How To Gain Victory Over Sin – Second Edition

Cover image for book Victory Over SinIt’s been two and a half years since I published my book How To Gain Victory Over Sin. Since that time, I’ve been working on updating and expanding it. The second edition is now virtually complete and I’ve received my proof copies from Amazon to look over. Aside from tweaking the cover and correcting any last-minute typos, the book should be available within a month.

While the first book hasn’t been a best seller (I don’t have a big company doing advertising for me), it has done well. Google Play currently shows a 4.7 star rating, and GoodReads.com a 4.6 star rating. The e-book is free through Google Play and Smashwords. Kindle charges 99 cents over which I have no control. The printed book is 6 dollars. The second edition will also be a free e-book, and the printed edition might go up a dollar since the book is bigger.

Here’s a short excerpt from the second edition…

Two thousand years ago, a couple of missionaries established some churches in what is now central Turkey. The region was then a Roman province called Galatia, and the missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, were on their first missionary journey.

The first city in the province they came to was Antioch of Pisidia. When they arrived, Paul preached the message of justification by faith apart from works of the law of Moses. Many Jews and Gentiles gladly heard and believed the message, but some Jews who didn’t raised a persecution against the missionaries and ran them out of town.

In Iconium, Paul again preached the gospel. As before, many believed, and many didn’t. The Jews who didn’t believe stirred up the people to violence, forcing Paul and Barnabas to flee from that city as well.

In Lystra, they proclaimed Christ to the people again, but the Jews from Antioch and Iconium followed them there and moved the crowds to stone Paul to death. Thinking he was dead, they dragged him out of the city. But Paul survived, and, ignoring the danger to himself, he revisited those same cities, urging the new believers to continue in the faith and endure the persecutions that would result. But it wasn’t long after Paul and Barnabas left the region that the young believers allowed the enemies of the gospel to come in and teach a different “gospel,” and this is where the letter to the Galatians comes in.

The epistle to the Galatians is somewhat unique among Paul’s letters to the churches. It is the only one where Paul did not give thanks to God for his readers. Instead of thanksgiving, Paul expressed his alarm:

I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different “good news”…

This church had some serious problems…worse even than that of the carnal Corinthians. Only in this letter does Paul warn his readers of a curse, and only in this letter does he come close to losing his temper. After all the suffering he went through to bring the gospel to them, Paul was frustrated to see them falling away so quickly. Why was this happening?

When Paul departed from Galatia, he not only left behind new believers, he left behind the Jewish legalists that persecuted him. With Paul gone, they were able to freely attack the churches with the Law of Moses.

But Paul didn’t abandon the young Gentile believers. Having witnessed the same problem in his home church as well, he traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to address this very issue with the other apostles.

Guilt: What To Do With It

Are you struggling with feelings of guilt? Are you ashamed of something you have done recently? Perhaps your whole life has been one failure after another. You’re powerless to do what is right. You can’t stop doing the things you do. While you may have given up a long time ago, there is hope. You just have to look beyond yourself and look to God who already has provided a solution to your problem!

The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

– Luke 18:27

When it comes to guilt, you’re not alone. Everyone has done wrong. Some people pride themselves in being ‘law-abiding citizens’, however there is not one person who has not broken God’s law and offended Him in some way. It’s human nature.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

– Romans 3:23

God is absolutely righteous (morally good), but we are not. We may try to do things that please Him at times, but even our best is futile in God’s eyes:

We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.

– Isaiah 64:6

The problem with the wrong we do is that it cuts us off from God. He cannot look on sin because it goes against His nature, and He will not violate His nature.

Your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

– Isaiah 59:2

The wrong things we do cut us off from God. The Bible calls this separation “death”:

The soul who sins shall die.

