Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
James 4:17 (New Living Translation)
James concludes this chapter by issuing us with a stern warning. He doesn’t get any more explicit than this – he reminds us that it is a sin to know the good that we ought to do and yet not do it. This to me is a near-impossible standard to uphold. God gives us the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, which tells us the things we mustn’t do – kill, covet, steal, lie, etc; whereas Jesus tells us what we must do in the New Testament – to love God and our neighbour. A violation of either renders us sinful; it’s virtually impossible to acquit yourself of blame when the stakes are so high.
I propose that there are three things we can do with the life that God has given to us to steward. The good news is, these choices are ours to make. We can either spend it, keep it or invest it.
- Hedonistic – You can choose to spend it on your pleasures and make your life all about pursuing your goals and dreams. In other words, this life is all about you. I think we are most susceptible to this way of life.
- Egotistic – Or, you can keep it for yourself and be selfish, self-centred, and live like a hermit, as if no one owes you anything and you owe nothing to anyone. You inevitably become greedy, mercenary and inconsiderate. I think we unknowingly choose this way of life.
- Altruistic – Or (and I pray this you’d choose this!), you can invest it in the things of God and in His people, knowing that one day, God Himself will give you great returns – some of it on earth and most of it in heaven. Life is fast and it will soon past; only what is done for Christ will last.
Think about it for a little while – if everyone in this youth group invested their lives in the good that they ought to do, imagine what we would be capable of accomplishing for God! If the local church comes together, unified in one vision to bear fruit, I truly believe that we will be world-changers, history-makers and life-shapers! There’s so much power in the potential of us doing good unto all men.
So my question then to all of us is – What exactly is the good that we ought to do?
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, He gave us the Holy Spirit and left us with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. These aren’t great suggestions but great instructions for all of us to carry out. The former tells us to love God and His people. The latter tells us to go out and touch and impact lives for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but if you call yourself a Christian, then these two great instructions must sound good to you; these are what we must invest our lives in if life is uncertain and death is certain. And to help us along, we can depend on the Holy Spirit; we are not alone at all in doing good for the glory of God. May we learn to involve God in all that we do in this short life for His glory alone!
Previous post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man
Earlier, I have communicated that everything God created was perfect until sin crept into His scheme of creation. I will now examine the ramifications of the introduction of sin.
The Double-edged Commandment
It’s interesting to note that the first commandment to Man was to be fruitful and multiply. Of all the things God could command Man to do, He chose to authorise Man to reproduce. Why? I think it’s because immediately after God made Man, He was so pleased with Man that He wanted Man to propagate this perfection over all the earth and from generations to generations.
However, as we all know it, sin ruined it all – it not only plundered perfection but it also pillaged the intimacy that Man was actually created and destined to share with God. That’s why instead of spawning perfection, we’re propagating imperfection and iniquity instead, over all the earth and from generations to generations. How sadly ruined God’s original plan of perfection has become!
And with time, Man messed up again and again; after Genesis 2, you will read about how Cain killed Abel… And it seemed to get worse and worse as the story unfolded throughout the rest of the Bible until Jesus Christ came to set the record straight.
Jesus Christ the Trump Card
Now, I think this is where God used His trump card, Jesus Christ, to redeem all Man’s mistakes and to restore the fellowship into its intended intimacy.
Only Jesus Christ is the expressed image of God Himself (read Hebrews 1:1-4 and Philippians 2:6-11). That’s the sole reason we must be Christlike and follow His example. It’s not a suggestion or recommendation but a commandment and instruction! To a great extent, Christlikeness is the only route to Man’s final glory.
The grace of God was evident from Creation – God pardoned Man and allowed him to receive a punishment that was lesser than expected. The theatre of redemption reaches its crescendo at the crucifixion; the grace of God was even more evident at the Cross – where Jesus took on a punishment that was more than expected. He bore the entire weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders.
Now, if we juxtapose Genesis 3’s “The Fall of Man” and Matthew 4’s “The Temptation of Jesus”, we will realise that where Man has failed (in sinning against God), Christ has succeeded – this is pivotal to Christianity! Satan successfully ruined creation the first time and attempted to ruin redemption in his second try but Jesus overcame Satan’s overtures and secured the victory over sin and death on behalf of Man; that’s why we must imitate Christ!
We don’t imitate Christ just because we were taught to do that in Sunday School or because our pastors tell us to do that over the pulpit; we imitate Christ because the Bible has clearly stated His overwhelming triumph over the evil one! In all sense of the expression – Jesus Christ FTW!
