Daily Light – June 16, 2020

The power of example

Devotional by David Niednagel, Pastor and Teacher, Evansville, IN.  (David uses the S.O.A.P. method of study for his morning devotional time:  study, observe, apply, pray)

Philippians 3:17-21   

3:17  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   ESV

Paul has already written about the examples of Jesus, Himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and here again he exhorts the whole church to follow his example of diligently pressing forward to “know Christ” to the point of suffering and dying for Him. Most of us do all we can to avoid suffering, (and Paul too fled when he could) but Paul says we should make it our goal to be so much like Christ that we are treated like Him. Some will be touched by our love and others will be so jealous and resentful they will want to harm us.

He acknowledges that many who call themselves followers do not follow Jesus’ example. They may claim to believe in Jesus, but their lives have not been transformed. “Their god is their belly” – they live for comfort and pleasure. Their values and goals are like unsaved people – they live for earthly things. So they even boast about things they ought to be ashamed of. The world brags about money, position, extravagance, rising above others – even taking advantage of others – and so do these who claim to be believers. And that is because their friends live the same way. They are comparing themselves with one another, not with the Lord Jesus.

So Paul reminds them of a key truth that we would never know without the Holy Spirit. In Gal 2:20 he said “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our old “self” is dead. We are a new person with a new identity. It is no longer Jew or Gentile, male of female, rich or poor, white or black – it is CHRIST. We are in Him and He is in us. Jesus told us to “abide in Him and to make sure His Word abides in us” (John 15:5-7). We are only transformed when our minds are renewed by His words. (Rom 12:1-2) That explains why some who call themselves “believers” still live like the others in their culture. They don’t see themselves as “new people in Christ”. 

Here Paul says it a little different way, but the same meaning – We are no longer citizens of earth, but we are citizens of heaven. In Paul’s day, citizenship was a big deal. If you were a Roman citizen you had special privileges and protections that others did not. Paul said we must not think that we are “home” and enjoy the privileges of the others around us. Don’t hope or expect to relax and have an easy life. We aren’t home yet, so don’t live for the values that everyone else around us does. Part of our problem is that Christianity is not a tiny minority like it was in Paul’s day. We tend to think we live in at least a “semi-Christian” culture and it is OK to live with a similar worldview and lifestyle that our friends do – at least like the other people in our churches. But that is what Paul is warning against! Our friends at church struggle and fail just like we do, and we don’t have the conviction or desperation to help one another. It is much easier to just live like all the other “believers“ do.

So what is the answer? Quit using the world as our example. Quit comparing ourselves with other people. Keep thinking about Jesus coming back. He will transform our physical bodies to make them like His – which was resurrected. So even if we are beaten and killed, it is not the end. We will get a new glorified body, so we don’t have to be afraid of death like non-believers. And not only will He transform our physical bodies, He will change us on the inside to have the same heart and character that He has. And that is why we need to follow examples like Paul.

Lord Jesus, thank You that You understand all we go through physically and emotionally. Thank You that we are new people in You! A new identity. Help us live with that mindset – of pleasing You so we hear You say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when You return. Help me think more about Your return and what will be important then. Help me press on diligently to know you now so I “long for Your appearing”, and help me have no fear of suffering for You, but rather delight in anything I can do to honor You. And use me to help other believes live for the same purpose and values. Amen

Daily Light – June 15, 2020

HOW WE CAN KNOW THE BIBLE IS TRUE

Article by Michael Kruger, President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte

ABSTRACT: Coming to believe that the Bible is God’s word does not require extensive historical evidence, as helpful as that can be. The best defense for the Bible’s trustworthiness is in the pages of the Bible itself. From the early church on, Christians have recognized that the Bible’s authority is “self-authenticating,” meaning that Scripture bears certain qualities within itself that testify to its divine origins. One of the most powerful of these qualities is the unity and harmony of Scripture: the books of the Bible are consistent within themselves, with prior revelation, and with the overall story of the Bible.

Few qualities are more central to the health of the church — and to the spiritual condition of the individual believer — than a robust commitment to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. As Paul reminded Timothy, “The sacred writings . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). And of course, Jesus himself clearly testified to the centrality of the word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).

Even so, having an orthodox doctrine of Scripture is one thing; being able to defend that doctrine against attacks is quite another. When asked why we believe the Bible is God’s word — perhaps the most common question about the Bible in our current cultural moment — Christians need to have some sort of answer. Yet this is precisely the place where many Christians lock up. Since they have been convinced that the only respectable answer is a near-exhaustive catalog of the historical evidences for the Bible’s authenticity, and since they have not studied (nor probably ever will study) such evidence, they are often left with no answer. All that can be done is to refer the skeptic to the experts and hope for the best.

At this point, however, we should remember that historical evidences are not the only way we know the Bible is from God. Indeed, Christians throughout history have typically appealed to another way that is not only more accessible, but, in some ways, also more fitting for a book that claims to be God’s word. Christians have argued that the Bible is self-authenticating, meaning that it bears certain internal qualities or attributes that show that it is from God. Put bluntly, we can know the Bible is the word of God from the Bible itself.

A Self-Authenticating Bible

While the idea of a self-authenticating Bible sounds strange to modern ears, that was not the case within the early centuries of the faith, when apologetics was a necessary part of survival in the hostile Greco-Roman world. Although the earliest Christians used a variety of arguments to defend the Bible’s inspiration (such as proof from fulfilled prophecy), they were keen to acknowledge that the Bible was its own best proof. Clement of Alexandria, for example, regarded the Scripture as the equivalent of a philosophical “first principle” and thereby able to authenticate itself. Clement argued that those who have faith hear the “voice of God” in the Scriptures, which operates as a “demonstration that cannot be impugned.” And again, he insists that the “voice of the Lord . . . is the surest of all demonstrations.”

Clement’s self-authenticating approach flowed naturally from his theological conviction that the Scripture, as the very voice of God, was the ultimate authority. When it comes to demonstrating the truth of an ultimate authority, one cannot help but appeal to it. Indeed, if one tried to prove an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then that would just prove it wasn’t really ultimate. Thus, ultimate authorities, by definition, must be self-authenticating. This is why, when God swore an oath, he “swore by himself” (Hebrews 6:13).

Clement was not alone. Origen articulates this self-authenticating approach even more clearly:

If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings . . . it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God.

Elsewhere, Origen insists that Old Testament prophets “are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them.” Incredibly, according to Origen, simply reading (or hearing) the Bible puts a person in touch with its divine qualities. If that person has the help of the Spirit — what Origen calls “a divine breath” — then he will see those qualities for what they are, the very words of God himself.

Indeed, merely reading the Bible, and apprehending its divine qualities, is how the pagan philosopher Tatian was converted to Christianity. On a quest to “discover the truth,” he describes how he came to believe Scripture was from God:

I was led to put faith in these [Scriptures] by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts. . . . And, my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world.

This patristic backdrop explains why the Reformers were also committed to a self-authenticating approach to Scripture. Not surprisingly, Calvin led the way, but he was followed by William Whitakerand John Owen. And later Reformed thinkers followed suit, including Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, and Herman Bavinck.

