Last year around this time, my girlfriend and I had an experience that demanded faith and trust in God, especially on her part since it was more personal for her than it was for me. She has a cat named “Stella”. Stella is definitely a domestic, indoor cat that is not even allowed outside because she wouldn’t know how to survive. However, this doesn’t stop her from thinking that being outside is what is best for her and even attempting to jet out the door whenever it is cracked open. For this reason, any adult who enters the home has to make sure the doors are closed immediately. It only takes a few careless seconds for Stella to get out of the cracked door, as we found out last spring.
My girlfriend was out of town one late night when her roommate apparently had the door cracked open long enough for Stella to escape. She was not notified about it until the next day, when I went down to her house and the two of us walked around the neighborhood for hours calling and looking for Stella. After about three hours, darkness had come and we had to give up the search. My girlfriend called a local animal control agency for some suggestions, even though we knew that we had to pray and ultimately trust God for Stella’s protection. The only suggestion the professionals had was to put some fresh tuna or other cat food outside on the doorstep and hope that it lured Stella back. While I had to continue to open the door and scatter other neighborhood cats away from the food, the “trap” eventually worked! After a few hours, I heard a distinct “meow” outside the door and opened it to find Stella. She scampered away initially, but my girlfriend’s roommate was eventually able to gather Stella and bring her back into the home where she belonged.
This type of “trap” or “bait” that we set for Stella was designed with her best interests in mind, to get her back where she would be safe even though she desired to be outside and free. The adults who worked to get Stella back genuinely care about her and desire for her to be loved. We are not her enemy. As human beings, we also have one that works every day to bait or trap us. The difference is that he definitely IS our enemy. I’m talking about Satan, the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible also says that we need the “full armor of God” to be able to withstand “the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). Part of his schemes is to set traps for us and hope that we “take the bait” so that we become hooked in a lifetime of darkness and despair. Since God loves people and uses them to accomplish His purposes, Satan revels in trapping people and using them for his evil.
If you haven’t figured out the connection to this week’s word based on the title and the first few paragraphs, one of Satan’s most common traps, especially in the Church, is offense. In Monday’s blog, Katie wrote about how we are the perpetrators of offenses against God and those He created. It’s very important for us to reflect on the ways in which we offend people and God. But I also want us to look at offenses from the perspective of those who are on the receiving end, because there is no doubt that everyone who reads this post has been in that position just as we’ve all been in the position addressed in Monday’s blog. Has someone hurt you deeply? Has someone betrayed your trust? Has someone rejected you or left you out? Has someone very close to you condemned you or disowned you? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, how you deal with it going forward will determine whether or not you take the bait of the enemy.
The Greek word that is used most often in the New Testament for “offense” is “skandalon”. This would be where we get our English word “scandal”. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “skandalon” can mean “the part of the trap on which the bait hung that lured the animal into the trap”. A secondary definition says it is “a hindrance or stumbling block”. Just to be an equal opportunity dictionary user, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary says that this word can be defined as “a trap-spring”. When you have been hurt or offended by someone else and you are battling the temptation to either get revenge or just hold on to your bitterness toward that person, Satan is desperately trying to trap you. He is dangling that bait in front of you, making it look good. It seems strange to think that such dark concepts like bitterness, unforgiveness, and revenge could actually sound good, doesn’t it? But think about it. The reason why those things are able to trap us is because we falsely assume that they will make us feel better or give us some form of control over what the other person did to us. Satan knows that these things are tempting, but also knows they will only create more bitterness and despair. That is why we need the full armor of God to protect us against Satan’s schemes.
So how do we avoid this trap that the enemy sets for us every time someone commits an offense against us? Well, the answer is simple and impossible at the same time. There is only one solution, and it is LOVE. It sounds so simple, yet any of you who has tried to love someone who has hurt you badly knows how impossible it is apart from allowing Christ to work through you. And the only way to allow Christ to work through you in loving those who hurt you is to have faith that God can deal with them better than you ever could. It’s knowing that He will show mercy when it is needed and punish when it is needed, and surrendering your desire to be in control of either to Him. Jesus did this when he was hanging on the cross after being mocked, spit at, flogged, and pierced. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). As a man who also had the very nature of God, he could have been thinking about how he could punish them. He could have been thinking about how he could control the situation. Instead, he trusted his Father with their future. In doing so, he was completely free of the trap of bitterness and revenge that the enemy had surely set for him.
