The Liberty

In Christ we’re free, absolutely free; He paid a great price to deliver us, so we should stand fast in that freedom, rejoice in it, and not return to bondage. (Ga 5:1) It’s like He’s given us the key to our own prison door and expects us to use it. But what exactly is freedom, and how do we walk in it?

Those who find A Scandalous Freedom (Steve Brown, 2004) in Christ, define freedom as “exemption or liberation from the control of some other person, or some arbitrary power.” (p.6) To them, freedom in Christ means we may live as we please, with no rules, constraints, expectations or obligations toward God. The claim is that we have God’s permission to do whatever we want; anything else is “a weird sort of freedom.” (p.7) Their claim is that God will love us just as much, be just as fond of us, no matter what we do, and that He will never be angry or disappointed in us. (p.14)

Yet Christ defines freedom differently, as the ability and tendency to keep God’s Law: when we break God’s law we become slaves to sin (Jn 8:34); so freedom is deliverance from the tendency and inclination to sin (Ro 7:24-25a), being given a new nature that aligns with God’s law. (He 8:10) He says, in effect, that freedom is the ability to live according to our design, and that our design is to be in right relationship with God, to love and obey Him; there’s no salvation, deliverance or freedom apart from this. (1Jn 3:7-8)

Freedom isn’t about having no master; it’s about having the right master. We all have a master: we either serve sin or we serve obedience. (Ro 6:16) Outside Christ we’re slaves to sin (vs 17), but Christ sets us free from sin to serve righteousness. (vs 18) Our new nature serves God’s law, but any lies remaining within us will always serve sin. (Ro 7:25b)

Sin always springs from a lie and takes us captive (2Ti 2:25-26); so freedom is walking in truth, for the truth makes us free. (Jn 8:32) Those who find permission in Christ to sin are simply twisting God’s grace into indulgence, missing Christ entirely. (Jud 1:4)

Lies about freedom are often rooted in a misunderstanding of grace, confusing it with leniency, mercy, and forgiveness, and thus reading related scriptures incorrectly. Grace is the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life. (Strong) Grace is the very power of God enabling us to live free of sin, to be aligned with His law. Grace is divine enablement, not unconditional forgiveness and love. So, thinking grace gives us freedom to sin is an open contradiction: it’s like freedom to be sick in our healing, or filthy in our cleansing. It is this misunderstanding of grace, turning God’s truth into a lie (Ro 1:25), which gives the half-truths of Christian “freedom” their insidious appeal.

It is true that God loves and forgives believers totally and unconditionally; there is no sin that Christ did not atone for, and He will never impute sin to any believer. (Ro 4:8) But this is only half of the truth.

The rest of the truth is that believers don’t sin, or break God’s Law (1Jn 3:4), on purpose, carelessly, negligently or presumptuously, as a manner of life. (1Jn 2:4) God has commanded us to keep His law diligently (Ps 119:4), and believers have a new nature that longs to be perfect (Ps 119:5); we actually are obedient to God (1Pe 1:2), inclined toward righteousness and holiness. (Ep 2:10)

Yet believers do sin (1Jn 1:8), missing the mark of perfection even as we try our best to obey. And when we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1Jn 2:1) So, once we have salvation we can never lose it: it is eternal. (He 5:9) But thinking this implies freedom to sin willfully and presumptuously is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel. (He 10:26-27)

As believers, we work out our deliverance from sin with fear and trembling (Php 2:13), knowing God Himself is working His grace in us according to His good pleasure. (vs 14) And He that began this good work in us will continue to perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ. (Php 1:6)

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The Gospel

Gospel means good news. In scripture, it relates to salvation (Ro 1:16): how we may be reconciled to God (Ro 5:10), delivered from both the penalty and power of our sin. (Ga 1:4)

This Gospel is revealed and enabled in the divine sacrifice, of which the Old Testament animal sacrifices are a type (Jn 1:29); through His substitutionary death on our behalf, Christ became the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1Jn 2:2) We know God is satisfied with Christ’s work because of the resurrection. (Ac 17:31)

