1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b – The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. …But we have the mind of Christ.
The mannishness of man. That was a phrase Francis Schaeffer used to describe human beings in their fallen state. I like to use the word, “worldling” to describe the same idea. Paul uses the phrase “natural man” or “the man without the Spirit.” All of these describe the basic antithesis between those who have eyes to see and those who don’t – those who love the foolishness of God and know it’s actually unparalleled wisdom and those who see God’s foolishness and believe that it really is folly, an utter waste of time. Like the wicked described in Job 21, they say to God…‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ (vv. 14-15)
God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul writes that a person in his natural state,
doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (v. 14).
It isn’t simply that he chooses not to know God’s ways and prefers not to understand them. He cannot. He is unable. Such things are spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit. His heart is unregenerate. He is blind. It is impossible for him…for him.
But Not For God
But nothing is impossible for God. Those of us who are now in Christ were once as blind as the worldlings that surround us today. There was a time when we did not understand the deep truths of God. But God is in the business of waking the dead, giving them (us) hearts that beat according to his Word, and providing eyes to see that which is invisible and eternal. This was not of ourselves, lest we should boast. It wasn’t because we were so smart, righteous, or born into the right family. It was the free and undeserved favor of a gracious God.
We now have the mind of Christ. We are able to discern the things of God. Flesh and blood do not reveal such things to us, but our heavenly Father does as he discloses himself – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We grow in our understanding of his disclosure as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds through his Word.
Humility is Key
So it is with humility that we plead with people who do not know Christ and who are under the influence of the spirit of the age. For where they are, we once were. We know they are in darkness, that they are hurting, broken, looking for meaning and purpose, confused and don’t know the Way. We were once like them. It took the sovereign touch from the Lord of hosts to deliver us from our plight. And so we beg those without the Spirit to run toward the Light of Christ. We intercede on their behalf and ask our Father to give them eyes to see and ears to hear, that they too might enter in and walk the Way that leads to Life.
When and how did you come to faith in Christ? Do you remember what it was like to start “seeing” things in a new way? Describe that experience or process. Based on your experience and the truths from Scripture this devotional outlines, what are some key ideas you would want to communicate about becoming a Christian to an unbelieving family member or friend?
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Satan’s Advertising Campaign
One of the most successful advertising campaigns perpetrated by Satan in our day is the idea that Christians are forbidden to judge anything or anyone for any reason. Even unbelievers know the Bible verse that teaches, so they think, that Christians are not to judge others in any circumstance. In this twisting of our Lord’s words, Satan has led many down an awfully slippery slope.
But is that what Christ, Paul, and the rest of the Bible teach? No. What Christ and his chosen spokesmen spoke against was having a censorious or judgmental spirit or attitude. They taught us to resist the temptation of signing up to serve as God’s official fruit-inspectors. These are the folks who believe it is their spiritual gift to criticize everyone else.
Instead, the exhortation of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5), was for his followers to remove the giant telephone-pole-sized sin in their own lives first. Unfortunately, that’s where unbelievers, and many Christians, stop with Christ’s words. But Jesus had not yet finished his thought.
The Rest of the Story
Jesus actually taught we are to remove the beam or plank from our own eye first, and then (or, so that) we would be able to see clearly enough to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye. Jesus wasn’t calling for the abolition of judgment, but for a godly attitude while exercising helpful discernment. We know this because less than ten verses later, our Lord said we must watch out for false teachers. Why? Because they are false teachers. Something isn’t right about what they teach or how they live.
How do you “watch out” for false teachers? By judging the fruit they produce – their works – not their hearts. And yet, according to our Lord, their fruit does tell us something about what’s going on inside of them. He says a good tree produces good fruit while a bad tree produces bad fruit. In both cases, being precedes doing. We aren’t privy to all that goes on inside a person’s heart, so our Lord tells us to judge their fruit, whether it be good or bad.
By What Standard?
How can we make such a judgment? How can we know the difference between good and bad? By using the only sure measuring stick we have, God’s Word.
The Apostle Paul said we are called to test everything. A word like “everything” pretty much says it all. Every idea, suggestion, worldview, moral teaching, news story, political platform, attitude, television program, and on and on and on, is to be tested. But how do you test these things?
