Showing posts with label Theology 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theology 101. Show all posts

Monday, October 21, 2019

Does God Care About What We Dream?

What are dreams? Do dreams mean anything?

There are three popular ways of thinking about dreams.

1. Some people think they're caused by random impulses in your brain and that they don't mean anything. They don't even make sense.

2. The other extreme is that every dream has some deep meaning and that you can interpret each dream to gain insight into what your subconscious is telling you.

3. In the middle is the idea that at least some dreams are your mind's way of processing stress or what you were thinking about that day.

According the Bible…

We don't talk much about dreams in most churches, but let's talk about what the Bible says about dreams and why we have them.

1. First, the Bible tells us about a number of times when God sent someone a dream, from Joseph in the Old Testament to Joseph in the New Testament, from Pharaoh to the Magi.

God communicated with people in dreams to give them instructions or reveal something to them about the future.

So, why do we dream? The first answer is that God uses them to communicate with us.

2. Ecclesiastes 5:3:
A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.

What causes dreams according to this verse?

The cares of life. Stress. Whatever you were thinking about that day. These aren't messages from God or anything to act on. Solomon goes on to say in Ecclesiastes 5:7, "Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God."

I don't think he's saying the dreams don't have a meaning in that they're nonsense. They have a cause, and you can interpret them to be your mind's way of dealing with "many cares."

He's saying they're meaningless in the sense that they're not like the dreams that come from God. They're not instructions or visions of what will happen in the future. They don't amount to much, just like a bunch of hot air or someone talking all the time doesn't amount to much. We need to base our lives on God's instructions to us, not the things we dream.

Jude 1:8:
In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.

Apparently, some people in the days of the early Church were taking their dreams to be the inspiration for doing sinful things instead of fearing God and living by what He said.

3. Isaiah 29:8:
as when a hungry person dreams of eating, but awakens hungry still; as when a thirsty person dreams of drinking, but awakens faint and thirsty still.

What causes a person to dream in this verse?

Their desires. If someone is hungry or thirsty, they'll dream about eating or drinking.

What if someone desires something that is sinful? Will they dream about it?

Sinful Dreams

I know I've dreamed about doing something I shouldn't do, whether it be sexual or committing some act of violence or indulging in some other immoral behavior. My wife says that she often dreams about eating to the point of gluttony. How do we handle that? What does God think of us dreaming about sinful things?

Matthew 5:19-20:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…

God says the evil thoughts that come out of our hearts defile us. It's not simply evil deeds that defile us. It's the thought itself. And that makes sense, right? We can't imagine Jesus having sinful thoughts and sinful dreams. Those twisted ways of thinking are a result of our sinfulness. Our sinful heart produces sinful thoughts. If we act on our sinful thoughts, we commit sinful deeds. But it's all sin at every level. God cares about our thoughts.

Genesis 6:5-6:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

God cared so much about the state of people's hearts and what they were thinking about that He flooded the earth.

But someone could argue that they can't control what they're thinking about when they're asleep. Does that mean God doesn't hold their sinful dreams against them?

Leviticus 5:17-19:
If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible. They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the wrong they have committed unintentionally, and they will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; they have been guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord.

Negative Emotional Dreams

There are other times I dream not about something sinful but something that causes a negative emotion in me. Maybe it's of me falling or being chased or even dying. Maybe it's of me being afraid of someone or being verbally abused by someone.

Fear, anxiety, and hurt are not emotions that God wants me to feel, so how do I deal with those dreams? Is there a way I can prevent them?

Training Our Minds

If God doesn't want us to have sinful thoughts, even in our dreams, and He doesn't want us to be victimized by thoughts we have of fear or worry or grief, etc., what can we do to control our dreaming mind and prevent ourselves from having dreams that aren't pleasing to God and aren't good for us?

1. Pray

Refer back to Leviticus 5:17-19. If we have a sinful thought in our dream, when we wake up, we should pray for forgiveness. We have sinned in our thoughts and need to be forgiven for the sin we committed unintentionally.

So, first, we pray about it. And we don't need to pray only when we have a sinful dream. We can also take our fear and our anxieties to God in prayer and ask Him to help us to overcome whatever is causing those emotions.

2. Continue to Transform Our Thinking

Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

As we continue to grow and mature in our thinking in our waking life, our dreaming mind will follow suit. God will continue to change our hearts so that even when our guard is down when we're sleeping, our natural thoughts won't be sinful or fearful but pure and holy.

