Category Archives: 2019 – Oct

We CAN KNOW The Truth, And The Truth Will Set Us Free! — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: October, 2019)

While teaching in the temple, Jesus famously said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV). This prompted a discussion in which Christ answered criticisms from the Pharisees (vs. 13-29). As the crowds in the temple heard the answers he gave his enemies, “many believed in him” (v. 30). Recognizing their faith, our Lord “said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (vs. 31-32).

“You will know the truth.” “Know” comes from the Greek term ginosko, which Thayer defines as “to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel,” and “to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of.” Ginosko is in the future tense (which is why English Bibles translate it as “will know”), and is in the indicative mood (meaning that it is a simple statement of fact). By saying we will know the truth if we abide in his word, Jesus is guaranteeing — making a simple statement of fact — that the result of abiding in his word will be “learning to know” the truth, “coming to know” the truth, “getting a knowledge of” the truth, “perceiving” the truth, “feeling” the truth, “knowing” the truth, “understanding” the truth, and “having knowledge of” the truth.

It is no accident that our Lord correlated the guarantee of coming to know, perceive, and understand the truth with abiding in his word. On the night before he died, he acknowledged in his prayer to his Father in heaven that “your word is truth” while asking that God “sanctify” his disciples in that same truth (John 17:17). The psalmist also stated that “the sum of your word is truth” (Ps. 119:160a), after having pleaded that God “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules” (v. 43).

The apostle John would later relate abiding in God’s word with coming to know (ginosko, perceive, understand, learning to know) Christ. He wrote, “And by this we know (ginosko) that we have come to know (ginosko) him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know (ginosko) him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfect. By this we know (ginosko) that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-6). Keeping his commandments, abiding in him, walking in the same way in which he walked…all of this is how we come to know, understand, perceive, and understand our Lord and that we are in him, just as it is also how we come to know the truth. This should not surprise us since Jesus said that he is the truth (John 14:6).   Yet claiming to understand, know, and perceive the Lord and his truth while not abiding in his word proves one to be nothing more than a liar.

Consider again the context in which Jesus said that abiding in his word is how one comes to know the truth which sets them free. The Pharisees had accused his testimony of being false because he was bearing witness about himself (John 8:13). Jesus responded that his testimony is true even if he did bear witness about himself because I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14). “I know” comes from oida, a Greek term similar to ginosko which likewise means “to know, i.e., get knowledge of, understand, perceive.” Jesus perceived and understood his Deity, that he had been with God before his human birth and that he would go back to sit at God’s right hand once his work was complete (John 1:1, 14; Mk. 16:19). Note the confidence behind his reply to the Pharisees. That confidence was based on his knowledge, understanding, and perception of who he was, where he had been, and where he was going.

Take note of what he then said to them: “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:15-18). The Pharisees did not realize their judgments and criticisms were directed against Deity; in that way their judgments were “according to the flesh,” superficial, human, worldly. Jesus’ judgments, on the other hand, were different. His judgments are “true,” based on truth backed up by the corroborating witness of his heavenly Father (Matt. 3:17). His miracles were proof that God was with him and his message was from God (Matt. 12:28; John 3:2; 5:36; 9:33; Acts 2:22; 10:38).

After his enemies insincerely asked about his Father, Jesus did not hesitate to state of them: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He again uses oida here, stating that the Pharisees had no knowledge, perception, or understanding of him or his Father. He likewise did not hesitate to warn them, “…you will die in your sin” (v. 21). Seeing that they again misunderstood and thought he was talking of suicide when he spoke of leaving them (vs. 21-22), he again confidently told them the facts about himself and their spiritual state: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (vs. 23-24). Again he affirmed his Deity and warned them of spiritual death if they did not believe that he is Deity. This prompted them to ask him again about his identity, to which he replied that he was “just what I have been telling you from the beginning” (v. 25). After again bringing up how his Father had sent him and was the originator of his message and seeing that they still did not understand his relationship with his Father (vs. 26-27), he pointed to his death and resurrection as the final proofs of his deity (v. 28a; cf. Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:20).

His next words are very telling: “…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28b-29). Jesus knew that he spoke nothing but his Father’s message. He was confident that God was with him. He had no doubt that he always did what pleased his Father. These statements are what prompted many who were listening to believe in him (v. 30), which in turn prompted him to urge them to abide in his word in order to truly be his disciples and know the truth which would set them free (vs. 31-32).

Christians, each of us can have the same confidence our Lord has. The whole purpose of being his disciple is to become like him (Lk. 6:40). We can in fact know, understand, and perceive the truth of Scripture. Having come to know, understand, and perceive it, we can be confident that we have done so. The key is to abide in his word by keeping his commandments and speaking nothing but the entirety of the word of God.