With Holy Scripture. God’s Word is sufficient to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17), whether by explicit teaching, command, law, or rule – or by implicit principles and implications.
After you have tested something by God’s Word, you then must judge or discern whether that thing is good or evil. If it’s good you cling to it. If it’s evil you avoid or shun it. But you have to make a judgment. How else can you pursue holiness instead of sin? How else can you choose the hard and narrow road that leads to life rather than the wide and comfortable road that leads to destruction? You must exercise your faculties of discernment.
The Heart is the Heart of the Matter
Have Christians ever been guilty of having judgmental attitudes? Absolutely. And they should repent for it. But unbelievers have also been guilty of having judgmental attitudes. The difference is that followers of Christ have an objective and binding standard that tells them it’s wrong to have such an attitude. Every time an unbeliever tells a Christian not to be judgmental, they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to say so.
The key point is this: Christians are commanded by Christ to judge good from evil, sin from righteousness, without being judgmental. We are to practice such discernment so we may lovingly correct or restore another person. That is why we must first deal with the sin in our own lives. It humbles us, reminds us of what Christ has done on our behalf, and enables us to better see how to help others. It’s a razor’s edge to walk, but we must not give up walking along that edge simply because it’s hard to do. Instead, we must pray for the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, his gifts of discernment, and for his Word to dwell in us richly so we may walk that edge faithfully, consistently, and lovingly.
What do you think most people mean when they say people shouldn’t judge? Why do people dislike being judged? Have you ever been accused of being judgmental? Have you ever judged another person (sinfully)? Have you ever been judged in such a way? How did it make you feel? How does the counsel of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5, help us turn from having a judgmental attitude? How does his teaching in those verses enable us to truly be a help to another person?
Grace and Truth,
Romans 16:17-19 - I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Take Heed Lest You Fall
These are some of Paul's last words to the Church at Rome. With these words he reveals his Christian love and pastor's heart for this congregation. After a significant, deep, and vital treatise on Christian doctrine and living, Paul stresses one last time how crucial it is for these Christians to take heed to what he has shared with them.
He knows there are those wolves in sheep's clothing (Acts 20) who will creep in among the God’s people (from within and without) and cause divisions - some purposefully and others because they themselves have been deceived. Regardless, these wolves will place obstacles before God’s people. They will seek to undo and disrupt sound teaching, the very doctrine Paul took pains to communicate throughout his Letter to the Romans.
Deception, Then Derailment
Paul says to keep away from such trouble-makers. Don't hang around them. No good can come from getting too close to them. Such people are not representing our Lord, regardless of how smooth their words are. They serve the idol of their own agenda, their own desires and cravings, not Christ's. The first result of listening to them is deception. Once deception sets in, wandering from the faith is never far behind.
Paul loves the Church at Rome. Because he cares for them he therefore encourages them and builds them up by complimenting their obedience. But he warns them to be wise with regard to what is good and innocent concerning evil. Sticking your head in the sand won't do here. The discernment Paul speaks of requires learning and growing in the sound doctrine he has been teaching them throughout his letter. Their lives and souls are at stake, as well as future generations of Roman Christians. The same is true for you, your children, church, and friends if you wander from the sound doctrine of God’s Word.
I encourage you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Pray for the Spirit's discernment regarding good and evil. Flee from evil and those who bring it, regardless of whether or not the world calls you judgmental. Cling to what is good and thank God for it.
Read through Paul’s Letter to the Romans with some friends and discuss what each chapter teaches you about truth and falsehood, good and evil. How are your observations relevant to today’s world, and your life in particular?
Grace and Truth,
Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take today back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he has promised those who follow him.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words? In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard? What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world? What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God? If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
Grace and Truth,
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2)
Knowing God Rightly
“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” (A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
God really does care that we know him (John 17:3)… and know him rightly. Any old expression of religion won’t do and, in fact, often leads to a dangerous idolatry.
The Apostle Paul, passionately concerned for the salvation of the Israelites, admitted that they had a zeal, perhaps even an enviable zeal, for God. Yet he was quick to follow that admission with the sober truth that their zeal for God was not according to knowledge. They were wrong in their understanding of how to obtain righteousness.
