Revelation 2 – Part 4

“But hold fast what you have till I come.” Revelation 2:25

The ascended Lord Jesus addresses the fourth church next. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.’” (Revelation 2:18). Thyatira was the smallest and least significant of the seven cities, but it was the one that received the longest letter.” 1

“According to legend, Thyatira was first established as a shrine to the sun god Tyrimnus and named Pelopia.” 2

This town stood about forty-five miles to the southeast of Pergamum. It was famous for its textiles, but especially for its production of purple dye (cf. Acts 16:14) and its trade guilds (or social clubs). 3

Sadly, these guilds were also steeped in blasphemous worship and sexual sin. The church in Thyatira had a woman, Jezebel, who supported such guild practices. If a Christian refused to participate in idol worship, he or she would often be excluded from the guild, and therefore be unable to conduct their business. 4

The Lord Jesus describes Himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.” This description of Christ is like that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the “Son of God” rather than “the Son of Man,” since this situation required a reaffirmation of His deity and the authority or right to judge this church. 5

“Eyes like a flame of fire” refers to Jesus’ blazing anger against sin and His ability to see beneath the surface into the inmost being of a person’s heart. 6 The Greek word used to describe Christ’s feet like “fine brass” is a rare word chalkolibanō, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of several metals characterized by brilliance when polished. 7  This speaks of the risen Christ’s inflexible, immovable strength and power 8 and His readiness to execute judgment (cf. Revelation 19:15). 9

Although much was wrong with the church in Thyatira, Christ commends this church when He says, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.” (Revelation 2:19). These believerswere strong in good “works,” “love” for others (not mentioned in the other letters), “faith” in God, “service” of their Savior, and “patience” or perseverance in trials. This church was doing more as time went on (“the last are more than the first”)in contrast to the church at Ephesus which did less. 10 Often churches stop growing over time, but not the church in Thyatira. Their “works, love, service, faith, and…patience” continued to increase more that what they had at “first.”

But despite this evidence of Christian growth, the church in Thyatira had some serious flaws and needed a Judge. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20). Whereas the church in Ephesus would not allow false teachers, this church did. The risen Lord Jesus rebukes them for permitting a false teacher named “Jezebel” to entice them to practice “sexual immorality” connected to idolatrous worship (“to… eat things sacrificed to idols”).

It is likely that Jezebel’s immorality involved teaching God’s people that it was acceptable to engage in the activities of the guild feasts that took place in pagan temples. The pressure on the workers of that day to give in was great because failure to attend these feasts could threaten their livelihood.” 11

Though perhaps this was her real name, Jezebel also brings to mind the wife of Israel’s King Ahab (see 1 Kgs 16:31; 2 Kgs 9) and represents an entire category of immoral and idolatrous women.” 12

A modern-day practice of Jezebel’s doctrine is connected to pornography which involves sexual immorality and idolatry. Pornography is one of the most destructive practices in the church today and most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. The majority of churches preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted. 13

“Pornography is the number one addiction for men. One out of two internet hits have to do with sex and pornography. Pornography can ruin normal sexual relationships because no real person can live up to pornographic images and fantasies. Research has shown that the limbic system bonds with whatever you are visualizing at the time of orgasm, so the next time you have sexual cravings they will be focused on that image or fantasy. This is why pornography is so addicting. Pornography is not really about sex; it is about zoning out, getting high on your own neurochemicals. Sex addicts report having withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine withdrawal.” 14

Pornography is not just an adult addiction. Young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing. If you don’t think it’s possible for your children to get hooked on porn, you need to listen to Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s videos. 15 If you are struggling with pornography, contact Pure Desire at www.puredesire.org to obtain hope and healing from your addiction.

What is an idol? An idol is turning to something or someone other than God when we are anxious, hurting, lonely, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate. More and more Christians are turning to pornography instead of the Lord to medicate or celebrate their feelings. Pornography is an idol that is destroying the sons and daughters of God around the world.

Christ’s patience toward this false teacher in Thyatira is seen when He says, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21). God is very gracious and patient. He gave Jezebel “time to repent” of her false teaching that promoted “sexual immorality.” But she refused to “repent.” Understand that “a refusal is different than a struggle. At times, believers fight sins but cannot stop committing them on their own power. Jezebel was unwilling to make any effort.” 16  She knew she was doing wrong, and she chose to keep doing it. This does not mean that Jezebel was unsaved. It is possible to be a Christian and drift from sound doctrine (cf. I Timothy 1:19-20). 17

Since Jezebel did “not repent,” the Lord Jesus promised to discipline her and her followers when He said, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22). Since she encouraged lying on beds of adultery, the risen Jesus would cast her on a different kind of bed: a bed of sickness. 18 And because her followers joined her immoral ways, they would experience God’s painful discipline in the form of “great tribulation” or distress.

Another group in this church would experience a more severe judgment. “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:23). This group is referred to as “her children” because they fully embraced her teaching and lifestyle. 19 They would experience physical “death.” This may sound extremely severe, but it is not the first time in the New Testament that God disciplines His people in this way (cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30).

 Immediately before pronouncing, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31), the writer of Hebrews declares, ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (v 30, emphasis added). The Lord’s discipline would cause His people to know that He is serious about sinful activity and false teaching and that no one is exempt from His discipline (cf. Gal 6:7).” 20

This judgment would be so intense that “all the churches shall know” that the ascended Christ is the One “who searches hearts and minds.” Nothing escapes His notice. False teachers may be able to deceive their followers, but they are not capable of fooling the risen Lord Jesus. These seven churches (and any of us today) reading these messages would be reminded to take sin seriously because God is partial to no one. He says, “I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

Not all the believers of the church in Thyatira followed Jezebel and her false doctrine. Jesus says to them, “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.(Revelation 2:24). Apparently Jezebel claimed that her “doctrine” (that Christians can indulge in immorality without consequences) was deeper than the teachings of the apostles’ when in reality they extended to “the depths of Satan.” 21  Christ says that those who did not follow Jezebel’s teaching would be subject to “no other burden” just listed.

Instead, this godly remnant was to hold fast what you have till I come.” (Revelation 2:25).  These faithful believers were simply to continue to do what they had been doing – to stand against false teaching and to “hold fast” to purity of doctrineuntil Christ comes for His church at the Rapture (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; cf. John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). 22

Walvoord observes, Perhaps because the church was small, Christ did not command them to leave it but to remain as a godly testimony. Judgment on Jezebel and her followers would come soon and would purge the church. In modern times Christians who find themselves in apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship, but this was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.