Preachers, we especially must do this. In recent years I’ve observed a hesitancy among some of us to state some biblical precepts with confidence. I’ve increasingly heard, “We’ve all been wrong before,” and “No one has everything figured out.” The charges of arrogance and dogmatism are easily and increasingly made against those who speak biblical truths authoritatively. Less attention is given to Scripture and more is given to theologians both within and outside of the Lord’s church. Doctrinal differences are increasing downplayed as “matters of opinion” and “not salvation issues,” even though we are commanded to “speak the truth in love” and unrepentant failure to do so would result in spiritual death (Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:23). Speaking “with all authority” (Tit. 2:14) seems to be decreasing, while uncertainty seems to increase.

Yet we CAN know, understand, and perceive truth if we abide in his word which is truth. Will mistakes be made? Of course, but progress can and will be made continually by those with honest hearts if study of and adherence to the Bible is the highest priority (Lk. 8:15; 1 Tim. 4:15-16). As a result, those mistakes will decrease. We can know and understand that our message and judgments are not our own but God’s. We can confidently assert that our teachings are not from man but from God and he has our back! We can know we are “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We can be humble and yet confident and authoritative too. We can truly be his disciples. We CAN KNOW the truth and rejoice that it has set us free!            — Jon

Did Christianity Plagiarize The Mystery Cults? — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Plagiarism is serious business in academia. When most people hear the term, they might equate it with “copying” or “borrowing,” thus overlooking the seriousness of the offense. In truth, plagiarism involves not only the outright theft of intellectual property but passing off someone else’s ideas as one’s own.

Some critics today argue that Christianity plagiarized existing beliefs of the time, taking ideas from other religions and stitching them together in what we now call Christianity. These individuals, called “mythicists,” believe that early Christian writers created a fictional Jesus, drawing upon pre-existing pagan elements found in ancient mythology. Some of these ideas, they claim, came from the mystery cults popular at the time.

The term “mystery cult” was not one that the ancients used for their religions. Modern scholars created the term, which accurately captures the sense of the secrecy that governed the lives of those involved in these ancient religious groups. (Note: the word “cult” here means a system of religious belief associated with a specific figure, such as the cult of Attis, the cult of Cybele, or even the imperial cult which involved devotion to the Roman emperor.) These religions provided an alternative to the more institutionalized expressions of worship. Formal religious worship to the gods was part of public life. The mystery cults restricted participation to those who had gone through a secretive initiation process.

Mythicists frequently claim that nothing in Christianity is original. Indeed, the parallels they offer startle many believers unfamiliar with the issue. They claim that other divine figures—such as the Egyptian god Horus or the Persian Mithras—were born of virgins, had twelve disciples, died for the sins of the world, and resurrected after three days in a tomb. Figures as diverse as Attis, Krishna, and Thor supposedly suffered crucifixion. Further, most of these figures served as great teachers of wisdom who healed and performed other miracles. Christians must understand any close reading of the original myths will reveal these claims as patently false.

One of the most significant problems involved in this issue is the fact that critics of Christianity often adopt biblical language to describe pagan practices. This gives the illusion of similarity when Christian terminology would have struck pagans as quite foreign. We can see one example of this in descriptions of the taurobolium—the sacrifice of a bull or ram in which an initiate would stand under the animal and allow its blood to wash over him—which mythicists frequently call a “baptism.” Some writers have gone so far as to claim that the initiate was “washed in the blood.” This alleged parallel seems irrefutable if the reader does not understand that the ritual had nothing to do with baptism or washing away sins. Instead, it was a purification custom with only temporary benefits, unlike Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10-14).

Mystery cults had several features that differed sharply from Christianity. Only initiates received the secret teachings of the cult and were given strict orders to share them with no one else. By way of contrast, Christians have always believed that the gospel message should be preached to everyone freely (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Lk. 24:47). Further, mystery cults did not expect exclusive membership. A person could join more than one of them, contrary to the expectations of Jesus (John 14:6). Finally, mystery cults also expected a monetary contribution for joining, which was steep enough to exclude some people from participating. Genuine Christianity does not discriminate against the poor, nor does it offer privileges available only to the wealthy (Jas. 2:1-15).

Scholars see virtually no connection between Christianity and the mystery cults in the early Roman Empire. Only two of these cults seem to predate Christianity (the Eleusinian and the Dionysian Mysteries), while evidence of the others postdates the founding of the church. Some scholars believe that if any relationship existed, it is likely Christianity that influenced the mystery cults instead of the other way around.

Christians can evaluate mythicists’ claims for themselves by asking several simple questions. First, do they refer to alleged parallels in the original myths, or do they merely describe or summarize them? Numerous connections vanish upon close inspection of the ancient literature. Second, do they cite the work of recognized scholars? We can count on one hand the number of mythicists who have terminal degrees in the fields relevant to the discussion. Finally, do they use precise descriptions? The keys to mythicists’ arguments hinge upon using Christian terminology to refer to pagan practices and obscuring vital differences between biblical and mythological concepts.

