Dividing the Word

Words are weak – sounds which convey meaning only when both speaker and hearer understand them similarly. But words often convey different meanings in different contexts, and can be interpreted in multiple ways even when immediate context is understood. If either speaker or hearer is inept, ignorant, careless or biased, communication becomes very difficult.

The Bible comprises the most significant words ever composed: God’s Word, revealing the nature of God and Man, detailing how to walk with God. As important as this is, few people appear to understand it in exactly the same way. This isn’t a problem with the Bible; it’s a problem with us.

The Bible is evidently written in such a way that only the virtuous will understand it (2Pe 1:5); the self-seeking are unable to find the truth. (2Ti 3:7)

So, if we come to the Bible dishonestly, with a bias or false presupposition, we invariably find verses to support our view and remain in error. (2Co 2:17) We’re untroubled by verses which appear to contradict us and simply ignore them, handling the word of God deceitfully. (2Co 4:2) In this way, the unlearned and unstable wrest scripture, taking it out of the whole biblical context, unto their own destruction (2Pe 3:16), and remain in darkness. (Is 8:20)

But when we’re seeking truth, we don’t presume to know a given claim is true until we can honestly interpret every relevant text of scripture in a manner that’s consistent with that claim. (Ps 119:6) Since most biblical texts can be interpreted in multiple ways without doing them injustice, we start with texts which are the most difficult to interpret honestly in any other way, and seek to understand the rest of scripture in light of them, in a manner that’s entirely consistent with all of scripture. Only in this way can we rightly divide the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15)

We trust that God doesn’t contradict Himself, and that He has inspired the Bible in such a manner that if we rightly divide His Word consistently and prayerfully, He will help us find the truth we need to walk with Him and serve Him well. (2Ti 3:16)

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A Sound Mind

The role of the mind in the spiritual life a difficult, interesting and important subject. How are we to follow the Spirit, and receive “spiritual discernment” and direction from God, apart from our intellect?

Should we look for a feeling in our gut, perhaps a familiar peaceful voice, and presume it’s the Holy Spirit? Should we neglect to evaluate this impression with our intellect?

Apart from our mind, this is our only option, and briefly considering the consequences highlights the obvious: this isn’t God’s design, but mindless foolishness. God gave us our mind for a reason (1Ti 1:7); we should use it.

There’s such a thing as a carnal mind (Ro 8:6-7), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently carnal.

There’s such a thing as a corrupt mind (1Ti 6:5), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently corrupt.

There’s such a thing as a fleshly mind (Col 2:18), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently fleshly.

It’s with the mind that we serve the law of God (Ro 7:25); it’s where God puts His laws. (He 8:10)

God commands us: “Gird up the loins of your mind (1Pe 1:13); in other words, we’re never to neglect it, turn it off or be passive in using it, but always doing our best to think clearly, rightly, thoroughly and correctly. There are no exceptions to this; we must do this always, constantly. This is wisdom: the most important thing we can seek after. (Pr 4:7)

Being mentally passive is therefore never spiritual, it can’t be; it’s always foolish, childish, immature. (1Co 14:20)

Jesse Penn-Lewis, author of the classic, War On the Saints, claims passivity of the mind is the chief basis of demon possession. (ch 4) The enemy tries to bypass our minds and gain control of us by lying to us about the right use of our mind, so we don’t use it to identify and resist him. This is central to his war against us.

The very act of thinking must be spiritual: matter and electricity can’t do this on its own, so thought itself can’t be merely physical; it must be metaphysical. And we’re always thinking; as we think, so we are. (Pr 23:7) As we think according to truth we’re godly and spiritual, all else in us is carnal and fleshly. It isn’t so much about whether we’re thinking, but how we’re thinking.

When we deliberately set our minds aside, we’ve nothing left but emotion to lead us, and that’s not how God’s designed us to function. The enemy is a spirit, and will gladly infiltrate us, giving us lying emotions if we allow him through mental passivity. Every opening we hand over to him he’ll penetrate, like a poisonous gas.

Repentance is a change in thinking that produces godly feelings and actions. Every lie we hold (in our mind) is an opening for Satan, but God gives us repentance through godly instruction as we pursue truth so we can recover ourselves from the snare of the devil. (2Ti 2:25-26) We receive His instruction as the key to our freedom, taking heed to our way in order to cleanse it. (Ps 119:9)

We can’t identify truth by how it makes us feel; that’s how the wicked live. (Ep 2:2) To be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ro 12:2), we need to buy the truth (Pr 23:23), crying after knowledge, understanding (Pr 2:3-5) and sound wisdom (Pr 2:7), evaluating our feelings by the truth.