“The parallels between Thyatira and other apostate churches throughout church history are clear. Some compare Thyatira to believers in the Middle Ages when Protestantism separated from Roman Catholicism and attempted a return to purity in doctrine and life. The prominence of Jezebel as a woman prophetess is sometimes compared to the unscriptural exaltation of Mary. The participation in idolatrous feasts can illustrate the false teaching that the Lord’s Supper is another sacrifice of Christ. In spite of the apostasy of churches in the Middle Ages, there were churches then which, like the church of Thyatira, had some believers who were bright lights of faithfulness in doctrine and life.” 23

The ascended Lord Jesus then gives this godly remnant a challenge and promised reward if they fulfill that challenge. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28). The eternal rewards for remaining faithful to Christ and resisting Jezebel’s false teachings “until the end” of their lives was ruling with Christ “over the nations” in His earthly kingdom and enjoying a special intimacy with the Morning Star Himself, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 24 The morning star (usually the planet Venus) appears in the night sky, just before the dawning of a new day. Jesus Christ will guide faithful believers in the future, as the new day of His rule dawns (cf. Titus 2:13; Daniel 12:3). 25

“Thus, the reward for a pure life is a greater experience of Jesus during His millennial reign and for eternity. Naturally, a co-ruler of the universe will have greater access to the King than a common citizen.” 26

The Lord intended the prospect of this promised blessing to motivate the unfaithful in the church to return to God’s will for them, and to encourage the faithful to persevere. Believers who are faithful (“he who overcomes”) will receive “power” (authority) in heaven from Jesus Christ and will “rule” (lit. “shepherd”) others during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; 19:28-29; Luke 19:11- 27; Romans 8:17b; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21; 20:4-6). Some believers will receive greater authority for being faithful, than others who have not been as faithful (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). While not all Christians will remain faithful to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:12), Christ evidently described believers as faithful (cf. Revelation 2:19) to motivate them to remain faithful. 27

We see that the rewards of ruling with Christ and enjoying a special intimacy with Him in His earthly kingdom are reserved only for individual believers in Jesus who remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives on earth. The Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29). Not all Christians are “overcomers” who hold fast to Christ till the end of their lives on earth. Only those who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and appropriate Jesus’ promise will be able to live as “overcomers” and receive these perseverance rewards.

Since Christ will reward each Christian “according to his works” (2:23; cf. 22:12) and not all Christians do the same amount or quality of works, there will be varying degrees of rewards among believers. When Jesus evaluates our Christian lives at the Judgment Seat (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12), He will look deeper than the works themselves, since He “searches the hearts and minds” of His people and knows what motivates them to act (Revelation 2:23; cf. I Corinthians 4:5). His rewards will also take into consideration the motivation for our works (cf. Matthew 6:1-4; Hebrews 4:12-13). Have we served Christ with our very best to bring honor to Him (cf. I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:22-25)? 28 Only Jesus Christ is qualified to make such judgments of believers (cf. I Corinthians 4:1-5; Revelation 1:12-20; 2:23; et al.).

To summarize: Christians who succumb to false teaching and the sinful lifestyle it promotes, can expect God’s discipline in their lives even unto physical death (2:18-23; cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30). Believers who resist false teaching and remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives will receive the reward of ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom and enjoy a special intimacy with Him, our Morning Star (2:24-29).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us enough to tell us what we need to hear. Like the church in Thyatira, You have commended us for having more good works, love for others, faith in God, service for You, and perseverance in trials than we had at the first. But You know our hearts and minds better than we do. You know that we have tolerated false teaching within our churches that compromises the truth of Your gospel by adding works to Your finished work on the cross. Such an unstable foundation has led to an infiltration of sexual immorality and idolatry in Your churches. Those of us who fall prey to this teaching of Jezebel’s spirit are those who often seek spiritual enlightenment apart from You and crave eternal life without believing on Christ’s sacrificial death. We can consider ourselves superior to the rest of the earth’s population and are ever learning some new ‘mystical’ spirituality, which is contrary to the truth of the gospel. Please help those of us who have embraced Jezebel’s teaching to return to Your will lest we experience Your painful discipline. Empower those of us who have rejected her teaching to remain faithful to You until the end of our lives so we may receive Your eternal rewards of ruling with You in Your coming Kingdom on earth and enjoying a special intimacy with You then as our Morning Star. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 41.

2. Ibid., cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series. Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 201.

3. Constable, pg. 41.

4.  Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1508.

5. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

6. Constable, pg. 42 cites, William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 128; Vacendak, pg. 1508.

7. Walvoord, pg. 164.

8. Constable, pg. 42 cites Barclay, pg. 128.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

13. Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21.

14. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 206-207.

15. See Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .

16. Evans, pg. 2374.  

17. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

18. Constable, pg. 43.

19. Vacendak, pg. 1509. 

20. Ibid.

21. Constable, pg. 43.

22. Ibid., pg. 44; Vacendak, pg. 1509.

23. Walvoord, pg. 164.

24. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

25. Constable, pg. 45.

26. Evans, pg. 2374.

27. Constable, pg. 44.

28. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 771-772.

How can I live above average? Part 4

“Oh, … that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” I Chronicles 4:10d

God created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, we are looking at a simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. Even though Jabez got off to a painful start as his name suggests (“Jabez” means “Pain”), he did not let that determine his destiny. He chose to live a life that was honoring to God, despite his painful beginning. And we can do the same.

You and I can live above average for God’s glory by following the same principles found in Jabez’ prayer. The first three principles we have looked at are…

– Seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a).

– Ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b).

– Ask God for power to accomplish His dream for our lives (I Chronicles 4:10c).

As God gives each of us His blessings, and as He grants us more influence and power to impact more people for Him, guess whose territory we will be invading? Satan’s. And the devil hates it. He will do whatever he can to mess things up. That is why Jabez prayed, “And that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” (I Chronicles 4:10d).

Jabez “knew Satan would try to use coming blessings as an opportunity to tempt him to become independent from God.” 1 Do we understand this? Our tendency when we experience great success, is to depend less on God and more on ourselves. When our lives or ministries are endowed with God’s supernatural blessings, influence, and power, this can dull our sense of dependency upon the Lord.It is during these timeswhen we are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks. When influential Christian leaders fall into sin, it causes great pain and even disillusionment for believers who looked up to them as godly examples.

The fourth and last way to live above average is to ASK GOD FOR PROTECTION OVER OUR LIVES (I Chronicles 4:10d). Why did Jabez do this? Because in those days, the more land you had, the more influence you had, and the better-known you were.

It is still true today. The more successful we are, the more critics we have. The closer we grow to the Lord and the stronger we become as Christians, the more the devil will harass us, because he does not want us to grow and impact more people for Jesus Christ. If the devil is not attacking us, that should cause us concern. It may suggest we are no threat to him because our lives are conforming more to the world’s ways than to God’s will.

