The Reverse of the Curse

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The Reverse of the Curse

James R. Aist

God has been impressing on me lately the incredible magnitutide of what He has already done to bridge the spiritual gap between Himself and mankind that began when Adam chose to obey Satan instead of God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). God’s response to that “original sin” was three-fold: 1) He pronounced curses on Adam, Eve, Satan and all of creation; 2) He drove Adam and Eve from the Garden so that they could no longer eat of the tree of life and live forever; and 3) He severed the spiritual connection into which He had created Adam and Eve in the first place. The latter is the spiritual gap that original sin caused, and I want to focus here on the extent to which God has already bridged that gap, how incredibly far God has gone to more than restore our former spiritual connection with Him. To do that, I will focus on God’s presence as manifested by the Holy Spirit.

Before sin entered into the world, it was just Adam, and Eve and God; He was their God, and they were His people, one might say. Once sin entered in, however, He was no longer their God, and they were no longer His people. This spiritual disconnection between God and mankind persisted from generation to generation, with God dwelling only with or among His people, keeping His distance, as it were.  But, God did promise that the day would come when He would be their God and they would be His people again (Jeremiah 24:7), as it was in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture.

So, in the fullness of time, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to spiritually reconnect (i.e., reconcile) mankind with Himself. But God went much farther than merely re-establishing the former spiritual connection. At Jesus’ request, God sent the Holy Spirit to actually dwell within each person who would receive Him as their Lord and Savior, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:27! Never before had the spiritual connection between God and mankind been either this intimate or this powerful. Now, all who believe in Jesus have within them the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11)! Moreover, the fact that God would place the Holy Spirit within each new believer is proof positive that He has, in fact, made us to be “the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 3:22).” Otherwise, we would not be morally fit for co-habitation by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 5:4)!

Now, let’s pause for a moment to summarize: God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; God was with the Isrealites in the wilderness as they followed Him around for 40 years; God dwelled among the Israelites in temples built in the Promised Land for His presence; God was momentarily within at least one prophet when he was prophesying (Ezekiel 2:2); when Jesus came, God dwelled among men for 33 years and the spiritual connection with the Father was re-instated; but, when the Father sent the Holy Spirit to believers, for the first time ever God dwelled within men permanently. “Why is that such a big deal?”, you may ask. Its primarily because the Holy Spirit within us is a God-given guarantee that we will, for sure, always have eternal life (Ephesians 1:14)! Our salvation has been sealed by the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 1:13).

At the beginning of this article, I pointed out that God’s response to Adam’s “original sin” was three-fold, and, so far, I have dwelt on only the third response. But the Bible tells us that God will re-create the kind of utopian scenario that existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world, and that we will be together with God once more on a renewed earth, where we will reign with Jesus forever. In the meantime, let’s remember that God has already done more than merely remedy our spiritual separation from Himself: His Spirit now dwells within us! God sure knows how to more than “reverse the curse”, doesn’t He?

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

Why Does God Allow Satan to Tempt Us?

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Why Does God Allow Satan to Tempt Us?

James R. Aist

“Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

The Bible alludes to “temptations” using various terms, such as tests, adversities, trials, persecutions and tribulations. This is because temptation is portrayed primarily as a testing of our faith in, and loyalty to, God. There’s no doubt about it: every man from Adam to Jesus to us has been or will be “put to the test” (cf., Psalm 11:5; John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12; Hebrews 4:15; Revelation 3:10). To further establish the truth of this point, let’s expand, somewhat, this trail of temptation in the Bible, so that we may more fully grasp its inevitability. God allowed Satan to tempt Eve (and through her, Adam) in the Garden of Eden using a slanderous lie; God allowed Satan to tempt Job by destroying all of his earthly possessions, except his life and his wife; Abraham was tested by God when He instructed him to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering; David was tested by the fearful sight of a giant, Goliath, who was mocking the God of Israel to his face; Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil; Peter was tempted to deny that he was a follower of Jesus; we are tempted by Satan (1 Peter 5:8) to sin and to abandon our faith in Jesus; and, at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus, Satan will tempt the inhabitants of the earth to join him in mounting one last army to defeat Jesus and His followers. So, the question arises, “Why does God allow Satan to tempt us?” To put the question another way, “Why hasn’t God forbidden Satan to tempt us during this Age of Grace?” Isn’t it enough that we have declared, sincerely, our allegiance to Him?

