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The Unchangeable Nature of God

By Peter Amsterdam

free-bible-studies-online-anchorThe immutability of God—or His unchangeableness or constancy—is part of His divine nature. It means that God doesn’t change in His being, His perfections, His purposes, and promises. He doesn’t change in His nature or character.

The universe and all that is in it changes. There is transition, movement from one state to the next. People, for example, age; and as they do, they change. They grow or diminish in size, as well as intellectually and emotionally. Someone can also change morally, going from being a bad person to being a good one, or vice versa. Someone can study and practice a skill, and in the course of doing so, learn and eventually become proficient in what they have studied. These are all examples of change, which is part of life within creation.

However, God transcends creation. He doesn’t change. If He did, He would become either better or worse. He’d either grow in His intelligence and knowledge or diminish in it. He’d become more loving or less loving, more holy or less holy. But as God, He is infinite in all of these things. He therefore doesn’t improve or deteriorate in them. If He did, He wouldn’t be God.

All of creation is “becoming”—it’s becoming something different than what it presently is. God, in contrast to this, is “being.” He is. Always. He doesn’t change. (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17)

God’s character, His attributes or perfections, don’t change. He is always good, loving, just, righteous, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. There is never any varying in these things. He is constant.

If God’s character varied, then we couldn’t be certain that the God we know to be good and loving would remain that way. If God was subject to change, then at some point He could start thinking that sin isn’t so bad after all; He could eventually degenerate to the point where He would begin to do evil things Himself, and even eventually become an all-powerful evil being. But His character and attributes do not and cannot change. They are constant; there is no variation.

God doesn’t change in His purpose, His will, and His plan. Once He has decided that He will bring something about, He does it. His plan of salvation is something that He determined before the foundations of the world, and He carried out His plan as promised. Prophecies, predictions, and judgments throughout the Old Testament were fulfilled. His purposes of saving people through Jesus, of Jesus’ return, of eternal life for believers, of judgment, of heaven, don’t change; they remain firm. (Ephesians 1:11 ESV)

God doesn’t change in regard to His Word and His promises. If He stopped honoring His promises, if He acted contrary to His Word, then He couldn’t be trusted. The promise of salvation, of eternal life, and His willingness to answer prayer, would all be in question. If God could change, then these bedrock foundations of our faith could change. But His promises and Word remain forever. “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89 NIV)

 
Does God change His mind?

When God’s unchangeableness is presented, the question often arises about the times God seems to have changed His mind, such as when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to announce that in forty days the city would be destroyed. (See Jonah 3:3–10) Another example was when He gave the ailing king Hezekiah fifteen more years of life, after having told him he was going to die. (Isaiah 38:1–5)

When considering these examples where it looks as if God changed His mind, we must remember that God is a personal being who interacts with humanity. Within this interaction, God responds to man’s choices and decisions. When someone is doing evil, God is displeased with that person’s actions, but if the person repents and changes, then God’s relationship with that person changes. His overall love for the person never changes, but there is a response from God depending on the choices made by the person or people. In the case of Nineveh, because they were wicked, God’s response was that He rightly was going to destroy them. He told Jonah to tell them so. When Jonah did, the people repented, and God’s response to their repentance was mercy.

With Hezekiah, God declared he was going to die, yet when Hezekiah prayed and wept, God responded to his prayer and healed him.

In these cases, God was responding in mercy and love to changes made and prayers prayed by the people involved. In neither example did God change His character or nature, nor His overall purpose and plan. God didn’t change, but the people changed, and God responded in accordance with His divine nature.

Author and theologian Wayne Grudem explains it this way:

These instances should all be understood as true expressions of God’s present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment. If the situation changes, then of course God’s attitude or expression of intention will also change. This is just saying that God responds differently to different situations. The example of Jonah preaching to Nineveh is helpful here. God sees the wickedness of Nineveh and sends Jonah to proclaim, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The possibility that God would withhold judgment if the people repented is not explicitly mentioned in Jonah’s proclamation as recorded in Scripture, but it is of course implicit in that warning: the purpose for proclaiming a warning is to bring about repentance. Once the people repented, the situation was different, and God responded differently to that changed situation. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 165)

Another factor to keep in mind regarding the scenarios above is that the Bible uses anthropomorphic descriptions of God, such as the mention of God having “relented” in the story of Jonah. These are best understood as descriptive language within human comprehension.

On this matter of anthropomorphic language, William Lane Craig says:

It’s vital that we understand the literary genre, or type, of most of these biblical stories. The Bible is in the form of narratives—they’re stories about God told from the human point of view. So a good storyteller will tell his story with all of the vivacity and color that he wants, to enhance his narratives. And so you’ll find stories in the Bible about God told from a human perspective, where God not only lacks knowledge of the future, but even lacks knowledge of what is going on presently. God comes down to Abraham and says, “I’ve heard the outcry in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m going to go see if what I’ve heard is really happening there.” (Genesis 18:20–33) Well, that would deny not only God’s foreknowledge but His knowledge of the present. And there are other passages where God is spoken of in other anthropomorphic terms as having nostrils and eyes, arms and other sorts of bodily parts, wings, and if you take all these literally, God would be a fire-breathing monster. These are anthropomorphisms. They are literary devices that are part of the storyteller’s art and shouldn’t be read like a philosophy of religion or systematic theology textbook. (Video transcript excerpts from interview “Can God Change?” PBS “Closer to Truth” show)

In each of these situations, God didn’t change in His nature, character, purpose, or promises. In fact, He was constant in all of these by being just, loving, righteous, and personal, and acting within His overall purpose.

