Growing In Godliness Blog
Mary- A Modern Day Mentor
By Kim Davis
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worshipped by some religions. There are churches, statues, and prayers dedicated to her. While none of this is supported in the Bible, one cannot deny that Mary was a remarkable woman that we can look to as an example for us today.
Luke 1:30 tells us that Mary had favor with God. Out of all the women living during her time, God handpicked her to be the mother of His perfect, only begotten Son. This alone says a lot about Mary. The Lord knew He would need a strong woman who could bear the burdens that came with being the mother of the Lord. We all like to think our kids are perfect even though we know better. But Mary truly had a perfect child. Can you imagine how wonderful that would have been? No breaking curfew, no backtalk, but complete obedience. But on the other hand, imagine the heartache she felt watching her son be prepared for the cross, and hanging there in front of her in pain, as sweat and blood dripped down His body as He was being tortured. Sometimes we watch a child face the consequences of his/her actions and even though it hurts to watch, we know that facing those consequences will help build their character and hopefully teach them a lesson. But Mary’s child was suffering because of our sins. Have you ever seen a child punished unjustly for something that another child had done? It makes us angry as parents. It’s not fair and we want things to be handled justly. I can’t help but wonder if Mary experienced those same feelings, even though she knew it was God’s plan and she trusted in God.
Luke 1:34 tells us that Mary was a virgin. We know she was engaged to Joseph but yet she had kept herself pure for her husband. So let’s be honest here, is it possible to remain a virgin until marriage? Yes. Is it easy? No, it takes a great deal of determination and resolve. Many Christians have failed here but Mary did not. Sometimes we forget that people in the first century struggled with the same sins that we deal with today. All the way back to the Old Testament, the Bible is riddled with infidelity, multiple wives, and concubines. Controlling ourselves in the midst of physical passion is not harder today than it was for Mary and Joseph. We don’t always equip our young ladies with the tools and confidence they need to preserve their purity for their husbands. But Mary stayed strong and preserved herself for her husband and the Lord was pleased with this.
Luke 1:39 tells us that Mary confided in an older woman, Elizabeth. Imagine Mary’s state of shock after the angel dissipates, perhaps pacing the floor or staring out into space processing this visit she just experienced. Then, jumping up and looking for her shoes and grabbing her purse, jumping on a donkey and heading toward the hills of Judah. Her mind was probably going 90 miles an hour as she was trying to process everything the angel had just told her. Can you imagine the anxiety that she must have felt? She had been chosen to give birth to the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Have you ever received great, unexpected news and the first thing you wanted to do was share it with someone? She needed to talk to someone, to share in her excitement. I think it’s fair to say she was excited from reading Luke 1:46-55. She reached out to share the news with her trusted friend and relative, knowing her reputation could be at stake.
Luke 1:38 tells us that Mary trusted in God. We know she was afraid because Luke 1:30 tells us that Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid. However she didn’t let her fear stop her from trusting in God. She believed what the angel said and she didn’t try to run away like Jonah or convince God otherwise like Moses. How many times do we let our lack of faith get in the way of doing what God tells us to do? Even though Mary’s reputation was at stake and she didn’t understand all the details, she knew enough and trusted in the Lord and her faith got her through the rest.
The Lord selected two women from the same family to bear the Lord and his forerunner, John the Baptist. There were likely some very special predecessors guiding them in the ways of God as they endured hardships and experiences which cultivated self-discipline, kindness, love, and deep seated faith for God.
Are we preparing our self (and our children) so that God will find favor in us? Are we teaching the importance of purity, the blessing of friendship and the peace that comes with trusting in God? If we are looking for a modern day mentor, Mary is a great example.
Faith of Demons
By David Norfleet
The Bible is full of amazing accounts of people’s faith. The 11th chapter of Hebrews alone speaks of those who, motivated by their faith in God and His promises, traded wealth for poverty, exchanged the known and comfortable for the unknown and frightening, and sacrificed that which was precious for a greater relationship with God.
But I would like to think about the faith of another group in Scriptures – the demons. We think about those spiritual beings as our enemies, and rightly so (Ephesians 6:12), but we might not think of them as having belief or faith in God. But Scripture says in James 2:19 that they believe and even shudder. But, what do they believe?
