was as important then as it is now. I’m not going to read the whole chapter, but let me read this first part:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:1-5)
This is just as true today. God reminds his people that He sets the standard and no matter where you live, what culture you are surrounded by, or what popular opinion says… His people need to hold to His standard. Then He makes it clear what His standards for sexuality are.
- Verses 6-18 deal with all kinds of incest and unlawful inter-family sexual relationships which are called “depraved”.
- Verse 19 deals with sex during the menstrual cycle… though there is no descriptor here of God’s feelings about it, and we know from Leviticus 15:24 that it was not “punishable”, but caused a person to be ceremonially unclean for 7 days.
- Verse 20 God commands that there be no adultery and calls it “unclean” – and later tells them that adultery would be punished by death.
- Verse 21 deals with killing babies and giving children away to be temple prostitutes, which is called “profane”.
- And verse 23 says that there should be no sex with animals because it is a “perversion”.
One argument that pro-gay people will give is that verse 22 is not about all homosexual sex, and therefore a committed, same-sex relationship is absolutely fine with God. They argue that this passage is talking about having homosexual sex as worship to other gods. But the plain interpretation, and the rest of the context make it clear that it isn’t about religious worship, but within a list of all sorts of sexual sins. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” Simply means that men cannot have sex with men.
It’s not talking about temple prostitutes or idol worship for most of the passage. The whole context is about right sexuality among the Israelite community and the law applies to multiple kinds of sexual sins, not just homosexuality. Interpreting this passage in that way, and accepting “committed homosexual relationships”, forces the interpreter to do the same for the rest of the passage and accept adultery, incest and bestiality under certain circumstances as ok with God too.
Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan
Another thing that pro-homosexual interpreters like to do is try to find LGBT precident in scripture. They figure that if they can find homosexual relationships in scripture, then that means that it must be ok with God. Of course that means they have to forget everything we’ve already covered, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.
One famous passage is the story in Ruth where Naomi leaves Moab after her husband and sons die and tells her daughters-in-law to go home because there is no life for them if they follower her. Ruth, out of love for her mother-in-law “clings” to Naomi, while her other daughter-in-law, Orpah leaves.
Pro-Homosexual interpreters will use the word “cling” as an argument to say that Naomi and Ruth were in a lesbian relationship because it is the same word that is used in Genesis 2 when God says that a man will “leave his father and mother and cling / cleave to his wife.” That is quite a stretch linguistically, and very incompatible with the story line. The whole story revolves around Naomi helping Ruth woo a husband named Boaz.
The word there is the Hebrew word DABAQ meaning “stick to, cling to, or keep close.” It’s the word for what glue does. God uses it to show how the relationship between man and wife should be, but it’s also used for being so thirsty a persons tongue “sticks” to the roof of their mouth (Ps 22:15), and as a condemnation of people that have “sticky fingers” and steal things (Deut 13:17). It’s also used all over scripture to describe someone who is “lovingly devoted to their king or God. (Deut 10:20, 11:22, 2 Sam 20:2, 1 Kings 11:2, Joshua 23:12)
They do the same for the relationship between David and Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 18:3-4 it says
“Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”
And in David’s song in 2 Samuel 1:26 he says
“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”
Pro-gay interpreters point to this passage and say that David and Jonathan were clearly in a homosexual relationship. Why? Because apparently two men can’t possibly be this close of friends and love one another that deeply without having sex? That kind of thinking only comes from our pornified culture.
This has always, historically, been interpreted as a non-sexual, close friendship. There is no sexuality mentioned in the passage, or the context, at all. Here we see Jonathan, the blood successor to the throne, the son of King Saul, pledging his loyalty, not only as a friend, but as a servant. He was taking off his royal clothes, and even his weapons, and handing them over to the new king of Israel. This man was not a sexual partner, but an amazingly loyal friend who not only disobeyed his father the king, but even gave up his birthright to David because he believed God had chosen David instead.
As I said, our hyper-sexualized, macho, pornified culture has no way to process a very close friendship between two men – they simply can’t – and I think that means we’ve lost something as a culture.
Homosexuality Condemned in the New Testament
Ok, so let’s move on to the New Testament. Romans 1:26-27 is very clear… and again, we need the context so we’ll read from verse 21:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
I could preach on this one all day, but I don’t have the time… this is the Bible’s clearest teaching about God’s denunciation of homosexuality between men or women. Homosexuality was just as practiced in Paul’s day as it is in ours. In fact, it was encouraged by many of the pagan religions.
It seems pretty clear from the translation that the interpretation of verses 26-27 should be obvious, but pro-homosexual interpreters say that it’s only a sin when heterosexual people perform homosexual acts… hence… that would be “unnatural” (PARA PHYSIS) for them. The whole point hinging on the fact that God would never condemn anyone for something that comes naturally to them. Which is absurd, considering how naturally so many other sins come to us.
The vast majority of scholars agree that it’s a very weak argument. This is not referring to “unnatural” feelings, but “unnatural” actions… physiological / biological “unnaturalness”. The passage here is saying that sin is anything that is counter to the natural pattern set out by God in nature – including male-male and female-female sexual relationships. Right back to Genesis 2 again.
Sex, Sin, Idolatry and Amazing Grace
But there’s something more to look at here. This is a passage about idolatry. We create idols of self, popularity, success, anger, or even of sex. Sex can be our idol too… and Paul seems to be using homosexual relationships as a point of reference for how rampant the worship of sex had gotten in that culture. It was an extreme example of a pervasive problem – even in the church.
In Corinth, and in Rome, the church was having lots of sin problems, including sexual sin, and Paul was showing them how far mankind had gotten away from God’s original plan.
He’s setting up the argument so that we all know how terribly sinful we are – so that in a couple chapters He can teach us about how amazing God’s gracious loving salvation. It’s a contrast! Look how gross we are, and how loving God is! We are thieves, drunkards, greedy people, those who disobey their parents, and people who worship idols of all kinds – and yet Jesus still died for us and offers us forgiveness.