The short answer to this question is, “No, mere words, by themselves, are not enough.” But why Does God require more than our solemn word on it? I believe that the Bible gives two, interconnected and fundamental answers to this question. First, let’s take a close look at Genesis 3, where we can find one answer. Satan was allowed to test the fidelity of Adam and Eve toward God, and the first man and woman, representing to God all of mankind, failed the test. What followed, necessarily, was a cosmic consequence of “biblical proportions”: Adam and Eve had to be banished from God’s presence in the Garden of Eden to an outside world ruled by God’s arch enemy, Satan. Adam and Eve got it wrong, and the whole of creation has been paying the price for their transgression ever since. What if God, in giving mankind a second chance, requires us all to get it right this time by willfully obeying God, not Satan, when Satan tests our loyalty to Him. Our loyalty to God must be demonstrated by our willful obedience to God when we are tested. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).” That is the proof that God requires, beyond mere words to that effect; words are cheap, but actions can have eternal consequences. So, in my view, that is one reason why God is allowing Satan to remain active on the earth during this Age of Grace. My perception is that God is using Satan to test and prove our faith, in order to demonstrate that what we have is not mere mental ascent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:21), but saving faith that endures to the end (Matthew 10:22; 1 Corinthians 10:13). The other answer to this question can be gleaned from a study of Job 1-2. Satan challenged Job’s faith in God and received God’s permission to try to persecute Job into cursing Him. This challenge, in effect, turned into a contest between God and Satan to determine if God’s power to keep Job faithful to Him was greater than Satan’s power to get Job to deny Him. Now, the Bible says that it is by the power of God that believers are kept faithful to the end (1 Peter 1:3-5). By allowing Satan to test the faith of Job, God demonstrated that His power to keep Job faithful was greater than Satan’s power to destroy Job’s faith. The Apostle Paul said it like this, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).” So now we can surmise that God has a dual purpose in allowing Satan to tempt us: To demonstrate that a) saving faith is the kind of faith that withstands even the assaults of Satan, and b) God is more powerful than Satan in the battle for the souls of mankind. To me, these are reassuring insights concerning my own eternal destiny.

But that’s not all. In the Bible we find that the testing of our faith has other important purposes. It strengthens us against future temptations (2 Corinthians 12:10); it prepares us for future ministry in His kingdom (Hebrews 2:18; 2 Corinthians 1:4); it helps to perfect us in God’s eyes (Romans 5:2-4); and it reveals to us what is in our hearts and minds, so that we will know that He judges rightly when the time comes (Jeremiah 17:10).

And, there’s still more. When this Age of Grace is over, Satan will no longer be allowed to tempt us; he will have fulfilled God’s purposes in allowing him to tempt us during the Age of Grace, and he will be banished to the Lake of Fire for eternity, far away from us. As a result, those of us who are born again in this life will be able to enjoy the next life with Christ (Matthew 10:2) in a new and amazing world free of temptations. What a glorious day that will be!

(To read more biblically oriented articles on this website, click HERE)

 

Letting God Be God

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Letting God Be God

James R. Aist

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

I don’t know about you, but I have had a difficult time surrendering everything – I mean everything – to the sovereignty of God. Now, I’m not talking about mental assent only; even that’s hard enough at times. No, I’m talking about mental assent plus the “no strings attached” submission and obedience to God’s sovereign will that makes mental assent genuine. This “letting God be God” is what I want us to think about for the next few minutes, and it’s one of the most important matters that we need to settle with God, once and for all, as discussed elsewhere (click HERE).

God has made it abundantly clear who is in charge, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6).” He also commanded us to relax and let Him be God, “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” And how do we let Him do this? By trusting God to know best how to accomplish His will on earth and getting out of His way so that He can do it without our interference!

The Apostle Paul addressed this issue head on, saying “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18, italics mine).” In other words, whatever happens to you, accept it as God’s sovereign will for you; He has allowed it, so maintain an attitude of thanksgiving toward God regardless of what comes your way. Now, I know this is a hard saying, but we have several good examples in the Bible where this high regard for the sovereignty of God in the face of severe testing is illustrated for us: 1) Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:20-22);” 2) Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s instruction, and would have gone through with it (Genesis 22:1-3); and 3) Jesus said, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:41-43).” Submitting ourselves to God’s sovereign will does not mean excusing ourselves when the going gets rough! After all, “For he who is called in the Lord while a servant is the Lord’s freeman. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s servant. You were bought at a price. Do not be the servants of men. Brothers, let every man, in whatever condition he is called, remain there with God (1 Corinthians 7:22-24, italics mine).”

So then, what’s in it for us? Well, how about peace with God? I submit that peace with God comes when we accept, with joy, all that He allows to happen to us. Moreover, can we agree that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (John Piper)?” And, that is why we were created in the first place, to glorify God (click HERE).

