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Articles by David Banks
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Good Life vs. The Bad Life
When Moses chose the hard life of an Israelite over the comfortable life of an Egyptian, he became a living example of the triumph of good over evil. The writer of the book of Hebrews referred to Moses like this, "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible." (Hebrews 11:24-27). This illustrates for us some other important lessons concerning sin.
The pull of sin is strong, but the pleasure of sin is temporary. On the other hand, the pull of Christ is gentle and steady, but the pleasure of faith and obeying Christ is eternal. There is no question that God is stronger than Satan. God just doesn't need to continually prove His strength. Satan is an enticer. God is a commander. He commands us through His written word, which does not contradict itself. But that's really the issue, isn't it? It is the fact that Satan makes sin look so appealing, and that God, is so strict, that makes many choose evil, and few choose good.
Paul wrote it this way, "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, let the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Satan is the god of this age, but he doesn't make our choices for us. God created us with the ability to make our own choices. Satan can't make us choose evil, and God will not make us choose good. God simply gives us His word as a standard and commands us to follow what is right. God requires and desires strict obedience of His commands, which are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), but He will not force us to obey.
Attitudes & Priorities - Victims or Victors
With God it has always been more about attitudes and priorities than about material wealth and accomplishment. Who better than Solomon to teach us a lesson on priorities. He wrote about all the things that he had experienced in his search for meaning in life, and without exception all of the things that he tried, the same things that still today people think of as "the pleasures of men," Solomon wrote about these things "Indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Solomon finally concluded that the best that any person can do is "Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all, For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Solomon wrote about all of this so that others could learn from his experience and wisdom. We have a choice. We can either learn from the bad experiences of others or we can make mistakes of our own. I have tried both ways, and I prefer learning from others. The apostle Paul, writing to the saints in Philippi, wrote, "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13).
Somewhere along the way, we came to the conclusion that if we weren't content it was because we didn't have something that we really wanted. Paul was saying that it doesn't matter how rich or poor you are, you still need God's strength to be content. You can't buy contentment.
Contentment is an attitude of stability that enables us to say, and really mean, that no matter what happens to me materially, I'm going to stay faithful. That is, if I'm poor and come into a lot of money, I'm still going to be faithful, I still need God, or, if I'm rich, and lose everything, I'm still going to be faithful, I still have God's Spirit living in Me. Contentment is an attitude that looks forward to the conclusion of the matter. To fear God and keep His commandments is an endeavor that transcends this world. Everything else is vanity, and vexation of the spirit, and grasping for the wind.
Just imagine the possibilities. If a person were truly content with wherever and whoever he or she was, suddenly the worldly standards disappear, and the spiritual potential increases. The poor man doesn't spend his time wishing he was rich. The old woman doesn't spend time wishing she were young again. The young man doesn't spend time wishing he were older. Jesus said, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on...But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:25, 33). Just like that, "From now on I'm not going to worry about money." What if we could accomplish that? Wouldn't we then be free to concentrate on the more important matters of life?
As I see it, we can either be victims of the world, or we can be victors through our faith in God and Christ. This does not happen by accident. It is a conscious choice. There's not an overnight cure, this is learned behavior. Solomon learned it. The apostle Paul learned it. The jury's still out on us. Victims or victors?
The Plague of Stubbornness
I think we need to realize that God may interpret our resistance to submitting to His will as plain old stubbornness. Take Saul of Tarsus for example. He believed that by resisting Christians he was pleasing God. Saul was among those who ignored the evidence and went along with the crowd. He didn't think he was doing wrong. He was just following the traditions of his ancestors. He was conducting his life as he had been taught. When he was on the road to Damascus he saw a blinding light and was uniquely privileged to have a conversation with Jesus. Paul was one of the very few in biblical history to have the privilege of being spoken to by the Christ, in person, after the ascension. Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me...It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 9:4-5). In other words, Jesus is stating that by persecuting Christians, Saul is stubbornly denying the truth. The incident left Paul physically sightless, but spiritually he could see more clearly than ever before. Some people hear God's word and they change. Other people, figuratively, stop their ears and refuse even to hear.
The problem with stubbornness is that it doesn't just affect us, it affects all of the people around us. When Saul of Tarsus stopped being stubborn and kicking against the goads, he heard and obeyed the will of God. Countless people were and are still being converted to Christ as a result. Pharaoh, on the other hand, refused heed the voice of God and many people died as a result. The decisions we make today, especially where God is concerned, do not affect us alone.
