Her that Is Divorced

Christ teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that marriage is sacred. If a man pursues a married woman with the intent to defile her current marriage then he’s as good as done it: wrongful intent is equivalent to wrongful action. (Mt 5:27:28) It’s about the heart, not just the action.

In the process, Jesus teaches us something else about marriage: when God’s Law permits divorce (31), the spirit of the marriage relationship implies the grounds for divorce are quite strict. Note carefully the qualifying exception: sexual impurity or infidelity (32a); it’s when a husband has come to hate, resent or mistrust his wife in a manner comparable to what’s expected if she’s become sexually impure, that we should consider the relationship properly irreconcilable. (Mt 1:18-19)

This can easily be seen in the Torah itself: it’s when a wife finds no favor at all in her husband’s eyes that he’s to divorce her. (De 24:1) If his heart has become so hard towards his wife that he finds no mercy or compassion for her, no love or concern or care for her, the spirit of the marriage is already broken so deeply that it’s better for the woman to be released of the marriage bond. Divorce isn’t God’s original intent for marriage; it’s how Love deals with hardness of heart. (Mt 19:8)

The implication is that reasonable men don’t become so hardened toward their wives, such that they cannot possibly live with them in peace. So, as long as people are minimally reasonable, there should be no divorce … as long as wives aren’t adulterous.

However, the Pharisees had evidently turned this provision for divorce under exceptional circumstances into a sort of wife-swapping, putting away their wives for trivial reasons and deeply violating the spirit of the marriage covenant. (Mt 19:3) In these cases, where the marital relationship isn’t so deeply broken, marrying a divorced woman permanently breaks the marriage covenant in much the same way adultery does (Mt 5:32a), because this step prevents her from being reconciled to her former husband according to God’s Law. (De 24:3-4)

We should keep this context in mind when Christ adds: “and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.(32b) This is significant since in Torah, when a woman is divorced by her husband she is free to remarry. (De 24:2) Is Christ saying Torah permits a certain kind of adultery? Is He changing the moral standard?

Paul doesn’t seem to think so: he says if an unbelieving man departs his marriage, implying he abandons or divorces his wife, she’s no longer bound to her marriage covenant, implying she’s free to remarry (1Co 7:15), just as Torah says. Paul wouldn’t allow this if remarriage was inappropriate in a properly irreconcilable context, if it constituted adultery under a newer, higher standard set by Christ.

It seems much more reasonable to interpret Christ, not as correcting Torah or creating a higher standard, but focusing on the spirit of marriage. Re-marrying a divorced woman under less severe circumstances, unless all reasonable hope of the prior marriage being reconciled has expired, expresses an irreverence for the marriage covenant.

Divorce is acceptable only under the most extreme relational circumstances, and the divorcing husband should consider his action permanent. If a divorced woman believes her former husband may eventually change his mind, and wants to wait and leave the door open for reconciliation, that’s up to her; it isn’t necessarily wrong for her to move on, but if she does she’s effectively permanently sealing the termination of that marriage, as her former husband has decreed it.

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Write in a Book

When Christ reveals His ultimate purposes and plans to His church, to prepare her, guide her into all truth, edify and comfort her, He doesn’t simply send a prophet, an apostle or a teacher; Christ reveals the message to a trusted apostle and enables him to write it down in a book. (Re 1:11) This may seem uneventful to us at first glance, but I think it’s significant.

As we pursue truth, particularly in spiritual things, we have very few options:

    1. We may trust God to speak directly to us to confirm what’s true.
    2. We may trust other “selves” to tell us what God has revealed to them.
    3. We may trust what we read in a book which claims to be inspired of God, a text which bears up under the most intense scrutiny over time.

The first two options are obviously problematic because we’re all flawed and tend to misunderstand and misrepresent truth, even when God clearly reveals it to us. Even when we’re trying our best we often get it wrong, much less when we’re actually trying to deceive ourselves and others. This makes even written materials suspect, since they’re likely just more permanent variations of the same.

