Ask Mark a Question
Do you have questions about how to live in the power and freedom of true grace? Have you read verses that seem to contradict the message of grace? Have you read or heard people teach things that are confusing about how grace works? Apparent contradictions and confusing questions can have simple answers and Mark can help you find them.
While helping you, you can help people around the world who are troubled by the same questions. We are working to build a digital library to help people find answers to questions on living in New Covenant Grace.
Q: WHat is new covenant grace?
True New Covenant Grace is Christ living in and through us, changing us from the inside out...if we only believe it.
Q: WHAT is grace not?
Definitions matter. In our society "grace" has many definitions and meanings to different people depending on the context. But true, transforming New Covenant grace is NOT:
Q: How do i know if i am living in true grace?
The natural result of the branch being attached to the vine is fruit. Likewise, the natural result of living in the power grace is Christ living in and through us to make us more and more like Him.
This side of Heaven we will always have times when we fall short and need to return to drawing life from the vine instead of relying on our own effort. But when we live in true grace we are continually being changed to be more Christ-like.
John 15:1-5: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Q: What did jesus mean by "if you love me, keep my commandments?"
I wonder why Jesus spoke some "law oriented" verses in the NT. For example, John 14:15 "If you love me, keep my commandments." I assume the answer is Jesus was alive at that time or he was talking to his "law oriented" disciples or Paul was not there yet to start the Grace gospel. Can you help?
Thanks for helping other people who are wondering the same thing.
Your question about why Jesus made so many statements that seem to not only be reinforcing the Law, but raising the bar far higher than Moses did, is very common. In fact, it's one of the most asked questions in our pastors equipping seminars in nations around the world.
I realize you were writing from memory, but it's important to note that what Jesus actually said was, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." I point this out because, as we will see later, this is actually a promise rather than a demand. Think of it as a doctor saying, "If you will take your medicine, you will get well." It's all about cause and effect. So let's wade in.
Jesus Was Born Under the Law
First, we need to see that Jesus was deliberately "born under the Law."
Gal 4:4-6- "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." NIV
This helps us understand that some things Jesus taught were true "under the Law" and some things He taught were to prepare people for the coming of the New Covenant. It is popular to teach the "Sermon on the Mount," Matt. 5-6, as commandments we are supposed to keep if we are going to obey the Lord. But, most of those things are impossible unless we are empowered from within by the indwelling Spirit which only comes through the New Covenant.
It is clear that some things He taught were never meant to be taken as commands in the New Covenant. Things such as "If your eye offends you, cut it off...if your hand offends you, cut it off," were never practiced by the people who heard Jesus say them. We have no reference to any one-eyed or one-handed disciples. They understood what was metaphor, what was a command/demand/threat under the Law, and what was actually a promise to be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant.
Your reference to John 14:15- "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," is a prime example of how easy it is to interpret certain verses as commandments, demands or threats, when we should see them as promises that only the Holy Spirit can fulfill in and through us.
Problems with Communication
Much of human communication is nonverbal, coming through facial expressions, cadence and inflection of voice, and movement of the body, especially our hands. A simple example can be found in these seven words- "I didn't say I beat my dog." Because you can't hear me say each word, I will emphasize them with bold type and underlining each word. Say each sentence and emphasize the bold, underlined word.
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
Each sentence has the same words but each one means something very different. Our challenge is we weren't there to hear Jesus say these things. So we must pay close attention to the context, the words before and after, of each verse we read. This way we can get a much better understanding of what was intended, whether it was meant to be a command, demand, threat or a wonderful promise.
Threats, Demands or Promises?
So what did Jesus mean when He said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments"?
Did He mean, "If you love Me, you better keep My commandments"?
Or did He mean, "If you love Me, you prove it by keeping My commandments"?
Or did He mean,"If you love Me, I will measure it by how well you keep My commandments"?
Each of these interpretations sound like a command, demand or threat. But He actually gave this as a tremendous promise by meaning, "If you love Me, you will be empowered to keep My commandments."
And we can be certain this is what He meant by reading the larger context. If we read vs.15, and keep on reading, we see the promise of His empowerment that would come in the New Covenant-
John 14:15- "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." If we keep reading, we begin to understand that Jesus was actually introducing the heart of the New Covenant.
14:16-18- "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
From the context we can clearly see the promise of the New Covenant and how we will empowered from within. Let's fully Jesus' thinking from what He actually said-
"The Father will give you another helper...the Spirit of truth."
