Monday, May 31, 2021

Sin (7) Loving Sinners, Hating Sin

A common expression among Christians is that God loves sinners but hates their sin. However, it is not really clear that it is possible to separate a person from what they have done in this neat way. What a person does reflects who they are, so we can’t easily pull them apart. When God looks at us, he sees what we are doing as well as who we are. In fact, what we are doing, reveals who we are. But that is not a problem for God because his love is bigger than anything that we can do.

Unfortunately, there are no scriptures to support the popular saying. The verses that are usually quoted are the following.

You hate all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:5).
His soul hates one who loves violence (Psalm 11:5).
These verses do not say that God hates sin. They say that he hates people who deliberately engage in evil and violence. There are some people who are deliberately engaged in evil to do as much harm as they can, but this is relatively rare. Most people sin because they struggle with the circumstances of life. We cannot use these verses as proof that God hates sin. I suspect that when he looks at most people, he feels sadness and regret because their lives have been messed up by the spiritual powers of evil.

There is no doubt that God loves us. He even loves those who have fallen into sin.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
He proved his love by sending Jesus to die for us when we were still sinners. Therefore, a more correct statement would be that God loves us despite our sin. Our sin cannot prevent him from loving us.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sin (6) Romans

In his letter to the Romans, Paul provides an insight into the nature of sin. He explains that it is ubiquitous because humans are under the power of sin (Rom 3:9,23). This is the heart of the human problem. It is not that we have made some bad choices, but that we are under the power of sin. In Romans 5, Paul explained how sin came into the world.

Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…
Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses…
By the trespass of the one man, death reigned…
Sin reigned in death… (Romans 5:12, 14, 17, 21).
When Adam and Eve acted on the deceiver’s advice, they were not just being naughty, they were unwittingly submitting to the spiritual powers of evil who had already rebelled against God. The initial victory was won by a spirit called Satan, but a spirit called Death quickly rose to the top and with an assistant called Sin controlled human life on earth from the time of Adam until Moses. (The giving of the law opened the way for Accuser to rise to the top (Rom 7:9-11)).

Sin is not just bad behaviour. Sin is the name of a powerful spiritual ruler (See Controller). Likewise, Death is the name of an equally powerful spiritual power. These spirits gained power in the earth when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Paul explains that they are ruling in the lives of people who have not been rescued by Jesus. Understanding this reality should make us more sympathetic and less judgmental of people who do not know Jesus, because they have often been manipulated or controlled by a spirit called Sin.

In Romans 6 and 7, Paul explains the consequences of the emergence of these spiritual powers. Humans became slaves of Sin and Death. Those who have not surrendered to Jesus are still slaves of these spirits.

We should no longer be slaves of sin (6:6).
Death no longer has dominion over Him (6:9).
You used to be slaves to sin (6:17).
You were slaves of sin (6:20).
I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin (7:14).
The unavoidable problem is that we become slaves of what we obey.
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey (Rom 6:16).
People don’t choose to be slaves, but if they submit to the wrong thing, they become a slave to sin and evil. They may still feel like they are free because they are choosing what to do, but they have unwittingly become a slave to the thing they have obeyed. This is a massive problem for the people of the world.

The good news is that Jesus defeated the spirits of Sin and Death when he died on the cross. His followers have been set free from these powers.

You have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin (Rom 6:17-18).
This deliverance is confirmed in Romans 8.
The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from… Sin and Death (8:2).
He condemned Sin in the flesh (8:3).
Jesus defeated the spirit of Sin on the cross and rescued those who choose to follow him from the power of Death. Those who have not acknowledged Jesus are still slaves of these spirits, often without realising. They deserve our sympathy, not condemnation. We are not better, just different, having been rescued by Jesus.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sin (5) The Gospels

According to the synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke), John baptised people for the forgiveness of their sins and the angel announcing Jesus’ birth said he would save people from their sin, but Jesus did not talk about sin (missing the mark) very much. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is only recorded as using the word sin on one occasion when healing the paralysed man (Mark 2:5-10). This is striking. If the first gospel (good news), only mentioned sin in one place, it is odd that insisting that people acknowledge their sin is at the heart of modern preaching of the good news.

When he did mention sin in Mathew, Mark and Luke, he almost always used the word “forgive” or “pardon” at the same time (Matt 9:2-6: 26:28; 12:31; Luke 1:77; 3:3; 5:20-24; 7:47-49; 11:4 24:27). He never accused ordinary people of sinning, but frequently promised to forgive their sins. If Jesus could not speak of sin without mentioning forgiveness, we should add this practice to our sharing of the gospel. This was true of the preaching of the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:38; 3:19: 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 22:16; 26:19). The apostles always mentioned forgiveness when they spoke about sin. If forgiveness was the heart of their preaching, it should be an integral part our ours too.