It works the same way with us. For example, when a father and/or mother refuses to accept, and obey the will of God, it makes it difficult on the rest of the family. If you turn a blind eye to the sins in your life, it isn't difficult to understand how the rest of your family is going to be affected. In contrast, if a father and mother obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they strive to live a faithful Christian life, living by sound biblical standards, nurturing their children in the admonition of the Lord, the example they set could well lead to generations of faithfulness.
I don't pretend to be a psychologist. I know that I don't fully understand all the nuances of the human psyche, nor do I have the answers to all of life's problem. I'm simply saying that there are things that plague us all, most of which we bring on ourselves. We all have our own unique set of problems because we've all had a unique sequence of experiences. Our experiences have formed our present personalities. Some of our experiences have been good. Some have been bad. Try as we may, we can't "unexperience" the bad ones or remember only the good ones. Believe me, I would be the first to sign up if we could. We need to accept ourselves for who have been, warts and all, and we need to find it within ourselves to submit to the voice of God. Stubbornness is not strength. The time to obey God is now.
Creation, Faith & Common Sense
There are many who claim to believe in God but try to deny the validity of the Bible. Let me say this about that: If God created man, as the Bible claims, how can man expect to understand God without the Bible? At this point we use faith, combined with common sense. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible." (Hebrews 11:1-3). This teaches us to take a look at creation and use that as the basis of our faith. Who can make a tree? Who can make a bird? Who can make a man? Who but God could have created the heavens and the earth?
The apostle Paul wrote about man's departure from the understanding of faith. He wrote, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore, God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lust of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:18-25). So that's what is happening still and God allows it, because He created us with the ability to think, reason and understand for ourselves. He expects us to use that ability to learn about Him, but if we don't He doesn't stop us He allows it.
If we accept by faith and common sense that God exists, and that He created the heavens and earth, if we can accept that God gave us life then why is it so difficult to believe that He is directing our steps through His word? If we can accept that God is powerful enough to create man, doesn't it make sense that He is powerful enough to keep man from making His word impossible to understand? If we accept the existence of God, then it only makes good sense to accept, as valid, the Bible as God's word. No one can make you believe in God. Faith is something you must seek out for yourself. Once you find it hold on to it. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6). We must accept that if it takes diligence to seek God, it also takes diligence to keep our faith (2Peter 1:10) "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.").
Does God Exist?
If one is to believe the gospel, one must first be convicted on an even more basic concept. We have established that the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In order to believe the gospel, therefore we must accept certain other principles. We've all contemplated it, and we've all questioned it at times. Does God exist? I would suggest that whatever we decide concerning this question, we must be firm in our conviction. Scientists have struggled to prove that God does not exist. They have not offered any adequate proof. On the other hand, theologians have struggled to prove the existence of God. They have not been able to offer adequate proof to everyone's satisfaction that God does exist. Our belief, therefore, must come down to our own investigation and conclusion.
The Bible claims that, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." (Genesis 1:1). Even the sharpest critics should agree that the Bible is an impressive collection of books. Historically accurate, written by numerous authors over a period of almost two thousand years, and yet develops and maintains a constant theme complimented by each succeeding author. Biblical prophets made predictions that were confirmed centuries later. History confirms that entire nations have risen and fallen on the basis of faith in God as recorded in the Bible. The account of the creation itself is unwaveringly consistent with historical and modern development. Paul wrote, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20). Paul was relating that it should be obvious to all, by looking at the power and wonder of creation, that God exists.
Many of the Bible writers acknowledge, however, that the existence of God is ultimately accepted on the basis of personal belief (or faith). The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible." (Hebrews 11:1,3). Personal conviction of faith in God should be decided on the basis of investigation, intellect and common sense rather than popular opinion or whimsical notions. Before you can move on to the next step, you must ask yourself, Do you believe in God?, Do you accept the Bible as God's word?, Do you believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?, and, Are you ready to make a commitment on the basis of your personal faith?
The Death, Burial and Resurrection
When Jesus was handed over to Pontius Pilate, the high ranking Roman governor of the people, in Jerusalem, Pilate quickly deduced that he was not dealing with the ordinary sort of the accused. Jesus offered no defense of Himself. He did not grovel or plead for mercy. He did not appear afraid or weak. He seemed neither defeated nor victorious. He was not common. He was meek. He was confident. He was a presence. Most of all, for Pilate, He was a mystery. Pilate became His most unlikely defender.