Who will help us? The Spirit of Christ. What will the Spirit do? He will lead us to truth and help us. Help us do what? Keep His commands.
"...you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."
The Spirit will no longer be "with" God's people as in the Old Covenant. But He will live IN us and empower us from within. This is the true New Covenant, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col 1:26-27
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
Jesus will come and live in us by the Spirit.
Old Testament Promises Fulfilled
The New Covenant was promised throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets, It is based on this most important promise- that God will put Himself, by His Spirit, inside us who believe. This most important promise is wrapped in understanding the difference between the simple concepts of "ON" and "IN." The Old Covenant was described as God's laws written "ON" stones. But the New Covenant is understood as the amazing promise that the Lawgiver will live "IN" people!
Jer 31:31-34: "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord, 'because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and (I) will remember their sins no more." NIV
--Notice all the times God says, "I Will." These are His New Covenant promises to us!
Ezek 11:19-20: "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God."
Ezek 36:26-28: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God."
--Take note of the result of His Spirit being put IN us. He will "move us" to follow His decrees. This is the important "cause and effect."
These verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel are quoted repeatedly by the writers of the epistles; several times in the letter to the Hebrews, only. The apostles understood that in the New Covenant, the indwelling Spirit of Christ would empower believers to obey the Lord. They saw all the biblical injunctions to "obey His commandments," not as threat or demands, but as magnificent promises of what the Holy Spirit would empower believers to do.
2 Peter 1:4-5: "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." NASU
--What a magnificent promise, that we "may become partakers of the divine nature."
--Even Moses prophesied that after the Lord dispersed the tribes among all the nations, which happened three times by the end of Old Testament times, God would then do something within His people, something that would miraculously change the hearts of all believers.
Deut 30:6: "The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live." NIV
--This prophesies the internal work of the New Covenant.
--Isaiah prophesied again and again about the coming of the Messiah, the transformation He would bring and the miracle of the New Covenant.
Isa 54:9-10: "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you." NIV
The New Covenant Cause and Effect
All of this biblical evidence points us to the miracle of the New Covenant. It's about cause and effect. He causes transformation and the effect shows up in us. All we are asked to do is believe He tells the truth in His "magnificent" promises.
And this is Good News, Really Good News!
Family & Relationships:
Q: how do i respond when people i love make bad choices?
It’s always a difficult thing when people we love make choices that we believe are not good for them. If we didn’t love them we wouldn’t care. Because we do love them, we are concerned and we hurt for them because we know the odds are they may reap bad results from their choices.
To worry means we are not sure of the outcome and we are concerned it will be bad. God does not “worry” because He knows everyone’s outcome, but He is certainly “grieved” at our destructive choices…because He does know the bad outcome and the pain we bring upon ourselves.
It is true that God loves us no matter what we do, but because He loves us He cannot bless our bad choices…that would not be love at all. As a parent you will not stop loving your kids but you cannot bless their disobedience. If one hits the other because they are angry, runs into traffic or touches the hot stove, you can’t support or bless that and neither can the Lord.
But remember, if a person has not committed themselves to the Lord and been born again, they are not children of God and sadly, they are on their own. God has created all people but He is Father only to those who have chosen Him. And because He loves us He gives us the choice to be His child. He does not force His love on us because that would not be love but control and violation. He will lovingly deal with everyone through circumstances to give them the opportunity to call out to Him. And the Word says whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Of course, other people are not our kids so we have no right to force our choices upon them unless they want to know what we think…it’s the same with God. What do we mean and what do they think we mean when we say we “support” them in what the have chosen to do? We don’t really want to “support” bad choices because that means we agree with something that we actually think will really hurt them.
If someone is just telling us what they are going to do (or have done) but they are not asking for advice, then the best we can do is say, “I love you and I want your life to go well. If this is what you feel is right for you then I am praying that it all works out well for you.”
We don’t want be critical or rejecting (since they are not asking for our input) and we want to try and keep the door open for them to come to us if they see they have made a bad mistake. They may never choose to see it but we don’t want to become their enemies.
The prodigal son and his father are the perfect example. The son made up his mind to leave and the father didn’t fight him but let him go. But the father didn’t keep blessing or helping him either. When the son finally saw the bad choice he had made, he went home and the father fully received him. Since the father was very wealthy, he no doubt heard regular news about how badly the son was doing but he did not go get him or send money to him or talk bad about him to his neighbors. He loved him by waiting for him to see his error and turn around.