The word hamartia is used more frequently in John’s gospel. Jesus told the man by the pool of Bethsaida to stop sinning to keep his healing safe (John 5:14). He accused the Jews who rejected his good news of being servants of sin (John 8:21-46). He explained that the Holy Spirit will convict people of sin when he comes (John 16:8-9). He explained that a blind man was not blind because of his sin or his parent’s sin (John 9:5-31).

Challenging and exposing the sins of ordinary people was not a dominant part of Jesus' ministry. He Ieft that for the Holy Spirit to do when he came. I presume that the hardest task for Jesus was to get people to understand was the extent of God’s love for them.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Sin (4) Burden

In the Old Testament, sin is often described as a burden. The Hebrew verb that is used most frequently with the word for waywardness is “carry”. It is used more than a hundred times with the common noun for sin “awon”. The most common way to view sin is a weight or burden that has to be carried. Cain said that his sin was a burden too heavy to carry. The Old Testament explains that people must carry the burden of their waywardness.

An interesting thing about the Old Testament is that God is often described as carrying the burden of sin. He carries it on behalf of his people. Exodus 34:7 describes God as merciful, gracious and patient, carrying the “waywardness, rebellion and wrongdoing” of his people. When the Psalmist confessed his waywardness to God, he carried (forgave) the waywardness of his wrongdoing (Psalm 32:5). Psalm 85:2 says that God has carried (forgiven) the waywardness of his people. God does not leave his people carrying the burden of sin. He carries the burden for them and forgives them.

Another verb that is used (less frequently) with the Hebrew word for sin is “kasha”, which means cover. This is another way of saying that God forgives sin. Psalm 85:2 says that God has covered all the waywardness of his people.

Christians often say that God hates sin and can have nothing to do with sinners. That is not quite right. He is more sympathetic to his people than that. He sees it as a burden that people carry, and he frequently finds a way to carry that burden for them. When we talk about what God has done, we must be careful not to portray God as being harsher than he is. Even the Old Testament is more sympathetic and compassionate toward human failing than are some Christians. Psalm 103 is a popular Psalm, which declares that God has forgiven our sin.

The Hebrew word “awon” is often translated as sin, but it sometimes means sacrifice or offering. This Hebrew word is used for the sin offerings described in Leviticus 5-7, Numbers 7 and in Exodus 29:36. This is interesting because the word for a problem is also used to describe its solution. Perhaps this what Paul meant when he said that Jesus who had no sin was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).

In Number 8:7, the “awon” is used to mean purification in references to Purifying Water. So, when the word has religious a connotation, it has a positive meaning.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Sin (3) Failure

The words used for sin in Greek and Hebrew have a different tone to our word sin. The Greek word often translated sin (hamartia) means “missing the mark”. This expression is not nearly as negative as our word sin, especially when weighed down with the religious baggage that has been loaded on it. Someone who has missed the target has failed, but they were actually trying to hit it. They have not been going in the opposite direction. The word signifies failure more than deliberate rebellion. Greek has the word “anupotaktos” for rebellion that the NT writers could have used, so we don’t need to load its meaning onto the English translation of hamartia.

The same applies to several of the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word commonly translated as sin is “chattath”. It also comes from a root meaning “miss”. It means to “miss the way” or “missing the mark”. Goldingay translates it as wrongdoing. Like the Greek word hamartia, it implies failure through getting lost, not deliberate rebellion. It does not carry all the religious baggage that we tend to load onto the word sin.

A second Hebrew word that is used commonly for what we call sin is “awon”. This comes from a root meaning to bend or twist. It describes crooked behaviour. Goldingay translates this word as waywardness. The word means deviating from the standard or twisting the standard. It can describe a situation where a person twists the standard to justify themselves. This is a more serious failing than chattath.

The Hebrew word for rebellion is “pesha”. It is sometimes translated as “transgression” in reference to the law. This word is much stronger than the two words previously described, but it is not used so frequently.

We should be careful not to load a sense of rebellion on words that don’t have that meaning because it will produce a sense of shame. The truth should lead to repentance, not condemnation.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sin (2) Ordinary Words

When Jesus and Paul were sharing the gospel, they did not use religious words. They used words that had a natural meaning in everyday life. The Greek word translated as sin in the English New Testament is “hamartia”. It means “missing the mark” or “failure to achieve a prize”. I think that our New Testament and our gospel sharing would make more sense if we used ordinary words to translate the Greek word “hamartia”, rather than the religious word “sin”. For example,

missing the mark
serious failure
Using these words would subtly change our message as they are not pre-loaded with shame and condemnation. They make sin more normal, which it is. Who has not failed to achieve their own standard? Who has not made a serious failure? Our tone should be sympathetic, not critical.

I am really enjoying reading John Goldingay’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called First Testament. I like the way that he avoids the English word sin in his translation. He used the words: waywardness, wrongdoing, and rebellion for the Hebrew words: awon, chattath and pesha, respectively. This conveys the meaning of the text in a way that is not religiously loaded to produce shame and condemnation.

