Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 5)

Daily Devotional| Day 349

“Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15, NKJV).

In yesterday’s presentation we covered the final part of Romans 7:13-25. Twice in the passage Paul talked about sin dwelling in him: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v. 17; 20). Because of its relevance in the scheme of redemption and grace, we need to address this issue. But we will do so briefly. At an appropriate time, we hope to cover it in-depth. What Paul said raises the question, “How does sin come to dwell in a person?” Our opening Scripture from the Letter of James gives us the answer. Let us look at the text.

James breaks down for us the process by which sin is born in a person. The process starts with temptation and desire. Temptation is aroused by an individual’s own desire. Desire itself is not a sin. It is part of who we are as persons created in the image of God. We are not desire-less creatures. Whether desire becomes harmful or beneficial depends on what (or whom) we desire, how we desire and what we do with our desire. For example, if we desire to spend more time with our spouse to strengthen our love, that is beneficial (good) desire. However, if we desire to have someone else’s spouse, that is sinful (harmful) desire (Matthew 5:27-28).

 According to James, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” This means our desires can determine the direction of our lives, depending on where we channel the desires. That is how the process of sin begins. At this stage (of desire and temptation), sin is not dwelling in us because it is not born in us yet. It is still possible at this point to fight the temptation off and change course.

 But if we entertain the desire and allow it to persist, then the process continues to the next logical steps: conceptionbirth and consequence of sin. James tells us how it happens, “Then, when desire has conceivedit gives birth to sinand sinwhen it is full-grown, brings forth death.” This process played out in the case of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6).

A similar thing happened with Cain (Genesis 4:1-8). In his case, listen to what God told him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Sin was not dwelling in Cain at the time; it was at the door, knocking hard and waiting for an opportunity to enter and be born in Cain. God knew what was happening, so He warned Cain to resist the temptation (and desire) before the desire conceived and gave birth to sin. He offered him a way out of the temptation, but Cain refused.

Based on what James says, we know that desire is a powerful passion. It is so powerful it can conceive and give birth to sin. This is how sin comes to dwell in people. Committing sin is how we invite sin to dwell in us. Sin will not dwell in us without our permission and cooperation. We give the permission when we channel our desires into harmful things and place ourselves in temptation’s path.

Each time we repeat the sin, it is strengthened; and it gains greater control over us. Soon it becomes a stronghold and we feel powerless to overcome it. From this point on, a master-slave relationship is established between sin and the person who commits it. This is what Paul was referring to when he said, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:17). Sin dwells only in people who commit it. But it does not dwell in those who do not commit it.

Now that we have addressed the question of how sin comes to dwell in people, we are ready for the next presentation. That will be tomorrow, God willing. Until then, I bid you peace. May the grace of God enable you to resist temptation and live free. May the same grace further enable you to conceive and give birth to things that are noble and edifying. Amen.

For further studyJohn 8:31-36 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Why It Is Important to Overcome Resentment

Daily Devotional: Day 229

“For John [the Baptist] had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not . . . But an opportunity came . . .” (Mark 6:18-19, 21, ESV).

Today’s message is related to yesterday’s, which was about praying for those who don’t deserve it. We briefly touched on hate and grudge. But today, we want to give a little more attention to why it is important to entertain good thoughts and overcome resentment. The story in today’s passage about John the Baptist and Herodias will teach us valuable lessons about this subject.

John the Baptist was known for his fiery preaching. He confronted Herod Antipas over his illicit affair with Herodias, who was the wife of Herod’s half-brother. John most likely based his rebuke on Leviticus 18:16 which prohibited a person from marrying his brother’s wife – whether the brother was alive or not. The only exception was if the brother had died without leaving any children. In that case, the Law required that the brother of the deceased should marry the widow for purposes of providing progeny for the deceased (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10; see also Luke 20:27-40). John had just stirred up a hornet’s nest.

Herodias did not take John’s rebuke kindly. According to the Bible, “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” Now Herod had already put John in prison for the latter’s condemnation of Herod’s behavior. John, therefore, posed no further threat to the unholy affair between Herod and his paramour. One would think that at this point Herodias would let it go. Her enemy, after all, was locked up in prison, possibly for life. But she held so much grudge in her heart that she desired to kill John.

She couldn’t, the Bible says. But one day, the opportunity came, and she swiftly unleashed her wrath on John by suggesting to her daughter that she ask for John’s head (cf. Mark 6:21-29). Several lessons can be drawn from this story, but let’s focus on just one: the importance of entertaining good thoughts and avoiding grudge.

