Friday, October 21, 2016


A group of Christian women were singing hymns on the street. An angry passer-by struck one of the women down to the ground. The police later asked her if she wanted to press charges. She declined, thinking that she was being faithful to Jesus’ teaching:

·       "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Paul had similarly written:

·       Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

This Christian woman thought it wrong to resist the “evil person” by pressing charges. In her mind, such a response would contradict Jesus’ teaching on non-resistance. However, most of us do not take this teaching literally. Jesus had often taught figuratively or hyperbolically - plucking out you eye or cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, hating your parents, and letting the dead bury the dead. We don’t take these teaching literally. Then, should we take “turn the other cheek” literally?

An “eye for an eye” had been a progressive judicial principle that required the punishment fit the offense (Exodus 21:23-27). Cutting off a man’s hand, if he stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, was not justice. However, the rich and powerful consistently appealed to an unbiblical understanding of “eye for an eye” to justify personal revenge, as the Bible Background Commentary explains:

·       In Israel and other cultures, this principle was enforced by a court and refers to legalized vengeance; personal vengeance was never accepted in the law of Moses... The Old Testament did not permit personal vengeance.

Even though the OT never sanctioned an “eye for an eye” for personal revenge, it had been used for this purpose. The Jamison-Faucett-Brown Commentary also agrees on this point:

·       This law of retribution—designed to take vengeance out of the hands of private persons, and commit it to the magistrate—was abused…this judicial regulation was held to be a warrant for taking redress into their own hands, contrary to the injunctions of the Old Testament itself (Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29).

In light of this, Jesus’ argument wasn’t against Mosaic Law’s teaching of an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24), a judicial principle that demanded that a punishment fit the crime. Instead, it was against the abuse of the Law for the purpose of revenge. Consequently, Jesus’ teaching to “not resist an evil person” should be understood as a warning against retaliation and revenge and not complete non-resistance to evil. In fact, Jesus often resisted evil. Instead of passively lying down, he proactively exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leadership. When the High Priest asked Jesus about His doctrine in an attempt to bring a death sentence upon Him, Jesus resisted him:

·       One of the officials nearby struck him in the face. "Is this the way you answer the high priest?" he demanded. If I said something wrong," Jesus replied, "testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" (John 18:22-23)

Although the leadership was trying to prove Jesus’ guilt, He demonstrated that they were the guilty ones. Jesus was never reluctant to highlight the hypocrisy of His detractors. Healing first requires an accurate diagnosis of the problem. Their problem was sin, it had to be exposed in hope that it might incline them to cry out for the only possible healing – reconciliation with the God they had rejected.

Meanwhile, our detractors charge, “Well, the church doesn’t seem to follow Jesus, does it? Jesus preached non-resistance!”

However, Jesus didn’t follow such a teaching either. Although He always condescended to heal the broken and humbled, He also resisted the requests of the arrogant and hardened. He resisted the efforts of the Jews to make Him king; He resisted when they wanted to kill Him before His appointed time. When asked to judge, He resisted:

·       Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (Luke 12:13-14)

Jesus was never pressured or coerced into doing anything in opposition to His person or mission. Everything He did and said was done in service to the truth. He always spoke the truth in love, although it often contained a painful denunciation (Matthew 23). Rather than serving as an example of non-resistance, we find that Jesus consistently resisted sin by exposing it (Ephesians 5:11).

Jesus resisted Satan who tempted Him saying, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (Matthew 4:3). Jesus didn’t practice non-resistance by saying, “Whatever you say, Satan! Bread from stones, coming up! Want it buttered?”  Instead, He stayed true to His mission:

·       Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

On many occasions, Jesus resisted his own Apostles. When two of them requested the supreme honor of reigning on either side of their soon-to-be King, He denied their request. After Peter rebuked Jesus for confiding that He was facing death, Jesus didn’t practice non-resistance. He didn’t say, “Well, since you don’t want me to go to the cross, I guess I won’t.” Instead, He sharply rebuked Peter:

·       "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23)

On at least one occasion, Jesus even resorted to violence, driving the money-changers out of the Temple with a whip (John 2:15-17), hardly an example of non-resistance! Evidently, Jesus was only teaching against a certain type of resistance – revenge.

However, our atheistic mockers will retort, “Well it seems that Jesus was teaching more than non-retaliation. He taught that his followers should allow their attackers to abuse them. Isn’t that what it means to turn the other cheek? Shouldn’t you then allow your assailant to strike your other cheek?”