Finally, to balance out this discussion, let me point out that I am not suggesting that God wants us to just accept every evil thing that comes our way without asking Him to come to our rescue, if that is His will. No, we are instructed to Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” That’s exactly what Paul did regarding his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and it’s what Jesus did concerning the kind of death He was about to suffer (Mathew 26:39). And, sometimes, like both Jesus and Paul, God may say “No.” But, I believe, God is always pleased that we asked and glorified by our asking, regardless of the answer. Furthermore, by asking in sincerity and humility, we are demonstrating that we are willing to accept whatever God’s sovereign will is in the matter. So, let us not be among those who “…have not because you ask not (James 4:2).”

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

On “Assurance”

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On “Assurance”

James R. Aist

“The God who conforms our will to His will in order to save us (John 6:44), is the God who keeps our conformed will conformed to His will in order for us to remain saved (Philippians 2:13).”

The Christian doctrine of “assurance” refers to the absolute certainty that whoever God saves will remain saved and will inherit eternal life. The question then arises, “Upon whom does this absolute certainty depend, the one whom God saved or the God who saved him?” Many Christians believe that, because God never cancels our natural-born, misaligned, will to make choices, a born-again Christian can exercise that same free will to abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. And, they believe that many choose to do just that. Other Christians believe, instead, that the God who saved them is the same God who will keep them saved, while not cancelling their freedom to use their, now realigned, will. And they believe that no one who is truly saved (i.e., born again) will abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. So, which, if either, of these two opposing views is better supported by the biblical witness, and which offers genuine assurance? Following are 21 of the most direct and to-the-point Scriptures that I believe, when taken together and in context, provide an answer to this question, followed by my commentary on each:

Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Also, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

Commentary: God is describing here some of the awesome details of the “born-again” experience that true believers in His promised Messiah (Jesus Christ) will undergo (click HERE for details). Note that God says that He will “cause” them to obey His statutes and that they “will” keep His judgments. In other words, the born-again believer will obey, and continue to obey, God, because God will cause him to do so, not because they will choose, of their own volition, to do so. Surely God’s statutes and judgments include salvation (cf., John 6:39-40); thus, God himself will keep them saved.

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Commentary: Since Jesus will (not just can or may, but will) raise him up on the last day, he will not, even if he could, abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his claim to eternal life with God in heaven.

Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but so much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure.”

Commentary: Once you are saved, God himself works inside you to will to remain saved; that would certainly qualify as “His good pleasure”, would it not? Your will remains free to decide, but because your will is now realigned with God’s will, you have only one desirable choice and you’re “good” with that. So, “free will” becomes, in effect, a moot point, because you won’t ever want to abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven.

John 6:39-40 “This is the will of the Father who has sent Me, that of all whom He has given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Commentary: The Father’s will is that none (not some or most, but none) will be lost. Jesus will (not just can or may, but will) raise him up on the last day, because he will not abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. Moreover, “everyone” whom God saves will stay saved, every one, and Jesus will raise all of them up on the Last Day…all of them.

John 10:28 “I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, nor shall anyone snatch them from My hand.”

Commentary: Never means never, and nor means nor, period! All who are saved will persevere to the end.

John 17:11b-12a, 20 “Holy Father, through Your name keep those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are one. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. I have kept those whom You have given Me. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word…”

Commentary. Jesus is the one who “kept” the disciples saved while He was still alive in the world; they did not keep themselves saved. Here, Jesus asks the Father to keep them saved after He returns to heaven. So, who keeps us saved? Jesus’ Father, that’s who; we do not keep ourselves saved.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, and He will not permit you to be tempted above what you can endure, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Commentary: God is faithful, and He has promised (elsewhere) to keep you saved. He will do that by limiting the temptations that you may experience and providing a way of escape, if necessary. Thus, God will control the influences that might otherwise convince you to abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 1:8 “He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Commentary: God himself will strengthen you until the day of our Lord (i.e., to the end), so that you will not abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And I pray to God that your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it.”

Commentary: Simply put, the same God who saved you is the One who will also preserve (i.e., keep) you until the second coming of Jesus Christ.

John 8:31 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you remain in My word, then you are truly My disciples.”

Commentary: This verse is often passed over lightly, without really seeing the full implication of it. Jesus is implying that, of those “who believed Him”, those who truly accepted the Gospel are the ones who will remain saved (i.e., “in My word”). In other words, a true disciple will remain a disciple, and those who do not remain in His word are not truly disciples of His, but only appear to be. A parallel point was made more explicitly by John himself in 1 John 2:19, next.

1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. But they went out, revealing that none of them were of us.”

Commentary: Here, John is speaking of  “antichrists”, those who denied Christ and left the fellowship of true believers. These folks appeared to be true believers, but they showed that they were not by denying Christ and walking away. True believers, on the other hand, will not deny Christ and walk away.

Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

Commentary: This is a general truth, and Paul is applying it here to make the point that the Jews will, someday, also put their faith in the Messiah (Jesus) and be saved. Since this is a general truth, it also applies to the calling of all people to God and the gifts (i.e., grace, saving faith and salvation) given to them when they are converted; thus, salvation is not revocable, but permanent.

Philippians 1:4-6 “In every prayer of mine for you all, I have always made requests with joy, due to your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Commentary: The God who saved you is the One who will keep you saved until the day of Jesus Christ (i.e., the end). God will finish what He started!

Romans 8:34-39 “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Commentary: Paul says that there is no outside influence whatsoever that can take our salvation from us (separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord). But what about our misaligned will; can’t we use that to separate us? Paul said “No”, when he included “any other created thing” in the list, because we are created things! So, nothing and no one – not even we, ourselves – can cause ourselves to revoke our salvation. Besides, the will of the saved has been realigned to agree with the will of God, and there will no longer be any incentive to disobey God.

Ephesians 1:13-14 “In Him you also, after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and after believing in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory”, with…

Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you are sealed for the day of redemption” with…

1 Corinthians 1:21-22 “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and established the guarantee with the Spirit in our hearts.”

Commentary: Taken together, these previous three passages say that the Holy Spirit, dwelling in every true believer, seals our salvation and guarantees that we will not lose it, ever, and certainly not by an act of our realigned will.

1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that does not fade away, kept in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Commentary: The power of God protects us, through faith, from denying Christ and losing our eternal inheritance. The God who saved us is the One who will keep us, by His power.

Hebrews 10:38-39 “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.”

Commentary: Here, the writer is making it clear that those who shrink back do not have saving faith, whereas, those who do not shrink back have saving faith. He is not saying that true believers can or will shrink back or fall away. (Compare this to 1 John 2:19, above.)

Jude 24 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with rejoicing…”

Commentary: God is able to keep you from “falling” (i.e., denying Jesus and revoking your salvation). So, if God is able to keep you saved, then would He not, in fact, do it? After all, it is His will that you remain saved (John 6:39-40). God both saves you and keeps you saved.

My Conclusions: In view of the considerable, clear and direct biblical evidence presented above, I conclude that it is, ultimately, God who keeps us saved, and that it is not primarily by the power of our own efforts that we will endure to the end, but by the power and the will of God working in us and for us. In other words, once God has saved us, He so re-enforces our will to remain saved that we will, in fact, remain saved. The God who conforms our will to His will in order to save us, is the God who keeps our conformed will conformed to His will in order for us to remain saved. He does this through various means, including the work and witness of the Holy Spirit in us, the continued preaching of His word to us, the witness of other believers to us and continued warnings to us to not “fall away.”

Genuine Assurance: So, which version of assurance offers absolute certainty for the true believer? If the saved person is able to renounce his faith in the divinity of Jesus and lose his salvation, then his is only a hope of assurance, a hope that is contingent upon his own power and strength to retain his saving faith. His eternal security is only as secure as his faith is. I liken this, somewhat, to a letter in the mail that says on the outside of the envelope, “Congratulations, you are the winner of $5,000 a week for life!” But, when you read the letter inside, it says “…if yours is the lucky number to be drawn soon.” You have to wait until the drawing to find out whether or not you have won, and you cannot guarantee that you will win anything! What kind of a God would go to such lengths and pay such a price to draw us and save us, only to leave it entirely up to us to keep ourselves saved? On the other hand, if, as the Bible says, the saved person is protected by the power of God and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will never renounce his faith in the divinity of Jesus and lose his salvation, then his is an absolute certainty – that is to say, real assurance – from the day of his salvation right on into eternity. His eternal security is as secure as God is faithful. Put another way, “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” (J.I Packer in “Knowing God”). Now, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have God in charge of my assurance than me; He is far more trustworthy, faithful and able to keep me saved than I am!

Benefits and Potential Pitfalls: I have found that a right understanding and acceptance of this doctrine of assurance confers true peace with God and guaranteed security in my right standing with Him from the moment God saves me right into eternity. Such peace and security are true blessings of immense value to the born again believer. But, this same doctrine can easily be misconstrued to, seemingly, give us license to sin all the more, because of God’s abounding grace (Romans 5:20). To this erroneous manner of (wrong) thinking the Apostle Paul declares emphatically, “God forbid!” (Romans 6:2, 15). How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? And in Galatians 6:7-8, he issues this warning, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The fact that this doctrine can be misunderstood and abused does not diminish, in any way, either its validity or its blessings to the one who understands and practices it rightly.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE.)