People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them

God saves us to set us free from sin. We are meant for a freedom that empowers us to be good, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godly, filled with brotherly affection and with love.

The words that have become the title of this blog piece struck me in my daily Bible reading this morning. They are pulled from 2 Peter 2:19. I highlighted them in my digital Bible app.

We may tend to focus on the more encouraging provisions of the Bible and gloss over provisions like the one I am quoting here, but the Bible is a double-edged sword. It sometimes cuts to the marrow. It discerns and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is living and active… if we let it in to our hearts to do its job.

I am convicted today, as I should be, and I am encouraged, because God, the Father, disciplines His children whom He loves. God watches out for the ones He loves. He warns us when we are straying into dangerous territory.

If we are paying attention and willing to respond, these warnings will protect us. If we rush headlong ahead, not heeding the warnings, as we are apt to do, we find ourselves entangled in difficulties that can threaten to undo us if we fail to repent and turn around.

Even then, the going can be difficult. Bad habits are easy to form and very difficult to break. If we go too far down the road with them, we find reversing course to be very difficult, indeed. Forming new, good habits is many times more difficult than the path we followed into those bad habits.

Bad habits are easy to form because they come from a place that is instinctual. They are outgrowths of natural tendencies of people who simply do “what feels good”.

Bad habits form from desires that are common to people – not necessarily bad desires. Evil isn’t a thing in itself. Evil is the corruption of good. Bad habits for when we seek to satisfy our desires in the easiest, most accessible, self-centered and least beneficial ways.

For instance, loving God and loving our neighbors – the two greatest commandments of God – are wrapped up in loving ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we have a hard time loving others. If we love others, we usually have an easy time loving ourselves. Loving God and loving people are intimately related to loving ourselves.

The popular idea of “self love”, getting some “me time”, and “focusing on myself”, however, can be a corruption of what is basically good. We are naturally self-centered. We naturally love ourselves more than others. When Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, he was implicitly acknowledging the fact that we are naturally focused on ourselves and our needs.

We instinctually love ourselves and seek what is best for us. We have to be purposeful, intentional and self-sacrificing to consider others, and especially to consider others ahead of ourselves. It isn’t natural, and, therefore, it isn’t easy.

Loving others isn’t hating ourselves; it’s learning to love others on the same level as we love ourselves. It is thinking of others on the same level as we think of ourselves.

Many people today are self-loathing, which is also a corruption of what is good. People who loath themselves are equally as self-absorbed as people who are corrupted in self-love.

We are made in God’s image, so to loathe ourselves is to loathe the very image of God. We shouldn’t confuse loving our neighbors as ourselves with loathing ourselves.

Self-loathing is a kind of self-centeredness. People who are self-loathing are self-absorbed in a negative way. Self-absorption and self-focus are a corruption of what is good, regardless of whether the result is pleasurable or painful.

The words of Jesus are transcendent. They direct our eyes away from ourselves to God and to others. When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, he is speaking to the reality that our self-focus (the burden of the self) traps us into unhealthy and ultimately destructive behaviors that are more of a burden than a help to us.

Such is the burden of sin. When we are unable to overcome sin, we are enslaved to it. As Peter says, “We are enslaved to whatever defeats us.” And so, I have come back to the focus of this blog piece: these words in 2 Peter 2:19.

Continue reading “People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them”

Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?

Photo by Ken Gortowski

I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:

“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. 

Romans 8:7

“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”

Romans 8: 20-21

Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.

But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.

Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.

If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?

The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.

Continue reading “Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?”

The Boldness that Comes from Being Filled with the Holy Spirit … and Refilled


I wrote in the blog post before this one about fear and how God’s perfect love casts out all fear. The followers of Jesus feared when he was taken away by the Romans in the garden. They continued to fear while he was being mocked and beaten and hung on the cross. After he was dead and buried, they hunkered down behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)

Even after Jesus appeared to them, risen from the dead in the flesh, the apostles continued to live in fear. It was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that they emerged out of their funk from behind locked, closed doors to preach the Gospel boldly in the crowded streets of Jerusalem.

As I continue to read through the Bible, now in the book of Acts, I see something else that I hadn’t seen before. In Acts 3 & 4, we see Peter and John healing a lame man, being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and being instructed to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Afterward, Peter and John met with the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness to keep speaking the gospel in the name of Jesus!

I previously observed that this change from fearful believers hiding behind closed doors to bold proclaimers of the Gospel on the crowded city streets happened only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t Jesus appearing to them, risen from the dead, that overcame their fear; it was the Holy Spirit who filled them!

But there is more. They prayed for boldness while remembering the words of David in the Psalms (Psalm 2:1-2):

‘Why did the Gentiles [nations] rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ [Anointed One/Messiah].’

Acts 4:25-26

There will be opposition when we preach in the name of Jesus. That’s why we need the boldness. We need to be able to overcome our fear of rejection and our unhealthy desire for favor from people to be able to preach the gospel. We can’t do it on our own; we need the help of the Holy Spirit.

I suffer greatly from this defect, myself, which I recognize as I read through these passages. I need that boldness that comes from God’s Holy Spirit, or I will continue hide “behind closed” doors – or maybe the keyboards of this computer on which I type!

And, there is one more thing before I get to the point. I think this is an area in which we could all use a little bit of dying to self. I certainly speak for myself when I say that I stand in my own way of being able to preach the Gospel boldly as Peter and John did. My self, my flesh, is in the way of me being who God wants me to be in Him. That flesh, that self that is in the way, needs to die. It needs to yield to God. It needs to be sacrificed to the purposes of God.