– Ezekiel 18:4

For the wages of sin is death…

– Romans 6:23

The short-term consequences are bad enough. The long-term consequences are unthinkable. Unless sin can be dealt with, we will spend an eternity in hell, separated from God forever:

“The Son of Man [Jesus] will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

– Matthew 13:41-42

It sure sounds hopeless. And it would be, except that God still loves sinners…

God loves you!

These are not just empty words. He proved it by providing a way out of our dilemma. Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay the penalty of sin for you and I. He lived the perfect life we could not live, and then He willingly died a shameful and agonizing death on a cross in our place so that we could live eternally with God!

For when we were still without strength [i.e. without hope], in due time Christ died for the ungodly. … God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:6-8

Jesus’ death was no accident. It was part of God’s plan from the beginning. 700 years before His birth, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus:

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. … By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. … He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53

God did not have to do this. But He loved you and me so much, He sent His Son to pay the complete penalty for our sin. To prove that Jesus’ death was acceptable, God raised Him from the dead, and now Jesus is at God’s right-hand, interceding (mediating) for those who trust in Him. It is His intercession that ensures those who trust in Him will never be separated from God:

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:33-39

Once you place your trust in Jesus, sin no longer separates you from God because Jesus’ blood continually cleanses you from your sin:

The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

– 1 John 1:7

Once you place your trust in Jesus, you are perfect as far as God’s acceptance of you is concerned:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

– Hebrews 10:14

I have placed my trust in Jesus Christ to save me. You can too. All you have to do to be saved is:

1. Recognize you are guilty before God,

2. Recognize God’s offering of mercy through Jesus Christ’s death,

3. Desire no longer to live for yourself but for God,

4. Ask God to save you, trusting only in Jesus’ work on the cross.

When you’ve had it with the results of doing things your way, try God’s way. Turn your life over to Jesus. He lived the perfect life you could not live, and died to pay the penalty for your sin.

By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

– Ephesians 2:8-9

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

– 2 Corinthians 5:21

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 6:23

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

– John 3:16-17

There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

– Acts 4:12

And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

– John 6:40

Saddam and Nebuchadnezzar

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold.

– Daniel 3:1

..and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power … for the glory of my majesty?”

– Daniel 4:30

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; …

– Isaiah 13:19-20a

Here’s an extract from wikipedia that I grabbed several years ago…

“In 1983, Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city on top of the old ruins (because of this, artifacts and other finds may well be under the city by now), investing in both restoration and new construction. He inscribed his name on many of the bricks in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. One frequent inscription reads:

“This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq”. This recalls the ziggurat at Ur, where each individual brick was stamped with “Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, who built the temple of Nanna”. These bricks became sought after as collectors’ items after the downfall of Hussein, and the ruins are no longer being restored to their original state. He also installed a huge portrait of himself and Nebuchadnezzar at the entrance to the ruins, and shored up Processional Way, a large boulevard of ancient stones, and the Lion of Babylon, a black rock sculpture about 2,600 years old.”

“When the Gulf War ended, Saddam wanted to build a modern palace, also over some old ruins; it was made in the pyramidal style of a Sumerian ziggurat. He named it Saddam Hill. In 2003, he was ready to begin the construction of a cable car line over Babylon when the invasion began and halted the project.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon

I find it interesting how Saddam, identifying himself as Nebuchadnezzar, sought glory for his kingdom… and then his rule ended. This prophecy may be the main reason the United States ousted Saddam from Iraq.

The article goes on to say UN officials and Iraqi leader have plans to restore Babylon as a cultural center. In 2009 it was opened as a tourist site, but according to biblical prophecy, it will never be an inhabited city.

The Meaning Of Yahweh’s Name

Israel went through a time of slavery in Egypt. God had told Abram this would happen beforehand (Genesis 15:13), but He allowed it to happen anyway. Slavery is evil, but God always has a purpose and is able to bring good to His people out of anything.

Whatever manner God deals with His people, whether through something He does or something He allows, it is always to bring glory to Himself. Glory is simply the revealing of God’s character and nature such that we can understand and appreciate Him better. So to find out why the Israelites were enslaved, we need to ask how God revealed His character and nature through the situation. What do we learn about God from this time?