We seek truth wherever we can find it, in science and in history, but primarily by meditating on God’s Law (Ps 1:2), constantly exposing our thought patterns to God’s Way, hunting down every false way, every thinking pattern that’s contrary to truth, so we can root out all enemy access to our souls.

We prayerfully seek truth through reason (Is 1:18), vetting new ideas based on what we already know to be true, such that we’re always ready to provide a reason for our hope to all who ask. (1Pe_3:15) This is a mental discipline, as well as a spiritual one (2Ti 2:15), in which we must cultivate and train ourselves. (He 5:14) It can’t be a choice of one or the other, mind or spirit: it must be both – and.

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Why Hidest Thou?

Sometimes it seems like God’s far away, hard to find, like He’s hiding, especially in dark or painful times. It’s natural to ask why God isn’t more in-your-face, especially to unbelievers and atheists, why He isn’t making things so much more obvious. Why does He choose to reveal Himself like this, in what may seem like such a covert or obscure manner? It’s a reasonable question; even the Psalmist asks it. (Ps 10:1)

In the context of God providing sufficient evidence of His existence and character, the question itself betrays a lying presumption: that God hasn’t already left us ample witness of Himself. God affirms otherwise: He’s given us infallible proof (Ac 1:3), such that there’s no excuse for not knowing and glorifying Him (Ro 1:19-21): Creation itself proclaims the glorious existence of God in every language, among all people. (Ps 19:1-3) Those who complain about a lack of evidence for God are ignorant and blind at best (Ep 4:17-18): it’s overwhelming and abundant, once we see it, but God must first open our hearts so that we’re willing to see it.

In the context of why God doesn’t answer all our questions, or why He allows pain and suffering instead of intervening and protecting us, the question often nurses a complaint, an assumption that God isn’t always perfectly revealing Himself in every time and circumstance. This then is a kind of idolatry, making God out to be as we’d like Him to be, rather than enjoying Him as He is, and it doesn’t get us very far. God doesn’t do the dog and pony show to entertain and amaze us; that’s the enemy’s way. (Re 13:12-13) We must trust that God has an end goal, a glorious purpose in everything He does and doesn’t do.

Asked as a general inquiry into the nature and heart of God, which is evidently how the Psalmist asks it, wanting to know Him more deeply, to understand a bit more why He does as He does, there’s rich treasure here. (Ro 11:33) There’s a hint given us in Revelation: when God fully manifests Himself, it appears that every created thing outside of God flees in a dreadful panic, looking for places to hide. (Re 20:11) So, it appears that if God didn’t vail Himself in some way, that very few of us on Earth would be able to function very much, if at all. We’re all still broken, struggling against sin to varying degrees, yet God’s absolute, undiluted holiness incapacitates everyone and everything that remains tainted with sin.

For God’s enemies to be able function, to act like enemies, to play out the saga of human history as God has ordained (1Pe 2:8), the struggle of good versus evil, He must allow His enemies to live apart from Him, alienated from Him. This requires Him to take a back seat for now, as it were, and work behind the scenes, largely unnoticed.

But a Day will certainly come (1Co 3:13) where God will no longer be back stage, but will be front and center. (Je 10:10) At that time there’ll be no more deception, no more ambiguity, no more uncertainty, only absolute holiness and insane depravity, ultimate light and unbridled darkness, extreme fullness and extreme emptiness. Everything and everyone that God hasn’t planted will be rooted up and rooted out (Mt 15:13) – nothing alien to Him will abide His presence. (Joe 2:11)

Until that Day, let’s enjoy the privilege of seeking Him, pursuing Him, aligning with Him, cleaving to Him and abiding in Him in every way that we can, so that when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)

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She Loved Much

As Christ is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee, reclining at the table (Lk 7:36), a woman known for her sin approaches Him from behind, weeping. She pours some very expensive perfume onto His feet, and begins washing them with her tears, kissing them and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) Simon’s taken aback at Christ’s willingness to tolerate her touch, and sees it as proof that Christ isn’t a prophet. (Lk 7:39)

Christ picks up on this and offers Simon a little challenge: a creditor has two debtors — one owes him $1000, the other only $100. But since neither can repay him, he forgives them both. (Lk 7:41-42a) Christ asks Simon which of the two will love the creditor most, and Simon supposes it’s the one whose been forgiven more. Christ agrees. (Lk 7:42b-43)

Then Christ begins to explain why the woman is acting as she is: Christ has forgiven her of all of her many offenses, as they are all against Himself, and she is overwhelmed with gratitude. But Simon hasn’t shown Christ any love at all, failing even in the normal courtesies commonly offered to guests, so it appears he’s not been forgiven of anything by Christ. (Lk 7:44-47) Christ then turns to the woman, reassuring her that all of her sins are completely forgiven (Lk 7:48), that she’s now saved by faith, and bids her go in peace. (Lk 7:50)

This explanation of the woman’s behavior alarms everyone else present, as they begin to realize what Christ is saying about Himself: ultimately, only God can forgive sin. (Lk 7:49) If His words are considered carefully there can be no mistake here: Christ is actually claiming to be God, the very One against Whom all sins are primarily committed, something this sinful woman has somehow come to cherish.

