The Sons of Saul and the Son of David.

Christianity, Religion

“There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” 1 Samuel 9:1-2

“And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him….And Saul eyed David from that day on. The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David evaded him twice.” 1 Samuel 18:8-11

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:4-7

There is no doubt that David is one of the most significant figures of the Old Testament. He was a shepherd boy from a small town in the middle of nowhere who became the greatest king in all of Israel’s history, and the model by which all future Israelite kings were measured. David sought after God, and God loved David; so much so that He promised David’s descendants would be on the throne in Israel forever and, one day, the Messiah would come from David’s line.  The Davidic Covenant is one of the most crucial components of the Hebrew Scriptures, and it further highlights the importance of the figure of David.

David was not without his enemies. One of the most intriguing aspects of the early narratives about David’s life is his struggle with Saul.  During the period of the Judges in Israelite history, the Israelites began demanding that they be given a king to rule over them so that they might be like the other nations. God allowed Israel to have a king, after warning them that this would eventually lead to the same sort of oppression they had experienced in Egypt, and the man selected to be the first King of Israel was Saul–a tall and handsome man from the tribe of Benjamin.

Though  Saul looked the part of a king, he possessed no leadership abilities. His reign was marked by constant fighting with Israel’s enemies. Saul often wavered as a leader, and this was ultimately his downfall. Saul’s failures a political leader were made worse by his shortcomings as a spiritual leader. Throughout his reign, Saul moved further and further away from God, at one point going so far as to summon a psychic to summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. Due to his constant rejection of God, God removed his favor from Saul, and God appointed David to be the next king.

David, being anointed as the new king would set the stage for the conflict between him and Saul. As David increased in popularity throughout Israel by his exploits on the battlefield, Saul descended further and further into jealousy, bitterness, and paranoia. Saul became determined to kill David, and for the remainder of his rule as king, Saul and his armies chased David and his men all across Israel. Saul viewed David as a usurper who must be dealt with. Despite Saul’s repeated attempts on his life, David never retaliated against Saul; he still respected Saul as the king and the appointed ruler of Israel. Eventually, Saul would die, and David would become king, and Israel would know a time of peace and prosperity that it would not know again.

In the Book of Acts, we are introduced to another man from the tribe of Benjamin named Saul. This Saul was a zealous Pharisee who viewed with hatred the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. These followers of “The Way” preached that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, the promised Son of David. In just the same way that King Saul became determined to kill the “usurper” David, Pharisee Saul and those with him became determined to root out and destroy the “heretical” followers of Jesus. Saul the Pharisee was present when the first follower of Christ was killed, and he “took much pleasure” (Acts 8:1) in the killing of Stephen. Saul the Pharisee– Saul the Persecutor–was resolved to destroy the followers of the Son of David, just as his forefather was bent on destroying David. He would stop at nothing to stamp out this movement, going as far as to chase Christ-followers all over Israel and beyond, just as David had been.

This Saul–Saul the Persecutor–would make a radical change; he would become a follower of Jesus, the Son of David. On his way to Damascus to round up Christ-followers, Saul encountered someone unexpected–Jesus. This meeting changed Saul–now Paul– and no longer would he hunt down followers of Christ; instead he would go on to be a preacher, missionary, and theologian. Paul traveled throughout the known world, starting churches and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, teaching all that Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of David. Paul would evangelize the Gentiles and would suffer much for the name of Christ: he would survive numerous beatings, whippings, being stoned nearly to death, shipwreck, and being bitten by a venomous snake. He would speak before kings and rulers and philosophers. Paul is proof that God can and will use anyone–even those who fight against Him–to accomplish His will.

The sons of Saul–those who are opposed to Christ– are still hunting down those who follow the Son of David. The world will never be the friend of the follower of Christ. We see how David was treated, how Christ was treated, and how the early church was treated; we should expect no less. The world will always view the radical Gospel of Christ as a threat, and the world will stop at nothing to crush this movement. When we are met with this opposition, we must remember that David never took up arms against Saul. We must also remember that Christ commanded us to pray for and love those who persecute and do harm to us. We must fight back with our love and with our prayers. We must pray for the Sauls who have yet to become Pauls.

Artwork: “Saul Tries to Kill David With His Spear,” Giovan Francesco Barbieri, 1646.