Christianity provided a new and exciting way to look at the world and interact with its Creator. The suggested similarities between it and the other religions practiced in the first century cannot withstand scrutiny. Believers may rest assured that the biblical writers did not plagiarize pagan beliefs.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. congregation in Arlington, TX.

What The Bible Teaches About The Sabbath Day — Jon Mitchell

Despite what evolutionists claim, it is a fact that Jehovah created this world and universe in six literal days, and then rested on the seventh day. Centuries later, God blessed the seventh day and set it apart from the other days. The seventh day became known as “the Sabbath Day,” from the Hebrew word shabbath, meaning “to rest from labor.” In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day of rest after six days of work (Ex. 20:8-11; cf. Gen. 2:1-3). Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, so the Sabbath was from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Thus, the Bible generally has the Sabbath referring to Saturdays.

Interestingly, after Genesis 2:1-3 the Sabbath is not mentioned again in the book of Genesis. From the days of Adam all the way to the days of Moses one does not read of it. All of the faithful people in Genesis — Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph — all of them pleased God but there is no mention of them observing the Sabbath as holy or a day of rest. It is not until Exodus 16:22-30 that one reads again of the seventh day being the Sabbath, a day of rest. God had instructed Israel concerning how to collect the manna He had rained down on them from heaven for their food while in the wilderness. This was shortly after they were delivered from Egyptian slavery and before they arrived at Mount Sinai where they would receive the law of Moses. Moses writes that they had to be specifically told not to gather the manna on the seventh day, twice (Ex. 16:23, 29). Yet they went out on the seventh day prepared to work to gather the manna anyway, thus showing how they weren’t used to taking the seventh day off from work (v. 27).

This is because, as Nehemiah would later point out, the Lord made known to Israel the holy Sabbath at Mount Sinai (Neh. 9:13-14). Since He made it known to them at Sinai, that means they did not know about it previously. That’s why they had to be told twice not to work gathering manna on the seventh day. Putting aside the seventh day as a day of rest was unknown to them.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai, the Sabbath became a part of the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:8-11). While giving the Sabbath commandment, God explained why He wanted them to keep the Sabbath holy (v. 11). He had created the world in six days and had rested on the seventh, a statement pretty much the same as recorded in Genesis 2:3. Exodus 31:13-17 would show that the Sabbath became a sign between God and Israel, not only because He rested from creation, but also to show they were His special people. Deuteronomy 5:15 would also show that the Sabbath was a weekly reminder of their deliverance from Egypt.

The Sabbath was never commanded to observed by non-Jews. All of the commands concerning the Sabbath were directed solely to Israel, with the only exception being “the stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:10). God did not want Israel to be influenced by visiting Gentiles to disobey His laws concerning the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-21). He wanted the Sabbath to be something special only between Him and Israel while the Law of Moses was in effect (Ex. 20:12, 20; 31:13, 16-17). The Sabbath, like circumcision, was a sign between God and Israel.

So why is the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2:1-3 if it wasn’t until centuries later that God commanded it of Israel? Remember, Moses wrote Genesis while Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after Sinai. The very first readers of Genesis would be the same Israelites to whom God had given the Sabbath commandment at Sinai. Thus, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses while writing about the seventh day of this world’s existence to give a reminder to the first readers of Genesis — Israel — as to why God made the seventh day a Sabbath of rest.

In the final years of the law of Moses during Jesus’ ministry, we read of Christ teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath (cf. Mk. 1:21). He did other things on the Sabbath which were controversial, such as allowing His Jewish disciples to pluck grain for food and healing the sick (Matt. 12:1-2; Lk. 13:10-14). When His enemies objected, He showed their ignorance of the Old Testament while proclaiming Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:3-8). He also pointed out their hypocrisy (Lk. 13:14-16). As a Jew living under the Law of Moses, Jesus sinlessly observed the Sabbath. Yet there is no biblical data showing that He ever extended the Sabbath to Gentiles.

After Christ’s ascension, Paul utilized Sabbaths to teach in synagogues because he knew the Jews would be gathered there on those days (Acts 17:1-3). Yet he never taught that God wanted Christians to observe the Sabbath as the Jews did in the Old Testament. He taught that Jews had spiritually died to the Law of Moses when they became Christians (Rom. 7:4-7). He also taught that Jesus ended the Law of Moses with its commandments when He died (Eph. 2:13-16). This would include the commandments about the Sabbath (Col. 2:14, 16-17). He warned those who would seek justification by observing Moses’ laws that they had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). He wrote to Corinth about the new covenant replacing the old covenant, which he called “the ministry of death carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:6-11), a clear reference to the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment. The writer of Hebrews also wrote about the new, superior covenant which had replaced the Old Testament covenant which was the Law of Moses and which included the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment (Heb. 8:6-13). Thus, the apostles and prophets of the first century taught that observing the Sabbath was no longer necessary.

