Do We Need the Holy Spirit in Order to Understand the Bible?

Who can understand the Bible in any real depth? According to Paul, who was writing under inspiration, only a Christian can. Look at what he wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 2:10-15 (NASB)

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.”

First off, just to be clear, when Paul says “we” here, he means himself and those he is addressing, not just the apostles. Later in the passage he contrasts the “we” with “natural men”, not with everyday Christians.

The natural man here is the lost sinner, left to rely on his physical senses alone. To a lost person, the Bible often makes no sense. Paul doesn’t say it is hard or difficult for someone to understand the Bible without the Spirit. He says it is impossible! They cannot! But the spiritual man, who according to the Greek means a regenerate man who has the indwelling Holy Spirit promised in Acts 2:38 and elsewhere does have the ability to understand the Bible, which was inspired/spoken by the Spirit of God. He doesn’t need some supernatural event to happen anew each time he reads the Bible. The Spirit has been in him or her since salvation.

Romans 8: 7 says,”For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Not might not, or usually won’t, but it cannot!

And earlier in this letter Paul has written that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The reason a lost person cannot understand the Bible is because they have been blinded by the Devil.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

So do we need the Holy Spirit in order to understand the Bible? The New Testament says an emphatic “yes”. Without the Spirit we cannot understand the deep things of God, our minds are hostile to God, and we are blind. Only the Spirit can set humans free and allow the to see the message God is communicating in the Word, and that Spirit continually indwells believers. So if we have been born again, our lack of biblical understanding is our own fault.

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Free Will? Part 2

So we have seen from the Word that dead people can do nothing to help themselves and need to be brought back to life first. So what does God use to accomplish this task in a person? The Word!

The one essential everyone agrees on is faith. No one can be saved without it. But how does the Lord give that to someone?

Romans 10:17

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

What is is about the Word that can ignite a spiritual flame in someone? One principle in the physical world is the same in the spiritual world – life begets life!

Hebrews 4:12

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Peter says it even more plainly:

1 Peter 1:22-23

‘Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”

The Word, in particular the Gospel, has within itself the power to accomplish that for which God sent it. Just like the physical world was created by the Word of God (Hebrews 11:3), spiritual creation is generated by reception of the Word. That is why is is critical to preach the Word, rather than self help psychology or worldly philosophy. Only the Word of God has the power to transmit life like a seed does into dead soil (Luke 8:11). That’s why Paul admonished Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Without it, you will only produce intellectual assent, and not saving faith. For only the Word of God, once planted in a heart, can change someone;s nature and bring them to life in Christ!

Free Will? Part 1

What is free will? Before determining if we have truly free will, we must define our terms. I asked a lawyer once if he had a free will, and he said “no, but I do charge a flat fee for one!” So we aren’t talking about that kind of a free will.

If you are talking about the ability of absolute self determination, then we also don’t have free will. God will determine that at the judgment, no matter what we say we want. He alone gives eternal life to whom He pleases.

How about not being a robot? Well we do have the ability to choose many things. People have always been willful. So yes, to that extent, we have a free will. But the qualifier is that we are still slaves. At best, we are willful slaves. Here’s what I mean.

John 8:34 says, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

So in this slavery, we can be willful, but not exercise fully free will. According to Ephesians 2:3, we are by nature children of wrath. As we grow up we add our actions to that nature and deepen our slavery. In Romans, Paul Romans 3:10-12 wrote:

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

What is needed is for a change in our nature, so that we desire to seek after God and be saved. When that happens, we freely choose to follow after God. According to Ephesians 2:1 we were dead in trespasses and sins. There is nothing a dead person can do to respond to anything spiritual. That’s why it’s called “dead”. We were not sick. We were not deaf. We were dead. So how are we made alive so that we can hear and comprehend the Word of God and have a changed nature?

Ephesians 2:4-5

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”

God makes us alive. That’s the only cure for dead people! Once we are live, we use our free will to choose God. Not because we are robots, but because we are now spiritually alive and have the desire to seek after God!

Stepping on T.O.E.S.

Sometimes, either intentionally or unintentionally, people can say or do things that “step on toes” with people. The phrase “stepping on toes” has been defined as “To insult, offend, or upset someone, especially by getting involved in something that is their responsibility.” Due to its divine nature, the Word of God sometimes steps on our toes as well.

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 (NET Bible)

I want to look at the good ways that God’s Word steps on toes by using an acrostic:

T– Traditions

O – Opinions

E – Emotions

S – Sentimentality

Traditions – Many times during Christ’s earthly ministry, He rebuked the religious leaders for usint their traditions to nullify the commands of the Law.  He made it clear that their traditions were not equivalent to the Word of God, and that they had no authority to enforce them as such.