The Unity and Harmony of Scripture

So, if the Bible bears certain divine qualities or attributes that show it is from God, then what exactly are these qualities? Typically, theologians have pointed to three: (a) the beauty and excellency of Scripture, (b) the power and efficacy of Scripture, and (c) the unity and harmony of Scripture. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith points to these three in its discussion of how Scripture “doth abundantly evidence itself” to be the word of God (WCF 1.5).

Even so, there is little doubt that this third quality — Scripture’s unity and harmony — has played the most dominant role in authenticating books, both in early Christianity as well as in the modern day. To say the Scripture has unity and harmony is to affirm that any scriptural book is (a) consistent within itself (i.e., it has no internal contradictions), (b) consistent with prior revelation (i.e., it is orthodox), and (c) consistent with the overall story of the Bible. Let’s briefly examine each of these aspects.

Consistent with Itself

The earliest Christians recognized that divine books, because they are from God, cannot contradict themselves. After all, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Justin Martyr affirms this fundamental principle: “I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another [Scripture].” Irenaeus agrees: “All Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent.” Theophilus is no different: “All the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another.” Tertullian is quite blunt: “And here I might now make a stand, and contend that a work ought not to be recognized . . . which exhibits no consistency.”

Since humans, ordinarily, are fallible creatures who are prone to error, finding such remarkable internal consistency in a book can be seen as evidence for that book’s divine origins. Not only is this true for single books (e.g., the Gospel of Luke), but it is particularly true when the Bible is viewed as a completed whole. How could humans achieve absolute consistency across 66 different books, written by almost 40 different authors, over thousands of years, and on different continents? Only a divine author could do that.

Consistent with Prior Revelation

We could also explore the theme of consistency in terms of the doctrine that any given book teaches. Is that doctrine faithful to the truths that have been revealed in prior stages of divine revelation? In the Old Testament, a prophet’s words were tested by comparing them to prior revelation (Deuteronomy 18:20), and in the New Testament we see the Bereans comparing Paul’s teaching to Scripture (Acts 17:10–12). When we speak of a book’s doctrinal consistency, we are simply arguing that a book has to be orthodox in order for it to be from God.

However, one might wonder whether Christians had a standard for orthodoxy before the New Testament canon was completed. Was there a way that orthodoxy could be determined? Absolutely. For one, early Christians tested books by comparing them to the Old Testament. This was the doctrinal foundation for the apostles, as well as for Jesus himself. But early Christians also tested a book’s orthodoxy by comparing it to the “rule of faith.” The rule of faith was basically a brief summary of apostolic teaching that allowed Christians to succinctly and clearly state the essence of what they believed — an early creedal statement, of sorts. The rule of faith should not be viewed as new revelation, or extrabiblical teaching, but basically a summary of the Scripture’s own story line. Armed with both the Old Testament and the rule of faith, Christians were able to assess — accurately and clearly — whether a book was orthodox.

Of course, we should remember that while all scriptural books are orthodox, not all orthodox books are Scripture. A book could be orthodox and yet not part of the canon. For this reason, orthodoxy was typically used as a negative criterion. In other words, it was the lack of orthodoxy — and the positive presence of heresy — in a book that allowed Christians to know that it must not be from God. A good example is how our earliest canonical list, known as the Muratorian fragment, rejected the forged epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans on the grounds that it contained “Marcionite heresy” and “it is not fitting that poison should be mixed with honey.”

Consistent with the Overall Story of the Bible

Christians believed (and still believe) that the Bible not only consists of 66 separate books, all with distinct stories, but essentially functions as a single unified book with one overarching story of redemption. Thus, when early Christians were evaluating whether a book should be received as Scripture, they were concerned not only with whether it matched doctrinally, but with whether it completed the Old Testament story. The Old Testament is like a book without a final chapter, like a play without a final act. And Christians were busy looking for its proper conclusion.

A number of New Testament books demonstrate this redemptive-historical connection plainly. For example, consider the fact that Matthew, the first book in the New Testament canon, begins with a genealogy. For most Westerners, this means little — indeed, it is often skipped. But for a Jew, this would have meant everything. It was Matthew’s signal that the story of Jesus completed the story that began in the Old Testament with Abraham. In other words, Matthew doesn’t just tell the story of Jesus; he tells the story of Jesus in light of the story of Israel. Jesus is the climax of the Old Testament narrative.

This fact is confirmed when we remember that the last book of the Old Testament in Jesus’s day would have been the book of Chronicles (the books were in a different order than in our present Bibles). And the book of Chronicles begins with a genealogy. Thus, the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament would have both begun with genealogies focused on David! This led D. Moody Smith to declare, “Matthew makes clear that Jesus represents the restoration of that [David’s] dynasty and therefore the history of Israel and the history of salvation. Thus, Jesus continues the biblical narrative.”

The redemptive-historical character of New Testament writings is seen more plainly when they are compared to apocryphal writings, particularly apocryphal gospels. Notably lacking in most apocryphal gospels is a definitive link to the Old Testament story of Israel. Indeed, some apocryphal gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, are not even stories at all, but just collections of sayings of Jesus. Gospels like this were rejected precisely because they could not reasonably be viewed as a fitting sequel to the Old Testament narrative.

Reading the Bible as one unified story also provides the opportunity for the reader to draw links between its various parts. It is noteworthy, for example, that Jesus recapitulates the story of the exodus, functioning as a new Moses who, like the first Moses, was almost killed at birth (Matthew 2:13–15Exodus 2:1–2), delivers the law on a mountain (Matthew 5:1Exodus 19:1–25), brings bread from heaven (John 6:32Exodus 16:4), has power over the sea (Mark 4:35–41Exodus 14:21), and provides a Passover lamb for the sins of the people (John 1:29Exodus 12:1–7). Such connections cause us to marvel at how remarkably unified all the Scripture really is. And it makes us recognize, again, that no human could have possibly orchestrated such a vast web of subtle, profound, and eye-opening links like we find in Scripture.

In many ways, then, the collective impression given by all the books of the Bible, when read as a whole unit, speaks to their divine origins. We are reminded that the Bible has a synergistic quality about it — you get something when all the books are read together that you don’t necessarily get when they are read individualistically. It is like the “fifth voice” in a barbershop quarter; you don’t hear it until all the voices are joined together.

Implications of a Self-Authenticating Bible

We have argued that the remarkable unity and harmony of Scripture is one of the main qualities of Scripture that demonstrates its divine origins. And of course, there are other qualities as well that we have not explored here. What are some of the implications of this reality for our ministries and for the average believer?

First, it reminds us that every believer can know the Bible is God’s word without having to become an expert in biblical archaeology, ancient manuscripts, or other kinds of historical evidences. That’s not to suggest these issues are unimportant (they are very helpful in their own way); it’s just that they are not necessary for a person to know the Bible is from God. Unfortunately, many believers are convinced they are necessary, leaving them personally in doubt about the truth of God’s word and having to rely on the experts who have studied such matters. But if the Bible really bears these internal qualities, then all Christians can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, know it is divinely inspired. Remember, even the pagan philosopher Tatian came to believe in the truth of the Scriptures merely by reading them.

Second, the self-authenticating nature of Scripture should reshape our thinking about the best way to convince the skeptic of the truth of the Scriptures. If the Bible bears these internal qualities, then the best way to demonstrate those qualities is to faithfully teach it and preach it, or to invite the non-Christian to read it. We need to unleash the Bible and let it do what it was designed to do: powerfully display God’s glory. Thus, we would do well to heed the well-known advice of C.H. Spurgeon:

Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them . . . they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best ‘apology’ for the gospel is to let the gospel out.