I suggest that we follow this example in our efforts to share the gospel with modern people, who react negatively to anything religious. We need to listen more carefully to how we sound. The good news does not need a religious loading to be effective. It will actually be more powerful without it.

When a person who is not a follower of Jesus hears the word “sin”, they hear judgment and condemnation, even if the person speaking did not mean it, so we should be careful about how we use the word. Mostly we should avoid it. If we can’t share the gospel without any religious words, then our understanding of the gospel is probably deficient.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sin (1) Religious Word

Sin has become a very religious word. I suspect it might always have been. According to the dictionaries, it is derived from an Old German word “sunta”, which signifies a failure to comply with religious standards. Of course, in the Middle Ages, when the English borrowed the word, all standard were religious anyway.

The problem with sin being a religious word is that it carries a lot of baggage, which people who are not religious pick up when we use it in conversation with them. When we say someone has sinned, our words caries a sense of judgement, implying that we are better than they are because they have done something that is anathema to God. They usually pick up the shame and condemnation that the word conveys, even if they regret their actions. When we say that an action is sinful, it makes it seem far worse than if we just said that it is wrong, or a mistake.

Calling an action sinful implies that it deserves the full weight of God’s disapproval and that those who do it should be ashamed. Good people should probably stay away from them. Declaring that an action is sin leaves the person who has done it feeling condemned by our conversation with them.

This is a serious problem for sharing the gospel in the modern world, where people hate religious judgments. If we use the word “sin” when explaining what Jesus has done, the listener picks up a burden of shame and condemnation. Adding this to the shame that they already carry can make it hard for them to believe that Jesus loves them because our language implies that he has condemned them. Shame and condemnation come from the powers of evil, so we must avoid language that makes it seem like they come from Jesus.

Some evangelists believe that they have to convict people of “their sinfulness” as the first step in receiving the good news of Jesus. This “bad news” before “good news” creates a barrier to the gospel in the modern world, because many people are unable to get beyond the bad news. It also contradicts the way that Jesus shared the good news.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

My Books in Australia

Amazon recently started printing paperback books in Australia, so people living in Australia can now purchase my books (listed here) much cheaper through Amazon Australia, because they do not need to for pay shipping from the United States, which can be hugely expensive. Buyers have to pay Australian GST, but books can be shipped anywhere in Australia for about $3.00. Go to Ron's Books printed in Australia to find the book you want.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Works Righteousness (5) Faith and Law

The traditional Christian view of the old covenant is that it was a covenant of works in which God’s people were expected to earn his favour by living righteous lives. The usual corollary is that everyone failed to comply with Gods’ standard of righteousness, so Jesus had to come and die on their behalf to satisfy God’s requirements. In this view, the Old Testament covenant of works-righteousness is contrasted with the New Testament good news of salvation by faith.

The problem with this view is that the Torah does not describe a covenant of works and it does not set out a standard of personal righteousness that people should strive to obey. The truth is that the old covenant was a covenant of grace and faith, just like the new covenant. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them into the promised land by a massive act of grace. He did this before he had given the Torah and before they had done anything to earn his favour. Grace came first. Faith followed because they had to trust that God knew what he was doing when he led them out into the wilderness. Their obedience to God was their response to his grace and the outworking of their faith in him.

The fundamental point is that both the old and the new covenants were covenants of faith. Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 3:30. God shall declare righteous the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through the faith.

Both those who are circumcised under the law and those who are not circumcised are put right with God through faith. The people under the old covenant needed faith in God’s grace, just like everyone else.

Paul amplifies this point in Roman 4. He explains that the covenant that God made with Abraham was a faith covenant, not a works covenant. Abraham received an amazing promise from God that all nations would be blessed through him. Paul is clear that Abraham did not receive this promise because he had done good works. On the contrary, he received the promise because he trusted God.

For if Abraham was declared righteous, by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom 4:2-3).
If Abraham had to be righteous to be blessed by God, he would have failed. He made mistakes throughout his life, even repeating the same one twice (pretending that Sarah was his sister). However, God is gracious and decided to call Abraham and bless him with amazing promises, despite his frequent failures, and Adam trusted God’s promise to bless the nations through him.

The promise to Abraham was made 400 years before the law was given (Rom 4:13-15). This means that God introduces blessing through grace, faith and trust before he gave the law, so it would not make sense for him to go back to forcing people to earn their righteousness by good works when he gave the law.

Abraham lived before the law was given, but David lived under the law. He also received God’s blessing through faith, not by good works.

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Rom 4:6-7).
David could not earn God’s favour by living a righteous life under the law. He needed the forgiveness that comes through trust in God’s promises.

Abraham and David were two of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, yet they could not earn God’s favour and blessings by their own personal righteousness. They both experienced the blessings of God, so clearly, they were not dependent on good works for his favour. They received the blessing of God through their trust in his gracious love. That confirms that the Old Covenant was not a covenant of works righteousness, but a covenant of grace. God did not expect the people living under that covenant to earn his favour and blessing by living a righteous life.

