Our Danger in the First Temptation

When Adam and Eve fell in the garden, committing the first sin, they fell prey to a scheme of the devil. There are actually several things that occurred as that scheme unfolded. But one thing in particular stands out to me this day.

Genesis 3:1 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

God had placed Adam and Eve in a perfect home. God had provided for their needs and only given them one rule, one limitation. God had told them not to eat from one particular tree.

Of course, all of this is familiar, but do not give up on this thought yet. See what the devil did in his question. There is more going on here than we realize. Yes, the devil lied, and many have pointed that out. But have you also noticed that, in the question he asked, the devil was trying to get Eve to evaluate the character and actions of God?

Picture the thought process. The devil asks, “Did God really say… ?” in that question is more than a desire for content. The devil is trying to show God in a bad light. He is trying to make it look like God’s command about the tree is unkind, unloving, unrighteous. “Did he really command such a thing? How could he? Are you really going to let him do that?” And Eve answers fairly well. She is not willing to believe, at this point, that God has made a bad command.

But the problem is this: She did place herself in a position to say whether or not she felt God’s command was good or bad. The devil wanted to get the woman to put herself in a position to judge the goodness or badness of the commands of God. And while he did not trick her with his falsehood about the command, the devil got her used to thinking about whether or not she approved of the commands of God. Thus, when he came back by highlighting the fruit, the woman was in great danger.

Thus, the oldest trick in the devil’s book is the trick of convincing you or me that we have the knowledge, the wisdom, and the ability to measure the rightness or wrongness of the actions of God. The moment that we decide whether or not we approve of one decision of the Lord’s, even if we approve, we have attempted to usurp God’s position by making ourselves judges of the righteousness of God.

But remember, God is God and we are not. God is holy and we are not. God is all-knowing, and we are not. God is perfect in every way and we are not. God’s ways are as different from ours as the heavens are far from the earth. There is no comparison. We could never determine whether God should or should not have done something.

If you want to fight against the devil’s oldest ploy, you must surrender to the absolute supremacy and holiness of God. He is the Lord and his ways are perfect. When we do not understand him, we must take it as a given that he is good. God is not measured by a rule of good that is outside of him. Good is good

because it is what God does; but God will not and cannot be measured against some external standard.

So, the next time you feel like pondering whether or not you like the ways of God, be careful. Down that path lies danger. The devil used that as the first shot in his war against the Lord. Adam and Eve fell, and this was one of the nudges the devil gave them to help them crash. But true worship of the Lord, true following him, always includes our willing submission to the fact that the Lord is holy and his ways are perfect.

A Very Hard Command

Some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Many are easy to grasp, but terribly difficult to do. One such command is a life-changer.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

The command is clear. There are no qualifications. God tells us that it is his will that we give him thanks in all circumstances. Like the old marriage vows, we are to be grateful in better and worse, in sickness and health, in prosperity and adversity. And here is the stunning yet difficult truth: In all of our circumstances, the Lord is worthy of thanks.

 

A dear friend of mine reminded me of this verse recently. I was telling him about a hurt that I had experienced. I was discouraged. Yet, even as we talked, he was able to remind me of this call. Interestingly, he was not trying to counsel me, but was simply telling me an unrelated story. But the Lord used it to speak life into my heart.

How can God call us to give thanks in all circumstances? First, do not misinterpret the command. God is not saying that you have to give thanks for all circumstances. God is not telling you to be grateful for an insult received or an auto accident. No, God is telling us that, in all circumstances, we still have a reason for gratitude, a reason that rises to the level of an unquestionable biblical command.

Why would we give thanks in all circumstances? If you are alive, you have a reason to give thanks. If you are alive, you have not fallen under the ultimate, final, infinite wrath of God. If today is a day when you are not literally in hell, you have a reason to thank God. We deserve his wrath. Any moment he gives you without that wrath is grace.

If you are a Christian, you have an even greater reason to give God thanks. Salvation is a gift. If it is true that you are forgiven by God, you always have a reason to give him thanks. No matter how bad things get in your day-to-day, you have an eternity of joy set before you.