God’s immutability—His constancy and unchangeableness—is central to our faith in Him. If He was inconsistent, if His nature or character was regularly changing, if He improved or deteriorated, then we couldn’t trust Him. We couldn’t trust His Word or His promises.

But God doesn’t change in His Being, nature, character, purposes, promises or plan. He can be counted on, for He is faithful and true. He is the rock that we can build on, the one we can trust in this ever-changing world, because He is the unchangeable God.

 
 

Copyright © 2017 The Family International.

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What Easter Represents

By Maria Fontaine

free-bible-studies-online-anchorAnything so unspeakably priceless as Jesus offering His life in payment for our sins required immense strength of spirit and depth of character and closeness to His Father in order to accomplish such a colossal mission—His ultimate goal.

Even then, in the midst of facing what He had to do for the salvation of humankind, Jesus requested that if it were possible that the Father would let the cup pass from Him. (Matthew 26:39) What was the cup? It was His great agony and the suffering that He would have to endure. We might picture His cup filled with the consequences of the sins of the world!—All that God’s justice had decreed was due for all the sins that had ever been committed—past, present, and future. As a paraphrasing of 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God took the sinless Christ and poured into Him the cost of our sins. Then, in exchange, He poured the pure gift of God’s goodness into us.” He who was without sin bore the weight of punishment for the transgressions of the entire world, in order to free us from them.

Out of love for us, He who knew no sin suffered the price of sin for us and was made a curse for us, so that through His death He could destroy sin’s power over those who would come to Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:14; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24)

Our human intellects, no matter how brilliant, can never fully understand these deep spiritual truths. However, physical illustrations of these concepts, even though insufficient at their best and “seen through a glass darkly,” can at least help us to a partial, very limited understanding. Jesus taking our sins and evil into Himself could be symbolically likened to a terminal disease permeating the body and infiltrating the cells. His becoming sin for us was like His taking into Himself the resulting consequence of death.

The Bible says that Jesus poured out His soul unto death, and set us free through His blood. (Isaiah 53:12) The cup now symbolizes new life through His blood shed for us. (1 Corinthians 11:25) Sin, death, ungodliness, and all that is evil is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54) All of the evil of mankind, and the full settlement for all sin for all time was made. And what does Jesus ask of us? The Scripture says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:8–11, 6:6–11)

He who was life and truth and the Word made flesh was destroyed in the flesh, but His spirit could not be destroyed. (Luke 23:46; 1 Peter 3:18) What was destroyed for all who turn to Jesus was the power of sin and death, the spirit of the world, and those spiritual forces bound to them. Their power was broken and conquered by Christ for any who would receive His sacrifice and gift of love. These forces of Satan no longer have any power or authority over His children beyond what Jesus allows for a purpose—to teach us and strengthen us, to cause our witness to shine even brighter, and to draw us closer to Him.

What Jesus did through His death and resurrection to bring us salvation is something so very mysterious and beyond our human comprehension that we won’t be able to fully understand it until we’re liberated from the realm of the flesh into the spirit—and maybe not even then. However, every time we reflect on what Jesus did for each one of us—and for all of us—it renews our sense of reverence and awe.

What, in practical terms, does such limitless love mean to us as Christians? What does it say to us? What is its significance? What does it mean to us personally?

Christian writers throughout the years have tried to explain the essence of Easter in various ways:

  • A demonstration that life is essentially spiritual and timeless.
  • The rare beauty of new life.
  • News of a great victory, the assurance of a great triumph.
  • A declaration that we are immortal children of God.
  • The “out of the grave and into my heart” miracle.
  • A fact of history, without which history does not make sense.
  • The door of the holy sepulcher—the portal through which we enter the kingdom of God.
  • The descent of God to the human level and the ascent of man to the divine level, becoming the sons of God.
  • The thing that turns the church from a museum into a ministry.
  • A second chance.
  • The assurance that the truth does not perish; it cannot be destroyed.
  • The crowning proof of Christianity.
  • The right to live nobly now because we are to live forever.
  • The knowledge that we are living in a world in which God has the last word.

