Ephesians 6:10-20 –Conversations with God

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Father, we are in a war!  I don’t know how more plainly Paul could make that point.  The enemy is scheming against us.  Evil is afoot.  Flaming arrows are being shot at us.  We are in danger of losing ground if we don’t stand firm.  Being alert is paramount.

But you don’t want us to fight human beings.  In fact, we might actually be in chains as we do our fighting.  We might be in the weakest of situations personally or politically.  Nevertheless, there is an armor to don and a battle to fight and it is all on the spiritual level.

And so our armor is spiritual.  Truth, to keep us from succumbing to the lies of the Devil and his demons.  Righteousness, positionally and personally, to keep us from despairing.  The gospel message that brings peace to those who embrace it.  Faith, to ward off the evil one’s attacks.  Salvation, to keep us secure in the midst of battle.  The Word of God, to slice through the deceptions of our foe.  And prayer, to give us a lifeline to God who gives us boldness for the preaching of the gospel.

Keep me alert, Lord!

Ephesians 2:1-3 — Conversations with God

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Father, why did You ever want relationship with me?  Though I was taken to church every Sunday I did not acknowledge Your leadership over my life.  I lived as if You did not exist.  Though some said You were dead, it was really me who was dead. 

I was dead in the sense that I could not move toward You but could only act out of my sinful and rebellious heart.  I was dead in the sense that I was under Your death penalty, a dead man walking, because of my many trespasses and sins.

My dead state was quite to the liking of Your enemy and mine, the devil, Satan, in whose hands is all the world of dead people.  We all prefer our rebellious ways and encourage each other to follow false religions or no religions at all, rather than truly submit to You.

And Satan encourages us as well, holding us captive to do his will.  And so I indulged my flesh and I indulged my mind with all sorts of falsehoods that led me away from You.  I did indeed, deserve Your wrath.  Why did You want relationship with me?

Lessons From the Old Testament: Evil Instruments in a Righteous Hand

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal— surely you do not plan to wipe us out?  O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins.  But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.  Will you wink at their treachery?  Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? (Habakkuk 1:12,13)

Habakkuk had been complaining that his own people were living abominable lives and punishment needed to happen.  There was too much injustice, too much suffering by the innocent, for God to let it continue.  But when God told him that He was going to send the Babylonians to punish His people, Habakkuk had a change of heart.  Now God was going too far, using a people even more unrighteous than his own to punish them.

There are two wrong assumptions made here by Habakkuk, and by us too, most likely.

(1) One form of rebellion, because it is more violent and despicable than another, is therefore more deserving of just punishment.  It is true that the more heinous the crime the more severe the punishment (Matthew 10:15), but it is also true that all sin is rebellion and desesrving of just requital (James 2:8-13).  Israel did not deserve to get off the hook because Babylon was more unrighteous than her.

(2) God cannot stand to be in the presence of evil.  This seems true on the face of it, but we find several times in Scripture when God interacts with, even tolerates, evil in His presence.  The most famous example is Satan (see Job 1, 2; Revelation 12:10).  And in fact, every human being with whom God fellowships is evil at his or her base (Jeremiah 17:9,10).

So Habakkuk is unjustifiably upset with God.  God does assure Habakkuk that He will punish Babylon, too (chapter 2).  But He is going to use this unrighteous, horrendously violent juggernaut of a nation to cause Israel to suffer.  He is going to do this because He loves Israel and wants to move them to righteous living.

So then, the real question for Habakkuk and for us becomes, “How do I live through the season of life where God looks like He is absent from the righteous, not answering my prayers for relief, and not doing things the way I think He should do them?”  Habukkuk‘s answer is in chapter 3.

I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear.  My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror.  I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.  Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  The Sovereign Lord is my strength!  He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (3:16-19)

He honestly acknowledged that present circumstances were not going to be tenable, acceptable, good.  But he was determined to believe that God was using this for good.  And because of this truth he was going to rejoice in the God of his salvation.  He was not going to rejoice in his sufferings, but in what God was going to do by way of showing off His salvation.  He believed that God was going to prove right and fair in the end and more wise than Habakkuk in His determination to bless those He loved.

Evil instruments in God’s righteous hand means that the evil instrument does not get the last word, but the righteous hand does.

