Growing In Godliness Blog
What Makes Christianity Unique?
By Mark McCrary
Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?
Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).
But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.
Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s what makes Christianity unique.
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).
Our Spiritual Heritage
By Kim Davis
Where are you from?
It is a common question we ask one another when making new acquaintances. The answer provides a little insight into one’s past. Maybe the question is asked because one is looking for a commonality, or wants to understand the background behind another’s dialect, or perhaps it is pure curiosity.
I research genealogy as a hobby. I am captivated by it and can spend hours in front of the computer looking at census records, immigration records, ship passenger lists, and other ancestral information. I often think about the time I spend reflecting upon the past. Does it really matter who my ancestors were? Of course, our salvation does not hinge upon it. But in many respects, our individuality is a direct reflection of our ancestor’s and their decisions.
Our ancestors decided whether or not to believe in God. If so, how and where would they worship God? They made decisions about what type of values they would instill in their children. They determined how hard they would work at their marriage. They decided how to teach their children to respect and serve others.
Each generation processes what they have or have not learned from their parents, grandparents, or other important figures, while also considering additional outside influences to then face the same decisions.
Generation after generation of imperfect Christians will face struggles, heartaches, disappointments, and discouragement. Each generation will stumble along the way but they must continue to follow Christ to the best of their ability. Each generation has a responsibility to learn, to grow in knowledge and faith, and to teach others about Christ. This is the only way the perfect law can be spread to the next generation. Deut. 6:5-7 says “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
We cannot let Satan derail us. I do not want to be the person in my family tree who decides to stop following Christ. I want to do everything in my power to continue this tradition of worshipping God and serving him faithfully and influencing my children to do the same. We often hear “it does not matter where you came from, what matters is where you are going?” Where we come from determines our starting point in life but what truly matters is the point where we end. Are we ready to meet our Redeemer when our time comes?
At Douglass Hills, we teach our children about their spiritual heritage. When you think back to Abraham and the unbroken lineage that brought us our Savior, it is a marvelous wonder that certainly was planned.
“Our children are a heritage from the Lord,” Psalm 127:3. I believe the Lord shares John’s sentiment written in III John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
How are we individually contributing to our own children’s spiritual heritage, or to the spiritual heritage of other children at Douglass Hills? It is the single most important thing in their life and demands our full attention. Providing for our families is important. Leisure activities are important. Family time is important. Let us all make sure we are not letting the important things crowd out the most important, which is Christ. Knowing Him. Teaching Him. Loving like Him. Trying our best to be like Him.
Reflections on the New Star Wars Movies and a Disturbing Cultural Message
By Mark McCrary
I’ve been thinking about the new Star Wars movies. No, this isn’t a review, a geeky complaint or admonition to watch them. It is a consideration of what they are saying about us as a culture. There’s a spiritual point, so please stick with me for a few minutes.
I remember walking out of the second new movie (“The Last Jedi”) wondering, “Okay… so, who’s the bad guy here?” The one I thought was the bad guy, Snoke, had been killed in the middle of the movie. I didn’t think it was Kylo Ren because while he was sometimes bad, he kinda acted like he wanted to be good sometimes. So, who’s the bad guy?
Why’s it so important to have a bad guy? Because the original Star Wars movies were a morality play. They were good versus evil. In the first Star Wars movie, within the first 5 minutes we were introduced to Darth Vader. He was dark, imposing, barking orders with his deep bass, slightly mechanized voice, lifting people up in the air choking them with the power of the Force… and that was the just the beginning of the movie. Hands down, there were no questions as to who the bad guy was in this movie (and the subsequent original movies). But, there was no one like that in the new movies.
I think—on reflection—that the possible reason why could be of significance to Christians. You see, the original and new movies were made in two very different times in our nation’s culture. In the 70’s (with all its problems), there was still an acceptance of some absolutes; in good and evil; black and white. However, today, absolutes are by and large rejected. Views about right and wrong are more “nuanced.” Rather than black and white, things are more gray and uncertain.