The Apostle Paul, who was once characterized by his zeal in persecuting the followers of Christ (Philippians 3:6), wrote to his young apprentice Timothy in his very last letter from prison before his death and demonstrated his willingness to imitate Christ in forgiving others of their offenses against him. In 2 Timothy 4:9-18, Paul is requesting that Timothy come and visit him and continue his ministry. He goes through a list of former supporters and partners in ministry who have abandoned the faith for various reasons and simply warns Timothy of those that oppose Christ. However, his ability to trust their future to God is astounding. “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul is talking about a court trial. It’s quite a lonely place to be when literally everyone there is against you and all those who promised to stand by you have broken that promise. Yet, he doesn’t hold it against them. By faith, he surrendered all of the offenses he suffered to God and trusted Him to deal appropriately with the perpetrators. Though Paul spent a great deal of time in prison during his last years, his refusal to take Satan’s bait made him one of the most free men who ever lived!
You and I can be like Paul, who imitated Christ. Paul charged the Christians in Corinth, who were caught up in jealousy and quarreling, to stop “acting like mere men” who haven’t been changed by Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). This leads me to believe that those of us who confess that Jesus is Lord have no choice but to let go of the offenses committed against us. If we hold onto them, how has Christ really changed us? Friends, there has to be a difference between the way we handle these traps and the way the world does. Nothing will make people notice Christ in you like your ability to love in the face of offense. If you’re holding on to bitterness and hatred in your life right now, I challenge you to think about what Christ’s death on the cross means for you, and more importantly what it means for those who have offended you. Surrender your need for control to the only One who truly CAN be in control of those who hurt you, and experience freedom in a way you never have before!
What offends you? I’m one of those people who really isn’t offended by much, but there are a few things. Being stereotyped into being a “typical” woman offends me, such as when people expect me to be the homemaker who enjoys cooking and cleaning and those domestic things. Cooking is not my strong suit; I’d much rather be solving math problems, laying out electrical circuits, or translating Greek and Hebrew than cooking or cleaning! I’m offended when people disregard the gifts and intellect that God has given me.
But, what offends God? Everything we do that disobeys God (also known as “sin”) offends God. All sins we commit are really against God, even if they appear to be against other people. Why is this?
First, sin offends God because God created both us and other people. When we sin against them, we sin against the God who created them. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.” Similarly, 1 Corinthians 8:11-12 says, “So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” God created us to be His people and to worship Him only (Exodus 20:3); when we sin, we are putting someone or something else as a higher priority in our lives than God. We have no authority to tell our Creator what to do, as it says in Isaiah 45:9.
Sin also offends God because it questions God’s character. When we sin, we’re saying that we know better than God does. It’s similar to a parent-child relationship. If the parent says, “Don’t touch that, you’ll burn yourself” and the child touches it anyway, the child thinks they know better than the parent. Similarly, if God tells me to follow a certain path in my life and I don’t, I am saying I know better than God. God’s character is such that He is love (1 John 4:7-18), and His perfect love means that He really does know best, regardless of what we may think.
Finally, sin offends God because He has redeemed us from it. Christ died for you and me, and Christ died for every other person. We no longer need to live in sin, because we have been redeemed from it by Christ’s death! Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” We have been redeemed from our sin, so we no longer need to live in it, but yet we do. Later on in Romans, the apostle Paul says (7:15), “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” When we sin and do what we don’t want to do, we are going against that redemption that we have through Jesus.
Fortunately, in spite of that fact that our sin offends God, His love for us outshines that offense! Because of the grace we have through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, we need not fear God’s offense, but rather rejoice in the grace that we receive when we do offend Him through our sin.
While all believers are called to a life of service from the moment that they confess that Jesus is Lord and commit to following him, that service takes on many different forms. The Apostle Paul calls the church “one body with many parts” and goes on to say that those parts include “apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:12,28). On any given Sunday morning in a church today, you might find those who intercede for others in prayer, those who teach, people with the gift of music, greeters, technological specialists, and children’s ministry workers. We are all gifted differently and are called to different tasks. However, the primary focus for all must be obedience, just as it was for the One whom we follow.
