Growing In Godliness Blog
By Paul Earnhart
C.S. Lewis, in the preface to his little book, The Screwtape Letters, observed that there were two opposite errors about “devils” into which men could fall. One was to disbelieve in their existence and the other was to have an excessive interest in them. We believe that the wholesome desire to understand what the Bible says about Satan is not to stumble into either of these pitfalls. The following questions will helpfully guide our investigation: Who is Satan? Where did he originate? Why and when did he fall? We begin with the first.
Who or what is Satan? Is he a personal being or merely an idea? The Bible clearly indicates that Satan is a person with an identity, mind, and will of his own. Jesus and the devil confronted and spoke with each other in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 4:1-11). To question the personal nature of the devil is no more possible than to doubt the personal nature of God’s Son.
Yet, if the devil is personal, he is a spiritual rather than a physical being. In Ephesians 6:11-12, Paul urges Christians to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but… against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Mythical “Satans” abound, but there is no biblical evidence that the devil ever manifested himself as a bat-winged, cloven hoofed creature dressed in a red suit and armed with a pitchfork. Like Jesus, his personal appearance is never described, but his spirit and ideas are discussed at length. It is only in the symbolic visions of Revelation that Satan is seen as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns” (Revelations 12:3, 9). In the same visions, Jesus is portrayed as a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6).
We turn now to the origin of the devil, when and how he came to be. That God created Satan seems clear since He created all things, whether visible or invisible, i.e., whether physical or spiritual (Colossians 1:16). But did He create him as he now is— the rebellious purveyor of all evil? The same question might be asked about men. Solomon says that there is not a righteous man upon the earth that does good and sins not (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Is this how God has made us— to live in hatred, selfishness, and rebellion? The testimony of Genesis is that when God had created the universe and man, He “saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That it is not so now is evident and it is Solomon again who tells us why: “God made man upright but they have sought out many inventions…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27), a moral creature with a will free to choose, and urged us to choose the good, the high, the holy. But all since Adam have opted instead for the evil and the impure. God could have created us as biological robots and there would have been no sin in the world, but there would have been no true people either, no love, no goodness, no compassion, no faithfulness— for all things are as surely the product of free will as sin is.
There are beings other than men in the universe who are creatures of free will. They are of a higher order (Hebrews 2:7), entirely spiritual (Ephesians 6:12) and entirely free. Of them Peter writes: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…” (2nd Peter 2:4; see also Jude 6). Some angels, then, like the whole of the human race, have become rebels against God. Could Satan be a fallen angel? Yes, it is possible, even probable, though it is nowhere explicitly stated in the Scripture. His original fall is never described for us. The reference to the fall of “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 is speaking fo the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), not the devil. Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:18 has reference to the defeat of Satan’s agents by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Revelation 12:9-11 is speaking of the downfall of Satan brought about by the redemptive blood of God’s Son.
Still, it is evident that at some point (before creation or after) Satan fell by rebellious pride into sin. In Job he not only accuses man of faithlessness, but charges God with stupidity (Job 1:7-11). He has nothing but contempt for both God and man and is our adversary (satan) and accuser (devil) at the very point where we may be reconciled to each other— in Christ and the cross. To prove man unworthy and and God foolish he tempts us to corrupt ourselves (1st Corinthians 7:5; 1st Thessalonians 3:5). In the pursuit of his purposes he has no scruples. Lies and deceit are his long suit (Genesis 3:4; John 8:44). He is consummately selfish. Unlike God, who wishes to bless and enlarge us, Satan desires only to devour us (1st Peter 5:8).
What is the lesson here? Do not take Satan lightly (Jude 9) for he is stronger than we are, but do not be intimidated by him either. He can be decisively routed by any heart which trusts absolutely in God’s power, wisdom, and grace (James 4:6-7; Romans 8:33-34; Revelation 12:10-11; Ephesians 6:10-17).
What Does God Want From Me?
By Paul Earnhart
In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question. The question is built in; the answer is not.
In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that. Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions. American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:
"I close my eyes to see,
I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow
Upon that God who knows what I would know.”
Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness. Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities. It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.
It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way. Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5). Not everything goes. The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4). King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will. Samuel's rebuke tells the story: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).
The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often. When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8). To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23). Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7). What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.
What is the lesson here? Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al. All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29). What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29). In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.
Humbled For Service
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life-changing tool. Consider, for a moment, the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him, he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self-assured young man who seemingly “knew it all.” It is not unusual for young men (and women, too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain that Christianity—like Christ—had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self-assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong.
