by Roland W. Keith
It may surprise some people to learn that the term Christian only appears three times in scripture. Originally followers of Christ were simply called His disciples, a nomenclature retained for some time after the establishment of the church. Those early converts were then also known as followers of the Way. However, that began to change during the year that Barnabas and Saul spent working with the church in Antioch, as Luke noted, “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:25-26). By the time Paul stood before King Agrippa the name had apparently become common knowledge as Luke’s account of the exchange between the two men indicates: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:27-29).
Many years later Peter would encourage his readers with these words: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:16-17). It seems a natural progression that those who came to Christ would be called after Him, as Peter said, to “glorify God in that name.” Increasingly, in today’s world the name of Christ and His followers are being vilified. But we need not be ashamed. In fact, we have every reason to wear the name with pride. But when we claim the name Christian, exactly what are we claiming? Exactly what is a Christian?
A ruler of the Jews came to Jesus under the cover of night apparently to examine Christ and His teachings. As John recorded: “Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6). According to Jesus a Christian is someone who has been born in the spirit. This is something apart from our physical birth. When we become a Christian, we become spiritually alive in Christ. To do that we must hear the word, believe, repent of our sinful life, confess Christ before our fellow man, and call on the name of the Lord by being baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, thereby being added to His body. And, what is the body of Christ?
As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many… As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:12-14, 20, 27). Spiritually speaking, then, we are the body of Christ on earth. Each of us is a functioning, living, part of Christ. We are the fiber and muscle, the cells and tendons, the eyes and ears of His spiritual body, the church. We are not pew sitters. We are the embodiment of Christ in this world. Christ lives through us, as Paul informed the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
When we are baptized we ‘die’ with Christ, being buried with Him. When we rise out of the waters, we are raised with Him to a new life. We become a part of His body, and He dwells within us. As Paul so succinctly put it, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). When we are added to the church we must have, and continue to develop, a new mindset for life. As Paul instructed the Colossians: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory… Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:1-4, 11).
A strong Christian is one who prioritizes His life, putting His spiritual welfare, and that of others, above earthly gain of any kind (Matthew 12:35; 13:44; 19:21). This does not mean that we do not take care of our earthly responsibilities or take vows of poverty. It does mean we put God first in all things, trusting in Christ to help us overcome the call of the world, and to understand when we stumble and seek forgiveness, as Paul wrote: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews: 4:14-16).
The Christian man and woman trusts in the Lord, and puts God first, as they also seek to become healthy, productive members of His body. As Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:4-6). We are not all the same. Some will produce more than others. Moreover, we all have different skills and produce in diverse ways. The important thing is that we must engage in the labor of the Lord. Are we at work in the vineyard, or are we busy doing other things? Where are we at on Sunday mornings? Sunday evenings? Wednesday nights? For work days or special events? Are we off doing our own thing, or are we shoulder-to-shoulder, in fellowship with one another as we serve the lord? John wrote in his first letter, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:3-7).
Another characteristic of a Christian is the hope that he has within. The Christian trusts God and looks forward to the promises God has made to all who will come to Him through His Son. In the gospel according to John it is written, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). All of the sons of God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26 ) look forward to the day that they are able to claim their abode in heaven, living with Jesus within the eternal light of God the Father.
by Roland W. Keith
As Christians we possess greater treasures than all other people on the earth. Have you ever considered that? Others may have mansions or palaces, private planes, and multi-million dollar yachts but we have something greater— a heavenly bounty that will not rust or perish or be taken away, which includes salvation and an eternal home with God (Matthew 6:19-21). Along with these heavenly glories are spiritual gifts we begin to receive here on earth as His children. The gift of His word, of prayer, and of fellowship in His body, the church, and all that comes with these things.
Promises, promises. How often have you been given a promise only to be left empty-handed and disappointed? A promise from a parent or spouse, a boss or a friend. People often let us down (and let’s be honest, we have let someone else down a time or two ourselves). Just because someone gives us their word or “swears to it” is no surety. Humans are, well, human after all. We make mistakes, including overstating what we can deliver on. Or, we speak without properly appraising our ability to deliver. Whatever the reason people don’t always come through. But God does.
In speaking of the faith of Abraham Paul noted, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself… So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:13, 17-18).
God’s promises are guaranteed by One Who cannot lie (nor fail)— God Himself. In another statement about Abraham (Romans 4:20-21), Paul also made note that the father of many nations never wavered in his faith, being fully convinced that God would deliver. It took patience on his part (Hebrews 6:15), but he obtained the promise. A lesson for those of us today who live in a fast-paced world, with on demand expectations (remember when it used to take forever for a computer to load something? Today if we have to wait ten seconds we’re drumming our fingers in frustration). Peter also counseled patience: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9).