To Summarize…

The Bible says we have dreams for three reasons:

  1. God communicates through dreams.
  2. The cares of life continue into our sleeping mind and cause us to dream about them.
  3. We dream about what we desire.

God does care about what we dream because He cares about what we think. He cares about the thoughts of our hearts.

We can control our dreams by praying about them and continuing to allow God to transform our thinking.

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Find more surprising answers to interesting questions on my Theology 101 page!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Why Was the Curtain of the Temple Torn in Two?

Luke 23:44-45:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 

Right before Jesus died, it says that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Well, what does that mean? What’s the significance of that? Why did that happen?

In the Old Testament, there was a curtain in the back of the sanctuary that walled off a room called the Holy of Holies. Behind that curtain and inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. It was a chest that had the two stone tablets that God had written the Ten Commandments on and then given them to Moses. It had a piece of manna in it, the bread-like substance that God used to feed the Israelites in the desert when they crossed the Red Sea and came out of slavery in Egypt. And most importantly, the Bible tells us that God’s holy Presence hovered over the Ark of the Covenant.

No one was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies and see God’s Presence except for the high priest once a year. And when he went into the Holy of Holies, he had to have his assistant priests tie a rope around his ankle, because if he went into God’s Presence with any unconfessed sin, or with any sin that he hadn’t offered a sacrifice for, he would die, and the other priests would have to pull on that rope to drag him out.

God’s Presence was walled off by that curtain and only a sinless priest could go in and see God. But when Jesus died, that curtain was torn in half. Jesus’ sacrifice for us, Jesus’ blood, cleansed all of us of all of our sins and so now we can all enter God’s Presence without fear because we have all been forgiven. We have all been cleansed.

Before, only the priest could enter into God’s Presence, but now the way has been opened for all of us to approach God.

1st Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

You are the priesthood. Every believer is a priest. You don’t need a priest or a pastor or any other person to get to God. You can enter into God’s Presence yourself any time you want to because you have now been made a priest as well.

Hebrews 10:19-22:

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

The curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Jesus’ death opened the way for you and I to come to God personally, one on one, any time we want to because Jesus’ death took away all of our sins and purified us to enter into God’s Presence.

What Does God Becoming Human Mean for Us?

Christian theology centers on the fact that God became man in the person of Jesus the Christ. But how does the incarnation help us? Why did God choose to enact our salvation in that particular way?

First, let’s get a little background.

Why Did Some Early Christians Doubt the Incarnation?

Some early believers were called docetics, from the Greek word for “illusion.” They said that Jesus didn’t really have a physical body, that it was an illusion. They thought that God putting on a physical body was beneath Him.

Why? They might not have liked the idea of a holy being needing to engage in certain physical activities, such as expelling waste, or having body odor. They might not have liked the idea of Jesus being limited by His physical body. After all, Jesus Himself said that “the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

And Paul said the flesh is where sinful desires come from. 

Galatians 5:16-24:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

But is the Flesh Inherently Evil? 

The body is not evil. We can be tempted in our spirits just as easily as our flesh. Perhaps when the Bible says the flesh is sinful, it's referring to the fact that by myself, in my humanness, I'm evil. My body, my own spirit, my mind, my heart, all of me. I need an outside Helper, the Holy Spirit, to give me the strength to be anything but evil.

But Jesus the man wasn’t alone in His humanness, was He? He did have that Divine help. And so, His flesh was not sinful. His whole being was pure.

Is the Spirit More Important than the Body?

The docetics failed to realize that God values our spirits and our bodies the same.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For 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. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

God created man to be body and spirit, and at the resurrection, He will raise us as body and spirit.

How Did the Church Determine that Jesus is Both God and Man?

The docetics had a hard time thinking of Jesus as human. They wanted to think of Him as God only and His body as an illusion. Today, people have a difficult time believing that the man Jesus was actually God. 

But the early Church and the historical Christian faith maintain that Jesus is both God and man. But the early Church had to define exactly what they meant when they said that Jesus was both God and man.

Sometimes, someone would try to understand that relationship between Jesus' humanity and His Godhood, and it wouldn't sound quite right. There would be disagreement among Christians, so the Church leaders or the Christian Emperor would call a Council to sort out the problem and give a more detailed explanation of what they meant by saying that Jesus was both God and man. 

