Study Helps for Christian Depression

Part of how I tried to help a Christian who was struggling with some depression.

I do not want you to be discouraged or to conclude anything without prayer and guidance from the Word. As you move into approaching/encouraging her as a Christian (different than the first approach), your daughter (you being the teacher) may benefit from some instruction from the Word about God's character and ways. It would be a nice opportunity for you to draw close to her. The first thing I would say is that no matter how you feel, no matter how I feel (and I have been in this situation), God demonstrated His love toward us on the cross (Romans 5:8). It is a fact of history. Feelings can be telling us one thing but the facts are that "God publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation in His blood" (Romans 3:25). He did this for all to see, the whole world sees it.

Another thing to do is show how Moses (Numbers 11:11-15), Job (Job 6:14; 27:2; 29:2), Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-8), Jonah (Jonah 4:3), and Jesus (Matthew 26:37-38) had feelings like she did. They were downcast in spirit. (1)Let her identify with their plight and situations and recognize that great men of the faith, even our Lord, were severely distressed. (2)See how they responded by noting the details and circumstances. (3)Ask her if they responded properly and what can she learn from them. Maybe she will identify with Hannah who was discouraged about being barren (1 Samuel 1:8-18).

Often times we need to preach to our souls and listen to them less. I do not encourage one to ignore one’s conscience but that the way we think is how we will feel. Proverbs says, “As a man thinks, so is he.” David preaches, even rebukes his soul for being downcast when he is losing hope in Psalm 42:5, 11. He says twice, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so depressed within me? Hope in God, for yet I will praise Him.” He calls God the help of his countenance in verse 11. You do not want to tune your soul out but you want to avoid hyper-introspection which usually ends in despair. There are also Scriptures such as the following that will comfort:

But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish. Psalm 9:18

My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. Psalm 119:81

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Psalm 23:18

"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoldering wick shall he not quench, until he sends forth judgment unto victory." Matthew 12:20

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103:14


+Luther on Marriage

"Of course, the Christian should love his wife. He is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love."

Martin Luther—The Later Years and Legacy: Christian History, Issue 39, (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, Inc.) 1997.


What should I do If I Feel Cursed, Have no Peace, and Have no Joy?

(Recently I was emailed a question like the title and this is essentially how I answered)