We also should remember that our hardships are tools that the Lord uses to sanctify us. If a person mistreats me, I should recall that there are lessons to learn even if I have been wronged. I can learn humility, as I do not deserve an easy life. I can learn dependence on God, as my hurts drive me to admit my inability. I can learn the grace of Jesus, as the nature of my sinful desires to wine or complain or fight back shows me my pride, my selfishness, my unwillingness to trust God. But my sins also help me magnify the grace of Christ. I see my failings, remember the perfect love and finished work of Jesus, and I can praise the Lord for grace.

As a Christian, I can give thanks because I know that God is sovereign. He is not defeated. His ultimate plans are not thwarted. He will use my circumstances to his glory. And his glory is the most important thing in the world, far more important than my comfort.

All these are true, but they do not make giving thanks easy. However, the command is still the command. I am learning that I must thank God in all circumstances. And, thankfully, as I do so, the Lord softens and works on my heart for his glory.

God’s Self-Description

Often when we think about God and his ways, we will attempt to reason out the actions and commands of God. We want to see why something is good or right. We can, if we are not careful, even begin to doubt that God is good when we cannot bring ourselves to understand him.

The problem that we have is one of presupposition. We begin our thought process about the Lord with the assumption that God can be measured by a standard of goodness. We assume that there is a concept of good that is outside of God, but that God, if he is to be good, will measure up to that external standard.

Let us remember how God describes himself.

Deuteronomy 32:3-4

3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;

ascribe greatness to our God!

4 “The Rock, his work is perfect,

for all his ways are justice.

A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,

just and upright is he.

What is God like according to his own self-description? See the words: perfect, just, faithful, upright, without iniquity. Boil that all down and mix it together. God is good. God is not good as compared to an external standard of good. God is the very definition of good. All his ways are right. All his ways are perfect. There is no hint of sin or wrongdoing in the Lord.

When we attempt to measure God by our understanding of God, consider what we bring to the table. We are finite in our understanding of good. We are finite in our understanding of the world. We are limited in our ability to see the big picture of what God is doing. We are sinful in our hearts, and thus our measure is itself corrupt

Imagine that you held in one hand a ruler, a perfect measure of 12 inches. In your other hand, you have a bit of Play-Doh. Imagine that you roll the Play-Doh into a line. The line is not really straight. The line is not even fixed, as it gets longer or shorter depending on how you bunch or squeeze it. Then imagine that you determine that your line of Play-Doh is the true measure of a foot and the ruler therefore must be wrong. If you could take that error in judgment and magnify it by infinity, you would have the depth of our failing when we attempt to measure God by our own corrupt standard.

The Lord is perfect. He is just and upright. He has no hint of sin in himself or his actions. And, remember, he is the Creator. He created all that is. He is the one who determines the measure of good. He is in himself the measure of good. So may we humbly submit ourselves to him and his ways, accepting his self-description as true and perfect as he is true and perfect.

A Dangerous and False Imitation of Christianity

Issues of the true faith are issues of great importance. We are dealing here with the honor and glory of God. We are dealing here with the eternal souls of men and women. It matters a lot.

Sadly, there are many who would claim the faith who are misled, either intentionally or unintentionally, to a kind of faith that uses the Bible, that claims to be Christian, but which is an almost exact opposite of the true faith. People who follow this faith meet in buildings they call churches. Sometimes they sing the same songs that other Christians sing. They speak prayers. But their ultimate belief system is a perversion of the faith.

I am speaking here of the believers in versions of what is often called the prosperity gospel. This might be followers of Joel Osteen and his ilk, or it might be embracers of a sort of liberation theology. Either way, we are here talking about people who take Scripture out of context, who rip from the Bible the heart of the meaning of the words of God, and who pollute any form of the genuine faith with a superstitious claim to health, wealth, and prosperity. It involves people who think Christianity promises them worldly wealth, and it includes people who think that Christianity will allow them, as an oppressed people group, to rise up and conquer. But neither of these views is biblical.

