“And in Antioch they were first called Christians.” Acts 11:26
Day 120 – What’s in a Name?
Recently, I checked my own “About” section in Facebook. Under “Religious Views”, it said “Evangelical Christian”. In today’s world, the word “evangelical” potentially carries with it implied political positions with which I may not necessarily want to be associated. It may, for example, imply that I am a certain kind of conservative. On some issues, I can be described as conservative, but on others, not really. Yet, “evangelical” is a significant word that, in non-political contexts, carries with it meanings that do describe me. So, I wondered, did I want to keep that adjective in my “Religious Views” statement, or not?
To begin with, I’m definitely “Christian”, so that part of my religious identity I’ll keep. To me, being “Christian” means being a follower of Jesus Christ. More on that in a moment.
How does the New Testament identify the followers of Jesus? There are three terms used. First, and most often, such people were called people of “the Way”. We see this a number of times in the Book of Acts.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the_disciples of the Lord,went to the high priest 2 and asked_him for letters to the_synagogues at Damascus, so that if he_found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:2
“But when some became stubborn and continued in_unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he_withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning_daily in the hall of Tyrannus.23 About that time there arose no little disturbance_concerning the Way.” Acts 19:9, 23
“….being zealous for God_ as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…” Acts 22:3-4
“14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which_they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing_everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.” Acts 24:14
How was this term used? What did the speakers think of when they adopted this term for a Jesus follower? First, Saul (later called Paul) used it to mean a “disciple of the Lord”. A disciple is an adherent, follower, learner. Merriam-Webster defines it as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another”. Collins Dictionary says that if you are a disciple of someone, you are influenced by that person’s teaching and try to follow his or her example. So, in Acts 9:2, Saul was rounding up those who had learned from Jesus and were trying to follow Him. These were people of the Way. Of course, Jesus Himself had said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Later, the term refers to disciples who believed in Jesus (Acts 19:9), and Paul himself explained that as a follower of the Way, he worshipped God and believed everything found in the Old Testament Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14). And, in another case, a woman described Paul and Silas as servants of the Most High God who proclaimed the way of salvation (Acts 16:17). Governor Felix is said to have a good awareness of the Way (Acts 24:32). So, we can conclude that to be a person of the Way meant to be a follower of Jesus, one who believed in Him, who learned from Him and were influenced by Him, becoming committed to His person, while worshipping God and trusting in the existent scriptures of that time.
The second term used of Jesus’ followers was “Christian”.
“25 So Barnabas_went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the_church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the_disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11:26
“And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’” Acts 26:28
“Yet if any suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” I Peter 4:16
Again, like “Way”, this term refers to being a disciple of Jesus, one who seeks to glorify God, even, if necessary, by suffering for “that name”.
And the third term found in the New Testament is “Nazarene”.
“For we have found this man a_plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. “Acts 24:5
The word “Nazarene” refers to Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew 2:23 says that Joseph and Mary took the boy Jesus to Nazareth and adds that this was to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy that He would be called a Nazarene. The closest Old Testament verse that says this appears to be Isaiah 11:1, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” The Hebrew word for “branch” sounds similar to the word for “Nazareth” and, thus, the reference is to Jesus as the branch of David’s (Jesse was David’s father) family. But also, Nazareth came to be known as an insignificant and despised place (John 1:46). Jesus was also despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3). And, Jesus Himself was identified as “Jesus of Nazareth” in many verses in Mark, Luke, John, and Acts (e.g., John 19:19, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”). So, His followers became known as belonging to the sect of the Nazarenes.
These are the New Testament terms for a follower of Jesus Christ – The Way, Christian, Nazarene. Some churches today use one of these terms in their title: “Church of the Way”, “Christian Church”, “Church of the Nazarene”. All three terms have meaning for His disciples.
In the past century, Christians have often had additional, descriptive words added to “Christian”. For example, “conservative” or “liberal” or “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” or “neo-evangelical” or “mainline” or “orthodox” or “neo-orthodox”, or “liturgical”, or “nondenominational”. etc. These additional words say something about distinctions within Christianity. They may refer to worship or liturgical styles as well as to positions taken on various social issues. Also, the media often speaks about how “evangelicals” voted in a certain election and what policies they prefer, grouping “evangelicals” by these public policy and political party identifications.