Jesus proved to be trouble for Pilate at every turn. To further complicate the matter, While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, 'Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." (Matthew 27:19). Proceeding with caution, Pilate decided to test the resolve of his Jewish jury. He put before the people the infamous choice, Jesus or Barabbas. Presumably to promote good will, the governor, every year, at the time of the Passover feast, would release a prisoner of the people's choosing. Barabbas is presented as a hardened criminal. Among the list of his notorious offenses were insurrection, theft and murder. He was a true threat to the public safety, and the obvious choice.
No one talked to Jesus without being somehow affected by His poise and demeanor. Pilate had interviewed Jesus extensively and was desperate to release Him, but the crowd of the Jews were insistent. They cried out, "Give us Barabbas," and of Jesus they kept shouting over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him." Amazingly, it was Jesus who offered Pilate some words of comfort, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11). In the end, Pilate washed his hands and declared himself free of innocent blood and he delivered Jesus to be crucified. The Jews, so arrogantly confident, condemned themselves with the words, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25).
Baptism Saves You
The apostle Peter wrote, "…The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1Peter 3:20-21 - KJV).
The comparison of baptism with the ancient flood is an interesting one. God commanded Noah to build the ark. He was perfectly specific about how the ark was to be built. It was to be built of gopherwood. It was to have rooms in it. It was to be covered inside and outside with pitch. It was to be three hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. It was to have one window in the top and one door in the side. It was to have a lower, second and third decks in it as well. With this much specific instruction, it would seem that Noah could not have gone wrong. But, suppose Noah had decided to use a different kind of wood, or cover the ark with pitch only on the outside. Suppose he had not built the ark to the dimensions that God commanded, or added another window or door. If Noah had decided to change just one small detail of what God commanded and did everything else exactly as God commanded, what do you think would have happened to the ark under those circumstances? It was because Noah obeyed the specifics of God's commands that enabled the ark to stay afloat. Remember, it was this same flood, which saved the righteous, which also destroyed the wicked.
Couldn't God have saved Noah and his family and destroyed everyone else on earth without bringing the flood? Couldn't God have saved Noah in the ark without being so specific about how it was to be built? Why did God go to the trouble of being so specific about the details of the ark if it was not important that Noah obey God specifically? The answer is that God did intend for Noah to respect every detail of His command.
Peter wrote that baptism saves us in like figure to Noah in the ark. He clarified further for his readers that water immersion is not intended to remove filth from the flesh. It is not like taking a bath. It is rather the answer of a good conscience toward God. Like Noah built the ark to God's specifications, so a person with a good conscience hears God's command to be baptized, believes it and answers with obedience. This, Peter wrote, equals salvation.
Love without Strings
With all the hate that is in the world it's going to take a divine love to combat it. I use the word combat because we are at war. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, rather our struggle is against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). The problem is that we tend to want to put a face on our enemy. So we war and we fight and hate our fellowman, until we are in danger of becoming the very thing we are warring against.
The real struggle is to combat the hatred within us. To win the war over hatred we must develop in ourselves the same kind of love for our fellowman that God has for the world (John 3:16; 15:12-13). We are in awe of God's perfection, but too often we use our imperfection as an excuse to under achieve. After all, nobodies perfect. Right? What we forget is that we, both male and female, were made in the God's image, and the Bible teaches us that we can love each other the way God loves us, and we can love the world the way God loves the world (1Jn. 4:7-11).
The Bible does warn us not to love some things. “Love not the world neither the things in the world, if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15). “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (1Tim. 6:10). The Bible even teaches to hate some things. “Hate what is evil and cling to that which is good.” (Rom. 12:9). Sometimes it is difficult to hate the evil act and still love the sinner.
It isn't that we don't love at all. We love the church, our family, our friends, etc. The problem is not that we don't love, but that we don't love enough. We convince ourselves that it's okay to hate some people: homosexuals, people of other races/religions, anyone who hates us, bullies, foreign enemies, etc. Everyday we add to our list, but God has never given us permission to hate our fellowman. He did, however, say, “You will be hated by all men for My name's sake, but he that endures to the end shall be saved,” (Matt. 10:22).
Don't let hatred consume you. Paul wrote, “If your enemy hungers, feed him, if he thirsts give him a drink, for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:22). Hatred cripples our ability to convert sinners to Christ, but the love of God enables us to look through the sin to see the soul.
The Fiery Furnace
Among the most remarkable examples of courage and faith in the Bible is the historical account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were sentenced to death in the fiery furnace. These three young slaves made a conscious decision to honor God and serve Him only. They soon realized that making that choice came with consequences that would separate the truly sincere servants of God from those who merely give lip service. Being brought before the king for refusing to bow down and worship an idol they were given the option of worshipping a false god or being thrown in to the furnace. A choice like this would likely weaken the knees of even the most faithful of men, but these young men said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).
