Revelation 13:1-10, A Beastly Situation, part 1.

1] Then I stood on the sand of the sea.  And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  2] Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.  The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.  3] And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed.  And all the world marveled and followed the beast.  4] So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?”

5] And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.  6] Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  7] It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  8] All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

9] If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  10] He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.  Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.  (NKJV)

This chapter introduces the last of the seven beings.  We’ve seen the woman, the Child, the dragon, Michael the archangel, the remnant, and now we’re introduced to two “beasts,” one from the “sea” and the other from the “earth.”  There’s a lot of discussion about these two beings.  Until the time they’re actually here, this will continue, but it will be seen that John describes them perfectly, not in a “physical” sense, but in a moral and spiritual sense.  We’ll join the discussion on the first one in this post.

As we get into the chapter, the first thing is a note on the phrase, Then I stood on the sand of the sea, v. 1.  It’s said that this should read, “he stood on the sand of the sea,” referring to the devil as he goes about to make war with the remnant of the woman’s offspring, 12:17.

Then John sees a beast rising up out of the sea and goes on to describe it as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  There’s some discussion about what this means.  Some say it refers to a “revived Roman Empire.”  Others say it refers to the leader of that empire.  I kind of like the phrase, “revised Roman Empire,” because I don’t know that the actual empire will be revived.  And certainly one individual is singled out, as we’ll see.  However it happens, it will be a political thing in play at the same time as other things with the same description, or these things being explained, 12:3; 13:1; 17:3.

It was a boast of the Roman conquerors that they never totally destroyed their enemies, but assimilated the best of their societies.  Hence the description using a leopard, a bear and a lion.  These are reminiscent of the beasts that Daniel saw in Daniel 7:2-7.  There, they represented successive world empires; here they embody a single empire with the speed of a leopard, the strength of a bear, the splendor of a lion’s roar.

It isn’t just these physical qualities that propel a particular person into the spotlight.  A singular event happens to him: he is mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed, v. 3.  This astonishes “all the world,” so that they marvel and follow the beast.

There’s a lot of discussion about this.  Did the man actually die, or did he fake it?

The latter is certainly possible.  There are drugs and chemicals which mimic death to the point that it’s very difficult to know for sure if a person is alive.  That may be, but I tend to the view that he actually dies and is brought back to life.

There are instances, even in our own time, of people being declared dead and returning to life.  One such instance is the book, Heaven is Real, the story of a little boy who gives evidence that he actually was in heaven for a time.  Another instance is the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the story of Don Piper, who was declared dead for an hour and a half, a book in which he describes what happened, both to his body and to himself.

There are instances in Scripture of folks dying and coming back to life:  2 Kings 4:34-36; 13:21; Matthew 27:53; Luke 7:14, 15.

The main argument against the idea that he actually dies is that only the Lord Jesus died and rose again.  And that is true.  No one has even risen from the dead as He did.  The individuals mentioned above were or are still mortal and did die or will die again, though I’m not sure about the folks in Matthew 27.

And what about Hebrews 9:27:  It is appointed for men once to die? emphasis added.  That’s generally true, but the instances in Scripture are miracles, which don’t follow natural or normal experience.

What about the devil performing such a miracle?  Scripture tells us that he has on occasion done marvelous things,  Exodus 7:11, 12, 22; 8:7.  Revelation 12 will happen in an unusual time, a time where “normal” isn’t necessarily what happens.

There is more than “normal,” or natural, in all this.  We read in v. 4 of the dragon who gave authority to the beast.  I believe this will be a time when it is obvious that there is more to what’s going on than what meets the eye.  It will be acknowledged that demonic forces are in play.  Men won’t care, but will be deceived into openly following and worshiping Satan.  Such things won’t be hidden, as they are now.