The word “evangelical” literally means “good news”. It is a word that comes from the Greek “euangelion”. So, literally, an evangelical is a person identified with the good news about Jesus. By calling myself “Evangelical Christian” I was trying to say that I believe in essentials like the deity of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and the need for a new birth which comes through confession of my sin and resting (or trusting or believing) only in Him for salvation and eternal life. I was not saying anything about my preferred worship style or political preferences.
In the next reflection, I will expand on the matter of politicizing the gospel. But for now, let’s reflect on how a follower of Jesus might want to be called.
1. Read Acts 17:22-31 for an example of Paul’s proclamation of the good news.
2. Consider the three New Testament terms for a follower of Jesus. Are you happy to be called a person of the Way? A Christian? A Nazarene?
3. How do you understand the word “evangelical”?
4. If you belong to a religious faith other than Christianity, what term do you use and why?
5. If you claim no religious or spiritual belief , what terminology do you use to describe yourself and why?
Day 121 – Defining “Evangelical” in a World of Definitions
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” I John 5:1a
National Geographic informs us that there are at least six forms of government in the world today (see https://www.nationalgeographic.org/maps/forms-government-2018/ ). These six types are as follows: absolute monarchy, communist, constitutional monarchy, parliamentary constitutional monarch (e.g., Canada), parliamentary republic, presidential republic (e.g., USA). There are also territories in the world which have no functioning central government and one big place (Antarctica) governed by an international treaty. Where some form of democracy prevails, there are sometimes several political parties which elect members to the federal or national legislative body. For example, at the beginning of 2021, the Italian parliament had 13 parties represented, Australia 10, Germany nine, Japan six, and Canada five – but the United states only two (plus independents).
It is the norm, also, to find various sub-groups, or “parties”, within major religions. Wikipedia identifies Western, Eastern, and Nontrinitarian branches of Christendom, with subgroups within each of these. The same source describes three sectarian divisions of Islam, five schools of Islamic theology, and 11 “later movements”. Wikipedia says there are two schools and traditions of Buddhism, several sects within Sikhism, and at least three major movements within Judaism. Hinduism is described as a “family” of religions with many theological perspectives, practices, and sacred texts.
Within the New Testament there were four main competing branches of the Hebrew religion (plus a variety of individuals claiming to be the Messiah). The Pharisees were the “conservatives” of their day, holding to the Old Testament texts and, especially, to the teachings of notable rabbis. They accepted the supernatural, including a resurrection to come. The Sadducees were the “liberals”, rejecting a literal resurrection and afterlife. In the society of the day, they maintained important political and religious connections and centred their practice on the Temple. The third group, the Zealots, formed an extremist political arm of Judaism, advocating the removal of the Roman conquerors. The fourth party was the Essenes, a monastic branch, today remembered largely as the preservers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 40 per cent of which are copies of segments of the Hebrew scriptures.
So, throughout history there have been subdivisions within a major religious category. Within Christianity, one of these is “evangelical”.
The historian, David Bebbington, used four characteristics to define evangelicalism:
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
These four distinctives have been accepted by the National Association of Evangelicals in the United States [https://www.nae.net/what-is-an-evangelical/] and by the major evangelical magazine Christianity Today [see https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/april/defining-evangelicals-in-election-year.html ]. The four points are also evident in this statement from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada:
- The Holy Scriptures, as originally given by God, are divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy, and constitute the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
- There is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- Our Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh; we affirm his virgin birth, sinless humanity, divine miracles, vicarious and atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension, ongoing mediatorial work, and personal return in power and glory.
- The salvation of lost and sinful humanity is possible only through the merits of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, received by faith apart from works, and is characterized by regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit enables believers to live a holy life, to witness and work for the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Church, the body of Christ, consists of all true believers.
- Ultimately God will judge the living and the dead, those who are saved unto the resurrection of life, those who are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. https://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/About-us/Statement-of-faith
As you can see, these statements are highly theological in nature – not political. You can hold to different positions politically and still be characterized as “evangelical” if you hold to these beliefs. The term is best used theologically, not politically. These statements grow out of the scriptures themselves. It is a tragedy when the term “evangelical” is reduced or limited to a description of some political camp – a tragedy because it takes the focus off of Christ and one’s relationship to Him. In the next devotional, we’ll consider how the Bible instructs us to regard and respond to government.