Jesus defined hypocrites as those who, “Draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Matthew 15:7-9). It is likely that none of us has ever been confronted with consequences as severe as those faced by these three slaves and others in the Bible, but on a daily basis we are commanded to confirm our faith by setting a proper Christian example. What would you do if someone demanded that you either disobey God or be thrown into a fiery furnace? While you are considering this read Hebrews 10:26-31.
The Only Begotten
Our two English words "only begotten" are literally translated in the New Testament from the combined Greek word monogenes, from mono meaning "only" and genao meaning "to be born." The word monogenes is used five times, in the writings of John to refer to Christ. It is also used once in reference to Isaac in Hebrews 11:17. When this word was used in reference to Isaac and to Christ it was used with special emphasis given to the promise made by God that through Abraham's Seed all the nations would be blessed. The fulfillment of that promise began with Isaac and is completed in Christ.
Controversy has arisen over the exact meaning of the word monogenes because it is obvious that Isaac was not Abraham's only son. Ishmael, as you know, was Abraham's firstborn son by the slave woman Hagar. Nevertheless, when God referred to Isaac He referred to him as Abraham's "only son" (Genesis 22:2). It is therefore apparent that although Isaac was not Abraham's only naturally born son, he was the only son through whom God would fulfill His promise.
Likewise, in reference to Christ, the word monogenes seems to have a greater meaning than simply "only begotten." Since Christians also are called sons/children of God (Galatians 3:26; 1John 3:1 etc.), by the process of rebirth. We are "begotten of God" by faith (1John 5:1-5) and by the practice of righteousness (1John 3:29). Therefore, it would seem a logical conclusion, that since the Christian is also begotten of God that Jesus is not technically the only begotten. However, it should be pointed out that the circumstances of Christ's birth were much different than our rebirth. Jesus physical birth is unique. In reference to this unique sense of His relationship to the Father, Jesus is most definitely the Only Begotten. In contrast to this our relationship to the Heavenly Father is also referred to as "the adoption as sons." (Romans 8:12-17; Galatians 4:1-7).
The much-debated question has become, “What would be a proper way to translate the word monogenes that would both stay true to the literal meaning of the word and capture also the purest understanding of its divine intent?” Several translations have been offered: "only begotten" (KJV, NKJV), "One and Only" (NIV), "only begotten" (ASV), "only" (RSV), "unique one" (McCord), etc. Whichever translation you may prefer among these or others, let it, at least, be appreciated that much labor has been wrought in trying to understand the true nature of our relationship to God and to His Son. As the apostle Paul wrote, "For we are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26). While we may be sons of God through Christ, we are certainly not begotten in the same way that Christ was begotten. Christ is the fulfillment of God's promise to save man from sin. Praise be to God for giving us the indescribable gift of His Only Begotten Son.
The church of Christ, for as long as I can remember, has used a five-step model for teaching God's plan of salvation (hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized). The church has experienced a great deal of criticism, being accused of teaching salvation by works, and/or of being legalistic, among many other accusations. It is, however, clear that God does have an established plan. The fact that God has issued specific commands obligates us to obey Him. If that view makes us legalistic, so be it.
On the other hand, I do recognize the danger in becoming either too legalistic or not legalistic enough. There is danger in seeing only the letter of the law and missing the intent of God's word. There's danger in becoming list oriented in our approach to the holy writ without experiencing the emotional benefits of Christian faith. For example, Christians do not praise God simply because we've have been commanded to. Nor should we rejoice in the Lord always simply because we've been commanded to. However, doesn't the fact that we are commanded to do these things lend a comforting support to our desire to do them?
While I do recognize the danger of being emotionless, it should be stressed that we should never allow our emotions to control us or to motivate us religiously. It is dangerous to allow our emotions to keep us from recognizing the letter of the law. James wrote, “Someone will say, `You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:18-20). James was not teaching that faith was more important than works or vice versa. He stated that they work together and complete one another (v.22).
My understanding of Biblical grace is that God's gift of salvation is one that I neither deserve nor can earn. It is a free gift. So, if Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16a), then I still recognize that as salvation by grace rather than of works only. God certainly didn't owe it to us to issue a command to save us, but we certainly must obey the command if we want to be saved. That's not being legalistic, that's being practical. That's not trying to work our way to heaven, that's trying our best to honor God.