Evil Spirits

These days, people are skeptical of talk about demon possessions and evil spirits, and perhaps rightly so. From a scientific perspective, we can now identify many genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that can lead to the ailments that were once attributed to evil spirits. We know more about viruses and harmful bacteria, for instance, than those who lived in medieval times.

It may also be, as some have suggested, that the high rate of possessions and ailments caused by unclean spirits in Jesus’ time was a special allowance by God while Jesus walked the earth in order that He might demonstrate His power.

But we should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore. Consider this passage which speak of the reality of the spiritual forces that are at work to harm us:

(Ephesians 6:12-13) “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

So how are we to understand the identity and role of those “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” that would harm us? I do not have all of the answers, but we can start by considering some of the references to harmful spirits in the New Testament.

  • (Romans 8:15) “For you have not received a spiritof slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • (Ephesians 2:1-2) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (1 Timothy 5:21) “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of Hischosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”
  • (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spiritof timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
  • (1 John 4:6) “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

These are some of the spirits that we must avoid: a spirit of slavery, a spirit of disobedience, a spirit of deceit and false doctrine, a spirit of partiality, a spirit of timidity, and a spirit of error.

Perhaps you can think of other spirits that are also a real danger to you personally. It may be a spirit of jealousy or of anger, of apathy, or arrogance, selfishness, or lust.

Something to notice about these wicked spirits is that they do not simply live in any one person. Rather, they live and breathe in our society and our world at large. It may be that a particular person introduces you to a spirit of error, or tempts you to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but the spirit itself is bigger than any one person.   Much like “school spirit” or “team spirit” or “a patriotic spirit,” so too these damaging spirits can take on a life of their own when they spread throughout a growing group of people who adopt them and are shaped by them.

The books of 2 Peter and Jude both warn strongly against those who revile angelic forces without really knowing who or what they are dealing with. The Biblical message is not that we cast spells and practice mystical rituals in order to protect ourselves from evil. But what we must do is be on the alert for those harmful spirits in our world that could lead us astray, and pray to God for help in the fight.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Christianity

In philosophy, there are three qualities that are often referred to as “the trandscendentals.” These three qualities are truth, goodness, and beauty, and “transcendental” is a proper designation for them. “Transcendental” is a fancy word that describes an aspect of reality that is not dependent on our personal feelings or opinions.

All three of these – truth, goodness, and beauty – are not dependent on our personal opinions. They are realities that are discovered, rather than invented or randomly chosen.

Consider truth. You and I do not get to make up our own truth, we can only discover what the truth is and choose whether or not we will accept it. Feeling like 2 + 2 = 5 does not make it so. It is a transcendent reality because it does not depend upon our personal feelings for its validity.

In the Biblical worldview, moral goodness is the same way. We do not get to pick and choose which attitudes or actions we consider morally good or bad based on our own personal feelings. Just because I “feel” like murder or stealing is okay does not make it so. Even if the majority felt this way, they would still be wrong.

Even beauty has a certain transcendent quality. Rather than choosing arbitrarily what music or art we find beautiful, we observe and recognize beauty in music or art and identify it as such. Saying “this object is beautiful” does not actually make it so. The object in question is either beautiful or not, regardless of what we say about it.

But as you may have noticed, not everyone in our society respects the transcendence of truth, goodness, and beauty. These days many academics assert that “truth is relative” and individuals may respond to your beliefs by saying “that is true for you, but it is not true for me.” In terms of moral goodness, the ultimate standard in our culture is no longer an objective standard, but rather a question of how we “feel” about it. Much of modern art and music reflects the fact that we have given up on objective standards of beauty and are resorting instead to shock value, vulgarity, and “art for art’s sake” with no message to convey.

The general movement of society away from objective standards of truth, goodness, and beauty probably reflects our disdain for constraints on our freedom more than anything else. As long as truth is comprised of objective facts, it can get in my way and prevent me from believing whatever I want. As long as moral goodness is an unchanging standard that I must submit to, it can prevent me from living out my dreams. Even beauty, to the extent that it supersedes personal feelings, reminds me that the reality of life is not always mine to control.

But there is a special beauty and power in the recognition of transcendent realities. When the psalmist said “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path,” he was recognizing that the truth of the Bible could lead him farther than he could get by his own understanding alone. When Jesus said “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” the truth that He referred to was a truth that can transform us precisely because it does not come from within us, but rather from the God who created us.

The Philippians were told “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This is a description of a life in which we discover and enjoy that which is true, that which is good, and that which is beautiful in the realest of senses.