To be rightly grounded in truth, we need a book which not only claims to be inspired by God, but which proves itself out to be so over many generations, generally received as God-breathed by those loving and pursuing God, based on how its words encourage, strengthen and direct us.

And, ideally, this would be a book written down by holy people who both love God supremely and also suffer greatly in providing it to us, who receive its message under persecution and difficulty, who actually do suffer in their own pursuit of God, and who have no hope of profiting personally in any way from writing it.

And if this book actually is inspired by God, we expect to find those who aren’t pursuing God to be careless with it, taking it out of context and using it for their own benefit. And we find those hostile to God relentlessly and irrationally attacking it, opposing it, maligning and mocking it, blind to their own irrationality in the process.

The Bible, the Word of Truth, fits this expectation to a “T”, and it’s the only book which does. It’s the foundation of Western civilization, an ongoing miracle for us all to discover and cherish. Many who won’t claim to be Christians take it as truth on a moral and spiritual level, astonished at how such a book could have come to us by any natural means.

And those who attack and denounce it must inevitably take it out of context, twisting its words as they would no other text to which they’d give an honest read. It’s clear they hate its Author and cannot give it the chance it deserves. (Ro 8:7)

To love God is to love His word; it becomes the joy and rejoicing of our hearts (Je 15:16), just as He is. (Php 4:4)

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Dead Unto Sin

God says, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ro 6:11) What does He mean?

When we’re dead we’re unresponsive; we don’t interact with the world or function within it any longer.

To be dead unto sin then is to be beyond its reach, no longer subject to its appeal, disinterested in its enticements, to say as Christ did, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” (Jn 14:30) It’s natural to ask then, How might we attain to such a state?

Yet this is evidently the wrong question for the believer: God’s telling us we already have attained to this state; we’re to reckon this to be true, acknowledge it, and live accordingly. The right question to ask is then, How do I identify that part of me that’s dead to sin? How does that part of me live my life, and not the rest of me?

Paul identifies part of himself, the flesh, offering nothing good; it doesn’t equip him to do anything good he wants to do. (Ro 7:18) So, there’s a part of him which wants to obey God, which knows what’s right, an inward man which delights in God’s Law (22), which he calls his mind, and a different part (the flesh) which wars against the good part. (23)

So, we might think of ourselves as having a sort of dual personality, two different versions of us which behave very differently under the same conditions. (Ro 7:19) We might also think of a set of beliefs as a personality which embodies these beliefs; it’s a perfectly reasonable way to describe it. (Pr 1:20-23)

So, we might think of our flesh, the carnal mind (Ro 6:7-8), or the old man (Ep 4:22), as that body of lies to which we’re still clinging, either intellectually or perhaps emotionally or subconsciously, due to wrong teaching, being emotionally biased because of a wound or carnal desire harbored within us, etc. Whatever the root symptom, the underlying substance is the lie.

Putting off the old man, and being renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ep 4:22-23), is then to rid ourselves of these lies and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Ro 12:2), such that we’re progressively walking more and more fully in the Way, the Truth and the Life – Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Reckoning then is noting that all the lies we believe are terminal; each one has a unique death sentence pronounced over it. (Ps 1:6) We’ve no allegiance to it, no obligation to follow after it.

It’s also remembering there’s a part of us which already believes the truth, a part of us which is alive unto God (Ro 6:11): this is the life of Christ in us.

When we look for this part of us, asking God to enable us to recognize it, to realize that we believe the truth and experience our faith in Him, He does so. (He 4:16) We’re free to walk in the light with Christ, if we will. (Ro 6:22)

When we engage our will to walk in this new man (Ro 6:19), the spiritual man, the mind of Christ (1Co 2:16), Christ delivers us from the body of sin (Ro 7:24-25) so we can walk in newness of life. (Ro 6:4) We overcome, because greater is He that’s in us than whatever’s in the world. (1Jn 4:4)

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Thy Word Is Truth

In seeking truth, we each have a way, a protocol or methodology, for evaluating whether an idea is true: we have chosen an authority, a standard by which we evaluate truth claims. We also have a motive for pursuing truth.

