Works of the Devil

When we observe inconsistencies between our rational minds and our emotions we discover our subconscious: underlying beliefs controlling us which are contrary to our intellect. What we actually believe and who we are is a composite of all these beliefs, and it’s a bit mysterious.

Many fight intense negative emotion, fear and anxiety, when they’re in no danger; others, a critical voice relentlessly discouraging and crippling them; still others wrestle with a debilitating sense of shame and worthlessness they can’t shake off. We all have spiritual wounds keeping us from functioning according to God’s design.

A girl, having done her best, hears, “Why don’t you do better? You’ll never amount to anything!” Satan whispers, “Something’s wrong with you; you’re unloved, worthless, unimportant, unnecessary.” As an adult she’s working herself to the bone serving others, but she’s constantly anxious, restless, no satisfaction or peace.

A boy is sexually violated and hears the insidious whisper, “If God loved you He wouldn’t have let this happen to you; you’re dirty, flawed, worthless.” As an adult he’s filled with fear and shame, hiding in rebellion and perversion.

We might frame all of this up in terms of lies and truth: when we’re acting inconsistently with reality we’re believing a lie. We might call the resulting damage to our souls works of the devil, the consequence of believing Satan’s lies about our lived experience (Jn 8:44b), and see Jesus Christ, the Truth (Jn 14:6), as our Deliverer: He destroys the works of the devil. (1Jn 3:8b)

The Passion of the Christ

Whenever we experience trauma, Satan is at hand to feed us the lie: “God isn’t good; you’re the problem.” But it’s just a lie, and there’s no reason to believe it. Yet we do tend to believe it, and this is the problem.

These lies are often buried so deeply within our subconscious we don’t even know what’s happened to us, or where to begin in dealing with them. So, how do we get free? (Ro 7:24)

We get into spiritual bondage in stages, gradually, starting in childhood and believing more and more lies as we go through life. So, it should come as no surprise that we generally get free the same way, over time, in many small steps, believing more and more truth (Jn 8:32) as we pursue God (Mt 7:7-8) and He teaches us His Way. (1Jn 2:27)

The only path to freedom is going back the way we came: realigning our mind with reality, believing differently; it’s called repentance, and it’s the gift of God. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Freedom comes as we internalize three primal truths: [1] God is good; [2] God is sovereign; and [3] He created each of us for a unique purpose. Like a three-legged stool, remove any of these fundamental principles and we have an unstable foundation.

We must know deep down that God loves us and that He’s ultimately benevolent towards us. (Ps 27:13) We must also know He’s in charge of everything: nothing ever happens without His permission. (Ro 11:36) And we must be confident that He has a unique design and purpose in creating us (Re 2:17b), and that all He has ever allowed to happen to us, or ever will allow, is ultimately for good. (Ro 8:28)

God calls us to pursue His purpose for us (2Ti 2:17), and He will help us as we turn to Him and follow after Him. (He 4:16)

The more deeply we know these things the more we align with reality and deliver ourselves from Satan’s devices.

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Pleasure in Them

Recently I’ve been convicted of enjoying others as they violate God’s ways. Granted, it’s fiction that I’m enjoying, but I don’t really see the difference: how is enjoying sin in a fictional character any different than enjoying it in real life?

While I might not be so bold as to actually do what they do, when I take any pleasure in their disobedience, don’t I reveal my own heart to be aligned with their sin in some way? (Ro 1:32)

For example, I enjoyed watching a navy seal avenge himself (Terminal List), I was sympathetic with fornicators (Titanic), rooted for thieves (Ocean’s 13) and took pleasure in insubordination. (Top Gun: Maverick) What are all the ways I take pleasure in sin, and how is this not itself a sin?

Similarly, twinges of envy and bitterness reflect unbelief in the goodness of God; it’s blaming God for making mistakes, distrusting Him, claiming I know better, positioning myself as God and putting myself on the throne. This is not fully believing in God; it’s failing to submit to Him and honor Him. (Ro 1:21)

By God’s grace I’d never actually do such things against God deliberately with my words and will, of course, but when my emotional impulses and tendencies reveal an inconsistency with what I think I believe, I should soberly address it. (Ro 7:21-24)

I’m being double-minded (Ja 1:7) when my emotions are inconsistent with my intellect, misaligned with what I claim to believe. Like claiming God is my delight without joy (1Pe 1:8), or believing God is good without thanksgiving. (Col 2:7)

This is all driven by inconsistent, contradictory conscious beliefs (formal double-mindedness = not loving truth), and/or by subconscious beliefs of which I may be entirely unaware. In either case, it’s definitely an opportunity to grow more into the likeness of Christ (1Jn 3:4): Jesus Christ has no such inconsistency. (Ps 45:7)