Dear friend,

I thank you for reaching out and asking the hard questions that people usually do not even go near. Most people avoid thinking about their standing before God and you have come right up front and center and have faced the music head on. The fact that you are concerned about your soul's state is a good thing. I say that because people who do not care about their choices, their failures, or eternity, do not show evidence that they are spiritually alive. The questions you have asked are difficult to fully address because they require various follow up questions and a discernment of your emotions and feelings but I will nevertheless give some basic diagnostic and practical things you may want to use. The first is the complex issue of emotions.
1. Emotions are a God-given faculty. They go hand-in-hand with your thoughts and often follow right behind them. "As a man thinks, so is he" (Proverbs). I have been through discouragement and wrestle with this often. Sometimes, I will see something happen in my life and I will start to question if God is withdrawing from me at this moment for some reason. If it is not true that He is unhappy with me, the fact that I am doubting and starting to interpret the doubt and its accompanying feelings to sense God is often futile. This is so because doubt concerning one's status with God often illicits feelings of uncertainty and worry which spiral deeper into a depressed spiritual state. The way to see where God is in one's life is not to continuously doubt, but to trust Him that He is near, and if something is wrong, to ask Him to reveal it to you. A certain level of doubt is good, when it conforms to reality but God wants you to know what is going on in your life and He wants you to have faith, all the time. There are so many injunctions in the Scripture to believe, and to have faith. God is good to show us when we need correction and will be consistent in doing so. So my conclusion is that sometimes emotions are an incorrect gauge of spiritual status. Other times, however, emotions correctly cause to us experience what our state before God is. When Cain offered an improper sacrifice and his brother's was accepted (Genesis 4:1-6), "his countenance fell (v 6)." He was downcast and rightly so because he sinned by not bringing God the best of his crop. Then he killed his brother because he was jealous of him. But his countenance, or face, fell, or it was downcast in shame perhaps, or in guilt or in sadness. But if this is the case, God often wants to remedy the situation quickly. Notice how He tells Cain "If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?" (v 7). If Cain did right after falling short things would have been restored. So there are times when we must address a situation and the result will be that our mood will lift as well.
2. If you have turned to Christ from sin then you are saved, never to fall from salvation. This is the objective side of salvation and you need to start here. What I mean is that anyone who is saved will not ever be lost, even if they do lose their joy and sense of assurance. These things often flee us when circumstances arise but our salvation does not leave us because God declared us righteous when we believed Jesus died on the cross. Your salvation does not depend on your righteousness, your feelings, or your holiness, it depends on what Jesus accomplished for you. He was righteous and holy and God gives the righteousness of Jesus (His perfection in thought, word, and deed) to the believer when he or she places their faith in Him (see Romans 5:17-19 where righteousness comes to us through one man's act). He is pleased with Jesus and by extension is pleased with you because you have trusted Jesus. God also accepts Jesus' substitution on the cross. Jesus' sacrifice was enough for the Father to declare you righteous. So, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, it does not matter. If you have believed in Christ you are eternally secure. Any peace or joy must start here. It must start in something outside of you. Restoring your joy is something subjective which you will need to ask God for.
3. A life that pleases God will have a certain measure of joy in it. It will not be perfectly joyous but will have the characteristic of joy. We must not forget that we will sin and that sin remains in us as we live on this earth. So as holy as we are, we still will have to battle sin, and battles are often tough and hard and unpleasant. Joy corresponds to our fixation on the final outcome. We must remember that we are victorious in the end and that God "who began a good work in us will complete on the day of Christ" (Phil 1:6). Some people are more prone to being despondent than others. Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, even Moses and Elijah fought times of depression. But ultimately, they were lifted up by God.
4. The best diagnostic for anyone wrestling with their spiritual condition is to spend a good deal of time in prayer regarding it. In fact, be consistent in your prayer about the matter until you get an answer. Those who diligently seek God will find Him, and those who ask for wisdom believing they will receive it freely obtain it and that without reproach (James 1:5). God is the best source on what is troubling you and why. And I have been in your situation, and the best advice I can give you is to seek God daily. Don't expect the instant result of joy. Also, let yourself be grounded in the truth. I went through a time where I forgot I had been "purified by my former sins" (2 Peter 1) because I had been living off track for while. Now to get back to where I was took months, but actually I went farther than I was originally and grew enormously but did not see the results as they were happening. I was only able to see the growth as I looked back after a few years. A major catalyst in the equation was learning about certain doctrines concerning salvation. One of them is divine election. Election is the doctrine God has chosen individuals for salvation, and we are saved because God has chosen us. Ephesians 1 tells us that "we have been chosen before the foundation of the world" - so salvation depends on God's act not on ours. Also, salvation is secured forever. A believer will persevere until the end of his life. Jesus said "No one will be able to snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28-30). Romans 8:30 also tells that those who have been justified are also glorified. It is spoken of as if it already happened - yet it is still in the future. God holds on to us, not the other way around. There is a sense to where we have to get the focus of ourselves and our emotions and onto some truth and God who never fails. "Who can bring a charge against God's elect?" No one! Not one thing can separate us from the love of Christ!
5. Take an overview of your life as a Christian. Do you remember when you were saved? Was there a change in your behavior afterward? Usually, when someone becomes a Christian there is a new outlook on life with new spiritual desires. There might be an increase in longing for the Bible or an increase in evangelism. Also there might be the laying aside of former practices of sin. Do you see God answer your prayers at times? Being brought into God's family means that you have a relationship with Him that is personal and close. You are able to call Him "Papa" or "Daddy" as in Romans 8:15 (Abba). This means He hears your every cry and prayer. There will be some experience of this at some time in your Christian life. Do you delight in His Word? Do you have a desire to show love to other believers? These are practical evidences of salvation found in 1 John. They are not to examined in your life on the level of perfection, but as an abiding evidence.

Ultimately, you are in a good place. You are desiring to find a remedy for your downcast spirit. Please, be encouraged. You might also want to confide in your pastor or a close friend or two who can help you in this matter. Reality might remind you that this might be a battle in your life for some time. Or it may not. God is able to do more than we ask or think!


Simon, Watch & Pray!

Recently I was asked what the specific temptation was to guard against in the Garden of Gathsemane. It says, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation." I thought, 'that is a very good question'! If you notice in Mark 14:37, Jesus is talking to Peter. He is specifically calling him to "keep watch for one hour." Then in verse 38, he is told to keep watching and praying that [he] may not come into temptation." This sounds like the Lord's Prayer, doesn't it? "Lead us not into temptation?" Jesus knows that a specific hour of temptation is coming for Peter and that Peter, and he calls him Simon- his name before he became a follower of Christ, is not ready. Look at the verses before and after verse 38. What has Peter said or done? In verse 29, he said, "Even though all fall away, I will not." In the face of Jesus' prediction of his failure, Peter is bold and stoic in his resolve. On the other hand, he shouldn't have thought, 'Well, the Lord said I am going to deny Him so, oh well, I'll just let it happen'.He should have been humble and sought wisdom for prevention measures and/or remedy for his coming failure from Jesus. Jesus predicted that before the rooster crowed Peter would deny him 3 times. So, I think that Peter's denial, although prophesied by the Lord, was to be handled by Peter as real and resistible. Something similar to this happened in Daniel 4:10-17, 27, where Daniel predicted that the king would be driven away as a wild beast for 7 years because of pride and then later be restored to his kingdom. However, in Daniel 4:27, Daniel gives advice to the king about specific ways to repent and perhaps avoid this fate. He says break off your sins "in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity." This also happened to Hezekiah, who was told he was going to die but when he humbled himself the Lord gave him 13 more years. So, it seems the Lord sometimes prophesies of coming judgment in order to provoke repentance or readiness for action (also see Jonah 3:4, 10). For Peter, he wanted to resist the temptation (the spirit is willing) but his flesh was weak (he fell asleep at a time when he should have prayed) and he consequently failed. The other part of the temptation that Jesus may have warned against was that He was soon to be taken from their midst. This would have been the first time they had been without their Lord and they would have been afraid. It would be harder to confess Him as their Lord and so they would need God's help and power to overcome their coming cowardice. Verse 27 says that "I will strike down the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." Jesus told them what was coming and they needed to prepare. I believe the command to "watch" takes on 2 meanings. The first has the idea of seeing what was going on, what was about to happen. Peter needed to be awake so that he could see the betrayal and arrest. He needed to be able to read the times and act appropriately. He was not told to pray yet (v. 34). The second is tied to the first. It has the idea of seeing and being prepared to act according to the circumstances. Peter should have been praying and keeping watch while his Lord prayed. So, as we do not specifically get the details about the temptation Peter was to avoid, we do get the general concept by looking at the verses before and after Jesus' prediction. And this seems to be that Peter needed to prepare to stand up for the name of Christ, when his shepherd had been taken away, so that he would not sin, as he did before the fire in the courtyard of the high priest. Even though our Lord was temporarily removed from Peter, He has promised us that He is with us always, even to the end of the age! Ask God to prepare you to be ready to confess Christ today!


