Forbidden

A number of sources have reported that a number of millennials, even those from church backgrounds, are turning to the occult lately. John Stonestreet, on the Breakpoint broadcast, explained it this way: “The fact is young people aren’t being won by atheism in significant numbers. In fact, by some measures, militant unbelief is dying. Rather, they’re trying to fill that deep spiritual longing they have with a faith that offers self-affirmation and a belief in something beyond our physical world—a spirituality that places no moral demands on its adherents. . . . Ultimately, what they’re searching for is an alternative to God, who, as St. Augustine famously said, made us for Himself. But God does make such moral demands of us, demands that point us to human flourishing—and to Himself, and His love for us that is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.”

With this recent growth in interest in occult among millennials, particularly those from a church and evangelical background, I’m reminded of the statement I myself have made, and which has been echoed by others: this is the most undiscerning generation of professed Christians in a very long time. But unfortunately, many, if not most of them, may never have heard the scriptural teaching and warning on the occult. This lack of discernment may well be due to an appalling lack of knowledge about what the scriptures say about these things. What was common knowledge among professed believers about Satan and his works, and the particular darkness and bondage that come from occult practices, seems to have been left in the past.

Sometimes it seems like those who have been brought up in Christian families are more naïve about the dangers of the occult. I will let Corrie ten Boom stand as an example for others who have been raised in Christian families by godly parents. She was definitely not ignorant of the dangers of the occult. Rather she saw more clearly than perhaps anyone else she worked with at the time the dangers of the occult and the demonic bondage it brought. Her sisters brought her this awareness from their knowledge of the legacy of the ministry of Pastor Blumhardt and this equipped her for ministry in the days ahead.

Here is how it happened: in the days after the defeat of Germany in World War II, Corrie ten Boom often spoke on a certain Old Testament passage to the survivors of the concentration camps and others who survived. Many in Germany and elsewhere in Europe were desperate to know about the fate of lost loved ones, and often they turned to turned to psychics, mediums and spiritists to try to learn about their fates. At that point many fell into bondage to evil spirits from their forays into the occult. A number of times she had to lead them out of the bondage to the darkness to which they had turned. And this was in Germany, the land of liberal theology, where so many theologians and intellectuals led many church people into skepticism about the miracles and the supernatural in the Bible. And here in our day, where we live among a generation that finds entertainment from demons, zombies, vampires and magic we have been too silent about the truth and victory in Jesus and the danger of the spiritual evil in the supernatural. And so many people come into spiritual bondage when they dabble in ignorance or proud defiance of what the God of the Bible has explicitly forbidden to his people.

The key passage, which Corrie ten Boom often spoke on, is in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. What God says to us through this passage is in full accord with the teaching of the scripture on the occult from beginning to end, but this passage spells out what God has explicitly forbidden to his people so there can be no mistake about what he means. Here is what he had to say:

“When you have come into the land which the LORD your God has given you, do not try to learn to do the horrible things that those nations do. Don’t let there be anyone found among you who makes his or her son or daughter ‘pass through’ the fire, or practices fortune telling, magic, divination or sorcery, casts spells, or consults with a medium, or seeks information from or seeks after the dead, because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD. And the peoples who are steeped in these things are the ones whom the LORD your God is dispossessing before your face. You shall be the completely pure nation of the LORD your God. Though these nations which he will dispossess before you practice divination and consult with fortunetellers, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Dale’s sight translation).

God forbids his people to dabble with magic, fortunetelling and spiritism.  These are all ways of dealing with the supernatural that he forbids to his people. They are part of an unredeemable part of false, pagan religion that cannot be incorporated into living with the God of the Bible or following his Word. The teaching of the Bible is remarkably clear and consistent on all these things from beginning to end. His prohibition is absolute, detailed, applies to all ages. In fact, I believe that the prohibition of these practices is as strong and absolute as the scriptural prohibition of murder.

God’s ban on magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was part of keeping the people of God free from pagan religious practices. The complete and absolute ban defines clearly what the people of God were not to follow from the people of this world. This is what is made clear, starting from verse 9: “When you have come into the land which the LORD your God has given you, do not try to learn to do the horrible things that those nations do.”

So God’s prohibition on magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was part of his command to the people of Israel not to learn the religious practices of the Canaanites. God had given the people of Israel the land of Canaan, and the reason that the prohibition appears in this context is that magic, fortunetelling and spiritism were an intrinsic part of the religious practices of the various Canaanite people. God knew that the the danger was that as the people of Israel took over the land of Canaan, that they might decide to try to learn about the gods of Canaan and how to worship them, since, in ancient world, gods were widely regarded as tied to the lands of their peoples. It would have been a natural desire from the conventional wisdom of their time, to try to learn about the Canaanite gods when they took over the land of the Canaanite people. But  the God of the Bible gives very strong prohibition against their detestable ways – what could be translated as abominations or as horrible practices. It’s not easy to convey the strength of this word to modern audiences, except to say that God utterly hated these practices.