A good friend of mine whom I met when I came to seminary opened my eyes to a reality I had never thought about before. He believed that Jesus did not willingly suffer the pain and humiliation of the cross in order to bring salvation to those who would believe and follow him. When I asked my friend what he meant, he added, “Well, at least that wasn’t his primary motivation”. He explained, that he believed, Jesus’ focus, first and foremost, was obedience toward his Father. I think he might be right. I think Jesus’ words when he was alone in Gethsemane shortly before his death suggest this. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew what the Father had called him to do, but still prayed anxiously that He might excuse him from the task. Yet ultimately, his desire to obey the Father and do His will superseded his desire to be in control of his circumstances so that he wouldn’t have to suffer the unfathomable pain.
In Luke 2:41-52, Jesus is described as being twelve years old. His parents had taken him to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. When they left, a real life “Home Alone” situation ensued. They had traveled a full day before realizing that Jesus was not with them in their company. They went back to Jerusalem and searched for him for 3 days before finally finding him in the temple courts among the teachers. Essentially, Jesus’ parents then scolded him for causing them such mental anguish, which is probably how any of you with children would have reacted if the same thing happened in your life. Jesus tried to explain that he needed to be in “his Father’s house”, but his biological parents didn’t get it. The fascinating part for me is that, rather than scolding them back for admonishing the only perfect human being that ever lived, Jesus simply “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (v. 51). Wow! We all know how hard it was to obey our parents when we “thought” we were right and had things all figured out. Imagine how much harder it would be if you really were perfect! But, the experience of submitting to his earthly parents who were fallen helped Jesus learn how to obey his heavenly Father when the salvation of the whole world depended on it.
Friends, obedience is not optional if you consider yourself a follower of Jesus. It has to be your primary motivation just as it was for Jesus. When the world brings you troubles that seem overwhelming, all of your other aspirations might just get thrown out the window. But if you stand firm in your desire to be obedient to the Father, no matter what that means or what path he calls you to walk, absolutely NOTHING can stand against you! And that, brothers and sisters, is freedom that you simply cannot experience otherwise.
“I told you to clean your room!”
“Did you eat your vegetables like I already asked you to?”
“Don’t forget to practice your piano and do your homework!”
The most common context in which we think of obedience is that of a parent and a child - no matter which end of that relationship you’re currently on. As a child (or a teenager), you may not want to be obedient to your parents, especially if they ask you to do something you don’t want to do. As a parent, you may have difficulty getting your kids to be obedient to you.
But what about in a Christian context? What is obedience look like for those of us who follow Jesus? Well, it’s similar to parent-child relationship, with God being the parent and each of us as a child. The big difference is that God is not like any earthly parent; He is perfect, He is unconditionally loving, and He is all-knowing so He truly does know what is best for us, whether it feels like it at the time or not.
Obedience can be defined as the faith response of Christians to the will of God. If you have faith in God, then our response to God is to be obedient to Him and to do whatever He asks us to do. We see this explained in Romans 6:16-18:
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Who are you obeying with your life? Are you obeying God, or are you obeying your sinful desires? Whoever you obey will guide the course of your life. God calls us to a life of obedience to Him in all circumstances. There will be times that we don’t want to do what God is calling us to do, but we need to trust Him with our lives that His intent is truly for the best in our lives.
Our faith is evident in our obedience. As it says in James 2:14 and 18, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? ... But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
As His followers, God calls us to obey and not delay in whatever He asks us to do. As difficult as it is, obedience is a key virtue of being a follower of Christ. What is it that God is calling you to do to practice your obedience to Him?
Did you ever get in trouble when you were younger for saying the words “I swear to God” when emphasizing the truth of a previous statement? I know I did and I can remember when those words were seemingly worse than the common curse words that most of my friends used regularly. Many people, especially within the Church, taught and believed that uttering those words was like defiling something sacred. We were taught that we are not supposed to swear at all and to do so toward God is even worse. Like with many rules, people simply found a way to get around the “actual” words by using different ones to mean the exact same thing. This way, we could prevent ourselves from breaking the “rule” without actually having to change our hearts.
Maybe some of you who have children even still teach them this “rule” today. I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t, but I encourage you to look beyond the rule, especially when your children become old enough to understand what is important about keeping one’s word. If you think about it, swearing “to” God makes no sense and is futile. God already knows whether or not you are being honest when you say or do something, so emphasizing the truth of your statement to Him has no effect whatsoever on whether He believes you. Speaking purely from a literal and logical standpoint, the correct way of saying it would be to swear “by” God or “on” God’s power. What the speaker is saying in that case is that the honesty of his words would be approved by God or that God’s power would destroy him if he wasn’t being honest. The problem is that, while that sort of oath used to be taken seriously, very few people nowadays even fear what God could do to them. I know many people, and I would say just as many Christians as non-Christians, who have a hard time keeping their word. We have gotten way too comfortable in the grace that we have received.