Jesus, Scourge of demons

It is fascinating to see the way demons acted around Jesus.  According to Matthew 8:29, for example, when Jesus merely shows up where a demon-possessed man lives the demons inside him say, “What do you want with us, Son of God?  Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  Then, because they seem to know he is going to cast them out, they beg him to let them go into a nearby herd of pigs.

In another instance Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when a demon-possessed man burst out with, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34)  Jesus sternly commands the demon to come out and after the demons throw the man down they leave him unharmed.

One of the impressions that people immediately had of Jesus was that he had authority.  His teaching was authoritative, but also his command of demons.  The Pharisees could not deny that he had extraordinary authority and power over demons but because they were unwilling to acknowledge that Jesus came from God they blasphemed against the Holy Spirit by attributing Jesus’ ability to cast out demons to his being in league with Satan (Matthew 12).

The demons knew better, of course.  The sheer terror they experienced at the presence of Jesus on the occasions mentioned above indicate that they saw Jesus as their legitimate ruler, despite giving allegiance to Satan, and that they knew they were going to be judged by him and found wanting.  This suggests that Satan also knows that he is going to be condemned to a fiery hell but, like his servants, the demons, he continues to fight on.  Yet, when confronted by the Son of God, he must submit to his authority.

Jesus depicts this as tying up the strong man and taking his possessions (Matthew 12:29).  Jesus is the stronger man than Satan or his demons and perfectly capable of controlling him as he pleases.  He allows Satan to have a certain sway over the earth at this time, but a day of judgment is coming (Revelation 20) in which Satan will be cast into the lake of fire forever.  He will not be able to resist.

So why are we so scared when it comes to dealing with anything demonic?  Apparently we have bought into the very lie the demons would have us believe, that they are too powerful to resist and too scary to stand strong against.  But when we (scared as we may be) insist in the authority of Jesus that they submit to Jesus, they must submit.  We must be convinced of that, and they will be too.

There is curious case of the Jewish exorcists, the sons of Sceva, who sought to cast out a demon “in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches” (Acts 19:13ff).  This resulted in the demon attacking them and overpowering them through the human he possessed.  This teaches us that we must have real belief in the power and authority of Jesus to be the scourge of demons.  They want us to be afraid and cower before them, and they will resist submitting to Jesus, but they will have no choice, and if we know that, we will be victorious over them as well.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Conflict of the Ages

English painter from the 1700s depicts Satan a...
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Genesis 4 recounts the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.

What God promised in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put enmity between you, serpent, and the woman, and between your seed and her seed”) is already happening.  Cain, who is described by the apostle John as one who belonged to the evil one (1 John 3:12), fails to please God with his offering and in anger and despite God’s warning not to let sin conquer him, invites his brother into the field and slays him.  The seed of the serpent is seeking to snuff out the seed of the woman.  From Satan’s perspective this is the way to stop the advance of God’s kingdom.  From Cain’s perspective, it is revenge.

So Cain becomes the initiator and the pattern of this conflict of the ages.  All subsequent attacks on the people of God may be seen in light of this spiritual conflict that Satan has immersed himself in.  He cannot attack God so he attacks those God loves.  And he takes great joy in using those God loves to attack others He loves.

One of the most monstrous attempts of the devil to extinguish the holy offspring is his work through the Pharaoh of Egypt when Moses was sent to lead his people into the wilderness to worship Yahweh.  Pharoah’s fear of the people of Israel seems unjustified based on their behavior up to this point.  His method of controlling the Israelites is even more sinister, as he asks the Israeli midwives to allow the boy babies of the Hebrews to perish at birth.  Failing that he puts the people under unimaginable stress with forced labor in brick-making and building.

Pharaoh’s resistance to God seems satanically inspired.  This is not in conflict with the truth that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart.  And even after he loses his firstborn son to the plague from God, he chases the people to the Red Sea with a vengeance, only to perish.

The prophet Isaiah characterizes the conflict this way:

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength,
       O arm of the LORD;
       awake, as in days gone by,
       as in generations of old.
       Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
       who pierced that monster through?

Was it not you who dried up the sea,
       the waters of the great deep,
       who made a road in the depths of the sea
       so that the redeemed might cross over? (Isaiah 51:9,10)

Isaiah uses the name Rahab in reference to a mythical sea-monster in pagan literature used as a literary foil for God’s power over the false gods.  Egypt is commonly referred to as Rahab (Isaiah 30:7; Psalm 87:4; 89:10) because she acted in resistance to the creative and redemptive acts of God to no avail.  Like the pagan myth of the sea-monster goddess who was slain by one of her children to make way for the creation of the land and men, Egypt sought to stand in the way of Yahweh’s calling forth His people from their midst.  But Yahweh easily defeated her.

