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).
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.
The World Needs Lights
By Mark McCrary
Viruses. Racism. Injustice. Riots. Financial upheaval.
It is tempting to think that things have never been worse, yet our field of vision over the course of time is very narrow. The reality is human existence has always been filled with all of the above, along with earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, famines, awful diseases, conquests, pillagings, dominations, food and water shortages, mosquitoes, snakes, lions and tigers, and bears… and the lists go on and on.
Reasons to be upset, scared, anxious, concerned, frustrated and the like are nothing new. They have been the constant companions of the human experience and while we travel this earth, they always will.
Despite these realities, the Bible holds several enticing possibilities before us: we can have hope (Psalm 42:11; 62:5-6; Romans 15:13; 1 Timothy 4:10), joy (Psalm 16:11; John 15:10-12; Galatians 5:22-23 ) and peace with others (Psalm 34:13-15; Isaiah 32:16-17; Luke 2:13-14; Romans 12:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:11)—even in this life. It does not give us these things by taking us out of the world, but by giving us tools to use while in this world. What are these tools?
There are numerous passages we could look to, but let’s spend a few minutes contemplating Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:14-16).
Under inspiration, Paul gives us some simple, doable actions we can put into place in our lives. First, he tells us not to complain. All of us complain from time to time. Sometimes, those complaints move from “time to time” to all the time. Spend some time this week paying attention to your speech; look over your social media posts. Be honest. How much do you see yourself complaining? It may be more than you think. We can post all the Bible verses we like on Facebook or Instagram, but when we complain—especially when people know we are a Christian—we aren’t showing the world that we are any different than anyone else. So, check your complaining. Complaints stem from too close a proximity to the world. Paul’s attitude (and Christ’s for that matter) was radical because he focused on different things: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
When you make the decision to stop being negative, you must follow that up with an equal decision to being positive— shine as a light. Point people from the chaos of the world to the love and peace of God. You aren’t being self-righteous when you decide to model this; people need to see that it really is possible to have the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in the “midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” People need to hear that injustices are real, that life stinks sometimes, but when one sets their mind on God in obedience, it really can change one’s life and outlook. We need to be living proof of this.
Finally, all of this is made possible because you “hold fast to God’s word.” Every day we are all tempted to cast aside the Biblical teachings to some degree or another. Don’t. Always remember that real freedom comes from following God and His word (Romans 6:15-19). The more we submit to God’s wisdom rather than our own, the more peace we will have. Hold on desperately to God and His word.
God needs a hitter this week in this game we call life. Let’s step up to the plate.
What I Love About God
By: Sean Reisch
A few weeks ago Mark challenged us to reflect on what we love about God. The idea was for each one of us to dwell on what we love most about His character. When we discover and dwell on that we will want to serve Him more deeply. There are so many places that our minds could go with that because there are so many aspects of God to love. I want to share with you one of my favorites.
God cares for the destitute; God loves the afflicted.
This is one of the most impressive aspects of God’s character to me. God cares for the lonely, the oppressed, the mistreated, and the forsaken. He loves those whom the world would ignore. You see this throughout the Old Testament in a number of ways.
First, you see this in the provisions God makes for the destitute in the Mosaic law. He repeatedly makes it clear that He wants His people to take care of the afflicted (Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 14:28-29; 15:11; 24:17-22; 27:19). This wasn’t a side issue to God. God expected the Israelites to care for the poor, orphaned, widowed, and foreigners in their land. These are the people that had no one to advocate for them, so God wanted His people to take special care of them.
Secondly, in the wisdom literature God makes it evident that He will be the Redeemer for those that don’t have one (Psalm 9:9; 35:10; 68:5-6; 69:33; 113:7-9; 140:12; 146:9; 147:6; Proverbs 22:22-23; 23:10-11). He will take up the cause of those who are afflicted in this life. He seems to take it personally when people take advantage of the downtrodden.
Lastly, God takes the Israelites to task in the prophets for NOT caring for the afflicted (Amos 2:6-7; 8:4-6; Jeremiah 5:28-29; 7:5-6; 22:3; Zechariah 7:9-11). We often think about God punishing the Israelites for their idolatry, which He did, but He also punished them for their injustice and oppression of the needy. He condemned them for neglecting the outcasts.
Each of those things show us that there is a special place in the heart of God for those who are broken by life, and for those who have no one in this life to care for them. What I love about this is that it presents us with the tenderness of God. We see His compassion come to the forefront. Perhaps I find this most astonishing and impressive in light of His power.
God is everlasting (Psalm 90:2), He is the Creator of all (Isaiah 40:26, 28), and He is reigning as King (Psalm 93:1; 95:3). Yet our God, whose greatness is incomparable, reaches down to care for those in the lowest positions of life. I think I’m struck by this because we don’t typically operate this way, at least not naturally. We tend to reach up to those of greater power and authority in order to increase our own standing, but God does the exact opposite.
I draw great comfort, encouragement, and exhortation from this truth about God. It puts a smile on my face and makes me want to burst out in praise! It comforts me to know that even when I was spiritually destitute and orphaned God cared for me (Romans 5:6-8). It encourages me with a message to share with those who are hurting in life about this great God who cares for them especially. And it exhorts me to make sure I am prioritizing what God prioritizes, caring for the needy (James 1:27).
That’s what I love about God. What do you love most about Him?
Ready To Listen
By David Norfleet
For anyone that has been in a relationship for very long, you know it is easier to stick your foot in your mouth than to take it out. We often or frequently need help with how to communicate with others effectively. James does so by providing inspired instruction that will help in those situations. He wrote in James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” If we would heed this instruction it would help in all our inter-personal relationships, but especially our relationship with God. And that seems to be James’ primary application as he points to the word of God in James 1:21, “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
So, what does it means to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” with respect to God’s word?
To be quick to hear points to an eagerness to learn and a willingness to accept the things God has to say to us. We want instruction. We want counsel. We want wisdom from heaven. We need help. This idea is more of a disposition than an action, and it begins with humility – a recognition that we don’t have all the answers, but God does. Peter wrote in I Peter 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Jesus knew of the importance of this quality in His followers so He wrote in Mark 4:24, “Take heed what you hear.”
How does being slow to speak relate to a reception of God’s word? It is generally true when you're talking or even thinking about what to say you are not listening. There is proven value in speaking less and listening more (Proverbs 10:19; 17:28), but it is critical when attending to God. In this text being slow to speak may actually mean “slowness to start speaking,” and have specific reference to ill-considered reactions to what God has said. How will we ever receive God’s instruction if we do all the talking or if we thoughtlessly react to justify ourselves, negate Scripture’s demands, or explain the Bible away? Our attitude needs to reflect the words of Samuel, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:9-10)
What do you do when God’s word steps on your toes? Maybe you’re reading it, or hearing it preached. It says something that you don’t like, because it confronts the way you think or live. Do you get angry and defensive, thinking, “What right does that preacher have to say that? How dare he tell me how to live!” Do you have these “flash-reactions” when your conscience is pricked? That is why it is so important to be slow to anger, as an angry spirit is not a teachable spirit. As James would write, “…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Popular author Francis Chan stated, “Whenever I read the Bible and come across something that I disagree with, I have to assume I am wrong.” He understands that the word of God and our reception of it is vital as it reveals, reproves, corrects, trains, revives us, directs us, keeps us from sin, and reveals God to us (Ephesians 3:1-4; II Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:50, 105; Psalm 19). It is no wonder the psalmist would write, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for your commandments.” (Psalm 119:131) If we could only get out of our own way God wants to transform us through His word, James tries to help us with that by reminding us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.