He does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6 when he reminds the church about how messed up they were. They were not acting like Christians! Paul points out how bad had it gotten by saying they were suing each other instead of working things out the way Jesus taught them to. Then Paul gives them this reminder in verse 9,
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul implores them to remember that Jesus Christ washed away the sin and the muck from their lives, and the no longer needed to live in it because they had the Spirit of God inside of them! God delights in saving and justifying sinners because He loves us so very much. But he doesn’t want us going back to eat the garbage of the world. And among this list of things that are He mentions that the world is trying to feed them is “sexually immorally” and “homosexuality”.
Now, you may tune out a bit at this next part, but it’s important because you might hear it somewhere. Some people look at the phrase “homosexual offenders” and will disagree with its meaning. And it all revolves around the Greek word ARSENOKOITES.
Advocates for homosexuality will say this word doesn’t apply to homosexuals, but to male prostitutes, boys forced into sexual acts with older men, homosexual rape, or men who share their beds with lots of people. They say it applies to everyone except a committed, homosexual relationship. They do not believe it is interpreted to mean “any man who has sex with any other man.” The real issue here is the word that Paul chose to use.
He basically coined the word himself… something Paul did a lot of in his writings. It is only used twice in the New Testament, and is rarely used outside of it (1 Timothy 1:10). The word itself can be broken into two root words. ARREN – Which is the word for “A Male” and KOITE which is a feminine noun meaning “A bed”, “the marriage bed”, and is also used for “having sexual intercourse”. The same way we would say “did you go to bed with them” and know what we mean, so did the Greeks.
Paul came up with this term to specifically reference to the passage we looked at before Leviticus 18:22, “’Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Paul’s word ARSENOKOITES literally means, “one who beds a male” to specifically reference the Levitical law prohibiting homosexuality. He uses it again in in another list of sins when he is again talking about the Law of the Old Testament.
Paul is clearly tying his made up word to the Levitical law. He is not making homosexuality a worse sin than others, in fact in 1 Timothy he lists it right beside adultery.
All Sexual Immorality is Sin
Our last stop is in Hebrews 13:4,
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
This is where the application comes to all of us, not just homosexuals. God’s standard for human sexuality is this: One woman, one man, becoming one flesh, in the bonds of marriage – and has been this way since the beginning of creation. Anything outside of that is contrary to biblical teaching, and is sin.
When the author of Hebrews uses the words “sexually immoral”, he is using a very important word there. It is the word PORNOS. It is the biblical catch-all, junk-drawer word for all sexual activity outside of one woman, one man, in marriage. It means “fornicator” or “one is has sex outside of God’s law”. The root word is PORNEIA which is basically the word for a person who uses their body sexually for selfish purposes… whether that’s getting money, or simply fulfilling their own lust. Another form of the word is PORNEUO which means to give one’s body over to satisfy the lust of another person. It’s all sin.
- When the counsel of Jerusalem met in Acts 15 to lay down some guidelines for the new churches they said, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from PORNEIA.”
- When Jesus was contrasting what it means to be truly unclean he said in Matthew 15, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, PORNEIA…”
- And Paul in Ephesians 5:3 told the churches, “But among you there must not be even a hint of PORNEIA…”
The Christian church need to understand this and get this right. Sexual sin is very serious in God’s eyes. Anything outside of a sexual relationship between a man and a women, in marriage, is wrong and condemned in God’s eyes, and will not be blessed. Viewing pornography, reading sexual stories, committing adultery, sexual play before marriage, and homosexuality are all equally wrong according to God and should not be done among Christians.
Everything outside of the blessing of marriage is a perversion of God’s natural order, and will result in judgment. Romans 1 reminds us that as we do this our bodies get degraded, our hearts become darkened, we become dominated by fleshly desires, and we get confused about truth… we then become in bondage to uncontrollable passions. In other words, your sexual sins will chew you up and spit you out. They will damage you body, mind and soul.
God loves us, which is why He tells us to put it in the confines of marriage! Sex is a beautiful, wonderful, pleasurable, gift from God. But it is also very powerful.
When we have sex it is far more than a physical union, it is a spiritual one. (1 Corinthians 6:12-19) We cannot divide the two, body and spirit. Every sexual partner, every sexual action is not merely a physical act, but a spiritual one. We unite ourselves spiritually with the people we use as sexual objects – whether they are real or imaginary. The world tells us that we are merely fulfilling a biological desire, doing something natural, but we are also doing something intensely emotional and spiritual too. And the way God has structured our existence is that when we become “one” with another person sexually, a spiritual bond is created, and that bond stays with us… and it carries into every other relationship – including with God.
That is why adultery severs the bond of marriage. The person is no longer of one flesh and spirit with their spouse, but they are physically and spiritually divided.
This issue is not about being homophobic, but being hypocritical. Somehow we believe that being in an active homosexual relationship is worse somehow than the heterosexual couple that is unmarried and sleeping together, or going home and viewing pornography on the internet, or watching sexuality on TV, or fanaticizing about the guy or girl at work. It’s not. We believe somehow that the practicing lesbians are sinning more than the married man who flirts with his secretary, or the wife who reads 50 Shades of Grey… they’re not. Sexual sin is sexual sin. Sexual sin in all its forms is idolatry and wrong.
So how should Christians respond to the wave of LGBT support we are seeing in so many places?
First we need to evaluate our own lives for sexual sin. Jesus says that we need to examine the log in our own eye before we take the splinter from someone else’s – and wow, does the church ever have a log in its eye when it comes to sexual sin. Lust, adultery and pornography are HUGE problems in the Christian church – and are at the same “sin level” as homosexuality. I’m watching pastors and Christians explode their marriages all the time. This is a gospel issue. We need Jesus as much as anyone, and need to get right with Him. We have some major repenting to do about our own sexual sins before we go about condemning others.
Second, we need to evaluate our attitudes and actions for how we use our words and the jokes we make – and repent if we have been callous or unloving towards the LGBT community. Some Christians are quite cruel in their words about these people, and we need to repent and ask forgiveness of God and our homosexual neighbours.