But when we are sharing God’s blessings with more and more people, Satan is not going to ignore us. The devil will use different strategies to set us up for a fall. He may use carelessness, complacency, distractions, discouragement, fear, opposition, oppression, or even pride to make us less effective for Jesus. He may even attack our families to bring us down!

I have discovered in my own life that I need to pray this way especially before and after a success. In the Philippines when I returned home from a fruitful mission trip, I was most vulnerable to defeat. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This made me more vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. I was more prone to holding a dangerous view of my own strengths. It is during those times that I needed to cry out to God, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.”

Jesus understood the schemes of the devil. This is why He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). When was the last time we asked the Lord to lead us away from the temptation to do evil? Just as God wants us to ask Him for more blessings, influence, and power, He also wants us to ask Him for protection from the evil one, so we won’t yield to sin, and cause pain to God, ourselves, and others.Since Satan is much wiser and stronger than us, we desperately need God’s supernatural protection over our lives every day.

Too often, Christians wait until Satan starts to attack them before they pray for protection. Imagine what would happen if we prayed for protection before the devil opposes us? What if we prayed for God to lead us away from temptation before it ever happens?

Without a temptation, we would not sin. Most of us face too many temptations—and therefore sin too often—because we don’t ask God to lead us away from temptation. We make a huge spiritual leap forward, therefore, when we begin to focus less on beating temptation and more on avoiding it… As we move deeper into the realm of the miraculous, the most effective war against sin that we can wage is to pray that we will not have to fight unnecessary temptation. And God offers us His supernatural power to do just that.” 2

If we live by these four principles that Jabez prayed for, we are going to live above average. Do we want to break out of mediocrity? Do we want to see God work in our lives? Are we tired of drifting through life not knowing where we are going? Then we need to pray and live as Jabez did.

When we pray in faith, as Jabez did, we will live above average. How do I know that? Look at these verses:9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers10 So God granted him what he requested.(I Chronicles 4:9a, 10e). Jabez had a painful beginning and a prosperous ending. Why? Because he prayed the way God loves to hear His children pray. Jabez got what he sought from God because he asked for it. He was like Jacob who said as he wrestled with God: “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26). Do we pursue God until we see a transformation in our hearts and/or situation? 3

God honors those who ask. He opens the floodgates of heaven for those who diligently seek what He wants. What do you want God to do in your life? Heal a broken relationship? Ask Him. Help you with a problem? Ask Him. Help you with some goals? Ask Him. Lead more people to Christ and disciple them? Ask Him. God is not some policeman up in the sky waiting for you to mess up so He can pounce on you! God wants to bless your life. He wants you to live above average for His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for these powerful insights from the prayer of Jabez. It is Your will that we seek countless blessings from You with which to bless others. It is Your profound desire to take more territory from Satan through the preaching of the gospel and the making of disciples of Jesus Christ. But when You bless us, Satan attacks us. Knowing this, can help us be on the alert for the devil’s deceptions. Father, please keep us safe from Satan’s temptations that pull at our emotions and our physical needs, that call out to our sense of what we deserve, what we have the “right” to feel and enjoy. Because You are the true Source of all that is really life, guide our steps away from all that is not of You. Please protect our families and communities from the evil one. We know that Jesus Who is in us is far greater than the evil one who is in the world, so we have nothing to fear. At the name of Jesus Christ all other powers on earth will bow or flee. Thank You so much for surrounding us with Your protective hand, Lord. We love You and trust You, Mighty God. In the name that is above all other names – Jesus Christ – we pray. Amen. 4

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 711.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 67-68.

3. Evans, pg. 711.

4. Portions of this prayer were adapted from Wilkinson, pp. 72-73.

How can I ever change? Part 1

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” Genesis 32:24

What would you most like to change about yourself? If you could change one thing what would it be? Would you like to have more confidence? Be more relaxed? Organized? Perhaps you would like to be more outgoing, more self-controlled, more flexible, less anxious, less fearful or less controlling? One of the greatest tragedies is a person who is never willing to change. Change is a necessary part of the Christian life. If you are not changing, then you are not growing. We need to change in order to remain fresh and to keep moving forward in the Christian life. 

Most of us are interested in changing because we recognize there is always room for improvement. Many of us admit we want to change and try to change, but it doesn’t happen. We try to go on a diet, but it lasts an afternoon. We join health clubs and our excitement runs strong for a few weeks. Then we fall back into the same old rut. We go to seminars or counseling, but we keep falling back into old patterns of behavior. We want to be more positive and outgoing, and complain less, but it doesn’t work. The main reason is because we work on the exterior – our outside behavior – instead of working on the interior – our heart. Any lasting change must begin on the inside. Before we can make lasting changes to our behavior, we must first experience a change in our hearts. And this is a work of God!

During the next few days, Lord willing, we are going to look at a process that God uses in changing us – in making us more like Jesus Christ. God wants to change us and if you are a growing Christian, you will want to change as well. Turn with me to Genesis 32:24-30 where we will see how to change by looking at the life of Jacob, the father of Joseph. The incident in this passage was a turning point in Jacob’s life. It illustrates how God can change us as individuals.

Jacob was somewhat of a shifty guy. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-holder” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter”“one who takes the place of another by trickery.” (Genesis 27:1-29). His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, schemer.”    

But a wrestling match transformed Jacob into a new person (Genesis 32:24-30), and he became “Israel,” the man whom the entire nation of Israel would be named after. In this passage we see the process God uses to change us into the kind of people He wants us to become. It communicates to all of us that we don’t have to stay in the rut where we are: God will help us to change and overcome the weaknesses in our lives, if we will just let Him.

How do we let Him? After Jacob sent all his family and possessions across the river on the edge of the Promised Land (Genesis 32:22-23), Jacob had a wrestling match with an angel (Genesis 32:24-30). What does a wrestling match with an angel (Hosea 12:4) several thousand years ago have to do with changing you and me today? There are four steps in these verses that God uses to change us into the people He wants us to become.

First, we discover that GOD USES THE PROCESS OF A CRISIS (Genesis 32:24). We read, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” (Genesis 32:24). An unidentified man assaulted Jacob, and he had to fight for his life. The “Man” was the Angel of the Lord. The Bible tells us,3 When he [Jacob] became a man, he even fought with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the Angel [of the Lord] and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:3-4 LB). Notice that God took the initiative in wrestling with Jacob, not vice versa. Why?