It is true that there is a lot of gray in life. But absolutes, black and white, right and wrong… these are things that can’t be ignored. If they are, it is to our peril. This isn’t just reality; it is biblical.
God is good (Exodus 34:6; 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 145:9). Not just sometimes, but always. He is perfect, and all his guidances are right (Psalm 19:7-11). Jesus is the absolute perfect physical reflection of this perfect God (John 1:1,14; Hebrews 1:3), and He is the only way to Him (John 14:6).
The Devil is evil (Matthew 13:19)—not misunderstood; not confused. He is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and to follow Him leads to certain, eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41-46).
There is light and darkness (1 John 1:5-10), and you and I have to choose which one we will walk in. If we choose the light, we will go to heaven. If we choose darkness, we will be lost in hell forever.
Now, I acknowledge I may be making too much out of this. But, importantly, as our culture drifts more into a rejection of absolutes it will be reflected more and more in our entertainment. Followers of God must not have our heads in the sand about this. While I am not suggesting we must abstain from entertainment because of these messages (though some may choose to), I am saying in no uncertain terms that we must be aware of them; and more importantly, aware of the biblical message and its truthfulness. We must stand by that message. Otherwise, we will be spiritually confused and liable to fall for any deception that comes our way (Ephesians 4:14).
Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians
By Brock Henry
If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus.
Based on the number of prophets Jesus quoted and the number of times He quoted them, it seems safe to assume that Jesus spent significant time studying the prophets. Contrary to our shying away from them, Jesus apparently immersed Himself in the prophets.
Why are these ancient texts so crucial, though? Why should we (and why did Jesus) spend so much time in them?
The overarching answer lies in the text of Ephesians 2:19-20: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone…”
If Christ is the cornerstone of the building of which we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5), then the apostles and the prophets are the foundation on which the building is grounded. The prophets undergird the very structure in which Christ is the defining feature.
Therefore, the prophets are not incidental to who we are as Christians; they are foundational.
Consider, though, two additional reasons for us to dive deep into the messages of the prophets: First, they teach us about God, the Creator. Second, they teach us about ourselves as created beings.
Here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about God:
God is faithful. We will wander away from God, but He will never wander away from us. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
God is patient and long-suffering. In large part, God repeated the same messages over and over to His people, because He wanted to give them time to repent and to come home. “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them” (Jeremiah 7:25). God has demonstrated a willingness to endure significant rejection and great personal agony in order to give people continued opportunity to come home.
God is willing and able to punish obstinate sinners. God is merciful, yes, but He is also just. And a just God punishes those who willfully refuse to obey. “For I solemnly warned your fathers...yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant…” (Jeremiah 11:7-8). If we are punished by God, we will deserve it, and it will be in spite of the fact that He provide us with ample opportunity to repent.
Second, here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about ourselves:
We want to go our own way even when it’s not in our best interest. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” (Isaiah 53:6). And as we know from the Proverbs, our own way can lead us straight to disaster: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
We are not sufficiently wise to direct our own steps. No matter how much we think we know and understand, we do not have sufficient perspective to appropriately choose a path for ourselves. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Insisting that we have sufficient wisdom to direct our own steps is equivalent to a blind man insisting he has sufficient sight to drive a car.
Our thoughts and ways are infinitely lower than God’s. Because of our insolent pride, our egos may be as high as the heavens, but our abilities are not. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
To recap, the prophets are crucial to us as twenty-first century Christians for at least three reasons:
They are foundational to our Christianity.
They teach us about the Creator.
They teach us about ourselves as created beings.
But, let’s finish where we started...with Jesus (and us).
If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus. He knew the prophets, because He studied the prophets, and He studied the prophets, because they were important.
In the end, though, Jesus studied the prophets not simply because they were important, but because they were central to His very mission: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
If that is the case, we must study the prophets then, because Jesus is central to our mission.