More at No Covenant of Works.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Works Righteousness (4) No Plan B

God does not make mistakes. The Old Covenant was not his Plan A that failed, which had to be replaced by a Plan B, the gospel of Jesus. The Old Covenant was not a failure. It was perfect for the purposes for which it was given (like everything God does).

The Torah provided a system of justice to help the Israelites manage crime in their new land (it was so good that God expected the nations to copy it). It also gives instructions that would provide spiritual protection for the people, if they applied them (they often didn’t). The Torah provided instructions for Economic Life to enable people who were used to being slaves to work together freely on various economic and social activities. To the extent they were applied, they were effective.

The Torah was not given to make people righteous. It was not designed to help people please God by living righteously. God has already chosen them to be his people, regardless of their lack of righteousness.

God always had a Plan A for dealing effectively with sin and evil and making humans righteous in his sight (not because he wanted to puff us up, but because our sin gives the spiritual powers of evil authority to control us). He always intended to do this through Jesus and pouring out the Holy Spirit, but he had to get a lot of things in place before he could send Jesus safely, so it was not the first thing that he did.

Because he had an excellent plan to make people righteous through faith in Jesus, he did not try to do it through the Torah. He did not try to do this because it would be a waste of effort. This is why the Torah does not set out a complete description of his standard of personal righteousness. However, it did prophesy the righteousness that would come through what Jesus would do.

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 (Deut 30:6).
The Torah is ideal for the purposes for which it was given. It was not a failure because it did not try to do things that it was never intended to do. This is why, when the Pharisees tried to make the law into a system of personal righteousness, they lost the plot and turned it into a heavy burden that was too hard for people to carry (Luke 11:46). This happened because they were looking for a standard of personal righteousness that is not there. They were trying to do something the law was not intended to achieve. God always intended to solve the sin problem through Jesus.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Works Righteousness (3) Ten Commandments

Even the Ten Commandments were not really a standard for personal righteousness. They were more of a summary of Gods covenant with his chosen people. (The number of each commandment is in brackets)

  • The first two commandments are a call to love God and avoid other gods. This was a requirement for the chosen nation, but it is more an expression of allegiance to God and his nation than a criterion for personal righteousness, as it contains no merit (1,2,).

  • Not taking God’s name in vain was a way of honouring him, not a way of earning merit with him (3).

  • Keeping the sabbath was a way of expressing trust in God (that he will provide sufficient food that they didn’t need to work seven days a week to survive). It was a marker that kept them separate from other nations to provide spiritual protection. Keeping the sabbath provided rest, but it did not provide merit with God, because he judges the heart, not external circumstances (4).

  • Honouring parents and avoiding adultery were instructions for strengthening families, which were at the heart of the Torah community. Economic prosperity required strong families. If families were strong, the rest of the community was strong. Respect for family was essential for the welfare of the nation going into the new land. Avoiding adultery and honouring parents would produce social and economic benefits for the entire society, so complying with them was normal, not a way to earn merit with God (5, 7).

  • The commandments against stealing, murder, and honesty with judges were commitments essential for the functioning of God’s justice system as described in the Laws for Society. Everyone in the community would benefit if they were widely respected. Keeping these commands was not a sign of personal righteousness. A righteous person would not even need these commands (6,8,9).

    Complying with the Ten Commandments was not a sign of personal righteousness. Avoiding stealing and murder is quite a low standard of morality. People who avoided these crimes could still be guilty of failing many of the standards in the list above, so they were not a good indicator of personal righteousness.

  • Coveting is an important criterion for personal righteousness, but it is only one among many others, so I don’t think that it is included in the Ten Commandments as a requirement for personal righteousness.

    I believe the commandment was included there to help families and communities to work together on joint economic activities without falling out with each other. Economic benefits flowed, and capital accumulation was facilitated when people stopped coveting the other people around them. If coveting took hold, people would begin disrupting the economic activities of others. The final commandment was important for the benefit of the community, so it was not a sign of personal righteousness (10).

Writers who say the Torah was a system of works righteousness do not understand the purposes for which God gave it. The Israelites came under Moses’ covenant because they had been called and rescued from slavery and led into the promised land. The promises of the covenant belonged to all those who were descendants of Jacob. They did not have to maintain some obscure standard of personal righteousness to enter the covenant, or remain in it. These were born into these blessings.

Many of the blessings of the covenant came through living according to the instructions for economic life and family loyalty, but they were not a reward for righteousness, just a consequence of living in the way that God recommended for them. If God suggested living this way, we would expect that applying his wisdom to community life would bring benefits. Living by God’s wisdom is sensible, so it is not an indication of personal righteousness.

The people of the covenant had to persist in their allegiance to God, or he would be squeezed out of their country, and the spiritual powers of evil would push in and bring curses. These curses were the consequence of the people’s choices, not a sign of being outside the covenant. God’s covenant stood firm, even when the spiritual powers of evil got on top and the Israelites were exiled to a foreign nation.