In the physical realm, truth is found through the accurate perception of Creation through our senses, which are our God-given authority. Rightly knowing scientific truth requires all our sensory experiences to align; no contradictions to a truth claim are tolerated.

Since our physical senses are designed to be relatively reliable and unbiased, if our minds and spirits are seeking physical truth we can collaborate with each other to validate this alignment. Our motive is clear: alignment with physical reality is extremely beneficial on every level. Once we perceive contradiction, if we’re sincere, we admit incomplete understanding and continue to explore.

However, in the spiritual/moral dimension we’re evidently on very different footing, not having a consistent, unbiased way to verify metaphysical reality. Like Creation, metaphysical reality is ultimately grounded in the divine Being: what He considers truth is true regardless. Yet, due to biases we hold deeply within our minds and spirits, each individual may discern any given metaphysical claim differently, so we’re unable to consistently verify spiritual truth merely through collaboration with each other’s broken perceptions.

Our inability to successfully collaborate here implies it is also an error to trust entirely in ourselves, presuming we have the capacity to accurately discern spiritual reality all on our own, that only we are unbiased and accurate in our perceptions, and no one else. We are not unbiased observers; we must trust God to reveal spiritual truth to us, and to reveal and heal our brokenness, our biased way of looking at reality. How might He do this?

God might speak to us directly in some way, which may seem reasonable in theory. Yet, when one experiences the myriad ways in which people claim God speaks to them, the impracticality is evident. God does speak to us at times, yet seducing spirits also consistently impersonate God and deceive many. (1Ti 4:1) This isn’t straightforward.

So, unless we’re so sure it’s the voice of God that we can’t even ask, “Who are you?”, which isn’t very often for most of us, we shouldn’t presume it’s God we’re hearing. We’re also commanded to test those who claim to have a word from God, because the reality is that they’re likely not hearing from God either. (1Jn 4:1) Yet, how do we go about such testing if we’re not to trust entirely in ourselves, nor in others, nor expect God to reveal truth directly to us as a rule?

There is only one other possibility: a written document containing God’s moral instructions in His own words. This is, in fact, His provision (2Ti 3:16-17), and He requires us to hide His Words in our heart (Ps 119:11) and meditate on them continually. (Ps 1:2) We’re to receive with meekness the engrafted word, through which He reveals metaphysical reality to us and delivers us from our ignorance and rebellion. (Ja 1:21)

For this to work as God designs, meekness is essential: we must submit to His Word as truth (Jn 17:17), obey it and yield to it. (Ja 1:22) If our motive in pursuing spiritual truth is selfish, we will inevitably miss it. The proper motive is alignment with God, a single-minded intent to be in right relationship with Him.

In pursuing truth in the absence of unmistakable divine revelation, expose every truth claim to the entire Word of God and reject any claim which violates any text of scripture. When this troubles me, and God’s Word is rubbing me the wrong way, I turn around — repent. Otherwise, I’m back to trusting in myself as spiritual authority instead of God, where all roads lead to death. (Pr 14:12)

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Faith Comes by Hearing

Faith is required to please God (He 11:6), so, what is faith, and how do we get it?

It’s easy to mistake presumption for faith, blocking other possibilities out of our minds and hearts, willfully determining for ourselves what must be, refusing to consider contradictory evidence. This is darkness, the flesh, lacking the deep assurance of the revealed Word and Will of God, and will eventually be exposed as willful blindness and arrogance.

