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What Can We Learn from Sukkot?

We’re in the midst of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, or the feast of Booths. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible, some followers of Jesus dismiss this biblical festival, as if there is nothing to be learned from it. Is that true? What can we still learn from the feast of booths?

The backyards and porches in my neighborhood here in Chicago are dotted with four sided booths, Sukkahs, as they are called in Hebrew. Some students have even put one up right here on the campus of Moody Bible Institute. People might think, “Isn’t the booth from the festival of Tabernacles, outdated? Let’s relegate that to the wilderness wanderings.” But these booths still remind us of the lessons to be learned from the festival of Sukkot.

First, we can learn to be grateful to God from Sukkot. In Leviticus 23:33-43, God establishes the festival of booths as the culmination of the Fall Feasts of Israel. Lev 23:39, gives the significance of these Holy Days, when it says, “when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days.” That’s why an alternate name for Sukkot is Chag Ha-Asif, or the festival of Ingathering. It refers to a celebration at the harvest. Israel was to celebrate and thank God for all His provision. But Sukkot was also about living in booths for seven days every year. Lev 23:42-43 says that Israel was to live in booths “so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Part of the celebration was to remember God’s protection in the wilderness, not just His provision of food. So if we’re grateful for God’s provision of food and His protection of our lives, Sukkot teaches us to express that appreciation with a great celebration. In fact, when the pilgrims decided to have a great thanksgiving celebration, they got the idea from Sukkot. By the way, if we observe the description of the festival in Num 29, it identifies the many offerings Israel was to bring for this festival. So, another way we can express our gratitude is by giving a special offering to the Lord for all He has given us.

The second reminder we get from Sukkot is that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the messianic expectations related to this festival. There were two special ceremonies practiced at the Temple in Jerusalem during the New Testament era. The first was a special water libation, poured by the High Priest on the alter in the Temple. This signified that when Messiah would come, the knowledge of the Lord would cover the world as the waters cover the sea. Second, there was a torch ceremony where all the Priests and Levites would carry torches to the Temple Mount, anticipating the day when Messiah would come to enlighten all people with the truth of God. It’s said that the light was so blazing on the last night of the festival, that its glow could even be seen in Galilee. So it’s significant that on the last day of Sukkot, the great celebration, the Lord Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). In essence, Jesus was declaring Himself the fulfillment of the water libation. Also, during the great torch festival, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8;12), indicating that the Messiah had now come to enlighten the whole world.

Finally, Sukkot teaches us to anticipate Jesus the Messiah’s future reign on earth. Zech 14:16 says that all the nations in the future messianic kingdom will go up to Jerusalem “to worship the King . . . and to celebrate the feast of booths” when the Lord will be dwelling in our midst. As we observe the evil of this world, we might despair. But Sukkot reminds that one day, the Lord Jesus will be Lord of all the earth and will reign in righteousness over it.

Obviously, Sukkot is not an archaic biblical festival but one that points us entirely to the Lord Jesus, as our Provider, as our Messiah, and as our King.

Now That I’m Secure . . .

Now what do I do? That’s the question we need to ask whenever we learn a truth from Scripture. In the last few weeks, I’ve used this blog to go over the biblical evidence for the eternal security of the believer. So, now we need to ask, “Now what?”

This is especially important, because one of the most common criticisms of the biblical teaching about eternal security is that it seems to gives Jesus followers carte blanche to live wild. Since we’re assured of heaven, we can even deny our faith in Messiah or sin wildly here on earth without any consequence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, we need to act on that truth. In light of being secure in God’s love, now what do we do? Here are four ways to live in light of our security.

First of all, we now need to hold firmly to our faith. In Hebrews 4:14, we’re reminded that we have a great high priest who always intercedes for us. That should motivate us to “hold firmly to what we believe” (NLT). My friend and teacher Stanley Toussaint, now with the Lord, would frequently say, “Endurance is the mark of election.” If we really know the Lord Jesus, we’ll never give up our faith in Him. When the crowds left Jesus after the bread of life discourse, the disciples stayed. When asked why, Peter said, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69)! If we genuinely understand our forgiveness and security in the Messiah Jesus, we’ll hold on to Him no matter what.