There’s something else here, as well, perhaps only hinted at.  We’ve already seen that the devil as active in all this.  Verse 5 says that this man, whom we’ll call the Antichrist, is given a voice and given authority.  Verse 7 says it was granted to him to do something.  This reminds us so much of Daniel 7:25,

He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,

And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

You see, and perhaps you’re getting tired of me making so much of it, but I think it’s necessary in these apostate and degenerate times, the devil can only do what God permits him to do.  Cf. Job 1, 2.  I remember a story of a high school student saying, “Satan rules,” and another student, a believer, didn’t know how to answer him.  He should have answered, “Well, he’d like to have you believe that, but it isn’t true.  God rules.”  He rules even Satan.  That’s what got him in trouble originally.  He wanted to be God.

In the time spoken of in Revelation, Satan is given great sway, even more than he has now, when he deceives the whole world, Revelation 12:9.  Also 1 John 5:19.  Satan works through a number of intermediaries to accomplish this, but in the time of the Antichrist, he will have one man in particular to do his bidding.  He will be successful: All who dwell on the earth will worship him – but only to a point – whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Our Lord said that this time would be so deceptive and so “real” that, “there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” Matthew 24:24 (KJV).

Paul put it like this:  …the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason [not receiving love of the truth] God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, emphasis added.  See also Isaiah 66:3, 4; Romans 1:21-32.

It’s a solemn thing, this having access to God’s Word.  This country has been extraordinarily blessed in this manner.  We’ve enjoyed almost unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  But I’m afraid we’re seeing Romans 1 being played out right before our eyes.  Things that were generally unthinkable and unacceptable only a few years ago are openly and aggressively pursued and promoted.  We are truly “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.”  And we see the results of that, too, in our culture.  Things described in Romans, the “unrighteousness” described there, are everywhere in our society.

But what about you and me individually”  We can’t do much about society in general, but how about in our own lives?  Where is the Word of God in them?  Do we read the Word?  Do we know it?  Does it influence our lives?  Our thoughts?  Or does it sit, neglected and forlorn on a shelf or table somewhere?

O that more Christians could echo Job’s words in Job 23:12, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

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The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Revelation has always been a puzzle to its readers.  Though I may do a series of posts on it some day, it’s not my intent here to enter into a discussion of the meaning of the book, or of how to interpret it.

The book is often divided into three parts, based on our Lord’s instruction to John in 1:19, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are, and those that are to take place after this” (ESV).

Using the same three divisions, but keeping in mind that the book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” not just from Him, but about Him, I divide the book like this:

1.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Reader, ch. 1
2.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Churches, chs. 2, 3.
3.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the World, chs. 4 – 22.

I was struck one day by the significance, if you will, of the first chapter.  Though I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this for some time, it was brought to a head, so to speak, by an exchange I recently had with a fellow-blogger about “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  Her point was that Jesus was indeed gentle and mild.  And she’s right.

He was gentle to the downtrodden, the outcast, the tax-collectors and publicans, folks on the bottom rung of the ladder – or not even near it.  He stopped a funeral procession in its tracks and turned unbearable grief into unspeakable joy.  He could hold His own and then some with the scholars of His day, but spoke so that the common people heard Him gladly, Mark 12:37 (NKJV).  He fed thousands of people with a boy’s lunch, and saved the day at a wedding.  He prayed for the men who drove the spikes into His hands and feet.

We never read that He laughed.  We do read that He wept.  At the same time, we mustn’t think that He was a sourpuss.  We read in John 15:11 that He was concerned that His joy might abide in His disciples.

So the Lord was like sunshine on a warm Summer day.

Oh, but He could also be lightning and thunder!  Hear His denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves, Matthew 23:15.  He called them fools and blind, v. 17.  He berated them for loading people with heavy burdens of rigid legalism, but never giving them anything to help them carry those burdens, v. 4. He called them serpents, brood of vipers! and asked them how they thought they could escape the condemnation of hell? v.33.

This didn’t serve to make Him popular with these religious leaders!  As a result of His rebuking them on another occasion, Luke 11:53 records, the scribes and Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently…. There was no such thing for Him as “dialogue” with the enemies of truth.

Our culture pretty much ignores this side of our Lord.  He had no time for those who actively opposed His ministry and preaching.  And Scripture says that when He comes again, He will do so in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1:8.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on that text?