Personal righteousness was not necessary for remaining in the blessings of the covenant. Experiencing these blessings depends on allegiance to God and living according to his wisdom. Consequently, criteria for personal righteousness were not provided in the Torah. The Old Covenant was not a system of works righteousness.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Works Righteousness (2) Different Purpose

Most of the Torah has nothing to do with personal righteousness because it describes a communal program that teaches people how to live together in a tightly populated land with relative harmony. The law was given when the children of Israel were about to move into a new land. While they were slaves, their taskmasters had controlled every aspect of their lives. Once they were freed from slavery and planted a new land, they faced the challenge of living together without falling out with each other over trivial issues. God gave them the Torah to equip them for this challenge.

  • The Instructions for Economic Life cannot be fulfilled by an individual because they provided guidance for people to interact in various economic activities. They dealt with challenges that did not arise while they were slaves. These instructions are specifically inter-personal, so they did not provide a standard for personal righteousness.

  • The Laws for Society (judicial laws of Moses) are instructions to the entire nation about how to deal with crime, given that God had not instituted a parliament to make laws for this purpose. God gave the Israelites a system of law implemented by local judges to constrain crime in their new society, so it is only tangential to personal righteousness at best.

  • The tabernacle described in the later chapters of Exodus and the sacrifices described in the early chapters of Leviticus were given to deal with unrighteousness, not to define personal righteousness. God did not expect people living under the law to live righteous lives because they were incapable of doing it, so he provided them with sacrifices to absolve their inevitable failure.

  • The laws about sexual immorality and health in the middle part of Leviticus were to provide people with spiritual protection in a world where the spiritual powers of evil were rampant and not yet defeated by the cross. The best protection came from keeping separate from evil people who were carrying evil spirits. God is not obsessed with sexual purity. The emphasis on sexual immorality is in Leviticus because it is one of the key ways that evil spirits get transferred to another person.

  • The food laws, circumcision and sabbath were a key way for the Israelites to mark themselves as different from the world. They were external markers that had very little to do with personal righteousness.

These are just a few of the main purposes for which God gave the OT laws, but there are many more. The law provides guidance for marriage, instructions for defence and war, guidance for caring for the poor, and many other social and economic issues, but most of these are instructions to a community of people. They are not criteria for personal righteousness because that is not the purpose of the law.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Works Righteousness (1) No Standard

Many theologians and Bible teachers believe that the old covenant was a works-righteousness system in which people were expected to earn salvation by doing good works to please God. They contrast this with the new covenant based on salvation by faith alone.

Many problems with this understanding have been exposed during the last fifty years. However, the fundamental problem is that the entire concept of works-righteousness based on law does not make sense because the law does not provide a standard for personal righteousness.

God’s standard for personal righteousness would include most of the following:

  • love of God
  • humility
  • truthfulness
  • loyalty
  • honest
  • kindness
  • hard work
  • perseverance
  • patience
  • self-control
  • no pride
  • no anger
  • no fear
  • gentleness
  • no coveting
  • sexual purity
  • no stealing
  • no murder
Most of these virtues are not specifically mentioned in the Torah, except the last four, and with violence, it is only the most extreme forms, such as assault and murder, that are forbidden.

Most of these standards were not spelt out clearly until they were listed in the New Testament as the Fruit of the Spirit. Clearly, these virtues are God’s standard for personal righteousness, but an equivalent table of virtues was not provided in the Old Testament.

It seems that God knew that his standard would be impossible for humans prior to the cross and fulness of the Holy Spirit, so he did not bother setting them out systematically until after the Spirit had been poured out. This confirms that God knew that personal righteousness was not a realistic expectation prior to the cross, so he did not bother specifying what it entailed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Three-agent Universe (10) Modern Problem

A bigger concern is that many Christians still live in a two-agent universe. They assume that everything that happens is caused by God. (I have read people saying that God knew about the Nazi holocaust in advance and allowed it to happen, because it fitted with his will). This assumption is dangerous, because it makes it difficult to fight against evil, if you believe that it was sent by God. It becomes difficult to avoid a debilitating fatalism.

People living on a battlefield behave differently from those in peacetime, even if they have no allegiance to either side in the fight. They will think about the risks of war all the time and plan to avoid them. They will hide their food and livestock, so they don't get confiscated by foraging soldiers. They don't wander around on their own, so they don't get caught up in the crossfire when the battle lines shift unexpectedly. If they have to go out, they go in pairs or small groups, so one can watch for danger from an unexpected attack, while the other do what they need to do.

People living on a battlefield will carry their weapons with them and have them primed for defence. They will know the places to which they can flee for safety when the battle gets intense. When the time is right, they will go on attack with the gospel and deliverance.

