Growing In Godliness Blog
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.
Everything I Needed to Know About God I Learned... Throughout My Life?
By Mike Cox
"What hinders me from being baptized?" This is the question that the Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip in Acts 8:36 as they had been studying the Bible together. One of the big hindrances to obeying the Gospel that I have heard throughout my time as a Christian, is that people feel like they don't know enough to be baptized. This even applied to me before I became a Christian. What exactly is it that one needs to know to be baptized? How much does one need to know to be baptized? Not as much as we may think.
There are things that we need to know and come to terms with before we make the decision to become a Christian. We must first hear God's word (John 5:24), and we must believe (Mk. 16:15-16) in God. In doing so, this means that we have to acknowledge that we have sinned. Romans 3:23 says, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". We then must repent (turn away) from our sins (Mk. 1:14-15). Philip tells the Eunuch in Acts 8:37 that "if you believe with all your heart you may" be baptized. This is followed up by the Eunuch's confession of his belief in Jesus Christ and subsequently his baptism in verse 38 of Acts 8; Acts 2:21 and Mk. 16:16 are also commands for baptism. When we do this there is a level of commitment involved which can also be hindrance to some when they are considering becoming a Christian. We must then remain faithful until death (Revelation 2:10). This can seem like a daunting task when we feel we don't know enough about the Bible or we are overwhelmed with the expectation that we must live perfectly and without sin. As previously mentioned, we all have sinned and will sin. We all sin, but the difference between believers and non-believers when we sin is seen in how it affects us and how we try to not repeat that sin. We strive to live righteously.
We have a lifetime to learn of and about God and what is required of us. We all must start at the beginning. First Peter 2:2 references a time period where Christians are "newborn babes", that "desire the pure milk of the word", that we may grow. Does a star athlete start out at the top of his sport? No, they obtain a higher level as they learn and apply what they have learned. This is the same principle for Christians. We must apply what we've learned about God's word and expectations throughout our lives. We must mature as Christians and have a greater level of understanding and purpose. If our expectation is one of perfection from the start, it will be a daunting task to follow God and get to Heaven. Keep in mind that all have sinned and those that make it to Heaven will do so because they made the choice to make a commitment to follow God - and they kept it. The second part of this is God's grace that is bestowed upon us; God's unmerited favor given to us even though we sinned. Hebrews 11 highlights some of the faithful followers of the Bible. Even they had their struggles with sin. It is important to note that while God's plan may have occurred through these people, they weren't perfect either.
As previously mentioned we know very little at the beginning. If we keep this in perspective and strive to grow as Christians and grow closer to God, we CAN get to Heaven with God's grace. As Paul said in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". This goes for us as well. No master craftsman ever started out that way, it occurred over time as they learned their craft. Being a faithful Christian is a life long journey to draw nearer to God and ultimately dwell with him in Heaven.
By Mark McCrary
Last week in parts of the Southeast there was a cellphone outage that lasted for several hours. It wasn’t uncommon to see people staring at their phones in disbelief, fighting that growing feeling of disconnection from information and relationships. What if someone can’t reach me? What if I can’t reach someone? What’s happening in the world while I can’t access the internet? I can’t Tweet or even post about this in real time on Facebook and Instagram! A sigh of relief went out when cellphone service went back up and phones stirred with life once more.
Would to God we were so distraught when disconnected from God. Sin has in fact disconnected all of us from God—“But your sins have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). When man first fell in the Garden, the Holy God could not have fellowship with an unholy people. The same happens when you and I sin today. At some point (which varies from person to person) we are disconnected from God, cut off from information from God and how to live a meaningful life; cut off from the only One who blesses us; cut off from a relationship with the One who loves us more than we could ever imagine; and given wholly over to sin and all its destructive power. Ultimately, cut off from real life given only by Jesus (John 10:10). We desperately need that connection.
But Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jesus came to give us information about the Father and—importantly—to reestablish that relationship disconnected by sin through His sacrifice.