Patience means more than just waiting, however. It means persevering, trusting that God will ultimately enable us to achieve the goal. James observed: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:12-17).
God’s gifts do not come without testing and obedience. As Peter was sifted (Luke 22:31), each of us will face trials. And, when those trials come each of us must choose the path that we will take. If we choose obedience to God we will be set free from sin (Romans 6:17-18), however, if we make the wrong choice we will find ourselves slipping back into the world becoming enslaved to sin once again, endangering our souls (Galatians 6:7-9; II Peter 2:20; John 8:34). Therefore, if we fail a test not only should we pray for strengthening, we should also seek the prayers of others to help us regain our spiritual focus and strength (James 5:16; Matthew 26:41; Luke 18:1; Acts 8:24; II Corinthians 13:7, 9).
If we trust in God, especially during testing, we will not fail. As Paul wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:14-17).
In his second letter Peter offered these assurances to those who were struggling with their faith and commitment: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire… For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (II Peter 1:3-5, 16).
Peter’s certainty was based on what he witnessed in the Son of God. And, he is telling his readers that his testimony is trustworthy. These promises that he and the other inspired writers revealed are based on God’s love for mankind. Our adoption as God's children, what He does for us in this life, and what awaits us, including what we shall become in the next life are extended to us through a father’s love.
Promises born of love have a unique nature. They always have the best interest of the recipient at heart. Every parent knows that. Even discipline carries with it the promise that you are doing it for their benefit, their growth and betterment. God will allow us to be tested, and He may on occasion have to discipline us, but it is for our eternal welfare (Hebrews 12:6, 10). In the end He wants His children to be all He hoped for them, and to that end He sacrificed much.
In his first letter Peter spoke at length about God’s relationship with His children, and His desire for them:
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
“And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
“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; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:13-25).
The good news is Christ crucified— and resurrected! We have been reconciled to the Father through the blood of His Son. A reconciliation that comes with a promise awaited at the end of the age, as Peter stated, “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (II Peter 3:13-14).
With all the promises of heaven in mind let us also consider these further words from Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:10-11).
If people were asked what their lives are focused on we could expect a variety of answers. Moreover, the answers received might vary according to the age of the individual. A high school student might say they are focused on their friends, someone in college might say their studies, someone new to the job market may be focused on their career. A young married person might say their spouse. Later in life it’s the kids. People my age often say it’s the grandkids, or golf, or fishing. But, how many would say they are focused on living a Christ-centered life?
What do we even mean when we say we are Christ-centered? Does it take away from all these other things we find important to us? Or, does it enhance every aspect of how we live our lives. Can being Christ-centered actually make us better friends, better students, more understanding spouses and parents? More caring grandparents? The object of this study is not to answer these questions specifically, however as we study what it means to be Christ-centered think about how focusing on Christ enables us to improve how we live our lives, including how we connect with others and how we go about prioritizing life to get the most out of it, and to give the most to those around us. Additionally, think not only about what it means to be focused on the Lord, but about how we become Christ-centered.
In I Chronicles it is written, “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually” (I Chronicles 16:10-11). The first step in becoming centered on the Lord in our lives is simply to seek Him. Study His word, Speak to Him in prayer. Ask for wisdom and understanding in His ways. As Solomon wrote of God’s wisdom, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Proverbs 8:17; see also Psalm 63:1). The Lord said that those who seek will find what they are looking for (Luke 11:9). Those who search for the truth with an open and honest heart will not be left disappointed when they turn to the Lord, as the Psalmist said, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).
As Christians we can put our hope in the Lord and His word (Psalm 130:5). Moreover, if we store His word in or hearts it will guide our steps and lead us away from sin (Psalm 119:11). Another thing we find ourselves doing as we become more spiritually aligned with Christ is sharing the word with others. As Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). As we study and meditate on His word not only will we be submitting to God’s command (II Timothy 2:15; I Chronicles 16:12, 15; Psalm 104:34), we will be edified, our actions will be pleasing to God, and our familiarity with scripture will increase making us more competent and confident in sharing the word with others. Some of us may not have the best memories and find it difficult to memorize a large number of passages, nonetheless we can do our best, and we will find that while we may not know some scriptures verbatim familiarity with the Bible will enable us to find them more rapidly during a study period, or even when we are searching for a subject on our own.