Easter represents all that our salvation is. (John 11:25–26)—And that’s worth celebrating! Easter stands for everything that has been and forever will be possible in our resurrection-empowered lives. It represents:

  • Freedom from condemnation of past mistakes and failures. (Romans 8:1)
  • Liberation from fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15)
  • The guarantee of hope for an eternal future in a home that Jesus has gone to prepare for us. (John 14:2–3)
  • An alternative to the temporal, sin-laden, suffering-plagued existence of this world. (John 16:33)
  • The opening of the door of heaven to us.
  • The blind given sight. (1 Peter 2:9; John 9:25)
  • Common men and women becoming kings and queens. (Revelation 5:9–10)
  • The drowning man rescued.
  • The brand snatched from the burning. (Zechariah 3:2)
  • The power to preach good tidings, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isaiah 61:1,3)
  • The paralyzed becoming mobile. (Matthew 11:5)
  • The earth coming to life in the spring.
  • The knowledge that man can live forever. (1 John 2:17)
  • A demonstration that anything wonderful can happen when all hope seems gone.
  • Complete forgiveness. (Isaiah 1:18)
  • Freedom from the law of death. (Romans 8:2)
  • The truth let loose in the world. (John 1:17)
  • The sting taken out of death (1 Corinthians 15:55)
  • The guarantee that there are no illnesses nor pain in heaven. (Revelation 21:4)
  • The promise of eternal life with our loved ones. (Acts 16:31)
  • The assurance of a glorious future, no matter how bad the world gets.
  • The power to conquer all impossibilities. (Luke 1:37)
  • Divine healing power. (Mark 16:17–18)
  • A way of life, not just a religion or a ritual. (John 10:10)

All of the above impossibilities became possible—all the potential of the universe was released—when Christ’s victory over death was won.

The resurrection and its results are worth repeatedly examining, since in this—one of the greatest moments of history—we continue to find Easter wonders.

Like the little girl said when her daddy asked her, “Do you know what Easter means, honey?” The three-year-old, throwing up her arms, shouted at the top of her voice, “Surprise!” Yes, indeed! Death was surprised! Sin was surprised! The grieving disciples were surprised! Modern man is surprised! Jesus is alive—and the whole world is filled with His resurrection miracles!

 
 

Copyright © 2017 The Family International.

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The Message of the Cross

A compilation

free-bible-studies-online-anchorWhen you go throughout the world, you see many churches with steeples. When the Communists tried to outlaw religion in Russia and in Eastern Europe, they forgot that the cross was on many of their churches and cathedrals. The cross is worn on the necks of so many people, but they don’t know what it means. What does it mean to you tonight?

First, the cross shows us the depths of our sins. We don’t realize what sin is in the sight of God—how deeply it offends Him and how it separates us from Him. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed in Gethsemane. He was agonizing, sorrowful. He prayed to God, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39 NKJV) He looked into the cup, and what did He see in that cup? He saw the sins of the whole world! He saw murder, war, racial prejudice, adultery, lying, and fraud.

People ask the question, “What is sin?” Sin is coming short of God’s righteousness. God is righteous and holy. He cannot look upon sin. A diamond may be perfect to the natural eye. But if you take it to a specialist and he looks at it through a glass, he sees a defect in it. And God looks at us that way… The Scripture says all have sinned. We have all come short of God’s requirement…

The Bible says that we are sinners by nature and by choice. James 4:1–3 says: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” We are all that way. Sin has affected our minds. The Scripture says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

Sin also affects your will. Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34 NKJV) There’s something of which you are guilty. You can’t break this habit. You would like to, but you have no power to do it. You are a slave. You cry for freedom, but there is no escape. But Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32 NKJV) Then He said that He was the truth. (John 14:6)

Sin also affects your conscience. Every one of us has a conscience. Sometimes it’s a little red light that comes on every time we sin against God. But you can have a conscience that doesn’t work any longer. You have gone against your conscience for so long that it’s dead. You are no longer shocked or offended by sin around you or sin in your own life.

There’s a penalty to sin. The wages of sin is death. The Cross says to the world tonight, “You are a sinner. You are under the sentence of death.” That means spiritual death, eternal death. But not only does the Cross show us our sins, it also shows us the love of God. God is saying tonight, “I love you. No matter what you have done—how bad you have been—I love you.” And the death of Christ is what makes the good news. God is saying to you, “I love you. I forgive you because of what Jesus did on the cross.”

The Cross is a pardon; it’s a reprieve from death for people who don’t deserve it. None of us deserves to be saved. None of us deserves to go to heaven. But God is love, (1 John 4:8) and God is grace and mercy. “Grace” means something that you don’t deserve, something that God just gives you. God offers you a pardon tonight. He offers you forgiveness; He offers you assurance of heaven if you die. And that can happen right here tonight. “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 KJV) …

Jesus died on the cross for you, and the Scripture says that you can never be the same once you have been to the Cross: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

Do you feel that your life has been a failure? Is your life turned upside down? Do you wonder which way to turn? The choice you make tonight will affect your whole life. It will also affect where you spend eternity. Where will you be a hundred years from now? You won’t be here, but the Cross guarantees a future life. The Cross is followed by the Resurrection. The death of Christ was not the end. There’s a Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Scripture teaches that Christ is reconciling the world unto Himself. He’ll reconcile you. You are separated from God by sin. But when you come to the Cross, you are united with God, and you become a partaker of His own nature.