Next post: Conclusion – The Quest for Imitation
Previous post: Introduction – The Quest for Originality
Again, I state that the best creation is the original creation. To understand why I say it is the best, let us first examine the grandeur of the creation of Man; this blew my mind when I pondered over it studiously.
The Last Creation
Since Man was the last item God created, he obviously did not participate or had any hand in the creation of the world. No wonder Job was rhetorically and categorically rebuked by God in Job 38:4 – “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding”. Man certainly wasn’t present at first creation!
And there are two obvious merits in being last place. It was first an honour. God added on to His already perfect creation (only He could do that!) and it resulted in Man. I think that’s why God added “very” to “good” in v31. Then it was a favour. To be the final jigsaw of the masterpiece meant that Man could fit in perfectly with all that has already been created. This simply means that Man didn’t need to adjust to his environment because it was custom-made for him! Think about it – no one wants to move into a halfway-renovated house.
The Latest Creation
Is there a difference between last and latest? In my opinion, the former speaks of a(n pre-)arranged order and the latter indicates actual chronology. The whole of creation was already there for Man at the point of his creation. As such, according to Genesis 2:19-20, everything was there for Man to contemplate upon (that’s why Adam named every creature) as well as to take comfort in (as every plant was given for Adam’s consumption), according to Genesis 1:29. What a privilege! I think Adam must have been an extremely creative person with a formidable vocabulary to be able to name every single living thing!
The Lone Creation
The creation of Man was truly unique. Through observation, you’ll realise that everything that was created before Man was by God’s word of command (see vv3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 16, 20, 24) and this signified authority. However, for the creation of Man, it became a word of consultation (see v26). It was as if the Trinity personally undertook this creation together and it signified God’s affection for Man. Doesn’t it give you a warm fuzzy feeling to know that we were made out of love!?
A self-esteem check here; think about it for a moment – Man certainly seemed more important to God than day and night (v3), land and sea (v6), heavens and earth (v9), plants and creatures (vv11, 20, 24), time and season (v14), sun and moon (v16)! If that doesn’t make you feel special enough, then I think you have serious esteem issues! Come on, you and I are more important to God than all that! WOW.
Also, note that the creation of Man was conclusive and not concurrent; in the ESV translation, everything else created was with the conjunction, “And”. But for Man, it was with the conjunction, “Then”; To me, the real business of creation was in making Man because everything seemed to be leading up to it. Hence I think it’s not far off to say that, in the observation of Man’s consecrated creation, we were already set apart by God from the beginning of time; no wonder we are called to be set apart for God today.
The Likeness Creation
This is the part that overwhelmed me because I felt that Man was undeserving of God’s grace. With the greatness of Man’s creation etched in our minds, we must realise then the gravity of this magnificent creation which involved the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That distinguished Man for he was to be dedicated and devoted to his divine Team of designers. As if being the last, latest and lone creation wasn’t enough, God made Man to be the only creation in His likeness. WOW!
Observe – I think God really stressed the significance of creating Man. He described this creation with two different words of similar meaning – “image” (Hebrew: Tselem) and “likeness” (Hebrew: Damuwth); to me, this really manifests the intense identicalness Man has with God.
So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that at the point of creation, Man was perfect. After all, could there be anything more perfect than this? You can’t perfect perfection! If you add, alter or abstract anything away from it, it will no longer be perfect. Sin was added, the nature of Man was altered and the likeness of God was thereby abstracted. What a tragic ending to what was intended to be a beautiful beginning!
Sin became the blot of water on a canvas of oil painting – it ruined everything. We must come to understand that God cannot have any part with sin. So know that when you sin, you bring about damage and destruction to what was formerly a perfect creation – you. Thank God for His saving grace through Jesus Christ!
Next post: The Double-edged Commandment and Jesus Christ the Trump Card
I’m back from a four-day planning getaway and for me, there’s nothing better than vision-casting and planning for the future. R-AGE @ GII, if you’re reading this, you ought to thank God for a team of dedicated shepherds who stayed up til 3am and spilled their dreams on an 18-month calendar. It’s gonna be a mind-blowing 2011 and we must certainly rise up to the challenge, to move from involvement to commitment. We’ve been working hard for you; we don’t ask for a lot, only that you can return the favour and pray hard along with us. Remember, revival will come not when we pursue programmes, but when our people pray.
I shall resume my writing by posting the key points of the sermon I preached last Sunday. (Do note that I omit illustrations and analogies in my sermon recaps.) A guest speaker will be speaking this weekend and I will return to the pulpit next weekend to tackle the next portion of James. Let’s continue to be conscientious in our own reading of the Word. (Anyway, I think my sermon recaps are getting longer and longer!)