In diagnosing this I notice the root cause of my behavior to be lies embedded within my conscience, the part of me approving what’s good and rejecting evil; my conscience is telling me sin is good, desirable, acceptable, even tolerable … when it’s not, so my conscience needs to be cleansed and healed. (He 10:22)

So, what should I do about this? Systematically search my conscious understanding and root out all inconsistency as well as I’m able, hiding God’s Word in my heart and meditating on it, comparing my beliefs, attitudes and actions with what God says and praying through any verses which rub me the wrong way. God has commanded me to do this very thing for this very reason (1Ti 1:5), so He can heal me of the lies to which I’m still clinging and set me free.

I can also continue to observe my emotions for inconsistencies with the Word and lift them up to the Light, asking God to show me the lies I’m still harboring way deep down, and heal me. He is in the business of purging my conscience from dead works with the blood of Christ that I might serve Him more completely and fully. (He 9:14) Wherever I’m not aligned with His Way He will reveal this to me when He’s ready to deal with it in me, in the perfect time and in the perfect way. (Php 3:15)

This is the sobering journey of sanctification, and I’m to work it out with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), knowing God is working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (13) As I hunger and thirst after righteousness, He has promised to fill me (Mt 5:6) that I might partake of the divine nature. (2Pe 1:4)

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Add to Patience Godliness

Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (He 12:2), instructs us to diligently add to our faith (2Pe 1:5); though God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13), He tells us to work out our own sanctification with fear and trembling. (12)

As we pursue God, there’s evidently an optimal path or sequence in sanctification: starting with faith we’re to add virtue, then add knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, then charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

Adding godliness between patience and brotherly kindness is perhaps unexpected: godliness is how we might identify the ultimate spiritual goal (2Pe 1:3), so why would God emphasize a particular sequence in sanctification, and include godliness as an intermediate step?

Godliness is from the Greek εὐσέβειαν, which is also translated holiness. (Ac 3:12) It evidently conveys the idea of reverential piety, fervency and earnest sincerity in spiritual matters. It’s wanting to be aligned with God at the most fundamental levels; it’s receiving Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts, inviting His scrutiny, rebuke and chastening, and welcoming His healing, communion and fellowship. (Re 3:20)

Focusing first on rightly aligning with God before kindness and love, godliness being the fine-tuning of this alignment, is perhaps an indication that we must be in right relationship with God before we can rightly relate with others. The greatest commandments, summarizing all of God’s Law (Mt 22:40), sequence moral priority like this: first love God then love others. (37-39) The Decalogue confirms, starting with godward commands (Ex 20:3-7), and finishing with relational commands. (12-17)

Having patience as a foundation for godliness positions us to maintain hope in suffering as we pursue holiness; it’s saying God is good at our own expense, knowing God is faithful, and reveals that we are rightly grounded in Him. Until we suffer well in God our faith hasn’t been tried (Ja 1:2-3) and found true. (1Pe 1:7)

Focusing on godliness as a foundation for kindness and love helps us love more authentically, more effectively. Knowing God’s love doesn’t come naturally; think carefully about it, examine it, pray for and seek understanding. (Ep 3:14, 19) If we don’t understand God’s love, how can we rightly love ourselves and others?

As we grow in Christ we don’t get everything at each stage of sanctification before we move on to the next; we don’t become perfectly virtuous before we gain the first bit of knowledge. The idea here is emphasis; if we value virtue above knowledge, we’ll understand how to rightly use knowledge and it won’t make us proud. (2Co 8:b) Similarly, pursuing godliness as a foundation for charity ensures that what passes for agape love in us is the genuine article, authentic, not superficial or put on, not for show.

God’s love is about holiness (He 12:10), not human comfort, happiness or pleasure. The more we’re aligned with God, the more our love for others will reflect His.

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Rather Fear Him

Perspective makes all the difference as we navigate life; our awareness and perception of reality is what is orients us. Having a valid frame of reference is key.

Christ helps us here by teaching us to fear: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28)

In other words, Christ says all the pain and suffering people may cause one another on Earth, all the atrocities, mayhem and crimes against humanity, these pale in comparison with the suffering God will impose on all who despise and neglect Him. (Lk 12:4-5) Not even close.