God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself. The fact that the match lasted till daybreak is significant. For the darkness symbolized Jacob’s situation. Fear and uncertainty seized him. If Jacob had perceived that he was to fight God, he would never have engaged in the fight, let alone have continued all night. On the other hand the fact that the wrestling lasted till daybreak suggests a long, decisive bout.” 1

Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with an angel, and the angel was really struggling, but it was a no-win situation for both of them. By dawn Jacob was getting tired of the struggle because he saw that he could not win. It was a situation beyond his control which was something Jacob was not used to. Jacob had been able to handle his problems using his own craftiness until now. Now Jacob is facing a crisis he cannot control with his scheming.

When God wants to change us, He begins by placing us in a frustrating situation that is totally beyond our control. We cannot win, and we just keep getting more and more tired. If we are in a crisis now, it may be because God is getting ready to change us for the better. We rarely change until we get uncomfortable and dissatisfied enough to let God do something in our lives.

The Bible tells us, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30 GNT). God loves us so much that He makes us uncomfortable if that is what it takes, to make us willing to change and grow. He will allow a crisis or problem in our lives to get our attention. He needs to do this because we won’t change until our fear of change is exceeded by the pain we are experiencing.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving us enough to allow us to face a crisis so we become willing to change and grow. We often don’t like the pain associated with it, but we realize that were it not for the pain, we would probably continue down the path of self-destruction. You understand us better than we do. You know that our fear of change must be exceeded by discomfort before we are open to change. Thank You our Lord and our God for pursuing us and giving us opportunities to grow. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 147.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 9

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ I Kings 19:15a, 18

Remember how Elijah felt in verse 14? “Lord, Your people don’t care about You and I’m the only one left who does. I’m the only one left standing for what is right! I’m the only one left trying to serve You and that’s very discouraging.” Do you ever feel like that? Alone, afraid, and angry?

Then God has to tell us what He told Elijah –15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ (I Kings 19:15a, 18). Circle the word “Go.” God is saying, “Get moving. Don’t sit in the cave of life feeling sorry for yourself. There is more to be done and I am doing things you don’t even know about that will encourage you and help you.”

This leads to our final step out of the pit of discouragement: GET MOVING, KNOWING WE DON’T HAVE THE WHOLE PICTURE (I Kings 19:15a, 18). We don’t have to have the whole picture to move out for God. God has a journey for us to take…a course for us to follow. He is inviting us to step out in faith, believing He is already at work behind the scenes to prepare the way for us.

Jesus Christ wants to lift us out of our pit of discouragement. He can help us; He can change us; He can heal us of discouragement. We don’t have to go through life being controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, and even though we cannot directly control our feelings, we can control what we think about with God’s help. We can choose to change our thoughts.

This is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31-32: “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. The Lord Jesus wants to change our false beliefs that can keep us enslaved to harmful habits, hurts, and hang-ups, including discouragement.

I’d like to share some lies that have contributed to discouragement in my life along with the truth that is setting me free from them:

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: If somebody criticizes me, it means I’m worthless.

Truth: If somebody criticizes me, it is an opportunity for me to grow.

Scripture: “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

Lie: I  must be loved and accepted by everybody to be fulfilled in life.

Truth: It does not matter what other people say or think about me, what matters is that God always loves and accepts me.

Scripture:  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’ ” Jeremiah 31:3

Lie: I cannot admit any area of weakness; I have to be perfect or else I’m a failure.

Truth: It is good enough to do my best for Jesus, and not be perfect.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Colossians 3:23

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Lie: I do not have what it takes.

Truth: Through Christ who strengthens me I do have what it takes.

Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

These are the kinds of lies that cause discouragement. Jesus knew the importance of correct thinking when He said, “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). The more we “abide” or remain in Christ’s word, the more we will know the truth which can deliver us from the lies that can enslave us to discouragement.

You can change. How do you start? By beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t automatically cure all of your discouragement, but without Christ in your life you have no lasting power to change. He wants to be a part of your life, and if you will receive Him by faith, He will come into your life to help you start climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

To help us understand our need for Christ, we need to understand that the Bible makes it clear that all of us have sinned against God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God Who alone is perfect and righteous. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). By sinning with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have earned death. The word “death” in the Bible means separation. This means we all deserve to die and be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). I think you will agree that is bad news.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). Notice that eternal life is not through our religion, our good life, or prayers. Eternal life is “through Jesus our Lord.” God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment on the cross and rise again so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Jesus alone (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend upon.

Jesus is inviting you to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life, not your good life or religion or prayers. If you are ready to believe or trust in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only trusting in Christ gets us to heaven. Praying this prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven now.

Prayer:  Dear God, I come to you as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life that I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through the Holy Spirit. And thank You for the assurance I now have a future home in heaven with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you trusted in Christ for everlasting life, the Bible says Jesus gave you everlasting life (John 3:16; 10:28). How long does eternal life last? 5 minutes? 5 years? 5 million years? Or forever? Eternal life is forever! It never ends. And it begins the moment you believe in Jesus. Christ now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 2:20). Jesus in you can enable you to say “No” to Satan’s lies and “Yes” to God’s truth as you learn to trust and obey His Word. He can empower you to climb out of the pit of discouragement and help others to do the same.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, I recommend downloading our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. This will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and with those you love.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 1

“And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.” I Kings 19:3

An intriguing illustration begins with an ad announcing that the devil has put some of his tools up for sale. On the day of the sale, the tools were placed out for public inspection. Each tool had its price tag. Everyone recognized what a terrible collection it was – hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lying, pride, etc. But laid aside from the rest was the highest priced tool, appearing harmless though well-worn. Someone asked, “What is the name of that tool?” The devil replied, “That is discouragement.” The man asked, “Why is it priced so high?” To this question the devil admitted it was because it was more useful to him than all the others. Why, he could pry open and enter a person’s heart with that tool when others had failed. It was badly worn because he used it so frequently on everyone, and few people knew it belonged to him.

Discouragement is a great tool of the devil. We must do battle with it in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But how? To discover some ways to climb out of the pit of discouragement we will take a look at I Kings 19.

King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were ruling over Israel at the time. Since Ahab treated Jezebel more like a mother than a wife, he always sought her stamp of approval. Jezebel introduced Baal worship (false god) to God’s people. As a result, there was a huge spiritual decline in the nation of Israel. So, God sent a spiritual heart surgeon – the prophet Elijah. Elijah invited Ahab and four hundred fifty Baal priests to a little barbeque on Mt. Carmel. Both Elijah and the priests built altars and asked for a match from heaven.The altar of Baal was left to rot with not even a spark. But Elijah’s dirt, rocks, wood and water were all consumed by fire from heaven. Onlookers were very impressed with the God of Israel, but they were depressed with Baal priests. Elijah slaughtered four hundred fifty Baal priests that day. Surely, back in Jezreel, King Ahab would set Jezebel straight as to the true God. Right? They would be ready for a revival? Right? Wrong!!