The people to whom John wrote his book needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going to go through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some “accident of history.”  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his would not be the final word.

We need this today, as well.  We live in terrible times.  I was going to write “unprecedented times,” but that’s not true.  The rivers of Christian blood shed down through the years bear eloquent testimony to that fact.  Other times have been much worse than these times, but I think we’re getting there.

There may yet come a time when Christians – indeed, in parts of the world the news tells us that it’s already here – when Christians are led like sheep to the slaughter, Psalm 44:22; Romans 8:36.

We’re going to need to be settled as more than just a nice thing to believe, or good verses to memorize, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:38-39.

When we’re kneeling, waiting for the sword to sever our head from our body….

Voices of Christmas: Herod

Not everybody was thrilled with the news of One “born King of the Jews.”  Herod was about as nasty as any “king” has ever been.  He had only become king through political and social machination.  Besides, he wasn’t even a Jew.  He was an Edomite!

There was a lot of unrest under his rule.  When he heard the news of men searching for One “born King,” the Scripture says, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, Matthew 2:3.  Now, the Jews weren’t concerned about him; they were concerned about what he might do!  A concern borne out by his actions several months later.

Something I’d never really paid attention to until just now.  Having found out from the chief priests and scribes of the people where the Messiah was to be born, HEROD sent the wise men to Bethlehem, Matthew 2:8!  It ought to be a matter of some concern when the ungodly express an interest in the things of God.  It can mean no good!  Now, the wise men probably didn’t know about Herod, but took what he said at face value.  And perhaps it had only seemed to them the thing to do to look in the capitol city of Israel to find Israel’s king.  So they were apparently fooled by Herod’s expressed desire to worship with them this One for whom they looking.  Except for God intervening and spoiling Herod’s evil plan, they might have led to the murder of the Messiah.  Such a thing would have been impossible, but it took divine intervention to prevent it.

I think Herod may be considered emblematic of a world under Satan’s control.  This doesn’t cancel out God’s overall control of things, but Satan is called the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4 (KJV).  Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about their preconversion life:  you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in [“energizes”] the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves…, Ephesians 2:2, 3 (NKJV).

In the Garden of Eden, Satan usurped God’s place as the one to whom men would look for guidance.  Where the Word of God has been valued and obeyed, Satan’s influence is minimized.  However, where the Word is unknown, ignored or rejected, as is increasingly the case here in the US, Satan blinds the minds of men to the fact that the way(s) of life he leads them in is or are ultimately only destructive, never beneficial.  He promises them “freedom” from the old Puritanical taboos, but in reality enslaves them to the desires of their own selfish being.  There is more than one kind of slavery.

In Herod and the magi, we clearly see the two-fold division of mankind:  those who are truly seeking the Savior and those who are not.  Granted, many do not know anything about the Savior, and many others have found Him, or, rather, have been found by Him, John 10:14-16.  Nevertheless, humanity may be divided into two classes, not rich or poor, but lost or saved.  We’re every one of us either one or the other.

The difference is found in our reaction to and our relationship with that One “born King of the Jews.”

Voices of Christmas: The Promise

Beginning with this post and going throughout the month of December, Lord willing, we plan to do a series of posts on “the voices of Christmas.”  This will have nothing to do with Santa or Rudolph, but will look at both the Old and New Testaments to see what they might have to say about this time.  It will by no means be an exhaustive look at the season through the eyes of Scripture.  We just want to focus some attention on what it’s really all about.

In Genesis 3:15, the Lord said to Satan, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

It really struck me for the first time as I was just reading this verse that God gave the first promise of redemption, at least that we have any record of, to the one who made it necessary, namely, the Devil.  I know many refuse to accept the Genesis record as anything more than an allegory or a myth or just the ignorant thinking of primitive people, with no more historical reality or value than Santa himself.  I can’t help that.  Such people probably won’t pay any more attention to what I have to say about it than they do to what the Scripture says about it.