“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” – Mark 7:13 (NET)

This is a tendency all people can easily fall into. In an effort to prevent violating the law of God, we put up our own list of rules to keep us from crossing that line. While this may seem helpful at first, it slowly becomes an assumption that our rules = the Word of God.  We cannot allow this to happen!  Sticking with the Word of God alone can help to prevent this.  There will be times when we read the Word and it will contradict traditions handing down through church history. In such cases, the Word takes precedence, and our tradition must be tossed aside. This can be uncomfortable, especially if one has lived their life thinking that something is a command of God, only to find out it was unbiblical. But we must allow the Word to do its surgical work and cut the traditions out of our religious practices.

Opinions – This is common in our day, when a person or a religious body “updates” the commands of Scripture in order to be more relevant or to conform to modern thinking. This is spiritual pride at its worst, as men and women believe their own opinions to be superior to those of the Lord.  It is the exaltation of human opinion that has facilitated the introduction of unbiblical practices such as female pastors, acceptance of homosexuality, and using the world’s music, among other things. But if we are to be obedient to the Word of God, our personal opinions must take a back seat to the Word. In fact, it is a sign that we have not been “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we need to follow the admonition of 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,”

Emotions – There are times that the Word of God will provoke an emotional response in us. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as when “godly sorrow” leads us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). At other times, it will lead us to a deeper love of God and of the other members of the Body of Christ. But what we need to guard against is an emotional response to the clear commands of Scripture that would cause us to be disobedient, or to misinterpret the Word. While we were created with emotions, they are not a safe method of biblical interpretation. If we follow the Word only when it fits our emotions, we are making our emotions superior in authority to the Scriptures. That is an unsafe and unreliable was to handle the Word.  It was an emotional response to the truth that caused the Jewish leaders to plot to kill Jesus!

Sentimentality – “Sentimentality” is defined as an emotional attachment to practices based on nostalgia.  In the Church, it manifests as an attachment to doing things “because that’s the way we used to do it” instead of by the Word. Many people have rejected the truth of the New Testament because of an attachment to the way they did worship as a child in a denomination that was using tradition as a source of truth. They miss the organ preludes, or the choir, or the christening of babies and are unwilling to give those up to embrace New Testament Christianity. While the message of the Gospel does not change, it can be communicated by different means in different cultures. Missionaries can fall prey to this by trying to create American Christians instead of simply Christians. Our nostalgia for the past should never hold us back from following the teaching of Scripture or of communicating the Gospel in meaningful, yet biblical, ways to other cultures!

So when we are reading the Word, take it into your heart and incorporate it into your life, even when it steps on your T.O.E.S.! For in the end, your TOES may need to be set aside if they prevent you from being a true disciple of Jesus!

The Cost of Adoption

Back in 1965, my parents had 7 children, of which I was the youngest. We were 6 boys and 1 girl. In order to have another girl, my parents did the math and decided that perhaps adoption would be a way to have a second girl in the family. A chain of events happened in God’s providence that led to them adopting four children (2 boys & 2 girls) from a terminally ill member of the church in the Bay Area who wanted to know her children would be able to stay together and be raised in a good Christian home. She signed over custody of the children a few weeks before passing away. Later that year my parents went through the formal court proceedings and adopted the children into our family. Since that day they have always just been my brothers and sisters, and not secondary in any way.

In 2015 Adoptive Families Magazine surveyed 1,100 families who adopted a child in 2012-2013 and reported:

• Average Total Cost: Adoption Agency – $39,966; Independent Adoption – $34,093

For international adoptions, the costs can be even higher, and as a consequence they are slowly becoming less common.

Average Total Cost of International Adoption by Country 2010-2011/2012-2013

• China: $36,338

• Ethiopia: $45,960

• South Korea: $43,795

• Ukraine: $40,067

As you can see, the cost of adoption is high, and yet thousands of families choose to adopt children anyway. Why? Because when they look into the eyes of that child, they are overwhelmed with love and compassion, and the expense becomes totally worth it to give this child a family.

Yet the expense for our adoption was so much higher for God that it is for human families.

Galatians 4:4-7

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Whenever we look at the bread and the fruit of the vine during communion, they represent the price that was paid so that we could be adopted as full members and heirs in the family of God. This should make us eternally grateful that Christ was willing to suffer and die on the cross to pay the price for our sin and to enable our adoption out of slavery and into sonship!

That Woman Jezebel

There is an interesting passage in Revelation 2 featuring the example of the woman Jezebel. At first glance, this looks like she is simply an immoral woman who causes people to live in sexual sin. But I believe the Lord’s selection if this name is leading us to something deeper. Let’s read about this woman and see what the Bible teaches!

Revelation 2:20-24 NASB

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.”

Wow, that is a stinging rebuke! We need to look closely at this Jezebel and see what her character was, and what she represents. I truly believe this is a name that God gave to this woman because the Jezebel of the Old Testament (1 Kings 16-21) had some very distinct attributes that will illuminate our understanding of this passage.