Herodias’ problem involved three stages: first, she held a grudge; then she desired to kill; and finally, she killed. We can see this pattern in the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion by his enemies. A further example is what happened between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-11), as well as what ensued between Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37:1-36). 

Your thoughts are like the steering wheel of a vehicle. Where you turn the steering, that is the direction you go. Likewise, your thoughts give direction to your life. Where you turn your thoughts, there your life will go. Bad thoughts will lead you in the wrong direction, but good thoughts will take you in the right direction. This is why it is important to entertain only good and positive thoughts, especially regarding yourself and other people.

No matter what people have done to you – whether they are wrong or right – it is important that you don’t entertain grudge or resentment against them. The reason is, when grudge persists, someone always gets hurt. Resentment is just the first step in the process. Over time, resentment breeds hate. Then, when hate matures, it begins to wish serious harm (even death) on the person (or people) resented. 

There is enough evil in the world. When you get an opportunity, do something to make this world a little more brighter. In Romans 6:12-19, God tells us to yield the members of our body, not as instruments of unrighteousness, but as instruments of righteousness. Satan needs an instrument to propagate evil. Don’t let that instrument be you.

Be an instrument in the hands of JesusLet Him use you to bring peace where there is no peace; to bring purity where there is impurity; to bring healing where there is hurt; to bring salvation where people are lost; to bring truth where people are deceived; and to bring freedom where people are bound.                

May the God of peace let His face shine upon you today, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Genesis 37:1-36

Why the Fear of God Is Good for You

Daily Devotional: Day 224 |By Stephen Bilson-Ogoe

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:20, NKJV).

Three months into their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites camped at Mount Sinai. There the Lord gave the Ten Commandments, but not without some spectacle. Thunder, flashes of lightning, loud trumpet blasts, thick clouds, fire and smoke were on display, as the Lord manifested His presence. Engulfed by these apocalyptic phenomena, the people feared for their lives. Moses’ response to the people’s cry is captured in today’s opening Scripture. First, Moses calmed them down. Then, he explained to them the reason behind everything that was happening. Here is where we need to pay attention.

According to Moses, “God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before youso that you may not sin.” This was a teaching moment. God revealed a bit of His awesome power to test the Israelites. To what end? That His fear would be before them, so that they would not sin. Here, the Word of God reveals to us something important about the connection between fear of God and sin. Fear of God is an antidote against sin. People sin for lack of fear – fear of God. Whoever does not fear God, does not fear to sin, either.

Fear of God is a necessary virtue. It restrains you from sinning against God or neighbor. Fear of God draws you to God and at the same time, it pulls you away from sin. God wanted to teach the Israelites to understand the importance of fearing God. And once the fear of God took hold of their heart, the result is that they would not sin.

Now, think about this: If it is true (and it is) that fear of God prevents us from sinning, what do you think Satan’s strategy would be? You guessed right!

Satan was the first sinner, and the Bible says whoever sins is of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:8). Therefore, satan needs people to join him in his rebellion against God. His strategy is to eliminate the one thing which keeps people from sinning against God: fear of God. Or, at the very least desensitize people to sin. This is his strategy for the proliferation of sin in the world. He started this campaign long ago in the Garden of Eden. God warned Adam and Eve that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). This put holy fear in them, and kept them from sin.

When tempted, Eve initially repeated God’s commandment and the consequence for violating it. You can tell from her tone that she feared the consequence of disobeying God. But now, note satan’s reply to Eve: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). At first, Eve was afraid to die; she wanted to live, so she stayed away from the thing which could kill her – sin. But satan allayed her fears by falsely assuring her, “You will not surely die.” The moment Eve believed satanthe fear of God vanished from her heart. As a result, she became vulnerable, because there was nothing restraining her from going against God’s will. Adam followed his wife. The rest is history . . .

Many people can say they love God, but how many can equally say that they fear God? In the Body of Christ today, the fear of God is seldom mentioned or taught. Some even find the concept incompatible with the grace and love of God. But the truth is, the fear of God did not expire when Jesus died and rose from the dead. The fear of God is so vital that, in fact, God Himself promised, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me” (Jeremiah 32:40). God shows you His kindness by putting His fear in your heart. In the Bible, love of God and fear of God work in tandem.  One cannot exist without the other. Therefore, whoever loves God will fear Him also; and whoever fears God will love Him. 

Keep the fear of God alive in your heart. It is good for your soul. Let no one deceive you.

Be blessed today, you and your household! Amen.

For further study: Hebrew 12:18-29

Overcoming the Temptation of Apostasy

Daily Devotion: Day 218 |By Stephen Bilson-Ogoe

‘“LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal”’ (Romans 11:3-4, NKJV).