Council of Nicea (year 325): 

"Light from Light, true God from true God."

The Nicene Creed doesn't go into detail, but it did establish Jesus’ equality with God in opposition to the teaching of Arius, who was spreading the idea that Jesus was a lesser god than God the Father. 

The Council of Constantinople (year 381) clarified Jesus' humanity. They said that Jesus had a truly human mind and soul as well as body. He was completely human. He wasn't simply God living in a human body. Jesus had a human mind and a human soul. 

Of course, that led to the question, Does Jesus have two souls and two minds? A God soul and a human soul, a God mind and a human mind? 

The Council of Ephesus (year 431) said that Jesus did not have a God nature and a human nature, but one unified nature that is both God and man.

Council of Chalcedon (year 451):

“the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man.”

This statement says Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is one being. It’s similar to the idea that God is One but Three. We don't understand the Trinity, and we don't understand how Jesus can be both God and man at the same time. 

Though it took time to iron out the details, each of the Councils' decisions was based on what they saw in Scripture. Jesus did things that only humans can do, but He also referred to Himself as God. The way God worked through Him then proved that He wasn't wrong about who He said He was.

Should We Relate to Jesus More as a Man or as God?

There’s no right answer to this question. It’s similar to how some people relate to God more as a Father and some more as a King. Some as a Provider and some as the Creator.

Some people draw comfort from thinking of Jesus as the human who can understand what they’re going through. Others respect Him as Lord and think very little of His humanity beyond what they read in Scripture; it has very little bearing in their everyday faith walk.

Of course, we want to know Jesus as fully as possible, so if you tend to think of Him as one more than the other, remind yourself of His Divinity or humanity once in a while.

Why did God the Son Become Human?

Hebrews 2:14-18:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

In short, Jesus couldn't atone for our sins break death for us without becoming one of us. He had to stand in our stead as our substitutionary sacrifice. If He was only a man, He would be able to take the place of one person. The fact that He was an infinite God enabled Him to be the substitution for everyone.

How Does Thinking of Jesus as Human Help Us?

I thought of three ways that remembering Christ’s humanity can help us in our daily lives.

Redeems our Emotions

Jesus expressed surprise, anger, and sadness. Because He did, we can know that our emotions have a place in a holy life.

Redeems our Bodily Needs

Jesus went to the bathroom. He passed gas. He smelled. He got hungry and thirsty. This means that we don’t need to feel that these functions and needs are beneath us as God’s children. They’re a natural part of the way God made us.

Redeems our Temptations

Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus was tempted in every way we are. He was tempted to do the same kinds of things we’re tempted to do. He was tempted to sin sexually. He tempted to be sarcastic toward other people. He tempted to steal and commit violence. He was tempted to abuse alcohol. As a little boy, He was tempted to disobey His parents. He was tempted to eat too much.

He didn’t do those things, but He thought about them. So, when we think about those things, we’re not wrong. We’re in the company of the one who can empathize with us. He’s also the one who gives us the strength to be like Him and resist those temptations.

In many ways, God became a man not only so that He could redeem us but so that He could be our example of what it means to be a man or a woman created in God’s image.

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Find more answers to interesting questions on my Theology 101 page!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

What Should Christians Believe about the Bible?

Christians look to the Bible for answers and guidance. But how do we know we can trust the Bible? What should we believe about the Bible itself?

1. The Bible is the Inspired Word of God

2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is God-breathed

2 Peter 1:20: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.

There are two primary understandings of the inspiration of Scripture:
  • God dictated the exact words that the people wrote.
  • He inspired their spirit and allowed them to come up with their own words.

I think that both are true in certain cases. In the Old Testament, we see plenty of examples of God telling a prophet exactly what to say. We don’t see that very much in the New Testament, however, and one reason might be that Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside them, so the writers didn’t need God’s voice telling them what to write. They felt the Holy Spirit communicating with their spirits instead.

In either case, Christians need to believe that the message came from God, not the human writer only.

2. The Bible is Inerrant

Christians often describe the Bible as infallible. The most common definition of this term is that there are no errors in Scripture regarding Christian faith and practice. In other words, the Bible tells us exactly what we need to know to be saved and live a Christian life.