So when someone we love is making choices we believe are wrong for them but they are not asking for our input, we stay kind to them but remain quiet until they ask. If we keep the relationship intact, they may very well turn to us for advice, especially if things go badly. Then we have an opportunity to point them to the Lord for their help.
Q: WHAT does it mean to "train up a child in the way he should go"?
Proverbs 22:6- “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This proverb, so often taken out of context, has been heaping guilt and condemnation on generations of parents and I think it is time that it stops. If the choices of grown children were dictated by how well their parents raised them, then God would be the worst father of all. Just look at His kids and the choices we repeatedly make.
If parents are responsible for the bad choices their children make, why don’t we blame the heavenly Father for the choices His kids make? Because we know that we have free will; and we know that we each make our own choices, good or bad, and we don’t blame God for our bad choices. The Father is always seeking to teach and guide His children with wisdom, but He always gives them free choice.
From the tree placed right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, to every circumstance we are faced with in our lives, God does not seek to control our behavior by force of His power, but He seeks to teach and lead us by giving us choices. He then empowers us to follow through on our righteous choices and reap the reward. When we acknowledge our bad choices, He even redeems them.
Continue reading this topic here.
Learning to Read Scripture in Context:
Q: Can God regret, change his mind or be disappointed with us?
AskMark Question From Alaska: In your sermon, you said ‘God cannot be disappointed in us...that would be illogical because He already knows our future.’ According to the NIV God does have regrets and logically this means He can be disappointed. What are your thoughts on the matter? If God can have regrets and therefore be disappointed in those He has appointed, does this mean God makes mistakes as well?
The short answer is: No, God is not disappointed when His children mess up, God does not have regrets, meaning He never wishes He had done something differently, and He cannot change mind or His nature.
However, this short answer is not nearly enough. Truth cannot be based on my opinion or anyone else’s, but His. And this question is far, far too important to simply give an opinion. This question speaks directly to the eternal nature of God and why we can depend on Him completely, wholeheartedly, and throughout eternity.
To answer this based on biblical truth, we must dig deeper. We must look at both how words are defined and what God says about Himself. So now for the necessary, much longer answer.
(I am well-known for my very long answers to short questions. 😊)
1- Understanding how words are used in Scripture.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.
God frequently speaks in Scripture using anthropomorphic human terms that we can understand. God is a spirit. As such, He does not have hands or feet or wings though some verses use these terms so we can understand. Yet, He is infinitely more complex in His emotions than we can possibly imagine. God is fully capable of feeling “sorry” for the people He loves while fulling knowing what would happen long before it does. And as the eternal God who knows all things, “the end from the beginning,” He is never surprised and would never choose to do anything differently.
In a very limited sense, we can see circumstances develop and “know” that a child is going to make a bad choice. We can be sorry for the consequences that come to the child but not truly regret giving them the choice. The choice helps them learn life.
2- Words take on their meaning from the context in which they are used.
The word “trunk” has a different meaning in different contexts-
“I put my luggage in my trunk.”
“I put a peanut in the elephant’s trunk.”
“I’m doing exercises to strengthen the trunk of my body.”
“I scraped my arm on the trunk of the tree.”
Because of this, Scripture can say that God “regretted or felt sorry” and that He is the all-knowing God who will never “regret or change His mind.” And, as we will see, both are stated in the same chapter.
3- The two most common places where God “regretted” an outcome:
Gen 6:5-8- The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved (regret, sorry, KJV-repent) that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. NIV
When people make bad choices, which He always knows they will make, He already has the next plan prepared. In this case, it was Noah, and ultimately, Christ!
1 Sam 15:10-11- Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 "I am grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night. NIV
1 Sam 15:35-16:1- Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) that he had made Saul king over Israel. 16:1- The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king." NIV
Again, when people make bad choices, which He always knows they will make, He already has the next plan prepared. In this case, it was David, and ultimately, Christ!
4- Between the above verses, Scripture makes sure we do not misunderstand the eternal, all-knowing, and unchanging nature of the true God. The context is always very important.
1 Samuel 15:28-29- And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
Same verses in NIV:
1 Sam 15:28-29- Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors — to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind (regret, repent)." NIV
Samuel was instructed to make it clear that God felt “sorry” for Saul because of His great love for him and all the people and the consequences they endured. However, he also shows that God would still have made the same choice again and will never change His mind. This makes Him completely trustworthy!