Sell all of my possessions, Lord? Part 2

2. “Who is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge…” (Luke 12:42) Perhaps the result of one who submits to the call of discipleship by Jesus is that he or she will “give up” or “say farewell to” (14:33) his or her possessions willingly but might not be required to begin their immediate sale. This is especially so before one comes to faith (see Matthew 19:21). This interpretation, that we must be willing to give it all up, has favor from the analogy of the inferior king meeting a more powerful one in battle (Luke 14:31,32). The inferior king (those who hear the gospel call) will, if he is in his right mind, seek “terms of peace” from the king with “twenty thousand” men (God the Father). The gospel call seems to be pictured here. The gospel commands us to seek terms of peace from God or we will be crushed by His great, overpowering army. How does this happen? We give up our rights to everything that is in our territory and become the property of God Almighty. We gain our lives (salvation) by our surrender and He gains us as His subjects. If the person does not “give up all of his own possessions” he will have to face the Lord in battle, and lose (eternal judgment). Now let me note, that this preserves the force of the text, to some extent, and it allows Luke to write the end of the story. The story concludes with us as subjects of God’s kingdom. Better than that, we are stewards of His kingdom. If you glance back to 12:42, and much of Luke deals with possessions and money, you see that following the same command to “sell your possessions and give to charity” (12:33) comes commands to be ready for Christ’s coming again. How do we get ready for the Second Coming of Christ? We do so by being “faithful and sensible steward[s]” who have charge over much of God’s kingdom while He is away for a long journey (12:45). How can we be stewards if we have nothing in our possession. So, it seems fitting that we renounce our right to our own possessions and willingly hand them over to God’s disposal and He in turn gives them back to us to use to His benefit and glory. In fact, in 12:47, we prove ourselves His stewards by not being lazy with what God has “put us in charge of” (12:42). Also, the conclusion in 12:48 is that “we have been given much” and “entrusted with much” (i.e. we still have possessions in our stead), therefore we will be required to give a more detailed account of our use of them. This idea of resultant stewardship and generosity fits well with Acts 5:4, (which Luke also authored). There it says that Ananias and Sapphira willingly sold a piece of property and promised to keep back some of the profit (5:2). However, when this is exposed to Peter, he says “While it (the land) remained unsold did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” It was Ananias’ decision to sell the land. F.F. Bruce says, “no compulsion had been laid on Ananias to sell his property,” and that this act, like Barnabas’ in 4:37, was “quite voluntary.”**** It remained his own and was under his control (5:4) and if he decided to give it up it would have been an act of generosity. Also, numerous examples exist where followers of Christ kept some of their finances and even used them to support the kingdom of God (the women who supported Christ “out of their own means” Luke 8:3, the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34-35, and Cornelius in Acts 10:2). Robert H. Stein, says the following, “The context of 12:33a clearly indicates that the total renunciation of all personal possessions is not the intent of this saying since disciples are expected to have the means to practice a continual generosity (12:33b). At times believers may be called on to sell all their possessions, as in the case of the rich young ruler (18:22), but this is not a universal demand…We must also note the demand to “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out.” This latter command assumes that one will continue to have the means to give alms, i.e., that one will still have purses out of which to give alms.”*****

Conclusion The conclusion seems to be that we “cannot be a disciple” of Christ if we do not first “say farewell” to the right to all of our possessions. This, to the unbeliever, is a gospel appeal. Why? Because it matters not for an unbeliever to be generous to the poor without first becoming a disciple of the Master. On the other hand, some of God’s subjects might be asked to sell all that they have for a specific reason or test. Let us not rule that out. If that is the case, God will make it clear to them that He desires this. We must be willing to give up all rights in surrender to Christ or we are falling short of the command. In fact, giving up all of our rights is even more radical than giving up only one’s possessions (John MacArthur). In salvation, we are thus blessed and made stewards of God’s kingdom. Now that we have been made God’s stewards we are “entrusted with His possessions” (in context it refers to discipleship) and are commanded to be generous with them. Since we know that every New Testament disciple did not sell all we can fulfill this command by following their examples. We do this by selling some of them for the purpose of giving to those in need “from time to time,” especially within the church. We do this by being spontaneously generous as Barnabas and Cornelius were.