Michael Kruger is president and Samuel C. Patterson professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is also the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.

Daily Light – June 12, 2020

Why Must Our Bodies Get Resurrected?

From an Interview with John Piper

Why must our bodies get resurrected? That was one theme Pastor John touched on in a message in the spring of 2014, delivered at the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity International University near Chicago. In that message, Pastor John was recounting some lessons he’s taken from the works of Jonathan Edwards, lessons he’s learned about the work of Christ. Here’s a clip I wanted to share from that message.

The work of Christ in redemption does not only restore, but it advances God’s aim in creation. Christ was not merely a remedy or an afterthought to recover what was lost. The history of redemption climaxes with the cross, not only as a means of restoration, but a means of advance. Christ was the goal of creation, not a means to the goal. He didn’t just recover a goal; he was the goal.

And by his incarnation and death and resurrection, the glory of God was put on new display in its most vivid and lavish excellency. Christ did not come and die and rise only to restore our joy in God, but to become our joy in God. The incarnate God did not appear simply to enable us to rejoice in God, but to become the focus of our rejoicing in God.

Diverse Excellencies

Edwards put his incomparable lens to the gospel of the glory of Christ to describe the glory of Christ most compellingly in what may be his third-most famous sermon — namely, “The Excellency of Christ,” which I love. And the beauty of Christ in that sermon is developed in a stunning way to show that, when Christ did his work, he wasn’t merely enabling us to have something we had lost, but to become, in that work, the very focus of the glory that we once thought we saw and now see in fullness.

So, here’s his description of the glory of Christ — the glory of God — that we could not know without the revelation of God in Christ. The beauty is in the juxtaposition of these seeming opposites. These are things that mingle in Christ and thus constitute his incomparable beauty:

Infinite highness and infinite condescension

Infinite justice and infinite grace

Infinite glory and lowest humility

Infinite majesty and transcendent meekness

Deepest reverence toward God and equality with God

Infinite worthiness of good and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil

An exceeding spirit of obedience with supreme dominion over heaven and earth

Absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation

Self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God

Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, the Redeemer, is now the fullness of the revelation of the glory of God. He didn’t just repair our ability to see something old; he became what God meant for us to see all along.

Billion-Ton Bliss

So, for example, when it says in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” the Old Testament saints tasted that, and it was glorious — and they didn’t have a clue what the fullness meant. None of the saints knew the fullness of the meaning of that promise: that at God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. It took the incarnation and the New Testament revelation to show that the pleasures at God’s right hand are the pleasures of God the Father in God the Son and the pleasures of God the Son in God the Father.

And now he has come. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And you should put into the term well pleased billions of tons of pleasure. We gloss over those words so quickly. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I — God Almighty, with all of my infinite energy — am totally pleased and have been from all eternity. And now you can see what my joy is. Now you can see the joy that is at my right hand: my joy is joy in my image in my Son.”

Tie That Binds

What binds the children of God to their Father for eternity is that we enjoy the Son of God with the very joy of God the Father. Jesus had already said in John 15:11, “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” So now you not only have Jesus praying for the love of the Father for the Son to become my love for the Son, but you have Jesus saying, “My joy, my joy in the Father — I have spoken to you so that my joy would be in you. There’s no other way for your joy to be full than for my joy in God to become your joy in God.”

So now we have our joy in the Father being the Son’s joy in the Father, and our joy in the Son being the Father’s joy in the Son. And we must have a new resurrection body, or we will be blown to smithereens by that experience. And that’s not a joke at all. That is why you must have a new body. These experiences are so magnificent that this “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). That doesn’t mean you won’t have a resurrection body; it means this one won’t work. This one will not work for that experience forever.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.

Daily Light – June 11, 2020

Your Sin Runs Deeper Than You Think

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Sin has fallen on hard times. Not, of course, in the sense that we no longer sin. Rather, our society no longer stomachs naming certain attitudes and behaviors as “sins.” The word sounds too old fashion. Images come to mind of red-faced preachers wagging their fingers condescendingly at a demoralized audience. We don’t want to be associated with that.

But when we lose a grasp of what sin is, we lose the biblical understanding of who Christ is, and what the cross means. D.A. Carson ties the two together, as all faithful Christians must:

There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us. It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is. (Fallen: A Theology of Sin, 22)

Shallow thoughts of sin lead to shallow thoughts of God and salvation. Ignorance to the depths of our sin leads to ignorance to the depths of the beauty of Jesus Christ.

Counterfeit Christs

Built upon insufficient views of sin, cheap views of Christ are on display all around us — each staking its messianic claims.

Life-Coach Jesus. When we see sin as a nonstarter and humans as inherently good, we move away from talk of death, judgment, and hell, and focus instead on a Christ who can help us towards our improbable goals and wildest dreams. He helps good people become great. He died so we can reach our full potential.

Housekeeper Jesus. When we see sin as inevitable, as “just being human,” as something ordinary and trivial, rather than lamentable, we mistake sin as mere slipups. We’re not perfect, we confess that much, but we’re not “evil.” Jesus, then, follows us around with a mop and bucket, tidying up after our little messes. He died to pay the cleaning fee.

Humanitarian Jesus. When we see sin as mainly between one man and another (and not one man before a holy God), we make good causes into ultimate ones. We fit Jesus neatly into our movement and usually define sin in terms of the haves and the have-nots. Jesus, then, is the one who came to right the very injustice we’re most passionate about.

Kumbaya Jesus. When we see sin as something much less serious than our suffering, we might only know Jesus as the bearer of good vibes. He hears our problems and stressors, teaches us about the birds and flowers, and leads us into green pastures, beside still waters. Because we all suffer in a fallen world, he doesn’t ever say or do anything that would hurt our feelings or cause psychological distress. He died to help us feel better, no matter what.

To prevent being beguiled by false and flimsy depictions of Christ, we need to understand what exactly sin is and how deep it goes. We need to become aware, not only of our own corruptions and sins — that amount to a heap that towers Mount Everest — we need to reacquaint ourselves with the skeleton in humanity’s closet: our original sin in Adam. So we leave the treetops of our own lives and our own times, and travel down to the sin at the root of our family tree.

His Sin and Ours

How many of us think nearly enough about how Adam’s sin effects ours — or how his sin prepares us to understand the glories of Christ? Our history with sin predates us. We were sent into slavery a long time ago. We all fell headlong in the opening chapters of Genesis. And Jesus, the true Christ, is promised in those same chapters.

How did Adam’s sin become ours? How is it that “one trespass led to condemnation for all mankind,” that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:18–19)?

Ponder that monumental battle between David and Goliath. The Philistine giant barked taunts at God’s people. Saul, Israel’s own king and giant, hid in his tent. David, the unknown shepherd boy, jealous for God’s glory, offers to fight. No sooner does Goliath mock him than David crushes his head and removes it (1 Samuel 17:51).

We can be so well acquainted with the story that perhaps we’ve never asked, Why were only those two fighting? Why one-on-one combat to decide the battle?

We Fell Like Goliath

When was the last time any nation settled a battle with another nation by sending out two individuals for combat? This is an example of an ancient practice where the best warrior, a “champion,” would fight the opposing champion to the death to decide the battle.