—Billy Graham

 
Symbol of our faith

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer, look no further than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal, the other vertical. One reaches out like God’s love. The other reaches up as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love, the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection of both. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standard.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there. “God put on him the wrong who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG) Or as another version reads, “Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 CEV)

Envision the moment. God on his throne. You on the earth. And between you and God, suspended between you and heaven, is Christ on his cross. Your sins have been placed on Jesus. God, who punishes sin, releases his rightful wrath on your mistakes. Jesus receives the blow. Since Christ is between you and God, you don’t. The sin is punished, but you are safe, safe in the shadow of the cross. This is what God did, but why, why would he do it? Moral duty? Heavenly obligation? Paternal requirement? No. God is required to do nothing. Besides, consider what he did. He gave his Son. His only Son. Would you do that? Would you offer the life of your child for someone else? I wouldn’t. There are those for whom I would give my life. But ask me to make a list of those for whom I would kill my daughter. The sheet will be blank. I don’t need a pencil. The list has no names.

But God’s list contains the name of every person who ever lived. For this is the scope of his love. And this is the reason for the cross. He loves the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16) As boldly as the center beam proclaims God’s holiness, the crossbeam declares his love. And, oh, how wide his love reaches. … It’s nice to be included. You aren’t always. Universities exclude you if you aren’t smart enough. Businesses exclude you if you aren’t qualified enough, and sadly, some churches exclude you if you aren’t good enough. But though they may exclude you, Christ includes you.

When asked to describe the width of his love, he stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and had them nailed in that position so you would know, he died loving you.

—Max Lucado

 
God’s altar

Moses said that without the shedding of blood, there’s no remission of sins. (Leviticus 17:11) That was the Law, but Jesus said, “This is the new testament in My blood.” (1 Corinthians 11:25)

Jesus died on God’s altar, the cross, believed upon by every Christian, trusted by every son and daughter of God who believes Jesus Christ for their salvation and His blood shed for their sins. He was the final ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was the final ultimate Lamb of God slain for the remission of your sins. He took the punishment of your sins in His own body on that tree, the cross, and that was the last sacrifice of blood for sin as far as God was concerned.

It cost a priceless gift for you to get saved, and that was Jesus and His blood. That’s the highest-priced gift anybody could ever receive, the highest cost anybody could pay for your salvation, and only Jesus could do it. No matter how much you sacrifice and try to pay for it by your own works, the price is too high for you. Only Jesus could pay it! God Himself spared not His own Son, Jesus Christ, but let Him die on the cross in order that He could freely give us all things. Such love!

—David Brandt Berg

 
Revelation of God

The cross of Jesus is the revelation of God’s judgment on sin. Never tolerate the idea of martyrdom about the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. There is nothing more certain in time or eternity than what Jesus Christ did on the cross: He switched the whole of the human race back into a right relationship with God. He made redemption the basis of human life; that is, He made a way for every son of man to get into communion with God.

The cross did not happen to Jesus: He came on purpose for it. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” … The cross is not the cross of a man but the cross of God, and the cross of God can never be realized in the human experience. The cross is the exhibition of the nature of God, the gateway whereby any individual of the human race can enter into union with God. When we get to the cross, we do not go through it; we abide in the life to which the cross is the gateway.

The center of salvation is the cross of Jesus, and the reason it is so easy to obtain salvation is because it cost God so much. The cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash and the way to life is opened—but the crash is on the heart of God.

—Oswald Chambers

 
 

Copyright © 2017 The Family International.

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Sharing Absolute Truths in a Changing World

A compilation

free-bible-studies-online-anchorThe popular world view today is that there is no absolute truth; there are only opinions. If there are only opinions, then one person’s opinion is no more valid than another person’s. Most discussions about Christ will simply be an exchange of opinions. The idea that there is truth has become alien to much of our thinking, with the criteria being if it seems to be good for me, then it must be true. And whether it is true or not, we then measure the benefit of a religion by the good it does its followers.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Jesus Christ is superior to all that preceded Him, not because what He said was better or more complete, though it was, but because He is Himself the message and has absolute unmatched supremacy in God’s revelation.

… That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus,” (Hebrews 3:1) and “fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2) Truth is decapitated when we sever it from Christ, which is what the Pharisees did, and consequently, knew nothing of spiritual life.

We can know the Scriptures inside out, but detached from Christ, it becomes a dead book. It would be like having a manual on a new car we have bought. We do not read the manual for the sake of reading. Rather, we want to get to know the car and be able to use it to its full potential. We are given the Bible so that we can know Christ and all that is made available to us in Him. There is an old hymn, “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” which has the great line, “Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee, Lord.” From Genesis to Revelation, every verse ultimately leads to Christ, and it is knowing Him that matters.

—Charles Price

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There are absolute truths that you can know, contrary to modern teachings that there are no absolutes. The modern teachers of that kind of non-absolutism philosophy would say, “You think that’s a hand, but you don’t really know it’s a hand; you’ve just always been taught it’s a hand!” They’d try to prove to you that it’s not possible to know anything with certainty, trying to tear down accepted truths of human existence and learning and religion. But we know and we believe that’s a hand, and almost anybody with common sense, even a little child, knows that’s his or her hand. So why try to tell them differently? You could say, “It’s actually an accumulation of 75% water and a lot of calcium and bone, and various kinds of minerals and substances, etc.” But it’s still a hand!