****The Book of the Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans, 1988, 105.
*****Luke. The New American Commentary. Broadman Press: Nashville, 1992, 53.


Sell all of my possessions, Lord? Part 1

Does Jesus want us to sell all of our possessions?
What a great question! Why? Well, because when you wrestle with a text like this (Luke 12:33) and come away thinking that He wants you to act and sell your possessions you are taking the text at its face value and are not blurred by alternative voices explaining the text away. With that said, ironically, I am going to function, in some sense, as an alternative voice. The reason being is that there are elements within Luke’s writings that might warrant us gathering all of the data before coming to an inflexible conclusion. However, I tread lightly here because I do not want to minimize the intended force of God’s word. I will first point out factors affirming taking the text at face value and what that might mean (Part 1) and then I will point out several mitigating ones that might help us obey Jesus’ command along with other passages by the same author (Luke) or containing the same teachings (Part 2). Within that discussion I will briefly touch on Matthew’s rendition of the command and context and also note some factors that Acts brings to the table.

1. “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor…” (see Luke 12:33; 14:33).
When you take this imperative (command) at face value, and you meditate on it for some time, you come away thinking that you should sell your possessions (Luke says “all” of them, Matthew leaves “all” out of his text) and give the proceeds to the poor. If we do this we are being obedient to the words of Christ. The first Christians did this in Acts, in some sense. In Acts 2:44-45 it says, “all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as any might have need” (NASB). When you take this text at face value, it seems that they probably had Jesus’ command in mind and believed it to be binding upon their lives. Now what it does say is that they “began selling their property and possessions.” This does not necessarily mean that they sold everything, for how would they take care of their own families (we will see more in part #2), but that they were selling possessions for the purpose of providing for “anyone [who] might have need.” The verb “selling” is an imperfect active verb which has the idea “they sold their possessions from time to time.”* This was something that they did continuously, but at various times, not all at once. It is interesting to note this was their behavior, because when Jesus tells us to “sell your possessions” it is used in a verb tense that indicates no reference to how often it should happen but that it should. Perhaps those first believers concluded that this was something that should characterize their lives. On the other hand, the force of this passage might have been intended by Jesus to be a call to repentance and faith in Him. This seems to be the case for the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. Notice how in 19:20 he admits to having "kept" 6 great commandments and therefore was righteous in his own eyes. Jesus therefore does not give him the gospel (telling him about forgiveness of sin) but more law. He does this, most likely, because this is what the man needs. He needs to see his sin, and hear the bad news, before he can appreciate the good news. The man was blind to his own sin, that of greed and reliance on possessions, and Jesus was to expose it by commanding him to break from them. This is why He spoke this way to the rich man. Jesus' evangelistic encounters were tailor-made for the person he was talking to (see Luke 9:60). Jesus also often used hyperbole (exaggerated/overstated statements to get His point across “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…no one can be my disciple if he does not first hate his mother and father“), and this fits well with Luke 14:18-20, where various characters in a parable are called to a “supper” in the kingdom of God (15,16). In this parable, the three invited guests give excuses for not attending. Each person asks to be excused so they can attend to some earthly possession or acquisition, or to someone (a new spouse) elevated to higher importance than God. In 14:18 the first guest “bought a piece of land” and needed to “go out and look at it.” In 14:19 another guest has to “try out” his newly purchased “oxen.” Finally, and not to say that women or wives are possessions at all,** but the newly married man asked to be excused because he has just “married.” Craig Keener notes that these guests (illustrative of Israel) would have already promised to attend the banquet and were thus insulting in their cancellations.*** With this said we look to a possible interpretation, in Part 2, of the passages at hand. Stay tuned!

*Cleon Rogers Jr. and Cleon Rogers III. The New Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan, 1998, 234.
**The IVP Bible Background Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1993, 230.
***Culturally, the status of women in the Middle East was minimal. As Keener also notes, women “were not often invited to such dinners” on page 231 but could have attended with the husband. Christianity reversed such imbalanced roles.