Faith is supernatural assurance, the divine impartation of knowing with absolute confidence and certainty, a knowing which doesn’t require further proof or evidence. It’s the gift of God (Ep 2:8), which comes by hearing God with a trusting, believing heart (Ro 10:17a), and this kind of hearing with this kind of heart comes by the decree of God. (17b)

Faith doesn’t come by hearing the Word of God. It’s necessary to hear the truth to grow in faith, but this in itself is insufficient. What the text says is: “hearing (comes) by the word of God.” (Ro 10:17)

We tend to hear what we want to hear, not what’s actually said. (Jn 8:43) So, God must not only send us the message of truth, He must also give us hearts to perceive, eyes to recognize and ears to receive and accept the truth. (De 29:4)

Submitting to God is a prerequisite for understanding and knowing Him (Mt 13:15), and this requires a new nature; our old nature is incapable of submitting to God. (Ro 8:6) God chooses the poor in spirit rich in faith, electing us to be heirs of His kingdom. (Ja 2:5)

This may seem unreasonable, that faith in God comes only by the decree of God, as if we have no choice or chance in faith, at pleasing God without His aid. It’s as if we think God’s choosing who will have faith is the same as Him choosing who won’t have it, and accuse God of being unrighteous (Ro 9:14), wondering why He finds fault when no one resists His will. (19)

God does choose who has faith (2Th 2:13), but He does not cause anyone to not have faith: rather He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe. (Ac 17:30)

God makes no one distrust Him; in fact, anything other than trusting God and taking Him at His Word is insane wickedness. How can God lie, or be unfaithful, or malicious? Not trusting God is accusing Him of being evil, and God never promotes or encourages this: we do this all on our own, when He leaves us to ourselves. And, of course, no one can please God while accusing Him of malevolence.

The election of God isn’t the arbitrary choice among good, ignorant but well-meaning people, but among the wicked, those who hate Him. (Jn 15:18-19) It’s an election of pure mercy and compassion (Ro 9:15) in which God transforms some wicked souls into saints – vessels of mercy. (23) God quickens the disobedient, those dead to Him in trespasses and sins, children of wrath. (Ep 2:1-3) God’s intervention in our headlong dash away from Him is entirely undeserved, total mercy. (4)

The mercy God shows us in salvation is remarkable indeed, infinite in every respect. He doesn’t need to save anyone; He doesn’t owe us anything: none of us deserve it in the least. Let us glory in the salvation of God and be thankful for His mercy. (Ro 15:9)

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Add to Your Faith

In drawing us toward Himself, God tells us to add a number of personal traits to our faith, and to do so in a particular sequence, or with a given precedence or priority: first virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and finally charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

He says that with this interlocking foundation solidly in place we’ll be successful and productive in our spiritual life (8), but without this entire footprint in our character we’re blind, ignorant of the basics of our salvation. (9)

The implication is that if we’re missing one or more of these building blocks, or get them out of sort in some way, then we have an incomplete, improper foundation: we’re building on sand, and the result won’t play out well. (Mt 7:26-27) Perhaps it’s good to focus on each of these qualities and see how they interrelate to faith and to each other.

Virtue is moral excellence, Christ-like character, a willingness and intent to pursue the highest possible standard. Having virtue in faith keeps us from pride as we add knowledge (1Co 8:1) – not to impress but to enable us in worship (Ps 119:7) and service. (105) Apart from virtue we’re oblivious (Jn 1:5), ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2Ti 3:7) To presume we can rightly comprehend the very first principles of the Kingdom without deep, practical reverence for God is deception. (Pr 1:7) Without virtue firmly in place, adding anything else to our faith is pointless.

Knowledge is critical as a next step; ignorance of God, of ourselves, of our enemy, of the first principles of our faith, it alienates us from the life of God (Ep 4:18), incapacitates us and wastes our virtuous passion and skill on distractions and dead ends. (Ho 6:4) The enemy is quick to exploit our ignorance and capitalize on it to sideline us. (2Co 2:11) Faith and virtue in themselves are insufficient for the journey ahead; we must diligently pursue truth, to understand and apply it, to show ourselves approved of God. (2Ti 2:15)

Temperance keeps us balanced as we walk out our faith. It’s so tempting to become overly obsessed with minutia and lose the big picture in our walk. Even with all confidence, virtue and knowledge, it’s self-control, self-mastery (Pr 25:28), the ability to moderate and adjust our behavior (Php 4:5), to re-focus, re-calibrate, re-align and continually fine tune our motives as we learn and mature, this keeps us out of the ditch. (1Co 9:27)

Patience, cherishing God’s goodness through trial, keeps us from bitterness and equips us with endurance and tenacity, so we’re perfect and entire, lacking nothing for the long journey home. (Ja 1:4)

Godliness, a faithful orientation towards God and His testimonies (Ps 119:24, 31, 36, 59, 99, 111, 129) in this journey orders our steps in holiness such that we’re ever growing more and more into the likeness of Christ along the Way.