The Appearance of Enthusiasm
In our day we give points to folks for the appearance of enthusiasm. Maybe they are very exuberant as they worship God. Perhaps there’s lots of “God-talk” liberally sprinkled throughout their conversations. It may be they actively serve their church. These are all good things to be sure.
However, what they (and we) must watch out for is a zeal that is without a true and proper knowledge of the living God. It’s not that we must first pass a doctoral examination in theology before we go to heaven. The key idea is that a shabby doctrinal or theological foundation can lead one astray. It can cause a well-intentioned person to unwittingly compromise his or her faith and drift to and fro with every new “Christian” book, television program, or religious movement.
In Exodus 34:6-7, God painted a beautiful picture of some of his attributes. He wanted Moses and the rest of his children to know and worship him rightly. He followed up in verse 14 by saying, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” It’s not a coincidence that the first three commandments focus on this very issue.
It’s frightening how easily we can wander off the straight and narrow path. God provided a warning concerning this very thing in verse 16 when he told Moses to caution the people about choosing the wrong spouse, one who is described as not knowing and worshiping the one true God. He said that sort of choice would lead God’s people away from God and into idolatry.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
More is needed than zeal and good intentions when it comes to our relationship with God. It is certainly true that knowledge alone can “puff up” the young and immature in the faith. But that’s not the fault of the knowledge. That’s more of a commentary on where a person is in their faith-journey. The solution to this potential problem is not to ignore our call to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Instead, we ought to still seek such knowledge, but do so humbly, carefully, and in full dependence on the grace of God. Likewise, the purpose of our pursuit of knowing God should be for God’s glory and the good of others. Psalm 43:34a says,
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. 4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
A mentor of mine used to say the better we know God the more we will be able to love, follow, and trust God. It’s awfully difficult to love, follow, and trust someone you don’t know. It’s also hard to love and follow God if you don’t have a growing and maturing knowledge of God - what God has revealed about himself as well as how to live for him and with him in this world.
Almighty God, give me great and increasing passion and zeal for you. Yet please ground it in who you truly are. Help me to continue all the days of my life to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I might love you as I ought. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Do you agree that many Christians do not know much about God? If so, why do you think that is? What are some ways you can begin learning more about God – his Person, Works, Commands, and Promises? One resource I often recommend is A.W. Tozer’s, “Knowledge of the Holy”. Order it today and work through one chapter a week. Your view of God will expand, and as it does, so will your love, commitment, and trust of God.
Grace and Truth,
1 John 4:1-6 - Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
But It Tastes So Good
We in the church are often a gullible people who far too easily believe someone because they give a heartfelt and moving testimony. Or, sometimes, we clamor after a person because he or she is a celebrity. Our day is not marked by a thorough vetting of content regarding what a person actually believes. This accounts for much of our cotton candy Christian culture. It doesn’t take much for it to dissolve into nothing.
We are, therefore, malnourished. This is lamentable, especially when we consider the rich legacy of Christian depth and commitment of bygone ages. We are contented to build our Christian lives and churches on the sand of easy-believism. But cotton candy and sand make for poor foundations and they will not, because they cannot, provide strength and safety for the storms of life.
Thus, John directs us to test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God – because not all are. Some of us entertain false prophets unawares. In verse five of 1 John 4, John says these false spirits or false prophets are from the world and therefore, speak from the viewpoint of the world.
And So the Question Is…
Why then does the church often try to look just like the world? Sadly, the church can even be worldlier than the world. I’m reminded of a comment actor, Macauley Caulkin made during an interview about his movie, “Saved.” He said he went to a few Christian concerts to check out what the Christian culture was like and discovered precious little difference between the Christian concerts he attended and those of the world. Sure, there were some differences in the lyrics, but is that the sum and substance of Christian culture?
