Christian and the Self | The Voice 12.48: November 27, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Christian and the Self

We cannot escape the modern obsession with ourselves.

Modern Western society seems to be all about the self. People are raised to believe they can be and do whatever they desire, and they should diligently pursue what provides them with personal meaning and satisfaction. Marketers encourage people to consume products and services in order to enjoy themselves and to become and pursue their best self. Self-help resources are ubiquitous. Politicians win the most favor, and get to advance the policies, which they privilege the pursuit of individual freedom and fulfillment over anything else.

Western society has become this way thanks to the overwhelming victory of philosophical liberalism. Liberal philosophy, which can be seen across the spectrum of American politics, privileges the freedom, reason, and rights of the self above almost everything else. As a result, any commitments which might hinder or obstruct people from fully developing, expressing, or finding themselves are looked upon with hostility, skepticism, and suspicion. No wonder communal bonds, obligations, and ties have steadily corroded over the past couple of centuries!

We might be tempted to think liberal philosophy is entirely antithetical to Christian faith and practice. Christians should find many of the tendencies resulting from liberal philosophy, especially the uncritical acceptance of liberal philosophy as “the way things are,” quite troubling. Philosophical liberalism is certainly not “the way things are” in the witness of Scripture (Colossians 2:8-9). Nevertheless, we must recognize how liberal philosophy was only made possible because of the influence of Christian principles on Western society: the valuation of each individual as maintaining dignity, integrity, and standing before God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fundamental equality of all human beings in God in Christ (Romans 3:23, 14:10-12, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Yet do these Christian principles demand philosophical liberalism? How much emphasis and weight should Christians place on the self?

The overall portrayal of the Christian life, and thus the primary framework through which Christians should understand the self, is embodied in Jesus: specifically, self-emptying in humility to serve, even to the point of death, so God would exalt according to His purposes (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus established how He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28); any who would come after Him would have to likewise take up his or her cross, the object of humiliation, shame, and suffering (Matthew 16:24). Jesus set forth a paradox for us: the one who would save his or her life must lose it, but the one who loses his or her life for Jesus’ sake will find it (Matthew 16:25). As a disciple of Christ Paul declared he no longer lived, but Christ in him, for he had been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).

As Christians we also do well to keep Jesus’ perspective in mind, especially in such an individualist age. Jesus prayed for Christians to be one with one another and with God in Christ as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:20-23); the ancients well explained such kind of unity as perichoresis, “mutual interpenetration without loss of distinctive identity.” Jesus powerfully and vividly portrayed a picture of such unity before John in Revelation 21:1-22:6: the people of God in the presence of God for all eternity, no longer suffering, glorified with beauty beyond comprehension. Such perichoretic unity is the ultimate goal of the believer with Christ as it is for fellow Christians with one another as well as husbands and wives in marriage (Matthew 19:4-6, Ephesians 5:22-33). In Christ God is saving a people for Himself, a people who have worked diligently to serve one another and consider the interests of one another above themselves (Ephesians 2:1-3:12, Philippians 2:1-12). Jesus expected people to be known as His disciples by their love for one another if they loved one another as He had loved them (John 13:31-35). God is love (1 John 4:8); God has demonstrated His love for us in Jesus (1 John 4:9-19); thus we are to love one another as He has loved us (1 John 4:7, 20-23). Love does not seek its own (1 Corinthians 13:1-8); if we would live to glorify God in Christ, we cannot pursue our individual freedom, meaning, purpose, rights, and/or satisfaction as our ultimate good. We must orient our lives around loving and serving one another, maintaining confidence in God’s love and service for us in Christ, entrusting ourselves to God and His people.

While the dignity and integrity of the individual and the fundamental equality of all people before God in Christ remain confessed and upheld by Christians, we can see how these principles by no means necessitates the full embrace of philosophical liberalism. We can see how philosophical liberalism and the maximal freedom of the self easily runs contrary to the spirit and ethos of self-emptying and joint participation in God in Christ.

But we should also not overstate the case. In order for a person to be able to empty themselves, he or she must have a “self” to “empty.” Both Jesus and the Apostles assume a level of self-care and self-concern: Jesus’ “Golden Rule” would have His disciples treat others the way they would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), and Paul’s exhortation about husbands and wives in terms of Christ and the church demands no one hating his (or her) own body, but instead nourishing and cherishing it (Ephesians 5:29-30). Likewise, Paul did not rule out a level of self-interest in Philippians 2:4, encouraging Christians to be not only concerned about their own interests, but also the interests of others. In the Parable of the Talents Jesus spoke of servants given different numbers of talents; both Paul and Peter speak of Christians as having different abilities, all of which should be used to serve one another and build up the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 4:10-11); in order to use one’s abilities and gifts, one must first have enough self-awareness to know what one can do and how one has thus been gifted by God.

How, then, should Christians relate to the self? Christians do well to recognize “they” are “themselves”; there is no objective or disembodied “self.” God made human beings in His image with a base natural impulse toward self-concern and self-preservation; while such impulses can be abused, corrupted, and distorted, they maintain their purpose, and we do well to make sure we appropriately cherish and nourish the bodies which God has given us. Each person has value to God, and God has given each person dignity and integrity before Him, for each one will stand before Jesus in judgment (Romans 14:10-12). God calls every person to come to faith in Jesus; each person is called upon to cultivate and develop their personal faith in God in Christ, and to nurture their personal relationships with God and God’s people (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 2:1-3:12). Every believer in Christ which God adds to the church has his or her place in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Yet all such concern for the individual is not an end unto itself; God has not called individuals to remain entirely disconnected autonomous beings, but welcomes and trains all those who come to Him to become one with Him and one another as He manifests perichoretic relational unity within Himself (John 17:20-23). We cherish and nourish ourselves but also cherish and nourish one another, as Jesus nourishes and cherishes His Body, the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). We treat others the way we want them to treat us; we serve others as we wish to be served; we use our gifts and talents to serve one another as we encourage others to use their gifts and talents to serve as well.

While much of the Christian life is focused on others, Christians must remember how in matters of judgment we are to keep to ourselves. Jesus is Lord; each of us will stand before Him in judgment, and before Him we individually will stand or fall; as Paul asks, who are we to judge the servant of another (Romans 14:10-12)? If there are two or three witnesses to a believer participating in sin or promoting false teachings, and such a believer refuses to repent, then other believers have a responsibility to separate themselves from such a person until they might repent (Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13); note well how this is not an individual judgment, but a collective determination based on evidence from witnesses, and the ultimate decision regarding the eternal fate of such a person belongs to Jesus, not to us. Christians therefore do well to cease acting as judges but strive to be doers of what God has made known in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:12-13, James 4:10-12).