Christians should understand that they live in a three-agent universe, caught in a battle between God and the spiritual powers of evil, and that they can have an influence on the outcome of this battle if they act wisely. They will be alert to areas where the spiritual powers of evil are attacking. They will operate in pairs when entering into dangerous situations. They will know how to work to operate their spiritual weapons in the power of the Holy Spirit. An awareness that we live in a three-agent universe should change the way that we live our faith.

The full series of articles can be read at Three-Agent Universe.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Three-agent Universe (9) Reading the Old Testament

When reading the Old Testament, we must remember that the authors of the various books held a two-agent world view. They believed life on earth was an interaction between God and humans. They assumed that all spiritual stuff was the work of God. They did not understand the ruthlessness and the extent of the spiritual warfare that was going on around them.

Thanks to Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we now know that we live in a three-agent world. Life on earth is a battle between God and the spiritual powers of evil, with humans caught in the crossfire, but having an important role in the outcome. That is a totally different way of looking at life in the world.

The battle between God and the spiritual powers of evil did not begin at the cross. It has been going on since the fall of Adam and Eve when the spiritual powers of evil gained authority on earth. The authors of the Old Testament did not understand the reality they were living in, so they recorded the events they were describing as interactions between God and humans. However, when we read their accounts, we should see them as incomplete descriptions of the battle between God and the spiritual powers of evil, with humans caught up as active participants in the middle.

Our expanded world view means that we will have an understanding of the events that they recorded that is different from what they described. We will often see the spiritual powers of evil at work in a situation where the people affected were not aware of what was happening. The Holy Spirit has promised to lead us into all truth. When we are reading the Old Testament, we should ask him to give us a three-agent understanding of what is described in two-agent terms.

We should assume that some of what is attributed to God was actually the activity of the spiritual powers of evil. The Old Testament is full of clues that something more complex was going on than what the author described. If God is described as doing something that is contrary to the revelation of his character that we have in Jesus, that might be a sign that the spiritual powers of evil might be responsible for an event that is ascribed to God.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Three-agent Universe (8) Abraham

Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice is an interesting example. When Abraham responded to God's call the spiritual powers of evil knew that something was up, but they did not know what. When Isaac was miraculously born when Abraham and Sarah were old, they knew things were getting serious, but they did not know why. They did not understand what God was doing, but they were desperate to disrupt his plan. Killing Isaac seemed like a good idea. It seems that they did not have the authority to do this themselves, so the next best option was to get Abraham to kill him.

Abraham believed that God told him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but he was not trained in spiritual warfare, so I presume that he assumed that every spiritual voice that spoke was the voice of God. If a voice from a spiritual realm spoke to him and told him to do something, he was committed to obeying it. The person who wrote Genesis had a similar understanding of reality.

God did not want Isaac to die because he planned to bless the world through him. We know God's character through the life of Jesus. Jesus did not play games with people to test their faith, so we can assume his father would not do that either. God already knew that Abraham trusted him and was committed to serving him, so he did not need to test his faith. His faith had already been proved by waiting till old age for his son to be born.

I assume the spiritual powers of evil tried to trick Abraham into killing Isaac. Abraham was not walking through paradise in the presence of God. He was actually living on earth in the centre of an intense spiritual battle without any awareness that he was actually engaged in a spiritual struggle for the future of the world. In this environment, he could very easily mistake a demonic power masquerading as an angel of light for the voice of God. Fortunately, God intervened and prevented Abraham from disrupting his plans to sacrifice Isaac.

I describe this event more fully in Abraham and Isaac.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Three-agent Universe (7) Intense Battle

A casual reading of the Old Testament would suggest that the only problem that God had to deal with was the persistent disobedience of the Israelites, and the only risk faced by the Israelites was that the God who had rescued them would get grumpy with their bad behaviour. The reality is that the season of the Patriarchs and the Exodus was a time of intense spiritual warfare. There were as many evil spirits active in the world then as there are now, but they were concentrated more intensely because they were spread over a much smaller population.

At the same time, God's ability to intervene on earth was severely constrained because he had given humans authority over the earth and they had unwittingly submitted it to the spiritual powers of evil.

The authors of the Old Testament held a two-agent world view, so they assumed that every spiritual intervention in the world was caused by God. They did not understand that the spiritual powers of evil were actively manipulating the events that they described.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Three-agent Universe (6) David's Census

The clearest example of the limitation of a two-agent view of events is David's census of his fighting men. The book of Samuel and writer of Chronicles describe this event in different ways that are actually different but the same. The writer of the book of Samuel assumed that God was the one who caused David to sin.

When the wrath of God continued to grow hot against Israel, he incited David against them, saying, "Go and count Israel and Judah (2 Sam 24:1).
It is very unusual in the Old Testament, but the writer of the book of Chronicles takes a three-agent view. He realises that it was actually the spiritual powers of evil who stirred David up.
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel (1 Chron 21:1).
Both descriptions are correct. Samuel makes it seem as if God led David into sin. This was correct, because God is the ultimate cause of everything. However, Chronicles is more complete, because it explains that it was Satan who was the direct cause of David's mistake. When we read the Old Testament, we should be looking for other situations, where the same reality might apply. Some of the events described as being caused by God are actually the work of the spiritual powers of evil.