Awake, Not Woke.

Christianity, Religion

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep…The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:11-12

The Apostle Paul focuses his attention in Romans 13 to one subject: how to live as a Christian amid a non-Christian culture. For Paul, the solution was simple—the Christian must be better than everyone else. Not better in the sense of being superior to others; rather being better in that the Christian is going to hold his or herself to a higher standard. The Christian is going to strive to live a life of higher quality, and in doing so, is going to be the model citizen and neighbor.  Paul’s rationale makes sense; after all, Christians should live differently because they are reflecting the change Christ has made in them. 

Paul goes to great lengths to underline the importance of the fact that believers have been changed by Christ. No longer are they sinners lost in the darkness of the night of their sinful stupor; they have now been awakened by Christ. The awakened soul of the believer is cleansed and regenerated. The believer no longer lives in the night as they did when they were sinners, but now lives in the light of the day. Just as one sheds their night clothes before they start the day; the new believer sheds the clothes of their sinfulness and clothes themselves with the armor of Christ.

Paul makes it as clear as he possibly can. Previously we were sinners. We lived in the night. We were so lost in the night that we were lulled to sleep by our sins. Everything about us was darkness. But Christ came, bright as the morning sun, and brought light to us. He awakened us from our spiritual slumber. He forced the night to flee from us. He changed us. Now that we are awake, we must go into the world—clothed in His glittering armor—and help spread that light.  We live humbly and peacefully with those around us, and we boldly preach His Gospel. We tell others how to come into the light by believing in the Son of God, who died to set all men free from slavery to sin.  We preach no other gospel than Christ crucified and resurrected, for there is no other gospel which can save souls.

Today there is a lot of conversation about being “woke,” meaning being aware of social ills and injustices, and working to correct them. The problem, however, with being “woke” is this: for many involved in such movements, there is a denial of universal truth—there is no Truth that is undeniably constant across time or from group to group. Instead, truth is subjective and relative to one’s experiences and interpretation. Therefore, people who are “woke” and fighting on the same side on one battle might find themselves fighting against one another in another battle, because their truth is not set in stone. Since there is no absolute Truth, there can also be no definitive answers to the problems which plague society. When there is no Truth, everything is true. When everything is true, nothing is true.

As Christians, we must remember that we are awake and not “woke.” We have the universal Truth: that man is fundamentally flawed and fallen and sinful, and that the Son of God—Jesus Christ—came to Earth to save us from sin. As His followers, we must work to make the world a better place and to fight against any of the social injustices that we see—we do this because it is the consistent application and outpouring of our belief in Him; this is part of spreading the light. This is part of living the type of life Paul urges us to live.  But we cannot let the Gospel become subservient to any sort of social gospel; this is idolatry. Any message that diminishes or seeks to take precedence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a false doctrine.

Anyone can be “woke,” but only someone filled by Christ with the Holy Spirit can be awake. Only Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can change the hearts of men and women and cause real change to take place in this world.

We are called to preach and teach Christ crucified and resurrected, and to reflect Him in all we do. This is our duty–nothing more, but absolutely not anything less.

Artwork: “Wake. Up. Now.” Esperanza J. Creeger

Kill Sin.

Christianity, Religion

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is quite possibly the most significant of the New Testament works outside of the Gospels. It is, undoubtedly, the most important of the epistles, and as such is the first epistle listed in the New Testament canon. The theological and doctrinal richness of this letter is such that one can study it time and time again, and after each reading come away with new insights.

In Romans, Paul spells out some great theological truths for the Roman Christians. He takes these concepts, many of which later church leaders would continue to wrestle with, and instructs the Romans on how to apply these truths to their lives. Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in Romans 8, a chapter in which Paul tackles such topics like our debt to God, how Christ paid our sin-debt, and God’s eternal love for us.

While discussing these weighty topics, Paul addresses one of equal importance: How are the new Roman Christians—any Christians, for that matter—to live? Paul wastes no time in getting straight to the point on this issue. The Christian has two options: 1-to live according to the flesh, or 2- to live according to the Spirit. These two choices are mutually exclusive—one cannot do both; choosing one means going against the other.