Often prosperity preaching people will claim a verse like Deuteronomy 28:12-13a as their promise.

Deuteronomy 28:12-13a – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down…

Boy, that all sounds good! If we belong to God, we get good all the time. We go up and never down. We lend but never borrow. We are the head and not the tail. We are rich. We conquer. We rule!

Before even pointing out the interpretive error, let me say that such a view is a way to play on mankind’s most sinful desires and to mask it as a form of the faith. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden by rejecting the rule and authority of God for selfish rule. All human sin, at some point, is the intentional throwing off of the authority of God for my own desires. And every human-centered, godless religion out there tells us all to focus on self, to fulfill our own desires, to see ourselves as great.

But look again at the verses, this time with the incredibly important clause at the end of verse 13.

Deuteronomy 28:12-14 – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

Yes, God told a particular people that he would promise them prosperity. But he told them that they could have this prosperity if, and only if, they would fully obey his commands. They could have prosperity if and only if they would have God as their God, their Lord, their Master. And, to let you in on a little secret, the people to whom God spoke these words never really obeyed. Instead, they proved that humanity, left to ourselves, will always rebel against the ways of God and bring to ourselves destruction.

Here is the truth. Mankind is naturally rebellious against God and destined for destruction. In the Old Testament of the Bible, we proved that we would not obey God, not even for clear promises of blessing. And we proved that we will not obey God, not even in the light of promises of terrible punishments for disobedience (see all of Deuteronomy 28-30.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 – 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

That is the promise God made to Israel through Moses. Obedience and faithfulness would be met with unbelievable blessing. Rejection of God and his ways would be met with similarly unfathomable cursing. And Israel did not obey.

But what about the modern Christian? Should we claim half of the Deuteronomy verses as our own? Should we say that we get all the blessings if we just speak positive words and think positive thoughts? Of course not.

The Lord has given us a different kind of promise. The Lord has promised us in this life his presence and his blessing. He has also promised us hardships and persecutions. God calls us to believe in Jesus and turn from sin. God calls us to obey his word in the here and now. And God calls us to set our minds and hearts, not on earthly reward in this life, but on the eternal life that he has promised us and proved to us through the resurrection of Jesus.

If your church is telling you to “claim” a promise of health and wealth in this life, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that God has promised you an easy life of any kind this side of the resurrection, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that, if you just believe, you can have all the money you want and live in selfish luxury in Christ, your church is misleading you. If your church is applying to you partial Old Testament promises without any sort of biblical context, your church is misleading you.

Yes, there is glory and joy in Christianity. There is life, blessing, peace, and hope. But these are part of a life that is also a battle for sanctification, a battle through persecution and sorrow and suffering. The promise of God is that he will sustain us in this life with the joy of his glory as we press on in obedience to his word toward the ultimate prize of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. That promise is not that we will win an election, that our particular people group will prosper, or that we will have a nice house or a healthy body. The promise is eternal life in Christ as we bow to him in faith and yield to him as Lord.

Joy in Worship

How many jokes have been made about the reformed regarding the issue of worship? I am fairly sure that I saw a Babylon Bee headline once quipping that, in a reformed congregation, motion-sensing lights might turn off during a worship service. Obviously, that is a joke about our stiffness and stillness. Some love to call us the frozen chosen.

 

Are they right? Are the reformed too stiff, too still, too joyless, too non-expressive? Or, is this an issue of reverence? Is this an issue of some Christians avoiding chaos and emotionalism?

 

In truth, I would suggest that both opposite sides in this discussion have something true to bring to the table. On the one hand, some of my dear reformed brethren are so tightly wound that they will not look or sound joyful anywhere near the worship service. They believe they are showing God proper respect, and thus are to be commended. But they also may go too far so as to give off an impression of stiffness, of an antiseptic blandness, that I do not think the Lord requires or inspires.