There are some things which you must accept as absolutely accepted truth, proven facts! Don’t let the theorists of non-absolutism try to tell you differently. The greatest absolute of all is God, which is why this doctrine against absolutism is a philosophy of Satan. By teaching that there are no absolutes, then they can say, “There’s also no God, no Bible, no morality. You don’t have to obey anything or anybody or keep laws. You don’t have to let anybody tell you what’s right or wrong; you can just do as you please!” And you wind up with chaos, anarchy, and confusion.

We as Christians and children of the Lord have to accept that there are certain things which we can know with certainty, which are proven from the Bible and from human experience for thousands of years, both spiritual truths and the ordinary everyday things of normal human life and existence.

—David Brandt Berg

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Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
—C. S. Lewis

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Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
—Sir Winston Churchill

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It is a central heresy of our culture to say that all truth is relative; that one thing may be true for me and quite another may be true for you. This absurdity destroys the very notion of truth … and is the result of muddled thinking. No one can seriously believe that a belief which contradicts his or her own is just as true. The expression “It is true for me” is self-confuting. Either a thing is true or it is not. … Can we imagine saying, “Well, the earth is round to me; but it may be flat to you”? The earth is either round or flat; it cannot be both; and what you or I think about it is irrelevant. You may claim that religion and ethics is not a matter of truth at all. Very well, do not use the word “true”; but if you use it, do not render it unintelligible by adding that empty phrase, “for me.”
—Keith Ward

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Relativism is a revolt against the objective reality of God. The sheer existence of God creates the possibility of truth. God is the ultimate and final standard for all claims to truth—who he is, what he wills, what he says is the external, objective standard for measuring all things. When relativism says that there is no standard of truth and falsehood that is valid for everyone, it speaks like an atheist. It commits treason against God.
—John Piper

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Moral practice has always been difficult for fallen humanity, but at least there was always the lighthouse of moral principles, no matter how stormy the sea of moral practice got. But today, with the majority of our mind-molders, in formal education, or informal education—that is, media—the light is gone. Morality is a fog of feelings. That is why to them, as Chesterton said, “Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles.” Principles mean moral absolutes. Unchanging rocks beneath the changing waves of feelings and practices. … How important is this issue? After all, it’s just philosophy, and philosophy is just ideas. But ideas have consequences. Sometimes these consequences are as momentous as a holocaust, or a Hiroshima. Sometimes even more momentous. Philosophy is just thought, but sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. This is just as true for societies as it is for individuals.
—Peter Kreeft

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It has been said that truth, by definition, will always be exclusive. Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Historically we know that Jesus claimed such exclusivity. Had He not made that statement, Jesus would have been unreasonably implying that truth is all-inclusive, which is an impossibility.
—Kim Triller

 
 

Copyright © 2017 The Family International.

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Hope in Suffering

free-bible-studies-online-anchorSuffering is designed to make us better, not bitter. God brings men into deep waters not to drown them, but to cleanse them.

Everyone has tests and temptations and trials and tribulations of some form or another, but it’s how you handle them that makes the difference. We can avoid becoming bitter or resentful about our trials and suffering if we realize that our great heavenly Father, the Spirit of love of the entire universe, will never allow any evil to come into our life unless He can in some way make it turn out for good.

This is the wonderful secret that makes burdens become blessings, and trials become triumphs, and crosses become crowns—the knowledge that no matter what we go through, it will somehow turn out for our good. This is the wonderful plan that God has for us and the gift that He has given us who believe in Jesus and are His children. If we are saved, we can trust through problems and suffering, because we know there’s a good reason for our tests and trials.

Everything that happens to the child of God always has a ray of hope somewhere. The storm always has a rainbow. The night always has its stars. The clouds always have a silver lining. God’s loving care is always present in any circumstance. And even when it cannot be seen, faith knows that God is there. For the child of God there is always a good and wonderful purpose behind suffering—a blessing in disguise.

Nevertheless, problems with all of their advantages and lessons and blessings sometimes do tend to discourage us and weigh us down and often tempt us to despair. One of the best ways for keeping our cheerfulness and our balance in times of stress and adversity is the attitude we take toward our problems.

For an example, let’s take the story of the small boy who sat quietly in a seat of a train running between two of the Western cities in the United States. It was a hot, dusty day, very uncomfortable for traveling, and that particular ride was perhaps the most uninteresting day’s journey in the whole land. But the little fellow sat patiently watching the fields and the fences hurrying by, until a motherly old lady, leaning forward, asked sympathetically, “Aren’t you tired of the long ride, dear, and the dust and the heat?” The lad looked up brightly, and replied, with a smile, “Yes, Ma’am, a little. But I don’t mind it much, because my father is going to meet me when I get to the end of it!”

What a beautiful thought it is that when life seems wearisome and monotonous and burdensome, as it sometimes does, we can look forward hopefully and trustingly, and like the little lad, “not mind it much” because our Father, too, will be waiting to meet us at our journey’s end. The Lord will meet us at the end of life’s journey—thank God!

And let’s not forget that Jesus suffered everything that we suffer. The Bible says that He was tempted in all points just like we are. There were times when He was sick and He was tired and He was hungry and He was thirsty and He was discouraged. Think of that.