Thus Christians do well to recognize the value of the self but not place significant emphasis upon it. Christians in Western society must strive to prioritize, maintain, and uphold the importance of self-emptying love and service in a time and place which desires to instead glorify the self. While Christians generally see how philosophical liberalism has influenced social and political liberalism and progressivism, they must also see how philosophical liberalism has influenced social and political conservatism and libertarianism and the ethos of the American middle class, and respond accordingly. Christians cannot just be concerned about themselves or their near friends and relations and glorify God; Christians cannot strive for self-sufficiency or demand a level of personal responsibility which they themselves could never manifest, for none of us are sufficient unto ourselves, and all of us remain in need of God and the people of God for strength and sustenance. We must consider ourselves part of something greater than ourselves, the Body of Christ, the Reign of God in Christ, and must strive to empty ourselves so we might be able to more fully embody Jesus to one another and to all. But we each will stand before the judgment seat of God in Christ; each of us will stand or fall before Jesus. May we have a self to which we can die, die to such a self, and live for God in Christ to glorify Him and share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christian and the Self | The Voice 12.48: November 27, 2022

Injustice and Wealth | The Voice 12.47: November 20, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Injustice and Wealth

If you see the extortion of the poor, or the perversion of justice and fairness in the government, do not be astonished by the matter. For the high official is watched by a higher official, and there are higher ones over them! The produce of the land is seized by all of them, even the king is served by the fields.
The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money, he who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income. This also is futile. When someone’s prosperity increases, those who consume it also increase; so what does its owner gain, except that he gets to see it with his eyes? The sleep of the laborer is pleasant – whether he eats little or much – but the wealth of the rich will not allow him to sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:8-12).

No, you never will be wealthy enough to resolve all of your problems.

Throughout Ecclesiastes 1:1-5:7 the Preacher has meditated upon the hevel of life under the sun: all is vain, futile – truly absurd. He compares most human endeavors toward meaning as “chasing after wind”: people pursue pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or other things looking for ultimate purpose and satisfaction and will be disappointed and frustrated by all of them. In Ecclesiastes 5:8-12 the Preacher returned to two themes he has discussed previously: injustice and oppression, wealth and labor.

The Preacher had previously lamented injustice and oppression where there should be justice along with a lack of care and concern for the oppressed (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, 4:1); in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 he counseled people against surprise at institutional corruption. The poor get extorted and justice and fairness are perverted; it is so because officials allow it at all levels. Everyone in society, ancient and modern, is fed and sustained by the produce of the fields; such is the wealth of most laborers, and those with means, power, and/or wealth seek to seize it. Note well the Preacher does not seem to justify or rationalize such extortion, injustice, and oppression, nor is he suggesting we should just accept it and be fine with it. In fact, if the Preacher is indeed Solomon son of David, then his counsel can be seen as somewhat self-serving: as king, who else would have the power to root out corruption among officials so that government might run with less corruption and oppression? Perhaps Solomon did exercise good faith initiatives to root out corruption in the Israelite bureaucracy and found the results wanting.

However Solomon may or may not have managed corruption in his empire, we do well to heed the Preacher’s advice. We should not commend or rationalize corruption and injustice, but we should never be surprised to find it. Wherever we find it we should know it is being looked past or actively supported by many people with greater authority. Furthermore, we should keep in mind how all wealth derives from human endeavors, and is extremely unevenly distributed. Those with means, power, and wealth will always develop various contrivances and justifications for such inequalities, and the people of God must always look upon them with great skepticism.

The Preacher frequently considered matters relating to wealth and effort (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26); he returned to the same theme in Ecclesiastes 5:10-20, and in Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 specifically almost as if anticipating a reaction to what he has declared in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9: “if the poor are thus subject to oppression, then would it not be better to maintain wealth?” The Preacher has seen the end of those who love money: they never have enough of it, and as wealth increases, so does financial obligation (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11). The laborer works hard every day and is able to rest; the wealthy cannot enjoy such rest (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

In Los Angeles we can summarize the Preacher’s wisdom as “there is always a house higher up on the hill”: as one moves further “up the hill” into Bel Air, Brentwood, Calabasas, and the Hollywood Hills, the houses get more and more expensive, and the clout and cache which comes with said houses increase exponentially. It can become very easy to feel quite poor by comparison even if one has much greater wealth than might be found in many other parts of the country, let alone the world. Such is why it is foolish to compare oneself to such people and lament how much wealth is expended in order to demonstrate and reify class and social standing. Furthermore, if you have ever experienced increase in income, have you noticed how expenses seem to rise to meet whatever gain you obtained? In this way the laborer can get good rest without the anxiety which comes from maintaining and preserving wealth, a kind of rest which the wealthy cannot enjoy, since there is always a level of anxiety about maintaining wealth or what might happen to them if they lose that wealth.

We should not press the Preacher’s wisdom into absolute terms: poverty comes with its own set of anxieties, and a lot of those anxieties can be relieved when a person can earn a living wage. Wealth can insulate those who maintain it from a lot of challenges and difficulties in life. Nevertheless, the Preacher’s main premise stands: wealth is not a panacea. Not everything is made automatically better if you have wealth. From the perspective of the poor life with money might seem like “easy street,” but those who maintain wealth can still have class envy, still think they need to make more money, and still not find comfort or rest.

The Preacher will have much more to say about difficulties regarding wealth along with its proper use (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:13-20); nevertheless, what he has already made known in Ecclesiastes 5:8-12 remains as relevant in the early 21st century as it was when originally composed thousands of years ago. Human societies still manifest significant wealth inequality. Many seek to rationalize such inequalities with arguments relating to nobility, merit, or some other justification, yet there remains no defensible rationale for the kinds of inequality we see in modern society. As God’s people we know God sees and will judge: many who received good things and comfort in this life will find torment in the next, and many who experienced great suffering in this life will find comfort in the next (e.g. Luke 16:19-31).