Brotherly kindness bears with others (Ga 6:2) in the confines and abrasions of close community with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2Co 10:1), maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. (Ep 4:2-3) Without this we may ultimately do more harm than good, causing others to stumble and making their journey much more difficult. (1Co 8:12)

And finally Charity, the unconditional benevolence of God, is the capstone, the greatest of all (1Co 13:13), coloring and accentuating all our activity (1Co 16:14), keeping our motives rightly aligned with God’s heart. Without this, we are nothing. (1Co 13:2-3)

Each of these additions to our faith are the fruit of the Spirit working in us; they compliment faith to complete us in our maturity in Christ. Which piece can we afford to omit or neglect without the whole edifice collapsing? None? Let us then attend to this with all diligence, dig deep, and build on the rock as the Master bids. (Mt 7:24-25)

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God’s Ministers

When should we resist civil authority? Under what conditions is God pleased with civil disobedience? When governments become corrupt (and which government isn’t corrupt at some level?), when should citizens revolt to try to improve their lot?

God says those having authority to enforce civil law are His ministers (Ro 13:4), He has given them a kind of higher, spiritual, moral power to define appropriate behavior in a society and to enforce an extended moral code (1) in addition to God’s Law, and we should support them financially to enable them to do this. (6) Anyone who resists these civil authorities will be justly condemned, as if they were resisting God Himself. (2)

Yet there’s an important distinction between resisting and disobeying: when ungodly authority demands that we violate God’s Law, then we must obey God as well as we can and suffer the consequences (Ac 5:29); yet we can disobey without fighting back (resisting), which is where God draws the line. (Mt 25:6)

For example, King David was anointed to be king of Israel by Samuel, but as long as Saul — also anointed by God as a rightful king — was alive David was not to resist Saul, to fight against or harm him. (1Sa 26:9) David didn’t obey Saul — he evaded and hid — but he also didn’t resist him, even though Saul was an ungodly man.

Further, Christ recognized the authority of the Roman government (Jn 19:11), even though it was ungodly. Neither Christ, nor Paul, nor any of the Apostles ever hinted at taking up arms against civil authority, as bad as it was. God eventually dealt with the empire and used it’s unbridled wickedness to spread the gospel and infallibly prove the Resurrection of His Son.

The Nazi government was exceedingly wicked, normalizing genocide and other horrible atrocities, moving godly Christians to resist (not just disobey), plotting to overthrow Hitler. Yet God also dealt with this nation in His time, and through it’s persecution of His people moved the world to resurrect the nation of Israel and enable millions of His people to re-settle there.

We cannot know how God will judge believers who feel called to resist ungodly authority, and we can certainly sympathize, but it’s evidently not God’s way for us; He tells us to pray for our leaders that we may live in honest, peaceable quietness and godliness. (1Ti 2:2)

God tells us to submit to civil authority for God’s sake (1Pe 2:13-14), and makes no qualifications as to how fully the government is aligned with His Way.

During periods of revolution and political chaos, when military coups or stolen elections are in play, it may not be clear what constitutes proper civil authority, or when it’s reasonable to defend ourselves from those claiming to be in control, especially if they intend to harm us.