5- Even Balaam had to acknowledge God’s all-knowing, unchanging nature.
-Balaam was a false prophet who would pronounce curses for money; he loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15) He was hired by Balak to curse the Israelites but was compelled by God to speak only blessing and describe God’s unchanging nature-
Num 23:17-19- So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the princes of Moab. Balak asked him, "What did the Lord say?" 18 Then he uttered his oracle: "Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. 19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind (regret, repent). Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? NIV
6- Under the “Inferior Old Covenant” God continually revealed Himself as the One who is not bound by time but knows all things from before the beginning.
Isa.46:9–10- “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” NIV
Mal 3:6-7- "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” NIV
Ps 139:1-18- O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. NIV
Dan 2:20-21- "Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” NIV
7- The early believers built their faith on the absolute assurance that God was always in control, never changed, and He could be trusted completely because He makes no mistakes!
--The following are all the same passage in four different translations-
Eph 1:11- “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” NIV
Eph 1:11- “In Him also, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” NASB
Eph 1:11- Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. NLT
Eph 1:11- “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…” NKJV
And this eternal truth about God’s nature continues throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Rom 8:28- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” NASB
Heb 4:13- Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. NIV
James 1:17-18- “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” NIV
How can God be disappointed in us when He completely understands our weaknesses, sympathizes with our struggle, and supplies the answer? He can’t!
Heb 4:15-16- “This High Priest of ours understands (sympathizes with) our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most”.
We have a God who understands our weaknesses and invites to come to Him, BOLDLY, for the help we need! As we draw near to Him, we receive His mercy (unconditional love) and His grace (the power of His life is changing us from inside out) when we need it the most! We should make use of this promise far more often!
Thanks for the question because it’s one that many, many people ask and you’ve given me the opportunity to address it in depth.
To ask Mark a question and also help others learn answers they may be seeking as well, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our AskMark page.
Q: Should we still tithe?
What about tithing? And the use of Malichi in teaching it as a minimum amount of giving...
Is this a reasonable teaching or is it a misuse of Old Testament requirement in teaching giving today?
This is a question that many people are asking right now. As more people begin to see that the New Covenant is based more on the responding to the Spirit inside of us and not threats or demands, questions about things we've done based on Old Testament practices naturally come up.
What Was The Purpose of Tithing in the Old Testament?
The word "tithe" means 10%. It was the basic principle of giving in the Old Testament. It is important to realize that Israel was a nation with all the expenses a nation of people would incur. The building and upkeep of the Temple, the support of the Levites who had no land to farm for their own support, the huge expense of maintaining a monarchy, king's palace, servants, gifts to honor and maintain relationships with other tribes/countries, armies to defend various parts of the kingdom, and many more costs.
In the New Covenant, we are His temple, we are all priests, and we do not maintain a monarchy, palace or nation. But, we do have poor who need our help, we do need facilities and equipment to make it possible to minister, and we do need qualified full time workers to help feed and care for the sheep.
Is Tithing Taught in the New Testament Epistles?
The word "tithe" is not used or taught in the epistles of the New Testament. And to use the "curse" passage in Malachi 3 is a serious misuse of the verse since Christ has clearly "redeemed us from the curse of the law."
However, we should not completely ignore the biblical idea of giving 10% to the work of the Lord. In writing to the churches in Corinth, Paul does refer to what the Law teaches about giving as an example for us to consider. He does draw a connection between giving in the Old Testament for the support of the ministering Levites and giving for the support of those who are fruitful enough to the church to enable them to be "full time" in the work.
1 Cor 9:7-14- Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? 8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9
For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13
Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. NASU
So Where Does That Leave Us?
In the New Covenant:
Galatians 6 tells us the law of sowing and reaping is in the New Covenant and we must grow in our ability to use it correctly and benefit from it. Paul made it simple by stating, "He who plants a little, harvests a little."
Sadly, some manipulate people for selfish, greedy reasons. But that doesn't negate the true purpose of the law of sowing and reaping.
The real reason for this law? To grow our faith and trust in God to take care of us. All the trials we face are designed to enable us to grow our trust in His faithful care. But, we have no control over when and how those trials come. But we do have a real measure of control over our giving. Choosing to give or not give is the only way we can actually choose to challenge our faith and grow it by choosing to give more.