Second, we now have to live holy lives. In Romans 4-5, Paul lays out his teaching about being justified by God’s grace. A critic might say, if God’s grace saves us, then we should sin more and more to get more and more grace. Paul’s answer, in Romans 6 is an emphatic, “No!” He says, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?  Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? . . . just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life ” (Romans 6:1-4). Paul’s point is that when we came to faith in the Messiah Jesus, the old us died and was raised to new life with Jesus. We can’t live as we once did because we’re no longer the people we once were. Years ago I had a teacher who told us about what it was like to be abandoned by his dad. He was angry and frequently acted out. Then his mom remarried and her new husband actually adopted this rebellious little boy and gave him his last name. Very soon afterwards, when this boy was in the midst of behaving badly, his new dad, took him aside and reminded him of his new name. He said, “Son, you have a new identity and you need to behave that way. You now have my name and you need to act like it.” That’s what grace has done for us—we have a new identity in the Messiah Jesus and we need to live like it.

A third response to our security in Messiah is that we now need to focus on doing good works for Him. After reminding us that our salvation is a gift of God, received solely by God’s kindness through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul declares that God’s grace has made us “His workmanship, created in Messiah Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Although grace is the root of our salvation, good works should be the fruit of it. God saved us to do His work in the world. Good works are what God has saved us to accomplish for Him. Even though good works can’t bring us God’s forgiveness or keep us in a relationship with the Lord, they should be the natural result of our salvation.

Finally, our security should now motivate us to serve the Messiah Jesus so we can receive a future reward. Paul says that we can build on the foundation laid by our Messiah by serving Him. Figuratively speaking, he says that we can build with with wood, hay and straw or with gold, silver and precious metals. At the Bema Seat of Messiah Jesus, our service will be judged and if our work endures, we “shall receive a reward” (1 Corinthians 3:14). There should be no greater desire for us than to one day stand before the Lord and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23) And of course, if we receive a crown, we’ll cast them before the Messiah’s throne, because He alone is worthy to receive glory (Revelation 4:10-11). But I still long to hear those words, “Well done,” don’t you?

Sometimes I hear people fear that understanding our security in Messiah Jesus is bad for us because it will make us lackadaisical in our walk. But the reality is that when we’re secure in the perseverance of God’s redeeming love, it will produce in us a firm faith, holy lives, good works, and faithful service. How can that be bad?

Secure Despite Our Doubts

Why do believers worry that they can lose their salvation? If the Scriptures are so clear that we can’t, why are so many of us concerned about it? In the last few weeks I’ve discussed the security we have in our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Today, I want to address the question, if the Bible is so clear that we’re secure, why is it that so many are concerned about the loss of salvation for themselves or others?

The simple answer to this question is we let our faulty perspectives cloud our clear understanding of Scripture. Here’s a few ways the smoke gets into our eyes.

First, we doubt the security of salvation because of our experiences with others. I’m sure everyone knows a person that seemed to have a vital walk with the Lord Jesus, and then abandoned the faith. What about them? They are so far from God, we think, that person must be, absolutely, positively, lost.

Second, some of us doubt our own security because of our struggles with sin. It may be an addictive behavior, like drugs or alcohol, or persistent sexual sins, and we wonder why we continue to scuffle and strain without seeing transformation in our lives. That makes us sure that we’re actually lost.

Third, some of us struggle with difficult passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 or 10:26-27. Despite so many verses (like the ones I pointed out in recent weeks) that seem to assure us of our salvation, these are sticky and we strain our confidence in those other passages.

In light of these problems, here are some suggestions that have helped me clear my eyes and have given me assurance. First, we need to interpret our experiences through the scriptures and not the other way around. Too often we recognize that the Lord Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, that He holds us securely in His hands, and that nothing will ever separate us from His love, and then we say, but what about Fred and Gina, they seem to have lost their salvation. Let’s always start with what the Bible teaches and then look for explanations of our experiences instead of prioritizing our personal experiences and using them to interpret the Word of God.