Some Christians hold that there may be errors in other matters, though, such as historical or scientific accuracy. This description of Scripture allows believers to accept the existence of God and His commandments while also accepting the theories of the Big Bang, Evolution, etc.

A stronger term than infallible, describing the Bible as inerrant implies that there are no errors regarding any matter. If the Bible says God created the world in six days, He created the world in six days.

The difference here is a big one, and its implications have to do with whether Scripture can be trusted or not. If the Bible could be wrong about one thing, why couldn’t it be wrong about something else? If it’s inspired, why would God allow someone to write something that isn’t absolutely true?

The only way we can trust Scripture regarding matters of the faith is to trust it regarding everything else.

But this idea of infallibility also seeks to separate spiritual matters from secular issues. Is the account of Genesis 1-3 a matter of faith or is it simply a scientific concern that the Bible could be wrong about? Those first three chapters carry so many implications for the rest of the Bible that they have to be matters of faith. Otherwise, the rest of Scripture is built on a falsehood. The death and resurrection of Christ holds no meaning if death didn’t come because of humanity’s sin in the garden.

So, Christians need to believe that the Bible is true in all aspects. Otherwise, it’s simply another myth.

3. The Bible is Accurate in its Transcriptions and Translations

Some Christians will admit that they believe that the Scriptures were inspired by God and that they were either infallible or inerrant when the writer first produced them but that errors may have cropped up in the process of copying the texts so many times throughout history and translating them into their non-native languages.

This is a valid concern, but it’s simply not true. The Bible has been the most copied, most translated book in all of history. And what we find is that when we compare the oldest documents with what we read today, it is very, very close. It’s so close to the point that the meaning has not changed.

This shows how much respect people have had for the Bible throughout the centuries and how much accountability there’s been between groups of Christians. One person or church or scholarly association can’t change anything without everyone else calling them out.

That’s why we can believe that what we’re reading is truly God’s message to us.

4. The Bible is Authoritative for Us

Believers differ on how the Bible was inspired and whether it’s inerrant in all it says or not. They differ on how to interpret the Scriptures at many points. But one thing every Christian has to believe is that the Bible has authority.

That’s not to say that the Bible is our only authority. A watchword of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, but the Bible itself never claims to be the only authority for Christians. Catholics very readily remind us that tradition passed down from the Apostles and Church Fathers is authoritative. Likewise, churches who recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed acknowledge the historic Church councils as having authority. John Wesley said that logic was authoritative. And any church that has a structured government gives some level of authority to its officials.

No matter what other authorities a church acknowledges, however, it must also adhere to the Scriptures. People who disregard the Bible as having no bearing for us today have abandoned the roots of the religion, opting to follow whatever they think is right, in effect making up their own belief system. They’re not only on a different page than the rest of us, but they’re not even reading the same book!

As Jesus said in John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be set aside.”

One objection to following Scripture is the belief that what was written was only valid for the context of the writer. The argument goes that since we are living in a different time with differences in our society, the Scriptures are no longer valid for us in certain respects.

This objection has some validity because Scripture itself takes away our need to follow certain Old Testament practices with the introduction of the New Covenant. We don’t need to sacrifice animals anymore, for example, even though God commanded the people to do it at one point in Israel’s history.

The point to note here, however, is that Scripture itself tells us what is no longer valid. People didn’t decide on their own to stop following the laws of the Old Covenant. No Scripture has told us to stop listening to Paul or Peter or Christ’s words, so they’re still valid for us. They will be in effect at least until Christ comes again and gives us further instructions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

How to Be a Giving Christian

I've been struggling with what it means to be a giving person. In particular, I've been struggling with what it means to be a giving American Christian.

What is my responsibility to give? What does God ask me to do with what He's given me as a citizen of a country with a strong economy?

Paul’s Instructions for Giving

The Apostle Paul has the most to say about giving in his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 9:6-11:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Paul says that we should give what we’ve decided in our hearts to give. But how do I discern what to give in my heart? And how do I ensure that I'm not sowing sparingly?

In the chapter before this, he said:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (2 Corinthians 8:1-3)

Here, Paul commends the Macedonians for giving out of the poverty, just like Jesus commended the widow who gave her last two coins. The Macedonians gave more than they were able.

The Goal of Giving

Paul reveals what the goal of giving is when he writes:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

The goal is equality. But in what sense? Making sure no one lacks basic necessities? Raising others up? How far?