So Goliath, champion of the Philistines, yaps,

Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8–9)

David and Goliath met as representatives, as champions, as the best of each side, fighting for the fate of their people. If David was slain, Israel would have served the Philistines.

What happened, then, when Adam fell? Our champion met Satan on the battlefield, his wife standing beside him, and he was defeated. He should have crushed the head of serpent, but, with his offspring in the balance, he succumbed. Our representative, our warrior, our representative, refused to silence the lying tongue of the slithering snake, and sought his own glory instead of God’s. He took the fruit with his wife and ate.

Poisoned at the Root

As the champion of the human race, as the official representative of the covenant with our Creator, when Adam sided with God’s enemy, he fell, and his children inherited both his corruption and his guilt. In Adam, we are born unable to delightfully obey God, unable to live in love, unable to do good or escape his guilt. All sons and daughters of Adam are by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience, and willing slaves of the one to whom our father fell: Satan (Ephesians 2:1–3).

In our father Adam, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12). Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5).

Our guilt does not just lie in our lusts, our pride, our lying tongues, our exchanging of God’s glory, but in Adam’s. Our champion bent the knee without drawing enemy blood, and because of that first delicious bite, we his children still taste the curse. We have ourselves, in our own unregenerate lives, affirmed our allegiances with the devil hour by hour and in countless ways. The tree of our race is poisoned at the root.

Tale of Two Battles

This brings us to him — not fairy-godmother, political activist, or housemaid Jesus — but Jesus Christ, the second Adam. The first Adam was a setup, a foil for the Champion who was to come and fight the same foes that took away Adam’s head (Romans 5:14).

Where sin came into the world through one man (Romans 5:12), forgiveness comes through another (Colossians 1:14). Adam’s trespass brought death to all who are his (Romans 5:15); Jesus’s victory brings eternal life to all who are his (Romans 5:17). Where Adam brought his children into condemnation and corruption, and offered them as slaves to Satan and sin, the second Adam liberates his brothers for his Father and brings them his full favor and divine help in holiness (Romans 5:16).

In a battle for the garden, the world was cursed. In a battle that raged in Gethsemane, and finished outside of the walls of Jerusalem, the redeemed of all time became blessed. Our first champion was vanquished by the world, the flesh, and the devil; our true Champion vanquished the world, the flesh, the devil — and death for his people. In Adam, we all were made slaves and enemies of God; in Christ, we are made sons and daughters of God, and in the ages to comes, kings and queens.

When we forget our family tree — when we forget we are born in sin, both guilty and corrupt in Adam, followers of the devil — we heal the wounds of each other lightly. We hand out caricatures of Christ. Our sense of need for Jesus fluctuates based on performance, and we are tempted, intellectually or functionally, with the horrible notion that we can earn God’s full acceptance by our good works. But this well is too deep; our sin, too ancient; our slavery, too final. We needed another warrior, another Adam: Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns, and who soon will return again.

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their daughter.

Daily Light – June 10, 2020

How Did Evil Begin?

PONDERING THE MYSTERY OF SATAN’S FALL

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org (italicized and/or gold font added by d hester to provide additional emphasis)

Why is there a Satan? Why does a being exist whose name means accuser — a “devil,” which means slanderer, a “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), a “ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11), a “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NKJV), a “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), a “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24)? Where does he come from? How did it come about that he ever sinned?

The letters of Jude and 2 Peter give us clues. Jude 6 says, “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” And 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”

It appears, then, that some of God’s holy angels (we may assume, in principle, that Satan is included, whether these verses refer to his original rebellion or a later one) “sinned,” or as Jude says, “did not stay within their own position of authority.” In other words, the sin was a kind of insurrection, a desire for more power and more authority than they were appointed by God to have.

So Satan and the other fallen angels originate as created holy angels who rebel against God, reject him as their all-satisfying King, and set out on a course of self-exaltation and presumed self-determination. They do not want to be subordinate. They do not want to be sent by God to serve others (Hebrews 1:14). They want to have final authority over themselves. And they want to exalt themselves above God.

Most Popular Answer

But these thoughts about the origin of Satan do not answer the question we began with: Why is there a Satan? They simply push the question back to the very beginning. Why did any holy angel sin? Here is the most popular answer of our modern era:

All of God’s creatures were created “free moral agents.” If God had made them otherwise they would have been mere machines with no will of their own. . . . To be a “free moral agent” implies that one has the power of “choice.” . . . As long as Satan chose the “Will of God” there was no “Evil” in the Universe, but the moment he chose to follow his own Will, then he fell, and by persuading others to follow him he introduced “Evil” into the Universe. (Clarence Larkin, The Spirit World, 12–14)

There are at least two problems with this presumed answer: (1) it does not answer the question and (2) it assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God — to keep him from sinning.

‘Free Will’ Philosophy

First, it does not answer the question, Why did any holy angel sin? To say that a perfect angel sinned because he had the power to do so is no answer. Why would a perfectly holy angel in God’s infinitely beautiful presence suddenly be inclined to hate God? “Free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is not an answer. It explains nothing.

“Free will” is a name put on a mystery. But it is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate human, or ultimate demonic, self-determination. That is a philosophical notion forced onto the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, that philosophical notion was one of Satan’s first designs for humanity — to persuade Adam and Eve that they could be ultimately self-determining, and that this would be good for them (Genesis 3:4–5). Both of those ideas were false. They could not become ultimately self-determining, and it was deadly for them to try. The human race has been ruined by these notions ever since.

Slandering God’s Saving Power

Second, Larkin’s appeal to angelic self-determination assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God forever. Larkin’s deadly mistake is to assume that if God exerted such influence, the angels “would have been mere machines with no will of their own.”

This too is a philosophical assumption forced on the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, the Bible pervasively teaches the opposite — that God can and does exert sufficient influence on morally responsible beings (his children!) to keep them safe in the worship of God forever.

When the Bible says, for example, that God will “cause [us] to walk in [his] statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), and that he is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21), and that he “works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that the work he began in us he “will bring . . . to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), and that he “will sustain [us] to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8), and that “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30) — when God says all this, he means for us to stop talking nonsense about such glorious influence turning us into machines. It doesn’t. It is life-giving grace. It is effective. It keeps us safe forever. And to call it machine-making is slanderous.

If God did not exert sovereign influence over our wayward hearts, we would all fall away.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

God’s “sealing” (Ephesians 1:13) — his decisive, keeping influence — does not turn us into machines. It keeps us safe in the worship of God forever. No one who is justified will fail to be glorified (Romans 8:30). Heaven will never see an insurrection among the saints. Not because we are better than the angels, but because the blood of Jesus secured the new covenant for God’s elect, where God says, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). He bought this pledge for his children by his blood. They will not commit treason. Let us praise such sovereign, merciful, keeping influence. God save us from slandering his saving power.

It is false when Larkin assumes that God could not have kept his holy angels from sinning — safe in the worship of God. It is false to assume that such sovereign influence would make angels, or humans, into robots. It doesn’t.

Redemption’s Stage

What then is the answer to the question, Why did any holy angel sin?