A second guide to help us is that we need to interpret unclear passages in light of the clear teaching of Scripture. When I was a freshman at Moody, I believed in the security of the believer but I was tortured by Hebrews 6. I remember virtually badgering one of my profs for an explanation and nothing he said satisfied me. Then he taught me this crucial interpretive principle: we need to interpret the unclear verses of the Bible in light of the clear ones. That resolved it for me. I know the Bible was harmonious and clearly taught the perseverance of our Savior. From then on I would always pursue the meaning of Hebrews 6 and other difficult passages in light of what the Bible plainly taught.

A third help is to remember that oftentimes passages that seem to refer to loss of salvation actually refer to loss of rewards. For example, Paul’s words in 1 Cor 9:27, where he says he disciplines himself, so that after preaching to others, “I myself will not be disqualified” actually refers to being disqualified from receiving rewards or maybe disqualification from the privilege of proclaiming the gospel. It’s not about losing his salvation.

Finally, we need to remember that people who seem to abandon the faith may have never known the Lord at all. That’s why 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” It’s why the Lord Jesus will tell some at the final judgment, “I never knew you, depart from me” not “depart from me, you lost it.” And for those who have wandered but really do know the Lord, they will actually repent and be restored before it’s all over.

Too often we struggle because of our own human inconsistency. We have good days and bad days. On good days, we almost feel God’s love in a tangible way. But on a bad day, we wonder how anyone could love us, let alone God Himself. But God will never love us more or less than He does right now. Karla Worley once wrote, “On a scale of one to ten, God loves me ten on my best day and a ten on my worst day. There’s no way I can lose God’s love by what I do or don’t do. There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me less or more. Amazing!” She goes on to say it’s the best kept secret of the spiritual life, “the little understood mystery, we call ‘amazing grace.’”

Secure in the Holy Spirit

In the last few weeks I’ve blogged about the security we have in our relationship with God the Father and God the Son. Today, I want to focus on the Holy Spirit’s role in keeping us safe and secure in our salvation. The ministry of the Holy Spirit to those who have trusted in Jesus is a source of constant contention and it has frequently confused believers. But the Bible is clear in what it teaches about how the Holy Spirit keeps us secure—it’s shown in three simple truths.

First, the Holy Spirit immerses every believer into the body of Messiah. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul writes, “For we were all baptized (immersed) by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The word “baptized” means “to immerse” or “to dip.” What this verse means is that at the exact moment we believe, the Holy Spirit of God takes the individual believer, and immerses him or her into the universal body of Jesus the Messiah. It’s the Holy Spirit who makes us members of the world-wide universal family of God’s people. Here’s the significance—this is a work which no human being can do, it’s supernatural. And, therefore, it’s a work which no human being can undo. We are secure as part of the universal body of Messiah Jesus and can do nothing to change that.

Second, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer when we believe. Many biblical texts teach the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul frequently reminds believers that we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit who is in us (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). But in John 14:16-17, the Lord Jesus Himself promised us that He would send the Holy Spirit to indwell us. He said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you.” According to the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit will remain with us forever because the Holy Spirit is in us. The Holy Spirit functions like the Man Who Came to Dinner. When we invite the Lord into our lives, the Holy Spirit comes, and He never leaves. But when He stays, He doesn’t annoy us. Rather, He transforms us.

Third, the Holy Spirit seals us until we stand before the Lord Himself. Paul mentions the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit twice in the book of Ephesians. In 1:13 He says, when we believed in Messiah Jesus, we “were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” And in Ephesians 4:30, he wrote that we were sealed by the Holy Spirit “for the day of redemption.”  The significance of a seal in the Greco-Roman world was two-fold. First, a seal was put on a letter, or a scroll, or a package, to identify who sent it. So it was a mark of identification. The Holy Spirit seals us to identify us as God’s children. Second, a seal was placed on a letter, scroll or package as a mark of security until it was redeemed by the person to whom it was sent. The sealing of the Holy Spirit guarantees our safety and security until we arrive in the presence of the Lord, our ultimate day of redemption. No human can break this seal, not even we ourselves can break it. So we are absolutely safe and secure in our relationship with the Lord until we stand in His presence.