Imagine our world as a large, thin sheet of rice paper, suspended far above a raging fire. We’re all walking around on this frail, brittle sheet as if it’s terra firma, rock solid, unconcerned, as if we’re in no danger. Yet, one by one, we all drop through, down into the flames below. (Lk 16:22b-23) Some die welcoming an end to temporal suffering, oblivious of the eternal torment awaiting them; others drop unexpectedly in an instant. In either case, all false perception, all lies, all vain hopes and dreams, they vaporize as mist before the flame. Terror consumes us (Ps 73:19) and there’s no turning back. (Pr 1:27-28)

This perspective may seem surreal, superstitious, cruel. Yet it’s offered as reality by the Son of God Himself. If anyone knows proper perspective, Jesus Christ does. We ignore Him at our vast peril.

To heed Christ’s warning is to value one thing above all (Php 3:13-14): to be so aligned with God right now that whenever it’s our turn to drop into eternity, we know He’ll be waiting to receive us and conduct us safely to Himself (Lk 16:22-23), rather than saying, “Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Mt 5:23)

There’s no concern more relevant, no consequence more sobering than this, yet who among us is concerned? Even for themselves, much less for others? Who is asking, as the old prophet, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Is 33:14)

The truth? Most all of us will burn, and it’s our own fault: though He’s invited us all to come, to repent and believe, to strive to enter (Lk 13:24), so very few will seek and find the way. (Mt 7:13-14) False hope here, deadening the soul into complacency, is the worst. It is wisdom to diligently make our calling and election sure. (2Pe 1:10)

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Be Ye Angry

What is righteous anger? If there is such a thing, wouldn’t it imply that a less passionate, passive response would be inappropriate? In other words, wouldn’t it mean there are times when it’s a sin to not be angry? If anger is the righteous response, wouldn’t any other response be unrighteous to some degree?

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees’ hardness of heart (Mk 3:5), and He certainly acted as if He was angry when He cleansed the temple. (Jn 2:13-17) Was Jesus setting an example (1Jn 2:6), or acting as God in ways we shouldn’t emulate?

The Gospel of John

Was Nehemiah right to be angry with the rulers and nobles of Israel for charging interest and bankrupting their brethren? (Ne 5:6-7) or to threaten merchants for showing up on Sabbath? (13:21)

Was Moses righteously angry with Israel for worshipping the golden calf? (Ex 32:19) or with Aaron’s sons for failing to carry out their priestly duties? (Le 10:16-17)

Anger is an emotion given us by God, so we should expect situations when we ought to act in it; He tells us, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” (Ep 4:26) The emotion instantly energizes us to intervene and deter and/or stop evil, so anger can serve to protect ourselves and others from malevolence. The problem is that we often over-react in anger and do more harm than good. We should ask ourselves, as God asks Jonah: “Doest thou well to be angry?(Jon 4:4) What does righteous anger look like?

Firstly, it must be done with love (1Co 16:4); rooted and grounded in love. (Ep 3:17) Is concern for others motivating my anger? (Php 3:18) Would a lack of anger expose indifference? Does anger move me to action which is ultimately benevolent and edifying? (Ro 14:19)

Secondly, is it self-controlled, using minimal necessary force? (Tit 3:2) Am I being sober, thoughtful, prayerful and deliberate in my actions? (1Pe 5:8) Am I asking God for wisdom, strength and discernment? (Ec 7:9) Is it needful? Is there any way to achieve my goal more peaceably? (1Co 4:21) Does my anger promptly subside once the threat is past? (Ep 4:26b)

Thirdly, is my heart free of pride, condescension, strife, vengeance (Ro 12:19), arrogance and malice of any kind? (Ep 4:31) Am I being humble, esteeming others better than myself? (Php 2:3)

The bar is certainly high; I expect most anger won’t pass the test. All too often, our anger is born of selfishness and pride, and doesn’t work the righteousness of God. (Ja 1:19-20)

However, if we have reasonable cause to be angry (Mt 5:22a), inaction may be worse than getting it partly wrong: we may be compelled to act instinctively, do the best we can, and let God sort it out. It’s certainly wise to continually exercise ourselves in holiness, preparing ourselves so we might stand uprightly in the evil day. (Ep 6:13)

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Give Me Understanding

Wisdom is the principal thing, the most important thing: wisdom and understanding. (Pr 4:7)

Five times in the Bible someone asks God directly: give me understanding; each time it’s the same person, all in the same chapter, Psalm 119, a singularity in itself on multiple levels.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. (34) The psalmist is committed to obeying God fully and passionately, without reservation or reluctance, in every possible way. Obedience is the foundation of faith in prayer (1Jn 3:22); there’s no hope for an audience in God apart from obedience. (Ps 66:18)

Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments. (73) The psalmist, admitting God is his personal Creator and Designer, worthy of all worship and obedience, asks for understanding so he may learn God’s laws. Though He has God’s commands plainly written out, he doesn’t presume to understand fully and completely the nuances and proper applications of God’s commands, and asks for this enlightenment that he may please and honor God in rightly obeying them.

am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies. (125) The psalmist, testifying that he is God’s servant, committed to obeying Him in every respect, asks for understanding that he might fully know and fathom God testimonies, God’s witness of reality as revealed in His laws.