Consider Matthew 8:28-34 and the parallel text Mark 5:1-13. In these accounts we find Jesus is casting out the group of demons self-identified as Legion, but what is revealed within these interactions about their faith is fascinating (Even if their tone is derisive it reveals a level of belief beyond what we would normally ascribe to these beings.).
- First, I would note how they identify Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7). By identifying Jesus as the “Son of…” they are recognizing a fact the gospels make abundantly clear, and that Jesus is God.
- But that is not the only revelation concerning their faith in their use of this title, consider that they recognize the Father as “Most High.” In Hebrew that is El Elyon or God the Highest. What that means is even the demons recognize God’s preeminence.
- Furthermore, they recognize there is punishment, they are subject to it, and Jesus has the authority to execute this judgment. Note the question they ask in Matthew 8.29, “…
Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).
- But these demons realize and believe in another aspect of God’s nature and that is that He is merciful. Note their plea in Mark 5: 10 “And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.”
Let us look yet further into the beliefs of these evil spirits. Not only did they understand who Jesus was, that there was punishment, and God was ultimately merciful, they also understood and were able to recognize that God had a means of salvation. While traversing the city of Philippi to the place of prayer, a slave-girl with a spirit divination, spoke concerning Paul and his companions, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16-18).
This set of beliefs was not merely cold and lifeless to these demons, but resulted in a response whether of their own volition or not. Note the account in Mark 3: 11-12, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”
Are you astonished to the degree that the demons believed? Does it startle you to think of their body of belief? And yet, James describes their faith as incomplete, barren, and lifeless (James 2:14-26)
So, what is the point? There was something lacking in their faith. James says in James 2:22 that works (actions/obedience) completes, finishes, and brings faith to its intended goal. If we want a faith that is complete, alive, and useful it must go beyond that of demons and include our obedience to be justified before God.
Worldliness vs. Godliness
By Brock Henry
“You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.” (C.S. Lewis)
Few distinctions are more clearly delineated in Scripture than the one between worldliness and godliness. In no uncertain terms, Scripture indicates that the character promoted by the world is diametrically opposed to the character promoted by God.
This does not stop us from blurring the lines, though.
As Christians, we often swallow, with ravenous enthusiasm, the poisonous lie promulgated by Satan himself that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We delude ourselves into thinking that piety and frivolity are symbiotic.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Godliness and worldliness are not parallel paths; they are wholly divergent. And so we stand at a crossroads every time we make a decision.
Either we will take the path that leads to life and godliness, or we’ll take the path that leads to death and worldliness. (cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15)
There is no middle ground. Only life or death. Only hot or cold. God will vomit out of His mouth those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).
At The Heart of the Distinction
When you boil it all down, there is one defining feature that distinguishes the worldly character from the godly one: Motive.
Worldliness, at its core, is selfish. Godliness, on the other hand, at its core, is selfless. One looks inward, the other looks outward. One says, “my will be done.” The other says, “Your will be done.”
3 Biblical Analogies
Scripture uses multiple analogies to describe the drastic nature of the distinction between godliness and worldliness. Consider three of them:
Light vs. Darkness: possibly the most vivid analogy Scripture uses to describe the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of light and darkness.
John describes Christ as the “true Light” (John 1:9), and Jesus later confirms this epithet as valid when He simply states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
It’s important to note that Christ did not say that He has the light of the world; He says that He is the light of the world. Thus, light is a defining feature of Christ Himself, not just His message. (And as Christ is one with God, it’s not surprising that John later writes of God the Father, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NKJV).)
As a result, it only makes sense then that those who call themselves by Christ’s name should also be described as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and as “having the light of life” (John 8:12).
Because God defines Himself as light, and bestows this light upon all who faithfully follow Him, everything that stands in opposition to Him must necessarily be described as darkness:
• 1 John 1:6 draws a distinction between fellowship with God and “walking in darkness.”
• Christ indicates that those who follow Him “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NKJV).
• Paul indicates that we should, “Walk as children of light...and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8-13, NKJV).
• Paul also writes that the godly have been “...delivered...from the power of darkness...” (Colossians 1:13, NKJV).
• To the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV).
• Peter writes that the godly “...were called...out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In the end, godliness and worldliness are as different as day and night.
Truth vs. The Lie: a second analogy that Scripture uses to illustrate the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of truth and a lie.