Jesus Himself knows what it’s like to suffer. In fact, He suffered more than any of us can ever even imagine! He suffered for all the sins of all the world, because He loves us so much and was willing to even die for us! And someday soon, God’s Word promises us, all the suffering for those who love God will come to an end, and He “shall wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for all the evil of this world shall be passed away!”—When Jesus Himself returns to earth to right all wrongs and establish His eternal kingdom of love and peace!

Until that day, we will have to endure some suffering. But if you have Jesus in your heart, if you do your best to love Him and follow His teachings, as written in the Bible, you will find that the joy and happiness that will pervade and fill your life will far outweigh any temporary times of sorrow, suffering, testing, and trial. And that as we have seen, God will work all of these things together for your good.

And when hard times do come, the Lord promises us in His Word, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” And you’ll find that no matter how deep the floods of pain and sorrow, or how hot the fires of trial and affliction, Jesus is “a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and if you put your hand in His, trust in Him, and depend upon His Word, He will lovingly lead you and safely see you through it all!

God’s love does not always keep us from suffering and trials, but it is a love that always keeps us through sufferings and trials. Let’s never forget that the trials and storms of life no more indicate the absence of God than clouds indicate the absence of the sun!

 
 

Copyright © 2017 The Family International.

Anchor

Integrity and Christian Ethics

Part 2

free-bible-studies-online-anchorPart one on this topic covered ethics, examples of integrity, one’s internal compass of right and wrong, and the Golden Rule. Ethics without a moral foundation is like having a compass without a true north. That would be useless. You need the “true north” of personal conviction and ethics, which comes from God’s Word, if you’re going to have a functioning moral compass.

In Ethics 101, John C. Maxwell warns us that, from his point of view, there are five factors that can tarnish the Golden Rule as it applies to our personal integrity. To understand the complete message, you’d want to read the author’s explanation in full, but the general concept can be explained as follows:

While it is possible for people to act ethically, no matter what their social or economic status is, several factors prevent many from doing so.

The first is pressure, especially the pressure to succeed, and to do so quickly. To fight this pressure, make yourself slow down and examine what you’re doing. Begin this self-examination by asking yourself questions. Are you acting on the spur of the moment? Or out of fear or pride? Will your actions compromise your ethical code? It also helps to display reminders of the reasons you would want to act ethically, such as pictures of your family or symbols of your faith.

Pleasure is the second threat to ethical action. Pleasure tempts everyone. But decisions based on pleasure are weak decisions. Discipline is your primary weapon against pleasure’s temptations. Train yourself to do what you should.

Power is the third threat. If you focus on how much power you can obtain, what you can achieve, and what you can get away with, rather than on what you should do, you’ll go astray.

Closely linked to power is pride. If you feel self-important, you will only focus on yourself and how wonderful what you’re doing is, rather than looking at your actions with clear focus to see if you’re doing what you should.

Finally, a lack of priorities can cause you to act unethically. If you haven’t clearly established your priorities, you’ll stumble. You’ll act on a lesser priority when you should act on a greater one. To avoid this obstacle, review your priorities daily and judge your actions against them.—John C. Maxwell

It would benefit each of us to allot some time to think about these five “enemies” of the Golden Rule and how they’ve impacted our lives.

When we have integrity, we know our values, and can communicate them to others. We act on our values and live according to our convictions. We take responsibility for our decisions.

As Christians, our ethics should be centered on God’s Word and the principles He has put forth for His children. Following the truth of God’s Word, being motivated by His love, and seeking to be an example of a sincere Christian are touchstones for the decisions we make.

If you are looking to clarify and strengthen your personal ethics, if you want to build personal integrity, you can study God’s Word, meditate on His precepts, listen to His still small voice speaking to your heart, and ask Him to speak to you.

Besides building your personal integrity through such spiritual steps, there are practical steps that can be helpful as well, such as:

  • Writing a personal mission statement.
  • Promising carefully and always honoring your promises. Under promising and over delivering is better than the reverse.
  • Being honest and avoiding exaggeration.
  • Thinking before you speak, and then speaking carefully and intentionally.
  • Following positive role models.
  • Weighing your decisions so that they consistently reflect your ethical values.
  • Drafting a personal Christian ethical code.—Robert L. Turknett and Carolyn N. Turknett

Here are some excerpts from real people’s ethical codes:

  • I will not promise confidentiality in situations where I know the law requires me to divulge information.
  • I will not knowingly profit from the ignorance of others.
  • I will not create incentives for others to act unethically.
  • I will stop bullies who are bullying someone, even if I don’t know them.
  • I will not drive under the influence of alcohol. If I feel even slightly light-headed, I will get a ride or take a taxi.—Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver

Other points that represent a good code of ethics for a personal mission statement are:

  • I will put the Lord first in my life and seek to please Him above all, even if this is not easy or convenient.
  • I will witness the truth and do my best to lead others to salvation and the knowledge of Jesus.
  • I will be an example of Jesus’ unconditional love and forgiveness to my spouse and children, even when I’m tempted to be impatient, angry, or judgmental.
  • I will give of my time and finances to help God’s work and the mission.
  • I will not abuse my body, the temple of God’s Spirit.
  • I will not gossip or speak ill of others.
  • I will not mislead others when promoting my business, charitable work, or projects.