Jesus wasn’t teaching against self-defense or the defense of wife and children. Instead, He upheld this principle, especially when it concerned one’s family:

·       Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:42-43)

This would require strenuous self-defense, something that both Moses and Jesus sanctioned. Instead, Jesus often spoke hyperbolically:

·       “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

No one takes this teaching literally. If we did, we would all be eyeless and handless, and this would violate a Mosaic law against mutilating the body. Clearly, we have to take this verse figuratively. Jesus concluded:

·       It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Mat 5:30).
Therefore, if cutting you hand off could spare you from eternal judgment, then cut off your hand. This would indeed be a very small price to pay to escape hell. However, we all know that such surgery couldn’t possibly save us, but if it could, we should do it.

In Matthew 5:38-42, we find a similar teaching. Jesus gives several hypothetical situations to illuminate what He means by “Do not resist an evil person.” In His first example He states, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Although Jesus allowed Himself to be physically abused during the crucifixion day, prior to that, He always avoided arrest. He never even allowed His right cheek to be struck!

Jesus regarded the Mosaic Law as God-given (Matthew 5:17-19; 4:4; 22:29; 24:35; John 10:35; 14:21-24; Luke 24:44-45). This Law never deprived a husband of his right and duty to protect his family against assault (Matthew 24:42-43). It is therefore unthinkable that Jesus would deny this legal privilege by teaching non-resistance. We therefore can’t take this teaching literally.

What then does this teaching mean? Rather than retaliating with “eye for an eye,” Jesus seemed to be teaching that it is better to allow yourself to be insulted or perhaps even abused than to pursue revenge, taking the law into your own hands. It is better to go the extra mile required by the “evil man” than to retaliate. In the same vain, He had taught that it’s better to cut off your hand than to continue in sin. Not that you should cut your hand off or allow yourself to be abused, but both of these unenviable outcomes were preferable to a life of sin.

Jesus’ next example reads,

·       And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (Matthew 5:40)

Once again, Jesus seems to be teaching that it is better to voluntarily surrender your cloak than to vengefully retaliate for the sake of your tunic. This teaching certainly doesn’t mean that we should not avail ourselves of legal means to protect our home, family or business. Allowing ourselves to be abused for no higher cause does not glorify our Lord. It just shows our ignorance and brings unnecessary derision down upon our heads.

Jesus’ merely taught that we shouldn’t invoke “eye for an eye” as a justification for revenge! In fact, Paul appealed for legal protection on many occasions. Clearly, we are not called to be doormats, allowing our families to suffer abuse. This will not glorify the Lord nor manifest His wisdom.

There are godly ways to resist evil, and there are ways that are unsuitable for the Christian, as well as for others. The Christian woman, who had been assaulted for singing hymns, did not seek revenge, but she should have pressed charges. She owed that to others who this assailant might now be emboldened to attack.

Indeed, she should pray for him and try to show him the love and forgiveness in Christ, but she should also have resisted the “evil person” in a legal and godly manner.

Did Jesus believe in capital punishment as prescribed by the Mosaic Law? Those who believe in a meek and mild Jesus believe that He had rescinded the “harsh” penalties of the Law. However, it seems that He did not:

·       He [Jesus] answered them [the Pharisees], “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother MUST SURELY DIE.’” (Matthew 15:3-4)

As God-the-the-flesh, Jesus claimed to uphold all of the words of His righteous Father. Therefore, as the Father threatened judgment, we find the same with the Son.

Let’s now return to Paul’s teaching, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Does this mean that we shouldn’t bring charges against those who violently assault us or our families?

Certainly not! Instead, Paul taught that we shouldn’t take personal revenge. Rather, we should let God avenge:

·       Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

How does God express His wrath? It is not just in the final judgment. Nor is it a wrath that works simply according to the creation order that He has established (Romans 1:18-28). He also expresses His wrath through the legal, governmental order that He has ordained:

·       For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out GOD’S WRATH on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4)

God ordained this justice system to restrain evil. It is therefore a system that we should uphold and even use. Paul taught us to submit to these authorities by paying them “taxes” (13:6) and “honor” (13:7).

How do we honor them? By respecting their office, by serving as witnesses against evil (Eph. 5:11), and even by pressing charges, when appropriate! If we know a gang is committing rapes and we fail to testify against them, then we become moral accomplices and bring disrepute upon our faith by allowing them to continue unchecked.