Remember when God told Abram what would happen to His descendants, He also promised to bring great good out of it? Abraham received many promises from God, but he never saw them fulfilled (Hebrews 11:13). Abraham continued to believe God in spite of this, but I wonder what everyone else thought? Imagine you’re one of Abram’s neighbors – say, an idol-worshiping Canaanite. You hear Abram say his God (of whom you know nothing) made a bunch of promises to him… but years go by and, even though Abram dies, you never see them fulfilled. Wouldn’t you think his God is no different than your god? After all, your god never fulfilled any promises either.

Four hundred years later, God appeared to Moses and said He was now going to act to fulfill the promises made to Abraham (Exodus 3:8). But the Israelites didn’t know God anymore. He was the stuff of legends to them. He hadn’t spoken in hundreds of years. Moses had to ask who God was so he could tell his people (Exodus 3:13-15). It was then that God gave His name: Yahweh (Jehovah).

Exodus 6:3 says God wasn’t known by that name to Abraham, and yet Genesis 12:8 says Abraham had called on the name of Yahweh. This is not a contradiction. I take this to mean Abraham knew the pronunciation of God’s name, but didn’t understand it has a meaning. It’s like knowing someone by the name of Cook, and not realizing he’s a great chef. Abram knew what God’s name sounded like, but he never experienced what it meant. Only later did God reveal the meaning of His name to Moses and the Israelites.

One phrase you see repeated in the Old Testament is “…and then they will know that I am Yahweh,” (i.e. Exodus 6:7-8; 14:4; 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Kings 20:28, etc). Every time you see this phrase, God says He is going to act to fulfill a promise. So the meaning of the name Yahweh is tied with the God who acts to show Himself real and faithful to His promises. God is the great I AM, and He proves it by keeping His promises.

Abraham never saw the promises fulfilled, but the Israelites did. God revealed Himself to them in spectacular ways. As a result, they came to know God better. They knew Him as Savior, Redeemer, Provider, and One who loves them. They knew His holiness and righteousness through His Law. They experienced both His love and His justice, His blessing and His wrath. They knew He was faithful to His promises – even those made hundreds of years ago. They witnessed His power over nature and man. God was glorified in their eyes AND the Egyptians’ (Exodus 5:2, 7:5, 8:20-22, 14:4) AND the Canaanites (Joshua 2:9-11, Judges 9:24). And the glory was greater because God had brought His people out of what was an impossibly difficult situation. That is the same way He works today. He comes through for us even in impossible situations.

The Israelites’ slavery also had other benefits. It helped the Israelites to understand the relationship they had to their God. God did not set His people free from slavery. He redeemed them to be His own servants. He bought them: they were now His.

As Christians, we are also redeemed; we are now slaves of Christ. We have a harder time understanding the ramifications of this because we haven’t come from a slavery background. Israel knew what it meant, even though they rebelled over and over again. Thankfully, we have a Master is extremely good, and loves us. However, too many of us do not really know the name of Jesus. We hear it all the time, but we’ve never experienced its meaning: “Yahweh Saves.” Let’s use our difficult situations for what they are intended: to know and experience the name of Jesus. He is our Savior, Redeemer, Provider and Lover of our souls. He is holy and righteous. He is faithful to His promises… even those made thousands of years ago. This is the meaning of life.

Heat Maps

…I have not shrunk back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

– Acts 20:27

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If you’ve watched the news lately, you have probably seen one or more heat maps. A heat map uses areas of different colors to give an overall picture of some kind of statistic. For example, weather reports will sometimes show ocean temperatures in the Pacific to indicate if we’re heading for an El Niño or La Niña. And while technically not a heat map, we’ve all seen recent maps of the United States election results colored red or blue by county. I like heat maps, and it got me thinking of a biblical application.