The Holy Spirit has been called “the shy member of the God-Head.” That’s because He doesn’t draw attention to Himself but instead He works to glorify the Lord Jesus (John 16:14). Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is fully God and His unchangeable and unbreakable work in securing our salvation will keep us safe and secure until we see Jesus.

Secure in the Son

There are some biblical teachings that just stir people up. No matter how many times I say, “we can agree to disagree about this” there’ll always be some people who just get worked up. Mention the work of the Holy Spirit or end time events, and people who disagree with me get fired up. But what gets some people really scorched is when I teach about the security of the believer, the biblical doctrine that if we have genuinely trusted in Jesus, believing that He died for our sins and rose again, proving He is really God, then we are absolutely secure in our salvation and can never lose it.

In last week’s blog, I discussed the security of the believer, identifying God the Father’s work in our redemption, a biblical idea that should calm our hearts not stir our wrath.Today, I want to focus on the God the Son’s work in keeping us safe and sound in our salvation. And if you disagree, don’t get upset or worked up; just take a moment and consider what these biblical passages teach about what the Lord Jesus does to keep us in God’s family.

First, the obedience of the Messiah Jesus keeps us secure. In John 6:37-40, the Lord Jesus said He will receive us, keep us, and ultimately raise us in the last day. But let’s focus on what He said of doing the Father’s will. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me” (John 6:38-39). The Son of God became a man to do the will of His Father. If just one time the Lord Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He wouldn’t be who He claimed to be. The Lord Jesus staked His entire identity on always doing the Father’s will. And what is one specific desire of His Father? Jesus tells us: “that I should lose none of those He has given Me.” Our confidence in the Messiah Jesus’ obedience to the Father should give us absolute certainty, that if we have to come Him, He will keep us absolutely safe.

Our second source of security is the grip of the Messiah Jesus. The Good Shepherd, made this promise to those who truly trust in Him: “No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). The image the Lord uses is clear: He is holding us by the hand and we are safe in that. In fact, we are even more secure because the Father has the other hand. When my son was a toddler, we lived in New York City near Queens Blvd, a massive eight lane street. When we crossed that street with him, Eva and I would grasp each of his little hands in ours and there was no way He could get away from us. Some have objected that while no one can snatch us, maybe we can escape ourselves. Well we can’t snatch ourselves out of the Messiah’s hand any more than my toddler could have gotten away from his parents. If we have come to know Jesus, we are held tightly in His grip.

Yet a third way we’re safe with the Lord is the love of Messiah Jesus. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers,  height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Jesus our Lord!” This is so clear but for those who say that nothing outside can separate me from the Lord but I can do so myself, just remember, we too are created beings, and don’t have the power to separate ourselves from the love of God found in the Messiah.

Finally, we are also secure in the intercession of our Messiah Jesus. If you’re like me, you might think, I’m so sinful and mess up so frequently, I certainly should be able to lose my salvation. But no, Hebrews 7:25 says Messiah Jesus “always lives to intercede for” us to the Father. And in 1 John 2:1-2, we are told that even when we sin, “we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus the Messiah, the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation (or satisfaction) for our sins.” Yes, we fail but we have a living Messiah Jesus, who is our intercessor with the Father, who assures us we are forgiven.

We have no greater source of security than knowing we belong to the Lord Jesus. So when considering this truth, we need two responses. First, we are to draw comfort from knowing we are safe in the hands of the Lord Jesus. As a dad, I always assured my boys that I would always love them, always care for them, and they would always be mine. Even if they abandoned all I ever taught them and rooted for the Red Sox. Now as adults, they tell me that this was a tremendous encouragement to them. How much more reassuring to know that the Lord Jesus will always keep us secure in His love.

Also, we need to respond by living holy lives, reflecting that we are sons and daughters of the King. We won’t choose to sin more and more to get more and more of His grace. Rather, we recognize what He has done for us in redeeming us and so we’ll live for the Lord Jesus, to bring honor to His name. So the next time we think about our security in the Son, let’s not get angry but encouraged, to rest in the Messiah Jesus and to live for Him.