The following verses seem to say that I need to lower myself and sell my possessions to raise others up.

2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Acts 2:44:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

And people whom Jesus commended or condemned for their standards of giving only include the one who gave everything and the one who refused to give everything.

Mark 12:41-44:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Matthew 19:21:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Models of Giving

So, what model of giving should I follow? Tithing as the Old Testament commanded? Giving all as some of these verses indicate? Matching what I spend on myself with what I give to try to achieve some sort of equality?

And what does equality mean? Do I really need to lower myself to the living conditions of the poorest person so that I can raise them up?

I imagine that if God doesn’t want them to live in the conditions they’re in, he doesn’t me to either. So, is there a way that I can determine what the basic necessities are that God wants for every person and then, lower myself to those standards and not go beyond them so that I can spend everything else on others?

If that could be a valid method of deciding what to spend on myself, I would say that God wants the following for each person, including myself:
  • Nutritious food
  • Clean water
  • A well-maintained living space
  • Spending money to enjoy a hobby and celebrate God's blessings
  • Money to give small gifts to others

Some people might say that people also need emergency funds and savings accounts for retirement. But is that what Scripture says?

2 Corinthians 8:14:
At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.

As Christians, we need to first give, then let others give to us when we need it. Maybe that means helping us to cover a medical bill or a large house repair or taking caring of us in our old age.

Changes in Spending to Increase Giving

Here are some questions I’ve been asking about my own spending. You might benefit from them as well as you seek to increase your giving.

1. Which is cheaper for you? Living in a house or living in an apartment? Is there a way to share the expenses of your living arrangement with a roommate or even another family?

2. What can you do to lower your grocery and food expenses? Can you grow some of your food? Make more of your food rather than buying prepackaged meals or going out to eat?

3. How can you spend less on utility bills? Can you bump the thermostat a few degrees up or down to lower energy costs? Can you deliver your own trash and recycling to the local processing facility?

4. If you’re a family with two or more drivers, is there a way to reduce the number of vehicles you need? Maybe one person can drop the other at work, or you can carpool with someone else to avoid paying for a second or third vehicle?

5. How much money do you really need to spend on your home or yard? It’s good stewardship to maintain what you have, but do you need to make those home improvements or have the nicest landscaping?

6. What about insurance costs? Will your employer allow you to opt out of their health insurance program to buy into a Christian cost-sharing health plan?

7. How much money do you really need to spend on hobby or relaxation activities? Can you do something that costs less but would give you the same amount of enjoyment? Can you spend money on those fun activities less frequently?

I’m sure you can think of other ways to cut costs in your life. These are just a few that I’ve been wrestling with as I head toward the goal of equality. The less I spend on myself, the more I can spend on raising others up.

Why Do We Need a Savior in This Life?

Most people who accept the Bible as true understand that we need a savior to rescue us from going to Hell when we die.

Romans 3:23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Notice though that the word “sinned” is past tense, but “fall short” is present tense. I do fall short. I continue to fall short. I continually need a Savior to cover my sins not once but continually. 

So, yes, the work of the Savior allows us to go to Heaven instead of Hell.


But many people don't feel the weight of their sin. We live in a very relativistic culture in which there are very few moral absolutes in society anymore. There's very little shame.

Most of us are also fairly comfortable here in America and in the Western World. We don't look to Heaven because life here isn't so bad that we need to look for our escape. We don’t need what Karl Marx thought of as the opiate for the people. 

So, without much shame for our sins, or desire for a better life, how we can reach people and convince them that they need a Savior? What can we offer as the benefits of believing in Christ?

Meaning in Our Lives

What do people without Christ live for? How do they find meaning?

They might say that their family or legacy, or work, or hobbies gives meaning to their lives. And while good, these things "fall short" of what God intends for us. Our family members can disappoint us. Our legacy and how people will remember us will only last so long. Our work life only lasts until retirement and can't satisfy our inner longings.  We can only engage in our hobbies as long as we have the time, resources, and ability to do so. And what if we tire of what used to give us fulfillment?

Only Christ gives us the lifelong and afterlife fulfillment that we’re all looking for. Only being a part of His family and His mission brings ultimate meaning to our lives.

Unconditional Love and Forgiveness

There are many people who love us in this life. There are many who will forgive our mistakes. But who else will truly love you unconditionally and forgive you no matter how many times you commit the same sin?