In order to see how seriously people took their oaths made before God in the Old Testament, we need only to look at the very first patriarch of God’s people, Abraham (formerly called “Abram”). God had called Abram to leave his home and everything that was familiar and go to a land that he hadn’t even been shown yet, and promised to make Abram into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram initially hesitated, settling in a land that was not where God called him (Haran) and then going to Egypt (a place God DEFINITELY didn’t tell him to go) before finally learning to trust in God every step of the way. In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot gets seized and carried off by the natives. Abram rounds up his army, attacks the natives, and defeats them in order to bring back his nephew and the goods that had been stolen from his people. The king of Sodom (one of the local cities) comes out to meet Abram and tempts him with worldly wealth. “The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself’” (v. 21). Trust me friends, you don’t want to know what the king of Sodom had in mind for those people. Abram’s response clearly shows that he fears God above any earthly king. “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich’” (14:22-23).
I took an oath earlier today in juvenile court, where I had to testify concerning a child that was an alleged victim in one of the cases I was investigating. But the more I think about it, how serious was that oath? They don’t ask you to place your hand on the Bible anymore, at least not in juvenile court. They don’t ask you to swear with the added “so help me God” that is attached to the president’s inaugural oath. At worst, failure to follow that oath I took to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” would land me in jail temporarily. And that’s only if my breaking of the oath could actually be proven. While our earthly laws are enough to scare some people into obedience, they can’t possibly compare to raising a hand to the “Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” and taking an oath. Abram was able to resist the temptation of material wealth offered by a pagan king because he feared God and his potential destruction if he did not keep his oath to his Creator.
In the very next chapter, God actually subjects himself to a worldly tradition. This is just one of the many examples of how God lavishes His love on us. God has no reason to take an oath. The Bible says that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20a). Yet, God sees that Abram has faith and trust in Him, while still asking for a sign that God’s promise to give him possession of the land will come true (Genesis 15:8), and chooses to enter into a binding agreement with Abram. God, who always has both the will and ability to keep His promises, takes an oath for Abram’s benefit. He instructs Abram to bring a variety of animals, which all specifically point to Christ and his sacrifice in some way. As was customary in this type of oath, Abram went ahead and cut the animals in two and arranged the halves across from each other (15:11). In this oath, the two parties making the agreement would join hands and walk between the halves of animals. The implication, which was sometimes even verbalized, was that if either party breaks the oath, they are saying “let me be as dead as these animals”.
Imagine entering into that type of agreement with God. No one can adhere to God’s standards completely except God Himself. So, the mere thought of having to hold to that oath or be split in two would be enough to make us tremble. Fortunately for Abram, God spared him from having to carry a burden he would never have been able to carry. He caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep, and then told him all that would happen both to him and his countrymen up to the point when they would enter the Promised Land (vv. 12-16). After making His promises, with Abram completely asleep and unable to “sign” his end of the binding agreement, a “smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed through the pieces” (15:17). We know from Exodus 14:24 that these items would later appear again and signify the presence of the Lord. So, in essence, God “signed” both sides of this deal. He was saying that if He broke His end of the agreement, let Him be as dead as the animals. And if Abram broke his end of the agreement, let God still be the One who is as dead as the animals!
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you know that many centuries later, God did allow Himself to “be as dead as the animals” on the cross, in order to hold up His promise, oath, and covenant that He first made with Abram. And because of that, we are told to no longer swear – “not by heaven or by earth or by anything else” – and to simply let our “Yes” be yes and our “No” be no, or else we will be condemned (James 5:12). In other words, don’t worry about swearing an oath or making it formal. Just honor your own word! The fact that oaths are no longer needed in the formal sense doesn’t mean God does not require us to strive to keep our promises. Simply put, our very word has replaced the idea of the oath, so that one cannot say, “Well, I didn’t swear to it so I guess I can break it”.