There is the idea floating around these days that “nice guys finish last” or “nice girls don’t get the corner office.” But that’s not true. Not if “nice guys” or “nice girls” equal those who live good lives, who are kind and genuine, who know what they believe and stick to it; give of their time, service, and goods to others; sacrifice even to their own hurt when necessary, and put God and family first. Even if they don’t get the corner office in this world, they’ll finish first in God’s books and the race He has set before us.

There might be times when it looks like you’re losing or suffering because of your decisions to live according to godly principles and convictions, but that’s when the heavenly vision comes into the equation. You will never lose by putting Jesus and others first, and any sacrifice you make in this life will be more than repaid, not just in heaven but here and now. Jesus said:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?—Mark 8:35–37

We all have the opportunity to live a life of no regrets! “The time is always right to do what is right!”—Martin Luther King Jr.

Do you strive to live a life of integrity based on Christian morals? You define what kind of person you are. Your actions and choices will convince people that you are “the genuine article”… or not.

Will you choose to do the right thing instead of taking the easy way out? How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to keep your integrity intact?

As Christians, people expect a lot of us. It’s our duty to strive to be an example of how Jesus would act and live. Thus our standard of integrity should align with biblical standards and what Jesus would expect us to have in our interactions and business with others. If we stray from that standard or act in unethical ways, we risk hurting people’s faith or even causing someone to turn away from the Lord. On the other hand, if you have strong Christian ethics and your integrity is rock solid, people will trust you, your mission work or business will be more fruitful, and you’ll be an example of Jesus’ love and truth. That equals success in our lives as Christians.

 
 

From the Roadmap series
Copyright © The Family International.

Anchor

Integrity and Christian Ethics

Part 1

free-bible-studies-online-anchorPeople with integrity are those whose words match their deeds and whose behaviors mirror their values. Their honesty and ethics can be trusted unconditionally. They honor commitments. They are dependable. They are known for doing the right things, for the right reasons, at the right times. While numerous tales of integrity take place in public settings where others can see them, often the most powerful examples occur in the quiet stillness of a private moment—when no one else is looking.—Stephen Covey

That is similar to the line penned by William Shakespeare that is so often quoted: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Be truth-speakers at all times, people of integrity, people who can be counted on to deal with each other honestly, squarely, fairly, and with truth. That’s being a good example of Me‚ a good reflection of Me‚ and you will reap personal blessings for being upfront and honest.—Jesus, speaking in prophecy

Integrity might mean different things to different people, but I think most people would agree that it’s centered in maintaining clear values and beliefs, standing on Christian principles. As was just mentioned, it’s often in those moments when it’s just you and the Lord, when no one else would know, when no one else sees, that your character and integrity are tested.

Take this story, for example:

At a tennis tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in January 1982, top-ranked pros Vitas Gerulaitis and Eliot Teltscher met in the semi-finals. They split the first two sets. In the eighth game of the deciding third set, Gerulaitis slashed his way to match point.

After one of their fiercest rallies, Gerulaitis hit a ball that struck the top of the net and dribbled over for what seemed a sure match winner. But Teltscher came tearing up to the net, dived at the ball and miraculously managed to loft it over Gerulaitis’s head. Stunned, Gerulaitis moved back late, pushing his shot wide.

The crowd went nuts. Teltscher had survived match point—or so it seemed. As the cheering died, Teltscher indicated that in his lunge toward the final shot, he touched the net—a violation. Never mind that the umpire hadn’t seen it or that a lot of money was at stake. For Teltscher, none of this changed the rules of the game or the gentleman’s code that is their basis. He shook Gerulaitis’s hand, nodded to the crowds and walked off the court—a winner in defeat.—Laurence Shames

For those of you who like sports stories, here is another true story about a man of integrity.

Bobby Jones was not only a consummately skilled golfer, but he also exemplified the principles of sportsmanship and fair play. Early in his amateur career, he was in the final playoff of the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club. During the match, his ball ended up in the rough just off the fairway, and as he was setting up to play his shot, his iron caused a slight movement of the ball. He immediately got angry with himself, turned to the marshals, and called a penalty on himself. The marshals discussed among themselves and questioned some of the gallery if anyone had seen Jones’ ball move. Their decision was that neither they nor anyone else had witnessed any incident, so the decision was left to Jones. Bobby Jones called the two-stroke penalty on himself, not knowing that he would lose the tournament by that one stroke. When he was praised for his gesture, Jones replied, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Doing what you know in your heart to be honorable, according to the principles of God’s Word and your personal conviction of right and wrong, is to live with integrity. Your conscience, what the Bible calls the Lord’s “still small voice,” is very often a reliable guide when it comes to determining right and wrong.

Gandhi put it well when he said: “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within me.”

Now, here is a story about a single mother in California who died, leaving her eight children parentless.

The oldest daughter, who was 16 at the time that her mother died, took up the enormous challenge of raising her seven brothers and sisters. It was a tremendous struggle; she missed her mother terribly, but she managed to keep her brothers and sisters clean, well-fed, and in school.

When someone complimented her on the sacrifice she was making, saying she really didn’t have to do all that, she replied, “I can’t take credit for something I have to do.” The enquirer then challenged her, saying, “But, my dear, you don’t have to. You could get out of it.”