1. Read I John 5:1-5.
2. How do you understand the term “evangelical”? How would you explain that term to someone who asked, ‘What does evangelical mean?’
3. Do you believe that evangelicals can hold different political positions?
4. If “evangelicalism” is Christ-centric, how does that influence your support of a given political party or politician in your voting??
5. Consider the words of this well-known Christian worship song:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
Source: LyricFind – Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend; In Christ Alone lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Day 122 – God and Government
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13:1
In His time on earth, Jesus encountered the government. At the beginning, a king (Herod) threatened His young life; at the end, a governor (Pilate) ordered His execution. Given these extreme negative run-ins with governmental authority, you might think that Jesus would be outspoken in His rejection of such abuse. No, instead, He told those who asked to give Caser what was owed him – in this case, taxes (Mark 12:17).The Apostle Paul was brought before the justices of his day, like Jesus – falsely accused, and in the end imprisoned and most likely executed. Yet, also like Jesus, Paul taught us to be subject to governmental authorities and to pay taxes and other revenue owed them (Romans 13:1, 6-7). In the Old Testament, we find Abraham paying a tenth of the spoils of a battle to the King of Salem (Genesis 14:18-20). We find Nehemiah serving Artaxerxes I, King of Persia, and acting as the King’s emissary in Jerusalem (Neh. 1:11; 2:1-8). And we see Daniel and his three friends filling high office in various regimes, but also suffering the punishments of a fiery furnace and a lions’ den (Daniel 1:20-21; 2:48-49; 3:20; 6:16). John the Baptist was executed by a king’s order (Mark 6:27) and others imprisoned for their faith. Yet, in spite of all this, Paul writes that we should be in subjection to and and respect and honour those God places in authority (Romans 13:5-7).
Yes, God places people in authority over us in society, at times even cruel and unjust rulers. In Colossians 1:15-17, Paul says that governments, rulers, or other authorities are just as much a part of God’s design as the created world around us. But God also holds such authorities responsible for how they use their office. Psalm 9:8 says He judges the world with righteousness. Isaiah 40:23 says God “brings princes to nothing and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness”. Examples abound in the pages of the Bible and in recorded history outside the scriptures.
When the command of the king is at odds with the command of God, we are to obey God, even if that risks the wrath of the king. Peter and John responded to religious authorities who told them not to teach in the name of Jesus, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 19-20) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar and his order to bow to an image of himself, “Be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18) Similarly, Daniel continued to pray to God contrary to the King’s order, was thrown into the den of lions and delivered and said, “O King, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before Him, and also before you, O King, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:21-22).
Note, in this case, Daniel had “done no harm” to King Darius in obeying God first. Society may punish a believer even when that believer has done no harm to the state, and indeed has done well. Peter makes the point in I Peter 2:13-15
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Now, of course, the key is to know when standing by some truth from God will involve running contrary to a human government’s decree. In most jurisdictions, during the covid-19 crisis of 2020-21, at times, governments prohibited gatherings larger than some number or percentage of a church’s worship space. Some churches said that is contrary to the scriptural command to assemble for worship (Hebrews 10:25). Other churches said they could assemble via Zoom, via web streaming, TV, or radio, so if government said not to gather in person in order to protect us from communicating the virus, that’s OK because we could still gather in other ways. Also, as Paul states, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4). On the matter of respecting one another’s convictions, I recommend the brief message given by my own pastor, Rev. Al Roberts on January 31, 2021, an audio version of which can be found at https://www.first-baptist.ca/Sermons/2021-01-31-1.mp3 .
A pastor in the UK helpfully offered (even a year before Covid-19) four principles to follow: (1) that we should submit to the laws even when they are unreasonable or cause us inconvenience, (2) that we should be prepared to break the law when it clearly contradicts God’s law, (3) that we must be prepared to take the consequences of breaking the law in obedience to God, and (4) that we must not condemn or attack other Christians who may handle situations differently. (See Stephan Rees’ full article at https://www.evangelical-times.org/48813/thinking-it-through-obeying-god-rather-than-men/ .) We might add, with Peter, that if you decide to act in disobedience to the law, make sure you are acting in obedience to God: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (I Peter 4:16
1. Read Romans 13:1-7.
2. What run-ins have you had with governmental authorities? Can you say that the government was overbearing in those instances? How did you respond?