What if you could view the entire Bible as a map, divided into books and chapters (like states and counties), or divided into topics. How would that map look if it were colored based on what areas you tend to study over the years. Or if you’re a pastor, how would the map be colored based on the subjects of your sermons? Well-studied areas would be red, and little-studied areas would be blue. If you can picture such a map in your mind, would you have large areas of blue because you tend to focus on a few favorite books or topics? Or would the map be mostly red?

Belief Systems

There are basic five states which you can be in relating to the essentials of any belief system, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or even atheism:

Ignorant acceptance:

You can subscribe to a belief system without knowing the details of the belief system. This is not a good state to be in. There are many who identify themselves as Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or whatever without having personally investigated what they believe. Until recently (and maybe still so today), most Americans identified themselves as Christians, but the majority pick that belief system as the default (“I believe Jesus was a good man, and I’m not a Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan, so I guess I’m a Christian.”), not knowing what Christianity is all about.

Ignorant rejection:

You can reject a belief system without knowing the details of the belief system. This is also not a good state to be in. These are those who deny a belief system is true without having investigated what that system teaches. Reasons for denial are subjective: “It doesn’t seem right to me.”, “Almost nobody believes that.”, “Look at how those people behave!”, “I’ve always been told they’re wrong.”, etc.

Knowledgeable acceptance:

You can subscribe to a belief system knowing the essential details of the belief system. This is much better than ignorant acceptance or rejection. It shows you realize the dangers of believing something without any evidence. You may still come to a wrong conclusion on the matter due to incomplete and/or biased investigation, but you are closer to finding out the truth than blind acceptance or rejection.

Knowledgeable rejection:

You can reject a belief system knowing the essential details of the belief system. This is also much better than ignorant rejection or acceptance. Again, you may come to a wrong conclusion on the matter due to incomplete and/or biased investigation, but you are closer to finding out the truth than blind acceptance or rejection.

Compromise:

You can accept some essential parts of belief system and reject others, and you can combine parts of one belief system with another. This is also a form of ignorance and self-deception: calling yourself a believer in something, but not really believing it. You cannot say you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, if you don’t believe the things Jesus said. That is like saying, “I hate hamburgers, but love cheeseburgers. But I prefer my cheeseburgers without cheese.” You can have your cheeseburger without ketchup, lettuce, or onions, but you can’t have it without cheese. Cheese is essential to the cheeseburger. And Christ is essential to Christianity.

The further away you are from ignorance, the less likely there will be compromise, and the closer you will be to the truth.

The Covenantal Context

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…

– Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

We Christians today are experts at taking verses out of context. We do it almost as much as Hollywood or the Name-It-And-Claim-It crowd. We just don’t realize it.

How many of us regularly quote Philippians 4:19 (“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.“), taking this verse as an unconditional promise that applies to all believers? Well, it’s not. Paul wrote this to those who, in spite of their poverty, were sacrificially supporting his work in bringing the gospel to the nations. (To see the context, start reading from verse 10, or better yet, read the whole letter in one go.) Paul was merely repeating what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33: “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” So this is not a blanket promise to every believer. It’s only a promise to those who set the kingdom of God above their own needs. In fact, those who don’t work are explicitly told they won’t have their needs met (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

It’s very important to pay attention to context when reading or studying the Bible, but especially when committing verses to memory. Think of how many false doctrines and even whole cults have arisen by lifting an isolated verse out of a passage, or understanding a biblical phrase in light of today’s culture instead of the culture it was written in. But there’s another context that even those of us who have learned to pay attention to context usually miss, and that is the covenantal context.

A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. The Bible records many covenants made between God and man. There’s the one God made with Noah after the flood, saying He would never destroy the earth that way again. There’s another one He made with Abram to give the “Promised Land” to his many descendants. Later God gave him the covenant of circumcision and changed his name to Abraham.