Obviously Jews who were not converted to Christ continued to observe the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus, in the midst of His prophecy about the destruction of the temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, charged the Jerusalem Christians of the first century to pray that they would not have to flee on a Sabbath (Matt. 24:20). This was possibly because the first-century Jews might have continued to observe Nehemiah’s tradition of shutting the gates of Jerusalem on Sabbaths (Neh. 13:19), thus making flight from Jerusalem an impossibility on those days. It’s also true that first century Jewish Christians continued to observe elements of Mosaic Law. Paul himself did so at times in order to not offend the Jews (Acts 21:20-26). Yet he and the other apostles made it clear that the Law of Moses could not be bound on Gentiles with the exception of its prohibitions against eating blood, food set apart for idolatry, and what has been strangled, in addition to the commands against fornication (Acts 15:1-2, 19-20, 28-29). Those Jewish Christians who would continue to force Gentiles to observe Mosaic law would be condemned as “false brothers” who were trying to get their Gentile brethren to submit to a spiritual form of slavery (Gal. 2:3-5; 5:1). Paul made it clear that observing the Law of Moses would not bring salvation (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:28). Yet he also allowed individual Christians to privately set days apart as holy as something between them and God if they so desired (Rom. 14:5-6, 22).

The only day set aside in the New Testament as a day of special significance for Christians is Sunday, the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1ff). While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of a day on which He would partake of the fruit of the vine with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25). It was when His kingdom came (Lk. 22:18). His kingdom — the church (Matt. 16:18-19) — came on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, which always took place on a Sunday (Lev. 23:15-16). On that day, the first converts worshiped by hearing the apostles’ doctrine, contributing (fellowship — compare with Romans 15:26), praying together, and breaking bread together, a reference to the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17). This practice was shown to continue when we read that Paul and other Christians broke bread together (partook of communion) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), the day he also commanded Christians to give of their means (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Non-canonical writings from this time period confirm this, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the writings of Justin Martyr, both of whom cite Sundays as the day when the early Christians came together to worship. Yet nowhere in the New Testament are Sundays referred to as a Sabbath day in any way. Thus, to call Sundays “the Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” as some denominations do is to not “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).

The biblical Sabbath was always on the seventh day of the week, and it was designed by God to be a sign between Him and Israel alone until the Law of Moses ended. He said as much when He said that it would be a sign between Him and the Jews “forever” (Ex. 31:16-17). “Forever” comes from the Hebrew word olam, which literally means “long duration; long time; long, completed time.” While the word in some cases could refer to eternity, the context determines the proper definition. Since the same word is used to describe the amount of time circumcision and the Passover would be commanded by God for the Jews to observe (Gen. 17:13; Ex. 29:42), we know God did not have eternity in mind for the Sabbath since those rites of Judaism ended at the cross as well.

He did correlate the Sabbath (literally, rest) with eternity in one way, though (Heb. 4:1-11; see v. 9). If we want to enter that heavenly rest which was provided by Christ, we must have diligence and strive to find ourselves “without spot or blemish, and at peace” on the day when the Lord comes back and this world and universe end (2 Pet. 3:9-14). May each of you be found by Him in exactly that way.

— Jon

How Worship Can Strengthen The Soul — David Bragg

One day a member of the British Parliament, Neil Marten, was taking some visitors on a tour through the government buildings. Their path happened to cross that of Lord Hailsham who was serving as Lord Chancellor (outranking even the Prime Minister). Dressed in the full regalia of his office, the Lord Chancellor was surprised to see his old friend in the crowded room. Lord Hailsham cried out, “Neil!” Hearing the command from the eminent Lord Chancellor, all the visitors promptly fell to one knee (www.sermonillustrations.com). Isn’t it interesting how easily people can be impressed with those they perceive ought to be worthy of honor: a famous actor, a revered sports figure, a beloved political leader, a decorated war hero; and yet feel no compulsion to honor the all-powerful and loving God? May such never be the case among the followers of Jesus.

One of the highest honors and privileges in life is to worship God. But the value of such worship extends far beyond the praise offered to God. Worship has real and meaningful benefits for worshipers. They benefit by being strengthened in the process. To understand these blessings, it is important to first consider Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well and specifically His definition of true worship.

Finding Himself alone with the Samaritan woman, the discussion veers away from the uncomfortable topic of the woman’s adulterous relationship to the subject of worship (John 4:17-18). She eagerly points out the opposing views between the Samaritans who worshiped on Mount Gerizim and the Jews who worshiped in Jerusalem (4:20). In answering her question Jesus made this important statement: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (4:24). A careful analysis of this definition of worship will help us to clearly see how our worship will make us stronger.

True worship will make us stronger in the internal struggle of the spiritual over the physical. Look at Jesus’ words again: “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), every member of humanity has an eternal, spiritual nature. In worship we can deliberately and intentionally lay aside the physical and worldly concerns and focus on the nature we share with God (“worship in spirit”). One can never fully realize this benefit if their only interaction with God is confined to a specific hour on one specific day each week. The “public worshiper only” will be the one objecting, “I just can’t get anything out of worship.” Yet let them develop the habit of daily, private communion with God and they will find those private daily habits will prepare them to glean the most from their regular, public worship.

