The Difference Is Faith

July 23, 2016

Complaining can become a lifestyle — always finding something wrong, always craving for the next desire, and never finding contentment. Daily needs met and blessings received aren’t considered. Such were some of the Israelites. They complained, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

They had been slaves and now were free. They had faced an army with chariots but were miraculous delivered through the sea. They had been thirsty and water was given to quench their thirst. They had been hungry, and God gave manna. They complained instead of asking God who gives good gifts. They treated God’s present blessings with contempt, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6, NIV)

Burdened by a complaining people, Moses prayed. He too complained, but to God who answers prayers. “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? …Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:11, 13 NIV) And the God who answers prayers gave the seventy elders to aid Moses in his burden.

God also promised meat for the people for an entire month. Moses states the situation, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22, NIV)

Moses’ implied question to God is, “ How?” God’s reply is not about how but who. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said.” (Number 11:24, NIV)

Moses who didn’t know how God was going to do it trusted God enough to tell a complaining people that they would have meat for a month in the middle of a wilderness. What’s the difference between the complaining people and the praying Moses? The difference is faith.

The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

July 8, 2016

Someone recently asked me what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Years ago, I even counseled with someone who thought she had committed this sin. It is a perennial question for Bible readers. The relevant passages are Matthew 12:24-32, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:15-23, 12:10.

Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (other manuscripts spell it Beelzebub). It is clear from the context that Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Beelzebul is “the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24). The parallel of “if Satan casts out Satan” with “by Beelzebul … this man casts out demons” also makes this clear. Beelzebul is another name for Satan.

What is blasphemy? It is “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander.”1 In these passages, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. So the conditions for this sin to occur are: (1) Jesus performs a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and (2) someone ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit in this miracle to the work of Satan. It would seem from context that you would have needed to have been present at Jesus’ ministry and witnessed a miracle to commit this particular sin.

Why is this an unforgivable sin? The miracle is a pointer to Christ’s identity. The person who has become so hardened that he believes Christ is in league with Satan will not come to Christ for salvation. Since salvation is found only in Jesus (Acts 4:12), there can be no forgiveness for such a person. F.F. Bruce notes one other factor: “The answer seems to be that the nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it, because those who commit it and persist in it do not know that they are sinning.”2

Jesus reasons with his accusers. Every kingdom divided against itself will be left desolate, so it doesn’t make sense that Satan would cast out Satan. By what do your sons cast out demons, therefore they will be your judges. The casting out of demons is evidence of the Kingdom of God. The plundering of Satan’s possessions is evidence that someone stronger than Satan has arrived on the scene. This reasoning with his accusers suggests to me that maybe even they have not yet reached the unforgivable stage, but they are in danger of it. A settled opposition to Christ would leave them without hope of forgiveness.

The bottom line is this: if you have some sensitive soul who is fearful of having committed this sin, but also desires to repent, then they definitely have not committed this sin. But this passages warns us to guard our hearts. It is possible to harden our hearts so much that we are no longer responsive to the call to repentance.

1“βλασφημία,” BDAG, 178.

2F.F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 90

Endowed by Their Creator

July 4, 2016

July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The document did more than declare that the thirteen colonies were now states independent from Great Britain. The declaration announced some important principles which have touched all of our lives.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The desire for freedom and an understanding of inalienable rights led to the Bill of Rights in order to secure the approval of the U.S. Constitution. Citizens wanted their rights spelled out.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The Bill of Rights, Amendment I

By basing rights on something higher than the state, this country became a place of freedom and opportunity. It has not always lived up to those ideals, but those ideals have led to self-correction and have held up to us what we should be. It is still a place to which many long to come.

As we approach this important national holiday, it is a good time for us as Christians to pray. First, we should pray because we have been commanded to pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV)

Second, we should pray because we have been greatly blessed. We have enjoyed freedom and prosperity. We have been able to practice our faith without interference from the state. Our freedom of religion is more than just the freedom to worship, but it is also the freedom to evangelize. We enjoy the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.

Third, we should pray because no people can stand unless they are moral. The lesson of history is that moral decay is dangerous. Pray for revival. “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1b, ESV).