We also honor the authorities by allowing them to do their job. It is not our job to bring justice. We cannot form vigilante groups or take revenge. However, we can help the governing authorities by bringing to them charges of criminal wrongdoing. If we fail to do this, we are guilty before God:

  • He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)

I would therefore counsel the young lady to press charges against her assailant. This is the righteous thing to do. It also represents an expression of love towards our community to restrain the assailant.

“How then are we to overcome evil with good?”
I was asked, “What would you do if you ran into someone who had just enlisted to go fight with ISIS?”

I answered that I would invite him for a cup of coffee and an apple pie. In gentleness, I would then try to reason with him to repent. However, if he wouldn’t, I would call the authorities to have him detained.

Our calling to love our enemies is not in conflict with our calling to support the authorities. Instead, they should both go together.


If you are anything like me, you have doubted that your life has measured up to the Biblical portraits of a life buried in Christ (Galatians 2:20). Here is one verse that might cause us to doubt our conversion:

·       Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17; ESV)

While encouraging, this verse can also be discouraging. We tend to wonder if we are really a new creation. Why? It seems that “the old” has not passed away, and that we are still tormented by many of the same sins that had afflicted us before we came to Christ. We are left to wonder, “Is Scripture is wrong or am I not saved.” Both of these possibilities are distressing.

However, I think that there is another possibility – that this verse refers to a renewed heart/spirit within us and not to our sin infested flesh; one part is born again, while the other part is not. This idea suggests that God has made a beachhead in our spirit, but not yet in our flesh, even though our body serves as both the temple of our spirit and the Holy Spirit.

First, let’s observe the evidence that we are comprised of two parts. We find this illustrated as early as creation:

·       Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7)

Paul illustrated these two parts – one that loved God, while the other part did not:

·       So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:17-20)

Paul made a distinction between the “I” which does not sin and the “sin that dwells within me.” This distinction illustrates a struggle between the two. Even after he cries out, “Who will save me from this body of death” and invokes the name of Jesus, the two parts do not mysteriously vanish:

·       Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)

We, therefore, shouldn’t be surprised that one part of us gladly serves God, while the other part is bent on sin. Consequently, the Christian life is a pit-bull on a leash. It wants to bite and destroy, but we have to restrain it. If we let it lose, and it bites someone, we must take responsibility, since it is our pit bull. But this doesn’t mean that we should abuse it. Instead, we nourish it and give it rest so that it is less inclined to act-up.

Is this really what the normal Christian life looks like? Yes! Elsewhere, Paul illustrated it as an ongoing struggle between our two constituent parts:

·       For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17; Romans 8:5-6; 2 Cor. 4:16; 1Cor. 5:5; Philippians 1:22)

Consequently, the reborn spirit, to which the Holy Spirit communicates (Romans 8:16), must be nurtured with prayer, Bible, and a faith-walk to strengthen it against the flesh.

Jesus made this same distinction between spirit and flesh:

·       Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41; John 3:6)

The flesh is weak and opposes us because it is not yet redeemed. This sounds very strange. How is it possible that the spirit, the real “I,” is redeemed but not the flesh? I don’t think that I can explain this, but this conclusion reflects the teaching of Scripture:

·       And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

Not only is the flesh unredeemed, but it is also un-adopted. Instead, this is something that we await when Christ returns for us and gives us our resurrected bodies. It is only then that the struggle will come to an end. At this time, we will become entirely a new creation. Meanwhile, we are miles away. For now, we groan along with the rest of creation:

·       For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22)

We have not yet arrived. John had confessed that we cannot even envision what we will be like when liberated from this body of sin:

·       Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We are not yet like Him. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised by our discouraging struggle against sin. Instead, it is preparing us to meet Him:

·       Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Our present struggles against sin make us long for Him, as they should. They endear us to Him. How? They teach us that our hope can only be found in Him, as we perceive that we have no righteousness in ourselves, no merit. Instead, it is all about His love for us.

How do we understand those verses that teach that we are free from sin?

·       We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

This certainly doesn’t teach that we are free from the temptation to sin. Instead, Paul warned that we still can sin and must remain on guard against its temptations:

·       Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

If sin was no longer alive in the life of the believer, there would be no need for such a warning. However, since this kind of warning is found throughout Scripture, we should assume that verses 6:6-7 do not represent a freedom from the temptation of sin, but a freedom, first of all, from the penalty of sin.

The context equates the death of Christ to the Law with our death to the Law, We were crucified together with Him and rose together with Him. As Jesus is now free from the demands of the Law for the death of the sinner, so are we free from the Law and from the penalty of sin. This doesn’t mean that we will no longer be tempted or even fall to the power of sin, but our new life in Christ has given us the grace to get back up.