The Bible tells us,1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’ ” (I Kings 19:1-2). Although God was using Elijah to bring about a great spiritual awakening in the nation of Israel, there was one person who hated God’s prophet. Queen Jezebel could not stand him partly because he had so much influence. She was furious and sends a message to Elijah, “If I don’t kill you within twenty-four hours, I will be ready to kill myself.”

Jezebel’s resistance causes Elijah to get deeply discouraged. 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:3-4). God has been using this prophet in miraculous ways the last three years, and now, when one homicidal woman threatens his life, he gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die. He has gone from the mountain top of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement. He was so discouraged that he wanted to die.

But let’s not be too critical of Elijah because we are no different than God’s prophet. The Bible tells us, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” (James 5:17). He had the same problems we do, and in this case he had a problem with discouragement. How does God bring Elijah (and us) out of the pit of discouragement?

The first way is to FOCUS ON THE FACTS, NOT YOUR FEELINGS (I Kings 19:3-4). “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.” (I Kings 19:3). God had just defeated four hundred fifty prophets of Baal through Elijah, and now he was afraid of a death threat from a self-seeking queen. Elijah’s fear made him run and he kept on running.

Fear can make us run too. We run to alcohol… an affair… food… a new job… busyness… video games… the computer… the tennis court, etc. Fear speeds us up instead of slowing us down. When we are driven by fear, it is difficult to turn off our thoughts. We may even skip meals or overspend. We cannot relax. Repetitive negative thoughts bombard us. We feel irritable and have dramatic mood swings. We find ourselves drinking too much caffeine or over-exercising. It is difficult to be alone or to be with people. We often make excuses for having to “do it all.” The most fearful people are often the most busy.

Elijah made the mistake of focusing on his feelings rather than on the facts. This often happens when we are discouraged. We focus on how we feel rather than on reality.Elijah felt like a failure because of one incident that scared him. He thought to himself, “I’m such a coward – I’m not worthy to live. I might as well crawl up in a corner and die.” So, because he felt like a failure he assumed he was a failure and he wants to avoid people so he left his servant in Beersheba and goes alone into the desert. When we isolate ourselves from other people and focus on our feelings, it is a recipe for discouragement. We lose perspective so quickly when we withdraw from people and wallow in our feelings.

We must remember that feelings are not facts. Therefore, they can be very unreliable. For example, I can wake up and not feel like a Christian. Does that mean I am not a Christian? No. Being a Christian is based on faith in the facts of God’s Word, not my feelings. Feelings often lie, so when we focus on our feelings rather than facts, we are going to get into trouble. Many psychologists believe that one key to health is to get your feelings out in the open. While we do need to identify and process our feelings, that is not the complete answer.

The Bible emphasizes that we need to get in touch with the truth rather than our feelings, because it is the truth that sets us free. Jesus said, 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). What is the opposite of truth? A lie. Satan often inserts lies into the limbic system of our (right) brains when trauma takes place in our lives. The limbic system is usually programmed by the time we are six years old. Our prefrontal cortex (our moral and impulse control system) of the (left) brain is not developed until we are twenty-five years of age. Over ninety-eight percent of the decisions we make in life are done subconsciously in the limbic system. So much of our lives are directed by patterns of the past.

Also, the limbic system is programmed to help us cope and survive, and coping behavior is at the core of avoiding our pain and fear. When we take sinful coping mechanisms and make them a lifestyle, we experience bondage to our fears.

People who are driven by fear often have wounds that were caused during childhood or adolescence that fuel their fears as adults. For example, when a six-year old boy is brutally raped and then threatened by his rapist, Satan can easily insert a lie associated with that intense trauma that says, “This happened to me because I am bad.” That little boy grows up believing this lie. At the core of his being he believes he is flawed and that no one could possibly love him if they knew him. The shame from this lie leads him to turn to unhealthy coping behaviors as an adult to numb the pain from his unresolved trauma.

Trauma comes in many forms and it can be experienced as a child and as an adult. High intensity trauma such as military combat, a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a family member, or divorce can leave deep wounds within one’s soul. But one does not have to experience intense trauma to struggle with shame-based lies and addictions. You may have experienced low intensity trauma that takes place frequently such as neglect, verbal rejection, minimal affection, teasing by a stepbrother, having few friends, etc. The cumulative effect of low intensity trauma can be just as damaging as high intensity trauma.  

When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). To “abide” (menō) in Christ’s Word means “to continue or remain” in Jesus’ teaching – literally, “to make one’s home at.” Where we make our home is where we spend our time. The Jews knew a lot of Scripture, but they did not know the Author of the Scriptures. “Knowing the truth” means knowing Christ who is the truth (John 14:6; cf. 8:32, 36).

How do I abide in Christ’s Word? Early in my Christian life I learned a method of abiding in Christ’s Word that was primarily for my left brain, not my right brain or limbic system. That method basically focused on downloading biblical data into my left brain through reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture. But keep in mind that most of our decision making takes place in the right brain, albeit at an unconscious level. So if all I am doing is downloading Scripture into my left brain, I am going to experience little transformation. In the couple of years, I have learned a new method of abiding in Christ’s Word that is for both the left and right parts of the brain. This method involves an acrostic, S.W.O.R.D., from Seven Pillars of Freedom by Dr. Ted Roberts:

S – Scripture. For over twenty years, I have read through the entire Bible each year. I was so busy reading through my required passages to get through the Bible in a year, that it became another hurried thing I did in my busy schedule. But now, I approach God’s Word meditatively – not to analyze or criticize the Word, but to be analyzed and challenged by God’s Word. So first, I write God’s Word down on paper. Writing it down will help your thoughts to slow down and focus on the truth of the Scripture.

W – Wait. Read the Scripture again on your knees if possible. Read it aloud slowly and attentively. Then pause to let the passage sink in. Read the Scripture again, this time asking yourself the following questions, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? Where am I in this passage?” Finally read the passage again noticing what word or words grab your attention. Focus on those words. Chew on them for a few minutes. We have a tendency to intellectualize Scripture instead of experience God’s Word. During the waiting, we want to involve multiple senses – sight, hearing, feelings, touch, etc., to come to our observation about God, ourselves, and others.

O – Observe. Take a seat and write down what you observed in the Scripture. When we journal the Scriptures, we retain sixty percent more of what we learn. What truth do you discover in these verses? How does God see me and how do I see God and me? This will clarify your thought processes and involve another whole section of your brain.