We’re not given a lot of detail about what happened, just enough to know that it did and the results of Adam’s foolish act.  No doubt, Satan thought he had foiled God’s plan for humans.  He knew what happened when one disobeyed God; he’d experienced it himself.  He probably thought that if he could get Adam and Eve to disobey, that God would judge them, as well.  

He was half right.

Satan knew about God’s justice, but he didn’t know anything about God’s grace and mercy.

Adam and Eve did disobey and God did judge them  Adam was given increased labor and so was Eve, although of a different kind.  Their paradise was closed to them and they were thrown out of their home.  We have no record that they ever had fellowship with God like they had enjoyed before their sin.

However, though He judged them, God didn’t disown them, like He had Satan, or destroy them.  He clothed them with coats of skin, thus foreshadowing the truth of redemption: that sinners can only live through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute.

This, then, was the promise to Satan – that instead of destroying God’s purpose, he had simply turned it against himself.  God would do for humanity what He wouldn’t do for angels, namely, provide redemption for them.  Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  …For verily, he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:14, 16 (KJV).  Though Satan would successfully “bruise the heel” of the coming Seed of the woman, that would only serve to “bruise”, or crush, his own head.

In the midst of the shambles and ruin of our first parents’ first sin came also the first promise of redemption:  the first “voice of Christmas”.

The Last Beatitude

I  hadn’t really intended to do a series on “Beatitudes,” but apparently the Lord had other ideas.  In my case, He often does.  When I began to think about this post, I thought this beatitude truly was the last in the Bible, but when I checked to make sure, it was only the second of seven promises of blessing in The Revelation.

So why did I keep the title?

In a sense, it is the last beatitude, because it speaks of death, which is the cessation of life.  There are a couple of others which may be taken to refer to events after death, but this beatitude lays the groundwork for those others.

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write:  ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,'”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Revelation 14:13 (NKJV).

To be honest with the verse, though, this blessing seems to be limited to people who die “in the Lord” at or after a particular time: “from now on”.

What does this mean?

The Revelation is a difficult book to understand.  Without getting into all the viewpoints about what it says, this portion describes a time of great wickedness in which, it seems, the whole world is engulfed in the worship of Satan and those who refuse to do so are killed, 13:15.  Chapter 14 describes God’s message of judgment on those who follow this worldview.

Though these believers are judged and condemned by an ungodly world, God promises them the blessing in 14:13.  It follows v. 12, which says, Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”  In other words, though there may come a time when it seems like it’s impossible to serve the Lord without dying for it, though it seems like the world is completely saturated with evil, God says to be patient.  It isn’t over yet.  Judgment is coming and those who deny and rebel against God will get what’s coming to them.

So, are these verses saying that those who die in the Lord before this time aren’t blessed?

Of course not.

These verses are written for a specific time and to a specific people.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t blessings for those who die in the Lord – those who are saved – at other times.

Paul put it like this:

…we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man in perishing – our body is aging and deteriorating – our inward man in being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent – this body – is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….  For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
     So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8.

Even Job, the first book in the Bible as far as the things it records – understanding Genesis records the very beginnings of this earth; Job likely lived before Abraham, there being no mention of him or his descendants, and certainly before Moses and the giving of the Law at Sinai – even Job said,  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27.  Love that last sentence!

So, from very early on, God’s people have known that this life isn’t all there is.  There has been hope and assurance that the grave isn’t the end.  If I were to be buried, I would like my tombstone to read:  “This, too, shall pass.”

But, isn’t everybody headed to “a better place”?

That’s a very popular and prevalent view, but, alas, it isn’t true.  The Lord Jesus clearly said so:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”  Matthew 7:21-23.

Not everyone who preaches is going to heaven.

Not everyone who casts out demons is going to heaven.

Not everyone who performs miracles is going to heaven.

These are terribly sobering words, especially in this day and time, when casting out demons and performing miracles seems to be the focus of many ministries, and is said to be the Lord’s blessing and a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.  All these things, highly esteemed among men, and sought after by them, – yet our Lord calls them “lawlessness,” or as the KJV has it: “iniquity.”

Iniquity.

Iniquity!