As he journeyed to Damascus, he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body which he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he had been.
But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word is amazing, for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation—indeed, his journey of humility—is seen in his writings. Note the progression:
• In 1 Corinthians 15:9, written about 56 AD, he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” This was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying, I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team.”
• Then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8. He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger—much larger—but is still comprised of a minority.
• Then two years later he writes, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his own words, we learn Paul has been completely humbled. By the time he wrote 1 Timothy he says is was the foremost of ALL sinners.
How did this journey of humility come to be? By constant contact with the inspired Word and by contemplation of the gold standard Himself – Jesus Christ. Paul was changed. If we will let it, such is the transforming power of the Word in us. Paul was transformed by the Word and the Word will transform us so we will have our high self-opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our Lord.
One New Man
How can man have a relationship with God? How can man who is far off from God be near? How can man be part of God’s family? How can a dead man be a new man?
Without hope, now hope
Man needs God. Man needs what God provides. Sin estranged man from God (2:1-3). God did not abandon man. Man abandoned God. In Christ, God makes the move toward man to reconcile him. It may be hard for us to see ourselves in the book of Ephesians. We do not see ourselves as Gentiles. Yet, the description by Paul about the Gentiles applies to us (Ephesians 2:11-12). Paul has said that man is lost and God has reached out in mercy, love and kindness through His Son to save him (2:1-10). Now, he describes the Gentile (and us) as estranged from God, a stranger, without hope and without God (2:11-12). What a desperate, bleak picture. Good news! Man does not have to be without Christ. Gentiles may not have had a codified law, like the Jew, but in Christ he can have a covenant relationship with God. He does not have to remain alien to God or be without promise. Because of God’s grace, the Gentile, who was once far off can now be near (2:13). He can belong to God. He can be a citizen in His kingdom. He can have a home. Once described in the bleakest of terms, he can now be described as God’s child.
Both, Jew and Gentile, One New Man
The focus of the gospel message is singular: “I have given My Son, so you can be my child.” In Christ, God’s purpose is making both Jew and Gentile one new man (2:14). He made both one. Yes, He made possible for Jew and Gentile to be brothers. But in making both one His aim was reconciling Jew and Gentile. The reconciliation is not between them. The one new man is not Jew and Gentile, but out of the Jews and out of the Gentiles, one new man, that is the same kind of new man. One kind of man that serves God, a Christian. He made both one, one thing of them both. A Jew still remained a Jew; a Gentile still remained a Gentile. But, in Christ, both are a new creation, a new kind of man. Now at peace with God (2:16-17). The law is taken out of the way (2:15). It was the special arrangement for Jews that made them a different kind of people from the Gentiles. When that was taken out of the way Jew and Gentile could be one with God. The force of what separated them has been dissolved. Not only that, but the estrangement man had with man has now been removed, especially between Jew and Gentile. There was a middle wall of partition. That wall has been abolished. Abolished means that which has separated Jew and Gentile has been rendered inoperative. That is, by His death on the cross, Jesus abolished the law of commandment and rendered inoperative the whole Mosaical system. That system contained ordinances that were designed to keep the Jews separate from the rest of mankind. But those ordinances were only designed to continue until Christ came and died as a sacrifice. After His death there was no longer any occasion to continue the ordinances and figure of the law that caused enmity between Jew and Gentile.
No access, now access
As a result, both have access to the Father (2:18). The idea of access takes us back to the imagery that if a person wanted an audience with royalty, that is a King or Queen, it was not because one sought it freely. If a person went up to the door of the King and knocked on his door to request an audience with Him, he may find himself without a head. No, if a person wanted access to the king, the king sent for that person. It was a great honor to have an invitation with the king. It was a great honor to have his attention. Here is the great news! In Christ we have an audience with the King and we do not have to wait to be invited by Him. We can have access to Him any time, any day, any place. The new man, with his new mind and new relationship, because of Christ’s blood, can have access to God!
Now family, now God’s child
Further, because of what God has provided in Christ this one new man can be a member of God’s household (2:19). Just think, one time man was a stranger to God, now, in Christ, he can be a member of His household. One time man was without right of citizenship. Now he is a fellow citizen enjoying equal privileges. Is it any wonder we sing, “Our God is an awesome God?”