It is not always the case, however, that the immediate battle is a victorious one for God’s people, as the death of Abel reminds us.  Often Satan seems to get the victory.  But from God’s perspective it is a “bruising of the heel” rather than a death blow to the head (Genesis 3:15).  We are in this battle.  The conflict has not ceased.  Satan still seeks to destroy us (Job 2; Zechariah 3; Matthew 4; Luke 22:31; 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 5:8).  As you are engaged in battle by Satan and his representatives you will see that he desires to either humiliate you, turn you from God, or kill you.  He may win the battle but the war belongs to God.

Paul speaks prophetically to the near future and the distant future when he tells the Roman congregation, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20)  There is coming a day, according to Revelation 12, when (speaking in past tense of a yet future event), “The great dragon was [will be] hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was [will be] hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Revelation 12:9)

This will take place during the tribulation, and then at Jesus’ coming Satan will be consigned to a prison for 1,000 years (Revelation 20), only to be released for a short time during which he seeks again to wound the Son of God.  But his doom is sure and the end of our conflict is certain.  In the meantime, fight on in the power of God.  Take the armor and the sword (Ephesians 6) and stand fast in the Lord.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Two-Fold Means of Salvation

In Genesis 3:15 God promises to defeat the Tempter, Satan, through an offspring of the woman, Eve, as a means of restoring the lost Garden of Eden, God’s Kingdom.  We are not told what the conflict between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman will look like, but it will be continual until the offspring of the woman bruises (or crushes) the head of the serpent.  With the final finishing off of the serpent there will no longer be an enemy of God and mankind to lead us astray.  This does not address our own ability to lead ourselves astray, but you have the whole rest of the Bible to explain that aspect of it.

What is fascinating is how what follows God’s pronouncements to the serpent, the woman and the man, is a demonstration of the nature of how one finds his or her way back into relationship with God.  We are told that some time after God speaks this way Adam names his wife Eve because she is the mother of all living.  Now it is not that he didn’t understand that Eve was going to have children before the “Fall,” but there seems to be a new sense of urgency and understanding here.  Why didn’t he name her before this event?  The most likely explanation, assuming the naming did follow the disobedience, is that Adam is responding to God’s message of hope in 3:15 with faith.

His faith encompasses the contours of the promise.  The offspring of his wife is going to overcome the offspring of the serpent.  There is going to be perpetual conflict, but it will be resolved with the death of the offspring of the serpent.  This makes all births a potential arena for this conflict.  Who will be the ones who will represent the spirit of rebellion and self-direction that the serpent displayed?  Who will be the ones who stand in harmony with God and against the principles of the serpent?  Whoever they may be Adam has come to believe that this is going to be the agency God uses to restore His kingdom.  And so Adam names his wife in accord with this promise.

The question, however, is this:  Is faith in the promise of God enough to restore us to right relationship with God?  And the answer is, “NO!”  Faith is the key to the restoration of this relationship.  We can’t work hard enough to restore it.  Adam doesn’t go out and begin looking for people to help or in any other way seek to demonstrate that he is now aligned with God.  He trusts God’s words and God’s character, the very thing he failed to do when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see previous post, Lessons From the Old Testament: What Satan Wants For Us).  But it isn’t enough to start doing good and expect that everything is now hunky dory with God.  It is not even enough to demonstrate faith in God’s goodness and promise.  How do we know?

What happens next instructs us that restored relationship with God has another crucial component.  Sacrifice!  In response, it seems, to Adam’s act of faith (naming Eve), God clothes the couple with animal skin.  That, of course, means He had to take the life of the animal or animals in order to get their pelts.  Innocent creatures had to die so that Adam and Eve’s nakedness might be covered.  One life had to be substituted for another.  And though it does not even hint of this, the preparation for the idea of the offspring of the woman being a sacrifice has begun.  The bruising of his heel takes on a new dimension throughout the rest of the Old Testament as we see the insufficiency of animal sacrifice to take away sin beg for something more.  When we reach Isaiah 53 we are given more explicit hope.