Above all, the biggest motivation for us to honor our word should be, as it was for Abram, the reality of who God is and who we are not. Yes, it’s true that we don’t have to fear death or hell because Christ has saved us. But that doesn’t change who God is. He still has the power to make us pay for the breaking of our word, and consequences are still part of the equation. Are you aware that God has the power to demand your very life? Stop assuming he won’t, and learn to be a man or woman of your word. That, my friends, is the motivational power of the holy fear of God!
Have you ever made an oath? An oath is a strong statement in which a person usually calls upon God to testify that what he or she says is completely truthful. An oath can be made to testify to a past action, or it can be made as a future promise.
In my opinion, one of the most famous oaths in the Bible is found in the book of Ruth, recorded in Ruth 1:16-17. In case you’re not familiar with that story, I’ll set up the context for you and then we’ll look at her specific oath.
Elimelech and Naomi were a Jewish married couple from Bethlehem, and they had two sons. Because there was no food available in Bethlehem, their family moved to the nearby land of Moab. While in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. However, Elimelech and his two sons died, leaving just the women left - Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Naomi decided to go back to her people in Bethlehem, and she encouraged Ruth and Orpah to go back to their families in Moab. Orpah did, but Ruth would not. After Naomi kept encouraging Ruth to go back to her Moabite family, this is what Ruth said in Ruth 1:16-17:
But Ruth replied, “Dont urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
This is an amazing passage, and unfortunately I don’t have enough room here to go into all of the details of its significance. In this oath, Ruth is promising to remain completely loyal to Naomi no matter what happens. She even commits to following the God of Naomi’s people - the God of the Bible. We know this is an oath because Ruth calls upon God’s name to back up her statement, and even says that she will be cursed if anything but death separates her and Naomi.
The purpose of an oath is to make a commitment. What kind of oaths have you made in your life? Have you made an oath to a close friend? Your spouse? A church? Or have you, like Ruth, made an oath to commit your entire life to following the one true God? If you haven’t made that oath yet, I would encourage you to call upon God and make that strong oath to live your life for Him, no matter what. The benefit of that oath over Ruth’s is that with God, not even death will separate you from Him!
If you pay attention to the sports world at all or watch ESPN with any sort of regularity, you might know that this week marked the 20th anniversary of the famous “Don’t Ever Give Up” speech by Jimmy Valvano. Jimmy V, as he was affectionately known, was the coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who against very long odds won the 1983 national basketball championship. However, less than 10 years later, on March 4, 1993, Jimmy V could barely walk, his body weakened by a year-long battle with cancer, as he gave the memorable speech at the ESPY Awards in which he urged viewers to “never give up” and even announced the beginning of the “Jimmy V Foundation”, which has since raised over $120 million toward finding a cure for cancer.
Jimmy Valvano died less than two months later on April 28, 1993. You see, friends, Jimmy V continued to fight even in his last days. Even when it seemed like he was losing every daily battle, he continued to fight because he knew the war wasn’t over. And even though he died 20 years ago, his foundation and his legacy are still fighting that war. His motivational speech about never giving up is played several times a year, and listeners everywhere are urged to keep fighting, whether their battle is with a physical disease or something else that is overwhelming them.
Ever since Adam and Eve took a bite of that forbidden fruit (Genesis 3), the rest of humanity has been fighting a seemingly losing battle. Adam and Eve were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and were without sin. However, after they were deceived by the serpent and committed the sin, Genesis 5:3 tells us that Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image”. That means that the original sin of Adam and Eve was passed down to the next generation. And it is a condition that has been transferred to every human from that point forward.