The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live. (144) The Psalmist admits that the rightness and holiness of God’s testimonies is eternal, and asks for help to understand them so his life might be complete, as if there’s no life worth living apart from knowing and keeping the commandments of God. (77)

Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord: give me understanding according to thy word. (169) The Psalmist finally cries out to God for understanding, appealing to His promise to give to those who seek Him out earnestly, an open door to those who knock with a committed heart. (Mt 7:7-8)

Seeking understanding without an intent to obey is pointless (155); those who don’t choose the fear of God will never find true wisdom and understanding, regardless how hard they try. (Pr 1:28-29) To rightly know anything we must start here, reverencing God and seeking to obey Him. (Pr 1:7) If anyone will do as God wills, they’ll understand (Jn 7:17); the rest deceive themselves (Ja 1:22), ever learning, yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2Ti 3:7)

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They Became Vain

There are consequences to our response to God, a series of conditions inevitably play out in us as we react to Him. There’s a right way, an appropriate and proper response to God; any other is inappropriate and dangerous.

We may glorify God, recognizing Him as supreme authority and worthy of all obedience and worship, thanking Him for creating us (Ps 139:14), for giving us life, consciousness and purpose, for giving us His Law (Ps 119:164), and above all, for being as He is. (Ps 63:3) This response aligns us with reality and enables us to thrive according to God’s design in us.

Or we may choose to become unimpressed, dismissive, unthankful, demanding and resentful. (Ro 1:21a) This reaction exposes us as children of the devil, for this is exactly what the devil does. (Jn 8:44) It is all from pride, a claim that we know better than God, a demand that He treat us as we wish.

In choosing this way, we turn from all that is good, right and holy; by default we are left to lies, darkness and corruption.

Since we’re imaginative creatures with an instinct for meaning, purpose and morality, we inevitably invent empty, twisted, ridiculous notions about ourselves and God (Ro 1:21b), making up our own moral standard, thinking we know better. Yet our unwillingness to return to God compels us to embrace utter foolishness and inconsistency. (Ro 1:22)

And the more we embrace foolish concepts about ourselves and God, the more we deviate from God’s way, the more corrupt and depraved and broken our life choices become, such that we begin to dishonor ourselves and each other. (24)

And the more we embrace such foolishness, the more corrupt and depraved our emotions and affections become. (25) The pattern continues to spiral downward, unless God intervenes and restrains us, until our very ability to think and reason becomes corrupt and broken. (28)

Unless we repent, turn around and seek after God, responding to Him appropriately, we eventually fill ourselves up with our own devices (Pr 1:31), pushing out the light and relishing darkness (Jn 3:19), resulting in empty, pointless, vain existence; we thus become prisoners of Satan, taken captive by him at his will. (2Ti 2:24-26)

This journey, the way of unthankfulness, is both dangerous and unnecessary; we may respond to injustice and suffering in this world with power and passion without becoming passive, bitter, arrogant or resentful. While we’re not to promote wickedness in any way, or be thankful for wickedness itself (Mk 3:5), we may be confident that God intends to glorify Himself in all He allows (Ro 8:28), and for this we should always be thankful. (Ep 5:20)

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Foolish Questions

We’re commanded to avoid foolish questions (Tit 3:9); so, not all questions are good. To understand the difference between foolish questions and wise questions (Ep 5:16), we ask: What kinds of questions are foolish? This particular question isn’t foolish; it’s wisdom.

The context is profitability (Tit 3:9b), implying a way to measure and evaluate questions. Is the question profitable? depends on what we value. To ask meaningful questions we must have a proper motive and direction to orient our asking.

So, when we’re considering a question, a good question to ask is: Why the question? What’s the goal, or objective, in asking?

Is the atheist seeking to destroy another’s faith or value system? Or distracting from the soul-wound they’ve been using to justify their hatred and dismissal of God? Or searching out an explanation to resolve what seems insurmountable inconsistency, extreme lack of credibility hiding behind the façade of religion?

Is the church-goer showing off, looking for respect, to be valued for their knowledge of scripture? Are they looking to generate controversy and cause divisions and offenses? (Ro 16:17) Or looking to avoid responsibility by casting doubt on instructions and raising up controversy? Or trying to learn and understand, so they can rightly order their thoughts and actions?