But even with the facts of the gospel laid out in plain view, until God opens our eyes, and turns us from darkness to light (Ac 26:18), we remain blind, dead in our trespasses and sins. (Ep 2:1-3) Those who continue in doubt (He 4:1), or to pursue disobedience (1Jn 3:9), who don’t love God (1Co 16:22), who aren’t being transformed into His likeness, are like dead men walking — they haven’t believed this good news: they haven’t been reconciled to God or delivered from the power of sin. (1Jn 3:10)

When Christ came He preached this good news (Lk 20:1), but never once explicitly mentioned His death, burial or resurrection. A sinful woman found forgiveness of all of her sins in Christ through this gospel; overwhelmed in grateful tears, she loved Him intensely. (Lk 7:47)

Abraham believed the gospel when he took God at His word (Ro 4:3), that one of his descendants (Ga 3:16) would be in number as the stars, and God counted this in Abraham as perfect righteousness. (Ge 15:5-6)

King David believed this gospel, and found a place of perfect reconciliation and righteousness in God without working for it, a place where God would never again impute sin to him. (Ro 4:6)

This same gospel was also preached to unbelieving Israel in the wilderness, but it fell on deaf ears.  (He 4:2) Perhaps, as it was then, even so it is now, that very few perceive the gospel, though most of the world has heard of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and is aware that He died for our sins.

We aren’t reconciled to God, or saved, by acknowledging a set of historical facts, or by asking God to save us and committing our lives to serve Him; this is mere religion. We can know Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that He rose again, and still not believe the gospel, the good news, such that we’re saved from the power of sin and death. (Ro 8:2)

There’s only one gospel, one version of this good news, that’s legitimate; anyone preaching any other gospel is accursed. (Ga 1:8) Christ can quicken us (Col 2:13), make us spiritually alive, and take care of our sin (1Jn_3:5), and only Christ can do this. We can’t add anything to this, or take anything away from it, and still have the gospel.

There is no ritual that enables and facilitates receiving this gospel. (Ga 6:15) Salvation comes through an actual miracle of faith, where God gives us supernatural assurance and trust that He’s taken care of our sin in Christ (1Th 1:5), fully and completely, causing us to enter into His rest (He 4:3), and begins transforming our hearts with the living Christ, giving us a new nature (Ez 36:26), His own nature (Col 1:27), enabling us to love and obey Him.

Salvation is the receiving of God Himself, the divine Person, as He is. (Jn 1:12) This is the new birth; it is the work of God, not springing from the human will (Jn 1:13), but God conceiving us through His Word. (Ja 1:18)

Very few believe the gospel and find this salvation (Mt 7:14); we should each labor to enter into this rest (He 4:11), striving to enter (Lk 13:24), diligently ensuring our own calling and election. (2Pe 1:10)

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Women Keep Silence

Scriptures offending the progressive mindset challenge us profoundly; in receiving them we’re scorned — to align with the world we must corrupt the word and explain them away. Yet God is good, so His ways are eternally good (Ro 7:12); as we depart from them we grieve Him, harming ourselves and others.

One such command is that women keep silence in church. (1Co 14:34a, 35) We can dismiss this as cultural, for a distant time and place, yet within the command itself God affirms this as His timeless law, grounding it in Torah. (vs 34b)

God reinforces this in a separate context: women aren’t to teach men, or to be in authoritative roles over them; rather, they’re to learn in silence with all subjection. (1Ti 2:11-12) God grounds these principles in Creation itself, and also in the Fall (vs 13-14); it’s about transcendent reality, not local cultural trends.

In assigning different roles and responsibilities to each gender, God isn’t valuing one over the other: God values all human beings infinitely, and therefore equally; there are no gender-based value differences. (Ga 3:28) However, God has indeed designed the sexes differently, for different purposes in His kingdom, and assigned distinct responsibilities accordingly. (Ep 5:33)

God designed Woman as a perfect counterpart for Man (Ge 2:18) … physically  weaker and more vulnerable (1Pe 3:7), yet more intuitive, more subjective, and more emotionally aware. Female minds and souls process differently, giving them unique and precious perspective, but also rendering them more impulsive and emotional, so God provides for their protection through male authority. (Nu 30:13)

This design works as God intended when a man and woman are in a mutually interdependent relationship, husband and wife acting as one flesh rather than two (Mk 10:8), deferring to one another in love in matters of preference, yet where the male bears ultimate accountability for leadership (1Co 11:3), and the woman respects and honors this. (Ep 5:22-24) The man reasons through things, and the woman appeals when she’s concerned he might be overlooking something. Working together they have a powerful, resilient synergy. This is balance, and it is beautiful.