Third, we need to evaluate whether our church is a place where a person can come, with any kind of sin problem, sexual or otherwise, and if it is a place where they can talk about it without being judged, condemned and hurt. Can we love the person, care for them, and adequately counsel them in regards to their sin? We all want to be part of a church that loves us despite our failures, and wants to help us grow closer to Jesus – so let us do the same for others.
The 29th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.
Can We Trust the Bible?
Chad just got back from The Shepherd’s Conference and Biblical Innerancy Summit and it gives us the perfect excuse to ask some really important questions like:
How do we know the Bible is completely true?
Aren’t there questionable passages people aren’t expected to believe?
How do we stand firm in the Word of God in our sceptical age?
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The Bug Zapper
Have you ever sat outside next to a bug zapper? My parents have one. It’s a little gadget that hangs from the roof of their patio and glows. And the light that emits from it attracts bugs… and when they get close… ZAP!
I know exactly how those little bugs feel, because a couple of days ago, during that big thunder storm on Thursday, I was hit by lightning. I was sitting at my computer, in my basement – which is next to the window on my driveway – and all of a sudden, ZAP! I got absolutely fried. It killed my car, my computer, and scared the heck out of me. I walked upstairs shaking and texted my wife. A neighbour took us to the hospital and I was checked out, so I’m fine now… but it’s something I’m never going to forget!
Those bugs though… you’ve got to wonder about what’s going through their little brains. I didn’t know I was about to get zapped, but that little bug has some time to think about it. It’s flying along, minding its own business, when it sees this light and thinks, “Hey, that’s cool! I’m going to go check that out!”And the closer he gets to the light, the more he hears ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! He notices that the air is filled with the smell of burning bugs. You’d think the little bug would start to wonder what’s going on. But the light is so pretty that he keeps moving forward. And as he gets closer, the ZAPS get louder. He looks down and sees hundreds of bugs lying around, dead, and sizzling. There’s his Aunt Mildred and Uncle Lou… and they’re whole body is smoking.
You’d think that at this point he would stop and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea. Maybe this light isn’t as great as I think it is. Maybe this pile of fried bugs should tell me something about this light.” But nope. And ZAP goes the bug.
We’re Not That Dumb, Right?
Bug’s are so dumb. I mean, humans are so much smarter, aren’t we? It’s not like we would ever do something like that. Can you imagine a human being flying mindlessly into the same trap that so many others have been destroyed by? No way! We’re so much smarter! We’d look at that light, we’d hear the warnings, we’d see the carnage it was causing… and there’s no way we’d just keep going… would we?
Honestly, I’m not sure we can think ourselves much more intelligent than the bug sometimes. We live in a world where people are constantly getting zapped, over and over, in the exact same way.
Pastors and politicians are getting zapped for all the same reasons. Business leaders keep getting zapped and ruining their lives, their families and the people that work for them. Famous athletes and celebrities go flying into the same light over and over… ZAP! Stay at home and working moms get zapped every day! Plumbers, carpenters, evangelists, school teachers, computer techs… ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! All of them flying into for the same foolish light.
“Hey look, drugs or alcohol! That seems like a good idea! I’ll be the exception to every other person whose life has been destroyed by it.”
“Hey look, money! I’m sure my life will be super-great if I’m at work all the time, or spending it all the time, or hoarding it in great piles!”
“Hey look, porn! I’m sure I can keep it a secret, and that it won’t affect my present and future relationships, or my future / current wife, or my kids, or my job.”
“Hey look, anger, or guilt, or unforgiveness, or jealousy! I’m sure that if I hold this inside of me it won’t consume and destroy me, or make me like so many others that live with bitterness all their lives. I’m different!”
ZAP, ZAP, ZAP!
Satan’s Favourite Weapon
We talked a lot last week about the Biblical understanding of Satan and Demons. We learned a bit about their back-story, how people perceive them today, and what they are really like. The Bible is crystal clear that we have an enemy who is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than us, and who has been lying and manipulating people for thousands of years. He devotes time, energy, resources and all the forces of hell to destroying you, me, our family, our friends, our church, our town and our country.
The final point was about working in God’s power to “Go on the Offensive” against Satan’s plans. I talked about the Armor of God and how each piece represents a way that we can combat all that Satan and his demons want to do in this world. And though we talked about a lot of ways he works, today, I want to talk a bit about Satan’s favourite weapon against us – temptation.
Secure in Jesus but Oppressed by Satan
If you know Jesus as your Saviour today then Satan can’t touch your soul. You are absolutely secure in Jesus. Think of John 10:27-30 where Jesus talks about a Christian’s relationship to Him as their Good Shepherd,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? You can see Jesus flexing His muscles a bit here, and talking about the kind of power that He has over His enemies.
But even though a Christian’s salvation is secure, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook from being affected by Satan. Remember last week when I said “demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them.” We talked about a lot of ways Satan attacks us – by inflicting physical and mental illness, or by being the voice in a person’s head that is constantly accusing and heaping ungodly guilt, fear and shame on them. But Satan’s favourite tactic isn’t something so obvious as trying to harm us physically or even emotionally. His favourite thing to do is to use temptation so we will destroy ourselves. If he can get us to do that then his work is a lot easier.
You Are a Target
If you are a believer, then, to some degree, you are a target of Satan. He hates your guts and though He knows He can’t touch your soul, he wants to destroy your joy in God and minimize any damage you can do to his kingdom.
Satan doesn’t want you to be a good mom or dad, brother or sister, aunt or uncle or grandparent. He wants to ruin your influence among your friends and family, wreck your confidence in God, shut you up, shut you down, and keep you from fighting against to him.