Another thing we must do to be more in line with Christ’s teachings is to develop a strong prayer life. We should pray to avoid and overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41), for the furtherance of God’s work (Matthew 9:38), for our enemies (Luke 6:28), for others (Colossians 1:9), and for strength and courage (Luke 18:1). There are many things that could be added to this list, but the last I will mention is the need to go to our Father with thanksgiving. In I Chronicles 16:8 we read, “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!” We have much to be thankful for in bad weather and fair, so even as we pray for God’s assistance we should thank Him for all things (Ephesians 5:20).
Besides prayer another way to show our thanks and to praise the Lord for all He does and all that He is (I Chronicles 16:9), presents itself through the avenue of song. The Psalmist wrote, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High, to declare Your steadfast love in the morning, and Your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by Your work; at the works of Your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:1-4; Psalm 104:33). Moreover, we can address one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, even as we make melody to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19-20), with thanksgiving in our hearts (Colossians 3:16; Psalm 96:1-2).
Perhaps one of the ways we can offer the most thanks to God is by being obedient servants. As Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). As Christians it is important for us to know and follow the Lord’s commandments toward one another in brotherly love (John 15:12-13), and in every other way, as Paul instructed the Hebrews, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:16-17; see also Psalm 119:10). In our obedience to God we are also responsible to one anothers needs and therefore should be willing to put others ahead of ourselves as we submit to God (Ephesians 5:21). We are to delight in one anothers welfare even as God delights in ours, as king David proclaimed, “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, ‘Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!’ Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long” (Psalm 35:27-28).
Earlier I mentioned praising God in prayer. Now would be a good time to mention praising God to those all around us. In Psalm 96:3 it is recorded, “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” As Asaph also wrote, “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day” (Psalm 71:8). We can never praise God too much! From the rising of the sun, to its setting we should praise the Lord (Psalm 113:1-3), for all the wonders He has created, for the life He has given to each of us, and for the salvation He has provided through His Son (Hebrews 13:15). As David, we too should proclaim, “His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).
Our praise for the Lord should be not only for all His has done, but for all He has promised, and His eternal trustworthiness. We find these words in Isaiah, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4). God is our rock in life and the author of our salvation (Psalm 62:7-8). He sent His Son to die for all those who are willing to turn to Him in obedience. It is remarkable to consider that the Son of God came to earth and took human form and suffered the humiliation of the cross in order to redeem us. Considering that, we will look at the final action on my list to be more Christ-like.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (John 9:23-26). To be more Christ-like we must be willing to sacrifice as He sacrificed. To put Him above all things in our lives even if it means following Him to death. The ultimate way to follow Christ is to be willing to give all to Him as He gave all to us. Few of us will ever be called upon to give our lives, but are we willing to stand up for Him, even to that point?
This week we wrap up our study of Satan by discussing how we can overcome his attempts to drag us down into the pit with him. As can be gathered from our previous lessons the devil often deceives people by appearing to them as a trustworthy person (an angel of light), who only wants them get the most out of life. Once he has gained our trust he tries to subvert the truth in our minds, appealing to our own desires and dreams and hopes, to persuade us that up is down and down is up, that right is wrong and wrong is right. If he can get us to miss the mark, believing we are on the right path, he continues to pat us on the back convincing us we are doing the right thing. It is only if we turn from his deception that he may get ugly. Often as a person realizes the truth about his life and begins to seek for spiritual answers the old serpent will seek to convince him that his failures, his sins are too great— he is not worthy of salvation.
The best lie, it is said, has a kernel of truth to it. We are not worthy, not if the basis of worthiness is our own actions. Fortunately, our salvation does not depend on our personal merits— it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:5, 8). We can achieve righteousness, and salvation, only through the blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Acts 20:28; Romans 5:9; I John 1:7). To defeat Satan we need only turn to Christ— and He will accept us no matter how unworthy we may feel. If we put our faith in Him He will set us free from the burdens of our sins—from the guilt, the shame, the pain, the despair, all the crippling effects of sin. However, we can not expect to defeat Satan without a fight.
He will try to choke the word out of our lives (Matthew 13:19). And, if that fails he will try to divide our loyalties. To persuade us we can 'live it up' in the world and have heaven, too. He'll try to convince us that weekly attendance at church isn't necessary (at least not all the time), besides Sundays are the days we always go golfing with our buddies (Luke 14:18). He'll try to convince us that our dreams should take precedence over God, at least for now. We can devote more time to God’s work after the next promotion. But for those people Paul offered this example: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward" (Hebrews 11:24-26). Or, as Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"(Matthew 6:21).
Another of the devil’s favorite ploys is to manipulate our emotional life. Do you have a hard time letting go of grudges? I have met a lot of people over the years who like nothing more than to get a little payback for every slight in life— real or perceived. In fact, some of them would go our of their way to “get even” with the object of their wrath. However, Paul counseled against such behavior: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:17-19). We all stumble on occasion (James 3:2), and need a little forgiveness from our fellow man, and in turn we owe it to others to let go of wrongs done by them (Ephesians 4:31).