She paused for a moment and then replied, “Yes, that’s true. But what about the ‘have to’ that’s inside of me?”—Stephen Covey

We all have an internal compass that directs our thoughts and decisions. And how we develop our character depends on if we’re willing to trust and respect our inner conscience, which will inevitably lead us to make hard decisions from time to time if we want to do the right thing. It’s not easy.

There’s often a way, especially in today’s society and business world, to justify little deviances from what we know to be right, and such deviances can put us on a slippery slope pretty quickly. One wrong leads to another, and pretty soon our convictions wane, we excuse ourselves, and that’s when we run the risk of our character being weakened, damaging our integrity, tarnishing our reputation, coming to the point where we devalue the bond of our word and allow our personal happiness and peace of mind to come under attack through condemnation, regret, and embarrassment.

I think everyone wants to live without regret. But how do you do that? By making decisions that are based on your personal conviction, your personal Christian code of ethics.

Regardless of whether a person is a Christian or not, there are characteristics, attitudes, and actions that will hinder your success and hurt your reputation.—Behaviors such as lying, gossiping, having prejudices, not keeping your word, not following through on your commitments, not being dependable to do quality work, or not making your deadlines.

There are practical approaches to living a Christian, principle-centered life, one that you’ll be proud of. Let’s check out some advice of several outstanding men in the field of leadership.

John C. Maxwell, called America’s expert on leadership, is a New York Times bestselling author who has sold more than 19 million books, some of which have been translated into more than 50 languages. He is a Christian. His book, Ethics 101, puts forth the concept that a person can live a life of integrity by following the Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you.”

So ask yourself the question, “How would I like to be treated in this situation?” Doing this is an integrity guideline for any situation.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the Golden Rule. There are times that I think we are so familiar with this term that we altogether miss its powerful meaning. An interesting fact about the Golden Rule is that a rendering of it is found in most of the widespread belief systems. The Golden Rule is a guideline of life in almost every culture I know of. It may surprise you to know how similarly the world’s religions view this concept. Let’s look at a few of these:

Confucianism states: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.”

Zoroastrians are advised that “if you do not wish to be mistreated by others, do not mistreat anyone yourself.”

Muslims are taught no one is a true believer “until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Hinduism warns never to behave “towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.”

The Torah says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”—Jon Huntsman

It is interesting that so many other faiths have this fundamental value as a tenet of their religious conviction. That shows clearly just how important and valuable the words of Jesus are: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Take a moment to meditate on those words. Do you truly live them?

If you need a little more practical application of this Golden Rule approach to integrity, consider what you’re thinking about your decisions, what your “self-talk” is saying.

Rationalizing an unethical decision, such as by justifying or minimizing the potential impact of your actions, can distort your thinking. To see if you are rationalizing, ask yourself these questions:

If you were on the receiving end of this action, how would you feel?

Would you want a loved one to be on the receiving end?

If your action was covered on the evening news, how would you feel?

Would you want your child to emulate this action?

How would you feel if your mother, father, or someone you greatly admire knew about this?—Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver

In Ethics 101, Maxwell also explains that people make poor ethical decisions, or actively choose an unethical path, for three reasons:

First, they do what comes easily to them rather than what they know is right.

Second, they think they have to act unethically to get ahead.

Third, they let themselves be guided by situational ethics, doing what seems right in specific situations rather than adhering to a consistent code of behavior.

It’s worth our while to reflect on these three traps to see if we are either guilty of such behavior, or tottering on the brink and about to slip into poor ethical behavior.

Of course, it’s not easy to make the right decisions all the time. There will be times when it will cost us to make those hard calls, and you might even wonder if it’s that big a deal, really, in the overall scope of life. This is when it’s important to remember that good character can’t be developed quickly. You build it over years of conscious ethical choices. So if you want to be a person of great character, it’s those difficult daily decisions that make the difference, and if you choose the easy path, you might never reach your desired destination.—John C. Maxwell

Okay, what about the idea that you have to step outside your personal belief system or code of ethics as a Christian to get ahead. Is that true? I’m sure plenty of people would have you believe that, and might even actively try to win you to that school of thought, possibly in an effort to justify their own flawed thinking. But this is when it’s important to remember the “God factor.” God is all-seeing, all-knowing. He loves us and He wants us to be happy, and He’s eager for us to have what we and our families need. He is not a stingy, hard-line, long-faced taskmaster who wants us to suffer or live in squalor and poverty. He is a generous, loving God, who wants to provide what we need. So to think that we would have to step outside of the Golden Rule in order to get ahead is an insult to God. It’s like a slap in the face, telling Him that He’s not making good on His promises.

I will help to engineer things so that you will be happy, you will have your needs met, and I will even do extra things for you to reward you. You will forget about the sacrifices, because I will pay you back abundantly. And remember that when I pay you back to the point where you don’t feel that you’ve made a sacrifice, that’s where it has only reached one percent of your reward. My promise is to repay one hundredfold, so there’s much, much, much more yet to come!—Jesus, speaking in prophecy

 
 

From the Roadmap series
Copyright © The Family International.