Don’t push the blame but take responsibility instead
- You naturally know how to push the blame without actually being taught how to do it.
- Trials are usually external situations that strengthen you while temptations are internal struggles that shatter you.
- God tests you to bring out the best in you – He desires for you to grow spiritually; Satan tempts you to bring out the worst in you – to cause you to sin.
- God wants you to grow up but Satan wants you to go down.
- Temptation springs out of your own evil desires (v14). Hence, do not blame God (or Satan or Man) when you are tempted and when you sin; no one made you do it – you made you do it. Take responsibility for your own sin.
- God doesn’t contradict His own character; if He is holy and hates sin, why would He tempt you?
The ATTACK – how temptations work
- To deal with sin, understand how temptations work. Adam and Eve demonstrates this perfectly for they were, after all, the first perpetrators.
- James 1:14a – It begins with a DESIRE. Satan knows your desire and what you are tempted by so he plants exactly that in your heart to entice you; temptations always begins on a small scale that is almost unnoticeable – that’s why it’s dangerous. Sin always begins with something as small and harmless as stealing $1.
- Satan tempted Eve in Genesis 3:4-5 with, 1) “You will surely not die”, 2) “You will be like God” and 3) “You will know good and evil”.
- James 1:14b – Desire spirals into DECEPTION. You probably have a tendency to convince yourself, rationalise your thoughts and justify your actions until it feels like whatever that you had intended to do is right. To be deceived, in Greek, literally means, “to be led down a wrong path”.
- Eve convinced herself in Genesis 4:6a, that the tree was “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes” and could “make one wise”. God certainly didn’t describe the tree that way.
- James 1:15a – Deception transits into a DECISION. This marks the beginning of sin; Eve lost the battle here as she decided to succumb to her desires.
- In Genesis 3:6b, Eve saw the wrong thing, entertained the wrong thoughts and experienced the wrong desires. She went ahead to eat the fruit (and even gave it to Adam!).
- James 1:15b – Decision leads to DEATH. The result of sin meant that Adam and Eve, as well as the rest of us before we knew Jesus, were eternally separated from God. That explains why the world is a messed-up place and needs a Saviour to redeem it from eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).
- Know how sin and temptation works if you want to overcome it – and the only way to overcome it is to depend on God to help you.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 – God’s real role in temptation is to help you get out of it. Temptation is a way you trap ourselves, but God provides us with a way out. Each time you are tempted, you are tempted within your ability. It is your job to find that way out of the temptation.
The COUNTERATTACK – how to overcome temptations
- The problem isn’t in the temptation but in the desire that is within your heart; sin will always look good at the start for it appeals to pleasures but it always ends up as a disaster. Before yielding to temptation, count the cost of its destruction. Would you rather the blessings that God gives or the lies and hurt that Satan brings?
- James 1:17a – TRUST GOD’S CHARACTER. When you trust the goodness of the Father, it will help you to remain unmoved by Satan’s temptations. You yield to Satan’s temptations because you cannot wait for God’s blessings; remember that it is God who blesses you with good things, not Satan.
- Be wary of the microwave generation that demands immediacy and instant gratification. Sometimes, your impatience causes you to make your own miracles instead of waiting for the only Miracle Maker.
- The battle with temptation boils down to a battle of faith. Who do you trust? God, Satan or ourselves? If you really submit to the Lord in all aspects of your life, then you will receive the ultimate protection against temptation; you can trust God because He is constant and never changes.
- James describes God as one who doesn’t change like shifting shadows. God is like the sun – it doesn’t change, it doesn’t move. The “shifting shadows” don’t come from God but from you; you shift, but God doesn’t. This makes Him a trustworthy God and someone you can trust wholeheartedly.
- James 1:18 – TAKE IN GOD’S WORD. Truth will set you free. Read the Word of God – understand, internalise and memorise it. Make it a part of you for you cannot be apart from it. Don’t just depend on pastors and leaders to teach you the Word – know the Word for yourself. To break out of the cycle of temptation, you need the truth to be recycled in you.
- 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:14 & 2 Timothy 2:22 – TAKE OFF AND FLEE. When you are tempted, don’t even try to deal with it – just run.
- James 4:7b – TACKLE THE DEVIL. Don’t fight temptation and flee the devil, but flee temptation and fight the devil.