True worship will make us stronger in the desire to serve and honor God. A careful study of God’s word reveals the specific ways God wants to be worshiped: vocal music, prayers, the Lord’s Supper, giving, and teaching. We have a long tradition of complying with God’s instructions and, while it is not our purpose in this article to defend these expressions of worship, we must certainly not be interested in any way altering the inspired traditions. That said, knowing that our worship conforms to the biblical model has a way of strengthening our confidence that we can be and are pleasing to God and that our worship is acceptable to Him. What a blessing it is to carry this kind of confidence with us as we go back into the world and strive to live faithful lives that honors God even while living in a world which doesn’t.

True worship will make us stronger by fostering a deeper, more personal relationship with God. Just as important as HOW we are to worship based on John 4:24, Jesus reveals to the woman at the well (and to us) WHY we are to worship: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). Did you catch those last words, “…the Father is seeking such to worship Him”? God doesn’t need our worship, but He deeply desires it. His desire for true spiritual worship that conforms to His revealed will is so strong that He sent His Son into the world to take the burden and penalty of our sins so that we could be qualified in Jesus to offer worship that He eagerly accepts. That knowledge ought to help us to eagerly desire and develop a personal relationship with God. Armed with this understanding, worship will never again seem mundane.

True worship will make us stronger by the interaction and encouragement of fellow believers. While it is true that one can worship in private (that is, be involved in some of the same avenues of worship while alone that the church as one united body publicly practice when they are together), those private acts can never truly take the place of public, corporate worship. Singing is the perfect example. No one can fully discharge the commands to sing in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 by themselves. Those commands require, even demand, the presence of others to whom we “speak,” “teach” and “admonish.” One of the benefits we will derive from public worship is the reassurance and support gained from fellow worshipers as we “consider how to stir up love and good works” through the worship in which we participate as we regularly meet together (Heb. 10:24-25).

It is truly amazing how we so easily bestow honor on those we deem worthy. Just as those British visitors knelt before the Lord Chancellor, worship is a public recognition of the honor God truly deserves. Yet worship does have real benefits for us as well. Your soul needs faithful, regular, biblical worship.

David is a former member of the board of directors of the Carolina Messenger.

How To Successfully Resist Temptations — Patrick Swayne

Look out the window,” a father instructs his son. “You see that young man down there? He’s about to commit a terrible sin.” The son looked at his father quizzically. “How do you know that he’s going to sin?” The father looked down at his son. “I know he’s going to sin because of where he’s headed.”

Many today might be tempted to accuse the father in this story of being judgmental. How can someone presume to know what someone else is going to do? However, before making this accusation ourselves, we would do well to ponder the fact that this conversation occurs in the Bible almost word for word.

My goal for this article is to examine the idea of resisting temptation. We’ll eventually get to the answer you’re expecting – namely, the need to respond to temptation the way Jesus did in the wilderness. However, before we get there, let’s discuss the importance of putting ourselves into positions not to face temptation in the first place.

The Connection Between A Path And A Destination

Proverbs 1-9 is distinct from the rest of the book of Proverbs in that it contains advice from a father to his son (with occasional interjections by lady Wisdom). When I read this portion of Scripture, I not only try to gain advice as a parent, I try to see what I can learn from my heavenly Father. One lesson that stands out time and time again is that my Father wants to be my teacher rather than to leave that job to experience. He wants to keep me far from sin, not merely rescue me out of sin.

In one of the fatherly speeches that make up the bulk of this section of Scripture, the father of the text describes looking out a window and seeing “a young man devoid of understanding” (Prov. 7:7). The text says that the father arrived at this appraisal of the young man through perception – it says, “I perceived.” Perception typically implies seeing more than what’s presented at face value, so what did the father see to make him pass this judgment?

The father shares two pieces of evidence that he noticed: 1) He saw the young man “passing along the street near her corner” and noticed “he took the path to her house” (v. 8); 2) He saw that he did so “in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night” (v. 9). In short, he perceived that the young man lacked understanding because he didn’t know when it was, where he was, or where he was going. The text confirms the father’s appraisal; what follows is that the young man is seduced (v. 21). It ends up costing him “his life” (v. 23).

What does the father want his son to learn from all of this? He says, “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths” (Prov. 7:25). Notice the emphasis on “ways” and “paths,” and the fact that the son is called to guard his “heart” and not merely his body. The goal of the father is not merely for his son to avoid sexual sin; it is to avoid the path that leads to sin. This father – and our heavenly Father – understands the surest way to avoid a destination is to stay off the road that leads there.