So, right here in Genesis we have explained for us the two-fold means of salvation.  We must have FAITH in the promise of God, and this salvation must be paid for by SACRIFICE.  No other religion on the face of the earth has these two requirements.  Every other religion requires works of good deeds as a sort of “payment” to God for our salvation.  And even where forgiveness is offered for failure to perform all that is required, it is never offered on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice that pays the penalty in our place for our own disobedience.  Thus, only Christianity makes possible a salvation that does not depend  on our performance and is thus for everyone, and also shows the absolute severity of the consequences of sin by requiring a just penalty.  That God ends up paying the price Himself is the height of true love meeting the demand of true holiness.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Power of a Promise

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
       “Cursed are you above all the livestock
       and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly
       and you will eat dust
       all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity
       between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
       he will crush your head,
       and you will strike his heel.” 
(Genesis 3:14,15)

After Adam shifts blame for his disobedience to God and his wife (“The woman You gave me…”), Eve, ever the quick learner, shifts blame for her disobedience to the serpent.  So Yahweh starts with the serpent and pronounces consequences that will follow in his life because of his disobedience.  Why would God hold an animal responsible for being possessed by Satan (my assumption as to the real voice behind the beast)?  It is not as if the serpent or any other beast, for that matter, is guilty of making a wrong moral choice.  Nevertheless, as in the case of a beast that kills a human, its life must be forfeited in exchange for taking a life (Genesis 9:5,6; Exodus 21:28-32).  Presumably, the animal represents any devaluing of human life and the lesson for all to learn is powerful.  So with the serpent, even though Satan is the immoral force at work through him, he too must suffer judgment.

Verse 14 seems to be addressed solely to the beast known as the serpent, and not to Satan, the power behind the serpent.  The beasts form is changed so that he  crawls on his belly and eats dust.  Satan does not have a body so this would not be an appropriate punishment.  Satan, on the other hand, seems to be addressed in verse 15.  He is the one who is going to be perpetually in conflict with human beings and whose head must be crushed in order to issue back in the garden of Eden that has just been lost.  The garden represents God’s kingdom in which every created thing acts in accord with God’s prescribed plan.  Satan is responsible for leading humans to reject God’s authority, so he must finally be dealth with to ensure that there is never another such failing and as a just response to his despicable behavior.

What surprisingly unfolds from God’s pronouncement of consequences, however, is, in effect, a promise.  He is promising that he will use the offspring of the woman to bruise or crush the serpent’s head.  In the process the serpent will bruise the offspring’s heel, but that is obviously a much lesser blow.  The offspring of the woman will suffer but he will be victorious over the serpent.  Who is this offspring?  When will this happen?  What will be the ultimate outcome of it?

This is the power of a promise.  It gives hope in the midst of despair, helplessness or pain.  In this case God’s promise is the hope of the entire human race at the point of its deepest failure and hopelessness.  It builds an expectation in the one who believes the promise.  In this case it prompts the human race to look for a hero who will deliver us from the oppression of our enemy.  And it admits of many smaller installments in the fufilling of the promise.  In this case the promise of continued conflict between those who embrace the devil’s mutiny and those who seek to position themselves under the loving authority of God will undoubtedly see many small victories by Satan but many overcoming victories by the offspring of the woman.  The promise begins to be fulfilled immediately with Cain and Abel.

Of course, a promise only offers this kind of hope and builds this kind of expectation when the character of the one making the promise is rock solid and offers evidence that there is every intent and every ability to keep the promise.  That is why we dare not make a promise unless we have certainty that we can bring it to a satisfying conclusion.  And of course, humans do not have such certainty (we can fail to maintain the abilities to keep our word or we can die before we fulfill the promise).  This gives a certain kind of provisionality to all our promises, but we must keep making them in good faith, whether they be marriage promises, business promises, family promises or even just the promises we make to strangers.  We just have to recognize that we need God’s help to fulfill them and be willing to do so even to our own hurt.

This promise in Genesis 3:15 is the “seed” promise (literally) of the Bible.  It is the basis for all the other promises we find in the covenants God made with His people.  It is the promise that has birthed the hope in the human race of one day having a perfect planet on which to live in total peace and joy.  Thank you God for not giving up on us.  Thank you for being so trustworthy that we can count on this promise to determine our happy future.  Thank you that You gave no conditions for the fulfilling of this promise.  May we rest in Your promise-keeping ability and may we emulate it in our own lives.