 

At the same time, we cannot assume that we know whether or not a person is participating in worship based on our perception of their emotional reaction. You cannot tell if a person is worshipping the Lord by the look on their face, or by the posture of their bodies. Stillness, reverence, awe, even sorrow over sin are proper worshipful responses.

 

Look at this text from Psalm 47, and take particular note of two contrasting points regarding worship.

 

Psalm 47:1-2

 

1 Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,

a great king over all the earth. 

 

Did you see it? Verse 1 says to clap and shout for joy. This is clearly a call to expressive praise. This is a call to loud celebration. But verse 2 then tells us that the reason for this praise is that God is to be feared. And we do not associate fear with the expressions of joy in verse 1.

 

What then should be a part of our worship? The answer is that which Scripture commands. We should be joyful. There is room for applause and loud singing for joy to the glory of God (v. 1). There is room for reverent stillness, kneeling, and trembling to the glory of God (v. 2). No, there is not room for chaos. There is not room for irreverence, foolishness, or disorder in worship. But neither is there room for a false severity that would make a person think that we are a sour people singing sour songs to a sour God.

 

Do not hear me telling any of us that we should be something we are not. I’m not suggesting that any reformed church fire up a smoke machine, a light show, and start singing shallow songs of happy clappy silliness. In truth, I do not find any of those things to be what the Lord has commanded. Nor do I think we need to drum up false applause after our songs because verse 1 said clap. What I think is that we should see Verse 1, if we are wired toward stiffness, as a reminder that worshipping the Lord our God is a great and joyful privilege that should bring out of us expressions of joy—not irreverent expressions or chaotic expressions, but true expressions nonetheless.

 

At the same time, I am also not telling those who have a more expressive bent to become somber. Yet, if your worship does not include the fear of verse 2, your worship is lacking an element that the Scripture commands and commends. Sing for joy. Rejoice that God invites you to proclaim the truth of his glory. But then tremble at that glory, remembering the depth of your sin, the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice, and the holiness of the one whose praises you sing.

What True Prophets Do

What is a prophet? How can you tell if someone is a prophet? On television, there are charismatic faith healers who claim the gift of prophecy. There are prosperity preachers who use a supposed prophecy to bilk their followers into giving them loads of cash. But what are we to think of prophecy and supposed prophets?

 

If we look at Deuteronomy, we can see a couple of standards regarding prophecy as well as what God says about those who speak falsely as they pretend to be prophets.

 

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 – 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

 

Looking at this section, we see that God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses for the people of God. This is both a promise of a future leader like Moses, Joshua, who will carry the nation forward into the land and a Messianic promise of one who will bring the true word of God to all his people. Jesus is that prophet in ultimate fulfillment as God in flesh, the Son of God, the Messiah who came (cf. John 6:14; Matthew 21:10-11).

 

Notice that, when God talks about a true prophet to come, that one will speak God’s word to God’s people. Before the canon of Scripture was closed, it was possible that such a man would speak to the people a new word from God. Now that the canon of Scripture is complete, however, a true prophet of God will speak to the people and clearly communicate the already articulated word of God. If that seems new, go back and look at the words of the prophets throughout Scripture. Quite often, prophets did not predict the future or give new words from God. Instead, regularly, the prophets would cite already given revelation from god, words of the law, and apply them to the present generation. Prophets would warn of the coming judgment of God on the people for disobeying the law of God, but that judgment had already been promised in the law.

 

While true prophets communicate the word of God to the people of God, there will be, as Moses tells us, false prophets who will communicate lies. There will be a temptation for a person to try to elevate himself above others by claiming a supernatural gifting from God that they do not have. Like fairground psychics or fortune-tellers, these people will claim a mysterious knowledge that others lack in order to get others to do what they want. But God gives us a couple of ways to see if they are false.

 

First, here in Deuteronomy 18, the word of God is clear that a supposed prophet who claims to speak a word from God must be tested. If that word they speak does not come to pass, the prophet is false. If they predict a future event, and if that event fails, the prophet is not from God.