The people of God should not commend, excuse, justify, or rationalize the kinds of income inequality prevalent in modern societies, but such inequality should not surprise them. God’s people should expect corruption and extortion to be normalized in this world, whether justified by laws written to privilege those with means or not. While it would be a good thing for the levels of wealth inequality to decline, and for many in poverty and the lower middle class to receive fairer wages for their labor, the people of God likewise cannot imagine wealth will be the solution or the panacea to fix the problem. Wealth comes with its own anxieties, fears, and challenges. There is no “fix” for these challenges “under the sun”; there is no intrinsic merit in either poverty or wealth; we can find contentment with little or much or always have reasons to believe we do not have enough whether we are poor or rich in material things. Instead we do best to consider all we are and have to be gifts from God which we ought to use in ways which glorify Him and serves one another. May we seek to glorify God in Christ in all things and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Injustice and Wealth | The Voice 12.47: November 20, 2022

Love, Hate, Brethren | The Voice 12.46: November 13, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

1 John 3:14-16: Love, Hate, Brethren

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:14-16)..

John has been encouraging Christians in his letter to be faithful to God: to walk in light and not in darkness (1 John 1), to follow His commandments, walking in the way Jesus walked, and by loving one another (1 John 2:1-17), and avoiding false teachers and teachings and to hold fast to what is true (1 John 2:18-29).

In 1 John 3:1-13, John has been emphasizing righteousness and love. Those who have hope in Christ purify themselves, practice righteousness, and show love; those who are of the evil one do none of these things, but live in lawlessness and unrighteousness (1 John 3:1-11). Christians have heard the message from the beginning that they are to love one another, and that the should not marvel that the world hates them for their stand for righteousness (1 John 3:12-13).

John continues his contrasts in 1 John 3:14-16. Those who do not “abide” in love abide in death (1 John 3:14). The one who “hates” his brother is considered as a murderer, and murderers cannot obtain eternal life (1 John 3:15)!

John has already spoken of “hating” one’s brother (1 John 2:11). While our standard definition of “hate”– detesting or despising another, seeking their harm– certainly is included here, John has a broader view in mind. “Hate” here is the absence of love. Therefore, even if Christians may not really show intentional ill will to their brother, by not loving their brother like they should, they still “hate” him! John speaks of this hatred in most stark terms: it is equivalent to murder. Since all life comes from God (Acts 17:28), and as John will soon make evident, God is love (1 John 4:8), where there is an absence of love, there is an absence of God, and where there is an absence of God, there is an absence of life. John’s logic, therefore, is clear: if you do not show the life-sustaining love of God toward others, you might as well be actively killing them. No one doubts or denies the eternal fate of those guilty of murder!

All of this serves to emphasize the great value of love, which is one of John’s great purposes in this letter. We may know that we have passed from death to life if we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). We know love because of the love of Christ for us, that He gave His life for us, and we should therefore give our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).

John, therefore, does not leave us in doubt regarding how we should love our brethren. John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 are wonderfully complementary passages. Jesus explains how God demonstrates his love for the world by giving His Son for our redemption in John 3:16, and John shows how we should be willing give our lives for one another in 1 John 3:16.

There is value in the obvious explanation of this verse: just as Jesus died for the sake of those who would believe in Him (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:5-11), so if we are called upon to die for the sake of Christ, we should do so. That is absolutely true. But we can “lay down our lives” for one another by “dying” to self and “living” to serve (Romans 6:3-7, Galatians 2:20). When we cease seeking our own good and our own interests and live to serve the good and interest of others, we begin to better reflect the love of Christ toward our fellow man (Matthew 20:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11). We must die to self and live for others if we are going to obtain the eternal life that God promises. Let us, therefore, turn away from death and live for God, and seek to love one another as Christ has loved us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love, Hate, Brethren | The Voice 12.46: November 13, 2022

Loyalty | The Voice 12.45: November 06, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Loyalty

Loyalty is a theme we find frequently in relationships and in society. What should Christians make of “loyalty”?

We understand loyalty as feelings of support and allegiance; we generally associate loyalty with faithfulness and dependability. We desperately yearn to have people in our lives who would prove loyal to us no matter what may come.

We would naturally expect to find many passages of Scripture which would discuss loyalty. And yet when we consider older and more formal equivalent translations, “loyal” or “loyalty” does not show up at all, or very infrequently.

Should we thus understand God has not spoken about or addressed loyalty? Not at all! A lot of translations have preferred to use other terms like “faithfulness” as opposed to “loyalty” in such contexts. In fact, the Hebrew term hesed, often translated as “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love,” is perhaps best understood as “loyal love”: commitment to one in a covenant relationship with a feeling of warmth toward those with whom the covenant has been made.

Hesed is one of the fundamental characteristics of disposition YHWH displayed toward His people. Continual emphasis on the Psalms would communicate to the people of God no less than these two truths: YHWH is their Creator, and YHWH displays hesed, or loyal love, toward His people. YHWH displayed His hesed in His creation and His deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage (e.g. Psalms 104, 105). His people did not display such hesed toward Him, but served other gods (e.g. Psalm 106); YHWH judged them in His righteousness, yet continually displayed hesed toward His people. That Israelites survived the trials of the second half of the first millennium BCE and many sought to serve the God of Israel when Jesus of Nazareth was born powerfully testified to YHWH’s hesed toward His people. We can certainly speak of God’s hesed in terms of loyalty: God proved loyal to His people, even though His people were not always loyal to Him. Because He remained loyal to His people, His people endured despite persistent persecution and trial.

The Greek language had no term quite like hesed; thus, in the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles communicate a similar message of hesed in terms relating to God’s mercy and faithfulness (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:13). “Faithfulness,” in particular, is consistent with “loyalty.” God faithfully fulfilled all He had promised through the prophets in Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Hebrews 6:1-20); as Israel was given reason to trust in God and prove loyal to Him since He proved faithful and loyal in rescuing them from Egyptian bondage, so now all have reason to trust in God and prove loyal to Him because He has rescued us from sin and death in Jesus’ death and resurrection (cf. Ephesians 2:1-11).

Thus we do well to understand “loyalty” as a dimension of “faithfulness.” As faithfulness is part of the fruit of the Spirit, thus also would be loyalty (Galatians 5:22-24). Paul affirmed Christians as having a citizenship from above in Philippians 3:20; Christians certainly ought to have great feelings of support and allegiance to what God is accomplishing in His Reign in Christ, and thus we should be loyal to God and to Jesus.