R – Request that the Holy Spirit help you see how all of this applies to your life. This is not an academic process but a process of the heart. You are specifically asking the Word to analyze you instead of you analyzing the Word. This often triggers a neurochemical cascade of new understanding where your mind is being renewed.

D – Dedicate. What helps us from being just touched by God to being transformed is the commitment of our heart and will. Trying harder will not get us headed in the right direction when it comes to freedom from our fears. But once the Holy Spirit gets us headed in the right direction, dedicating ourselves to that direction in life will transform us.

We may avoid applying biblical truth because it is painful or difficult. Jesus said if you abide in His Word, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). But at first, the truth may make you miserable! What is the opposite of truth? It is error or lies. God’s Word exposes the lies we believe that keep us enslaved to sin. The truth reveals our motives, points out our faults, rebukes our sin, and expects us to change. It is human nature to resist change, so applying God’s Word is hard work.

That is why I cannot stress enough the importance of being a part of a discipleship relationship with other believers. In fact, notice what Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31b). The path to freedom from our fears is discipleship. We were wounded in the context of relationships, and we are healed in the context of relationships – healthy relationships. We always learn from others truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God’s truth in a practical way. They can also help hold you accountable and I know I need that, don’t you?

The more we abide in Christ’s Word, the more we shall know the truth which can set us free from the lies that fuel our fears. You may have been through some terrible trauma that has left you deeply wounded. Your life may be driven by shame-based lies that drive your fears. You may have asked yourself, “Where was Jesus when this happened to me?” I want to encourage you, if you are a believer in Jesus, to invite Him to walk with you through that trauma. And as you do this, ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer the following questions:

– Where was Jesus when this happened to me?

– What look do I see on His face?

– And what truth would He say to me soon after this happened?

Christ cares for those who struggle with fears. I believe the more we encounter the radical love of Jesus Christ amidst our fears, the deeper His healing will be of our wounds. Healing that is based upon His truth. Getting the truth down into our souls is what brings change and freedom from our fears. Knowing the truth is not just a point of head knowledge; it is relational, it is intimate, and it is expressed through action.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all of us can be like Elijah. By Your grace, we can have a mountaintop experience of victory, followed by opposition, and suddenly find ourselves running from our fears. Like Elijah, we can respond to our fears by speeding up and isolating ourselves from others. Please guide us in responding to our fears in a way that brings us back to You and the truth of Your Word. Thank You for reminding us that our feelings are not facts. They are simply feelings. They provide us with information, not instruction. Your Word gives us the instructions we need to identify our fears and past wounds that are often associated with them. Please reveal any lies that may be attached to our past wounds. Lord Jesus, since You are God, You are able to walk with us through those wounds and the lies associated with them. As You help us identify our feelings and any lies attached to them, please replace those lies with Your truth so we can overcome our fears. Regardless of how painful this process may be or how long it takes, we commit ourselves into Your loving hands. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

Finding Completeness in Christ

“And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:10

The apostle Paul was writing to Christians in Colossae to encourage them to continue to embrace God’s Word and the Lord Jesus Christ so they would not be led away from Christ through the instruction of false teachers. Paul told these believers to beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). The teachings of these false teachers were not “according to Christ” in God’s Word, but were rooted in “philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men.”

If any philosophy, religion, or science contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture, then it is wrong. The false teachers in Colossae were contradicting God’s Word with their teachings on spirituality, angels, self-abasement, and Christ. They were leading believers astray because their perverse teachings were not according to Christ. Many false teachings abound today on how to become ‘spiritual,’ and the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to learn what is pleasing to God.” 1

Next Paul explains how to remain strong in Christ against the false teachings of others. He writes, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9). This is an amazing statement about Jesus Christ. What Christians have in Jesus Christ is completely adequate because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Jesus was not a spirit-form as some erroneously teach. He was fully God (“fullness of the Godhead”)and fully human (“bodily”). The word “fullness” (plḗrōma)means “that which is brought to fullness or completion, full number… sum total, fullness, even (super) abundance… the full measure of deity.” 2  Christ did not cease to be God when He became a man. Everything that God is Jesus Christ is. Nor did Jesus give up His humanity at His resurrection. He remains fully God and fully human in His resurrection body.

There is no “fullness”in the philosophies of this world or in the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8). The only fullness is found in Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no fullness. Only emptiness. 3

When Satan—the once glorious angel—rebelled, God judged him (see Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-16). Then God created man, a creature made ‘lower than the angels’ and ‘subjected everything under his feet’ (Heb 2:7-8). Man was to rule over creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26-28). God planned to show what he could do with ‘less’ (when less was devoted to him) in contrast to ‘more’ (when more was in rebellion against him). But Adam abdicated his role as manager of creation (Gen 3:1-19), turning rule over to Satan—’the god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4) and ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ (Eph 2:2). But the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus Christ, succeeded where the first Adam failed. He came to solve the problem. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he possesses ‘the entire fullness of God’s nature’ (Col 2:9). But he also became a man, because God the Father intended that man would rule over his kingdom on earth and defeat Satan. Through his sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan’s legal authority and reclaimed the earthly kingdom.” 4

This is why Paul then writes, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10). Since Christ is fully God and fully Man (Colossians 2:9), believers in Jesus are “complete in Him.” The word “complete” (plēróō) means “to make full, fill… persons with powers, qualities.” 5  A Christian’s fullness or completeness is found in Christ “who is the head of all principality and power.” Jesus has all authority (“is the head of”) over Satan and his followers (“all principality and power”), including false teachers who try to mislead believers away from Jesus Christ and His Word. Christians partake of Christ’s “fullness,” not in His deity. Believers are not gods.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive God’s righteousness so we are “complete in Him.” (cf. Romans 4:5). All our essential needs are met in Christ. Therefore as a believer in Jesus, I can know I am “complete” in Him, lacking nothing. False teachers were telling Paul’s readers that they needed more than Christ to be complete. They told these Christians to practice asceticism or self-abasement, and adhere to their secret knowledge (Colossians 2:8, 18, 20b-23) and legalism or self-made religion (Colossians 2:16-17) to find their fullness.  

Satan wants to deceive us into believing that we are not complete in Christ. He wants to lead us away from Christ because he knows when he does, he can control us. He may use philosophy, religion, science, technology, or a compassionate teacher to accomplish his purpose. He may use infatuation or a TV program to lead us away from Jesus. Satan has been around for thousands of years and he knows how to deceive people. The Devil is an expert at twisting the truth to lead someone away from Jesus who is “the truth” (John 14:6).

But apart from Christ, we cannot find fulfillment or completeness. We may try to find it in the things of this world or in the traditions of people, but all of these things fail to satisfy the longings of our souls.

