The Serenity Prayer attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, has these words, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” I thought about these words after I witnessed the scene in the Australian Parliament when the vote to change the definition of marriage to be between two people rather than being between a man and a woman, was passed by the parliament.
The reactions to this scene were varied. Some saw it as one of the greatest scenes in Australia’s history. For most folk present in Parliament there seemed to be a real sense of euphoria as the decision was announced and many government and opposition members embraced perhaps for the first time ever. They had achieved a common goal through their voting in favour of same sex marriage. An older writer [and perhaps millions of others in Australia] saw it this way, “More fundamentally, what does the survey outcome and resulting legislation now mean? I can speak only for myself (and my wife of 63 years), but I suspect that in doing so I also express the view of many — perhaps a good many — other married couples. As a result of these events, the Marriage Act has been amended to provide that the sanctity of marriage is no longer available only to what I might, no doubt controversially, describe as “normal” couples, but to any two people. So does that mean I shall now be required to regard such “marriages” (which by definition are incapable of producing children in their own capacities) as being on an equal footing with my own? The law can say what it likes, but I will never do so. Still, surely those scenes of euphoria last week show something? Yes, indeed; what they principally show is how far removed our parliamentary representatives are from the real Australia.” [NOTE 1]
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived about 535 BC – 475 BC is reputed to have taught that “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -” Many would agree with that statement in a rapidly changing world. However there are some things in this world that are unchangeable. One is God Himself who said of Himself, Malachi 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change…” Neither will He change His mind, Numbers 23:19 “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?” Jesus also spoke of His words as unchanging, Luke 21:33 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
We will examine many of those unchanging truths in the next article. They embody truths that many of us did not always believe. However they became known to us as the Holy Spirit entered our lives when we became believers in Jesus Christ. We felt at that time that we had come out of darkness into the light that Christ alone brings.
We proclaim these truths, not because we are wiser or more intelligent than other people. Rather it is because we believe the Holy Spirit has enabled us to understand spiritual realities which we did not understand before we became believers in Jesus. The truths have helped us and we believe they can help others.
Before we examine those truths more closely, we may need to look at why many people reject those truths. It seems that many reject them because they do not understand them. In what follows we look at why that may be so.
SECTION A. WHY SOME PEOPLE CANNOT UNDERSTAND SPIRITUAL TRUTHS
These are some of the factors we need to keep in mind as we seek to restore Biblical order to a world which rejects God’s Order for His world.
- Biblical truth has to be spiritually discerned. Only those indwelt by the Spirit can really understand spiritual realities.
- 1Cor 2:12 “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Practical comment: In dealing with other people we need to remember that before we became believers, we too were not able to understand spiritual realities. Most of us can remember the time when our eyes began to be opened to Bible truths and how our understanding of spiritual realities grew over time. So “Softly! Softly!” should be our approach to people who, as yet, do not believe. This is not condescension towards others. Rather it is facing up to reality as the word of God reveals it and we have experienced it.
- According to God’s word, unbelievers are spiritually dead, spiritually blind, spiritually deaf and spiritually bound in deception until they come to faith in Christ.
- Spiritually Dead. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they [and he] were spiritually dead until they became spiritually alive when they believed. Eph 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
- Spiritually blind. Likewise the minds of unbelievers are blinded until their spiritual eyes are opened as they respond to the gospel. 2Cor 4:4 “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
- Spiritually deaf. Many people hear spiritual truths but fail to grasp the meaning of what they heard. Luke 8:10 “he [Jesus] said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ AND as Paul warned, it is possible for humans to deliberately close their ears to spiritual truths when they are confronted with them, 2Tim 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
- Spiritually bound. Paul instructs his readers as to how to approach those who do not believe. Warm gentleness in sharing the message, not cold confrontation, is the key. 2Tim 2:24 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
Practical comment: These last few verses show that confrontation may be counter-productive in dealing with people who don’t understand spiritual truth.