God help us, as He sends us forth as sheep among wolves, to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves (Mt 10:16), and strong in the faith. As hopeless as it may seem at times, God is in control of all things, and has a glorious purpose in all He allows. (1Pe 1:7)

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Be Merciful

Mercy is that quality which finds no pleasure in pursuing justice to the full, in seeing the wicked destroyed; it doesn’t require all wrongs to be fully righted and paid for by the offender; it’s willing to forgive and let things go rather than seeking revenge. It’s a disposition of compassion, sparing a sinner the full penalty they deserve, with a view to seeing them healed and restored. (Ps 145:8) It’s grounded in benevolence, good will, and charity.

Mercy is only relevant in the context of transgression and sin, when someone has violated God’s Law. Mercy refrains from imposing the full penalty someone deserves as punishment for their crime. By definition then, mercy cannot be demanded, expected as a right: mercy is undeserved.

God delights in being merciful (Mi 7:18), especially towards those who fear Him (Ps 103:11), who are seeking Him and trying to obey Him. (Is 55:7) When one falls into sin, even against us, and then repents, we should rejoice in seeing them forgiven and restored, just as Father does. (Lk 15:10)

God commands us to be merciful (Lk 6:36), and promises mercy to the merciful. (Mt 5:7) This follows from the fact that God commands us to love our neighbor (Ja 2:8), and failing in mercy is failing in love; it’s preferring others suffer fully for their sins rather than repenting and being restored, requiring them to pay their sin-debt in full, and deriving satisfaction from their suffering.

Being unmerciful reflects a basic lack of understanding of and appreciation for how much we each need to be forgiven. (Mt 18:33) It is also a presumption of certainty in discerning what others deserve, and it is typically rooted in feeling morally superior to others, which is pride. Those who neglect mercy as a manner of life are thus revealing that they themselves are unforgiven, and shall in the end receive no mercy from God. (Ja 2:13)

God’s ultimate purpose in our lives is to reconcile us to Himself. (1Co 5:19) Whenever mercy serves that end, helps us draw nearer to Him and enjoy Him, enabling us to become more like Him, or gives us an extended opportunity to do so, we can count on His mercy. We should reflect God’s love for others in this way, and love mercy like Father does.

But those who seek mercy merely to avoid the consequences of sin, who haven’t repented and changed their minds about rebellion, who remain presumptuous and committed to their sin, who are not seeking to be restored in their relationship with God, will be sorely disappointed; such will receive ultimate justice from Him. (Ro 2:8-9)

God’s basic requirements for each of us are simple: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. (Mi 6:8) Mercy is central; having our lives marked with justice, a right treatment of ourselves and others, while also loving mercy, is godly maturity and wisdom. God’s calling us to be like Himself: both just and merciful.

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Vessels of Mercy

Predestination and election are difficult to understand until we diligently consider the context — the dreadfully sinful human condition: Man’s Depravity. Apart from carefully integrating this concept throughout our theology, many fundamental precepts of Scripture appear hopelessly irreconcilable.

For example, how can God choose who will be saved while respecting Man’s Free Will? Similarly, How can a loving God be in total control when there’s so much evil and suffering? These are perhaps the hardest questions, and they aren’t peripheral; they’re fundamental spiritual bedrock. We can’t afford to dismiss them, yet resolving such mysteries seems impossible. Many stumble here, and go no further.

Yet God Himself gives us the key by addressing the problem directly, asking these same questions, and then answering them. God’s purpose in election will be realized (Ro 9:11) yet God will be totally righteous in it all (14), because God’s not obligated to be merciful (15) — by definition: mercy is undeserved, never justly required.

The reality is, if God didn’t elect anyone, choose anyone to be saved, and He let us all go our own way — we would: every last one of us would walk away from Him; we would not come to Him. (Mt 22:3) This would be fair, certainly, but then Heaven would be desolate (Lk 14:16-18a), and the world filled with even more evil and suffering than it already is. (Ge 6:5) This is what Depravity teaches us (11), if we listen. (Je 17:9)

So, if God chooses to intervene in a few of us, choosing us out from the masses and giving us new hearts and new wills that don’t run away, He’s showing mercy in election, not being unjust.