Only Jesus can meet our deepest needs. Only in Christ can we find the fullness and completeness that satisfies our souls. Because in Christ we are complete, we do not need to seek something more to complete us. We can be content with what we have in Jesus. This is foundational to growing in our Christian lives.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, because You are fully God and fully Man, I can find completeness in You. Only You can satisfy my deepest needs. Forgive me for looking outside of You to find that completeness that only You can provide. Right now, I ask You to restore my union with You, Lord. I give everything in me for union with You. I need more of You, God. Please fill me with more of You, Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Shawn Leach, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1104.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 829.

3. Norm Geisler,  The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, Kindle Edition, 2018), pg. 436.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2146-2147.

5. Walter Bauer, pg. 828.

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 5

“Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” John 10:19

The final way in this passage that we can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd is when we IMPART A CONSISTENT AND CLEAR WITNESS TO THE LOST ABOUT CHRIST (John 10:19-21). Jesus’ claims to be the Messianic Shepherd of Israel received a mixed response from His Jewish audience (John 10:1-18). “Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” (John 10:19). Because of what Jesus taught about being Israel’s Messianic Shepherd and yet dying for His sheep, His audience continued to be divided over Him. In the mind of the average Jew this was a contradiction. The Israelites expected a political Messiah to deliver them from political oppression, but Jesus came to be a spiritual Messiah to deliver them from the penalty of sin. The people rejected Christ because He did not live up to their expectations.

Even Christians can succumb to a similar kind of thinking that says if you are following Christ, you will have fewer problems and less suffering. In fact, believers may be quick to reject other believers who are suffering or display weaknesses because of this false expectation.

“And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20). Some of Jesus’ listeners concluded that He “has a demon and is mad” or insane to say such things! They questioned why anyone would “listen” to such a man. His teachings seemed unreasonable and impossible to them.

Yet others were impressed with what Jesus was saying. “Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ “ (John 10:21). Christ’s gracious teaching did not resemble that of a demon nor did His miraculous healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). This group says what Jesus is not but they make no attempt to say who Christ is.

Throughout his gospel, John emphasizes the two opposite conclusions that people draw from Jesus’ teaching, even though Christ’s witness to His identity as God was sufficiently consistent and clear. This should be an encouragement to all Christians who tell others the truth about Christ. Not even Jesus Himself convinced everyone that He was God’s Son. When believers openly identify with Christ by telling others who He is and what He has done for them, they can experience a closer relationship with Him regardless of how others respond to the message. After all, Jesus is our Good Shepherd Who has entrusted us with His Good News (gospel) to share with others. As we proclaim this good news to others, we are also proclaiming it to ourselves. And in a world that is filled with bad news these days, it does our souls good to hear the good news of our Good Shepherd! And let’s remember that as disciples of Christ, our responsibility is to be clear and consistent in our witness for Christ to the lost; however, it is Jesus’ responsibility to save them.

It is also true that the lies of the Devil can keep believers from being a consistent and clear witness to the gospel of Christ. After all, Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). In EvanTell’s Evangelism Study Bible, it reads, “He [Satan] misrepresented what God said to Eve since only one tree was off limits (see Gen. 2:16-17; 3:11). He even cast doubt over God’s character, implying that God would hold back what was best for them (see Gen. 3:4-5).

“Satan still uses lies to hinder believers in evangelism today. Here are five he commonly uses:

“1. ‘Non-Christian aren’t that approachable.’ Some aren’t, but some are. How do we know unless we approach the subject of spiritual things? One person who wasn’t open doesn’t represent everyone. Additionally, a person completely closed yesterday may be open today. God can use a single day’s events to get someone’s attention.” 1

For example, when I was flying back to Manila from a mission trip to the southern Philippines five years ago, I sat next to a Filipino businesswoman and asked her if I may show her from the Bible how she can know for sure she has eternal life and will go to heaven when she dies. She told me she was not interested. I thanked her for her honesty, and then I prayed a silent prayer to the Lord asking Him to open this woman’s heart so she can be saved.

As we approached the Manila Airport, the pilot told us that weather conditions were not favorable but they would still try to land. There was a lot of turbulence as we descended toward the airport. As our plane tried to land, it had to pull up at the last minute because the winds and rain were too strong and the pilot could not see. A wave of panic swept across the passenger area. Our plane circled around to make another attempt at landing. I was praying for the Lord to keep us safe and open the hearts of the people on the plane. As the pilot made another attempt to land in Manila he had to pull up again at the last minute because of poor visibility. There was a nervous hush among the passengers. The pilot then announced that our flight would be diverted to Clark Air Base about a fifteen-minute flight (three-hours’ drive by car) away.

The Lord prompted me to share with the passenger who earlier did not want to talk about how to get to heaven. I now asked her if she would like to know what she must do to get to heaven if she only had five minutes to live. She said, “Yes.”  So I introduced Acts 16:31 to her by telling her the Philippian jailer thought he had a short time to live, so he asked a missionary what he must do to be saved from hell. I then shared Acts 16:31 with her and explained it to her. I asked her, “Do you believe in Jesus now to save you from hell so you can live with Him forever in heaven?” She said, “Yes. Thank you.” I briefly explained to her that she now has everlasting life which cannot be lost. The Lord then enabled me to share the same thing with the passenger across the aisle from me. As I was sharing I noticed the passenger directly behind me was also listening. So when I finished with this passenger, I did the same thing with the one behind me. Praise God for the typhoon which got people to think about life and death and where they will spend eternity.

Continuing with lies that Satan commonly uses in evangelism, is “2. ‘You may end up doing more harm than good.’ That’s not possible. God honors obedience, so you never go wrong by serving Him in evangelism. Suppose you say the ‘wrong things’ in the mind of someone else or were not as tactful as you needed to be. God is more honored by someone who attempts to evangelize and makes mistakes than someone who doesn’t do anything. Ultimately God is in control even if we make a mistake, He is bigger than our mistakes.

3. ‘You might not be able to answer their questions.’ You may not be able to answer every objection, but who said you have to? That’s certainly not something Jesus ever said. Should the non-Christian ask a question you can’t answer, it’s honoring to God to say ‘I don’t know.’ Then look up the answer and you will be better prepared the next time. New converts tend to lead more people to Christ than anyone else, yet they know very little and often can’t answer most questions an unbeliever would ask. God often uses their zeal and excitement to convince non-Christians of their need for Christ.

“4. ‘Your life isn’t what it ought to be.’ It may not be. But keep in mind two things. First, Satan is a master of intimidation. No believer’s life is a perfect example of Christ. If you wait till your life is everything it ought to be, you will never evangelize. That’s what Satan prefers. Second, God doesn’t use perfect believers. There are none. He uses imperfect believers who are trying to be who God wants them to be. Seek to live the life you should, but don’t wait till you are ‘there’ to evangelize.