The advice of the father of this text mirrors some very important New Testament commands. Paul tells us to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). The flesh is Paul’s way of describing a life of “darkness… revelry… drunkenness… lewdness and lust… strife and envy” (vs. 12-13). Paul says we need put “on the armor of light” (v. 12) and “the Lord Jesus Christ;” doing this demands that we not even give the life that opposes light and Christ an opportunity to take root in our lives. This requires us to be “awake” (v. 11), and, as Paul instructs elsewhere, to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).

Unlike the young man “void of understanding” (Prov. 7:7), Christians must know when it is (“redeeming the time” – Eph. 5:16), where we are, and where we are going. However, God clearly calls us to more than awareness.

Choosing What Is Excellent

Possibly my least favorite question is, “Where does the Bible say that _____________ is wrong?” (To be fair, I also equally despise its twin, “Where does the Bible say that I have to _____________?”) This question can be asked legitimately by someone searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), but more often than not it is asked by someone who is trying to defend questionable behavior by showing that said behavior exists outside of the realm of what God has forbidden.

This is a very legalistic way of looking at the Bible. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day attempted to determine the exact boundaries of the word of God so that they could do exactly what was required, no more and no less (unless the “more” was something they valued by way of tradition). They precisely tithed mint, anise, and cumin. Yet they failed to realize that in the process of merely keeping commandments they were setting aside “justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). Jesus commended their obedience (“These you ought to have done”), but said they shouldn’t have left “the others undone.”

The Hebrews author calls an understanding of “repentance from dead works” (i.e. turning our mind away from what is sinful) an elementary principle, a foundation (Hebrews 6:1). His encouragement to us is to move beyond what is elementary and to “go on to perfection,” to strive for maturity. Maturity is not interested in simply avoiding what is wrong; it is interested in pursuing all that is right and ensuring faithfulness in that process.

Paul called this aspect of maturity “excellence.” He strove for excellence personally (Phil. 3:8, 14), prayed for others to be able to discern what is excellent (1:10), and encouraged Christians everywhere to reflect on what is excellent (4:8, ESV). Hinging on our ability to “discern” (1:9) and “approve what is excellent” is being “pure and blameless for the Day of Christ” (1:10).

People who seek excellence want to know what is eternally best. When presented with borderline behavior and an action that is guaranteed to be right, a person pursuing excellence will always choose the latter.

The surest strategy to overcome temptation is to avoid it in the first place. This demands that we identify not only what is wrong but the path that leads to what is wrong. It demands further that we avoid that path not merely by walking the boundaries of God’s commands, but by pursuing what is excellent and therefore eternally best. Satan loves it when people peer over the edge of the cliff spiritually speaking, but he hates it when people stay as far away from the edge as they possibly can.

When Temptation Finds You…

I’d love for the above preventative prescription for the plague of temptation to be a panacea. The fact is that even when we pursue excellence with our whole hearts, we will be tempted. Tribulation is the lot of those who live in this world (John 16:33). Jesus lived to do the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:19; 9:3), and yet He was tempted (Mk. 1:13; Heb. 4:15).

We often run to the account of Jesus in the wilderness to find God’s prescription for overcoming temptation when we face it. However, sometimes we do so secretly believing that Jesus overcame temptation simply because He was God. I’ll be the first to admit that a full understanding of “God… manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) is beyond me. What I do know though is what the Bible says: Jesus was in the form of man (Phil. 2:7-8). While He was in that form, He was “like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17). I might not know the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), but I know what “every” means. When Jesus was tempted, He was tempted like you or me. When He overcame temptation, He did so in a way that you or I can emulate.

By all means “flee” from temptation (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Do so by avoiding the paths that lead to sin as well as the sins themselves. Do so by pursuing excellence. However, before temptation comes – and it will come – fill you heart with the word of God like Jesus did so you can identify temptations as He did and respond to them by saying, “It is written.” “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).

Patrick serves as a minister to the South Anchorage Church of Christ in Anchorage, AK. He is married to Chantelle Marie (Herd), and together they have two sons: Ezekiel and Ezra.

Balanced Christianity — Keith B. Cozort

What is meant when we talk about “balanced Christianity?” A dictionary definition of “balanced” would include: “an instrument for weighing, esp. one that opposes equal weights, as in two matched shallow pans hanging from either end of a lever supported exactly in the middle; scales…a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equality in amount, weight, value, or importance, as between two things or the parts of a thing” (Webster’s New World Dictionary; Second College Edition; 1970; p. 105-106). The dictionary definition of Christianity includes: “…the state of being a Christian” (ibid.).

When I think of a balance or being balanced, I automatically think of the scales used to represent justice. They are intended to demonstrate equilibrium or things being equal on both sides of the lever in the middle. The questions arise, “What are we trying to balance? What is the standard in being balanced?”

Unfortunately, there are many different ideas as to what is meant by “balanced” when Christianity is the subject of discussion. Some hold to the idea that for a Christian to be balanced he/she must have equal parts of good and evil. Are we really trying to imply that if we have just as much good in our lives as we do evil, then we are balanced? I certainly hope not, but the way some Christians are living it appears that is exactly what they mean. The apostle Paul stated, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Paul says Christians are not to continue living sinful lives. A change for the better is expected to come as a result of putting on Christ in baptism.