Thou Shalt Not Make Any Graven Image

The Hebrew word for “image” referred to fashioned idols used in worship and the image was thought to contain the “deity’s essence” (Walton et al. 2000, 29). Images were also seen to denote representation of the deity. However, God was not made with human hands, and is spirit in essence, and to fashion something after His likeness was to believe some part of Him was in the idol. A calf was shaped by Aaron in Exodus 32:4 so that it could “go before” the people and lead them into the Promised Land (32:1 NIV) because was Moses took too long on the mountain with God. Most likely, this was a wooden figure overlaid with pliable gold in the shape of a calf (Walton, 115). The image is given credit for delivering Israel from their bondage in Egypt (32:4) and results in cultic festivities. Like their neighbors, Israel entertains the celebration with a feast, burnt and peace offerings, and probably dancing and sexual acts associated with pagan fertility feasts (Walton, 115). As a result, God’s anger burns against them to destroy all of them (32:10) but Moses intercedes and saves the majority. He pleads that God remember his promises of the past and succeeds (32:12-14). Moses then descends the mountain and breaks the tablets of the covenant. The breaking of the tablets (32:19) symbolized a destruction of the covenant in ancient Near Eastern times (Walton, 116). For Israel, God is breaking his covenant with them because of their disobedience. In response, Moses takes significant action. He burns the calf with fire, grinds it into powder, and makes the Israelites drink it (32:20). The importance of this destruction and drinking of the powdered gold cannot be over-estimated. Destroying the idol (as well as any future idol of the pagan nations in 34:13) took great faith because this was considered very offensive to the represented god (Walton, 117). Likewise, Moses commands Israel to drink the remains of the destroyed image. This symbolized the irreversibility of the destruction of the idol and that it was completely renounced, and a full commitment to I AM (Walton, 117). The narrative concludes with Israel being warned not to intermingle with the nations it will encounter (34:12-15). They should not covenant with them (34:12), should not worship their gods but should smash their idols (34:13-14), and should not even intermarry with them (34:15). Complete separation from them is required.
As far as the images, they had many forms in the ancient Near East. The bull was common to Canaanite religion and Egypt had a wide range of animal gods (McConville 2002, 126). This is probably the reason for the sweeping prohibition of Deut. 5:8. Also, the deities of surrounding cultures had their needs met through the image (Walton 2006, 156) which was the manner in which the deity showed itself (Walton et al. 2000, 95). God was unique in comparison to these gods. He was not represented by any graven image.
Verse 9 gives reasons for not making any image of a god. It speaks of I AM as a “jealous” God who visits the “iniquities of the fathers on the children” to the third and fourth generations (5:9). This mention of multi-generational households is significant because of the close nature of families within the community (McConville, 126). For one to worship “any” image (5:8) was to introduce the family and community to possible successive judgments.
-In 1 John we read: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." What practices or beliefs are we importing into an image of God?

-Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids: MI: William B Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 1990.
-McConville, J.G. Deuteronomy. Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
-Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
-Walton, John H, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.


What John Piper Said to President Obama

From the pulpit, John Piper called upon Barak Obama to be courageous and to not be a lapdog for Washington elites by sanctioning anti-life policies. He called on him to speak for women's rights, the hundreds of thousands of "little women" who are aborted each year in this country. You can view it here.
1. Obama ran his election on change. As Americans, we can petition and beg our God to "change" Obama's heart toward the most helpless, little ones in our society. Proverbs says, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (21:1). The Lord can dam up the river of stubbornness and release the river of life in this country once again!
2. Some of you might remember the Clinton era. He was said to have good approval ratings while in office, even in the midst of scandal. One thing that seemed to characterize Bill Clinton was that he swayed some of his convictions at the beckon of the people. In my opinion, this was not a good thing because the people are often wrong, and second, we elected him to make the decisions and not us. However, in our case, President Obama seems to share characteristics of the Clinton camp of the 1990's. For one, many of his top cabinet officials are former Clinton aids. Why is this a good thing? Perhaps, along with our prayers, if we cry out loud enough to him (Obama), he might listen to us and reverse his devastating policy moves against the unborn. Please, follow this link to email your president. Give him a serious but gentle plea on behalf of the unborn. Ask him to weigh his decision in light of eternity.
(Pictures courtesy of Monergism.com and TinyPic).


Do You Love Your Enemies or Want God to Break Them?

“When should we, as Christians, consider unbelievers enemies?” "Didn't Jesus disregard Gentiles who desired healing from Him?" Also, “Is it biblical to pray for their justice to come or to desire their repentance and salvation?” My answer will cover these questions as I was recently asked about this.