He doesn’t want you passing along your faith to people who are lost and without hope. He doesn’t want you being a peacemaker in all of the relationships that he’s destroying. He doesn’t want you setting up barriers to keep people from sinning. He doesn’t want you to study the scriptures and teaching the truth to people because he doesn’t anyone to see through his lies. He doesn’t want you to show that it is a wonderful thing to live in simplicity and humility because he’s trying to hard to convince people that this world is all about pride and indulgence. He doesn’t want you to be a person of prayer, living in the power of God, because then you will be a real threat to him.
And so, every time you oppose him: by committing yourself to daily bible reading and prayer, giving generously, teaching the truth, sharing your faith, serving others, asking or seeking forgiveness, attending church, or any other way you grow in Christ, the big red bulls-eye on your back gets bigger, and Satan wants to eliminate you. That’s why those things seem so difficult. He has limited resources. He doesn’t want to have to fight you. So if he can get you to quit doing things that fight against him, then you are no longer a threat. But he doesn’t usually work against you in the way you might think he would.
Sure, he’ll use fear, threats and false promises to try to stop you. He’ll put thoughts in your mind like:
“You’re going to look weird, so don’t take this religion thing to seriously.”
“That church is going to let you down, so keep them at a distance.”
“That addiction is no big deal. Everyone has their vice. Don’t worry about it.”
Or “If you give up that sin, I’m going to make your life miserable – so just keep doing that and I’ll leave you alone.”
Satan will threaten and lie, but for many believers that won’t work – so for most of us, he has another, more preferred weapon – temptation.
Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” and says that “lies are his native language” (John 8:44). Now, even though Satan’s does have great strength, his preferred method of harming humans is not physical. His preferred methods are much subtler and far more underhanded. Once he can get people to buy into his lies, he doesn’t need to expend a lot of physical energy, because they be more than willing and able to destroy themselves.
All Satan does is give us a little push in the wrong direction, and we take over from there. This little push is called “temptation” and the Bible says that these temptations find their roots in the desires of our heart (James 1:14-15). The demons watch us, get to know how we tick, and then designed a way to present something to us that is very desirable (something we want to have – like pleasure, security, meaning, distraction, wealth, fame), but ensure that the pursuit of that desire will ultimately lead to our destruction and/or the destruction of others. Sometimes the desires are good things – like the desire for love, or happiness, fulfilment or companionship. God invented pleasure, even sexual pleasure and the wonderful feeling we get from eating tasty foods, but the demons are experts in helping us fulfil our desires in a way that ruins us, rather than builds us up.
I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately and his method is a lot like fishing. He dangles the bait, and it looks good so we bite, but just as my intention isn’t to feed the fish something wonderful, but to fool them into thinking it’s something wonderful so I can drag them to shore and eat them, Satan’s intention is never to bring pleasure, but to drag us away from life and lead us to death. He doesn’t want us to experience companionship, he wants to break up relationships. He doesn’t want to give us pleasure, but steal our joy. He doesn’t want to fulfil the deepest desires of our hearts, but to create crippling addiction and teach us to worship created things rather than the creator God. He’ll do anything to make us ineffective in our home, work and ministry. He wants us to be broken, hopeless and unproductive.
That’s why we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
He’s not trying to get us where we are strongest, but where we are weakest. He’s not our friend, though he pretends to be: he’s the devourer.
How to Win with a Losing Team
How does this work? Let me give you an illustration:
Imagine a football game, and you’re the coach. You’ve been doing okay in the standings, but you’re about to come against the best team in the league and they are better than you in every way. Their team is stronger, faster, hungrier and more skilled than yours. Their coach is smarter and has way more plays in his book than you do. Their quarterback is the greatest player to ever play the game – He’s never missed a single throw and only been sacked once – and somehow even on that play he ended up scoring more points than any other QB ever!
So knowing all that, how are you going to beat them? You’re not going to be able to get new players, and no matter how much you practice, you’re never going to be good enough to even make a dent in them. You will never beat them on the field. What’s the solution? Keep them off the field.
Do everything you can to make sure they never make it to game day. Now obviously the guard at their door won’t let you in if you’re standing there with a baseball bat, waiting to break their knees. So what do you do?
Use pleasure. Donate a nice, big TV with all the channels and new computers with super-fast internet to their dressing room and to every player’s home. Send them boxes of all their favourite snacks. Send them links to shows they should watch and sites they need to visit. Tell them they’re missing out. Tell them to watch the sports channels all day, because that’s just like practice. Then, even if they make it to the game, they’ll be so they are out of shape that they won’t be able to play.
Then start sending e-mails and making phone calls about the playbook. Start arguments about how to interpret the plays. Remind them that there some players don’t get to be on the field as much as others. Ask who the best player is and who needs more practice… and then let the team argue it out. Get them to fight about the playbook instead of practising the skills within it.
Talk to the defensive-lineman and ask him them why he’s are not the quarterback. Isn’t he good enough? Doesn’t the coach trust him? Why should the QB get all the glory? When’s his turn to shine? Make sure each player spends more time complaining about their positions on the field than practicing what they are supposed to be doing.
Tell the star players that they need to be more humble and stop trying so hard. Or remind them of that time they made that huge mistake, that everyone remembers, and that no matter what they’ve done since, they are really nothing, worthless, guilty, unloved, unappreciated, powerless and broken. They shouldn’t even come out to the game – they shouldn’t even try.
Then have the cheerleaders for your team knock on some doors, send some texts, and “accidentally bump into” whoever is left standing, distract them with all manner of sexual invitations, promises and compromise. Destroy their hearts, ruin their marriages, ruin their reputations, and make them love your cheerleaders so much that they don’t even want to play anymore.
Satan can’t take you off the team. He can’t take away your salvation. But, if he can keep you off the field, or keep you fat, stupid, distracted, self-absorbed, and addicted, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about you playing against him. That’s how temptation works. He gives you that little push, based on the desires of your heart, promising pleasure and fulfilment – but granting only pain and destruction.
The last thing he wants you to be is focused on God, reading the playbook and Powerful on the field. The last thing he wants you to do is learn how to pray, read your bible and serve your church. If he can stop your prayer life, bible study and keep you out of church, then he can put a kink in the hose of your life and stop your connection to God. The water’s there, but it’s not getting to you.