The heart of the matter of giving is this:
New Covenant Grace will always lead us to do more than Law ever could.
Q: what happens when we die?
“I have a close relative who believes that when people die their spirit/soul goes “to sleep.” Then when Christ returns He “wakes them up” for the Final Judgment. Is this what the Bible teaches?”
-Humans have been made in the image God to the degree that He made them to be eternal in spirit and body, unique creativity, complex emotions, etc. The “fall” caused decay and death.
1 Cor 15:26-27- “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” NIV
1) When a believer dies, their spirit, which is eternal, is immediately in the presence of the Lord. This often referred to as “heaven.” But, it’s better for us to think of it as in the “presence of the Lord.”
2 Cor 5:6-8- “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight — 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” NASB
2) Their body decays back to dust/dirt, whether embalmed, buried, lost at sea, cremated, etc. A non-believer's spirit goes to "sheol," the "place of the dead" separated from God's presence, awaiting the final judgment. Their bodies also decay and return to dust/dirt.
Gen 2:16-17- “And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." NIV
(Their bodies began to age and die when they acted on their own wisdom instead of His.)
Heb 9:27-28- “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” NIV
-Jesus told this as a literal story- Luke 16:19-31-
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" NIV
-Jesus was clear with the thief on the cross- Luke 23:41-43
“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." NIV
3) The Scripture often refers to the death of the body as “sleep” because of the temporary, but total decay of the body. (The Creator of all life still retains their DNA.)
Acts 13:36-37- "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.” NIV (Not “him”, but his body.)
1 Cor 15:20-21- “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” NIV (They are in the presence of the Lord but their body is “asleep.”)
1 Thess 4:13-15- “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” NIV
-Take note that believers who have died, or “fallen asleep,” are actually “with Jesus” but their bodies will be resurrected, reunited with their bodies, because they have “fallen asleep.”
1 Thess 4:15-18- “According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” NIV
-When the Lord returns the bodies will be reunited with their spirit and the bodies of the living with be transformed to again be eternal.
-Repeatedly, those who have died in faith are referred to by John in Revelation as being in “heaven,” around the throne, in the presence of God, though their bodies are “asleep.”
4) When Christ returns, using the DNA of every human, God will "raise" or recreate ALL the bodies of those who have died, and all will be reunited with their spirit. Every human will be body, soul, and spirit forever.
John 5:28-29- "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” NASB
-A volume of Scripture makes it clear that the “good deeds” and “evil deeds” refer to putting one’s faith in Christ, seeking relationship with Him; or, putting one’s faith in anything else and not wanting relationship with Him.
John 3:16-21- "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." NASB
4) After the resurrection of all people, then comes the judgment.
-All who have lived by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ and declared Him to lord or owner of their life, have already been judged through His death and will not be judged again.
John 5:24- "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” NASB
-Those who chose not to put faith their faith in Christ and did not choose relationship to Him will be given what they chose- eternal separation from the presence and goodness of God.
-This is the most horrible condition of all- described as “hell, which was made for the devil and his angels, outer darkness, eternal punishment, everlasting fire, a place wailing and gnashing of teeth, a place of continual torment, etc.” All these are metaphors to describe eternal life in the complete absent of the goodness and mercy of God.
Thank you for your question and I’m happy to respond to any others!
Q: do you have any thoughts on john mcarthur's book "strange Fire"?
"I'm looking at John McArthur's book Strange Fire. I haven't read it but wondering if you have any thoughts or review of this. John seems to be on topic concerning word of faith teaching and charismatic stuff relating to the prosperity teaching. Any thoughts would be great."
The book, "Strange Fire," is very sad. Certainly, there are many weird, "strange" things done by some charismatics that others have written about. But, McArthur's book takes the position that virtually all things claiming to be supernatural or "charismatic," are actually from the devil, and thus, detestable before the Lord. The title, "Strange Fire," comes from the Old Testament reference to Lev 10:1-2-
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." KJV
Scholars debate the meaning of the Hebrew words for "strange fire," but, they all seem to agree it has to do with offering something of their own making, instead of what God had commanded; something evil, and perhaps, demonic. McArthur is a "cessationist," meaning he believes that virtually all miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12) ceased after the first century. He has taken this to mean that anything which doesn't fit within his cessationist beliefs must originate with the devil, not "of God."