3. In a worst-case scenario, believers are unjustly imprisoned and treated badly. The Bible reminds us to pray for those (Hebrews 13:3). Will you pause now and do so?
4. How about praying for our government leaders and justices? Are you praying for them?
Day 123 – Understanding Temptation
“But I say, walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 6:16
At its core, temptation is deception – a lie. It is always attractive in some sense, but it is a false attraction. It promises something desirable, but delivers something harmful.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15
James teaches is two things about the nature of temptation. First, our own desires pull us towards sin and are at the foundation of why, where, when, and how we are tempted. Temptation is such to us because of our self-centredness. Second, there is a process that follows temptation: conception (the temptation itself) -> sin -> death.
We see this in the stories of great temptations in the Bible. Consider these examples.
Eve and Adam: (1) The temptation involves selfish desire. The serpent in Genesis 3 appeals to the woman’s desire for a certain fruit, her desire to be like God in His knowledge of good and evil, and His wisdom. (2) The sin: she and Adam eat of the forbidden fruit. (3) Dying and Death: they see that they are naked, sew a garment of fig leaves, hide from God, and enter into a new regiment of suffering, expulsion from the garden, and eventual physical death.
David: (1) Selfish Desire: In II Samuel 11-12, David sees Bathsheba bathing and desires her. (20) Sin: He sends for Bathsheba, lies with her, and afterwards arranges for her husband’s death. (3) Death: Uriah dies, the child dies, and David is told that he will be publicly shamed and his family will suffer grievously.
We could look at other instances recorded in the Bible, all illustrating the three-fold cycle of temptation, sin, and death.
But that is not the way it has to be.
Now, consider the temptation of Jesus, In Luke 4, we see Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. (1) The Temptations are given in the language of scripture: three desires are placed before Jesus – food (for a hungry man on a 40-day fast), rulership of the world’s kingdoms (for the One known as the King of Kings and who had a right to rule), and a supernatural demonstration of his power to a watching world (for the One who had all power). (2) The Sin: but wait – there was no sin! Jesus resisted the temptations, resting in the Word of God rightly spoken and interpreted! (3) Death: there was death for Jesus only as our substitute and redeemer, and He defeated that death as shown in His resurrection and ascension.
For us, there is temptation for sure. But there does not have to be sin and death. As Jesus was Spirit-led and properly reliant of the scriptures, so can we be. Help is available, as we see in what Jesus spoke to the disciples:
Prayer: “And He said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you enter not into temptation.’ ” Luke 22:46
Purpose: “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Colossians 3:2
Promise: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13
- Read James 1:12-27.
- Notice in the passage from James 1 that the words “deceived” and “deceiving” occur twice (verses 16, 22). Satan tries to deceive us into thinking that someone or something other than God gives good gifts (verse 17).
- Think of a temptation that you often face. How is self-centredness reflected in that temptation?
- In your temptations, how could you use the method Jesus used in facing His temptation? (a dependence on the Spirit, accurate knowledge and application of the scriptures, denial of selfishness)
Day 124 – Types of Sins
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21
When we play charades or other games that require us to identify a mystery item, we often begin by asking if the item in question is living, or a certain colour, or small enough to carry, or animal, or vegetable, or … We categorize things (e.g., an animal), then do so again (wild or domesticated), and again and again until we get to where we are supposed to be. Looking at the list found in Galatians 5:19-21, I see four categories or types of sin: sexual, false worship, personal, interpersonal. If we are going to win over temptation we need to understand it.
(1) Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21 there are sexual sins that we can fall into: immorality, impurity, sensuality. God created people male or female and gave them the gift of sexual union within marriage. Here are some helpful words from the web site gotquestions.org :
“Sexuality is God’s design. He alone can define the parameters for its use. The Bible is clear that sex was created to be enjoyed between one man and one woman who are in a covenant marriage until one of them dies (Matthew 19:6). Sexuality is His sacred wedding gift to human beings. Any expression of it outside those parameters constitutes abuse of God’s gift. Abuse is the use of people or things in ways they were not designed to be used. The Bible calls this sin.” [ https://www.gotquestions.org/sexual-immorality.html , accessed Feb. 27, 2021]
Paul uses three words to describe this type of sin. “Sexual immorality” is a broad term meaning any illicit sexual activity. It comes from the Greek word “pornea” which is used 25 times in the New Testament. “Impurity” in Greek is akatharsia which means uncleanness or filthiness, and that could be in the thought realm or in actions. “Sensuality” (or aselgeia in Greek) is an excess, that is, open and unrestrained sexual activity. Ephesians 4:19 says, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy practice of every kind of impurity.” Notice the word “greedy”.