Secure in God the Father’s Work

People often wonder what is the most common question I’m asked on Open Line. The answer is a surprise, because the it hasn’t changed in all the years, going back to the time when Pastor Cole hosted this program. If nothing else, people are consistent in their questions.

So what is the most common question asked? Here it is: Once I know the Lord Jesus and have been forgiven by Him, can I then lose my salvation? This question takes a variety of forms; sometimes people ask if they’ve committed “the unpardonable sin” or they want to know the meaning of an admittedly confusing passage like Hebrews 6. But, over and over, the main question appears to revolve around the possibility of genuine believers losing their salvation. I am convinced that the Bible teaches that we are absolutely secure and we need never be worried or concerned about losing our redeemed relationship with God through Jesus the Messiah.

The simple reason is we’re safe because of the work of the entire God-head—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in securing our salvation. In the next few weeks, we’re going to examine the saving work of each Person of the one true God, so we can be assured of our security in the Lord. Today, we’re going to focus on the security we have because of the God the Father’s work. This is based on three simple truths.

First, we need to remember that God is completely holy. In 1 John 1:5 it says, “God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” This means God is completely righteous and there is no evil in Him whatsoever. It shows the high standard we have to meet in order to have a relationship with God. Imagine what it would be like to stand before a judge who never has and never will sin. In fact, One who only does what is good and righteous.

This leads to a second biblical truth: Humanity is utterly sinful. For example, Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “There is certainly no righteous man on the earth who does good and never sins.” The Hebrew prophet Isaiah says “All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6). He is saying that even the good that we do is not good enough for God.  It’s why Paul says that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that, as a result, we are spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). How could any of us fallen and broken people ever expect to enter into a relationship with a holy God?

The good news is that there is a the third simple truth: Salvation is entirely by God’s grace.  One of the clearest teachings of Scripture is that God’s forgiveness is a gift from Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” This means that God the Father forgives because of His undeserved kindness and that this gift of salvation does not come from us but entirely from Him.  But how can a holy God give this gift?

Since it’s not from our works, the Bible reminds us that forgiveness from God is based entirely on His work. An important passage that discusses this is Romans 3:24-28.  There we’re taught that we are declared righteous before God only by God’s grace through the redemption that is available through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God demonstrated that He is a just judge, a Holy God who wouldn’t overlook sin but required a satisfying punishment for sin, a punishment paid for by God the Son, the Lord Jesus. By forgiving us in this way, God would be both “righteous and also declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:28). Our forgiveness and deliverance from the penalty of sin is entirely God’s gracious gift and God’s gracious work. It’s not from our effort or goodness.

So how does all this teach our security in the Lord? It’s simple. We did nothing to achieve our salvation, no good work, no righteous deeds, no balancing act of more good than bad. It was all from God. So if we could do nothing good enough to obtain salvation then we can do nothing bad enough to lose it. If we can’t earn our salvation by doing good then we can’t lose it by sinning. Our salvation is entirely a work of God and therefore no human action can undo it. And that’s the great news for all of us who feel like spiritual failures and unworthy of our salvation. We’re right in our assessment of ourselves but mistaken in our view of God. We don’t become God’s children by being good; we enter into a forgiven relationship with the Father because of what the Father has done for us—He’s redeemed us by grace greater than all our sin.

What’s Our Praise Pattern?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a personal character tester, sort of like a battery tester? Attach it, and we would know something of a person’s internal make-up? Well there is one great test of character and it’s found in Proverbs 27:21: “A crucible is for silver, and a smelter for gold, and a man for the words of his praise.” Here’s what this verse means:

The function of the crucible and smelter for precious metals is two-fold. The first is to refine the metal. The smelter heats the gold or silver to a liquid state and then the dross, the impurities, can be removed. The second function is to test the metal. The more pure and precious the metal, the less dross will be found.

So now we see what crucibles and smelters do, but what refines and tests us? In the second part of the Proverb, the Hebrew literally says, “So a man is according to his praise.”  So just as the heat of the furnace tests precious metals, so PRAISE functions as the refiner and tester of a person’s character.

What’s distinctive of the Proverbs is that they have a riddle-like quality. They make us ask, how is praise a test of character? I can think of four ways that praise reveals our internal make-up.