Will you “dwell on these things” and commit your life to acquiring them?

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Creation”

Our church is embarking upon a weekly study, with a particular word being the focus of each week.  The second word we devoted our attention to was: “creation.”

We have had several requests to make the scriptures and brief notes from these studies readily available online.  Hopefully this can be a helpful resource.

Genesis 1:1 – in beginning God created
Genesis 1:27 – man created in God’s image
Genesis 2:3 – God rested after He created and made
Genesis 2:4 – in the day that God made earth and heaven
Genesis 2:7 – man formed from dust of ground
Genesis 2:22 – woman made from man’s rib
Genesis 4:51-52 – Ephraim born second
Genesis 5 – genealogy indicates time since creation?
Genesis 6:7 – God sorry He made man and animals
Psalm 51:10 – “Create in me a clean heart”
Psalm 102:18 – a people not yet created will come
Psalm 104:20 – “you send forth your Spirit, and they are created.”
Isaiah 20:46 – “see the One who created all these stars”
Isaiah 43:7 – God creates people for His glory
Isaiah 45:18 – God, as creator, has authority and deserves glory
Isaiah 48:7 – things created now, and not long ago
Isaiah 65:17 – I create a new heavens and new earth
Isaiah 65:18 – I create for rejoicing and gladness
Jeremiah 31:9 – Ephraim referred to as firstborn
Ezekiel 28:11-19 – Origin of the Devil?
Amos 4:13 – God as creator has authority and glory
Malachi 2:10 – God created us all, so we ought to live in harmony
Matthew 1 – genealogy helpful for chronologies
Matthew 1:17 – “14 generations” and the way Jews did genealogies
Matthew 19:4 – Male and Female an important part of creation
Mark 16:15 – preach the gospel to all creation
John 3:3-8 – born again of water and spirit
John 8:58 – “before Abraham was, I am”
John 17:5 – Jesus was there before the kosmos
Romans 1:20 – we learn of God by His creation
Romans 1:22 – professing to be wise, they became fools.
Romans 1:24-25 – worship and serve creature or creator
Romans 5:12, 18-19 – Sin entered when Adam sinned
Romans 6:1-4 – saved people still need to be told not to sin, why?
Romans 8:18-25 – creation itself to be set free?
Romans 8:29 – conformed to image of His Son
Romans 8:37-39 – no created thing can separate us from God
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 – our new bodies will be spiritual
1 Corinthians 3:1 – mere babies in Christ still live carnally
2 Corinthians 5:17 – old has gone, new is here
Galatians 6:15 – being a new creation matters, not circumcision
Ephesians 2:10 – created for good works
Ephesians 4:24 – new self is created by God
Colossians 1:15 – He is the firstborn of all creation
Colossians 1:16-17 – all things created by Jesus, and FOR God
Colossians 3:10 – we are renewed according to the image of Him who created us
1 Timothy 2:13 – Male leadership reflected by creation order
1 Timothy 4:3 – God created food to be gratefully shared
1 Timothy 4:4 – everything God created is good
Hebrews 12:25-29 – created things that can be “shaken” will be removed
1 peter 2:2 – the new creation is a newborn who must grow
2 Peter 3:4 – “all things will go on like they have since creation…”
2 Peter 3:10 – creation to be burned up
Revelation 3:14 – Jesus is beginning (meaning?) of the creation of God
Revelation 4:11 – all things exist because of God’s will
Revelation 5:13 – every created thing blessed God and the Lamb

Why did God create the universe?
Isaiah 43:7
– for His glory
Colossians 1:16-17 – for Himself
Isaiah 65:18 – for rejoicing and gladness
Ephesians 2:10 – for good works
1 Timothy 4:3 – for grateful sharing
Revelation 4:11 – because of His will

Did God use evolution?
Science has not demonstrated macroevolution, because there is no viable means for adding new, meaningful information to the genome.
Gen 1:27 – Man is made in God’s image, not through unguided, chance processes.
Genesis 2:7, 22 – describes process and does not mention common ancestry and gradual change.
These verses are used as basis of Biblical doctrines throughout the New Testament.
Romans 5:12, 18-19 – Sin of Adam
Matthew 19:4 – Male and Femaleness and marriage
1 Timothy 2:13 – Male leadership reflected by creation order and because Eve was deceived

Literal 24 hour days?
Compare Genesis 1:5 to Genesis 2:4 interlinear (Hebrews word depends on context)
Genesis 1 – Notice, there was no sun by which to judge a day.
Genesis 2:3, God rested on seventh day, Jews also. We worship every seven days.
The Hebrew word itself is ambiguous, but the context of “evening and morning” lends credence to 24 hours being a natural reading, and why posit another period of time? What agenda does that advance?