These passages tell us something else that is important for understanding the Old Testament. Samuel says that "the wrath of God" continued to grow hot against Israel, but we know that this was not God, but the spiritual powers of evil. Chronicles explains that Satan incited David. Satan means accuser. He is one of the important spiritual powers of evil. These powers are controlled by a powerful hierarchy of evil spirits that do not like each other. Throughout history, they have jockeyed for control of life on earth. One of the more powerful spirits in this evil hierarchy is named "Wrath". He is the one who attacked David.

Old Testament writers often speak of the wrath of God, as if God is angry at people on earth. They thought this way because they were constrained by a two-agent view of the world and assumed that any spiritual intervention came from him. However, readers with a New Testament based, three-agent perspective realises that Wrath is a powerful evil spirit. He was created by God, so the scriptures are correct when they call him the wrath of God, but that is not a complete description, because he is a spiritual power who is now working against God. This understanding of Wrath is confirmed in Psalm 78:49, which says that Wrath is the leader of a band of destroying angels.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Three-agent Universe (5) Sodom and Gomorrah

An example is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The description in Genesis made it seem like God was actively involved in destroying these nations. A three-agent approach gives a different perspective on this event. An angel told Abraham that a "great outcry up to heaven about Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20-21). This is a clue to what was really happening, because the outcry probably came from the spiritual powers of evil. They were demanding that God destroy the city because it had become so evil.

While other evil powers had stirred up the evil, the accusing ones were demanding justice from God. They hate God's justice, but they also try to use it against his people. These accusing spirits wanted him to destroy these two cities. This shows how divided they are, because some were urging men to be evil and others were wanting to destroy them.

Abraham's prayers gave God authority to intervene and check out the situation (Gen 18:32). He sent two angels to see if they could find some good people, so God would have evidence to reject the demands of the evil powers. God wanted to save the cities, but he needed sufficient good people living there to justify saving them. Unfortunately, Lot and his family were the only righteous people that the angels could find. God decided to take Lot and his family out of the city, because it's fate was sealed. Once Lot and his family were gone, there was no one in the cities giving God authority to intervene so he had to withdraw.

When God's influence was gone from the cities, the spiritual powers of evil destroyed them. They had demanded the right to destroy these cities, because they were evil. God could not prevent them, because there were not enough righteous people there to give him authority to overrule them. When God was squeezed out, the spiritual powers of evil went to work and wreaked terrible destruction on these cities.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Three-agent Universe (4) Better Insight

Since the coming of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have a fuller understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and physical realms. We understand that we live in a three-agent universe. The three actors on earth are God, humans and the spiritual powers of evil.

When the people of the world turn away from God, they give greater authority to the spiritual powers of evil, often without being unaware of it. The inevitable outcome for a society that forgets God is more frequent evil events as the powers of evil exercise their increased freedom to act. The evil events that occur should be more accurately described as "consequences of forgetfulness" or "a negative feedback loop".

The writers of the Old Testament did not have the understanding or the language to describe spiritual warfare, so when anything supernatural happened, they often assumed that it was caused by God, whether it was good or bad. This was not incorrect, because God created everything, so he is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on earth. However, their description of what happened was incomplete, because many of the events that they attributed to God, were actually the work of the spiritual powers of evil.

This understanding should change the way that we read the Old Testament. We now understand that we live in a three-agent universe, and that many events are the work of the spiritual powers of evil. Jesus and the Holy Spirit have opened our eyes to see things that happen in the world differently. So, when we read the Old Testament, we should approach it with a three-agent lens, while realising it was written by people with a two-agent perspective on life.

When the Old Testament says that God did something, we should be careful. The writer might have assumed it was God, because he saw some spiritual involvement in the event, but we should not assume that the writer's understanding was complete. The description of the event might be correct, but their understanding about the cause of what happened might be incomplete.

We should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us when reading so that we can distinguish between the things that God actually caused to happen and events that were the work of the spiritual powers of evil. If we want a better understanding of the Old Testament, we must learn to discern the difference. We will find that many events, which the Old Testament writers thought were caused by God, were actually the direct working of the spiritual powers of evil, while God was only indirectly responsible.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Three-agent Universe (3) Job and Daniel

The new covenant changes our perspective on events in the world. It should especially change our perspective on events described in the Old Testament. The Old Testament writers did not fully understand the working of the spiritual realms. They saw God and humans as the only actors on earth. They lived in a two-agent universe, so every event was described as either being caused by humans or by God. Consequently, they attributed many evil events to God, because they did not understand what was really happening.

The writer of Job got a glimpse into the work of Satan when he came to understand the cause of the terrible things that happened to Job. His friends lived in a two-agent world, so they just assumed that they were caused by God. Job assumed that God caused them too, except he claimed that he did not deserve them. The first two chapters of the book are revolutionary, because they explain that these terrible events were caused by the spiritual powers of evil. Few other Old Testament writers gained this level of understanding.