This isn’t to say women shouldn’t testify of their understanding of God’s revelation (Mt 28:5-7), or that they shouldn’t publicly exercise supernatural gifts (Ac 21:9), yet when it comes to public debate and problem solving, as men assemble for the purpose of deliberation (as in the Greek ecclesia), women should let the brothers hammer it out. Sisters should offer insights, concerns and questions privately and discretely with a husband or father, letting the men filter, frame and refine the public flow of ideas as they labor together to find unity. (1Co 1:10) This pattern isn’t new; it’s rooted in timeless precepts. (De 16:16)

As we pursue holiness, brothers and sisters meditating on these kinds of passages, it isn’t our place to correct those who’d rather not hear (Pr 23:9), imposing and enforcing our views on others. We must each obey our Lord as best we can: it’s before our own master we stand or fall. (Ro 14:4) Let’s each so run our own race, finishing our course, longing to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Mt 25:21)

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That Which Is Behind

God is infinitely self-sufficient; He doesn’t need our worship or our service. He is perfectly complete and content in Himself.

Even so, there is something God lacks, which He may only obtain through us: affliction. (Col 1:24) God would not afflict Himself, or cause Himself grief or suffering: this only comes to Him through sin.

This suffering in God is not at all for God; it is for us; it is the vehicle through which God chooses to reveal His infinite nature and character to the universe (Ro 9:22-23), and the elect are the primary beneficiaries of this.

And it may very well be that the primary way God suffers is by allowing His children to suffer innocently at the hands of the wicked. When believers are persecuted, Jesus Christ takes it personally, as if He Himself were being persecuted. (Ac 9:4) This is a gift He gives Himself through us and for us, and also a deep privilege he bestows upon us. (Php 1:29)

Perhaps it is only in this mindset that we fully rejoice in difficulty (Ja 1:2) and tribulation (Ro 5:3): suffering not only works patience and holiness in us (He 12:10-11), but will eventually serve to glorify God immensely. (1Pe 1:6-7) If God is allowing others to afflict Himself through us, for a glorious eternal purpose, we can glory in this as well for His sake. (Php 3:10)

There’s something about God’s suffering that will vindicate and glorify Him one day. The nature of His enemies will be open to the universe, impossible to hide, since He’s given them liberty to pursue their own free will. Most all of what they have done will have been perpetrated against His own, whom the world hates because it hates Him. (Jn 15:19) In that day, in the context of the suffering of God, there will be no just complaints, no excuse for the wicked. (Ro 1:20)

Let’s be ready and willing to suffer for God as He wills (Ga 6:14), to let Him suffer in and through us. (Ga 2:20) This light affliction, for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:17)

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Turned unto Fables

Any basic misconception about the nature of God can be detrimental; to the degree that our expectations of God are misaligned with reality, we’re deceived, captive to the devil (2Ti 2:25-26), and prone to bitterness and resentment. (He 12:15)

It is common for the enemy to offer us a fable, a heart-warming story teaching us something false about God. (2Ti 4:4) As an example, consider the following.

As the aircraft is pummeled by turbulence, thrashing violently up and down, back and forth, the poor man is more than distraught, taking drinks one after another, trying to calm himself.

From his first class seat, he notices a little girl back in coach playing with her doll, as calm as can be.

“Stewardess! Another drink, please!” He keeps trying to sedate himself … but it isn’t working. He’s terrified. Yet every time he looks back, the little girl is still playing happily with her doll. Her peacefulness is both an invitation and a rebuke, but he can’t translate, he’s just too upset.

Finally he can’t take it any more. Glaring back at her as the plane plummets again, he sputters: “Little Girl! Why aren’t you worried?” 