The first is how I am praised. When people think or speak of me, what they praise reveals my reputation. If they praise my natural talents or my appearance, then my reputation is based on mere externals, characteristics that will pass away. But if people praise my character, it shows my real worth. So what do our friends and family praise in us? Do they value our loyalty to others, our kindness to the weak, our generosity to the needy, our devotion to the Lord? This kind of praise reveals our true character.

The second way praise functions as a test is how I praise. This reveals my gratitude. Am I the kind of person who frequently finds fault and is never satisfied? Do I function with a critical spirit? We need to be people who offer praise to others, not people who are professional fault finders. Also, am I the kind of person that looks at every good gift received as a right and not a privilege? Am I one to forget to praise God from whom all blessings flow. Our goal is to be people who give praise generously. To our colleagues for jobs well done, to our kids for their daily successes, to our spouses for who they are and what they do. Above all, we need to daily engage in praise to the Lord for all the kindness He has shown us. Praise of the Lord Jesus should flow from our hearts and lips the way a powerful river flows to the sea.

Yet a third way that praise functions as a character test is what I praise—because this reveals my priorities. If I praise external appearance and not internal character, this shows what I value most. If I praise obtaining wealth more than spiritual commitment, it reveals what is most important to me. When my friend Larry’s daughters were young, people would often praise them for how pretty they were (just as they do now that they are adults). Afterwards Larry would always take them aside and reaffirm how beautiful they were, but then he would say something like, “Besides being so pretty, what I really appreciate about you is how kind you are” or “what a good and loyal friend you are” or “how much you love the Word of God.” He always showed them that what was most praiseworthy was not their external appearances but their internal character. This is a good parenting lesson but also, it revealed Larry’s character–what he praises, shows his priorities.

Finally, how I react to praise is a great test of character because it shows my humility or lack of it. Too often when I receive praise I respond by adopting an artificial “humble proud” look. Some of us might act all super humble and dismiss the praise as untrue. Others might offer a sanctimonious “To God be the glory!!” It’s best to receive praise by saying a simple, “Thank you.” And I’m reminded of two of my spiritual heroes, George Sweeting and Erwin Lutzer, who always receive praise graciously, but then remember to themselves Psalm 115:1—“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory.”

So what are our praise patterns? If we identify them, they can serve as a test of our spiritual development and personal character. For what am I praised? How much do I give praise? What do I praise? And how do I respond when praised? All these will reveal where we need to grow and even where we already have shown growth. Praise is the crucible that God has established to test our character.

How to Say “No” to Temptation

Mark Antony was one of the greatest orators in the history of Rome. He was also a brilliant statesman and a courageous warrior. He could have been the ruler of the known world but for one fatal flaw, one moral weakness. It was so bad, that his childhood tutor once chided him: “Oh, Marcus, Oh colossal child! Able to conquer the world, but unable to resist a temptation.” For many of us, the inability to resist a temptation is the source of our undoing. How can we learn to resist temptation to sin?

In my last blog post, I reviewed James 1:13-15, a passage that describes what temptation is like. But in this blog post, I want to take a look at James 1:16-18, which reminds us that God has given us gifts to enable us to resist temptation. Here’s what James wrote: “16 Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. 17 Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. 18 By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.” The passage begins with a warning—we are not to deceive ourselves into thinking that temptation is God’s fault. That’s dangerous because it makes us even more vulnerable to temptation. Instead we are to focus on the reality that God has generously given us perfect gifts. These are the tools, the perfect gifts, He gives to resist temptation.

The first perfect gift from God is the new birth (v. 18).  Paul spoke of the new birth in 2 Cor 5:17 when he said “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” Before we came to know the Lord Jesus, we had no choice, we had to sin. Ultimately, we always chose to cave in to temptation. But with the new birth we become a new creation. We now have a new capacity for righteousness. It’s now possible for us to say no to temptation and yes to God. Too often when we succumb to temptation, our natural response is that we wanted to resist but we couldn’t help ourselves. The new birth is a reminder that God has now given us the capacity to say no to temptation.