Is the biblical scholar ever asking, ever learning, yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth? (2Ti 3:7) Are we content with theological exercises and pontifications, ducking relational responsibility, ignoring sins of the heart? Are we content piling up knowledge, without regard to the poor (Ga 2:10), the fatherless, orphan and widow?

Or are we asking so we can deliver ourselves from the bondage of our lies (2Ti 2:25-26), freeing ourselves to serve more effectively, more joyfully and fruitfully, equipping ourselves unto love and good works? (Tit 3:14)

If we’re after God and His kingdom (Mt 6:33), if we fear God and want to please Him (Pr 1:7), our questions should bring us closer to God, into more alignment with Him, more obedience to Him, more love for Him.

Jesus asked a lot of questions; we can learn from watching Him. He was always pointing others to the kingdom of God. His questions penetrated hearts and exposed motives, helping us see our need for Him and pointing us toward a more perfect knowledge of His Way.

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Praise His Word

I was warned early in my spiritual journey to not worship the Bible, to not make an idol out of it (1Jn 5:21), to avoid what we might call bibliolatry.

Certainly, the idea of bowing down to a bible, a literal physical book, worshipping it or praying to it, never crossed my mind. Yet the spirit of this warning might be taken a bit further, suggesting we shouldn’t love the words of scripture too much, and this is perhaps a more interesting and relevant concept. How much should we value the words of scripture? (Ps 19:10) What does the value we place on them reveal about us and our spiritual state? (Ps 119:127)

Asked another way, can I envision God reprimanding me for loving what He says too much? for taking Him too seriously? for treasuring His words too much, or trying too hard to understand His ways and obey His commands? (Is 66:2)

In other words, what’s the practical difference between loving God and loving what He says? (1Jn 2:5) Can I be loving Him and disinterested, even the slightest bit, in what He’s saying? (Ps 119:155)

Jesus says those who love Him will keep, guard or cherish His words. (Jn 14:23) He’s telling us there’s a direct connection between how we treat His Word and how we view Him; our view of His Word reveals our heart toward Him. (24)

It’s easy to mistake a love of Bible study and teaching the Bible, even memorizing it and quoting it to others, for a love of God’s Word. Yet, if we aren’t earnestly obeying all of it as well as we can, in both letter and spirit, we aren’t loving God’s Word itself at all: we’re just loving what we can do with it, and missing the whole point. (1Ti 1:5-7) God equates loving Himself with obeying His commands. (1Jn 5:3)

Do we praise God’s Word as we’re praising Him? (Ps 56:10) Are we delighting in God’s Law so much that we’re constantly thinking about it? (Ps 119:97) consumed with wanting to understand and obey it more and more? (20)

If God actually were to equate our love for Him with how we treat the Bible (Re 3:8), how would it go? (Mt 7:24-27) Seems to me very likely that He will. (Jn 12:48)

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Pluck It Out

It is perhaps the harshest statement in the entire Bible: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee.” (Mt 5:29) The command is at the epicenter of the greatest sermon ever preached, spoken by Christ Himself. It’s obviously important. (Mt 7:26) What does He mean?

Context is helpful: sexual sin, lust and adultery. (27-28) The implication is that efforts to avoid sinning, particularly in this area (1Co 6:18), are to be as extreme as necessary, such that if even a part of our own body is compelling us, it’s better to rid ourselves of that body part than live in sin. If our eye is forcing us to break God’s Law … lose the eye.

Yet, clearly, body parts don’t make us sin; they simply can’t offend us in this way: our body does what we tell it. The problem isn’t any part of our body, it’s our mind and heart. Plucking out our eye would only help if our eye were actually the root cause of our sin. It isn’t, so don’t take Christ literally here.

Perhaps there’s a hint in how Christ frames it: “if thy right eye offend thee … “. How could one of our eyes be offensive and not the other? one eye flitting back and forth on its own whether we like it or not? Or our right hand be offensive (Mt 5:30), always getting into things without our permission? He’s speaking in metaphor, using body parts to illustrate heart tendencies.

Point is, nothing physical can make us sin: sin is always a choice of our will (Ja 1:14), a choice to move away from God, from Truth. This is why God holds us accountable, and why sin makes Him angry. (Ro 1:18)

And sin always springs from a lie we’re believing and clinging to instead of God. The only way to root sin out is to supplant our lies with truth and move back toward God. (2Ti 2:25-26) It’s a journey, actually a battle, one lie at a time, and Christ is telling us to be intense about it.

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