The little girl pauses, looks up sweetly and says: “Mister, see that cockpit up there? My daddy’s the pilot, and he knows I’m back here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me; he will get us home.” Then she goes back to playing with her doll.

How comforting! What a picture of divine love, of how we should rest in our Father’s care! (1Pe 5:7)

But isn’t something amiss? Isn’t this half-truth?

To be complete, she needs to add something like,

“But … even if he doesn’t get us home, Daddy doesn’t make mistakes. If this is my last day, or if I get hurt, that’s OK. I trust him, no matter what.” 

Moral of the story? Believing God will always keep us safe and protect us, that He’ll never let anything terrible happen to us, is unrealistic, deception, a false hope: it’s not what God promises.

When suffering does come, and it will if we belong to Him (Jn 16:33), and we don’t have the whole picture, we become bitter, cynical and resentful, turning from God as if He’s unfaithful or evil. (Ep 4:18)

But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with our wrong perception of God: the problem is idolatry — the false, nice, safe little gods we’ve made up for ourselves, and that we’re still clinging to. (1Jn 5:21)

Not only does God not promise to keep us safe, what He does promise is quite the opposite, and so much better. He promises to scourge us (He 12:6) and chasten us; it’s for our good and we all need it. He afflicts us faithfully (Ps 119:75) to conform us to the image of His Son. (Ps 119:67) Though it seems awful to us at the time (He 12:11), it’s part of His plan to glorify Himself in us. (Ep 1:12)

What God promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5); He will be suffering with us and in us through anything He allows in our lives. It’s a precious gift if we’re living for Him. (Php 1:29)

God promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28); He’s able give us grace to walk worthy of Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)

God is faithful to establish us, to keep us from being overcome and destroyed by evil and suffering (2Th 3:3), and to present us faultless before Himself with exceeding joy. (Jud 1:24) We are His workmanship (Ep 2:10), and He will complete the work He has begun in us. (Php 1:6)

Rather than pleasure and convenience, God offers us something vastly superior: Himself. But we can’t receive and enjoy Him without holiness (He 12:14), so He will do the needful, whatever it takes, to produce His likeness in us.

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe – He’s a consuming fire. (He 12:29) It’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), yet there’s no better place to be.

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As a Little Child

Christ tells us that to enter God’s kingdom we must receive it like a little child would. (Lk 18:17) Some manner of childlikeness is therefore intrinsic in regeneration, so it’s important to understand what this looks like: there’s no salvation without it.

Firstly, we note that God isn’t telling us to be childish (1Co 13:11), foolish (Pr 22:15), or childlike in our understanding (1Co 14:20a,c); God wants us to be mature in knowledge and wisdom. Rather, we’re to be as children in malice (vs 20b), not bitter, vengeful, jaded and resentful, wishing harm to others for the sake of it.

Neither are we to be voluntarily weak and vulnerable, inappropriately dependent on others. God commands us to be poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), not spiritually self-sufficient (2Co 3:5), but He also commands us to be strong (1Co 16:13)

Godly childlikeness seems to be primarily in the context of humility: small children don’t tend to think too highly of themselves. (Mt 18:4) They’re not preoccupied with status, with how they stack up against others, or in feeling certain tasks are beneath them. They aren’t envious or bitter.

Further, small children are generally very teachable, curious, wanting to learn, grow and understand. (1Pe 2:2) They tend to trust what adults tell them, depending on those who are older and wiser to guide and protect them. This isn’t the same as being gullible (Pr 14:15); children aren’t capable of understanding the world well enough to navigate it wisely (Lk 2:52), so they’re involuntarily dependent and vulnerable. (Mt 18:6) They aren’t locked into preconceived biases which blind them to the truth when they hear it. They are, in a sense, strong in faith. This is how we’re to respond to God, as a little child trusts a loving parent: God is infinitely beyond us in power and knowledge, so we should trust what He says implicitly, and without reservation.