How long ago was the creation?
Genesis 5
– genealogy/ Matthew 1, focus on verse 17 (in the thousands of years since Adam)

Is Jesus created?
Colossians 1:15
– look at context and at Greek
Genesis 4:51-52 and Jeremiah 31:9 – firstborn indicates preeminence
Revelation 3:14 – look at Greek
Romans 1:24-25 – distinction between creation and creator, as highlighted by placing Jesus in the beginning, before heaven and earth, and before the kosmos – John 17:5
John 8:58
– before Abraham, “I am”
Mark 16:15 – preach gospel to all creation (preach it to Jesus?)
Romans 8:37-39 – no created thing can separate us from Christ
Revelation 5:13 – all created things bless God and Lamb

Will creation be destroyed or renewed?
Isaiah 65:17
– new heavens and new earth
Romans 8:18-25 – creation to be set free? Similar to how Christians will – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 the natural becomes spiritual
2 Peter 3:4, 10 – last time it was a flood, this time it will be fire
Hebrews 12:25-29 – created things that can be “shaken” will be removed

Is Satan created?
Ezekiel 28:11-19
– Origin of the Devil?
1 Timothy 4:4 – everything God created is good

Did God create evil?
1 Timothy 4:4
– everything God created is good

What does it mean for a saved person to be a new creation?  Why do they still sin?
2 Corinthians 5:17
– old has gone, new is here
Romans 6:1-4 – yet they still need to be told not to sin, why?
John 3:3-8 – born again of water and spirit
1 Corinthians 3:1 – mere babies in Christ still live carnally
1 Peter 2:2 – the new creation is a newborn who must grow

Can science explain creation without God?
When scientists try, their answers increasingly converge on God but just insist on using another name.
You have a being that is: eternal… immaterial… present everywhere and constantly, powerfully active… filled with meaningful information… containing a fundamental consciousness… etc.
Stephen Hawking say that the universe can and will create itself from NOTHING! – Romans 1:22

Show Love, Gentleness, and Respect to THOSE People?

The Ephesians were warned not to be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (4:14).”

Notice that the danger described here is not one of people who are dedicated to following God, but have accidentally missed something. It is a description of people who are intentionally using trickery and manipulation to turn people away from God’s will. Is there anything more angering or frustrating than knowing that there are people out there who are “scheming” about how to lead Christians astray?

What is an appropriate response in a situation like that? The answer is given in the next verse “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

This passage that we so often quote in reference to “speaking the truth in love” is indeed situated in a context of remaining firm despite “cunning,” “crafty,” and “deceitful” cultural or religious movements.

Consider another passage.

In 1st Peter 3:15, we read, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

We tend to imagine this passage playing out in a very non-confrontational way, perhaps when an acquaintance asks us out of nowhere why we believe in Jesus and then waits patiently for our response. But once again, this is not what the context primarily indicates.

The entire chapter of 1st Peter 3 is about suffering at the hands of our fellow humans simply because we choose to do right. Our verse about “giving a reason for the hope that is within us, yet with gentleness and respect” is sandwiched between verse 14 which speaks of suffering for what is right, and verse 16, which speaks of our being slandered maliciously because of our good behavior.

Speak the truth in love when a brother makes an honest mistake, and speak the truth with just as much love when its enemies work tirelessly to tear it down.

Be ready to give and answer with gentleness and respect when an honest seeker asks you an honest question, and be ready to give a gentles answer also when you are ridiculed or persecuted for your faith.

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)

God’s Victory is Near

For as long as there has been pain and suffering, we have been struggling to understand why. How can a loving God allow injustice and tragedy to happen?

When Job asked God these questions, God gave no short, simple answer. He did not give Job a stone tablet with a brief explanation, nor has He given us this bulletin article to suddenly answer all of our questions.

God’s answer was a series of over 60 questions that contrasted Job’s smallness with God’s bigness, and Job’s limited knowledge with God’s infinite wisdom.

Perhaps God was telling Job that man can no more understand the problem of suffering than he can understand how to create a universe out of nothing.

It is not a comprehensive answer, but there is something that we must remember: this world lies under the power of the devil.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1-2)

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Something else that we do know is that the devil’s reign is temporary and will come to an end.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31)

In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He is not slow to fulfill His promises, but is patiently waiting for more to repent. (2 Peter 3:9) Even so, we long for the day when His victory will be swift.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)