God never actually turns anyone away who seeks Him, or causes anyone to do evil; He controls by mercifully restraining us from acting out our full evil nature according to His sovereign purposes. (2Th 2:7) There’s nothing at all inappropriate about restraining evil; so, God’s in absolute control of all that happens (Ep 1:11), yet He’s also perfectly good, just and merciful; He’s righteous and holy in all He does. (Ps 145:17)

In giving us new hearts God doesn’t force us against our will; what He does in His elect is heal our will, displacing our love of lies, which moved us to distrust and despise Him, with a love for truth; He works in us to will according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13), such that we begin to want to do good. He works all this in us for our good and for His glory. (Ro 8:28)

The only remaining challenge here is: Why doesn’t God save everyone if He has this ability? The answer lies in God’s glory: He’s most glorified in fully revealing His nature, His wrath and power as well as His love and mercy. (Ro 9:22-23) If God didn’t let most all of His enemies act like enemies, and treat them as He does, we’d know much less about Him, so that’s exactly what He’s doing; God is perfectly revealing and glorifying Himself by only saving a few. (Re 15:3)

Rather than faulting God for being absolutely sovereign, and for choosing only a remnant to be saved, we ought to let all the blame for evil lie where it truly belongs: with sinful Man, and glorify God for His mercy. (Ro 15:9) Rather than complaining and running away, we seek God until we find Him (He 11:6), and discover that we’re indeed elect, vessels of divine mercy. (Ro 9:23)

And in being vessels of infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), undeserving recipients of God’s kindness, love and favor, we also ought to be merciful (Lk 6:36), to be compassionate toward those who are out of the way (He 5:2), esteeming others better than ourselves. (Php 2:3)

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Resist the Devil

God tells us to resist the Devil so he will flee from us. (Ja 4:7b) What does this mean, and how do we do it?

If we’re ignorant of the basics of spiritual warfare we might fall into Pentecostal witchcraft, white magic, employing rituals and techniques such as pleading the blood of Christ over our homes or places of worship, or reciting specially formulated prayers hoping to bind Satan and control him.

Or we might fall into simplistically imagining that we’re putting on spiritual armor (Ep 6:11), dressing up for battle like a gladiator in some virtual arena, giving spiritual labels to our helmet and breastplate, sword and shield. But in the end such deception only adds confusion to our suffering — it isn’t the way of the Word.

The immediate context illuminates: we resist the devil by submitting to God. (7a) Satan’s ultimate objective is always to alienate us from God; this is the only direction he ever pushes us, never towards God. So, as we pursue God and seek His face we’re going upstream in the satanic current, fighting into the headwinds of his tempests – resisting his temptations and intent in our lives.

So, we resist the Devil by drawing nigh to God (8a), as we start obeying Him more carefully, focusing our hearts more toward Him and His Word, putting off our carnal mind, rooting out our doublemindedness. (8b) We grieve and mourn and weep over our sin, afflicting ourselves (9) and calling upon God to heal us, quicken us, waiting on Him to help us. We see our sin more as it truly is, ourselves more as we truly are, and humble ourselves (10a), esteeming others better (Php 2:3), acknowledging that we’d be unspeakably worse without His aid, rejoicing in God alone (2Co 10:17), and then God lifts us up. (10b)

Another way of saying this is that God resists us to the degree we allow any trace of pride in our hearts, as we exalt ourselves before Him. (6) So, Satan’s constant strategy is to pit us against God by deceiving us into pride in any way that he can. He lies through both pain and pleasure, poverty and wealth, friend and foe — he is relentless in trying to bring us down and destroy us by separating us from God through our selfishness and disobedience.

It is essentially by definition then: the only way to resist the Devil is to be constantly pursuing God, drawing ever closer to Him through every trial and temptation. Whenever we lapse here, become complacent or negligent in pressing toward the mark (Php 3:14), we begin to yield, to succumb to the enemy.

When Satan discovers that everything he’s throwing at us is only bringing us closer to God, that God is working all things together for our good (Ro 8:28) as we faithfully resist him, he will eventually leave us alone; he will flee from us, and only then. (Ja 4:7b)

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