Loyalty in relationships is a highly prized virtue, and it remains one Christians generally do well to maintain. Marriage covenants can only thrive when spouses remain loyal to one another. The friend who “sticks closer than a brother” (cf. Proverbs 18:24) is difficult to find anymore. Far too many people have bought into “transactional” friendships: they maintain superficially robust relationships with people as long as those people provide some kind of benefit or resource to them. Once that benefit or resource is gone, however, so often is the relationship. Far too many find out they have very few friends, if any, when they undergo significant moments of crisis and trial. We can lament our lack of loyal friends, but all we can do is to be the loyal friend for others (cf. Proverbs 27:10). We can see how so many people today are internally and spiritually wasting away for lack of loyal relationships, and in general we do well to be loyal Christians, spouses, parents, children, friends, and associates.

Loyalty can be good, but it is not always so. It might be hard to imagine how faithfulness or loyalty could be bad things, but we must always remember how faithfulness and loyalty are not inherently virtuous; their virtue is based on what, or to whom, one proves faithful and loyal. Many people proved loyal to Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich; we do not find their faithfulness and loyalty to him and to what he stood for as virtuous! Loyalty, like faithfulness, can become weaponized by the powers and principalities and the forces which they have empowered to become an ugly perpetuator of deep evil, injustice, and unrighteousness.

Such does not mean God has commended disloyalty any more than He has commended faithlessness. God has not called Christians to prove disloyal or faithless; instead, God always exhorts Christians to a higher faithfulness, a greater loyalty to Him and to His purposes.

In this way we can understand how we can navigate loyalty and faithfulness. Christians should prove loyal and faithful to God in Christ and in their relationships. There will be times in which we will have to present hard and difficult truths to friends if we are really loyal to them; it may not feel like loyalty at the moment, but if we seek their best interest even when they do not for themselves, we will have to inflict those “faithful wounds” (cf. Proverbs 27:6). Many might delude themselves into thinking those who are truly loyal to them will encourage them in their self-harm; they are looking for flatterers more than loyal friends. Nevertheless, if we abandon friends in difficult moments, or because we have disagreed with them on some life decisions, we prove disloyal to them; we may have to faithfully witness to them things they do not want to hear, but we are not excused from continuing to love and care for them as we have opportunity.

As Christians we will be continually challenged in terms of competing loyalties. We know we must always be loyal to God, His purposes, and His truth. We should be loyal to God’s people and manifest loyalty to His church. But what happens when some people of God are accused of heinous sins? We must be careful lest we abandon a brother or sister in a time of great distress, but we must also be careful lest we privilege our loyalty to our brother or sister over our loyalty to what is faithful and true in God in Christ. We must also be careful lest we allow our loyalty to institutions, movements, and ideas to supersede and hinder our loyalty to people and God in Christ. Institutions come and go; God and His people will endure forever. If the powers and principalities seduce us into proving more loyal to our ethnicity, tribe, ideological companions, or any other concept or group than to our fellow people of God, have they not undermined in us the work God is attempting to accomplish in Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:1-12)?

Christians therefore ought to be a people known for their loyalty. They must prove loyal above all to what God is accomplishing in His Reign in Jesus. They will manifest loyalty to God’s people and in their relationships. Christians should never display disloyalty; instead, they will at times be marked by privileging their higher loyalty to what God has done in Jesus. May we all prove loyal to God in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Loyalty | The Voice 12.45: November 06, 2022

Spiritual Warfare | The Voice 12.44: October 30, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Spiritual Warfare and Society

A war has been declared. The enemy is unseen and seems to be pervasive. He hates us and everything for which we stand, and will stop at nothing to defeat us. We cannot invade any country to destroy him, and he seems able to strike at his will and cause great damage.

While this description may sound like America’s “War on Terrorism”, or some conflict somewhere else in the world, we speak of another conflict entirely, one that has lasted far longer and will continue to exist as long as the earth may last: the spiritual war between the forces of darkness and those who are in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 6:10-18). Let us spend some time considering this conflict and why we must always be on our guard.

It is important for us first to discern our enemy and where he operates, just as those do who are involved in physical war. While discerning the enemy and his location may be difficult in some cases, it is not in our struggle: our enemy is Satan, the adversary and deceiver, and his forces of darkness, and he prowls around the earth (Job 1:7, 1 Peter 5:8). Just as importantly, the Bible reveals who is not the enemy: flesh and blood do not represent the enemy, but the spiritual powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). We must not confuse our fellow man with he who deceives them: we must love our fellow man, but abhor the Devil and his works (Matthew 22:39, Romans 12:9).

This makes sense when we recognize that we are part of a spiritual Kingdom first (John 18:36); we cannot achieve success in the spiritual battle using physical warfare!

Paul speaks regarding our enemy in Ephesians 6:12:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

We see here that the conflict has two major facets: the work of evil on the earth and also in the heavens. This world suffers from “this darkness,” since Satan is the ruler of this world (John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4), and it would seem that many serve him. Likewise, many serve gods that are not really gods, and such evil spirits abound in Biblical literature. These represent our enemy!

We must have proper armament if we are going to stand a chance in this conflict, and our spiritual armament is described in Ephesians 6:10-17. One must put on the “full armor” of God: if we lack any part of the armor, we cannot succeed (Ephesians 6:11). The armor includes the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14): just as the belt keeps the armor together, likewise the truth keeps all other aspects of the Christian in proper place. The breastplate, which protects the major organs and the center of life, is the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). The footwear is the preparation of the Gospel of peace, which is to be proclaimed in all places (Ephesians 6:15). The shield, the first level of defense, is to be the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16). The helmet, reinforcing the head, is salvation (or the hope thereof; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Ephesians 6:17). The main offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, described as sharper than any two-edged sword, separating and convicting the innermost man (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). Prayer is also mentioned; constant communication with the Head is always extremely important, and can provide encouragement (Ephesians 6:18). In the end, however, we must remember that it is within the strength of God, and not our own strength, through which we will have the victory in Jesus (Ephesians 6:10, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Our enemy, also, is armed. We are told of the “fiery darts” of Satan in Ephesians 5:16, and we would do well to consider the weapons of our enemy. He is armed with the ability to tempt people to sin, which he uses well (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Sin is minimized, made socially acceptable, or rationalized in other ways, and people willingly follow. If that does not work, our enemy can use persecution against us (1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 3:14-16, 1 Peter 4:3-5): it is easier for darkness to swallow light than to become light. The enemy also uses weakness and hypocrisy of Christians: his cause is always helped when Christians fall into sin or are exposed as doing that which is contrary to God’s will. Our enemy is also armed with prescience and deceit (Hebrews 3:12-14): he knows us better than we know ourselves, and knows just how and when to strike (1 Thessalonians 5:6-7, 1 Peter 5:8). Whenever you least expect him, there he is!