If they are spiritually dead, they don’t know that they are, even as we didn’t realise we were also spiritually dead before we came alive in Christ as we trusted in Him.
If they are spiritually blind they cannot understand the spiritual realities that born-again people do. God’s word reveals that truth and our own experience confirms it. We realise that it was only after our faith commitment to Jesus that the scales fell off our eyes and we understood our previous blindness. AND how blind we had been to spiritual truths.
If people are spiritually bound in unbelief and in deception they cannot know they have been deceived until they come out of the deception. This can only normally come about when they are ready to turn to God. Then God is able to work through their openness to Him, to give them the gift of repentance which leads to “a knowledge of the truth.” That in turn, enables them to “come to their senses” in the sense of seeing the world as God does, in reality. That also enables them to “escape from the snare of the devil.” [NOTE 2]
In this reference in 2Tim 2:26 we see the link between the words “snare” and “capture.” Satan’s ploy is to capture [the minds of] people as a means of ensnaring them and thus causing them to lose their senses, “and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” The word for “after being captured” is the perfect passive form of the verb [zōgréō, ζωγρέω, to capture] which implies that minds can be captured and remain captured until they are set free.
Paul reminded his readers that kindness and gentleness may help lead people to repentance and to an understanding of spiritual reality. Only then can they come to a knowledge of the truth. Only then can they know true reality [come to their senses]. Only then can they be set free from the devil’s control.
It is good that in Australia we live in a democracy, not under a dictatorship nor in submission to a supposed theocracy which has nothing to do with the living God. It is meant to be “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Unfortunately it seems that some who are elected to parliament think it is “government of the people, by these ‘chosen ones’ and their cronies, for the benefit of ‘these chosen ones’ and their cronies.” On the other hand, the vast majority of members of parliament seem to be genuinely concerned for their country and for their fellow Australians. But do they always act with wisdom? It does not necessarily follow that every parliamentarian will be wise in their choices of issues on which to impose their views.
What should our response be to changes taking place in the world that are contrary to God’s purposes for the world? Is it a greater stress on education so that people can know the truth and begin to act on it? That is part of the answer. However as we have seen above, humans before they come to Christ are in spiritual darkness, blindness and deafness. They need to be born again of the Spirit of God so that they can understand the deceptions under which they have lived and be set free to be able to understand the world as God intended it to be. So prayer is a priority for the people of God in the world today. Prayer that people’s eyes might be opened to the truth and that they may come to know Christ as Saviour and Lord, and play their part in extending God’s kingdom rule on earth.
We need to be reminded that though unregenerate humans cannot understand the gospel message and spiritual truths, they are still accountable to God for their ongoing blindness and unwillingness to turn back to God. Paul pointed that out in his message to the people in Athens, Act 17:30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” His message evoked a response, Act 17:32 ‘Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”‘ Some mocked, but others later believed.
The day is coming when God will judge the world through His Son Jesus Christ. It is therefore our privilege and our responsibility to make sure every human is able to hear [and understand[ the gospel as we pray for them. Ignorance is not always bliss!
[In Parts 2 and 3 we will look at the unchangeable truths we need to affirm and hold on to. We will also look at what possibilities there may be in helping to bring back God’s righteous purposes for His world.
[NOTE 1] John Stone in “The Australian”, 15th December 2017
[NOTE 2] “Snare” is [pagis, παγίς meaning something that holds fast such as a snare or a trap.] Four of the 5 references to the word are used by Paul in his writings and 3 of them are in Paul’s letters to Timothy. In each case it seems to refer to the guile of Satan and the deceits he is able to place in human minds. See 1Tim 3:7 where Paul warns Timothy about placing a new convert into a leadership position where he might fail due to his immaturity, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Later in the same letter he warns of the danger of being tempted by greediness, 1Tim 6:9 “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Satan as the tempter, tempts!
Blog No.253. Posted on jimholbeck.blog on Monday 18th December 2017