We could go on and on with the ways the devil might try to trip us up, including those Paul encouraged the Ephesians to overcome: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:26-30). In the end perhaps the best advice that can be given is to encourage one another to stay focused on the Lord, and trust in His guidance, as James wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
In his first letter John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17). What the world offers is not worth sacrificing our spiritual well-being for. Nonetheless, it calls to each of us, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of that call, which is why Paul gave this warning: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:12-13).
Along with Paul’s admonition, Peter’s words, quoted in an earlier lesson, bear repeating: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10).
Satan is a cunning and formidable enemy, but he is no match for God. To defeat him we must put our hope in the Lord, understanding, however, that it cannot be a passive hope. Our success will depend on the level of our faith, trust and preparation in the Lord, as Paul implored: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:11-18). I pray that each of us has prepared for the battle before us, having taken up the armor the Lord has provided us to stand against the evil one.
We have previously noted that Satan is the great deceiver, a being capable of appearing as an angel of light in order to appeal to those he seeks to destroy. Moreover, his followers are also capable of the same sort of charm and deception. As Paul warned Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2). One of the reasons Satan’s followers are so successful is that they have no conscience to convict them of their lies. Whether they themselves were tricked, or willfully accepted the lies due to their own desires, whether they have been deluded to truly believe, or are simply willing to put their desires above the truth is of no matter. They seek to persuade others to turn from the truth to the lie as well. This battle for and against the truth is widespread. It has been recognized and fought throughout the ages. It is known as the war between good and evil.
Timothy is not the only one Paul warned of the danger. To the Colossians he wrote: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). During the earliest days of the church there were already many who sought to lead others, even the faithful, from the truth. Whether they taught that Jesus was an ethereal being who had not actually been flesh and bone (II John 1:7), or denied His resurrection (I Corinthians 15:12-13), there were many false apostles or teachers in the early church (II Corinthians 11:13-15). And, just as Paul warned those he taught, so did John, who wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).
Sometimes Christians seem to be afraid to challenge, or test, what they are being taught. Naturally, I do not encourage anyone to nitpick every little thing taught in a classroom for the sake of challenge. But, if one has a legitimate concern it is right to raise a question, whether in private or in a classroom discussion. The truth must prevail, and each of us has a responsibility to ensure that it does.
First, and foremost we must do the will of the Father, as John taught: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17). If we put the will of God first in our lives, we will be well on our way to defeating the devil and his minions. In so doing we can also look forward to all that the Lord has prepared for His faithful followers, as Peter noted, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (II Peter 1:3-4).
Many of you may be thinking at this point that it is not always easy. And you are right. However, as Christians we were are not called to take the easy path. Considering that thought I am reminded of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, and these words:
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
If we want to make a difference in our lives, and with our lives, we will, as members of God’s army, take the road less traveled by. That is the difference between the saint and the sinner— the path we choose in life. Frost’s words have always struck a cord with me, but better yet are the words of Jesus who said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). Not if, but when trials come, be of good courage. Hack away at the sin or obstacle in your life and go forward. Christ has already done most of the clearing for you, just follow in His footsteps, and when you come to the clearing on the other side of your challenge you will be the stronger for it, better prepared for the next time, which will inevitably come. And, just as importantly, you will be better able to help others along the way as well. Remember what Jesus told Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Satan may test us (Job 1:6-12), he may hinder us in our efforts (I Thessalonians 2:18), he may tempt us to lie even to God (Acts 5:3), but we can overcome him. All we have to do is resist him and turn to God. According to James: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8). The world will tempt us at every turn— through our coworkers, friends, family, and our own weaknesses, but we can choose to turn away from Satan and his world, as Paul told the Corinthians, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (I Corinthians 2:12). Remember also the words of Peter: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11).
We are just passing through this life on our way to our eternal home. In a sense this world is just a gateway— to heaven or hell. And while there are many in this age of participation trophies who may not like it there are winners and losers in life, and the greatest loser is the one who forfeits his or her soul for what Satan has to offer. Consider the words of John: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world” ( I John 2:15-16). The world has nothing of any real value to offer us. Life’s true victory goes to the one who chooses to follow Christ. Again, heed the words of John: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (I John 5:4). We have a chose to make— Do we follow Satan, the father of lies, or do we follow God, the Father of lights? I encourage you to leave the world’s highway behind and take the road less traveled. It is admittedly more difficult, but it is also eternally more rewarding.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.