And these things were all done in “the name of the Lord!”  These weren’t atheists or members of some religion that denies the Lord Jesus.  These are professed believers in the Lord!  Yet, the Lord rejects them and their works and casts them out from His presence and from His blessing.

How can this be?

Our Lord taught fairly early in His ministry that there are tares among the wheat.  The modern translation of “weeds” is terrible.  It misses the point altogether.  Now, tares resemble wheat so closely that it’s very difficult to tell them apart.  In the parable, the Lord told the people to wait til the judgment, when angels would do the dividing.

Simply put, not everything in church is of God.  Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:12-14.  Paul, writing of those who opposed his ministry, wrote this: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.  And no wonder!  For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. 

How can we tell the difference?  Everything must be measured by Scripture – not just a few favorite verses here or there, not just a couple of verses on some subject, or some collection of “proof texts,” but by the Scripture.  The Bible has clear teaching on salvation, on the church, on the future, on the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit.  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isaiah 8:20.

But what about us?  What is our hope of heaven – yours and mine?  Are we looking to our works, our best, our whatever, to gain us entrance into heaven?

We do not want to be among those in Matthew 7:21-23.

There’s only been One who ever had a “Best.”  Who had works God would accept.  He is the only Way into heaven.  That’s not popular today.  “All roads lead to heaven” is a common thought, even those “roads” which completely deny or contradict Scripture.  Not so.  Not so.  The road is very narrow.  Only those who come through the Lord Jesus are on that way which leads to life.    And only the only way to come to Him is through repentance and faith.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.  God grant it to many today, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

To those, and those alone, is there “blessing” after death.

The “Work of Faith,” 1 Thessalonians 1:3

There’s a lot of discussion among Christians about the nature and place of faith and works.  Some folks, in saying that we’re saved by “faith alone,” take that to mean that there is no place for works at all in our salvation.  Any attempt to include works is viewed as “legalism.”  As long as one “believes in Jesus,” that’s all that’s necessary.

On the other hand, there are those who say that we must have “works” in addition to faith.  These folks tend to have a long list of do’s and don’ts which must be followed.  Or they will add baptism or communion or keeping the Sabbath or tongues or a lot of other things mentioned in Scripture as necessary to our being saved.

Adding to the difficulty of understanding all this is the fact that there are different “kinds” of faith.  There is, for example, a “doctrinal” faith, which is just an intellectual agreement with a particular statement of faith or Catechism.  There is an “historical” faith, which believes in the “facts” of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  There is a “religious” faith, which simply agrees with the practices of a particular religion – which may or may not have anything to do with Scripture.  There is a “natural” faith, which expects the car to start when you turn the key in the ignition or push the “start” button, or for a chair to hold you when you sit down.  I heard a lot about this kind of faith in my days in Fundamentalism.  There is even, if you will, a “devilish” faith, James 2:19, in that even demons believe in one God.  I may do a post one day on “the orthodoxy of demons.”  It’s an interesting study in the New Testament.  (Though I don’t recommend spending a lot of time thinking about demons.  I think that’s where people can get into trouble, thinking about Satan instead of our Lord.  Such people tend to see demons everywhere and in everything, but Scripture says that Satan is a defeated foe and can only do those things which God gives him permission to do, especially with God’s children, cf. Job 1.  But that’s another whole different subject.)

The difficulty is that none of these “kinds” of faith is “saving” faith, which comes only from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Paul clearly taught us what “saving faith” is when he wrote to the Galatians that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.  He wrote something very similar just a few verses later when he wrote, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but a new creation, Galatians 6:15.  The latter – “a new creation” – can only be known through “faith working through love.”  You see, “natural faith” works through or because of religion or necessity or habit or ritual or even fear.  The faith which comes from God works through and for the love of God.  The faith which comes from God is an active, living faith, not just a one-time “agreement” with some religious proposition – or even a life-long such agreement.

This is the whole argument of James, who was not disagreeing with Paul.  After all, James wrote first.  He argues that faith can only be seen by what it does.  If there is no such evidence, then there is no saving faith, James 2:26.  Dead faith cannot come from the living God.  It only comes from spiritually dead people.