As in every conflict, if there is no plan, there can be no success. The battle plan for our enemies is to discourage and discredit those who do right so as to induce them to fall, never to rise again, and to keep in darkness those souls still in darkness (Hebrews 3:12-13, 1 Peter 5:8). Everything they have at their disposal will be used to achieve this purpose. Our plan for fighting this war against them is simple: endure and convert. In the end, the battle is the Lord’s, and He will win it for all who are His. We are not called upon to vanquish the evil one, for that is beyond our power: all we can do is endure (Matthew 10:22). The main message seen in Ephesians 6:10-17 is to “stand firm”, strengthening every weakness and continually subjecting ourselves to God. The only way to truly reduce the strength of the enemy is to go out and convert those under their power: every soul that turns from Satan to God is one fewer soul doing evil’s work on the earth (Romans 6:12-13). This is why the raising of children properly and the encouragement of brethren is so necessary and important: we must not allow the other side to gain assistance (Ephesians 6:4, Hebrews 10:25)! We must use the Word of God, His sword, to achieve His purposes (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12)!

The war is upon us: we did not choose to fight in this battle, but such is the circumstance of this world. We are fighting in the conflict whether we desire to or not; the question that is left to us is which side it will be that we support. Are we on the Lord’s side, or on the side of the evil one? In the end, Christ will have the victory: be on His side today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Spiritual Warfare | The Voice 12.44: October 30, 2022

Economic Distress | The Voice 12.43: October 23, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Economic Distress

The news coming out of Wall Street is quite dire.

Some large investment banks are faltering. Insurance companies are in trouble. The government feels compelled to intervene. Uncertainty reigns. The stock market loses value.

Other factors do not bode well. Utility costs are very high. Food costs are rising. Infrastructure is crumbling. Healthcare costs rage out of control. The dollar causes grief.

Main Street is also suffering. Small businesses are squeezed by higher costs while trying to maintain competitive pricing. Necessary credit is difficult to obtain. Debt loads on the government, on businesses, and on families make it difficult to keep up with all the rising costs.

Are we speaking of what happened in 1987? Or in 2008? And yet, in 2022, it is happening again. Everyone enjoys times of economic prosperity. But what of economic distress? What are we to understand from the situation? How can we avoid so many of the problems that have caused such distress? What does God have to say about all of this?

We can first understand that all of this did not just come out of nowhere: many decisions were made that has led to this distress. Those working with financial capital have prioritized short-term gains over long-term health. Corporations and people believed the hype about inflated valuations of companies. People have been told to put their faith in the wisdom of the untrammeled market and are induced to believe they will come out ahead in the end. What should be expected when people engage in such behavior? Paul speaks truly:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7).

When people sow risky and reckless short-term behavior, they reap long-term turmoil and distress. This is true in economic terms as well as in behavioral terms: when one engages in risky sexual behavior, or engages in drug use, one should not be surprised when the terrible consequences of their actions come back to haunt them.

We also can learn that the impact of risky and reckless behavior extends far beyond the people immediately involved. It is astounding to see large and diverse financial institutions fail or be reduced to very little on account of one aspect of their business! It does not matter how profitable other sectors may be: the whole thing goes down when one aspect collapses. The same is true in our own lives: the decisions we make do not just impact ourselves. They impact our family, our friends, and maybe people we do not even know (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26)!

The significant levels of greed involved in the situations that have led to the economic distress is also quite telling. For too long, too many in the business world have served the pursuit of money above every other consideration. Ethics be cursed; we just want the money! Loans are intentionally offered to people who have little ability to repay so that money can be earned on fees and penalties. On the other side, people freely signed off on costly loans in their pursuit of wealth and prestige. There was so much money to be had, it seemed, that few had problems throwing caution out the window.

There is wisdom in Agur’s words:

Remove far from me falsehood and lies; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me (Proverbs 30:8).

There are difficulties with both poverty and riches, and we know full well the pangs of pain experienced by those who seek after money (1 Timothy 6:10). We cannot serve both God and money: we must decide who will be our God (Matthew 6:24).

It is quite tragic that so many people have lost their livelihoods and their savings in the recent economic distress, yet this underscores the greatest lesson we can gain from God:

Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

We are easily tempted to imagine we are not the “rich in this present world”; we can always think of people who have more than we do. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of humanity, we are quite wealthy in this present world. We are easily tempted to trust in our material resources; Paul wisely warns us we should not do so. Any wealth is uncertain. No one would ever have expected the downfall of some of the banks and corporations that have fallen, and this provides us with a needed reminder. God alone is eternal. God and His Word are the only secure foundations for life (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). The only guaranteed treasure is that which we store up in Heaven by our faithfulness to God, not whatever we place in our bank accounts (Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Timothy 6:19).

We may be in times of economic distress or economic prosperity; nevertheless, we must always remember that God alone is truly dependable, and we must live in faithfulness to Him. We cannot trust in worldly wealth, and not allow worldly concerns to choke out our spiritual trust in God (Matthew 6:19-34). Let us trust in God and store up true riches!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Economic Distress | The Voice 12.43: October 23, 2022

Exercising Care Before God | The Voice 12.42: October 16, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Exercising Care Before God

Be careful what you do when you go to the temple of God; draw near to listen rather than to offer a sacrifice like fools, for they do not realize that they are doing wrong. Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth! Therefore, let your words be few. Just as dreams come when there are many cares, so the rash vow of a fool occurs when there are many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay in paying it. For God takes no pleasure in fools: Pay what you vow! It is better for you not to vow than to vow and not pay it. Do not let your mouth cause you to sin, and do not tell the priest, “It was a mistake!” Why make God angry at you so that he would destroy the work of your hands?” Just as there is futility in many dreams, so also in many words. Therefore, fear God! (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

Life might be absurd and futile, and wisdom may only get a person so far; nevertheless, we can make life worse for ourselves by folly and rashness in the sight of God.