Living for the flesh means just what one might assume it to mean—seeking after one’s sinful desires and fulfilling them. A flesh-driven lifestyle requires no work, for it is our natural state. There is no standard to uphold, for anything goes, and everything is permissible. A flesh-minded person does not concern themselves with God nor with the things that would be pleasing to Him. Quite simply, the flesh-driven lifestyle actively seeks everything that is not God; it actively seeks sin.  Paul makes it clear for the Romans; those who live this way have only one final destination: death. This death is not merely of a physical nature, but also a spiritual death in which one suffers eternal separation from God and comes to the ultimate realization of the error of their ways. It is as Paul would say elsewhere in Romans, “the wages of sin are death,” (Romans 6:23).

Paul contrasts this flesh-driven lifestyle with that of the Spirit-filled lifestyle. In the latter, those who are filled with the Spirit –those are living according to Christ’s call—put to death the deeds of their body; they not only flee from sin and temptation, but they put their sin and sinful desires to death. This not accomplished by any deed of the individual person, Paul makes it clear that this is only possible through the power of the Spirit. Only through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in His followers can this occur. When we seek Christ first and to live as He calls us to, we kill our sin. What Paul is saying is this: if we live according to our desires, we will fall into sin; but, when we live in the strength of the Spirit, it allows us to defeat those sins. In this sort of life, in which one wholly relies on Christ and is filled with the Spirit, there is life. David comes to a similar conclusion in the Psalms when he penned “A perverse heart shall be far away from me; I will know nothing of evil,” (Psalm 101:4) David knew, just as Paul was trying to teach the Romans, that the one living for God must live differently than everyone else.

This raises hard questions for us: do we hate our sin and do we try to kill it? Or do we try to push the envelope and get as close to sin as we can?  We will never be free from sin in this world, so do we live in the power of the Spirit and trust in it to sustain and deliver us in times of temptation, or do we indulge and then attempt to justify and rationalize our choices and behaviors? To use Paul’s words, do we live according to the flesh, or do we live by the Spirit? Does it break our hearts when we sin or have we become like the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day who “no longer blush” at their sins? (Jeremiah 6:15). We must remember that living for the flesh leads to death, and sin will rob us of the joy of our salvation.

We must seek to kill our sin when it confronts us. Yes, Christ offers us forgiveness when we do sin, but He died so that we might live differently. Sin is like a fungus or cancer–small and unnoticed at first–but left unchecked, will devour an entire body from the inside out. That is what Paul was trying to get the Romans—and us—to understand. Sin is no laughing matter; it is life or death.

John Owen (1616-1683), an English Puritan minister, said it best: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Art credit: “Dance of Death,” Michael Wolgemut, 1493.

One Man.

Christianity, Religion

“As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans 5:18

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul spells out some of the most crucial theological and doctrinal truths of Christianity. Romans is the longest of the letters found in the New Testament, and Paul fills this letter to the brim with solid teaching for the Roman congregation. Centuries later, the Roman Epistle would inspire a German monk named Martin Luther to speak out against the doctrinal malpractices of the Catholic Church and initiate what would become the Protestant Reformation. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is an essential work theologically, doctrinally, and historically.

The church in Rome was composed of many Jews and Gentiles. We know this because Paul spends a great deal of time and attention in the Letter addressing various issues surrounding both camps of believers; for instance, Paul spends quite a bit of time discussing the role of the Law and how it is surpassed by faith. Paul’s main focus, however, are universal truths that apply to both the Jewish and Gentile believers: that all humans—Jews and Gentiles alike—are sinners. Humanity is fallen and in rebellion against God.  “For all have sinned,” writes Paul, “and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It makes no difference if one had the Law or didn’t, humans are sinners and need redemption.

In Chapter 5 of the Letter, Paul traces the origin of this sinful nature back to its starting point: man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Through Adam’s willing disobedience to God, he brought forth sin in upon all of humanity and all of creation. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned”(Romans 5:12). Adam’s original sin plagues all of humanity to this very day. This is evidenced in numerous things, but most significantly through the existence of death. The consequence of sin is death, and death serves as a constant reminder that we live in a fallen and broken world—all of this becauseof one man’s sin. If this seems harsh or unfair, consider this: you either have a low view of the severity of sin, or you have a low view of the holiness ofGod.