Give Us Results
The church naturally wants to reach people for Christ. I am not against numerical growth by any means, but it can be a poor standard for biblical fidelity. Sure, some churches are growing rapidly. But how are they growing? And what are they growing? What are they producing? The apostle John states that the world listens to those who speak from the viewpoint of the world. What else would we expect? When the standards of the church focus almost exclusively on what is deemed relevant at the moment, couched in worldly trappings, and communicated in sermonic easy listening, then of course the world is going to respond favorably, even approvingly. But in a climate where truth is, de facto, offensive, worship services and sermons that are centered around God’s Word will be thought of as boring and irrelevant at best and intolerant, puritanical, and mean-spirited at worst.
Let us be as discerning as we can about who likes us and who does not. We must think about who it is that thinks we’re cool and why. For if we, as individual Christians or local churches, are very well thought of by the world around us, we may want to ask why. It might be for legitimate, God-glorifying reasons. But it could it be because we think, speak, and live too much like the world?
What are some reasons some Christians are timid about standing up for their faith in public? What are some ways local churches compromise with the world? What are some ways Christians and local churches can connect with folks they’re reaching out to with integrity? What are some ways you can stand for truth without coming across as a “jerk for Jesus”?
Grace and Truth,
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 - But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
No, Not “That” Jesus
These words on discernment, (or the lack thereof) from the Apostle Paul are familiar. His letter to the Galatian church, for example, is almost completely devoted to this line of thought. Jesus himself had much to say on this topic as well. Therefore, we probably ought to pay attention here.
Without an intentional effort on our part to be discerning in this world, we can become easily deceived. False teachers endeavor to tempt and seduce us with “Jesus-shaped” words that, in reality, are only perversions of the genuine article.
If It Could Happen to Them
Interestingly, Paul is not addressing a lukewarm congregation or group of pagans here. He is writing to those he doesn’t want to see led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is frightening because it reminds us that if we are not on our guard, we too can be easily led astray by smooth-talkers who bring a “Jesus” who is no Jesus at all. The undiscerning can be mesmerized by pleas for tolerance, relevance, peace, unity, or many other paths that would take them off the straight and narrow.
The path to the City of Destruction is wide and comfortable and is well beaten by many who have gone before us. The road to the Celestial City is narrow and fraught with trials and temptations and few there are who walk it.
But God’s grace is sufficient. And his power is made perfect in and through our weakness. We don’t have to fall prey to deception. We can trust God uncompromisingly, even in the fiery furnace of this world. If we keep our eyes open to the glorious vision of our Lord and hear his voice calling to us, we would see he has already walked down the narrow path before us, and if it was wide enough for him, it will be wide enough for us.
What are some practical ways you can discern the true Jesus from the imposters? In your experience, how is the Bible’s view of Jesus distorted by those who would water it down? If you were sharing Christ with a friend, what three or four essentials would you share with them about the Person and Work of Christ?
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 24:14-15 - “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
James 4:4 - You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Choices, Choices, Choices
The road of life is filled with many choices:
Today’s Scripture highlights the most important choices we must make. And, as the rock group, Rush, observed, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
In the preceding verses of Joshua 24, Joshua took the children of Israel on an historical reconnaissance in order to remind them of who God is and what God had done for them in the past. Implicit in this was the covenant God made with Israel and how they too could look to the future fulfillments of God’s promises… IF.
When God made a covenant with Israel, it included blessings and curses. Obedience, faithfulness, and loyalty would be rewarded with divine blessing beyond their wildest imaginations. Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and treason, on the other hand, would result in God’s curses. It seems like a no-brainer as to which should be preferred.
And so, after laying out the history of God’s love for his people, Joshua presented the people with a choice. He told them to serve God only and to throw away the idols of their past. Whom would they serve – the gods of their ancestors or the living God? Joshua answered as the covenant head of his home by declaring publicly, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Gods of this Age or God of the Ages?
It is interesting, and quite telling, to see how this theme of choosing between the Living God and the gods of the age – between covenant-faithfulness and spiritual adultery – is repeated over and over again in God’s Word. The fact is, we will all bow before something or someone, simply by the living of our lives. Who or what will be that object of worship is the choice ever before us.
James lays the choice before us with crystal clarity. He says friendship with the world is hatred toward God. What exactly does he mean here? He’s not talking about loving people and ministering to them. Instead, he has in mind what Paul meant in Romans 12:2 – love for and conformity to the sinful, fallen, and disobedient patterns of this world, the kingdom or domain of darkness, as Paul puts in Colossians 1:13.