A Christian that doesn’t pray is like a body without a heart to pump blood through the veins… dead. A Christian that doesn’t love scripture is like a body that without a brain to guide it’s functions. A Christian that doesn’t attend and serve a church, is like a body that is missing it’s hands and feet. And Satan will use every manner of temptation to kill your spiritual life.
If he can convince you not work within God’s plan for your life and keep working in your own strength and not God’s, then you become a limited threat to his kingdom. If he can distract you into believing that amassing stuff, building yourself up, or experiencing pleasure is what life is all about, then he wins!
The Truth About Temptations
But Satan’s greatest weakness is the truth. Truth is to Satan what kryptonite is to Superman. If you look through the smoke-screen that Satan throws up when he tempts you, and see the truth, it dismantles his whole plan. So let’s finish off today with the truth behind temptation so you can see what’s really going on there. And we’ll start off at 1 Corinthians 10:6-13.
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
1. You Are Not Alone In Temptation
Paul gives us a huge list of things that the Israelite fell into and it reminds us that Satan hasn’t changed his play book much. They had a pillar of fire and smoke ever before them to remind them of the presence of God. Moses spoke directly to God and then passed along the messages to the people. They were constantly seeing amazing miracles. And they still fell into idolatry, sexual sin, grumbling, and fear. They were fed by manna from heaven in the mornings, and drank rock from a stone, and then worried that God had abandoned them.
One of the big things we need to get over is thinking that we are the only ones facing temptation. It drives us into secrecy and keep us from strengthening our relationships with God and one another. As long as we believe that we’re the only ones who have to deal with it, and that to admit it would bring shame and ostracism, then we will feel alone and be battling Satan by ourselves – which can’t work. We need to share our temptations and sins with one another because it drags it from darkness into the light, and takes a huge amount of the power away from Satan.
We need God’s help and others. Verse 12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Israelites were very sure of themselves, to the point of pride, surrounded by God’s presence – and they fell over and over. We need God’s assistance through prayer and the truth of His word, but we also need the help of our Christian brothers and sisters to overcome temptation.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” You are not the only person who is tempted to drinks too much. You’re not the only person who has a desire to look at porn. You’re not the only person who struggles with pride. You’re not the only person who has anger issues. You’re not the only person who has been addicted to something. You’re not the only person who has cheated. And if we work together, as brothers and sisters, dragging those temptations sins into the light, then we will be stronger against them.
2. Being Tempted is Not a Sin
Verse 13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.”. Everyone is tempted. Adam was tempted, Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2, Heb 4:15), I am tempted, and so are you. But temptation is not sin. Sin is committed when a person gives in to temptation. Don’t be shocked or surprised that you have shortcomings, failures, and predilections toward some sins. Everyone has them. Satan and the demons want you to believe that being tempted is sin because then, if you feel tempted, you think you may as well go all-the-way, because you’ve already sinned anyway. That’s not true. And if you get this confused, thinking that feeling tempted is the same as sin, you will always feel guilty, shameful, weak and defeated. And that will keep you from God and others. Being tempted is not a sin. Everyone faces temptation, every day. And people have overcome this temptation many times – and can help you.
3. Temptation Isn’t Complicated
The verse says that these temptations are “common to man”. Satan wants you to think that you are a special case, that no one will understand, that you’re the only one, and that getting out from under the temptation is going to be super complicated.
But 1 John 2:16 says that there are only 3 kinds of sins, and therefore only three kinds of temptations.
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Let me read that same verse from the New Living Translation:
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”
There’s your three categories, and all our sins fit into one of them. You are either going to be tempted through “physical pleasure”, or tempted to amass piles of all you see, or to place yourself over God in pride and boasting in all you have and can do. That’s really it.
For Adam and Eve it was all three. They saw the fruit was good to eat, and wanted to physically experience it’s taste. They were jealous that God had something they wanted – knowledge of good and evil. And they pridefully wanted to be god’s themselves.
Same with the temptations of Christ. They were to eat bread and satisfy his physical hunger, show everyone how great He was by dive off of the temple mount and not get hurt, and turning away from God’s plan by bowing His knee to Satan so He could have all the kingdoms of the world. Same three things.
Knowing this allows you to realize that Satan doesn’t have a lot of tricks – He just uses them very effectively. It allows you to open your heart to God because you can know that Jesus was tempted in the same way. It allows you to know you can be forgiven because you’re sin isn’t special. It’s not the worst one. It’s just one version of the same thing that everyone goes though. It might feel big, scary, and complicated to you, but the truth is that Jesus went through it and defeated it, many other Christians have been through it and defeated it, and by leaning on Jesus and His church, you can defeat it too.
4. There’s Always a Way Out
The next lie Satan wants you to believe is that you are trapped. Say you believe the rest of what I’ve said. That you’re not alone, that temptation isn’t a sin, and that it’s no different than anything many other people are going through. That doesn’t mean that temptation isn’t going to come. And when it does, Satan wants you to think that you’re cornered, with no other option than to follow through. Your body will want to, your mind will dwell on it, you’re heart will fail, and it will feel like you have absolutely no choice but to fall for that temptation and sin. Satan wants you to think that it’s inevitable. You’ll fall. Every time.
But as verse 13 says,
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God knows what you are capable of withstanding by His grace, and in His power – which is a lot! God’s promise is that He will always keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. You’re sin is never inevitable. There is no temptation that has not been approved by God and that is not designed to help grow you in character, love, hope and spiritual strength. He promises to use all these temptations to grow you into a stronger Christian, and will never make the task too strong.
We can never say, “I couldn’t help myself. I was overpowered. I couldn’t resist anymore.” God knows what we can handle and will never tempt us beyond what we can take. He might take us to the edge – but only because he wants us to push our boundaries and grow stronger. And He’ll always give you a “way out”.