But the most prominent covenants in the Bible are the ones that we use to label the two sections of the Bible: the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant was given to those God redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and the new covenant was given to all those redeemed from sin through the blood of Jesus. These two are distinct, but many times we unconsciously mix elements of one into the other when we try to understand the Bible. This opens us up to doctrinal and practical error. The Galatian believers, for example, left Christ and fell from grace when they added old covenant law-keeping to their faith 1.

While I could go into detail about the various errors that have come from mixing the two covenants, I think it would be more beneficial to compare the two to show why they are incompatible with each other, because it’s better to show why something is wrong then to just say it’s wrong.

It’s true both covenants share some similarities. Both were put into effect through mediators. Both were enacted the same way: through a blood sacrifice (Exodus 24:6-8, Hebrews 9:15-22, 10:29, Matthew 26:28). But the new covenant is much better than the old one, as the writer of Hebrews declares:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

– Hebrews 8:6-7 (ESV)

Why is the new covenant better than the old one? Here are some reasons…

The old covenant was made at Mount Sinai exclusively with Israel (Psalm 147:19-20). No other people had a part in it: not the Gentiles, and not even any other descendant of Abraham. No one but the Israelites were under the Law (Acts 14:16, Romans 2:14), and they shared the promises with no one else (Ephesians 2:12). But the new covenant was made at Mount Calvary between God and anyone who believes in Jesus for salvation, regardless of any earthly distinction (Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:21-22). The new covenant is for both Jew and Gentile alike, and it has much better promises (Hebrews 8:6).

The old covenant was temporal. It provided an earthly inheritance and earthly blessings for Israel, because they were an earthly race and kingdom (Leviticus 20:24). The new covenant provides eternal benefits with no earthly inheritance. We are called strangers and pilgrims because this earth is not our home (Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11). All of our blessings are eternal, and we lack not one (Ephesians 1:3).

The old covenant was of human effort. Israel had to keep the Law to receive the promised blessings (Leviticus 18:5, Romans 10:5). The new covenant is by faith in God’s work (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20). Our eternal blessings are assured because Jesus has kept the Law for us.

The old covenant provided not only earthly blessings for those who obeyed, but also cursings and condemnation for those who didn’t (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The new covenant has no curse or condemnation at all (John 3:18, 5:24, Romans 8:1)! God will never turn His face away from those who are in Christ.

Those under the old covenant would repeatedly seek God’s mercy (i.e. Psalms 4:1, 9:13, 25:16). But those under the new covenant have already received mercy (1 Peter 2:10). Hence, there are no New Testament examples of Christians asking God for mercy. 2

The sign of the old covenant was the Sabbath (Exodus 31:13,17, Ezekiel 20:12,20). The sign of the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28, 1 Corinthians 11:25). The Lord Jesus is now our Sabbath rest, appropriated by faith (Hebrews 4:1-11).

It should be very evident from these points (and others) that the old and new covenants are not only very different, they are incompatible with each other. You can not be under both covenants. You cannot mix elements of one into the other (Galatians 3:15). You cannot live on the basis of works and grace at the same time. When Peter tried to do so in Galatians 2:11-16, he became a stumbling block for other believers. This is what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of repairing torn clothes and filling wineskins…

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”

– Luke 5:36-39 (ESV)

If you have been saved, you have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Don’t wear your old, filthy rags “righteousness” at the same time, or try to weave parts of those rags into the garments of your salvation (Isaiah 61:10, Galatians 3:24-27). Just as the Old Testament Law forbade Israel from making clothes out of two different kinds of fabric 3, we are forbidden from mixing works of Law (human effort) with the finished work of Christ to gain favor with God. 4

Keep this in mind whenever you read your Bible. Be aware of which covenant (if any) a passage belongs to. 5 This will help keep you from many errors.