James follows by saying, “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James is essentially putting before God’s covenant people in the New Testament the same choice Joshua put before God’s covenant people in the Old Testament: Who will they bow their knees to: the gods beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, the state, secular worldviews, modern American materialism, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy hedonism, the entertainment industry, sports, status, or even good things like work and family?
James calls people who bow to any of these things, “adulterous.” They have left their first love to cozy up to the gods of the Amorites and Egyptians.
People cry out for their free will, rights, and autonomy. God gives them that option, but not with impunity. There are consequences to foolish choices. People may choose Baal, Molech, Ra or the gods of this age if they so choose. They can exercise their moral choice to their heart’s delight. They can revel in their “free will.” But the wrath of God will be leveled against all unrighteousness and ungodliness.
But There’s Grace
Because of God’s grace, however, we learn God continually calls his children back to covenant faithfulness. He lovingly commands us to throw away the gods of our past and to love, obey, worship, and serve him instead. Each and every day that we are granted another day to live, we are given an opportunity for repentance and covenant-faithfulness.
So choose this day whom you and your household will serve. There’s only one right answer.
No Christian sets out to be idolatrous. How, then, do you think idolatry among God’s people happens? What are the “gods of this age” that compete for your allegiance the most? What are some ways you have found helpful in remaining faithful to the God of the ages? What counsel would you give a Christian brother or sister to help them turn from their idol and toward our Lord?
Grace and Truth,
Exodus 7:8-13 – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.  Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts:  Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.  Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
Exodus 7:20-22 – Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.  But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
Acts 16:16-18 – Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
I have never quite understood how the magicians of Egypt could perform the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, at least a few of them. Well, we know that they weren’t exactly the same miracles, but they fooled enough of the people enough of the time to be considered the same.
Let me back up.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and his court. Just after Aaron threw his staff to the ground, it became a snake. That would have impressed me. But it didn’t seem to impress Pharaoh. What did he do? He summoned his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians to do the same thing. And they did, sort of. Aaron’s snake ate all of their snakes. God’s little way of reminding folks who’s sovereign and who’s not.
Then there was the scene at the Nile River. It was there Moses and Aaron turned the Nile’s water into blood. That would get my attention. Not Pharaoh. He rounded up his FX artists again and, just like before, had them do the same thing as Moses and Aaron.
In the New Testament Too
This isn’t confined to just the Old Testament. In the New Testament we learn of a slave girl, “who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.” And like so many of the demons who recognized who Jesus really was, this slave girl’s “spirit” understood that Paul and company were “servants of the Most High God,” and were telling the people “the way to be saved.”
In one sense it was good that she (or rather, the spirit in her) recognized who Paul and his companions were. But at the end of the day, it was still a demonic spirit and, by definition, up to no good. That’s why Paul cast out the spirit from the girl in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our Need to Discern
Not all that glitters is gold. Not all miracles are of God. Not all spirituality is Christian spirituality. Not all visions are from God. We make a grave error indeed when we assume, undiscerningly, that any and every sign and wonder is automatically from God. Too much in God’s Word tells us otherwise.
That’s why humility is key here. We must have a teachable spirit. We need to obey God and his Word. Scripture alone must be our final, ultimate, and sufficient authority, not our experience and feelings. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:1,
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
That is wise counsel. And it’s the only sure way we’ll stand firm to the end.
Have you ever experienced someone claiming to have a “word from God” that did not seem to be Scriptural? What are the dangers in accepting such a claim without discernment? How can you “test the spirits to see whether they are from God?” Do you have a strong enough foundation in your knowledge of Scripture to spot false spirits? If not, begin meeting with a couple of people regularly to study and pray over God’s Word together, seeking encouragement, correction, and training from the Lord.
Grace and Truth,
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Walking Points Podcast
If you didn't already know about it, Ian Stake and I have a weekly podcast (about 20 minutes long) in which we discuss key ideas from God's Word to help you follow Christ in every sphere of your life. Click here to listen to previous episodes.
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