Here is what Easton’s Bible Dictionary says about Jezebel:

“This was the “first time that a king of Israel had allied himself by marriage with a heathen princess; and the alliance was in this case of a peculiarly disastrous kind. Jezebel has stamped her name on history as the representative of all that is designing, crafty, malicious, revengeful, and cruel. She is the first great instigator of persecution against the saints of God. Guided by no principle, restrained by no fear of either God or man, passionate in her attachment to her heathen worship, she spared no pains to maintain idolatry around her in all its splendour. Four hundred and fifty prophets ministered under her care to Baal, besides four hundred prophets of the groves [R.V., ‘prophets of the Asherah’], which ate at her table (1 Kings 18:19).”

So what we have here in Revelation 2 is a woman who is enticing people to mix Christianity with idol worship. She had led many into spiritual adultery. Notice Jesus does not say “she convinces them to go naked, or to have sex with each other”. Instead it says she leads them into worshipping idols. God considers this nothing less than spiritual fornication! That’s why Jesus chose to call it “acts of immorality”. He calls those who join her in this admixture of religions adulterers. We are the bride if Christ and he has the right to expect faithfulness. Even the word in the original languages carries this meaning.

g4203. πορνεύω porneuō; from 4204; to act the harlot, i.e. (literally) indulge unlawful lust (of either sex), or (figuratively) practice idolatry: — commit (fornication).

Jesus then describes those who have resisted her as those who “have not known the deep things of Satan”. Elsewhere, Paul had written that this who sacrifice to idols were sacrificing to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20). He also describes those who join with the temple harlots in Corinth as joining themselves to demons. So in context, and with Scripture interpreting Scripture, we can see that, rather than just a woman teaching loose sexual ethics, this passage is a warning against mixing paganism with Christianity. Judgment is upon those who do such.

Yet often in today’s world we see people bringing in so-called truths from other religions and slapping a Christian name on it. We import the religion of humanism, and by adding some Christian slogans, we have a God who is all about your success and self worth. We employ the world’s marketing strategies like spiritual entrepreneurs in order to increase the church’s bottom line, but pray first so that we can pass it off as a God given strategy. This should not be the case! The Church should reject such innovations as the spiritual fornication that they truly are! Otherwise, we run the risk of being like Jezebel and seeking to make our faith more inclusive of error.

The Passing of The Playboy

On the Passing of Hugh Hefner

Earlier this week, Hugh Hefner passed away. Depending on where people stand, there were mixed reactions to his passing, with evaluations of the effects, either negative or positive, that his life had on others. I did not respond immediately, but have let my thoughts deepen a bit before writing them down. So here is where I’m at on this man’s legacy.

Frankly, Hugh Hefner did a lot of damage. Ironically, he damaged an entire generation’s view of nudity and sexuality. Instead of making it healthier, as he claimed he was trying to do, he made it worse. He did this primarily by divorcing sexuality and the human body from their primary function, which was to glorify God. From the start, and for many years afterwards, Hefner’s magazine would show the female breast as something sexual. In doing so, he contributed to the sexualization of breasts to the point now that exposed breasts equal sex or pornography. Rather than God providing them for the feeding of infants, they became objects of lust. This resulted in the backlash wherein women cover their poor babies with blankets while nursing and are ashamed to nurse in public.

In fact, Hefner made a fortune sexualizing the body and creating a pornographic view of the naked body. Instead of being the natural state in which we were created, he trained an entire society to equate nudity with sexuality and led us to objectify women. This is done through both pornography and prudery. Both treat the body as obscene and lewd, when our Creator has called them “very good” and has not changed His mind. Hefner was quoted as saying that religion is a myth, so his publications sought to take the very pinnacle of creation, which according to Romans is here to testify to a Creator, and secularized it into an object for nothing but fulfilling physical needs.

As a result, people generally fell into pornography or prudery, which are both errors. The corrupt fruit of his media empire is evident for all to see. The billion dollar sex industry, rife with human trafficking is a stain on civilization and enslaves countless millions. The so-called purity culture, which ties a girl’s value to her ability to abstain and to keep from causing helpless men to stumble is the other end of the pendulum. It also objectifies women and leads to damaged young women and a rape culture that blames her “making the man stumble” because, after all, it’s not his fault. Both of these ugly twin sisters continue unabated in damaging lives and in robbing others of the witness of creation to its Creator.

God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked, and neither should we. What Hugh Hefner set in motion has moved far beyond its need of him and rolls on leaving destruction in its wake. Victims like those who are trapped in sex trafficking or like Elizabeth Smart whose purity training kept her from trying to escape her captors because she was now undesirable will litter the pathway. I fear for what Hef will encounter when he stands before a just and holy God. Meanwhile, we will continue to salvage hearts and lives that have been damaged as a result with the Good News of life, restoration, and healing from sin in Christ.

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