Not that I have overcome this self. I confess and admit to you as I write this that I have not. But, that brings me to the final point.

Continue reading “The Boldness that Comes from Being Filled with the Holy Spirit … and Refilled”

The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want

God put eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) so that we can, if we aren’t too distracted, sense that something more awaits us.

Photo cred to Deb Zeyher

To CS Lewis was posed the following proposition and question:

“Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate. These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged working or domestic conditions, or the observation of suffering in others. What is the Christian view of this problem?”

Today, the same question has taken on a sharper edge. Similar questions are aimed like unfriendly fire at Christianity and the character of God: If God is all good and all powerful, why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Either God isn’t all good; or God isn’t all powerful; or God simply does not exist.

CS Lewis answered the question put to him as follows:

“The Christian view is that people are created to be in a certain relation to God. If we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow inevitably. Christ said it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt, 19:23; Mk. 10:23; Luke 18:24), referring, no doubt, to riches in the ordinary sense. But, I think it really covers riches in everything – good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.

“All these things tend, just as money tends, to make you feel independent of God. Because if you have them, you feel happy already and contented in this life. You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness, as if it could last forever.

“But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently, He may have to take all these riches away from you. If He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

“But I am beginning to find out what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a cruel doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows work punishment, but I find in practice that, when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a punishment it becomes easier to bear.

“If you think of this world as something simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable. Think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad.

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think of it as a hotel. The other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is what comforts and strengthens you in the end.

“The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

I like to say that perspective changes everything. Because human beings are finite, our perspective is limited. Change your perspective, and the world looks different from the new angle.

Lewis had a perspective of this world that allowed him to see it as beautiful, for what it is worth. Perhaps, he was colored by his experience as a young man, not even out of his teens, fighting in World War I. He knew the worst the world had to offer.

When he became a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he found the “silver lining”. He found hope and light in the darkness of the world.

Many people who live in the late 20th and 21st centuries have had a relatively good time of “this life” compared to people just a few generations before us (and even more dramatically compared to people of centuries past). Our perspective is colored by our relative prosperity. In the United States today, even those who live below the poverty line live higher and better than most of the people in the rest of the world (and in times past).

The comparative riches we have tend to make us feel independent of God. Indeed, the shift in the question of the problem of evil from focusing on individual unfairness to thinking it is proof that God does not exist is a product of our perspective.

We have enough s that we are willing to accept that what we can have in this life is all there is. We have learned to be content with the hope of no more. We have embraced a shadowy happiness in lieu of true joy that God offers to those who seek Him.

Continue reading “The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want”

Justice in Messianic Prophecy

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him;  he will bring forth justice to the nations.

I have written much over the last two years on the subject of justice in Scripture. I don’t think I have done the subject justice (pun intended), so I continue to find the rights words, the right perspective and seek better understanding of God’s heart for justice as it is revealed in Scripture.

John the Apostle tells us that God is love, and the Psalmist says that justice and righteousness are the foundations of His throne. Certainly God’s love, justice and righteousness are closely intertwined.

When Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in the temple and said it was fulfilled by him in the presence of the people who heard him, the passage he read was full of images of justice (Luke 4:18-19 (reading from Isaiah 58:6; 61:1-2)):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The reading from the Isaiah scroll is a theme to which I return often

We could read this passage to mean that Jesus came to preach to those who are poor (in spirit), to proclaim liberty to the captives (in spirit), recovering of sight to the (spiritually) blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (spiritually). I don’t think that is an inaccurate way of interpreting what Jesus said. Jesus often used figurative language for spiritual realities and principals.

It isn’t the only way to read those words, of course. Indeed, throughout the rest of his life, Jesus healed people, gave sight to the blind, opened the ears of the deaf, set free those who were oppressed, raised people from the dead and met the physical needs of people as he traveled around preaching the good news.

Thus, I believe Jesus meant those words to have dual meanings. He was concerned about the spiritual condition of people. We might even say he was primarily concerned with spiritual well-being, but he met people at the point of their physical circumstances and conditions.

Listen to the testimonies of people, and you will find the spiritual and the physical are intertwined. Jesus still meets people at the point of their circumstances and physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

The physical needs and difficult circumstances (perhaps) a metaphor for the more critical and ultimately more important spiritual infirmity, but they are a reality that elevates and underscores the need for more holistic resolution. Without the difficulties in our lives, we might never perceive the need for that resolution

Many are the people who only want the physical healing and not spiritual healing. At the same time, the physical infirmities of a person can be so overwhelming and demanding that a person can hardly recognize the spiritual need.

Regardless of the interrelationship, Jesus addressed both the physical needs and spiritual needs of people. Justice and righteousness are God’s foundation. They are front in center in the Messianic message that foretold the coming of Jesus:

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him;  he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.”

Isaiah 42:1‭-‬4 ESV

Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was a promise to all the nations (Gen. 12:2-3):

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Embedded in Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy was this promise to Abraham: “he will bring forth justice to the nations…. he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law”.

Justice is a theme that runs through the prophets and is directly and intimately connected to Messianic prophecy. We see the Messianic character of justice in Jeremiah also:

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 33:15-16 ESV

Jesus, of course, has become our righteousness, as the prophet foretold. He also executes justice. Justice, in the biblical sense, is not simply punishment or retribution. Justice is redemptive. It goes hand in hand with righteousness. As followers of Jesus, we are called to participate in righteousness and justice as components of the Messianic purpose of God.