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Now, it is so wildly preposterous for a mere human being to make such a claim that one may only conclude from this that Christ is either Who He says He is, God Almighty incarnate in human flesh, or He is insanely delusional, on par with one who claims to be an orange. In truth, Christ leaves us no middle ground, and apart from such fantastic claims regarding His identity, there is zero indication that Jesus Christ is delusional.

We can worship Christ as this precious woman did, loving Him and living worthy of His name in grateful wonder, or continue to hold Him at arm’s length and remain at enmity with Him. These are our choices; there are no other.

And such love cannot be pretended — if we’re not overwhelmed with the free gift of righteousness, amazed at the amount and degree of sin that we’ve been forgiven by God, then perhaps we’re yet as Simon, on the outside peering in, proud, judging those whose sins are much more visible than our own, ignorant of the depth of our own depravity, and the vast treasure we’ve been offered in Christ.

Anyone who does not love Jesus Christ — as we look carefully at this dear woman’s example — remains accursed. (1Co 16:22)

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They Would Not Come

Christ gives us insight into the heart of Man, what we’re all like unless God interferes with our free will, in a parable about a king inviting his subjects to a wedding for his son. The king sends out the invitations and prepares a lavish feast (Mt 22:2), but when the time comes to celebrate, no one shows up: the prince has zero guests at his wedding.

So, the king sends messengers to call on all those he’s invited, encouraging them to come and enjoy the wedding, but all of them decline, every last one of them, refusing to attend. (Mt 22:3)

So, the king sends more messengers to plead with them, explaining that the food is ready, and that it can’t wait much longer; he’s laid it all out and it can’t be taken back. If they don’t come the food will spoil and the prince’s wedding will be ruined. As their king, he commands them to come. (Mt 22:4)

But the people don’t take their king seriously, having no respect for him; he’s a kind, patient and merciful man, so they presume he won’t do anything if they just ignore him. They simply go on about their busy lives, leaving the king and his prince to enjoy their little wedding alone; they’ve no interest in celebrating with royalty, to share in their joy and fellowship. (Mt 22:5)

However, a few citizens become so irritated by these invitations to the royal marriage that they capture the king’s messengers, treat them hatefully, and eventually kill them all. (Mt 22:6) The rest of the townspeople get wind of this, but don’t bother arresting the murderers or making amends with the king; they just go on about their business as if nothing’s happened, essentially making themselves out to be accomplices in the treachery.

When this terrible news gets back to the king, how his own people have murdered his servants in response to his generosity, though he is a temperate man, this outrage makes him so angry that he sends out the army to kill them all and decimate their city, razing it to the ground. (Mt 22:7) Those he has invited to his son’s wedding have shown themselves to be traitors and murderers; they have no right to dwell in his kingdom, much less attend the wedding.

The banquet is near to spoiling now, and there are still no wedding guests, yet the king is determined to share his celebration with others. So he sends out more servants to try to find travelers, vagabonds, the homeless, anyone at all that’s willing to come, no matter what their background is, and invite them. These servants do manage to find a few folk willing to oblige the king, and they provide each one with a special gift from the king: a garment in which to celebrate the wedding. (Mt 22:9-10)

The king is pleased that guests have arrived and enters the banquet hall to introduce himself, but notices one with no wedding garment. (Mt 22:11) The king is concerned about an intruder refusing to identify as his guest, and politely questions the man about it. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, or he was overlooked. (Mt 22:12a)

But there’s simply no excuse for acting the way this man has, to ignore the king’s provision and crash the wedding as if he weren’t invited. As he faces the king surrounded by guests who are wearing the wedding garments, he’s speechless (Mt 22:12b): he’s treated the king, the prince, and the wedding celebration itself, with utmost contempt, and for no particular reason other than disdain for the king and his son.