1. First, it is important to note that Jesus’ specific mission was to the Jews first. John 1:11 tells us that “he came to His own and they did not receive Him.“ This is why He responded to the woman with a demon-possessed daughter the way He did. However, His response to her was not that He rejected her because she was a Gentile, but that He would illicit faith from her. He wanted to draw out of her the faith that would be appropriate for her request. Jesus did this often in His ministry. Another example of this is where Jesus “spitting on his [the blind man’s} eyes and laying hands on him asked him, ’Do you see anything?’ (Mark 8:23). The man saw people walking around like trees. His vision was only partially restored at that point, but this was to bring out faith, which Jesus constantly looked for. Then in the next verse Jesus laid hands on his eyes and he saw. Jesus also did something similar in John 9:11. Jesus’ ministry begins to close when the Gentiles begin to seek Him (John 12:20, 23). He is told that the “Greeks” (12:20) are seeking Him and only a short while later does Jesus conclude that His time to be glorified in death is coming soon (12:23). Only after His death will He “draw all men [Jew and Gentile] unto Himself” (12:32 NASB). Jesus did interact with Gentiles during His ministry but it seems the fullness of this was to occur after He had died (see Acts 1:6-8).
2. In essence, we should pray for and love our enemies, no matter who they are. This is where I believe most of our response to wrongdoing should rest. Romans 12:17-21 clearly teaches this as does Matthew 5:43-38. The point of Romans 12 is that we can overcome evil “by good” (v. 21) and that God is the only one who can render each man as he deserves. If justice were left up to us we would go over what was necessary and just. Matthew 5 calls us blessed when men persecute us (5:10). And Romans again calls us to bless those who “persecute you” (12:14 NASB). This means to speak well of and wish well those who are pursuing you! Interesting to this truth is the story of Dirk Willems. He was pursued by the authorities for believing that Christians should be baptized as adults.

"Dirk was caught, tried and convicted as an Anabaptist in those later years of harsh Spanish rule under the Duke of Alva in The Netherlands. He escaped from a residential palace turned into a prison by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags, dropping onto the ice that covered the castle moat.
Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of a pond, the "Hondegat," safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the heavier pursuer broke through. Hearing the guard's cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, where he was probably locked into the wooden leg stocks that remain in place today. Soon he was led out to be burned to death."*

Dirk's story help us see the need to love our enemies and to sacrifice for the gospel. Emotions and feelings of hurt are real and God has given them to us. He knows we are experiencing them. He will use them to bless us with fruit and understanding for other in that pain. We should commit them to God and trust that justice will come, even if it is when Jesus comes to earth (2 Thess 1:6-10). Forgiveness toward those who hurt us will be a daily choice we make. There will be days when the emotions will rise up and we will feel the injustice in our hearts. That is when we need to make another choice to forgive that person all bless them. Keep reminding yourself of specific Scripture and wait for the emotions to subside. Ask God to bless the person with repentance. Also, recognize that if they are unsaved, that they are really ignorant to the serious nature of their sin. They also do not have the Holy Spirit to tell them they did wrong and need to make it right. They are lost and in need of God’s power to make them alive.
3. In the Bible, righteous anger usually occurs when God and His name are being seriously maligned or when the innocent are suffering because justice being severely maligned. There is also some semblance of righteous anger toward false teachers and those who lead people to eternal ruin. Jesus drove out people in righteous anger who had perverted the purpose of God’s house (the temple) and David was angered in Psalm 58:5 and said “break their teeth, O God.” He said this to judges (58:1) who judged falsely, who weighed out the violence of their hands (v. 2), who “speak lies from birth,” and aim their arrows at the innocent (v. 7). Paul spoke very strongly to false teachers who were misleading followers of Christ (Galatians 5:12). The best channel for righteous anger is the throne room of your Father, God, which you have free access to at all times (Rom 8:15-17).

* 1. John S. Oyer and Robert Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs [Good Books, 1990], p. 36-37. http://www.goshen.edu/mqr/Dirk_Willems.html Accessed 10 March 2009.


Take Another Look at Predestination

Sometimes we easily and quickly dismiss ideas and concepts we are unfamiliar with. This is the case especially if we have not given adequate study to the matter at hand. I share this type of guilt as well. Obviously, posts on this blog portray a view of the rapture that is post-tribulational. Yet, I did not always take this position. For years, I believed and taught the pre-tribulational view and thought it a mark against those who held otherwise. Then, I read something that caused me to think, and more importantly, to examine the biblical text. I hope this is what you will do with this post here. Let it cause you to think and then go and examine the biblical text.

1. One theme that defines theology for me is that of divine election and reprobation. This theme I see in Romans 9-11 and it shows how Israel's rejection of Christ is not outside of God's plan. Israel's rejection is not "because the word of God has failed" (v. 6), it is not that God's promises to Israel have failed, but that the salvation of God has always been a small group chosen out of the whole. Verse 6 tells us this: "they are not all Israel who are from Israel." When we consider Israel as a people we should consider the subjects of God's salvation as the remnant.
2. There are also examples of this in the text. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau "before they were born and had not done anything good or bad" (v. 11). This is an example of point #1. This was so "God's purpose according to election might stand, not because of works but of Him who calls" (v. 11 b). For God says that "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion" (v. 15). Then I think the conclusion can be drawn as Paul does. Salvation "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (9:16 NASB). It does not depend on man's will or man's effort but it depends on God mercying (verbal in Greek).
3. This fits the whole context, which is about Israel's salvation, or lack thereof. Paul is grieving because Israel is "accursed, separated from Christ" (9:3) and Paul's "heart's desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation" in 10:1 (contra the national election view). But his explanation is that this is how God works and has always worked (Isaac, Jacob, and Moses over Pharoah). God has the right over his creation as the potter has all rights over the clay to make one vessel for noble use (salvation) and another for common use (reprobation) in 9:21. God has "mercy on whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills" (9:18).
4. Why would God do this? The best answer I found was this, a quote from Jonathan Edwards: "It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent [=radiant], that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . .
Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect." (Jonathan Edwards, "Concerning the Divine Decrees," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 528)
5. John Piper would say the mystery of how God's sovereignty and responsibility remain is in how God finds fault when it is he who hardens (verse 17). He also notes that there is no objection in the text to verses 22-23 (which there is one in 14) which says "If God willing to to show his wrath and to make known his power known, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory." That is to say, what if God wanted to harden certain ones in order that the elect might better appreciate His salvation, would that be wrong? What if He wanted to do that? There is no objection in the text.
6. With all this said, I see the great pain which Paul felt in light of Israel's rejection of Christ. Romans 9:2 tells us that he had "great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart" for them (NASB). We should grieve for the lost and desire their salvation. And if they come to faith we should realize that it is because God had desired to save them and show mercy on them before "they were born and done anything good or bad (9:11)." We should also realize that this is the only reason we possess eternal life at all and gratefully worship our Creator.