Another view could mean we are to have just as much love as we have hatred in our lives and thereby we are balanced. Again, I hope not, but look at some Christians and you will see that seems to be their thinking concerning balanced Christianity. Jesus states, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…” (Matt. 6:43-45a). Jesus doesn’t indicate we are to have equal amounts of love and hate in our lives. Instead, love is to be descriptive of our lives, not hate.

Finally, what do you get when you have equal amounts of light and darkness? You end up with twilight. This results in problems of trying to distinguish things clearly. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). Therefore, Christians are to be light, not darkness to those around us. Thus, equal parts of love and hate, good and evil, light and dark are not what we are meaning by balanced Christianity.

We must use the right standard in order to determine if we as Christians are living balanced lives. The standard must be God’s word, the truth of the gospel. Those scales must have the Bible on one side and our lives on the other. If we are living balanced Christian lives, then we are living according to the word of God, living like our Lord lived. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). It is the word of God which is to direct every facet our lives. Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

God’s inspired word shows us several different groups or individuals who were unbalanced in living their lives. In Genesis 3 we read of God’s first test for mankind in the garden of Eden. This test proved Adam and Eve were unbalanced. Eve decided it was better to follow the direction of the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit, rather than faithfully adhere to God’s instructions (Gen. 3:1-5). Paul informs Timothy that Eve was deceived, thoroughly beguiled by the serpent (1 Tim. 2:14). He also states Adam was not deceived, which means Adam deliberately disobeyed God’s law. As a result of Adam and Eve’s unbalanced lives they were put out of the garden and never allowed to enter it’s premises again lest they also eat of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24).

Cain lived an unbalanced life believing he could worship God by substituting his harvest of the ground for the sacrifices God specified (Gen. 4:3-5). We know this to be true because the Hebrews writer states, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Heb. 11:4). The apostle Paul informs us and defines for us what faith is when he states, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). God even explained to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Gen. 4:7). To be balanced Cain would have obeyed God’s instructions concerning offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

Think about the Pharisees. They were Jews who believed it was acceptable to add to God’s word and still be balanced. Our Lord said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Even though they proclaimed the need for strict adherence to the law of God, they insisted on adding and binding the commandments of men. Such is not balanced.

We might also consider the Sadducees as those who were unbalanced because of their attitude toward God’s word. They believed it was acceptable to subtract portions of the Bible without any negative consequences. Luke wrote, “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit…” (Acts 23:8). Jesus instructed the disciples to be leery of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6).

The previous examples are not of unbalanced Christians, but there are many examples of such in the New Testament. Paul admonished the Corinthian brethren to learn from the mistakes of the children of Israel while wandering in the wilderness to keep themselves from making the same mistakes (1 Cor. 10). He warned the Galatian brethren of following a perverted gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), which thereby would certainly make them unbalanced. Also, our Lord through the apostle John demonstrated that the Laodicean brethren were unbalanced Christians by being neither cold nor hot (Rev. 3:14-22).

We are expected to compare every aspect our lives as Christians to God’s word in order to determine if we are living a balanced life. As husbands, wives, sons, daughters, preachers, elders, deacons, male and female members of the church, we must put ourselves on one side of the scales and God’s word on the other side. The likelihood is that we will need to make adjustments to our lives if we are to be balanced with God’s holy word.

I remember hearing a story when I was younger concerning a woman who lived during the Depression. She contracted with the local grocer to bring him butter in blocks weighing one pound each in exchange for other food products she needed for her household. One day she lost her one pound weight for measuring the butter. So, she decided to use the one pound of laundry detergent the grocer weighed out for her earlier in the day. She brought the butter to the store, as she always did, and the grocer weighed each of the blocks of butter as was his custom. However, this time he accused her of trying to cheat him because the blocks of butter didn’t weigh a pound. She exclaimed, “I don’t understand! I lost my one pound weight, so I decided to use the one pound of laundry detergent I bought from you this morning as my standard.” If the scales are out of balance or the weight is not exact, someone is going to be cheated.

Are we cheating God or are we living balanced Christian lives?

Keith is a graduate of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, FL. He preaches for the Lord’s church in Mountain Grove, MO. He has been an instructor for the Online Academy of Biblical Studies (OABS) for the last five years. He and his wife, Cheryl, have 3 sons and 12 grandchildren.