The answer is that God had a wise and gracious purpose. That is why it happened. Some of God’s holy angels sinned because their fall would set in motion a history of redemption that would fulfill the infinitely wise purposes of God in creation. All the “unsearchable . . . judgments” and all the “inscrutable . . . ways” of God flow from the depths of his wisdom (Romans 11:33). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). He is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). All that happens from eternity to eternity happens according to the wisdom of the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

And we know it was a gracious purpose because God’s plan before the creation of the world was to show grace to unworthy sinners. Sin came into being as part of a plan to show grace to sinners. “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). The plan before creation was that Christ would be the Lamb slain for sinners — sinners whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Christ slain for sinners was the plan before any human sinned.

Two Unassailable Truths

But notice what question I am not answering here. I am not answering the question, How did the first sin happen in the heart of a holy angel? The why question I have answered by saying the first sin happened as part of God’s wisdom and purposes and planning. But that assumes God was able to see to it that the first sin happened without himself being a sinner, and without making the first sinning angel into a machine. I do not know the answer to the question of how God did this.

This, to me, is one of the great mysteries of biblical teaching that I cannot explain — how God governs the will of sinful beings, yet, in doing so, does not sin, and does not take away their responsibility. I see that it is true, because the Bible teaches it, but how God does this remains a mystery.

Recall that above I said that “free will” — ultimate self-determination — is the name some people put on this mystery. Then I added that this is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate self-determination, except in God. The Bible doesn’t give the mystery a name. Rather it teaches two truths again and again: God governs the hearts and minds of all sinful beings without himself sinning, and they are truly and justly accountable for all their sins.

Sovereign over Satan

Since we are not told explicitly how things transpired in the fall of Satan, it is illuminating to study how God relates to Satan’s will now. Is God helpless when a satanic will chooses to do evil? Can God restrain that will? Or would that only turn the will into a machine? The biblical answer is that God has the right and power to restrain Satan anytime he pleases. Consider these examples.

1. Though Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Satan’s world rule is subordinate to God’s.

2. Though unclean spirits are everywhere doing deceptive and murderous things, Jesus Christ has all authority over them. “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).

3. Satan is a roaring lion, prowling and seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Peter explains that the jaws of this lion are, in fact, the sufferings of persecution: “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). But this suffering, Peter says, does not happen apart from God’s sovereign will: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will” (1 Peter 3:17).

4. Satan is a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). But God decides, finally, who lives and who dies and when: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).

5. When Satan aims to destroy Job and prove that God is not his treasure, he must get permission from God before he attacks his possessions (Job 1:12) or his body (Job 2:6).

6. Satan is the great tempter. He wants us to sin. Luke tells us that Satan was behind Peter’s three denials. “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). But Jesus is sovereign over this tempter’s work, and its outcome. He says to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Not “if you turn,” but “when you turn.” Christ rules over all of Satan’s designs. Satan aims to fail Peter. Jesus aims to fit him for leadership.

7. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” But two verses later, God removes that blindness. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So now back to the question about the origin of Satan’s sinfulness. Is God helpless before the will of his own angels? Is there a power outside himself that limits his rule over their choices and plans? My conclusion is that, from cover to cover, the Bible presents God as governing Satan and his demons. He has the right and power to restrain them any time he pleases.

Guarding the Mystery

The sum of the matter, then, about where a sinful Satan came from is this: He was a holy angel who mysteriously came to prefer self-exaltation over God-exaltation. He fell into the delusion that ultimate self-determination was possible for a finite creature, and that it was preferable to submitting to God. This fall was part of God’s all-wise plan. It did not take him off guard. How God saw to it that this part of his plan came to pass, without himself sinning and without turning Satan into a machine, I do not know.

Trying to explain this mystery with so-called “free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is unbiblical and vacuous. It is unbiblical because the idea that any of God’s creatures has ultimate self-determination is not taught anywhere in the Bible. And it is vacuous because it does not explain anything. Simply asserting that a holy angel had the “power of choice” offers no explanation of why a perfectly holy being in God’s infinitely beautiful presence would suddenly be inclined to hate God.

We should probably take our cue from the reticence of the Bible to speak about Satan’s origin. He is there in the first pages of the Bible with no explanation. The mystery of his first sin remains just that. We surround it and guard it with biblical truth, lest unbiblical and vacuous explanations spread like a smog over the Scriptures and obscure the glory of God’s saving purposes.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.

Daily Light – June 9, 2020

Let Go of Lies About Heaven

EIGHT MYTHS MANY BELIEVE

Article by Randy Alcorn, Director, Eternal Perspective Ministries

Big books full of Scripture, theology, and quotations from people long dead don’t normally sell well. Yet to my surprise, and the publisher’s, over a million copies of my 2004 book Heaven have sold. Innumerable readers, including pastors, have told me their views of the afterlife have radically changed.

Why? In an age when people try to make doctrines more appealing by ignoring or twisting biblical truth, here’s the irony — the true biblical doctrine of heaven is far more attractive than the dull, inhuman view of the afterlife that has long prevailed in evangelicalism.

That off-putting perspective still imprisons many believers. Based on countless interactions I’ve had with readers of the book and others over the past sixteen years, here are eight persistent misconceptions about heaven.

1. We will spend eternity in the clouds.

After the final judgment, God will remake the universe itself and then relocate the present heaven to the new earth, where he will live with his people (Revelation 21:1–4). The promise of heaven on earth shouldn’t surprise us, but it’s shocking and suspicious if we’ve always believed something else.

Many throughout history understood this biblical doctrine, including more recent Reformed theologians such as Herman Bavinck, Cornelius Venema, Anthony Hoekema, and Albert Wolters. Sadly, the great majority of evangelicals have not read their books. Even those who have don’t always grasp the implications.

At Bible college and seminary, my last New Testament classes ended with the final judgment in Revelation 20. In eschatology, we examined the pros and cons of a mid-trib rapture, and discussed the millennium, but we never talked about the new earth, the central subject of Scripture’s last two chapters. So we paid zero attention to the place where we will live with Jesus and each other forever! Pastors who have read Heaven often contact me to share that their education was nearly identical.

As humans, we’re no more drawn to a vague angelic realm than we are to eating gravel. We need to recover the biblical doctrine of heaven, culminating in the new earth.

2. The Bible says very little about heaven.

A Christian leader once visited my office, asking what I was researching. “A big book on heaven,” I answered. He replied, “First Corinthians 2:9 says, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ So what will you write about?” I gave my usual response: “You didn’t complete the sentence: ‘but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.’”

When God reveals otherwise undiscoverable truths to us, we’d better pay attention. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The Bible’s substantial information about the world to come belongs to us — and the Bible provides far more information than most realize (for example, Isaiah 60 is quoted twice in Revelation 22, suggesting it’s about the new earth).

God wants us to anticipate what awaits us. That’s why Peter says, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

3. We can learn about heaven from people’s claims of going there.

A television network once called my office and asked, “Has Randy been to heaven?” Our receptionist answered, “If he has, he’s never mentioned it. But he did do years of research in the Bible and church history.” The conversation ended abruptly: “We want to interview people who have actually been there.”

Too often, people view accounts of visiting heaven as gospel. Obviously, God can show someone the afterlife if he so chooses. But “it is appointed for man to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). Since these stories are told by people who will “die twice,” it seems likely that they did not truly die the first time, even if vital signs weren’t measurable. A person’s memories under heavy sedation — and his or her ability to distinguish dreams from reality — aren’t reliable, but God’s word is (John 17:17).