The second gift God has given us is the Word of God. James said we were given the new birth “by the word of truth” (v. 18). That refers to the good news of Jesus as found in the Bible, that He died for us and rose again. But the entire Bible could be characterized as the Word of truth. In fact, here’s what Psalm 119:11 says about its relationship to temptation: “I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.” Just as the Lord Jesus memorized scripture and quoted it when facing the tempter, so we can quote it and say no to temptation ourselves.

A third perfect gift for resisting temptation is limitations and escapes. Although James doesn’t mention it specifically, it certainly is a great gift for dealing with temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” This is a great reminder that God is sovereign even over the temptations we face and He will limit them. He knows how much we can take and draws a line in how much He will allow. Not only that, but with the temptation, God always provides a way of escape. There is never a circumstance in which we have to sin. The Lord always gives an escape path—we just need to be alert to find it.

The final perfect gift is a picture of the end. It is a reminder of what will be the outcome of temptation. In v. 15, we’re told that giving in to temptation leads to death. It’s a great reminder when we are tempted that while giving in may give us temporary pleasure, it always ultimately yields a deadly lifestyle. But v. 18 also reminds us that using God’s gifts to say no to temptation results in us being “firstfruits.” In the Torah, the firstfruits referred to the first produce given as sacrifices to God. They were God’s special possession and dedicated to Him. And that’s what we become when we say yes to God and no to temptation. Every temptation is a reminder that we can choose a deadly lifestyle for ourselves or we can become firstfruits, completely dedicated to the Lord’s use.

Every day we can read the news about how some famous person has come to ruin by giving in to temptation. Some choose drugs, some sex outside of God’s healthy boundaries, some give in to the temptation of ill gotten money. What never makes the news on earth is those who use God’s perfect gifts to say no to temptation and yes to obedience to God. The good news is that’s what makes the headlines in heaven.

What is Temptation?

“I can resist anything except temptation.” So said Oscar Wilde. What a struggle. What is temptation all about and how do we resist it?

In this blog post, I wanted to look at a biblical description of temptation to sin and in the next one, we’ll see how to resist temptation. For now, what is temptation? I like Chuck Swindoll’s definition: Temptation is the motivation to be bad by being promised something good.” We all struggle with it. It might be to get wealthy through dishonesty, or to climb the corporate ladder by stepping on others along the way, or to find sexual pleasure by being disloyal to a spouse?

James 1:13-15 describes temptation to sin this way: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This paragraph has four unchangeable truths about temptation.

The first is that temptation is inevitable. We can’t escape it. James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted” not “if he is tempted.” We can’t just run from the battlefield to avoid temptation. The battlefield will find us, regardless. We can do our best to avoid tempting situations, but sooner or later, temptation will find us. All of us will be tempted to sin.

Secondly, temptation is never God directed. This is because God is holy. He “cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Nevertheless, it is part of human nature to blame God for our temptations and sins. Remember when God talks to Adam after the first man succumbed to temptation and sinned. His response to God was, “it was the woman . . . whom you gave me” that caused Him to sin. Not only does Adam throw his wife under the bus, but He blames God: You gave her to me. That’s exactly what we do. Remember, God allows us to be tempted but He is never the One who directs the temptation.

Third, temptation is an individual matter. Every person is “carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Each of us has a different area of weakness that temptation is trying to exploit. One person has a longing for wealth, another has a pattern of dishonesty. Someone else is driven by ego and a desire for recognition while another person has an innate desire to pass on inappropriate information. The tempter does not waste his time tempting us in areas of strength. He realizes what each of us longs for—individual desires and unique lusts—and he zooms in on those.

Finally, temptation always follows the same life cycle. It begins with conception, when our sinful desire and temptation meet. That’s what James means by “When lust has conceived.” But after conception, James says the next step is that temptation “gives birth to sin.” Temptation in and of itself is not sinful. It’s only when we act on the temptation that it gives birth to sin. And “when sin is accomplished” it produces the final aspect of the life cycle of temptation, it yields “death.” James is talking to believers, so I don’t think he is referring to eternal separation from God, when he says that sin “brings forth death.” It might very well be that sin will lead, ultimately to physical death. But more likely, I believe James is using “death” in a figurative sense, referring to a quality of life. When we fall into the enticing embrace of evil, it results in a deadly lifestyle.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? Well, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul reminds followers of Jesus that we’re not compelled to fall into temptation and sin, but that God always provides a way of escape. Next week, we’ll talk about the multiple paths of escape that God has graciously given us. Until then, let’s remember, God is not the one who’s tempting us; But He is the one who has forgiven us and who graciously gives us gifts that we might live life and live it to its fullness.