The Baptism of Jesus — Steve Miller

The baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:13-17; cf. Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22) raises several questions. R.C. Foster, in his monumental work, Studies in The Life of Christ, highlights some of them: “The New Testament offers exactly ten verses as the historical record of the baptism of Jesus. Luke tells the story in two verses, Mark in three, and Matthew in five verses. John does not describe it, but alludes to it by presenting the impressions of John the Baptist concerning it. How can we reconcile the personality of Jesus with this act of humiliation? How do we harmonize the virgin birth with the baptism? How could Jesus be begotten of the Holy Spirit and yet need here the descent of the Spirit? Why should He, who was and is God, submit to John’s baptism? How can we relate this humble action with His claims of absolute pre-eminence? How reconcile the great mission of Jesus as Savior with this acceptance of baptism at the hands of another religious figure as if He Himself needed salvation? How do we reconcile the claims of Jesus and the New Testament writers that He lived a sinless life with His deliberate acceptance of this baptism of John which was ‘of repentance unto the remission of sins’?”

All things indicate that Jesus came to John because God told him to come. The baptism of John was prior to the baptism that would be under the new covenant of Christ. John’s baptism was from heaven (Matt. 21:23-27). It was according to God’s Word (Lk. 3:1-4), designed to manifest Jesus to Israel (John 1:29-34). It was part of preparing Christ’s way (Lk. 3:1-6).

Purpose. The baptism of Jesus was not for remission of sins. Jesus had no sin to take away (2 Cor. 5:21). As H. Leo Boles reasons: “We know that Jesus did not come to be baptized from a feeling of personal sinfulness, neither because of his personal connection with an impure people, nor for the purpose of showing that there was no incompatibility between his life and the life of others, nor merely to elicit the divine declaration that he was the Son of God, nor to confirm the faith of others in him, neither was it to sanction the baptism of John as having been authorized of God. It was the will of God for him to be baptized, and he came to do the will of God (Heb.10:7).”

The purpose of Jesus’ baptism was “to fulfill all righteousness.” “Righteousness” means doing what is right, obeying the Father’s will. Jesus was baptized in submission to His Father’s will. All of God’s commands are righteousness: “My tongue shall speak of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172, NKJV). In studying the phrase “fulfill all righteousness,” we understand Jesus simply complied because it was the right thing to do.

In addition to fulfilling all righteousness, the text reveals that the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him (Matt. 3:16). A voice came from heaven, which was when God first called Jesus His Son and said, “In whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Luke mentions that Jesus was praying (Lk. 3:21-22). God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit were manifested. These are unique happenings that introduced Christ into His earthly ministry.

There are many aspects of the baptism of Jesus that show its uniqueness and its importance. The distance Jesus traveled to be baptized of John is significant. It was possibly 60-80 miles, depending on the exact location. The beginning of His earthly ministry is marked by His baptism at the hands of John (Lk. 3:23). It marked His first public identification with those whose sins He would bear (Is. 53:11; 1 Pet. 3:18). It publicly affirmed His being the Lamb of God by testimony straight from heaven (Matt. 3:17; Ps. 2:7; Is. 42:1). The miraculous power of the Godhead was evident in the baptism of Christ.

Lessons. The baptism of Christ foreshadowed the importance of Christian baptism. He was baptized in order to identify with us. He gave us an example of how to obey God: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). He gave us the example to walk in His steps: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:21-22). He was baptized to teach and remind us about His death, burial, and resurrection. His being baptized of John the Immerser also helped to sanction John’s baptism and ministry.

Jesus’ baptism gives us applications to our understanding of baptism and its essentiality in becoming a Christian. Christs baptism is the foundation of Christian baptism” (Ferguson). We gain insight into the mode of baptism in the immersion of Christ. We observe that Jesus went to the water (Matt. 3:13), went down “into” the water and came up out of the water (Mk. 3:16). Our receiving of the Spirit, and becoming a son or daughter in Christ is connected to our baptism: Explicit in the text is the association of Jesus’ baptism with sonship and the gift of the Holy Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit came upon him and God acknowledged him as his Son (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-23). Then he was empowered to begin his ministry. Only when the Spirit came in Acts 2 did the disciples begin preaching the gospel. For Christians, at baptism they are acknowledged as children of God (Gal. 3:26-27) and receive the Spirit (Gal. 4:5-7) and then begin a life of service” (Ferguson). Temptations will follow those who are immersed (Matt. 4:1-11; 1 Cor. 10:13) as we begin to work and serve the Master. Even as Jesus identified himself with humanity at his baptism, so at baptism his followers identify themselves with him, his ministry, and his cross” (Ferguson).

The baptism of our Savior provides an antecedent for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4; cf. Rom. 6:1-4). We are baptized into His death, buried with Him in water, and raised to be a Christian, added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47).

The baptism of Christ provides an example of how Jesus always fulfilled the Father’s will. The implication is powerful that Jesus led the way through His example (being baptized) to show us the way which corresponds to New Testament teaching (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), that those lost in sin (all – Rom. 3:23) must be immersed in water for the remission of sins in order to contact the precious blood of Jesus.

Steve is on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger. He serves as one of the ministers at the Gold Hill congregation in Fort Mill, SC.

Endnotes

H. Leo Boles, Matthew (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1952), 89.

Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 180.