McArthur's book is the foundation for the conference of the same name, which McArthur and some of his minister friends have been holding around the country over the past two years. They have picked out the most extreme views of some charismatics and then paint almost anything claiming to be supernatural as being "from the devil."
The Challenge for Charismatics:
I have sometimes referred to myself as a "reluctant charismatic." I am "charismatic" because I do, most definitely, believe in the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit active in the world today.
I am "reluctant" because of the extremes among some groups that seriously error by utilizing Old Testament ideas that were fully finished in Christ, an unscriptural emphasis on material "prosperity" that encourages greed, and an emotional manipulation that is dangerously soulish.
Most of these extremes are done by sincere people because of mistakenly mixing the two Covenants, establishing doctrine on a few verses taken completely out of context, and a general misreading of Scripture. Again, I believe most people are sincere in their desire to see the power of God set hurting people free.
I have had varying degrees of involvement in every "move of God," since the Jesus Movement of the late 60s-early 70s, through the latest "renewal/revival" wave, beginning in the early 90s and continuing today to some degree around the world. In all of these experiences, I fully believe God has been active, revealing His love and power, as hungry hearts sought Him.
As in every time of renewed spiritual hunger, there have been some unhealthy extremes and misguided efforts to "encounter God." But, it would be wise for us to be careful about passing judgment on things that do have degrees of precedent throughout the Scripture. It is in this that I believe people like John McArthur make a very serious mistake. When the Pharisees credited Beelzebub for the miracles they saw Jesus do, His response was extremely harsh; terrifying, actually. (Matt. 12:24-31)
I know that in every spiritual atmosphere, there are emotionally hurting people who are easily influenced by peer pressure and the perceived expectations of "group-think." However, far worse are the "leaders" who know this and use it to manipulate Scripture and make "merchandise" of these sincere, hurting people.
It's heartbreaking to see people who are searching for hope in their struggles fall prey to those who know how to capitalize on emotions, twist the Scripture and feed their own ego and greed. Sadly, this taints the public perception of all sincere leaders whose motive is solely to help hurting people experience the healing power of the true Gospel. It was true in Paul's day, as it is in ours.
2 Cor 2:17- "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit." NIV
Q: What is the difference between the sign of tongues and the gift of tongues?
This is a common question many have and the answer is found by considering the context of Paul's writing.
Actually, we need to address three aspects of "tongues."
-Tongues as a sign to unbelievers
-Praying or worshiping in tongues
-The spiritual gift of tongues
1) Tongues as a sign to unbelievers-
1 Cor 14:21-22- "In the Law it is written: 'Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers…" NIV
Here, Paul seems to be referring to the unbelief of most Jews on the Day of Pentecost even though God gave them a miraculous "sign." Isaiah 28:11 refers to God's judgment on unbelieving Israel when He sent the Assyrian army, "strange tongues and the lips of foreigners," to take them into captivity, and yet, they would not listen to Him. Paul uses this historical event to show, out of His love, God again gave Israel a miraculous sign at Pentecost, and yet, most Israel did not believe.
Later, in 1 Cor. 14, Paul warns the church that they should not ignore a visitor in their midst and simply enjoy the "ecstasy" of praying in tongues. The "unlearned" could not possibly understand what was happening so they get no benefit and will all are crazy. Because of this, it seems clear that the "sign to unbelievers" is directly connected to the Isaiah reference and the unbelief of the Jews.
2) Praying and Worshiping in Tongues-
The ability, or gift, to pray in the Spirit, speak in "tongues," is one of the great benefits of the Spirit living within believers. In 1 Cor. 14 Paul details the benefits of exercising this ability and encourages believers to do it often. However, he does give instructions on when, where, and how it should be used.
-This ability is to edify the speaker and should be directed to God and not to men. We are to speak in tongues when we are praying and worshiping God. NOT when we are attempting to speak to others.
-When we speak in tongues, our spirit is praying to God in a way that is "mysterious" to us and others.
-When we speak in tongues, the Holy Spirit is also praying in us, through us, and for us, in conjunction with our spirit.
1 Cor 14:2- "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit." NIV
1 Cor 14:14-15- "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 If you are praising God with your spirit…" NIV
Rom 8:26-27- "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." NIV
3) The Gift of Tongues-
The gift of tongues is listed as one of the nine categories of spiritual gifts given for the benefit of the whole Church. (1 Cor 12)
In order to benefit the people in the church gathering, this gift always requires an interpretation so others will know what's being communicated.