- Remember biblical truths when you fight the devil. Do not be afraid of the devil for you are God’s dear child and that Christ, who is in you, is greater than the devil who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
- The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war. Temptation is a battlefield and a war-zone in your head. During peace time, when you are not tempted, fill your head with truth, so that when the battle begins, you will emerge victorious and overcome the devil not by might or by power but by the spirit of God.
- James 4:7a – TURN BACK TO GOD. Balance the pressure inside you and ensuring that it is equal and opposite to the pressure outside. Instead of just combating external pressure – which is to flee from temptation and fight the devil – you must also build internal pressure, which is to focus on God. Submit yourself to God first before you resist the devil – make that your goal.
- Memorising the Word is biblical. Psalm 119:9-11 instructs young men to store God’s word and hide it in their hearts. The blood of Jesus cleans you from committed sin but the word of God keeps you from uncommitted sin. Hence, focus on God on the inside and fight the devil on the outside, while at the same time flee from temptations! So that when temptation comes, the Word of God will come. In order to overcome lies and deceit, be filled with truth. Scripture memory is not for impressing others but for insulating yourself.
Boast of your weakness and receive the power of Christ
- While God is a holy God who doesn’t tolerate sin, He is also a loving God who wants to help you overcome sin. Only the grace of God can prevent the sin in your life from being “full-grown and gives birth to death”.
- 1 Corinthians 12:9 – God gives you His grace, which is sufficient for you and through that, His power is made perfect by your weaknesses. Your response then, is to boast all the more gladly about your weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on you.
- Hebrews 4:15-16 – Jesus understands what you go through because He has gone through it Himself; He sits on the throne of grace and He is able to give you undeserved favour; you know that you will fall and keep falling, week after week, so that’s why you need His grace again and again. You know that you will be unable to withstand the pressure of sin and temptation. You know that you cannot do this on your own.
- Ask God for His strength to help you overcome temptations. Come before God and to confess your sins to Him. Confess it to a brother or sister whom you trust for James 5:6 encourages us to confess your sins to one another and to pray for each other.
- Ask God for His grace to help you to trust His promises, memorise His word, run away from temptations, fight the devil and to fix your eyes on Him. Come to the point where you know that you can’t do it on your own and that you are sick of depending on yourself.
The highlight of this long and tiring day would be the feet-washing session that took place in the early evening. I didn’t expect myself to respond so emotionally to an event that I had initially approached in a casual manner. I will only publish what I’ve written for the last hour when it’s ready – a tardy article does not do justice to a moment in my life as poignant as this, and more specifically between PL and I – I was truly humbled today.
So as the clock reveals 1:30am, and when I have little else to write about or expand, I have decided to reuse and republish old material. I hope I need not do this too often, because my writing style has evolved over the years and the only incentive that I get from reading a former entry is to see my progress and growth as a writer and thinker.
*** This following was inked on 19th March 2006. ***
I’ve always pondered on what good is. Can anyone define good or goodness? No, it is cognitively impossible because our yardstick of good has been marred by imperfection and by the sin that exists in our flesh. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the only way to define good is by way of God – only God is good – and everything else that is not of God is not good. Ponder upon that and you may realise the truth beneath it.
The absence of good permits the presence of evil. When creation took place, everything was good until God allowed the serpent, and subsequently Man, to contaminate the world, thereby allowing sin to make its debut, under the permissive boundaries of God. I opine that God allowed this to happen for He could have simply prevented Satan from doing so. At least that’s how I perceive it.
This dichotomy of good and evil can only bring to light one issue – that God has bestowed Man with choice. If I were to paraphrase Genesis 2:16-17, it’d read something like, “Adam, your destiny is in your hands”. Now, God allows evil to still exist because He is in absolute control of the situation. A lot of people have this terrible misconception that Satan rules hell. No! God rules it and hell was created for Satan to reside in it. Eventually, Satan, his fallen angels and all the unsaved souls will perish in the eternal flame!
Therefore, with opposing forces aggressively working against each other, the struggle between good and evil becomes a perpetual and daily battle for Man until he leaves his body (i.e. he physically dies). There is evil in this world because of Man(‘s choice), but the redeeming love of God draws Man back to Him; the death and resurrection power of Jesus Christ actually makes redemption a reality and gives Man access to God once again.
God will remove evil eventually – that’s for sure – and He will do a perfect job. He even created six different hells for sin (and evil) and its partakers. I shall trust God and do what I humanly can in the spiritual realm (irony alert), by the grace of God, to find my way to heaven. There is a difference – finding your way to heaven and getting out of hell.
So, like darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, allow me once again reiterate that evil is the absence of good, or in this case, God, since only God is good. In conclusion, God the Creator is good, and He will remove evil ultimately, but perhaps not now, for He permits it to exist in this world for His own reason.