It’s not a matter of “faith and….”  It’s all about a “faith which….”

The First “Bible Study”

Genesis 3:1-4

It’s interesting to me that the first “Bible study” in Scripture was initiated by Satan.  Granted, Adam and Eve didn’t have “Scripture” as we understand it, but they still had words God had given them – and I don’t suppose that we have a complete record of everything that was said.

Anyway, the tactics Satan used were so successful, as he thought, that he’s used them ever since in his attacks against the Word of God.

1.  Doubt.

“has God said,….”? (NKJV)  The NASB has it, “Indeed, has God said,…?”

So, we hear:

“The Bible was written long after the events it supposedly tells about.”
“The Bible was just written by a bunch of priests to oppress the people.”
“Jesus never existed.”
“A God of love would never do that.”
“That’s just Paul’s Rabbinic prejudice showing through.”
“Paul took the teachings of Jesus and turned them into something Jesus never intended.”
Etc., etc.

We might ask a question ourselves.  Why DID God give the restriction against the one tree?  There are several reasons.  The main one, I think, was to remind Adam, though he was, in effect, lord of all he surveyed, was to remind him that he was still just a creature, and as such, was to obey his Creator.  This was a very simple restriction, nevertheless.  Some will say that the most important reason was so that Adam could have a choice.  That is also true.  Adam and Eve were the only human beings who ever truly had anything approaching “free will.”  They knew nothing of evil.  They had no sin in themselves, and their wills hadn’t yet been corrupted by the Fall.  If anything, they were disposed toward good, that being all they knew.  Still, God didn’t create robots or puppets.  The final reason for the prohibition was what happened whey they did eat of that tree.

2.  Distortion.

Satan presented God command negatively:  …you shall not eat of every tree of the garden?  That’s not at all what God said.  In 1:29, He said to them, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; for you it shall be for food.”  In 2:16, 17, we have more of the conversation, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

Adam and Eve were given a whole world as their pantry.  Everything was theirs for the enjoying, except one lone tree.  But Satan focused on that one tree, as if that prohibition were the whole conversation.

So, today, people have the idea of Christianity that it’s all about giving up fun and good times.  It’s all dreary church services and long faces.  As one man told me, “God forbids all the things we want to do.”

The Scripture says that God gives us all things richly to enjoy, 1 Timothy 6:17.  The Christian has found that to be so, and that all the things the world enjoys, those “good times”, just last for a while, cf. Hebrews 11:25.  When they are over, they leave in their place only heartache, headache, and life-ache, to say nothing of their eternal consequences.

3.  Deviation – although this was Eve.

She added “touching” to God’s command.  Here was the first legalism – the first “list” of “don’t”.  Some have suggested that this was Adam’s idea.  Who knows?  Perhaps it was just to “protect” God’s Word, to make it less likely to disobey.  Still, it was presumption, as if the Word itself weren’t enough.

4.  Denied.

“You shall not die,…”  A blatant denial of God’s plain statement.

But you can’t just deny God’s Word; you put something in its place, which leads us to

5.  Dismissed.

Satan gave a totally different meaning and message that what God had given.  He said that not only would they not die, but that they would become godlike themselves.  The idea is implicit that they wouldn’t need God, they could decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, what is good or evil.

He neglected to mention that they would become powerless to do good, at least as God defines it, and programmed, as it were, to do only evil – again, as God defines it.

Mankind today, even though it may deny any such being as a devil, has certainly bought into his lie.  Pornography, abortion, marriage equality, immorality of all kinds, violence, bloodshed, the list could go on and on.  Greed and injustice in business.  Political malfeasance on all levels.  Deceit, false advertising – “this product will make you look young and beautiful.”  Why don’t such advertisers use models who aren’t already “young and beautiful”?  Youngsters killing each other.  On and on.  The Bible has pretty much been thrown out, and the devil’s lie put into its place.  With pretty much the same result as the first time it happened.

Because

as much as man denies it,

The wages of sin is death, Romans 3:23.