Built on the chief cornerstone
Finally, Christ is the foundation of this new relationship. He is described as the chief cornerstone (2:20-21). The chief corner stone served as the primary foundation stone at the corner of a building. The architect fixed his standard for all measurements of the building on this stone. There was not a single line or angle of the building which was not determined by and adjusted to perfect symmetry of that stone. So it is with Christ. Christians find their true place of usefulness because of their relationship with Him. We find our rule and order for life in Him. Everything is measured by Him and everything is builded together and fitly framed in Him. Because of what Christ has done for us, God can live, rule in and dwell in us. His spirit can become my spirit (2:22).
So What Does This Mean For me?
Ephesians tells me I can receive God’s grace. I can live with hope and face God with hope. I can receive His promises. I can belong to Him. I can be a citizen in His kingdom. I can be a new kind of man. I can have the peace of God that passes understanding. I can have access to Him as my Father. I can be part of His family. I can enjoy all the privileges of being His child (1:1-14). I can build my life with Christ as my foundation. I can have His spirit. I can be His special creature created by Him for every good work (2:10). Look at what God has made possible for me! He made it possible for you too!
Two Ways to Read the Bible
I would suggest that there are two basic ways in which people read the Bible. There are those who read the Bible superficially, and there are those who read it more accurately. Now the alarming news is that sometimes it is sincerely religious people who make the mistake of reading the Bible superficially. Think of the difference between the way the Jews of Jesus’ day handled the Scriptures (take Matt 19.18-20 or Matt 15.3-6 as an example), and the way Jesus approached it (compare Matt 22.31-32). The Jews of Jesus’ day are a good example of highly religious people who had read the Scriptures superficially.
What is this superficial kind of reading? It is, among other things, often a self-centered and a this-worldly reading. In other words, people who take this approach often believe that the Bible is about some earthly condition or situation that will come about for them if they can understand how to get it from God. The condition may be the hope of an earthly kingdom, or it may be the prospect of getting rich, or it may be some nebulous sense of intellectual enlightenment, but whatever form it takes this approach to the Bible says that the Bible is about me and what good things God will do for me in my present life if I can just manage to please God. This is, generally speaking, the approach to religion of most pagans in the ancient world, and it is the approach to the Bible that is commonly found among the television evangelists today (especially those who preach the “Health and Wealth Gospel”). The tragic thing about this approach to the Bible is that it actually prevents the Bible from communicating its message. When we read the Bible through the lens of our own hopes and aspirations, the result is that we convince ourselves that the Bible really is talking about such things when in fact it is otherwise. In the end we only become self-deceived as we read the Bible in this way.
What about the other way of reading the Bible? How can we make sure we are reading it correctly and accurately?
Getting It Right
The answer is that we need to let the Bible itself show us the way. What we need to do is adopt the perspective of the Bible authors themselves (if we indeed believe that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit), and learn to read the Scriptures like they did. Then we will be reading the Bible as God meant it to be read; then the Bible will be communicating its message more clearly to us.
Now I realize that things are not always black-and-white. The fact is that some people manage to understand some parts of the Bible accurately while reading other parts superficially. Some parts of the Bible are “naturally” easy to understand correctly (although some people manage to misunderstand even the easy parts), and others are more difficult. Yet it is not a matter of percentages, as if the person who reads 51% of the Bible more accurately is the better Bible reader than the person who only gets 27% of it correctly. Furthermore, the Bible does not begin with a list of hermeneutical rules. Instead, God expects us to pick up the Bible and simply “listen.” He wants us to learn His view of things and see the story from His point of view. When we let the Bible simply tell its story on its own terms, then we are reading it correctly. When we bring our own self-seeking agendas to it, then we end up preventing the Bible from communicating to us, and the result is that we read it superficially.
We are talking here about first getting the right orientation, the right perspective. The orientation determines, in a large measure, the destination.
So what does the Bible tell us about this? Does the Bible reveal a particular perspective through which we are to understand the Biblical story? Is there a particular orientation which the Bible itself presents to us, for us to adopt as the way we look at things? I believe the answer to these questions is “yes,” and in the following installments on this topic I hope to help you see it.
Before we do that, however, a fundamental starting-point needs to be established. If we truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, then it would be best to begin reading the Bible with the understanding that it is God’s revelation of Himself to us. In other words, the Bible is primarily about God. That is to say, it is not primarily about us. Oh, we are involved to be sure, and God makes some wonderful offers and invitations to us in His word. But the Bible is not about satisfying our self-centered personal ambitions and worldly dreams. It is not some kind of code for getting rich or for dominating the world (like a political nation-state would). It is the revelation of God about Himself. It is the story, told by God Himself, of what God has done, is doing, and will do, a story that invites us to share the benefits of God’s wonderful activity.