Forget about the phone; have you been disconnected from God? You need that connection—and it is there! If you aren’t His child and would come to Him in faith, ready to cast aside the very thing that separates you from God, you may be baptized and have all your sins washed away (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Gal. 3:27)—you can be reconnected with God. If you are His child but you have wandered away, like the father of the prodigal, He still waits for you if you will only come back.
Does the Holy Spirit Call A Sinner to Salvation?
By Mark McCrary
Do you believe in Holy Spirit conviction? That the Holy Spirit comes upon a person personally and convicts that person of their sin? Are you waiting—should you be waiting—for such an event? Does the Holy Spirit call a sinner to salvation?
The answer is an unquestionable “Yes!” the Holy Spirit calls sinners to salvation. Perhaps the real question is, “How does the Holy Spirit call sinners to salvation?” The manner, we will see as we examine scripture, is not an overwhelming burden of guilt put upon us in a miraculous way, but rather the overwhelming burden of guilt which comes through the message of the Bible delivered by the Holy Spirit.
The message of the writers of the New Testament was not conjured up on their own, but it was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, before His crucifixion, said to His apostles, “When He [the Holy Spirit—MM] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come,” John 16:8-14. This passage tells us several things: First, that the Holy Spirit indeed convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. He shows what sin is, what righteousness is, and because of the deliverance of His message, the world stands in judgment. Second, His message came from the Father and was delivered to the apostle-- they would have “all truth”—and they in turn translated that truth to mankind (1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Galatians 1:11-12). What is promised here is the conviction of the world through the message delivered by the Holy Spirit to God’s messengers.
Now, if the Holy Spirit personally came onto a person and convicted them, Acts would be the logical place to find such a thing—it is, after all, the book of conversion. However, this is not what we see. What convicted the Jews on the day of Pentecost when the first sermon after the resurrection of Christ was preached (Acts 2)? We are not told that the Holy Spirit came and moved these listeners in a unique or individual way. They were convicted of their sins when they heard the message of the apostles. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). When Cornelius was converted (Acts 10), it was due to the preaching of the gospel once more by Peter. While we are told the Holy Spirit fell on them, it was not to change their hearts, but to confirm to the listening Jews that this was the will of God (v. 45; 11:15-18). When Lydia was converted, God opened her heart not through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on her, but through the preaching of Paul (Acts 16:14). In each the conversions took place because the message was preached.
Notice what Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” From this passage, how is it that one learns the “glad tidings of good things”? Does the Holy Spirit come upon one and convict them of the truth of it all? No, one hears what is preached reacts—just as those did in Acts.
One final passage should cement this idea. Paul speaks of us being “called” in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, but this calling is not a personal calling from the Holy Spirit to the individual. “…To which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The calling of an individual, according to the inspired apostle Paul, is one through the preaching of the gospel.
“What is the big deal?” one may ask. The big deal is if you are waiting for the Holy Spirit of God to personally call you, you are waiting for something God has never promised in scripture, and you are waiting for something that will never happen. If you are a sinner and are reading this now, understand: The Holy Spirit is calling you through the message of the Bible. This is your invitation! God is in fact calling you right now by the message penned by his disciples some 2000 years ago-- He is calling you with the Bible. Let’s stop waiting for something He has not promised and let’s start listening to what He has given. The gospel of Jesus Christ given by the Holy Spirit is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and it is powerful enough to convict those who are ready to receive it.
Does the Holy Spirit convict people of their sin? He certainly does, but it is through the message of the Bible. We encourage you to listen to that message today.
Something Too Precious Not To Share
By Tom Rose
What things are precious to us? They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.
Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks. As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you.
This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”
“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;
Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”
Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss? “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.” I believe that is what this song is suggesting. In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”
However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us? The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,
“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure. I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,
“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”
In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.
“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.
Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”
The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.” That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.
Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning. Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds? Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves? When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative? How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one? When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life? Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway?
Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions. Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith. Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.” From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic. Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously. Two responses give insight into their thinking.
Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group. He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions. He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions. Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart. During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.
Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching. He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”
As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think. It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian. He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.* First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague. Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people. And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).
*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.