(2) Second, there are sins of false worship. The words Paul uses in Galatians 5:20 are “idolatry and sorcery”. The ESV Study Bible has this explanation, “These are evidences of a desire to be in touch with the spiritual realm through humanly invented means…they reject the revealed way in which he [God] should be worshipped”. God warned of this sin in the second commandment which prohibited worship of carved images (Exodus 20:4-6). The sin of idolatry can go beyond a literal image or idol to include any person or object or desire that takes that place of God in one’s life. Sorcery attempts to transport a person to another level, something that may include improper use of drugs, as well as psychological manipulations of the mind.
(3) The third category of sins is inner and personal in nature: “enmity, strife, jealousy”. We are tempted to oppose other people and ideas, to a degree that amounts to hatred. Also, we may find ourselves craving what someone else has. These sins affect our attitudes and words and actions in positions we take on social media or in the public sphere of business or politics. We may even attach religious labels to such leanings, as a means of trying to justify our positions over and against another’s position.
(4) The fourth type involves interpersonal relationships: “fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these”. That is quite a list! How often we lose our temper! How common we see disputes occurring in multiple settings, disputes that include a good dose of self-interest, hardening of positions, and self-pity and envy. Interpersonal relationships are damaged and destroyed by these sins, as well as by the excesses of drunkenness and orgies that are mentioned.
We are tempted in many ways. All of them take us away from God. All are destructive in nature and consequence. There is legitimate sexual attraction, legitimate worship of God, legitimate ambition, and legitimate building of personal relationships, friendships, and partnerships. But the good can easily be corrupted.
- Read Matthew 5:17-30.
- What is your immediate reaction to such a list? Shame and guilt? Defensiveness? Judging of others? All of these? What should you do about it?
- One response surely should be gratitude to God who offers deliverance from both the punishment such sins deserve and the power they have over us. See Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Also see Romans 8:1-10.
- How does understanding the types of sin help us in dealing with temptation?
Day 125 Winning Over Temptation
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. I Corinthians 10:13
I referenced this verse in the post for Day 123, but now let’s think more about what it says. First, there is nothing new in the temptations we experience – they are “common” to us and others. They should not take us by surprise. And while we may be tripped up by them, someone else has had the same temptation and not fallen. Second, we are able to win over this temptation. God doesn’t allow us to face anything that is too much for us to deal with. Third, God will show us the way of escape, giving us tools for victory.
Victory over temptation is a frequent theme in the Bible. Three paths to winning over it are identified in scripture.
(1) Watch The Lord told His disciples to “watch” lest they fall to the temptation (Mark 14:38). Paul said we should not be ignorant of Satan’s designs (II Corinthians 2:11). The apostle also warned us to “keep watch” on ourselves lest we be carried away with the transgressions that affect others (Galatians 6:1). John added that we are not to love the world and its things (I John 2:15-17) – watch what you love. Peter urged us to “take care” that we are not “carried away” by the errors of others around us (II Peter3:17) and to “be sober-minded, be watchful” for the devil is always on the prowl (I Peter 5:8). Jesus pointed to the need for us to “stay dressed for action” (Luke 12:35). We are called to be alert for temptation can strike at any moment.
(2) Pray The Lord taught us how to pray and included these words, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). One of our requests in times of prayer should be for protection from and deliverance from temptation. Jesus repeated this instruction in Luke 22:40, “And when He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’’’ Prayer about whatever we are wrestling with will give us the insight into how to avoid a situation of temptation or how to extricate ourselves if we are already there. Prayer reminds us that this is a spiritual battle that we are in. That is why Jesus added to His injunction to “watch and pray” in Matthew 26:41, “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” We are unable to win this struggle with determination and resolve alone. We need to go to God. Jesus Himself prayed for Peter, saying, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:32)
(3) Flee Parents teach their young children to stay away from potential trouble – ‘Don’t run out into the street’, ‘Stay away from those bees’, etc. Similarly, the Bible advises us to run away from sources of temptation.