So, if we know that there is no way we can escape the dreaded disease of sin, what’s the point of even trying? Maybe some of you out there have had such a thought pass through your mind. I can assure you that there were times when I thought I might as well just give up and give in when it comes to certain sin issues that had their grip on me. But every time I have had a thought like that, I’ve been reminded of the misery that comes with sin. Misery and the fear that it might continue are great motivators to keep getting back up every time sin knocks you down. The key is remembering that, through Christ, we have been shown grace. While that grace saves us from the eternal penalty that we deserve, it does much more than that. Grace gives us the strength to keep fighting the battle between the flesh and our faith, and reminds us that the One who led by example in defeating his flesh is “always with us until the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
I want to share with you two examples – one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament – of men who understood the fierceness of the battle against original sin. I have a good friend of mine from Pennsylvania who was golfing with me one time and said, “I play Paul golf”. I looked at him like he was crazy and asked what he meant. He proceeded to tell me that what he wants to do, he can’t do, and what he doesn’t want to do, that’s what he always ends up doing. Any of you readers who play golf would understand the truth of his joke. The words of the Apostle Paul that my friend was referencing are found in Romans 7:14-20. Paul goes on to say that the two laws at work in his body and mind, meaning the law of the flesh and the law of faith in the Spirit, are “waging war” against one another. He concedes that, on his own, he is ultimately hopeless in the midst of this “war”. He finishes his thought by asking and answering the same question as an example for the believers of Rome who found themselves in the intense war with the flesh. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)
Paul had lived a life in opposition to Christ, followed by a life as his disciple and instrument to carry his name to others. He understood the battle between the two and also understood the believer’s role in fighting that battle. “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul wasn’t talking about literally beating his body, although that might be part of the process at times. He was talking about the greater battle against all desires of the flesh and the fact that it is his responsibility to deny himself and train his flesh to surrender to his faith. Paul was able to keep the focus on his part in the fight, while still recognizing that it is only by God’s grace and mercy that he even has the chance to keep fighting. King David also recognized his dependence on God’s grace and mercy. He was declared by God to be “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) and showed impeccable faith and character as he took down the giant Goliath with just a sling and a stone. But later, he gave in to temptation and committed adultery with Bathsheba, who was the wife of another man. It was when he was confronted with that sin by the prophet Nathan that King David penned the words in Psalm 51. He humbly asks God to “have mercy on me” (v. 1). He laments, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (v. 3). David goes on to declare, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (v. 5). He then spends the rest of the psalm asking God to cleanse him and to “create in me a pure heart” (v. 10). We can get hung up on whether or not David was actually a “sinner” the day he came into this world, but that’s not the point. The important thing is that David humbly viewed himself this way. You don’t see him calling someone else’s baby a sinner. He is simply coming before his holy God and admitting that his situation must have been pretty dire right from the start if the standard of righteousness is God Himself!
Friends, Scripture is clear that we are born into sin. It is clear that, apart from acceptance of Christ as our Savior and Lord, we have no way of escaping the dreaded disease. While we cannot determine who is saved and who isn’t because only God is Judge, we believe that God’s loving and just character suggests that He will not punish an infant for the sins of the parents. However, I want to stress that we DO NOT comprehend the mind of God and CANNOT give any assurance of His judgment decisions, but can only say what we believe and why. The most important thing is that we recognize what choices He has given us. No matter how many battles we have lost, we must continue to surrender the flesh to our faith. We must continue to humbly understand that without God, we are without hope. And most of all, we must remember that whether we feel like we are in a position of winning the battle or in a position of losing it, we can never give up and can never let our guard down, because THE WAR IS NOT OVER!
What is your legacy? A legacy is what people remember about you after you’re gone, or what you pass on down to the next generations. What if I told you that no matter what you do, you will leave a legacy of evil for those after you, and there’s nothing you can do to change that? Would you feel bad about that?
Adam and Eve, the first humans who were created, left such a legacy for the entire human race. This legacy is what’s known as original sin. Because they disobeyed God and broke their perfect relationship with him, they sinned and all of creation was suddenly broken and full of sin as well.
I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of Genesis 3 for the full story on what happened to bring the evil of sin into the world. For now, let’s look at God’s reaction to this, in Genesis 3:22: “And the Lord God said, The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
Before this, only God knew the difference between good and evil. After sin, now mankind recognized that evil existed as it was brought into the world. No longer would mankind live forever. No longer would mankind live the perfect existence that Adam and Eve had been enjoying in the Garden of Eden.
The was the original, or the very first, sin. Since then, mankind has been completely sinful; there is no mere human who has ever been or who ever will be perfect. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, every person born after that is sinful by default because we live in a sinful world. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, but when they sinned that perfect image was destroyed. Humans still reflect God’s image, but not in the perfectly righteous way that those first humans did.
The consequence of this is that you and I and every person are sinful. By default, we cannot have a relationship with God because of our sinfulness. But, just as sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, redemption came into the world through Jesus. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection allows us to mend that broken relationship with God.
The legacy of Adam and Eve was bringing evil and sin into the world; the legacy of Jesus was to live a perfect life to remedy what they did. There is still sin and evil in this world, and there always will be as long as this world exists, but we can praise God that there is hope through Jesus!