Why Millennial Sacrifices?

In order to answer why there will be animal sacrifices in the millennium it is first necessary to survey certain elements of the religious and salvation history and future of Israel. Through the elaboration of certain aspects of Israel existence we can see reasons for the bringing back of the sacrifices.

1. The temple was where God resided when in Israel. It was God's decision that Israel construct a place for Him to dwell. The temple, therefore, was very closely associated with God's presence. Exodus 29:42-43 states: "It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory" (NASB). The tent of meeting, the precursor to the temple, was where God met with the sons of Israel. It was where He met with Moses as well. It was a vital place in the life of Israel, and when Israel rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he said to Israel, "Behold, your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:38). In other words, the presence of God is no longer in the temple! The Jews of Jesus' day decided they didn't want God's presence so He left them, but not permanently. So, the temple's reconstruction and the reinstatement of certain sacrifices during the millennium would show that Israel "had truly been redeemed and cleansed."* It will be clear evidence to the world that God accepts Israel as His people and always has. During this era it will be evident that Israel's chastisement is over (Ez. 36:23). That seems to be one reason for the millennial sacrifices-that the sacrifices would display God's love and salvation of His people and that His presence has returned.

2. It is important to note that Ezekiel is recounting what he sees in a vision from the Lord (chapters 40-48). This is where we find the specifications of the future temple (larger than the one in Solomon's day) and the renewal of certain sacrifices. A main reason there are sacrifices again is because the Lord has designed it this way. As stated earlier, the sacrifices, feasts, temple, and rituals were an integral part of Israel's religious life. This new appearance of the sacrificial system comes on the heels of Israel's national salvation. A few chapters earlier we see God's promise to Israel. He says: "I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" (Ez. 36:24-25 NASB). God's design for Israel's restoration and salvation is different than His plan for the Gentiles. The Jews longed for the kingdom where the Messiah would reign on earth. Even after Christ had risen from the dead, the Jews asked Jesus if it was "at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6 NASB). It wasn't the time for that because God had planned to include the Gentiles in His salvific prerogative. The kingdom reign would occur after the "fullness of the Gentiles had come in" (Romans 11:25 NASB). So it is fitting for Jewish life, history, and salvation for there to be sacrifices and a temple when the Messiah reigns over them.

3. Another reason for the sacrifices in the millennium is that they are memorials pointing back to "Christ, our Passover, who was sacrificed for us all" (1 Corinthians 5:6). John MacArthur points out that they function as does the Lord's Supper. Even as Christ has already died, we remember that death when we take of the bread and the cup. His death doesn't need to happen again, neither do the sacrifices, but they are visible symbols of the reality behind them. Also, the sacrifices might really help us (and especially the Jews) appreciate the great price paid for sin. Ralph H. Alexander notes that among the sacrifices during the millennium, the Day of Atonement and the ark of the covenant are absent.** This may be because Christ's sacrifice is irreplaceable and the sacrifice done once a year on the Day of Atonement is replaced by the efficacious death of Christ, done once-for-all. The absence of the high priest may also highlight that propitiation has been made.** This is also consistent with the existence of the Feast of Booths in the millennium (Zech. 14:16). This memorial feast was to remind Israel of their Exodus from Egypt. Leviticus 23:43 states: "You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"

4. Many of the temple rituals during the millennium are for ritual purification. Ezekiel 43:26 says, "For seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it; so shall they consecrate it" (NASB). Another passage, Ezekiel 45:19 commands that the temple be consecrated by the offering "of a young bull without blemish" (NASB). This, and the fact that the Day of Atonement is absent in the millennium, allows for harmony with the fact that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to appease God's wrath.

5. Ezekiel 39:25 asserts: "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name" (NASB). Also, Ezekiel 36:32 states concerning God's restoration of Israel: "I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!"(NASB). When taking Israel's restoration as a whole, including the sacrificial system, we see that God acts on behalf of His own name, for His own glory. This might be why He desires the rekindling of the sacrificial system, to bring glory to Himself and to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.