Sometimes the “way out” is very obvious, even to a thick-headed guy like me. Here’s how it works: You’re being tempted to sin, and you start to mull it over in your mind, and consider your excuses, and just want to quit fighting… and the phone rings, or the internet and e-mail shuts down, or someone comes to the door, or your roommate or kid or spouse suddenly comes in, or you suddenly really have to go to the bathroom. You get interrupted somehow, and there seems to be a hurdle between you and committing that sin. That’s God going, “HEY!!! WALK AWAY!!! HERE’S THE WAY OUT!!!” I’m sure you’ve experienced this too.
Sometimes the “way out” takes more effort. Maybe it means admitting the problem to your pastor or a friend and asking them to walk along side you for a while. Those people are a provision from God. Maybe your “way out” is getting into a program that teaches you some skills about how to kick the problem.
And maybe your “way out” is just practising some common sense like if you struggle with overeating, you shouldn’t have cupboards full of treats. Or if you struggle with anger, you shouldn’t be stimulating yourself with coffee and sugar. Or if you struggle with porn you need to turn off the computer, leave the laptop at work, get a porn blocker or a program that e-mails all of the sites you visit to your mother. Or if you struggle with pride, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself in places where people are going to stroke you.
Maybe your “way out” is exercising the mind God has given you to practice some wisdom. Figure out where you are when you feel the most tempted. Who are you with and what are the circumstances? Are you usually in the same time, same place, doing the same thing? What day of the week are you most likely to fall? If you’re greatest temptation comes when you are in a certain place on Friday nights – then find somewhere else to be in Friday nights. If you struggle with a certain person putting pressure on you – find someone else to be around.
Satan wants you to think you’re trapped, but God promises to give you a way out. This is where we pray:
“Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, because I’m surrounded by it right now. I haven’t fallen yet, but I feel like I will. Help me be like Joseph who ran away from Potiphor’s wife, and live like 2 Timothy 2:22 says, ‘[Fleeing] the evil desires of youth, and pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.’ Father I want a pure heart, and I need your help right now. Deliver me from the evil one who wants to ruin me, my heart, my life, my family, my church, my credibility, my spiritual strength, my mission and my joy.”
And God will always, always answer that prayer. Keep the Armor of God on and keep battling Satan, but always remember: He is defeated and he is a liar.
Over the past couple of weeks we have talked about the importance of making the daily reading of scripture the core part of our lives, and the foundation of our relationship with God. This all started because I wanted to share a way that God has spoken to me through my devotional times. I’ve noticed that most Christians don’t have a daily devotional time with God – in prayer and Bible reading – and that breaks my heart because they don’t know what they are missing.
Christians in Crisis
I watch as believers run around chasing after foolish things, distracted by the world and frittering away their lives. I see them struggling with temptations, falling over and over, and not knowing what to do. They try will-power or setting up guards and traps for themselves, but it doesn’t work and they feel like spiritual failures all the time so they just give up and go home.
I watch Christian people come to church, but never really engage with the worship music or the fellowship of other believers. They come because something draws them, but they float 6 feet above everyone, seeing what is happening but never experiencing what it means to truly meet God, know Christ, or be part of a church.
I watch as marriages and families disintegrate around me because the men and women are selfish and weak, addicted to money or porn, don’t know how to work through their problems in a biblical way, and refuse to ask for help because they are afraid of what people will think of them. Their faith is crippled by feelings of hypocrisy and shallow faith.
I listen to other pastors who lament the lack of maturity of the Christians around them. There is an absolute vacuum of good, godly leaders and elders. We scratch our heads as people who have been believers for decades stagnate in their spiritual lives, increase in their acceptance of sin and heretical beliefs, and continue to ask basic questions that should have been settled long ago. They remind me of when Hebrews 5:12 says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…” Churches full of spiritual babies who never get any older as the years go by. Year after year, same immature problems, same immature beliefs.
Single women and fatherless children are crying out for good, godly, mature Christian men who will love them like Jesus – but can’t find any. Young men are looking for godly mentors to follow and a mission to give their lives to, but they aren’t finding it in the church of Jesus Christ. Churches pull further inward, afraid of the culture around them that they don’t understand or want to be a part of. Christians are in moral, theological, spiritual and relational crisis because Christians are far from Christ.
Come to Jesus
What can be done? The only thing I know that can be done is to push, pull, draw and drag people back to Jesus. He is the one who builds his church. He is the one who defends it. He knows what plans need to be taken up and what needs to be cut off. The Holy Spirit knows how to worship God best. He knows where we are to serve. He teaches us how to fix our eyes on God and fix our relationships with others. He deepens us in maturity and guides our spiritual discipleship process. He is the source of all that will repair our relationships, fix our hearts and restore our churches.
That’s why I’m so excited about this series, and why I believe the message is so very important. If the answer to everything we need for our individual, familial and corporate spiritual lives is found in Jesus, then we all need to know how to connect with Him.
Why isn’t everyone connecting to Jesus? Here’s a few reasons I’ve come up with.
Some because they don’t understand what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. They think that Christianity means being nice, avoiding fun, following rules and going to church. Just like we said during the study of the Four Soils, they don’t know Jesus personally.
Some don’t do it because they don’t want to. They have no desperation for Jesus. They are like the rich young man who believe they have done everything that is necessary to get to heaven, and don’t really need to spend time with Jesus. And when Jesus tells them to give something up in order to grow closer to him, they walk away sorrowful, not wanting to give up their worldly comfort.
And there are some don’t do it because they don’t know how it’s supposed to work. They’ve tried, but it doesn’t work. They get bored, distracted, and get nothing out of prayer or reading the Bible. They try for a while, but the world gets busy and they put it aside thinking that it’s not really for them. Maybe it’s for other types of people who like to read and write – not for them. They do have a desire to meet God, but it’s too hard – and they just don’t want to try anymore.
And each of these people is spiritual starving. They are not coming to Jesus for their daily spiritual bread, they don’t have the everlasting fountain of life within them, and so they are spiritually starving. So they try to fill their gap with other things – pleasure, pain, knowledge, stuff – but it never gives them what they need. Because it never gives them Jesus.