Small children tend to repent when appropriately corrected, and to try to please those in authority when consistently and lovingly disciplined. Their hearts aren’t hard; they enjoy being loved and cared for, being in relationship with their father, being close to him and nurtured by him. Similarly, regeneration produces in us an obedient heart (1Pe 1:2), one that readily yields to correction and seeks to serve and obey our Heavenly Father.

Unless we’re transformed, and become as little children, we won’t enter His kingdom. (Mt 18:3) We must find God at work in us, transforming us in humility and holiness such that we’re unassuming, trusting in the goodness of our Father, not pretending to be worthy of the gift, simply joyful and grateful.

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Try the Spirits

Evil spirits are constantly trying to deceive us by imitating His Spirit, seducing us through thoughts and impressions which appeal to our carnality. (1Ti 4:1) Those who heed such spirits bring much harm to themselves and others (vs 2), so God tells us to try the spirits, to test spiritual influences to see if He has sent them. (1Jn 4:1)

This testing isn’t about whether God is speaking to us or not, but about whether He’s speaking to others. When we hear the voice of God we know Who’s speaking (Jn 10:27); any test would be disrespectful.

But when someone else claims to have a “word from the Lord,” we must be very careful. Satan comes as an angel of light (2Co 11:14), and many in his service appear righteous, which is no surprise. (vs 15) False prophets seek to be revered by presuming God is speaking to them, but without solid evidence such claims are empty. What should we look for?

Firstly, is the supposed prophet benefiting temporally from his calling? God’s prophets typically proclaim a very unpopular message and are persecuted for it (Ac 7:52); they aren’t exalting themselves, seeking prestige. (1Co 4:9) If any ulterior motive is apparent, this should be carefully searched out.

Secondly, is there sufficient detail in the prophetic word to verify its accuracy? Clearly, when sufficient detail is present and the claim is false, we have our answer. Yet prophetic words which lack sufficient detail to be verifiable should also be dismissed, or at the very least regarded with grave suspicion. God’s test of a prophet’s legitimacy requires verifying the prophecy happens exactly as predicted. (De 18:22) When a prophet fails this test, God’s law prescribes the death penalty. (vs 20) Getting this wrong is serious: no one should ever be encouraged to take up a prophetic mantle lightly or presumptuously, or let off the hook when they do.

Lastly, is there anything unscriptural or unwise inherent in the claim? Does it align with God’s character and glorify Him? Any revelation that doesn’t square with the plumb line of scripture is darkness. (Is 8:20)

We’re in a spiritual battle; we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness. (Ep 6:12) Be sober; be vigilant: our adversary is real and dangerous.  (1Pe 5:8) We must resist him steadfastly in order to overcome. (9)

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Her Husband With Her

When the serpent was enticing Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, where was Adam? Was he standing silently beside her, passively watching as his wife was being tempted? Or was he off somewhere else in the garden, busy about his work? What are the implications of each scenario, and what might we learn from considering them?

Since the text says Eve “gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat,” (Ge 3:6), some claim Adam must have been right next to her the entire time.

Yet we’d use the same kind of language if Adam wasn’t standing right next to Eve, if he were anywhere in the Garden; it’s a matter of perspective. If I’m texting a friend, my wife’s with me at home even if she’s in another room. But to a child in my lap, mom’s not with me in the same sense. Since we’re told about the Fall from a distance, there’s no requirement for Adam to be within earshot of the serpent; this could go either way. What else might we consider?

Firstly, our understanding of the tactics of the serpent differ dramatically depending on our view. There’s no obvious wisdom, cunning or subtlety in attempting to deceive Eve with Adam present. (Ge 3:1) Wisdom tells us that temptation is typically discretely private, not in public before like-minded community who might offer support. Thinking Adam was present misses a key typological example of Satan’s tactical pattern. (2Co 2:11) 

And how are we to understand the unfathomable passivity of a newly-married groom who stands by silently while his bride is threatened? Danger is apparent and Adam is charged with cleaving to his wife and considering her needs as his own. (Ge 2:24) An intruder is engaging the weaker vessel on purpose (1Pe 3:7); what reasonably sane husband tolerates such threats without engaging? Passivity here implies Adam is grossly negligent, unconcerned for his wife’s welfare, for no apparent reason. Such failure is sin, if anything is, and precedes the Fall. This is problematic on multiple levels.