The apostle Paul, who had been to heaven, said, “This man was caught up into paradise . . . and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:3–4). Many books, however, claim to divulge secrets that, sadly, some readers believe instead of Scripture.

4. Heaven now will be heaven later.

When Christians die, they enter the present heaven. “Grandma’s now in heaven” refers to a temporary period between life on earth and the resurrection.

Though the present heaven is wonderful, “far better” than earth under the curse (Philippians 1:23), it is not the place we’re made for. Our destiny is a resurrected life on a resurrected earth: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them’” (Revelation 21:1–3). Heaven is wherever God dwells and his throne is, and God’s dwelling place and throne will be on the new earth (Revelation 22:3).

God’s ultimate plan is not to take us up to live with him in his place (which happens at death). His plan is, rather, to come down after the resurrection to live with us forever in our place, the new earth. As Jesus is God incarnate, so the new earth will be heaven incarnate.

5. We’ll live forever without a body.

Plato believed that material things, including bodies, are evil, while immaterial things, such as souls, are good. What I call “Christoplatonism” infects many churches, teaching that human spirits are better off without bodies, and heaven is a disembodied realm.

Our inability to appreciate the physical nature of the resurrection robs believers of excitement for heaven. God’s future plan of a renewed physical universe means we will live, eat and drink, laugh and play, rest and work, exercise our gifts as God’s image-bearers, and most importantly, be with, worship, and serve King Jesus.

Jesus spoke of the “renewal of all things” (Matthew 19:28 NIV). Peter preached that Christ will remain in heaven “until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). Yet somehow, we’ve overlooked an entire biblical vocabulary. Reconcile. Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. God plans to physically restore his entire creation, including us, earth, and animals (Isaiah 11:6–965:1725Romans 8:19–23).

6. Heaven will be boring.

Believing that eternal life consists of endless harp strumming furthers Satan’s strategy “to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling” (Revelation 13:6).

Thinking that heaven will be boring betrays a heresy — that God is boring. Nonsense! God made our taste buds, adrenaline, the nerve endings that convey pleasure to our brains, our imaginations, and our capacity for happiness and excitement.

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3 NIV). Servants have things to do, places to go, people to see. Our most common everyday activities will be worship, punctuated by the joy of joining the multitudes to praise him.

First Corinthians 10:31 will apply just as much in eternity as it does now: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We can worship God now by working, painting, playing, reading, writing, and enjoying every other innocent activity. How much more on a new earth where righteousness reigns?

7. We won’t be us anymore or remember our former lives.

The idea that we’ll lose our identities in heaven is Hindu, not Christian. Resurrection will forever reestablish us as glorified human individuals.

Christ’s resurrection is our prototype. He proclaimed, “It is I myself” (Luke 24:39). When Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” he knew he was speaking to the same Jesus he’d lived with for years. Job said, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself” (Job 19:26–27).

You will be you in heaven. Who else would you be? Since we’ll give an account of our lives on earth, we must remain us, and our memories will have to be better, not worse. Scripture gives no indication of a memory wipe causing us not to recognize family and friends. In fact, if we wouldn’t know our loved ones, the comfort of an afterlife reunion, taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:14–18, would be no comfort at all.

8. Heaven will be a spiritual realm with no human culture.

A Bible college professor took offense at my suggestion that culture — including inventions, concerts, drama, and sports — will likely be part of the new earth. But if we will be God’s resurrected image-bearers living on a resurrected earth, why wouldn’t they be?

We’re told heaven is a city (Hebrews 11:1013:14). Cities have buildings, art, music, commerce, science, and technology. And of course, cities have people engaged in gatherings, conversations, work, and play. Heaven is also a country (Hebrews 11:16). Countries have land, animals, rulers, and citizens who are both diverse and unified. We’re told “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into” the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:24).

Culture is the natural, God-intended product of his calling for mankind to rule over creation. If we believe Scripture’s teaching that mankind and earth will exist in physical form, as the entire doctrine of resurrection dictates, then culture must continue. How could it not?

Best Is Yet to Come

Since the resurrection awaits God’s children, we haven’t passed our peak happiness and never will. There’s no need for bucket lists, because our new universe adventures will far exceed this life’s. We really will live happily ever after. That’s not wishful thinking. It’s the blood-bought promise of Jesus.

We should daily look forward to a world without evil, suffering, or death, where God will live with us and wipe away our tears forever (Revelation 21:4). Anticipating the glorious realities of the resurrected earth has breathtaking implications for our present happiness and our sense of the far-reaching scope of the gospel message.

Let’s live upon heaven’s joys now, jettisoning unbiblical and unworthy views of heaven, and believing that the best truly is yet to come.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is a best-selling author of many books and the director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.

Daily Light – June 8, 2020

All We Have Is Christ

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:7–8)

For us to sing “all I have is Christ,” with full hearts, we have to believe Christ is better than all we have ever had or known besides him. “All I have” means everything else has fallen away, at least by comparison. Nothing else can stand in the light of the joy he brings. Even the very best gifts God has given us are but suggestions of all that he is for us — beautiful, merciful, enjoyable suggestions, but suggestions nonetheless.

In the secret of your heart, how does Jesus stand up to your other loves? Does every other good, every other talent, every other relationship bow before him? Or does he often get lost in the weeds of other pleasures? Would you be happy to have Christ if you could have nothing but him? Can you say with the psalm,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
     And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
     but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
     (Psalm 73:25–26)

Surpassing Worth of Knowing Him

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to have everything here on earth — success, power, wealth, esteem. And he knew what it was like to have everything ripped away — cast out of cities, estranged from those he loved, thrown into prison, beaten and stoned almost to death — and yet gain everything. He would have loved to sing,

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Despite all he used to have, and all he now had lost while following Jesus, Paul could say, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8). Knowing Christ could not be measured or eclipsed. Many of the things he enjoyed before Jesus were still good, but the joy of knowing Jesus could not be measured of eclipsed (Philippians 3:8).

And yet there was a day, for each and every one of us, when knowing him did not seem supremely valuable, or even necessary. We lived in the dark, and we loved the darkness (John 3:19).

All We Thought We Had

Why were the poor and despised in Jesus’s day the most likely to receive him? Jesus himself explained why: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

How many of us, deep down, thought ourselves well — secure, loved, happy, good — and therefore had no need for Jesus? We may have gone through the motions of Christianity, but the cross was really just our insurance policy against hell, not the new anchor and fountain of our life. Christ was our forgiveness, but not our life, because we still loved the darkness.

We were lost in darkest night. When it came to the most essential dimensions of life, we couldn’t see the hand we held in front of our face. And yet we thought we knew the way. Even while we were blind and deaf to reality — to how sinful we really were, to how satisfying Jesus really is, to how desperately we needed grace and mercy — we trusted our senses anyway. We kept running, in every direction but God’s.

And we thought ourselves rich. We probably never thought in these terms, but sin promised us joy and life. And we believed. The devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), twisting iniquity into beauty, slavery into freedom, the smoke of hell into a harmless fog. Satan preys on the dullness of our hearts and the vibrancy of our imaginations to make life in the dark seem lovely.

All We Found in Him

If God had left us to ourselves, we would still and always refuse him. But God reached into death, and ripped away all our refusals of him. We looked at all we thought we had, and knew we needed so much more.