The Hebrew Bible, the House of David, and Historical Reliability

Are the stories of David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah, mere legends? Did they really exist? That’s what some archaeologists are starting to allege. Since most of us are not trained archaeologists, what are we to believe?

That was the problem a pastor friend of mine was having as he was going to lead his first trip to Israel. He asked me to come along because, as he said it, “I don’t which rocks are important and which rocks are just . . . rocks.” That’s the challenge of archaeology—it takes a well trained eye to see the significance of rocks exposed from thousands of years ago. And then, if the rocks don’t match some archaeologists’ presuppositions, they will dispute the evidence found in the rocks. That is just what is happening today—there are some clear archaeological supports for the biblical record of David, Solomon, and the kings of the Davidic line. Now some archaeological critics of the Bible, called minimalists, have come along and disputed this evidence. No matter, the evidence is strong and here are three examples of archaeological evidence for the Davidic dynasty as revealed in the Bible.

The first example is archaeologist Eilat Mazar’s work in the original city of David, the Jebusite stronghold captured by David and made his capital. It is the original Jerusalem and today it lies just south of the 16th century southern walls of the ancient city. Mazar theorized that since David built a palace with materials from King Hiram of Tyre (2Sm 5:11) and that the text says that he went down from there into the stronghold (2Sm 5:17), the palace of David would have stood just above the original fortress of the Jebusites. After excavating there, Mazar found a large, multi-room stone structure, appearing much like a public building or, better, a large palace. She also discovered 11th century B.C. pottery at the same level of the stone structure, dating the building at the very time of King David. She concluded, that using 2Sm 5 as her guide, she had found David’s palace. Of course minimalists object that since Mazar had not found a nameplate saying “King David’s Palace” that it couldn’t be so. Yet all the evidence supports the idea that an 11th century B.C. figure had built a royal palace just above the Jebusite stronghold—just as the Bible clearly indicates.

Another example is derived from 1Kg 9:15 which states that Solomon fortified the walls of three important cities of Israel: namely Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. And what did archaeologists find at these three sites? In each they discovered a distinctive four entry way gate, all dated by pottery shards as being from the 10th century B.C., just at the time of Solomon. Since the Bible says Solomon fortified these cities, it is not surprising that they all have the same characteristic gate structure. Of course minimalists dispute this because no inscription was found saying “Solomon built this.” They even contend that the excavating archaeologists fabricated the evidence for a 10th century B.C. gate, an allegation that has no support and is deeply offensive to the excavators of these sites. Nevertheless, archaeologist William Dever, no Bible believer himself, concludes that if Solomon did not construct these city walls and gates, “then we would have to invent a similar king by another name.”

The third significant archaeological discovery is an inscription found in the north of Israel at Tel Dan. It is a victory stela of Hazael, king of Aram, dated at about 847-42 B.C. It describes his victories, including his defeat of the “House of David” and also “the king of Israel.” This discovery confirms, with extra-biblical evidence, the existence of David, merely 120 years after his reign ended. Moreover, it affirms the continued existence of his royal line, the house of David, and the splitting of the ancient kingdom of Israel, since the stela speaks of both kings, one from Judah and one from Israel. What do minimalists do with this evidence? They simply reject it on the grounds that it does not fit their presuppositions, one going so far as to categorize the “house of David” inscription as a forgery, despite having no basis to make that allegation! But the evidence is clear, there was an Israelite king named David and his dynasty continued after him.

One of the great benefits of going to Israel is not just seeing a bunch of old rocks. It’s seeing rocks that confirm the stories written in the Bible, as not mere legends and myths, but God’s inspired history from which we derive great spiritual truth.