The Preacher’s main themes have involved everything as hevel: vain, futile, even absurd, and all human pursuits as ultimately chasing after wind, attempting to grasp a hold of things which can never be reached or held (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14). He recognized history as cyclical: things come and go, and there is really nothing new on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:3-10). Despite our protestations we and all we have done will be forgotten on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:11). The Preacher considered pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw the futile end of all of them; none of them could provide humans with ultimate meaning (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26). There is a time and season for everything under heaven: the things we enjoy as well as the things we would assiduously avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). God made man to perceive things greater than himself, yet he is part of the creation, and subject to its limitations and corruption (Ecclesiastes 3:9-22). Oppressors and the oppressed share the same fate; labor remained futile; companionship is good, but we all will still be consigned to oblivion (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16).

The Preacher has not entirely abandoned his themes, nor would he contradict himself; yet the Preacher is shifting into a more standard exhortation regarding manifesting wisdom. We have seen this shift beginning in Ecclesiastes 4:8-16, and it continues in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. We do well to remember how the Preacher commended the value of wisdom over folly in Ecclesiastes 2:13; he did rightly recognize how the wise will die just like the fool will die, and thus there can be no ultimate, absolute value in wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26). We should thus not be surprised to see the Preacher encouraging his hearers to manifest wise conduct before God and fellow humans; it might not save them in the end, but it can spare them from misery and/or an unnecessary shortening of life.

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 the Preacher exhorted those who would hear to exercise care before God. He warned people to “watch their feet” when they approach God’s house: he is less concerned about a person accidentally tripping over their feet and much more about how they present themselves before God (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Believers ought to draw near to listen, or obey, rather than offering the sacrifice of a fool (Ecclesiastes 5:1): the Preacher is not attempting to denigrate the sacrificial system, for his concern is not about offering sacrifices, but about what kind of sacrifice a fool might make. Based on Ecclesiastes 5:2-7, the Preacher most likely envisions the “sacrifice of a fool” to be making rash vows on account of speaking many words. Thus the wise man would approach God’s presence in a posture of humility, wishing to hear more than to project with an outpouring of words; such is reflected in Ecclesiastes 5:2, a reminder how God is in heaven and humans are on earth, and so it remains wise to keep short what one would say. The Preacher has experienced, or believed human experience demonstrated, how a person would have more dreams when they had heightened levels of anxiety or concerns; likewise, he expected rash vows to be made when words were lengthened and extended before God, and such was folly (Ecclesiastes 5:3).

Can the Christian reconcile the wisdom of the Preacher with what God made known in Jesus, how we are to cast our cares and anxieties on God and how He knows a matter before we speak it (Matthew 6:1-13, 1 Peter 5:7)? The Preacher was aware how God knew all things; He is in heaven, after all. We do best to allow the Preacher’s wisdom to temper any kind of excess to which one might go on the basis of 1 Peter 5:7. James 1:18 would apply to approaching God as much as it would to dealing with mankind; we do best to be quick to hear and slower to speak. God wants to hear our prayers and for us to cast our anxieties and cares upon Him, but we should not treat the occasion flippantly. Children can find ways to communicate intimately yet respectfully to their human parents; thus, as Christians, we can find ways to communicate intimately with God yet do so in ways which respect how He is the Creator and we are His creation, the gap between heaven and earth, and thus to stand before God wisely and not foolishly.

The Preacher continued with meditations regarding vows: those who make vows should pay them, and quickly, for God has no pleasure in fools (Ecclesiastes 5:4). It would be better to not make a vow at all than to make a vow but not pay it (Ecclesiastes 5:5): should a person allow their mouths to cause sin to overcome their flesh and have to tell God’s messenger he or she made a mistake, and suffer the loss of the fruit of one’s efforts (Ecclesiastes 5:6)? “God’s messenger” has been understood by some to be an angel, but also could refer to the priest who would have recorded what vows were made and the payment thereof (cf. Leviticus 27:14-15); in some way both could be in view. In the end the Preacher applied his theme to his exhortation: many dreams and many words are futile, or absurd; thus, all should fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

If the people of Israel took anything which YHWH told them to do seriously, it was offering sacrifices and paying vows. The prophets critique Israel for many things involving sacrifices and vows, but Israel certainly made both, and often went beyond what we would think proper when it came to vows. The Israelites rashly made a treaty with the Gibeonites under false pretenses; they honored that vow (Joshua 9:1-27). Jephthah foolishly vowed to offer whatever came to meet him after victory as a burnt offering before YHWH; his daughter came first to meet him, and he kept his vow (Judges 11:30-40). Yet, as in all things, Israelites were also tempted to become legalistic in order to justify themselves; Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for how they would claim vowing based on certain things meant more or less than vowing on other things (Matthew 23:16-22), and exhorted people to avoid vows entirely (Matthew 5:33-37). The Preacher would likely agree.

Ecclesiastes 5:7 might well be the basis on which the Preacher’s editor declared fearing God and keeping His commandments was the summation of the whole matter (Ecclesiastes 12:13); certainly in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 we have heard the Preacher speak more about a person and God than we have in much of his discourse to this point. The Preacher’s exhortations in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 provide a good reminder: life “under the sun” is still governed by God. It may prove absurd and futile; the Preacher has stripped us of the many pretenses we maintain in an attempt to give life a meaning beyond what we have any right to expect here on earth in its corruption. But God remains in heaven, and we do well to glorify and honor Him through wise conduct when we stand before Him and as we live in the world. May we fear God and obtain eternal life in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Exercising Care Before God | The Voice 12.42: October 16, 2022

Love vs. Hate | The Voice 12.41: October 09, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

1 John 3:9-13: Love vs. Hate

Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another: not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you (1 John 3:9-13).

As John has progressed through his letter, he has been demonstrating the differences between true believers and false teachers: true believers walk in the light, do Jesus’ commandments, walk in His ways, and do not sin, while false teachers have departed from the faith and have done and justified wickedness (1 John 1-2). In 1 John 3:3-8, John continued this contrast: believers in God are pure and do righteousness, while those who sin are of the devil.

This contrast continues in 1 John 3:9-10. Believers are marked by their righteous conduct, and how they eschew sin (cf. Romans 12:9). The distinction is manifest: those who do not practice righteousness are not of God, while, by necessity, those who do righteousness are of God.

We must take care not to distort John’s message in 1 John 3:9. John’s statement should not be read as a declaration that Christians never sin: Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8 work against such a view. The English Standard Version’s translation is preferable: No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. Christians, being fallible, will stumble; but when they stumble, they will get up, repent, and strive again, and not make sin a habit (cf. Hebrews 10:26-31). True Christians will recognize the distinction between right and wrong and turn toward the light (Hebrews 5:14).