Salting the Oats
That’s why, for the first two weeks, I talked about evaluating the condition of our hearts and cultivating a desperation for him. I can’t make you want to read your bible and pray every day. All I can do is try to show you the condition of your heart, and then try to help you see the benefits of being with Jesus.
Someone once said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” And the response is, “Sure… but you can salt the oats.” That’s what I’m trying to do before I give you a practical guide to Spiritual Journaling using Scripture. There’s a million different helps out there, but none of them mean anything if you don’t want them.
I want you to get a thirst for the presence and power of Jesus. I want you to see the depravity of your heart, the lack you have in your soul, the desperate need you have for a Saviour, to get a good look at your foolishness and your need for God’s wisdom. I want you to see the problems in your soul and want a solution. And I want you to know that the solution is a deep relationship with Jesus.
I’m not advocating a religious practice. I’m not pointing to an easy solution. I’m not giving you a bible verse, and this isn’t about ‘name it and claim it’ prayers. I want to share with you a way to know the One and True God, and trust and depend on Him for everything.
So, before I give you the practical guide, I want to do one more week of salting the oats. I want to tell you about this book that I’m pointing you to. I want you to see how different it is from all the other books in the world, and why it is important to read this one.
I’m not talking about reading books about the Bible – but to read the bible itself. Put down the moral story books and read the source of morality. Put down Christian authors who tell you what’s in the Bible and pick up the book written by the author of life. The Bible is alive, and has power unlike any other book ever written.
Our Umbilical Cord
Turn to Hebrews 4:12-13. If you recall last week I said that I want you to read this passage as a plea from a pastor to his people to be desperate for the word of God. That he wants his church to experience the presence of Jesus by experiencing the power of the Word of God, the Bible. He wants them to see the words of scripture as their umbilical cord, connecting them to Jesus. I also said, last week, that it’s not about reading your bible, but seeking and wanting the presence and the person of Jesus Christ. Here, in Hebrews 4 we see the scriptures and the Lord Jesus connected together. The Word of God is Jesus.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
What I want to do for the remainder of our time here is go through this passage and look at the words that are used to describe the Bible, the “Word of God”.
Look at how it’s described in verse 12. “For the word of God is living and active…”
The word “Living” is the word ZAO, which is where we get our word Zoo, and it is used to describe life or living things. When a dead thing is given life, or something is fresh and strong, they are ZAO. It’s used of a fresh spring of running water. It’s alive and the source of life.
I want you to remember that the way the Bible is being described here is not the way we would describe words in a book, but as a living, breathing, personal being. These aren’t merely words on a page, but the active, alive, person of God – the very presence of Jesus.
Our interaction with the text is an interaction with God. As we read the words, it is not merely coming through our eyes and into our mind, but is the voice of God being spoken into our soul, our spirit, and our hearts. It is as though God is reading them to us. It’s as though Jesus was standing next to us, speaking in our ear the words we need to hear, reminding us of what He’s all about, what His plans are, how He sees you, and what His promises are.
This is why we talked about the importance of preparing and cultivating our hearts to be receptive to Him. He’s sowing seeds as we read… will they take root in our souls. This is why we talked about having desperation for His voice and presence. Do we care that He’s standing there, speaking the words of life? Are we thirsty for him? Do we realize that the words we are reading are Living words?
The next descriptive word is “Active”. It’s the Greek word ENERGES from which we get the English word “Energy”. The Bible is Alive and full of Energy. It’s a word used to describe something that is powerful, effective, able to make things happen. It’s a word used to describe land that is good for crops, ready to accept seed, full of potential energy.
I studied physics in school and there are different forms of energy. There’s “potential energy” which describes something that has yet to move, but can. All it needs is something to convert the potential energy into some other form. The Bible is full of potential energy for anyone who would read it. And the moment we open it and read it with receptive hearts, that energy is converted into Kinetic energy – moving us closer to God and making us active in God’s will. It’s converted into Thermal energy – heating up our lukewarm hearts and making us lights unto the world.
These are the words of Jesus, the same one who could speak to the dead body of Lazarus, buried four days in a tomb, and command him to “Come out!” (John 11:43).
These are same living and active, powerful of Jesus, who was able to rebuke the storm by saying, “Peace! Be Still!” (Mark 4:39)
These are the words of Jesus who can look at a demon and say “Be Quiet! Come out of Him!” and they must obey (Luke 4:35)
Just as God is Living and Active, able to make things happen, so God’s Word is Living and Active, full of Energy to make us alive and calm the storms in our heart.
The next word used to describe the word of God is “Sharp”. It is “sharper than any two edged sword.” A sharp sword is a dangerous weapon, but this word describes something even more dangerous. This is the word TOMOS which doesn’t describe a cut from a sword blade, but the precise incision of a scalpel. It’s not the swing of a sword, or the stab of a dagger, but the keen and direct cut of a surgeon.
You see the word TOMOS at the end of surgical words like “appendectomy” (the removal of the appendix), or “hysterectomy” (the removal of the uterus) or “rhinectomy” (the removal of the nose). When a surgeon removes an exact thing (and no more) they do an -ectomy .
This is what the Bible does. It slices us open. In the context we see that this whole section is about the scriptures being “sharp”, “piercing” inside of us, and splitting us open so that the very “thoughts and intentions of our heart” can be seen.
Think of the story of King Josiah reading the book of the Law after it had been lost for so many years, and then discovered when they were rebuilding the Temple. It says,
“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded… saying, ‘Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.’” (2 Kings 22:11-13)
After reading the word of God, King Josiah was taken apart and terrified by the judgment of God. It had revealed his disobedience and how far the people of God had fallen away from what God wanted. And it had revealed how God would punish. But it had also revealed how God would forgive His people when they turned back to Him so he calls to the priests, the government officials and the servants to get right with God!