We are now a new creation. We want the things of God. When we fall, we confess and repent and are washed clean. We are no longer blinded and deceived by it (Romans 7:11), but this is a process. As Jesus taught, we are gradually being set free from the dominion of sin:

·       So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
To not have the truth is to be blind to sin, to practice sin, and to become its slave (John 8:34).

Yes, the new “I” is a new creation of the Spirit and in the spirit. However, our bodies are still contaminated by sin and unredeemed. Consequently, an intense battle rages and will continue to rage until our Savior returns for us. If we are not fortified with this truth, we will wonder, “Why do I still sin?”

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Years ago, Bob Dylan sang the song, “You Gotta Serve Someone.” The more I thought about it, the more I saw that he was onto something. The baby serves his or her instinctual survival needs. They cry when they are hungry and know to drink the mother’s milk. When we mature, we begin to serve other needs – both emotional and psychological. Later, these demanding needs become social, as we seek approval and a place among our peers.

However, somewhere along the line, we also have to learn how to restrain our desires. Our conscience begins to kick in along with social norms. These tell us that we cannot always serve our desires. We cannot fight and scream when we don’t get what we want, or can we?

Our postmodern culture is now telling us that can have it all. In fact, you should have it all. We should have our desires, even if it means that we surgically change our sex. If that is not enough, society will now penalize those who speak out against this insipient I-want-it-now mentality.

How did postmodernity achieve this revolution? It has convinced us that:

·       Repression is bad. It inhibits us. Instead, we have to be who we are and desire whatever we want.
·       We have to be all that we can be.
·       Exercising self-control makes us less authentic.
·       The conscience interferes with our finding self-fulfillment.
·       Those we had regarded as authorities are all wrong.
·       Instead, we are the authors of our own reality, captains of our own ship, and we should empower ourselves to pursue our dreams.
·       We create our own reality. There is no other reality but what we create.
·       There are no higher truths or principles to tell us that we have done wrong. We should be our own judge and jury.

However, the freedom that postmodernism has promised is just another form of servitude. Instead of serving ideals, we now abandoned to serve our feelings and desires. The external ideals – objective moral law and our cultural inheritance – have been destroyed. Left alone to our feelings and desires, we find ourselves without a roadmap to tell us what to do with these desires. We are left to serve them. We now live with open borders, tyrannized by demanding desires.

I know that this sounds a bit extreme. So I want to try to illustrate how the removal of moral authorities has stripped us and has left us vulnerable to a more destructive and tyrannical set of authorities.

Have you ever noticed that when you get in a fight, it is always the other person who is in the wrong? I certainly have! In fact, the resulting feelings are so powerfully authoritative. I believe that I have been wronged, victimized, and humiliated. We want revenge, even if only in our own heart or the use of the silent treatment.

When objective principles of right and wrong have been crushed under foot, there is nothing remaining, nothing higher than our feelings, to correct us and show us that we have been wrong in our assessment and determination to seek some form of revenge. Our desires are left unchecked to tyrannize.

Our choices can kill. I had been convinced that my wife had wronged me, and I resented her for this. However, I had forgotten how many times she had forgiven me, but even recalling these wasn’t enough. My feelings had been so strong that they stomped down every other consideration in their path. Instead, these feelings dictated that she always misconstrued what I had said and she always would. I was livid.

If I was a postmodernist, my feelings would have remained king. They would have presided over any pragmatic concerns for my own welfare.

I needed protection from myself and to be convinced that my unforgiveness was absolutely wrong and that my failure to receive her back into my heart was an absolute betrayal of love and commitment. I needed far more than what postmodernism could offer. I needed to know that there is something higher than my feelings and even a cost/benefit assessment. I needed to be told that I was absolutely wrong.

This is what Scripture tells me. No, it comes crashing down upon me, indicting and correcting me, and ultimately, restoring us. I need God’s Word to break through my coercive and imperialistic feelings and desires and to put them in their rightful and humbled place.

I don’t know how other couples make it and how they can stand up against this postmodern madness. When caught cheating, a husband explained,

·       “Well, having multiple partners is just what I am about. This is my truth. You have no right to dictate to me your truth. Keep your own truth for yourself.”

Of course, they divorced. They no longer shared the common ground, a higher truth. Instead, postmodernism damned them to divorce. They had become captains of their own ships and were their compass was leading them to separate ports.

There is no escaping it. We have to serve someone. It will either be our own desires or it will be something above us, hopefully, Someone who dignifies our service.