“And give no opportunity to the devil.” Eph.4:27
“Flee from sexual immorality.” I Cor.6:18
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” II Tim. 2:22
“For those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” I Tim. 6:9
In these verses, two common types of temptation are mentioned. One is sexual immorality. Popular entertainment media throws a lot of such temptation in our direction, but we do have a choice – avoid (or stop in the middle of viewing) certain print materials and television programmes or movies. In Canada, broadcasters often post a warning before a show saying something like, ‘The following programme contains scenes of violence, coarse language, or explicit sexual content.’ Or, there may be a rating such as PG-13, 14+, 18+, Adult Mature, etc. Netflix allows you the option of showing only programming up to a certain rating level. These may offer some help in making our choices.
The other type of temptation to flee is the pursuit of riches. Warnings about the dangers of focussing on money are found in scripture. Jesus said you can’t serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24). He also spoke about the “deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19). To the rich young ruler, He advised, “Go and sell your possessions” (Matthew 19:21). Proverbs 11:28 says that the one who trusts in riches will fall. In our culture, easy credit abound, and lottery ads are everywhere. We have a choice of how much time we spend ‘window shopping’ online. We can think through the reason and motivation behind our buying.
The Lord gave us the drastic instruction, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.” (Mark 9:42-47) He doesn’t want us to mutilate our bodies, but he does want us to severely separate ourselves from the sources of temptation that come our way. To flee is difficult – we want that desired sin and we think we can manage things. But He wants this because the consequences of submitting to the temptation are severe and eternal.
We will always have to face temptation. Watch. Pray. Flee.
- Read Ephesians 6:10-20. This passage gives a way to fight temptation – take on the whole armour of God. Consider each piece (truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, the word of God) and how it can help with temptation.
- As you face the remainder of today, how can you be watchful?
- What should you include in your prayers today that will focus on winning the battle?
- In what area of your life should you be fleeing a source of temptation?
Day 126 – When We Sin
8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to_cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, and His word is not in us.” I John 1:8-10
There is one thing I know for sure: I am a sinner. I know it within myself. My conscience feels it. I am so sinful that at times I deny what I know and try to convince others, too! The Bible endorses this fact.
Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 7:18, For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but not the ability to carry it out.
Ecclesiastes 7:20, Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sis.
Psalm 53:3, There is none who does good, not even one.
Knowing that, what can I do about it?
(1) First, I probably won’t do anything about it if I have no sense or conviction of sin in my life. I Timothy 4:1-2 says that our conscience can be “seared”: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared…” King David had a seared conscience at times and in one of these cases, when he heard God’s truth communicated to his heart, his conscience awoke: e.g., “But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (II Samuel 24:10) The Bible often speaks of having a “good” or “pure” conscience – implying that we can have one that is neither of those things (I Timothy 1:19; I Peter 3:16; II Timothy 1:3).To have a good conscience we must hold firm to the deep truths of the faith, avoiding things that will trip us up (I Timothy 3:8-9). We must allow God’s Word to transform our thinking and powers of discernment – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
(2) Then, we must be willing to confess our sin as sin and repent or turn from it. In II Samuel 12:1-14, after his sin with Bathsheba and his arrangement of Uriah’s death, when Nathan the Prophet confronted him, David said, “I have sinned.” The well-known verse in I John 1:9 assures us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness.” Other scriptures teach likewise:
II Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Ezra 10:1, “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” (Note: further verses show that the people specifically named the sins they had done.)
Psalm 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
James 4:7-10, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
It is a hard thing to confess our wrongdoing. It challenges our pride. It involves humbling ourselves before God and perhaps others. But, when we do so, God rewards us with forgiveness and clears our conscience. We enjoy a new freedom before God and the people against whom we have sinned (even if they won’t forgive us).
- Read I John 1:5-2:6.
- How have you experienced the weight of a convicted conscience? Has your heart been restless, perhaps even pounding? Have you had difficulty praying or facing others?
- Now, recall a time when you felt delivered from this weight of sin, following confession to God. Was there the lifting of a burden? Did you now experience a reconciliation with others to whom you have admitted wrongdoing?
- Is there some sin on your mind and heart right now that needs to be acted upon? Will you confess and forsake it?
- The Bible says God forgives the sincerely repentant person. How will you respond to the next person who asks you for forgiveness?