The king is indignant at this insulting behavior, and commands his men to tie up the intruder and expel him into the darkness outside, leaving him to suffer indefinitely. (Mt 22:13)


What does this parable tell us about Man, about our natural state before God? If it tells us anything, it is this: Many are called, but few are chosen. (Mt 22:14)

In other words, everyone is invited to walk with God, but none of us will come to Him (Ro 3:11) unless God chooses (elects) us (Ep 1:4-5), and intervenes in our will by giving us a new nature that is not alienated from Him (Ez 36:26), a nature that is inclined to seek Him and draw near to Him, such that we are no longer at enmity with Him. In this way, God draws His elect to Himself, and these few precious souls do come to Him and are saved. (Jn 6:44)

Further, Christ is telling us that the root cause of this problem between Man and God isn’t a lack of information, or a lack of awareness; the root cause isn’t our ignorance of His interest in us, or not knowing how to connect with Him. (Ro 1:19) The problem is that we dishonor, dislike and despise Him (Ro 1:21): in our natural state we’re all at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7), such that we just won’t bother to seek Him out, even if He pleads with us to do so. And even if some of us happen to be willing to take advantage of His gifts, without His aid we won’t come the way He has provided; we insist on our own way, remaining obstinate, disobedient, alienated from Him (Ep 4:18), separate from Him and His way.

This universal behavior in Man is totally inexcusable (Ro 1:20), and we’re all guilty as charged. (Ro 3:19) If God left salvation up to us, to receive Him and His free gift of righteousness and eternal acceptance with Him, Heaven would be empty — not a single human soul would dance in its streets. God calls us all to the marriage of the Lamb, but He must choose some, working in us to be willing to come, or no one would. God is not obligated to choose any of us, but I am so thankful that He does!

The implication of the parable is clear: God is both the author and finisher of our salvation (He 12:2); apart from His aid, no one is saved. And salvation is much more than a willingness to take free stuff; it involves a supernatural heart-transplant, a new creature. (2Co 5:17) Those who are continually preoccupied with their own interests and focused on earthly things (Php 3:18-19), who are not actively loving and pursuing Jesus Christ, submitting themselves to God and to His way, remain His enemies, and will be destroyed. (1Co 16:22) No lukewarmness is to be tolerated within our hearts (Re 3:16); He has come to save us from that. (Ro 7:24-25) The springing forth of His new nature within us, delivering us from our evil ways and from this present evil world (Ga 1:4), demonstrates His choosing of us. (1Jn 3:18-19)

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Jesus Stooped Down

As Jesus is teaching in the temple early one morning, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Him that they’ve captured in the very act of adultery. (Jn 8:2-3a) They set her down before the crowd, and start asking Christ if He’ll honor the Mosaic Law (Jn 8:4-5), which requires her to be stoned to death. (De 22:22)

Their motive in doing so is to accuse Him (Jn 8:6a); they’re setting a trap: if He sides with the woman, then the people will recognize He can’t be their Messiah (Is 8:20); yet if He sides with Moses, He’ll be in trouble with Rome. (Jn 18:31) No matter what Christ does, they think they have Him.

But Christ doesn’t answer them; He stoops down, ignoring their question, and begins writing with His finger in the dust on the temple pavement. (Jn 8:6b) His enemies, evidently energized by the thought of finally stumping Him, begin pressing Him for an answer (Jn 8:7a)

But then Christ does something striking: He rises up, publicly invites anyone who is sinless to go ahead and throw the first stone, and then He returns to writing in the dust. (Jn 8:7b-8)

Christ honors the Law, but in a way that’s fitting for their circumstance: lawful subjects of a foreign civil power. God gave the Law to Israel to enforce as a sovereign community, not as individuals living under pagan rule. But a sinless person acting on God’s behalf should be able to call on God to rescue them when the Roman soldiers storm the place. So, Christ effectively says, “If you feel you’ve got God on your side enough to defy Roman law, be My guest: go for it.”

As the accusers begin contemplating what He’s just invited them to do, and also noticing what kinds of things He’s writing in the dust, they scatter, every last one of them, being convicted by their own conscience. (Jn 8:9)

Exactly what Christ writes on the ground is a mystery, but the narrative suggests that He’s exposing the sins of the accusers, how they’re all presumptuously breaking God’s Law, and are worthy of death. (Nu 15:30) After all, they aren’t even following this particular law that they’re asking Christ to honor: in their ploy, they hadn’t incriminated the adulterous man, as the Law requires. (De 22:22)

The fact that Christ doesn’t enforce Mosaic Law here tempts many to claim this as evidence that He came to abolish it and give us a better one. Nothing could be farther from the truth: He Himself says so, explicitly. (Mt 5:17-19) Court is adjourned, not because God’s Law is obsolete, but because the community has opted out: there’s no one left to carry out the sentence. (Jn 8:10-11a)

Christ’s wisdom here lies in the fact that lawful punishment must only be carried out by recognized civil authority. Christ Himself is not obligated, as a single individual under Roman civil law, to enforce it, and He chooses not to. (Jn 8:11b) It’s the prudent choice, a testament to His infinite wisdom and discernment.

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