 

There is a second way to test a prophet, though, that is not related to success in predicting a future outcome.

 

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 – 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

 

If a prophet predicts the future, and his prediction actually comes to pass, and then the prophet directs the people of God to disobey the word of God, the inspired Scripture, that prophet is also false. Thus, while failing to accurately predict the future proves a supposed prophet to be false, accurately predicting the future does not prove a prophet to be true. Rather, what has always made a prophet to be true is that the prophet, gifted by God, directs the people of God to follow the clearly inspired, already-given word of God. A prophet of God will direct people to the Bible and clearly communicate its commands and standards to the people so that they will obey it and honor the Lord.

 

What does God think of those who claim to speak for him but who are false? In both Deuteronomy 18 and 13, God gives the same command regarding false prophets. In ancient Israel, to claim a word from God that was not a word from God was to earn the death penalty. That nation was not to tolerate, even for a moment, a person who claimed to speak for God but who did not. God hates it when people claim he said something he did not. And even in the New Testament, even as late as the book of revelation, Jesus demanded that his church not tolerate false prophets. (cf. Revelation 2:20-23).

 

Now, let us tie this all together. Prophets speak the word of God. Quite often, prophets, even when the canon of Scripture was incomplete, simply cited and applied the word of God. Now the canon of Scripture is complete. Thus, prophets today are those who will rightly cite and apply the already-spoken word of God for the people of God to understand and obey. God is very strongly opposed to anyone claiming that he said anything he did not say. And god commands his people not to put up with those who claim that God said things God did not say.

 

Our test for those claiming the gift of prophecy is simple. Is what they are saying found in Scripture or in Scripture rightly applied? If what a person says is found in Scripture rightly understood and applied, follow that word. If what a person says is simply mystical and non-scriptural, you have no calling to follow it or the one who claims it. Let us learn to follow the Lord by holding high his perfect word just as did the true prophets of old.

What is Good about Good Friday?

Is it not strange that the single most evil thing ever done by human beings is an event we call “Good?” On Good Friday, the only perfect man ever to walk the earth was murdered. On Good Friday, the Son of God was brutalized by sinful men. On Good Friday the merciful and kind Lord Jesus was tortured and crucified. How can this be good?

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 – 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Mankind, because of our sin, is separated from God. We all have rebelled against the Lord and earned his judgment. The wages of such sin is death, the eternal infinite wrath of a holy God (cf. Rom. 6:23). In our sin, we separated ourselves from God, battling against him and attempting to throw off his rule.

On Good Friday, God worked the work of reconciliation between God and man. Jesus voluntarily substituted himself for all those God will forgive. God the Father laid on Jesus, God the Son, the full weight of his wrath. God the Father justly punished our sin in Jesus so that we would not have to spend eternity suffering the wrath we deserve.

God also did the work to accomplish a glorious trade on Good Friday. Jesus, God the Son, had lived an absolutely perfect life. Jesus had obeyed the word and will of God so that the Father was well pleased. Where you and I have failed, Jesus succeeded. Because of Good Friday, God can grant us the most unbelievable of gifts. God will trade us Jesus’ righteousness for our own failings. Where our record is blemished and calls us to judgment, God gives us Jesus’ perfect righteousness as a gift. Good Friday is good, because there God moves to be able to give us the perfect righteousness without which none of us could ever enter the presence of God.

If you have not come to Jesus for this gift of grace, why not do so today? Believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again to save your soul. Confess your sin against God and need of a Savior. Commit your life to follow Jesus. Ask God for his mercy because of Jesus. If you turn from sin and trust in Christ, God’s word promises you eternal life and perfect forgiveness because of the finished work of the Son of God.

For us all, pray: Take a moment to pray. Confess your rebellion against the holy God who made you. Thank him for punishing Jesus in your place. Thank him for making a way for you to be reconciled to God. Thank him for giving you the gift of the perfect record of Jesus in place of your own. Ask God to empower you to worship him and to rightly yield your life to him out of gratitude and love for the Savior.