Only God can do that. No human can show perfect love like that because no human is perfect.


The people of the Old Testament didn't believe in an afterlife for everyone. They knew that some people went to Heaven, but they had no concept of a coming judgment in which everyone would either go to Heaven or Hell. There are hints of the afterlife in the Old Testament, but not many. Jesus is the one who taught the most about the topic. 

So, the Old Testament believers didn't have an afterlife to look forward to and yet, they still followed God in this life. Why?

The reason is that they believed that God would either bless or punish them in this life. And God still does bless and punish us. His promises of blessings still stand for believers. And though bad things may still happen to us, we can also rely on God’s good gifts coming to us.

James 1:17:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Comfort and Strength

What do people rely on or hope for when their normally comfortable lives are turned upside down by tragedy, loss, and bad luck? How do people rise to meet challenges beyond their capabilities?

People without God are forced to rely on themselves or other people, and it is in those times that people often find how inadequate, broken, and lost they are. People can only pull themselves up by their bootstraps so far.

Christians have the advantage of leaning on the Lord in the hard times. He gives us strength beyond ourselves and carries us through more than we thought we could handle. As the familiar verse says,

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)


Being of the same species or even fellow countrymen doesn't cut it in this world. We still war and argue.

But our relationship with our Savior gives us peace with one another, beyond the bounds of race or nationality. It unites us and helps us work together for something beyond ourselves as individuals.

Morality and Peace of Mind

Everyone has a conscience. And most people are bothered when they know they’ve done something wrong. People want to know that they're doing the right thing, whatever they understand "right" to be.

By submitting ourselves to God's law, we can have peace of mind that we are acting rightly. We don’t have to guess. We don’t have to try to justify our actions or figure out where the line is. We can have the assurance that if we’re following Scripture, we’re within the bounds of God’s Law, and that gives us great peace of mind.

So, why do we need a Savior in this life? He’s the only one who can give us all of these benefits in this life.

How Does God Discipline Us?

Has something ever happened to you that made you wonder if God was disciplining you? 

Proverbs 3:11-12:

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

What is the Purpose of God's Discipline? 

Proverbs 19:18:

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

Psalm 94:12-13: 

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; 13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.

Hebrews 12:7-11:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God disciplines us because He loves us. It’s for our good. He is our father helping us to grow in maturity.

Is Discipline the Same as Punishment?

Some Christians don’t like the idea of saying that God punishes us. It makes God sound mean. But let’s not get hung up on the connotations of a word. If God “punishes,” we can trust that He’s doing it for the same reasons He disciplines. Both are meant to bring about us to repentance.

Jeremiah 30:11:

I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

As we can see, punishment and discipline seem to be the same thing as the two terms are being used synonymously in this verse.

How Does God Discipline or Punish Us?

We have a record of all the ways that God punished people in the Old Testament, from plagues and war to barrenness and unfruitful seasons.

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul gives an example of one way God was disciplining Christians.

 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

The Apostle says "many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."

The early Christians thought that God punished them in a variety of ways. This is a quote from The Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 6, chapter 3.

“This,” he replied, “is the angel of punishment; and he belongs to the just angels, and is appointed to punish. He accordingly takes those who wander away from God, and who have walked in the desires and deceits of this world, and chastises them as they deserve with terrible and diverse punishments.”
 “I would know, sir,” I said, “Of what nature are these diverse tortures and punishments?”
 “Hear,” he said, “the various tortures and punishments. The tortures are such as occur during life. For some are punished with losses, others with want, others with sicknesses of various kinds, and others with all kinds of disorder and confusion; others are insulted by unworthy persons, and exposed to suffering in many other ways: for many, becoming unstable in their plans, try many things, and none of them at all succeed, and they say they are not prosperous in their undertakings; and it does not occur to their minds that they have done evil deeds, but they blame the Lord. When, therefore, they have been afflicted with all kinds of affliction, then are they delivered unto me for good training, and they are made strong in the faith of the Lord; and for the rest of the days of their life they are subject to the Lord with pure hearts, and are successful in all their undertakings, obtaining from the Lord everything they ask; and then they glorify the Lord, that they were delivered to me, and no longer suffer any evil.”

So, Biblically and in Christian tradition, there are many ways God can punish us. I would also add the conviction we receive from the Holy Spirit and our conscience is a form of discipline. We all know sometimes a simple word or look from a disapproving parent can be all the punishment we need.