Paul was concerned about the salvation of his fellow ethnic Israelites. A lot of people today, mostly Christians, have similar concerns. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit moved Paul to address this question once and for all. At the beginning of Romans chapter 11 (see also Romans 6:6-8), Paul deals with the enigma of unbelieving Israel and how God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled. One word explains everything: remnant. Among ethnic Israelites, there is a vast majority which didn’t, and still, does not believe in Jesus as Messiah, Lord and Savior. But God has reserved a remnant who will believe and be saved. Through the saving of the remnant, God would have fulfilled His promises regarding Israel. To explain this point, Paul borrowed an incident from the Old Testament, specifically, 1 Kings chapter 19.

In 1 Kings 18: 20-40, Elijah stirred the hornet’s nest by killing 450 prophets of Baal. At this time in Israel, idolatry had reached its peak. Under the ungodly leadership of Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, almost all of Israel had become apostate, worshipping Baal (pronounced like ‘BAIL;’ plural, Baalim) – a Canaanite and Phoenician god. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He warned them about these gods. But they didn’t listen. After Elijah’s actions, Jezebel vowed to end his life. From that point – fearing for his life – Elijah fled.

Eventually, Elijah became exhausted from fighting for true worship to prevail in Israel. It is at this point that he cried to God, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But God encouraged Elijah by revealing to him that he wasn’t the only faithful person left in Israel. He said, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Think about it. Of the hundreds of thousands of people in Israel, only seven thousand people (plus Elijah) were faithful to God and had not been corrupted with Baal worship.

As in other epochs, even today, there is a temptation among God’s people to flow with the majority without critically discerning the spirit of truth (or error). Some assume – mistakenly – that God will not allow the majority to be wrong. But as we have seen, in Elijah’s time the majority was wrong and lost. In our time, too, the purity of God’s Word is gradually being replaced with watered down and ear-tickling versions of the truth. Significant numbers of what today is called ‘church’ have become, or are becoming, apostate – meaning, falling away from the truth (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

The growing influence of the Ecumenical Movement and the push for a one world  (globalized, inter-faith) religion, is a case in point. “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’  and,  “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). And in Revelation 3:4, after describing the church in Sardis as a “dead church,” Jesus says, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” God is faithful. Just as He preserved seven thousand people during the apostasy of Elijah’s day, so is He reserving for Himself today a remnant of faithful men and women spread around the world.

Today, let us intercede for one another that the Spirit of Truth will preserve us from the spirit of error and deception (1 John 4:4-6).

May God bless and increase you, in the Name of Jesus! Amen.

For further study: 1 Kings 19:1-18

You Can Rule Over Sin

Daily Devotional: Day 112

“So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

 Each time you are tempted to sin, you are presented with a choice – a choice to rule over sin or to be ruled by sin. Therefore, sinning isn’t an accident. Moreover, when you sin, you ‘empower’ sin to have an advantage over you. But this need not happen. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by a flawed theology of sin which elevates and emphasizes sin’s power to the point where most Christians have come to believe that sin is just part of life. But the truth is, sin is not part of life; it is part of death. The usual mantra goes like this, “We are all sinners and children of Adam.” Roman Catholics even go a step further, saying, “To thee [Mary] do we cry, poor banished children of Eve” (from the Marian Prayer, Hail, Holy Queen). The time has come for Christians to leave poor Adam alone, take personal responsibility for their sins, and focus on how to appropriate the liberating blessings of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ.

Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. One day the brothers brought sacrifices to God, who accepted Abel’s sacrifice. But God wasn’t as pleased with Cain’s sacrifice. Cain, therefore, became angry. Noticing that Cain was on the brink of sinning, God took the initiative, approached Cain and warned him of impending danger. Now pay attention to God’s choice of words. He tells Cain that sin lies at the door and it desires to have him. Then God urges Cain, saying, “you should rule over it [sin].” Now this is key. I’d like us to focus on this last statement. Why would God tell Cain to rule over sin? The answer is, God knew that Cain could rule over sin. In other words, Cain had a choice to make. This was after sin had entered the world through Adam.

The point is, God will not command us to do something unless He knows it is possible for us to accomplish it. He said, “you should rule over it.” Of course, the rest of the story tells us that Cain ignored God’s loving warning and ended up taking his brother’s life. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that God believed that Cain was capable – with God’s help – of doing the right thing. Unfortunately, Cain chose to submit to sin instead of submitting to God.

When we, too, are tempted to sin, let us hear the sweet voice of the Father whispering, “You should rule over it . . . You can rule over it.” May the Lord grant you victory in every temptation, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray to the Father about the message that has come to you today.

For further study: James 1:12-15