And what should we make of God insistence, in light of Eve’s participation in the Fall, that women abstain from public debate in spiritual assemblies? (1Ti 2:11-14) How could this be punishment for being the gender that sinned first … when being deceived is less criminal than sinning deliberately, presumptuously, with our eyes wide open? (He 10:26-27) Adam chose the fruit intentionally, in open defiance of God; sin entered the world through Adam, not Eve. (Ro 5:12)

If the Fall doesn’t teach us that women are, as a rule, more easily mislead than men when it comes to discerning spiritual danger, and that this is a matter of God’s intrinsic, perfect design, one which ought to be benevolently recognized by men (1Pe 3:7), then what essential, spiritual principle are we to discern here, given God’s prescription for church order?

And if this assessment of woman is correct, then Satan’s tactic is much more intuitive and obvious: he would very likely have isolated Eve to exploit her vulnerability and maximize his probability of success.

And what shall we make of God’s observation that Adam listened to his wife’s voice in the context of the Fall? (Ge 3:17) Evidently, Eve spoke to Adam to entice him, a detail omitted from the initial narrative. If Adam were present all along, hearing and considering all the serpent said, the fact of dialogue between Adam and Eve seems incidental, insignificant, yet God mentions this as a key aspect in Adam’s sin. Evidently, it was Eve’s persuasion that moved him, not the serpent’s lies. This doesn’t square with Adam being present all along: Adam was a perfect man, a genius; if he had heard everything the serpent said, it seems unlikely that Eve would have been more persuasive than the serpent.

The above difficulties suggest (to me) that Satan approached Eve strategically, when she was alone, crafting a lie perfectly suited to her unique disposition as a helper; she was more emotionally oriented and intuitive than Adam, more aware of and connected with her environment, and focused on pleasing him, making her a suitable counterpart, yet more vulnerable to deception. Tempting Adam with recovering intimacy and alignment with Eve, in addition to the prospect of being like God, was likely the enemy’s plan. It worked: Adam deliberately chose to sin, pursuing fellowship and union with his lover over his Maker. It was the greater sin, for sure.

The Fall of Man is a foundation of our faith, containing key life lessons for us all. (1Co 10:11) If I am rightly dividing the text, it reveal Satan as a master strategist, with an intimate knowledge of his victims; he divides and isolates with precision and malice (Ja 5:16), leveraging the goodness of our design to take us down. (Mt 10:36) Let’s be sober and vigilant. (1Pe 5:8-9)

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I Will Exalt My Throne

Satan fell the instant he decided he didn’t need God, that he was sufficient in himself without God, that he was free to displace God and treat himself as if he was God. (Is 14:13) He’s been God’s enemy ever since.

Eve fell similarly, as she preferred being like God to being with God, discerning right and wrong for herself (Ge 3:6), knowing good and evil. (Ge 3:22)

The tragic Fall of Man, bringing ruin and misery upon the entire human race, was a single, simple step away from God, breaking a dietary law, the least of His commandments. (Ja 2:10) What seemed so small a step for man was in fact an infinite leap for all mankind; no willful sin is little.

The Fall continues in us whenever we doubt the goodness of God, or question His justice: we’re essentially presuming we know better than God. Our bitterness, discontent and resentment testify that we’d rather be in charge, that we’d be doing a better job than God in avenging evil and rewarding good. (Ps 119:75)

Similarly, whenever we sin willfully we’re putting our own will first, displacing God’s, putting ourselves in the epicenter of the universe and dishonoring Him. (He 10:26-27)

Put very simply, in every sense that we’re feeling independent of God, that we don’t need Him, that we can do without Him, live apart from Him … as we ignore and neglect Him … this is the pride of life, the very heart of wickedness. (1Jn 2:16)

These are the many shades of pride, self-exaltation exuding from the heart, spilling out continually on every side. The careless, carnal mind, that isn’t continually abiding in thankful, reverent fear, joying in God, and cares not for this, reveals a child of the wicked one, in and through whom the devil freely lives. (Ep 2:2)

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