Towards the end of Old Testament age, Daniel got a glimpse of the three-agent reality. He had assumed that God failed to answer his prayers despite the fact that he was claiming promises from the scriptures. The angel explained to him that the response to his prayer was held up by a powerful evil spiritual character called the Prince of Persia. This evil power needed to be defeated before God's promise to Jeremiah could be fulfilled.

Job and Daniel gained a glimpse into the three-agent universe, but most Old Testament writers did not fully comprehend the role of the spiritual powers of evil in events on earth. It seems that Moses did not fully understand the extent of the spiritual battles that he was engaged in.

Likewise, the prophets assumed that the bad things they warned about were being sent by God. They portrayed God as the agent of the things that were going to happen. This is how they saw the world, but their vision was incomplete. Most of the judgments announced by the OT prophets were not initiated by God, but were the work of the spiritual powers of evil attacking people who had lost their spiritual protection.

God did not initiate these consequences directly, but he created a world in which it would be possible for the spiritual powers of evil to gain a foothold. He does not shirk from that responsibility. That is why the scriptures often describe these events as God's judgment.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Three-agent Universe (2) Genesis

A good example of the two-agent universe view is our understanding of Genesis 1-3. The writers saw this as a two-agent problem. Many preachers claim that Adam and Eve's sin created a barrier between them and God. God hated their sin so much that he cannot look on them. They came under his wrath and anger and need to appease him before they can be at peace with him. One preacher described this as "one strike and you are out".

If we read the passage through a three-agent lens, we get a totally different view of what is happening. The reality is that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, his attitude did not change. He still came into the garden to meet with them, and he spoke to them in the same way as he did before. There is no evidence of hostility towards them (Gen 3:8). It was Adam and Eve who had the problem. They felt shame for the first time and tried to hide from God. This is the human problem. Sin causes us to feel shame, so we run away from God.

God asked some tough questions as any father would do. Where are you? What have you done? Who tricked you? God was establishing that the spiritual powers of evil were the problem. They had tricked the humans into submitting to them. This gave the spiritual powers of evil authority over the earth.

God did not angrily pronounce a judgment on the humans for their failure. He was not punnishing them for their disobedience. Rather, like a good father, he sadly explained the consequences of their disobedience. They had submitted to the spiritual powers of evil, so bad things would happen. The women would be dominated and sometimes abused by her husband. The spiritual powers of evil had gained authority over the earth, so they would mess up God's creation with nasty weeds and climatic events.

God was not cursing humans. He was simply explaining the consequence of human actions. They had submitted to the powers of evil, so things would go wrong for them and their descendants. God was explaining that they had lost his protection, so the outcome would not be nice.

There is a serious difference in tone between Gen 3:23 and Gen 3:24. If we take a two-agent view, we miss the distinction.

Gen 3:23 explains God's action.

The LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
This is very calm. He simply sent them out into the earth, which was always the plan. God never intended Adam to stay in the garden. Once they learnt how to care for the garden, he intended that they would move out into the rest of the world and establish his garden there.

God's name is not used in Gen 3:24, although many translators included it. The tone of the verse is blunt and harsh. I believe this explains the event from the devil's perspective.

He drove the man out and stationed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24).
The devil drove humans out of the garden because he hated them and wanted to destroy them.

Readers assume that God put a guard around the tree of life, but the translation of this verse is not certain. The word translated flashing back and forth is "haphak". The primary meaning of this word is overturn or pervert. The message of this verse may be that "perverted" cherubim had seized control of the tree of life when human submission gave the spiritual powers of evil authority on earth. Much of what happened in Old Testament times was the work of the powers of evil. If we miss that we end up blaming God for evil that he did not do.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Three-agent Universe (1)

The Old Testament perceives a two-agent universe in which every event is an interaction between two agents: God and humans. All events are initiated by God or humans. Every spiritual intervention in the world is a work of God. The New Testament explains that we actually live in a three-agent universe. Events on earth are a struggle between God and the spiritual powers of evil with humans caught in the middle. Understanding this contest gives us a much better frame for understanding what is happening on earth.

A serious problem with a "two-agent universe" is that humans assumed that all their problems were problems with God. They saw their sin as upsetting God and believed that to put things right, they had to appease God. This understanding was wrong (see Propitiation and Redemption). Sin created a bigger problem for humans than for God. Sin produced shame, which made people feel like they had to hide from God. Worse still, when they sinned, humans gave authority in their lives to the spiritual powers of evil, which enabled these evil powers to dominate events on earth.

The people of the Old Testament assumed that they had a problem with God. The revelation of Jesus confirmed that our problem was not with God, but with the spiritual powers of evil who held humans captive. Jesus set us free, by defeating them on the cross. As a bonus, he dealt with our shame at the same time.