“5. ‘There is probably a better time than today.’ Satan doesn’t care what you do as long as you do it tomorrow. Procrastination is one of his tools. How do people know what the best timing is unless they attempt to evangelize today?

“Lies- Satan’s tool. Recognize lies for what they are and don’t allow him to hinder you in your evangelism outreach.” 2

As I traveled on mission trips throughout the Philippines, I experienced various responses to the preaching of the gospel message. The majority have been very responsive to the gospel of Christ and have publicly indicated that they are now trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life. Some, however, have expressed indifference or even animosity toward the gospel. Regardless of how people respond, God asks me to be a faithful steward of His gospel (I Corinthians 4:1-2; Colossians 4:4; I Thessalonians 2:3-10).

When we are faithful to preach the gospel clearly and consistently in season and out of season, we can experience a closeness to our Good Shepherd whose witness was always consistent and clear during His earthly ministry. Even Jesus, the perfect Messiah-God, could not convince everyone that He was God in human flesh and nor will we. Our responsibility is to be faithful to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). It is Jesus’ responsibility to give them everlasting life and transform them into His likeness (John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, it still amazes me how divided people are concerning Your identity both now and when You walked on the earth. Even though You gave a clear and consistent witness to Your identity as the promised Messiah-God, people formed different conclusions about You. I am realizing more and more that the primary reason for this is because Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), has deceived people into believing his lies about You to keep them from having life in Your name (John 20:31; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Regardless of how people respond, Lord Jesus, please enable me to preach Your gospel message clearly and consistently to everyone who is perishing without You. You could have chosen angels or billboards to proclaim Your life-giving message. But instead, You entrusted Your precious gospel with imperfect sinners like me to share this life-changing message. Thank You that You are in me and with me through Your Spirit to help me do this in a way that brings You glory and draws me closer to You. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), p. 1174.

2. Ibid.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 6

For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” John 9:39

Today we will look at the last symptom and solution of spiritual blindness in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John. After the former blind man discovered Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and believed in Him, he worshiped Christ (John 9:35-38). Jesus then said to the healed man, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” (John 9:39). Jesus came into this world to bring “judgment” based on how people respond to Him. “Those who do not see may see” refers to those who like the former blind man, humbly admit their spiritual blindness and sin and call out to Christ to heal them of their spiritual blindness so they might see and believe the gospel. Jesus is saying that humility leads to sight.

This is the fifth solution to spiritual blindness: DECIDE TO AGREE WITH CHRIST ABOUT YOUR OWN SINFULNESS AND NEED FOR A SAVIOR (John 9:39a). Christ will give spiritual sight to those who humble themselves and admit their spiritual blindness and their need for God’s forgiving grace. He will forgive those who come to Him in faith like this healed man did.

When Jesus said, “Those who [think they] see may be made blind,” He is referring to the self-righteous, like the Pharisees, who refused to humble themselves and admit they were spiritually blind. They thought they already could see spiritually. Jesus came to show unbelievers like these religious experts that they were spiritually blind. Their works-salvation was spiritual blindness. Christ does not forgive the self-righteous because they do not see their need to come to Him for forgiveness. Instead, they are deceived by their own sin into thinking that they can be saved by their own works.

This is the sixth symptom of spiritual blindness. DECEIVED BY THEIR OWN SIN (John 9:39b-41). In this case, Jesus promised the “judgment” of becoming more spiritually blind because they refused to humble themselves and admit their own spiritual blindness. They were puffed up with pride and Jesus is saying that pride leads to more blindness.

“Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ ” (John 9:40). Their question expects a “No” answer. It does not occur to them that they are spiritually blind. They don’t acknowledge their own sin, guilt, and need for forgiveness. “Certainly, we of all people have spiritual perception!” Pharisaical people deceive themselves from seeing their own sinfulness. The deceitfulness of sin often makes self-righteous people, who are in the greatest need of God’s help, think that they are the most spiritually enlightened people. Only God’s Spirit, using God’s Word, can break through that deep darkness, to bring conviction of spiritual blindness, and to create openness to the gospel.

If these religious leaders had been willing to admit their own blindness and sinfulness, Jesus would have given them grace. But they did not. So Jesus gives them truth. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.’ ” (John 9:41). Christ is saying, “If you recognized your spiritual blindness and acknowledged your sin and guilt, you would have come to Me for forgiveness. And I would have forgiven you so ‘you would have no sin.’ But because you claim to have spiritual sight and deny your own sin, and refuse to come to Me for forgiveness, ‘your sin remains.’ ” These leaders refused to admit their sinfulness and need for a Savior. Since they refused to believe or trust in Christ alone for His forgiveness, they remained in their sins, guilty before God. They were swollen with pride. They loved the darkness and hated the Light. Their treatment of the Son of God confirmed their spiritual blindness. When we think that nothing is wrong with us (I John 1:8), everything is wrong with us.  

Someone once said, “The same sun that melts butter, hardens clay.” Light gives sight to some and it blinds others. Jesus has the same effects. The physical and spiritual healing of the man born blind reveals the healing power of Jesus Christ toward those who respond in faith toward Him (John 3:36a). But it also reveals the condemning power of Jesus Christ toward those who refuse to believe in Him (John 3:36b).

There may be someone in your life who seems like clay but is turning into butter. Pray about a time to share the gospel with him or her. On the other hand, you may know of a person who seemed like butter, but is now turning into clay. Pray for the Lord to melt their resistance to Him. Ask God to show you how to best minister to him or her. 

I wonder how many of you are experiencing Christ’s healing grace so that He can live through you in such a way that you help others to see Him more clearly. The blind man experienced Jesus’ healing grace on a physical and spiritual level. As we experience God’s grace in our relationship with the Lord, it will carry over in our relationships with one another (cf. Ephes. 4:32). In an age when hatred is more common than love, we could all use greater doses of God’s love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my default setting is to think first of myself and then about others, including You. Thank You for exposing this selfishness in me that I still battle daily. I was once spiritually blind and proud of it. I thought I could get to heaven through my own good works and therefore I had no need for a Savior. But You still pursued me and gradually revealed to me the depth of my sin and arrogance which had deceived me into thinking this way. I am eternally grateful that Your light exposed my darkness and led me to believe in You alone as my only hope of heaven. As a believer in You for everlasting life, I can still be deceived into thinking I do not need You in my daily life to grow and become more like You. Please, my Lord and my God, help me to melt like butter rather than harden like clay when exposed to the Light of the Son. I pray that Your light will also have the freedom to shine through me to others so they may be drawn to You. In Your magnificent name I pray. Amen.