*Gaebelein, Frank E. ed. Expositor's Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. Vol. 6: 1986, p. 947.
**Ibid, 948.


Confrontation & Overlooking of Sin

Here are some thoughts I have after some years of engaging this delicate issue.
1. While I think we need to be forbearant and gracious to each other's faults, I have found that there are times when I sense the Lord leading me to talk to someone about a smaller infraction in their life (one not harmful to anyone). I sense that the issue is small and in a sense petty, but I think God wants me to still let them know it exists. When I asked for wisdom on a specifically small matter I was reminded of the imperative (infinitive) in Matthew 7 about “removing the speck from a brother’s eye.” If our eyes are clear of planks than we are obligated, at times (key word), to remove the “speck” (”splinter”) from our brother’s eye. This is Carson and Blomberg's view as well. It seems, according to me, proper to define “speck” as a small moral defect. However, it is interesting to note that Jesus might have been using hyperbole, in which case, He was contrasting large and small to get the point across not to make us look for specks everywhere. So the speck might be considered larger in relation to reality.
2. Matthew 18:15-20 is interesting because in light of it's context, there seems to be some connection between “If your brother sins” and the fact that God wants us to go after sheep who are “led astray” (”deceived”) or in danger of being lost. Keener would say that "sins against you" are in view (textual variant) because of the close proximity of the community's living arrangements. However, perhaps there are some sins that definitely require confrontation because they are flagrant, open, public, or detrimental to the one committing them or to others. I have been in situations where someone was clearly not willing to obey the governing authorities and I mentioned their behavior to them with 2 Scriptural proofs and they refused to hear me and it seemed right to take another along with me to “establish every matter by the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses.” They ultimately refused to hear and the authorities decided to let it go.
3. Galatians 6:1,2 Brothers, if someone is caught (or “overtaken” in other translations) in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
Debate within this passage definitely occurs regard “caught” with the meaning someone 'caught them in the act' or they were 'caught/overtaken/entangled' by the sin and need help being “restored.” It seems that the context shows that the latter is in view here. Why? (Kenneth Wuest is good here) Because earlier in the letter Paul says: “Who has bewitched you?” (3:1) This implies, as does the context, that they were trapped, deceived, or caught unaware by some trespass. And in context, it was the false teaching of the Judaizers that bewitched them. The Judaizers were mixing law and grace, circumcision and Christ, and the Galatians were overtaken subtly by the deception to the point that they had “fallen from grace.” Does that sound like someone was “caught in the act of any trespass” or that they were overtaken by the act(s) itself? The latter sounds best in my view. It is interesting to note that those who are “spiritual” are to restore the one erring. Some people note that this is any Christian who detects the sin and perhaps others think (as do I) that this refers to someone capable of “restoring them” (verb is continuous), i.e. a spiritually mature Christian. Why say this? Look at verse 2. The spiritual one is to be careful lest he be entangled by the sin as well. Any Christian, especially a new convert, should not try to help someone entangled in false doctrine. It seems possible to see this as the spiritually mature in the congregation.

Now here are some thoughts on forbearing one another’s faults and overlooking transgressions.

1. Paul says that we are to “be patient with one another, forbearing one another…” (Eph 4:31-32 and Col 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.). Using the same word, he says to the Corinthians to “put up with a little of [his] foolishness” as he explains something to them (11:1). He says this to get their attention about what he is writing, but it is interesting to note that the principle behind the thought is true and is an example for us. Certain things that might be foolish in another require forbearing and overlooking by us. One of the verbs has the idea of letting your anger go long before giving to any reaction to its source. Romans 15:1 tells the strong to “bear with the failings of the weak.”
2. It is also worthy to note 2 Timothy 4:2. “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
There are times when we might have to rebuke another and they might hear us but fall short in some sense of truly turning the other direction and we might wrestle with whether we need to take another along with us and go to the next step. Sometimes, this might be where you exhibit rebuking “with all patience.” John MacArthur somewhere said: “People rarely turn on a dime” so the preacher, and by extension the believer, must be patient when rebuking. Isn’t that how God is with us when we fail?
3. 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Remember that this church was suffering great persecution and the temptation might have been to be nitpicky towards each other, especially since the pressure was on. Keener would say this is where we must “cover” or “throw a blanket over” many sins that might be against us or not. Others would say it only refers to sins against us and not retaliating (see Proverbs 10:12 discussions), but it seems interesting that a sin is a sin whether it is against us or not. If it is minor and against us it is still minor. And if it is minor and not against us it is still minor. It might be best to cover it.
4. “Do not be overly righteous, and die before your time.” Ecc 7:16
Interesting words from Solomon, which might be helpful to those constantly seeing the pecadillos of others. God wants you to know your limits and to not burn out because you are constantly deliberating which faults to confront or let go.
I hope that some of these thoughts are helpful and would appreciate your responses.