Who Does God Punish?

God punished groups of people, and He punishes people individually. 

Genesis 15:14:

But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.

God punished the Egyptians en masse. Note that He used nature in all of the plagues.

2 Samuel 7:14:

I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.

Speaking of King David, God is saying that He will punish David by using other people.

Sometimes, God even punished future generations.

Exodus 20:4-5:

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

And in the Scripture above regarding Communion, we saw that God disciplines Christians.

How Can I Know When God is Punishing Me?

This is the most difficult question to answer regarding this subject. Even the disciples needed clarification.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

As in the case of this blind man, and in the case of Job in the Old Testament, sometimes bad things happen in our lives without us doing anything wrong. So, when the result is the same, how do you tell the difference between when God is disciplining you individually and when you're simply reaping the consequences of living in a Fallen world?

How do you tell what you're being disciplined for?

I think the best answer is to rely on the Holy Spirit and your conscience. If you’ve done something wrong, or if you’ve neglected to do something right, count the bad things happening to you as the Lord’s discipline.

If your conscience is clear and the Holy Spirit isn’t convicting you of anything, count the occurrence as something bad happening either because of someone else’s sin or simply as a result of living in a world that doesn’t operate as it should.

How Does Being Part of the Family of God Affect Our Lives?

The four questions I want to consider here are:

1. What effect does being in the family of God have on how we view ourselves? 

2. How does our being in the family of God affect our relationship with our Christian family members? 

3. How does our being in the family of God affect our relationship with our non-Christian family members?

4. How should we treat non-Christian family members?

What Effect Does Being in the Family of God Have on How We View Ourselves?

How do these verses affect how you view yourself and your relationship to God?

Romans 8:14-17:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35:
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

I find these verses to be incredibly flattering. Think of it. We are God’s children. We are part of Jesus’ family, even more so than an unbelieving member of His natural family might have been.

As part of God’s family, you can hold your head high. You have the dignity of being a child of the King. You are a prince or a princess over all creation. And it’s not by right of birth. God invited and chose you to be His child because of your faith and obedience in His Son.

How Does Our Being in the Family of God Affect Our Relationship with Our Christian Family Members?

How does your relationship with a family member change once you both become Christians?

For me, I would think that your bond with that person would become closer. Even if you had nothing else in common with them, you now have the same worldview, the same convictions and morals, a common faith story to draw from, and a common eternal home to long for.

How Does Our Being in the Family of God Affect Our Relationship with Our Non-Christian Family Members?

Just as our faith draws us closer to likeminded family members, so it drives a wedge between us and those in our family who don’t believe.

Remember that Jesus said His family members were those who did God’s will, not necessarily those who were related to Him by blood or marriage.

Luke 9:59-62:
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 12:51-53:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

These are difficult verses to read, but Jesus is very clear in saying that our natural family members are not as important as following Him. And sometimes, we may need to make choices that divide us from our non-Christian family members.

For example, our beliefs may cause us to disagree with a member of our family. They may see nothing wrong with supporting a woman’s right to choose abortion, or doing whatever it takes to climb the ladder of success, drinking to excess, or telling dirty jokes. In some cases, we will need to let our stance on certain issues be known, and we can’t be ashamed of what we know to be the truth.

Those disagreements naturally cause us to be more distant from them. They or we may also choose not to spend as much time with the other. It’s unfortunate, but when we don’t have the most important things in common with them and can’t make concessions that would compromise our obedience, that’s the natural result.

How Should We Treat Non-Christian Family Members?

Consider these verses.

Galatians 6:10:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Mark 7:9-13:
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

1 Timothy 5:4:
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

It seems that the Scriptures are clear in telling us to help and care for our family members. But there is a distinction to help Christians first. We all have limited time and limited resources. If there’s a choice to be made, we should help and bless those in our Christian family of believers before we would help someone outside the faith. At the same time, we aren’t to shun our non-Christian family members or disregard our responsibilities toward them.

I believe we can also continue to enjoy our relationships with unbelieving family members albeit in a more reserved nature. As one person said, we may not have our non-Christian family members for eternity, so we need to enjoy them while we can.

Spend time with them and engage with them as much as possible without doing anything that would tarnish your Christian example or displease the Lord.