Notes:

  1. Galatians 5:4
  2. In Acts 8:18-24, Peter told Simon to ask God for mercy, but Simon had not received the Holy Spirit himself and therefore was not saved.
  3. Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:11
  4. We do not work at all towards our justification, but we do work out our salvation in terms of sanctification. These are not works of the Law but works in the power and direction of the Spirit, and they fulfill the requirements of the Law (Romans 8:2-4).
  5. The new covenant began when Jesus died on the cross. Hence, all of the events before this in the gospels must be understood in context of the old covenant.

Identifying True Christians

Once upon a time there was a great, big wolf, and he hadn’t eaten in days. His last meal was only a couple of small mice… not even enough for an appetizer. You can be sure he was on the lookout for some serious grub!

Suddenly, a flock of sheep caught his eye. As he looked at them grazing peacefully in the distance, immediately his mouth started watering uncontrollably, and his stomach growled expectantly at the thought of fresh mutton. But he was so famished and weak from hunger, he didn’t have the strength to chase down even one small lamb. What was he to do?

Then it came to him. “I know how I can get a plump, juicy sheep! I’ll dress up like one! I’ll put on a sheep skin and calmly walk in among them. They won’t even know! Then I can take my time to pick out the best!”

So the big, hungry wolf put his plan into action. He (conveniently) found a sheep skin in reasonably good shape, and spent a few awkward moments putting it on and adjusting the fit. Then he walked nonchalantly down to the flock. As he approached, none of the sheep raised the alarm. Some even greeted him and welcomed him as a new member of the flock.

It wasn’t long before he had found his sheep – a nice, fat one, more trusting than the rest. (This sheep happened to be one of the first to greet him when he arrived.) In less than a minute, he turned on the helpless creature and started devouring greedily.

At the sight of the behavior of the strange “sheep,” some of the flock were greatly alarmed and tried to warn the others, but those others just said, “He’s new to our flock. He doesn’t know our ways. Give him time to change. You’ll see.”

But the wolf, encouraged and strengthened by his success, and relishing the taste of fresh blood, began attacking other sheep at random, causing them to run this way and that.

Meanwhile, some other wolves happened to be walking by. Seeing what appeared to be one sheep attacking other sheep, one of them said, “I hate sheep! Look how violent they are, attacking each other! Peaceful creatures? Bah! What hypocrites!” So they also ran down into the flock and started harassing the sheep as well.

And so the world looks on Christians today with distain and hatred, because they see the actions of false Christians and think that’s what Christianity is all about. The lies of Satan, the great Deceiver, spread freely, and persecution results.

Real Christians are not those who say they are Christians. You can’t tell a genuine follower of Jesus by which church he goes to, how much he puts in the offering plate, which political party he subscribes to, etc. Real Christians are those who do what Jesus said, and He said things like…

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34-35 (ESV)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

– Luke 6:35 (ESV)

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

– Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

True Christians are identified by love in action. This love includes doing tangible good to others, as well as warning the lost of the coming judgment, and pointing them to Jesus as the only savior from sin and hell. Some will not listen; others will slander and harm us. But when mistreated, a follower of Jesus does not respond in kind. A true Christian continues to love and do them good anyway, just as our heavenly Father continues to do them good. A Christian can do this only because he submits himself to the Holy Spirit Who enables him to do this. (Without such submission, the true Christian will have difficulty loving as he should.)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

– Galatians 6:10 (ESV)

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:13

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

– 3 John 11

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

– 1 Peter 3:17

Holistic Bible Study

For I have not shrunk back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

– Acts 20:27 (VW)

Biblical illiteracy is epidemic in the church today. Unlike any other time in history, we swim in an ocean of Bibles, but we don’t make an effort to study them for ourselves. We prefer to trust others to tell us what the Bible says and means. As a result, we’re ignorant of even the basics, and we let every wind of strange and corrupt doctrine sway us.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the rudimentary principles of the Words of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is without experience in the Word of Righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their understanding exercised to discern both good and evil.

– Hebrews 5:12-14 (VW)

Just as with those Hebrews, the typical western Christian is spiritually under-nourished and doesn’t know it. We don’t have a famine of the word of God. We have a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11).