Jesus tells the story, our story: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). We had run and run from the only field that could satisfy us, and then the field ran to find us. Now all we know is grace.

Now, because Jesus is our life, our life is for Jesus. We want this ransomed life to be a fruitful life, bringing others into all we have in Christ. We want someone else to finally leave the darkness because they saw the light in us. Again, Jesus says, “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). We want others to see that the strength, and wisdom, and joy that we need to obey God could never come from inside of us.

We all must be carried by God to God, day by day, until death finally brings us to Life.

Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – June 5, 2020

Every Sin Hides a Lie

Three Ways Temptation Betrays Us

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

“Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar.”

So warns C.S. Lewis at the beginning of Screwtape Letters (ix). The warning is apt not only for readers of Lewis’s modern classic, but for all people, everywhere, all the time. No matter how alert we are to spiritual warfare, we are advised to remember that the devil is a liar.

We can hardly remember too often. For, as long as we are in this world, something within us — “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) — will want to believe him. Something within us will want to believe him when he suggests that freedom lies just over the fence of God’s commands. Or that sin holds something essential to our happiness. Or that obedience to God will make us miserable.

All lies, of course. But under the sway of sin’s deception, the devil’s whisper can sound like gospel truth. Therefore, our peace and security, our happiness and holiness, depend on being able to say with the apostle Paul, “We are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Devil’s Designs

To be sure, we cannot trace every lie directly back to the devil. Sin has its own native deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). But all lies in this world bear the mark of him who is “the father of lies” and “the deceiver of the whole world” (John 8:44Revelation 12:9). Study the father’s face, and you will learn to recognize his brood.

What do we see when we examine the devil’s designs? We see that he lessens the guilt of sin, hides the danger of sin, and embellishes the pleasure of sin.

GUILT LESSENED

When the devil met our Lord in the wilderness, he sought to make sin seem small. If Jesus truly were the Son of God, what harm could there be in turning this one stone into a loaf, or in allowing the adoring angels to bear up his falling body (Matthew 4:3–6)? Surely, given the circumstances, these were privileges and necessities, not sins.

Now, we are not the Son of God. But the devil knows a thousand ways to suggest the same to us. Perhaps we hear, “You’re so tired and under such pressure; who can blame you?” Or, “Did you not see so-and-so do the same just last week?” Or, “If you are God’s child, grace is available.” Slowly, the blackness of sin turns gray, God’s commands become recommendations, and before we even give way, we are mixing a balm to soothe our wounded conscience.

DANGER HIDDEN

When God describes our temptations, he often uses imagery of predator and prey, of hunter and victim. Sin ushers us into “a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7); likewise, the iniquities of a wicked man “ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:22). Of course, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17), so the devil carefully hides the net from view.

Though God has warned a thousand times concerning the fruit of forbidden sin — that “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” — the devil never tires of telling Adam’s children, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 2:173:4). “No, no,” he says. “What danger could there be in one small sin? Find relief this once, gratify your flesh this once, answer the voice of your passions this once, and then return to righteousness.”

With such words, he covers the hook with the worm, and brushes leaves and branches over the net prepared to snap.

PLEASURE EMBELLISHED

All temptation would be harmless, of course, if sin promised no pleasure — if the net offered no meal, and the hook no worm. So the devil takes what fleeting pleasures there are in sin and makes them feel, for the moment at least, sweeter than the pleasures at God’s right hand.

Under the force of Satan’s temptation, Cain feels the thrill of revenge; Achan, the glory of wealth; David, the delight of adultery. We too may find ourselves fixed on a certain sin with an overwhelming sense of necessity: if we don’t click here, buy this, drink that, how will we be happy? How will we endure our sufferings or our boredom? Perhaps we would repress some essential part of us. Perhaps, having gone this far, we have no choice but to plunge headlong.

All the while, the light of God’s face grows dimmer, the narrow way squeezes, and the commandments of God, which once brought so much freedom, fall upon us with a weight we cannot bear.

‘We Are Not Ignorant’

Such are some of Satan’s designs. Now, what must we do to be able to say with Paul, “We are not ignorant” (2 Corinthians 2:11)? We must saturate ourselves so thoroughly with “the truth . . . in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21) that, in the moment of temptation, the guilt of sin is exposed, the danger of sin is revealed, and the pleasure of sin is redirected.

GUILT EXPOSED

When the devil suggests, “This sin is just a small one,” Scripture trains us to respond, “There is no such thing as ‘a small one.’ Is it a small thing to indulge the sin my Savior died to forgive? Is it a small thing to drag an idol into the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)? Or could it ever be a small thing to dismiss my Father’s words as empty talk?”

Or when he whispers, “But God is merciful,” we say, “Yes, God is merciful — not only to forgive me, but to purify me as well. Mercy, grace, and pardon do not tempt me to sin; they train me for godliness (Titus 2:11–12). Do you not remember that the kindness of the Lord is a summons to repent (Romans 2:4)?”

Or when we hear, “But you’ve been under so much pressure,” we answer, “But pressure can never excuse despising God’s commands. Can I sincerely imagine standing before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), holding my bitterness, self-pity, or anger, and saying, ‘I was under so much pressure’?”

DANGER REVEALED

As the Spirit exposes the guilt of sin, he also reveals its danger. When we find ourselves enticed by the logic of “just this once,” we remember that the fisherman needs only one bite to catch his fish; the hunter needs only one foot to release the trap. Likewise, the devil needs only one indulgence to tighten his grip on our souls. Drinking too much “just once,” looking at pornography “just once,” gratifying our vanity “just once,” apart from a decisive act of repentance, will leave us changed.

John Owen writes, “Some, in the tumultuating of their corruptions, seek for quietness by laboring to satisfy them, ‘making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof,’ as the apostle speaks. . . . This is to aslake fire by wood and oil” (Indwelling Sin, 178). In other words, trying to silence our sinful desires by giving in “just this once” is like trying to put out a fire by adding another log.

PLEASURE REDIRECTED

The battle is not yet over once sin’s guilt is exposed and its danger revealed. Our God-given desire for pleasure, forceful as the Niagara, cannot be dammed through mere self-denial. The river must run somewhere — and if not to sin, then to something better.

Here, many of us run into trouble. The pleasures of sin are often immediate, while the pleasures of righteousness are often delayed. The pleasures of sin require no self-denial, while the pleasures of righteousness sometimes require cutting off a hand (Matthew 5:30). How can we deny ourselves the easy and immediate for the difficult and delayed?

The same way a hiker, desperate for water, denies himself a saltwater puddle because he knows a crystal stream runs two miles up the path. He remembers not only that the puddle will enrage his thirst all the more, but also that God has supplied water far sweeter if he will only keep walking. So, with “the assurance of things hoped for” bidding him onward (Hebrews 11:1), he sets his face toward the path.

Every temptation, then, is an opportunity not only to reject the fleeting pleasures of sin, but also to embrace the surpassing worth of Christ. Every temptation offers a chance to shame the devil, not by mere self-denial, but by a better satisfaction: Christ himself, who promises pleasure we can scarcely imagine — and who never lies.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – June 4, 2020

Two gifts from God

Devotional Study by David Niednagel, Pastor / Teacher, Evansville, IN.  David uses the S.O.A.P. method of study for his morning devotional time (study, observe, apply, pray).