There is hope. Paul uses the model of sin coming into the world through one man to present something equally, if not even more, remarkable. Through Adam, we have death, but in Christ, we have life. Christ’s act of righteousness—his sacrificial death on the cross—paid the price for our sins. He atoned us; he justified us. Christ settled the debt between God and man. Christ undid what Adam had done. Where Adam failed in disobedience, Christ thrived in obedience. Just as the world was damned through the action of man, the action of another man—God Incarnate—brought hope and forgiveness. As if that weren’t enough, wrap your mind around this: Christ did this for you and for me while we were still actively rebelling against him. Paul wastes no amount of paper or ink communicating this point:

“Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

“God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)

Paul wanted to Roman Christians to know that Christ did something amazing for them even while they were actively sinning and rebelling against him. That still holds true for us today. For every sin that you and I have committed or will commit, Christ went to Calvary. He endured every lash with the whip that tore and ripped his flesh; he endured being mocked and beaten and spit upon by the Roman soldiers; he endured Pilate’s questions and Herod’s chides; he endured the crowds crying out for Barabbas—whose name means ‘Father’s Son’—to be freed while he knew that he was the true Son of the Father; he endured the chants of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” from the religious leaders who claimed to know the scriptures, while he was the author and embodiment of those scriptures. For these sins, for your sins, and for mine he was marched through Jerusalem while being cursed, he was stripped naked and nailed to the cross. For all of our sins, he languished upon the cross while the cynics taunted and tested him and told him to prove that he was the Messiah by coming off the cross, while each of his friends and disciples deserted him. For you and for me he endured being condemned and forsaken by God.

Christ died so that we might live. He died for us while we were actively living in opposition to him. There is no greater love than that.

photo courtesy of blog.oup.com

Internal Conflict.

Christianity, Religion

“I do not understand myself; I do not understand my own actions. I do not do the things I want, instead I do the very things I hate.” Romans 7:15.

Sin makes our lives overwhelmingly complicated. Every day we feel the battle that rages within us: the struggle between our fleshly desires and our desires to seek the things of God. Though we desire to be righteous, we may find ourselves, at times, stumbling headfirst into sin. Why do we do this? Why is sin still so appealing to us, even though we know there is no pleasure to be found in it? How can we seek to serve God, and still feel such a strong desire for sin?

Fear not, for we are in good company. The apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that, at times he doesn’t even know why he acts the way he does. How often are we baffled by our own actions? More than likely, quite often.  There are two forces at work in the spirit of man; the first is our sinful nature, bestowed upon us at the time of the fall of man. Because of this sinful nature, mankind is always inclined to sin. Left to our own devices, this sinful nature would destroy us. The sinful nature of man forces man to seek pleasure and self-gratification above all else, no matter what the cost may be.

But, there is another force at work within us, and that is the spirit of God. When we are called by God to be His children, we are given a new spirit, one that has not been soiled or tainted by sin. It is this spirit that seeks to serve God and to please Him.

These two spirits are constantly at war within us, one trying to dominate the other. But ours is a journey of spiritual growth, not spiritual perfection. We will never be perfect. We will sin. There will be times when we do the things we hate instead of the things we know we should do. Try as we might to continually subdue our sinful nature, there will be times when it gets the better of us. But, thanks be to God that we are forgiven of our sins, and that Christ will always pick us up and set us back on the right path.

Do not try to fight this battle alone; Christ is on your side. Always look to Him for guidance and direction. He overcame every sin and temptation this world could hurl at Him. He will give you the strength to overcome the fleshly desires of this world, but more importantly, He will forgive you when you stumble and fall.

You are what you think.

Christianity, Religion

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–keep these thoughts in your mind.” Philippians 4:8.

More often than not, sin begins in our heart or in our mind. in this world full of temptation and sinful behavior, we do not need to look far to find things that will lead us astray from God and straight into sin. The challenge for us is to focus our minds daily on God and to not allow ourselves to be swayed into following after our own desires. In other words, the more we think positive thoughts that focus on God, we will be that much more able to resist the temptations of the world–this is the true power of positive thinking. It is only by focusing our hearts and minds on God that we are able to overcome the sinful desires and temptations we are confronted with.

If you desire to be a righteous person, start by thinking righteous thoughts.