1 Cor 14:11-13- "If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. 13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says." NIV
1 Cor 14:26-28- "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God." NIV
The main difference in the ability to pray in tongues and the gift of tongues is this-
-The ability to pray in tongues is for individual believers to pray and worship in their spirit, directly to God. It allows the Holy Spirit to pray in us, through us, and for us.
-The gift of tongues is to be used in the church gathering, along with interpretation, so the believers can understand what's being said by the speaker and by God.
Q: What should the role of a christian be in civil government?
It's a great mistake to try to apply the principles of the New Covenant to actually governing our country or any other. New Covenant principles should govern the way we live our lives, regardless of what we do for a living or where we live. But they cannot be used to run a civil government made up of unregenerated people.
Agape love is both the overriding guide and the internal power that enables believers to live by New Covenant principles. Everything commanded and expected in the New Covenant relies on “Christ in me”. Only He, living in and through us, can produce the ability to live together as the people of God. You cannot run a civil government that requires the miracle of “Christ in me” if the Spirit of Christ is not living in every citizen.
Civil Government Is Not Part of The New Covenant
The apostles NEVER taught how to run a civil government. The Kingdom of God is meant to flourish in any nation, any tribe, any form of civil government, because it is a spiritual kingdom where Jesus rules as King in the hearts of people, growing His image and character within them, no matter where they live. Jesus never taught how to run a civil, secular government. And other than for a relatively short period of time in Old Testament Israel, all nations are civil and secular governments.
When Christ returns, ALL nations will become His and ALL unrighteousness will be banished forever! Until then, Paul's instructions in Romans 13 are a good place to start in understanding how to be a good citizen in any civil government.
Caesar Is Lord or Christ Is Lord
Nero was Caesar over the Roman Empire from 54-68 AD. He believed he was a “god” come to earth to be worshiped as “lord”. Statues and images of Nero were built for objects of worship and allegiance. He despised Christians because of their allegiance to Christ as Lord.
What he couldn't understand was that the very allegiance he despised would actually make Christians better citizens in the Empire because of their love for the poor, their desire to live justly and their honor of authority. Both Peter and Paul wrote, "Honor Caesar". How to actually do that requires allowing the King to rule within our hearts and guide us through the complicated process of being a "good citizen", no matter where we live.
If you live in a voting democracy, then you should vote as wisely as you can. You are not electing a national pastor, but someone who has quality character AND the ability to lead, negotiate AND the ability to compromise for the "greater good in a fallen world".
“What Should We Do?”
John the Baptist, preparing the way for the King, was asked by sincere, repentant people, "What should we do?" In Luke 3:10-14, he answered, "Share what you have with the poor". To tax collectors working for Rome he said, "Collect no more than you are ordered". To Roman soldiers he said, "Don't take money by force, or accuse anyone unjustly and be content with your wages". What he didn’t say, to any of these groups, was “quit”.
We hear rousing sermons about David who “killed his ten thousands”. And when told the price of Saul’s daughter was “100 foreskins of the Philistines”, David brought back 200! We are told to honor David’s mighty men who were ranked by how many enemies they personally killed. The unsanitized truth is that those were extremely bloody times. But human history, because of the Fall, has always been bloody; and will be until the true King returns!
Love, Understanding and Suicide Bombers
As a young, inexperienced and naive hippie, newly converted in 1968, I thought our country should respond to international aggression and force with flowers, love and understanding. Oh, the shallow musings of the inexperienced and naive. How do you show love and understanding to people who believe eternal paradise is theirs if they slaughter us; all of us? How do we “turn the other cheek” to those who highest aim in life is to kill all who do not agree with them?
I’ve been around the world several times in the past few years and I’ve seen many different forms of civil government. I love my country and I am deeply grateful for being born in America. I do my best to be an informed voter and I do hope our elected officials will do whatever is necessary to keep us safe.
The Return of the King!
But after 65 years of living in a falling world, seeing the failure of both Democrats and Republicans, the collapse of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin wall and the horrific rise of Islamic extremists, I do not fool myself into thinking any human politics will bring the Kingdom of God. Only the return of the King will do that.
And though I have no idea when (and neither does anyone else!), I am absolutely convinced He is returning to earth. And when He does, the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of our God. Until then, Romans 13 gives us important guidelines no matter where we live, no matter what kind of government we live under.
1 Tim 2:1-3- “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God's mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2 Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.” NLT
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