John begins a transition in 1 John 3:10 to his next subject: how Christians are to treat one another. John notes that it is not just those who do not practice righteousness that are not of God, but also those who do not love their brothers. John indicates that this is the case in verse 11 because they have heard the message “from the beginning,” that they should love one another. This confirms that John speaks regarding love in 1 John 2:7-8 when he speaks there regarding the “‘new’ old commandment.” God has desired for human beings to love one another from the beginning of time, but it is within Jesus Christ that we see the ultimate demonstration of love, as John will continue to make clear in 1 John 3-4. If Jesus Christ is the ultimate demonstration of love, it stands to reason that only those who love can be in God, and those who do not love have no share in God!

John then appeals to the example of Cain in Genesis 4:1-8 in 1 John 3:12. Cain and Abel both offer sacrifices; Abel’s is accepted, Cain’s is rejected, and the text never tells us why. John intimates that Cain’s deeds, which likely includes his sacrifice, were evil, and that was the reason that he was rejected. This is consistent with the text in Genesis, considering that Cain’s reaction to his rejection is not to repent and do what is right but instead to kill his brother and add sin upon sin. Because of this, Cain is said to be of the evil one, and we ought not be like him!

John demonstrates powerfully that we should love one another: those who do not love their brethren are not of God, and such ones are akin to Cain, of Satan, committing evil deeds. And then John turns, in 1 John 3:13, and says that Christians should not be surprised when the world hates them.

The connection should be evident. Jesus Himself warned His disciples, John included, that the world would hate them (Matthew 10:21-26). This is because people are under the spell of the Devil and do his work, for their deeds are evil (John 8:34-47). Those who do what is right and follow after God represent a threat and convict their consciences.

John demonstrates to us that we are all part of the conflict of love versus hate, and we must decide who we shall follow: God and love or Satan and hate. Let us work on the side of love and follow God today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love vs. Hate | The Voice 12.41: October 09, 2022

Fear and the Powers | The Voice 12.40: October 02, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fear and the Powers

Machiavelli caused no little consternation in sixteenth century Italy when he wrote pragmatic advice for ruling in The Prince, particularly the dictum “it is better to be feared than loved.” It seemed so harsh, wrong, and anti-Christian.

The sentiment is surely anti-Christian, but in its particular domain, is it wrong? Has not the historical record generally demonstrated how, indeed, those rulers who were feared tended to rule longer than those who were beloved? Is not fear the primary currency dominating national and global politics, ideologies, and movements?

We may blush at Machiavelli’s advice to rulers in The Prince, but we would be foolish to deny its accuracy, at least in terms of how the world works. Let none be deceived: in Christ, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18); thus, in Christ, we love, and do not count being feared as greater than being loved. Yet so we may be as shrewd as serpents while seeking to remain innocent as doves, we do well to wonder why, in the present constitution of the creation, it might be better to be feared than to be loved.

To understand such things we must consider what really motivates human behavior: why do we do the things we do? We would like to believe our altruistic and good behaviors are motivated by love and considering the interests of others, and often attribute our evil, immoral, and unhealthy behaviors on our sinful nature or any given panel of pathologies.

How we understand our sinful nature reflects an uncritical holdover from Calvinism. We may protest the excess of “total depravity,” but can we imagine a different story which explains man’s predisposition toward sin? We can through the Hebrews author’s conception of Jesus’ redemption in Hebrews 2:14-15:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.

According to the Hebrews author, all of humanity remained enslaved by their fear of death; the behaviors they manifested on account of such fear empowered the Evil One over them. This same story plays out in every successive generation as people grapple with their mortality, and the fear of death remains a very potent weapon. How much compliance can be obtained through the threat of violence and death? How many people suffer acts of depravity and profound evil in the hope they will not suffer death? How many evil acts have been perpetrated by people seized with the great desire to avoid death?

It is not merely the tyrant who understands the value of the fear of death; the Evil One and his forces use it well for their purposes (cf. Ephesians 6:12). The indifferent “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is fueled by the unrelenting reality of death; it represents fear turned into acquiescence (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32). People prove willing to invest highly in causes, corporations, governments, institutions, and organizations in the vain attempt to maintain some kind of joint participation to create an immortal legacy: they might die, but their efforts remain since the institution endures. Even so, death comes to human endeavors as much as it comes for humans as it has ever since the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-9). If we are willing to see it, humans invest untold hours and energy in their lives in the fear of death, seeking some way to resist the dark descent into the night.

And yet, as the Hebrews author relates, Jesus broke the power of the Evil One by taking on humanity, suffering death, and overcoming death through the resurrection from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15). Paul spoke of Jesus as having overcome the powers and principalities through His death (and ostensibly His resurrection), parading them in triumph (Colossians 2:15). By overcoming sin and death through His death and resurrection, Jesus has also broken the power of the powers and principalities over this present darkness. But if such is the case, how can the powers and principalities remain our persistent foe (Ephesians 6:12)? From whence comes the power which enables the Evil One to dominate over the present order of things?

While there is likely far more going on in the spiritual realm than we can understand, the unsettling answer, at least in part, is ourselves: we enable the Evil One and the powers and principalities over this present darkness. We do so when we give into our fears and allow what we fear to dictate the way we think, feel, and act.

And such is why, in the present order of things, it is better to be feared than to be loved: people are much more easily motivated to think, feel, and act in the ways you desire when appealing to fears than to love. Tyrants understand love may last for a season, but love among people proves fickle; if they fear what you will do to them, or even better, are persuaded to fear one’s opponents, they will prove more loyal to you and to your purposes.

Fear is a profoundly primal motivator. Fear is why individual people might be rational and reasonable, but groups of people are capable of committing the most egregious and heinous acts against fellow human beings. Fear distorts and twists the image of God in us and in others: when motivated by fear, we think the worst of others; we easily demonize and dehumanize them; we give into the ugliness and evil deep within us. People persistently motivated by fear degenerate into unreasonable animals, unrecognizable to those who used to be friends with them, or perhaps even to themselves at a previous time. We have seen how even people who profess godliness will justify or rationalize all sorts of immorality and ugliness when they are successfully induced to fear someone else: no matter how bad the guy is on our side, it would be worse if the guy on the other side won. Whenever the people of God toy with the power of fear to motivate and persuade, they delude themselves into thinking they can accomplish God’s will with Satan’s tactics, and often prove blind to how effectively they do the work of the Adversary for him.