Philippians 1:27-30

1:27  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.   ESV

Just like Paul desired to have the courage to honor Christ whether he lived or died (:20) he now exhorts the Philippians to have the same mind and spirit he did. He instructs all who believe the gospel to strive side by side for the gospel, knowing that opposition and danger are sure to come. But they/we must decide together that when it does come we will not give in to fear but boldly and lovingly continue to proclaim Christ. Paul assures them/us that to be able to suffer for Jesus is just as much a gift as being able to believe in Him. Just as His suffering was a love gift to us, so our suffering is a love gift to Him. And when we live with that confident determination to suffer for Him the world will realize that we are amazingly different – especially if we return good for evil and blessing for cursing. That is what Paul means by “walking worthy of the gospel”. 

This short paragraph is a summary of how to live the Christian life. Paul gives the motive and the method of all we do. It starts with our response to Christ, and then our values are shown in the way all of us together engage the world around us.. Even though each of us are to live this way, it has exponentially more impact when the whole church does it. It is unmistakable.

Lord Jesus, thank You for suffering for us, and thank You for the privilege of suffering for You. Help me walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and use me to help facilitate groups of believers to do it together. Even though our small group is so diverse and scattered throughout the week, help us all have “the mind of Christ” (2:5), and help us do some things that re-present You together. Amen

Daily Light – June 3, 2020

Sin Never Keeps Its Promises

Article by Stephen Witmer, Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts

Years ago, some friends and I were swindled out of $70 shortly after arriving in Paris. We were at the train station, puzzling through the French display on the ticket machine. A friendly man appeared, popped his credit card into the machine, and told us he was purchasing two-day train passes for each of us and we could pay him back with cash. It happened fast, and our French wasn’t good enough to double-check him. Besides, he seemed kind and reliable. So we forked over the money. Several minutes later, after boarding the train, we discovered that he had in fact bought us single-use tickets worth $2 each. By then he was long gone. I felt angry and ashamed for the rest of the day.

That experience is a parable of sin and its ways. Sin is a swindler. It covers its deceit with kindness and sweet promises. We sin because we believe the lies. We gossip because the gossip whispers to us that we’re in the know and that people will appreciate us. We envy because we believe that if we only had what others have, we’d be content. We take undue pride in our accomplishments because pride assures us that we’ll feel better about ourselves. But in the end, sin never makes good on its promises. Instead, it leaves us unsatisfied and ashamed.

That’s why the Bible consistently unmasks the falsehoods of sin, warning us that whenever we trust in something or someone other than God, we will be ashamed. One of the most powerful and dramatic instances of this in all of Scripture is an often-overlooked story recounted in Isaiah 20. It contains a stark warning and a sweet promise for God’s people.

Naked Prophet

The year is 711 BC. Ashdod, a city in Philistia, has been part of a multiyear rebellion against the mighty nation of Assyria — a rebellion encouraged by Egypt to the south. The prophet Isaiah has already warned that Philistia’s rebellion will fail. And that’s exactly what now happens, according to Isaiah 20:1. Ashdod is captured by Assyria. We know that the king of Ashdod subsequently fled to Egypt and that, when Assyria came looking for him, Egypt didn’t protect him. They gave him up.

As Assyria crushes Ashdod, God speaks to his prophet Isaiah: “At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, ‘Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,’ and he did so, walking naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:2).

This is surely one of the least desirable prophetic commissions ever received. God commands him to strip naked, not in the privacy of his own home, but in public (that’s the implication of the word go, and of Isaiah’s response of walking) and not just for a short time, but for three years (Isaiah 20:3). Perhaps Isaiah wonders why God couldn’t have asked him instead to do the things other prophets were told to do: lay siege to a brick (Ezekiel 4:1–3), cut some of his hair with a sword (Ezekiel 5:1), or anything else, for that matter. In any case, Isaiah obeys God, apparently without protest. He is, after all, God’s servant (Isaiah 20:3).

Naked Egypt

Why this strange three-year nakedness for God’s prophet? In order to understand what’s happening, it’s crucial to know that nakedness in the ancient world was deeply shameful (see the riveting story in 2 Samuel 10), often associated with helplessness, vulnerability, and lack of protection.

According to verse 3, Isaiah’s odd actions are to be a “sign and a portent” against Egypt and Cush (ancient African nation). Specifically, Isaiah’s nakedness will vividly and unforgettably signify the future shameful nakedness of Egypt’s young and old when they themselves will be led away as captives by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 20:4). And that’s in fact the way it actually happened: forty years later, in 671 BC, Assyria defeated Egypt.

But why does the fall of the city of Ashdod in Philistia (verse 1) lead God to enact a sign of the future fall of Egypt (verses 3–4)? Because Philistia was trusting Egypt (which was encouraging their rebellion against Assyria), and because the people of Judah were watching closely to see whether powerful Egypt, the last best hope against dominant Assyria, would come through for Philistia in their time of trouble. The answer was an emphatic no, and Isaiah depicts that reality not just with words, but with his own naked body.

God means for naked Isaiah to be a sign and portent “against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:3) but Isaiah’s shame is really a sign for God’s people who are tempted to rely upon Egypt rather than upon God. Verses 5–6 proclaim that all who hope in Egypt in the face of the Assyrian threat will be gravely disappointed and shamed.

How much does God love his people? According to this passage, he loves them enough to warn them of the humiliating shame of sin in a way they can’t ignore or forget. Isaiah’s exposed flesh is God’s means of exposing the false promises of sin. Powerful Egypt will soon be naked and shamed, and those who trust Egypt will follow soon after. When we trust in that which is not trustworthy, we ourselves will be ashamed.

Naked Savior

There’s a ray of hope in this somber passage — the hint of a sweet promise in a story that issues a stark warning. Consider this: in order to portray the shame that will fall upon Egypt and Cush, God requires his own prophet, his own loyal and obedient servant, to experience the very real shame of public nakedness. God could have chosen one of his enemies to be the symbol of coming judgment. But instead he chooses his righteous, faithful servant Isaiah. You might say that as Isaiah walks around naked before his neighbors, he takes upon himself a hint, a measure, of the shame that will later fall upon God’s enemies.

This certainly has the feel of something God might do. In fact, much later in history, we see God go a step further. God’s perfect servant Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52–53 (the word servant in Isaiah 52–53 is the same word used to identify Isaiah as God’s servant in Isaiah 20), is stripped naked and humiliated as he hangs on a cross, identifying with the shame of God’s enemies.

In fact, Jesus identifies so profoundly with their judgment and shame that he actually takes it upon himself. He suffers not only as a sign of their coming judgment but as a substitute, so that if God’s enemies trust in Jesus, they won’t have to suffer themselves.

Never Ashamed

It may be that you’re currently being tempted by sin’s whispered lies. Perhaps even though you know God’s goodness and power, you’re drawn to find security, comfort, peace, or meaning elsewhere. Don’t do it. The path away from God leads nowhere good. Sin is a swindler. When we trust in that which is not trustworthy, we will be ashamed.

How much better to trust the one who bore shame for us, suffering in our place? How much better to glory and boast in his shameful suffering (Galatians 6:14)? When we trust in him, we will never be ashamed.

Stephen Witmer (@stephenwitmer1) is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the cofounder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors, and has written Eternity Changes Everything and A Big Gospel in Small Places. He and his wife, Emma, have three children.