This could be one reason that a lot of people avoid reading the Bible. For the same reason they don’t visit the doctor, or refuse to have an operation that could help them. They are afraid or they want to live in denial – and pretend they don’t have the problem.
Whenever they read the scriptures they feel the keen sting of God’s scalpel starting to cut open their chest to expose their hearts, and before God can go too deep, they close the book and tell God to go away. Sure, God’s going in there to cut out the cancer, to repair their heart, to remove the stones inside them, to cut out the dead flesh and restore life – but it hurts.
Jesus said it this way in John 15,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser (“Gardener” NIV). Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
God’s word is sharp, like a scalpel, like a pair of pruning shears.
The next word takes God’s surgery a little deeper. It says that the word of God is “piercing”. “Piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow”. The root of the Greek word is the word DIA which simply means to go “through” something, to penetrate it, to reach through something. We all know what a piercing is. It’s when people put metal through parts of their body. God is so exact in his cutting that he is able to exposes the very core of our being – he pierces through us.
One of my favourite uses of this word is to describe projectile or range weapons like arrows, javelins, slingshots or catapults that can be shot with precision into enemy lines. Today, we’d call them a sniper. God’s word cuts through the mess, gets around the rest, finds exactly what the problem is, and like a sniper, finds the thing that needs to die and kills it. No collateral damage, no accidents, no unnecessary casualties.
It says it is able to divide the separation of “joints and marrow”. Literally meaning the joint where the bones connect and the marrow inside the bones. God’s surgery doesn’t make mistakes. There’s no accidental cutting. His word hits the mark every time.
It says that God’s word is able to penetrate so deeply and so perfectly, that it can separate one’s “soul” (PSYCHE – our inner self, motives, personality, what makes us who we are) from their “spirit” (PNEUMA – their spiritual self, used of Holy Spirit and demons, that part which is inspired by God.) We can’t see the difference, and I can’t really explain it, but God can.
How does this work? Well, we can put on a good show, be religious at the right times, but when we are confronted by the Word of God, our true hearts are shown. Someone hears God’s word read or preached (or they read it themselves) and it hits them exactly where they needed to be hit. It exposes their sin, their hypocrisy, their depravity and the evil in their hearts. And they are forced to contend with it. To repent and accept forgiveness, or to harden their hearts and turn away.
Or, in the positive sense, God’s word is read or preached and it speaks exactly the words of comfort they needed to hear. They find the answer their soul has been looking for, the healing which they so desperately have desired.
That’s the power of God’s word, and I believe with all my being that when we are in the word every day, prayerfully reading and interacting with God through the text, that he pierces and divides us, speaks to the core of who we are, shows us our exact intentions, doesn’t sugar coat things – but tells us exactly what we need to hear that day. And he can do it with only a few words because those words are sharp as a scalpel, as powerful as a sniper.
The final word used to describe God’s word is “Discerning”. It’s the Greek word KRITIKOS from which we get our English word “Critic”. It also means “judge”.
I would love to be a movie critic, and sometimes after watching a movie, I write little reviews on Facebook. A critic, whether for movies, music, wine, restaurants, consumer products, or whatever, is someone who is supposed to see things more deeply than the average person. They have more experience with more versions, and can tell you why something is empirically good or bad – and why. We depend on critics so that we don’t waste our time and money on worthless things, or so that we can set our expectations to the right level before we go somewhere.
God’s word is the ultimate and perfect critic. Because the Word of God is living, active, sharp and piercing, God uses it to “discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart.” God sees it, and the Bible shows it to us.
Remember last week when I said that our problem is that we don’t know our hearts? I read Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”. But the solution is that God does know our hearts, and that He gives us His word as a roadmap to our hearts. This is what I meant.
James 1:22-25 describes the word of God as being a mirror,
“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
That’s a warning to us who read God’s word because it will show us who we are. This has happened to me so many times, I cannot tell you. I’ve even taken to circling them. I will start by writing out a concern, or a problem, or something that is bothering me, or a request, or a question – just something that is on my heart.
And over and over, as I read the words of God, He will open me up like a surgeon, pull out my heart, and then show it to me.
“This is what you got wrong there.”
“This is what you really meant.”
“This is what’s wrong with what you just said.”
“This is how I’m going to answer that prayer.”
In that moment, on that day, God speaks directly to me… and I can literally draw a line from my issue to God’s response. But there are so many days when I close the book, walk away, and forget the incredible thing that just happened! I forget that the God of the universe just spoke to me. And it shames me.
Perhaps you know this feeling too. You are reading scripture or listening to a bible teacher and God shows you what you are really thinking, feeling, and doing. He pulls out your ideas and desires and mental conversations and then shows you exactly what’s going on there. He replays them for you and then tells you exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.
He shows you that you are cultivating lust, or talking down to yourself, or are harboring bitterness or hatred, that you are being selfish and reinforcing bad behavior… in your mind… and he lifts the veil of your thoughts and shows you exactly what is happening in the background.
You start to pray, and you open the word, and he shows you your own intentions. He shows you what you were really thinking when you did that, why you really did it, and all the reasons behind it – that no one else really knew. He holds up a mirror to your very soul.
In this way He is softening your conscience and teaching you about yourself. He’s giving you a roadmap of your heart, a picture of who you really are. And it draws you closer to Him because you realize that you need Him to help you, save you, forgive you, change you, open you up and clean what is inside.
Where Can I Run?
Verse 13 of Hebrews 4 reminds us that
“…no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
For some, that nakedness brings nothing but shame and fear, so they close the book and refuse to open it. For others, being exposed to God is a comfort, knowing there is nothing between them, and that they are not hiding like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden ashamed of their sin, but standing in the presence of their Creator, forgiven and unashamed. It is my prayer that you would run to God, that you would allow him to open you up every day, to do surgery on your heart every day, to bring you more and more healing every day – by reading and prayerfully interacting with His word.
Let’s close by reading Psalm 139, which is prayer to God thanking Him for His perfect knowledge.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you….
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!