Whenever people give into fear, prove motivated by fear, or seek to manipulate others through fearmongering, Satan rejoices, and the powers and principalities over this present darkness gain strength and dominance. The forces established by those powers and principalities inflict all sorts of distress, grief, pain, and oppression upon others, all in the name of doing to others so it is not done to them, lest those who are currently benefiting from the oppression would suffer the same oppression themselves. Thus it has been since mankind was expelled from the Garden of Eden; thus it will be until the final day of resurrection.

Yet in Christ it must not be so (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus broke those powers and principalities by suffering the evil without responding in kind. Jesus manifested love where there was fear. In Christ we have nothing to fear, because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ; if we are rejected, persecuted, mocked, derided, abused, oppressed, injured, or even killed, we have not been separated from the love of God in Christ, and in Christ we will gain the victory if we endure such things, entrusting ourselves to a faithful Creator, and do good (Romans 8:31-39, 1 Peter 4:12-19). In Christ fear can have no currency, for perfect love casts out fear; we have been loved by God in Christ, and if we thus love others, there is no ground left on which to fear anyone or anything. We ought not fear the fears of the world, for in Christ we have victory over fear so we might not be ruled by it.

Wherever there is fear there is the work of the Evil One and the powers and principalities over this present darkness. Where there is the love of God in Christ there is love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and hope. May we be sustained in the love of God displayed in Christ, overcome fear through faith and love, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fear and the Powers | The Voice 12.40: October 02, 2022

Salvation | The Voice 12.39: September 25, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Salvation

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Salvation, or being saved, represents a major aspect of the identity and message of Christianity. “Salvation” and its associated terms are used so freely and frequently as to become automatic and even trite. Many speak about how they “got saved,” and “Jesus saves” is one of the most common ways people attempt to communicate the Gospel.

“Salvation” is widely known and recognized, but how well and deeply is it properly understood and internalized? Many people think of salvation entirely in past terms, involving initial conversion and little else, and guaranteed without any caveat or possibility of loss; such a view is spoken of as eternal security or “once saved, always saved.” Others think of salvation primarily in future terms, involving the return of Jesus and the day of Judgment, and maintain great trepidation about their prospects of salvation; perhaps we can describe such a view as “if saved, barely saved.” Some presume God is the only Actor in salvation; others seem to presume that God’s salvation is mostly dependent on humans. Therefore, even though most people recognize that “salvation” and “being saved” are important aspects to Christianity, there is a lot of dispute and little agreement on what it means to be saved in Christ.

What is salvation? The basic concept, as expressed by Thayer in his definition of the Greek sozo, is “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” You do not participate in this kind of saving at a store; the core idea of salvation is “rescue.” When the New Testament speaks about salvation we do well to think in terms of rescue.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands the recognition by all people that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and on their own are not capable of regaining their standing before God (Romans 3:1-23, Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). While in the world we are all sinful, weak, ungodly, and hostile toward God; in His love, grace, and mercy, God provided the means of reconciliation back to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:4-18, Titus 3:4-8). Thus our salvation is really our rescue: we could not save ourselves, so God proved willing to rescue us through Jesus. This good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship was proclaimed throughout the known world in the first century.

Many who heard this good news recognized its truth and sought to respond accordingly (Acts 2:37, 16:30). The Apostles expected them to believe that Jesus is the Christ, to confess that belief, to change their hearts and minds so as to follow Jesus in repentance, to be immersed in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins, and to follow Jesus as disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Such people responded in faith to God on account of what He did for them (Ephesians 2:8-9); they recognized that they could not save themselves but knew that they needed to entrust themselves to God if they wanted to be saved, and trust demands response and effort (Romans 1:5, 6:14-23, James 2:14-26). We understand this in terms of rescue: if a person is drowning and is tossed a lifesaver, he or she must grab ahold of the lifesaver if s/he will be rescued. No one thinks they have rescued themselves simply by grabbing ahold of that lifesaver; they know their rescue was dependent on the efforts expended to get that lifesaver to them and to bring them to safety. But if they had not grabbed the lifesaver, they would have drowned!

The moment of conversion leads to “initial” salvation; at that point the Christian has been restored in relationship and reconciled back to God through Jesus, and is part of the “saved” (Acts 2:47). Even so there remains a real sense in which salvation is not yet complete. Peter captured this sentiment well in 1 Peter 1:3-9: the Christians of Asia Minor were “born again to a living hope” through Jesus’ resurrection and were being “guarded through faith,” yet “for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time,” standing firm and going through trials of faith so as to obtain the “outcome” of their faith, “the salvation of your souls.” Peter does not deny the reality of what we call “initial” salvation yet clearly is looking forward to the full consummation of salvation when the Lord Jesus returns: our “final” salvation.

We can again make sense of this picture by means of “rescue.” A drowning person who has taken ahold of the lifesaver has, in a sense, been rescued, but remains in great danger while still in the water. Their rescue is not complete until they are taken out of the water and given medical attention. If at any point the person let go of the lifesaver they would be back in the same danger they had been in before and could still perish!

Thus it is in Christianity as well. Despite the smooth words of many preachers the New Testament provides many and clear warnings about the dangers of falling away after receiving “initial” salvation: Matthew 7:21-23, 25:14-30, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among others. This does not mean God does not want to or is not able to save Christians; God wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Instead, as can be seen throughout the history of God’s involvement with mankind, the people of God have frequently rebelled against Him despite His faithfulness and covenant loyalty, and have received the consequences of their disobedience (Romans 11:17-22). Our rescue is not permanent or final until we have reached the end of our race and have obtained the crown of glory from God in Christ; we must persevere to the end (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

God does want us to be saved, and despite our propensity toward rebellion He has gone to great lengths to accomplish salvation for us (Romans 8:31-39). If we seek to follow Him according to His purposes we ought not live in perpetual fear of imminent condemnation; He loves us and is more powerful than the forces working against us (1 John 4:3-4). God is presently accomplishing our rescue in Christ, delivering us from the dangers of the world so that we may conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). We can know in Christ that we are saved now when we obey Him according to His purposes revealed in the New Testament; but we also must know that our salvation is not yet complete, for we have yet to obtain the glorious inheritance which comes as the outcome of our faith (Romans 6:15-23, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Let us entrust ourselves to God in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation | The Voice 12.39: September 25, 2022