Just like Christ defines Himself by light, He also defines Himself by truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” (John 14:6, NKJV). Similarly, Jesus prays to the Father that He would, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). Again, it isn’t that God’s word has truth, it’s that God’s word is truth.
Accordingly, those who align themselves with the Creator are described as “walking in truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4) and as “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7).
Because God is truth, everything that stands against Him is described as the opposite of truth. Whereas Scripture indicates that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), it describes Satan as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).
Thus, those who choose an ungodly character are described as being “...of [their] father the devil...” (John 8:44) and as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19, NKJV). When man opts for worldliness over godliness, he “...exchanges the truth of God for the lie...” (Romans 1:25).
So, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day, they are also as different as truth and a lie.
Purity vs. Defilement: a third analogy that Scripture uses to highlight the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of purity and defilement.
Purity is yet another defining feature of God Himself (1 John 3:3). As a result, everything that emanates from Him is also pure, including His words (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140), His commandments (Psalm 19:8), and His wisdom (James 3:17).
Who then is qualified to associate with God? Those who have adopted a godly character and have purified their hearts (Psalm 24:4; cf. James 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus reiterates this when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
If the godly character is described as pure, then the worldly character is described as defiled:
• Jude describes certain apostates as having “...defiled the flesh...” (Jude 8).
• The Hebrew writer equates “falling short of the grace of God” with bitterness, trouble, and “becoming defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NKJV).
• Paul, in his letter to Titus, makes a marked distinction between the “pure” and the “defiled” (Titus 1:15).
• Jesus speaks of “...evil coming from within and defiling a man” (Mark 7:23, NKJV).
Thus, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day and truth and a lie, they are also as different as purity and defilement.
The Bottom Line
If we are to be people of godly character, we cannot even so much as dabble in worldliness. Godliness and worldliness are not opposite sides of the same coin, they are in fact two entirely distinct monetary systems. What works in the kingdom of this world is not even recognized by God as valid currency in His kingdom.
“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). It’s not that doing so is a bad idea, it’s that doing so is impossible. Because we cannot be both godly and worldly, we must make a choice. No other decision has more gravity than this, as what we select will do no less than determine our eternal destiny.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Cursed are the defiled in heart, for they shall not see God.
Spiritual SWOT Analysis
By Mike Cox
Companies sometimes utilize a tool called SWOT analysis to assist in determining a strategy or to gain a better idea of the condition and/or the potential condition of the company. This tool can also be used to assist us in determining our spiritual condition. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
For our purposes we will evaluate our strengths from a spiritual standpoint. Have we grown spiritually year to year? What helped us to grow? How is our prayer life? Has that progressed, regressed, or maintained? How active are we in the work of the Lord? Whether it be in an assembly, taking care of the church building, taking advantage of the opportunities that may come our way to talk to someone about things pertaining to God. We can pose the same questions in relation to the weaknesses portion of the SWOT analysis. What are we doing to promote the cause of Christ? Can we do more, do we want/seek to do more?
What about our opportunities? What opportunities do we have to grow spiritually? We can think about what additional duties we might participate in. Are there opportunities to spend time encouraging others, primarily from a spiritual standpoint? (Galatians 6:2, Philippians 1:3-8) What about additional studies? Are there any opportunities to serve as a co-teacher or substitute?
What threats to our spirituality are there? Could it be our lack of growth? (Mark 4:19,20) Could it be the friends or other influences that surround us? Do we believe in the word of God and the promise of Heaven that awaits us if we are obedient? What level of desire to serve God do we have?
Sometimes analyzing where we stand and putting it in writing can help us visualize the condition of our spirituality. It can also help to us create a plan that will help us to grow. The planning can be easy, but the execution is often times difficult. Just as not every plan or strategy will work for every business or company, the same applies to each individual Christian. Our plans have to be such that it is fitting for us and one that we can achieve. Therefore, we must look at what we can do; we all may not be able to do the same things (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12). We also will have different weaknesses. In either case, we need to prepare ourselves to grow and to protect us from the snares of the devil. We can do this by putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and evaluating the condition of the armor on a regular basis. If there is a crack in our armor (spiritual weakness) we need to fix that crack. Performing a SWOT analysis of our spirituality is one way that we can identify what we are doing a good job in and what we can improve on.
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.