I think my face is finally showing signs of aging and I do not relish losing my youth. While it has been thoroughly satisfying so far, I must be honest and say that it has also fatiguing to preach the last three consecutive weeks (so I salute RY who has been doing that week-in, week-out for the last decade). Preparing a sermon excellently is indeed a labourious challenge; I spend 15-20 hours on average with each one. The bigger challenge however, is to wait upon the Lord as I allow the Word to saturate my heart and mind – I try not to write a sermon academically; the biggest challenge is to hear from the Lord the word in season for my congregation. I find it easy to deliver a generic sermon, so it is vastly gratifying when I preach a sermon that speaks specifically to my people. I always pray that the Holy Spirit will do His work of revelation in my youths’ hearts as they receive the Word.
I am thankful to God for the generous encouragement and plentiful affirmation that I’ve received over the last three weeks; I never take any for granted – these pats-on-my-back spur me on to preach even sharper and deeper sermons! As I conclude Part III of Facebook with the Newbies, I embark on the preparation of the final installation. I pray that this series won’t just end on a climax, but it’d end in a manner that the Spirit leads. In the meantime, do check out the slideshow below to refresh yourself on the two main themes that Stephen leaves with us – managing anger and overcoming unforgiveness.
Part One – Managing Anger
- The main difference between the angry Jewish leaders who couldn’t control themselves, and Stephen who clearly was in control of his emotions, was that the latter had the Holy Spirit while the former didn’t; in short, the Jewish leaders had the presence of anger and the absence of the Spirit.
- The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is anger – for anger kills. It gives birth to murderous intent, which is different from incidental or accidental manslaughter. The Jewish leaders didn’t kill Stephen unexpectedly – they had planned to do it.
- Hate is a choice and the judgment of hate is murder in your heart (1 John 3:15).
- The Jewish leaders’ answer to Stephen’s inspiring and riveting sermon in Acts 7 revealed a three-step progression of anger.
- The first stage of anger is when you realise it with your senses, through your eyes and ears – “When they heard this”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to be your filter, to separate and sieve away the things that make you angry.
- The second stage of anger is when you respond to it with your emotions, in your mind and heart – “They were furious“. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help us to choose the right response in any situation.
- The third stage of angeris when you react to it with your actions, by your hands and mouth – “And gnashed their teeth”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing that doesn’t cause you to sin.
- Ephesians 4:6 states that we should not sin when we are angry, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry; what we do when we are angry makes all the difference.
- Anger is an extreme emotion that can sometimes be damaging and destructive; it is always a decision made in our thoughts and feelings, and it never happens by chance. Remember that anger is an emotion, not an action.
- We cannot control what happens externally (situations and circumstances) but we can ask the Spirit to help us to control what happens internally (emotion and cognition).
- The biblical remedy to managing anger is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us – that’s why Stephen was known to be a man full of the Holy Spirit.
Part Two – Overcoming Unforgiveness
- While Stephen’s answer to the Jewish leaders was completely different from the way they treated him, his reply to them in the face of being stoned was actually quite similar to the way Jesus Christ in the way that He was crucified.
- Stephen had an absence of anger and a presence of the Spirit; he demonstrated for us three possible approaches to overcoming apparent unforgiveness.
- The first approach is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (“But being full of the Holy Spirit”) by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Actively deal with unforgiveness and not passively avoid it.
- The second approach is to look to God’s love intently (“He gazed intently into heaven”) and remember our God is One who is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9:17)!
- The third approach to know Jesus’ mission wholeheartedly (“Do not hold this sin against them”) for when we understand that the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we’ll understand how to honour and give Him glory in our most trying situations.
- The glory of God is evidently distinguished and displayed when we compare manmadestructures to GodmadeWonders (pun intended); hence we should fix our eyes on something bigger than ourselves, better than our situations and more glorious. We should put on heavenly spectacles.
- Those who are full of the Spirit are game for anything in life, be it good or bad – because they are willing to do His work and to suffer for Him.
- Forgiving others is a natural cause of action when we are being forgiven by God.
- When evil does its worst, God does His best; Stephen’s martyrdom indirectly resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul became a legendary missionary and author of half of the New Testament.
- God desires for us to be reconciled to Him first, before we are reconciled to others (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We experience freedom to relate to others when we are liberated in how we relate to God.
I sincerely hope that was helpful for you. With that, I conclude Stephen’s chapter and look forward to the last character in this series, as well as some much-needed rest at the start of the week.