In the secular world, there are those who are truly health-conscious, and there are those who only think they are. The difference is in how far health awareness affects that person’s way of life and thinking. Those who think healthy do so holistically: eating right, getting plenty of exercise, etc. Those who only think they do limit themselves to one or two healthy habits, if any at all. This is also true in the spiritual realm.

A healthy spiritual life is one where you love God with your whole being (Matthew 22:35-40), you trust and obey Jesus in all areas, you do everything you can to know Him more, you’re constantly on your guard against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so on. You don’t dabble in worship, or pick and choose when you want to obey. You’d be fooling yourself if you think you’ll make any progress in overcoming the flesh and becoming like Christ if you do so in an only half-hearted manner.

An essential part of a healthy spiritual life comes through regularly reading and studying the Bible for yourself. When you open your Bible, don’t just read your favorite parts, or the parts that seem more important to you. That’s like taking an excess of one vitamin and ignoring the rest, or eating only bread and nothing else. It doesn’t work. Instead, study the whole Bible. This is especially important if you’re a preacher or teacher.

All Scripture is breathed by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The early church rapidly grew as the apostles proclaimed Jesus Christ. All they had was the Old Testament and their experience with Jesus. Even though they used the Old Testament scriptures, they didn’t teach the Mosaic Law – that was not part of the New Covenant. But they did teach about man’s character and nature, about God’s character, nature, and will, and about Jesus Christ from those scriptures.

Now we have the New Testament as well. It contains not only the four gospel accounts, but also much apostolic doctrine and practical instruction. It’s tempting to focus primarily on the gospels. We want to hear what Jesus said more than what the apostles said. Somehow we feel those “letters in red” are more inspired than the rest of the Bible. But all of scripture is God-breathed. What Peter, James, and John had to write is just as inspired as what Jesus directly said. (The same is true of the Old Testament writers.) Just as Moses pointed to Jesus, the Prophet that was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15, Acts 3:22), Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit who would teach the disciples things they were “not able to bear” at the time (John 16:12-14). Those are the things that the apostles wrote about in the rest of the New Testament. If you focus only on what Jesus said in the gospels, you’ll be missing out on important truth.

It’s very important to read and study your whole Bible. Don’t become fixated on your favorite part or doctrine. Don’t limit yourself to just the basics, otherwise you won’t reach spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1-3). Study both doctrine and application. At the same time, pay attention to context. Be aware of the differences between old and new covenants so you can understand what applies to you and what doesn’t. Put your whole heart, mind, body and spirit into becoming a mature Christian.

Know Your Bible For Yourself

So, you want to know what the Bible really says: what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, right and wrong, etc.? Then study the Bible. Don’t listen to what a church or some famous preacher or teacher says. Don’t listen to Hollywood, the History Channel, Time magazine, the Pope, Brigham Young, the Watchtower, Joel Olsteen, Billy Graham, Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin. Don’t listen to the church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, etc.) Don’t listen to your pastor. Don’t listen to me. Especially, don’t assume you know it yourself.

There is an incredible amount of Bible disinformation out in the world today, from verses taken out of context to outright lies. You may think you or someone else has the inside scoop on truth, but how will you know unless you lay aside your own biases and study the scriptures on your own, for yourself. Maybe others are correct in what they teach… but then again, maybe not. If you have access to the Bible, then you are responsible to find out what it says.

Have you come across something in your studies that you don’t understand? Maybe it looks like one verse contradicts another? Let the Bible interpret itself. The only contradictions in the Bible are those you haven’t fully studied yet. Read everything in context: Who was the text written to? When was it written? Why was it written? etc. If you have to, look up the meanings of the original words in a Hebrew or Greek lexicon. Find out how the words are used elsewhere. An exhaustive concordance is your friend. As you know your Bible more, you will be able to recognize error (your own or someone else’s) when you see it.

Don’t think you know the Bible… Know the Bible.