This command was part of the general commands throughout the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, to avoid copying the ways of the Canaanites, and especially in the matter of worship. Even among the particularly corrupting ways of worship in the ancient world, the Canaanites were notoriously depraved. Throughout the ancient world, there was often no real theoretical or practical distinction between religion and magic, and often their gods were magicians as well, such as Ea and Hecate. These ways  of magic incorporated into idolatrous worship were spread throughout the ancient world. Moses and Aaron had already encountered them when they faced the magicians of Pharaoh. They were further  introduced by Jezebel in the northern kingdom of Israel many years later and were part of the downward spiral of that kingdom until its ultimate judgment and destruction. These ways of magic and worship were also encountered by the prophet Daniel in Babylon. And so God forbade them from trying to learn about them. This prohibition was made as part God’s expectation of the obedience of Israel to the first and second commandments, to have no other gods before him and not to have any other images of gods based on anything in the created order. 

Perhaps the best statement on the occult nature of ancient and false religions comes from the late New York Times reporter McCandlish Phillips, a convinced evangelical Christian, in his book The Bible, the Supernatural and the Jews: “There is no realm in which Satan is more active than religion. As a spiritual leader, Satan has devised many forms of religion, none of which are able to bring a man into relationship with the living God or to release him from the grip of sin. His religions tend to have certain similarities over the world. They are marked by rote and ritual, repetitions and incantations, idols and altars, images and protecting charms.”

So then, in our world, occult practices are the way that people who do not know the God of the Bible try to satisfy their hunger for the supernatural. Magic and fortune-telling have generally been a part of non-Christian religious practice for thousands of years. Moreover, turning to magic and fortune-telling is a significant departure from orthodox Christianity when it occurs; it is part of corrupt Christianity when it becomes mixed with pagan religions. And generally, it’s a part which is often not mentioned as a part of normal practices of non-Christian religions such as Islam, Buddhism, native American religions, Caribbean religions, and Hinduism as well as the ancient pagan religions and Hinduism. It’s noteworthy that so many adherents of these religions attempt to argue and disagree with Christians through rational arguments but practice deepest superstitions as part of the normal rituals of their religions. 

It’s also a mark of compromise of liberal, mainline churches in the past and present to turn a blind eye to or even to introduce people to these practices – for instance, I first learned about séances from the son of a minister of a mainline church at a church camp. Moreover, many times these are normal practices of atheists and agnostics who try to present rational arguments against the God of the Bible but themselves indulge in and practice the most childish superstitions and become ensnared in ‘the deep things of Satan.’ I don’t think that nearly enough Christian leaders to expose this kind of special pleading from modern atheists: the demand for utter rationalism for Christians but not never directed to themselves and their adherence to these kinds of personal practices and beliefs, when they claim to have spiritual interests but deny the existence of the God of the Bible.

The tendency to become involved in magic, fortunetelling and sorcery, then, is one result of the natural state of unbelief, of spiritual blindness and darkness:

  • “And you were once dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk in the present age of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the children of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
  • “But if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this world has blinded the thought processes of those who are in unbelief, lest there burst in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:3-4 ).

The temptation to start and continue in them is through the desire for supernatural power and knowledge apart from God – the old temptation from the serpent, ‘. . . you shall be like gods/God’ (Genesis 3:5)

Therefore, God’s prohibition of magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was exact and specific. God made it clear about everything that he was not going to allow them to do in this realm. The specific prohibitions are detailed here, but they are also  repeated throughout the scriptures into the New Testament period. There can be no mistake that this prohibition went further than the time period of Moses and Deuteronomy and was not a part of the Old Testament Law that was superseded by the coming of Jesus and the New Testament with salvation by grace and not by works of the Law.

In verses 10-11 God gives his specific prohibitions of the specific forms of divination, magic and spiritism which were practiced then and which are also able to be identified with practices which happen now. Here is what he has said: “Don’t let there be anyone found among you who makes his or her son or daughter ‘pass through’ the fire, or practices fortune telling, magic, divination or sorcery, casts spells, or consults with a medium, or seeks information from or seeks after the dead, because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD.”

It’s usually easy to get modern people to see what an abomination the first specific prohibition is: child sacrifice. Child sacrifice was already already forbidden earlier in the Bible in Leviticus 18:21, and it was a known feature of worship of the ancient Canaanite god Molech. This was also one of the specific sin of the evil kings Ahaz and Manasseh of the line of David who ruled in Jerusalem, and it was an indication of how deeply they sank in the worst forms of idolatry. It was unfortunately considered to be an especially powerful form of magic and divination in the ancient world. It is an especially clearly demonic form of worship, to sacrifice the lives of the most helpless and innocent to the exigencies of idolatrous worship.

It might be not so easy for a modern audience to understand how God could consider the other practices to be abominations: such things as casting spells, astrology, necromancy/mediums who attempted to communicate with the dead (such as Saul and the sorceress of Endor in I Samuel 28:1-25). But let’s be clear about some things that we might term ‘magic’ and fortunetelling which wouldn’t really be considered part of these practices. For instance, this would include not mechanical or sleight of hand illusions by modern illusionists such as David Copperfield (whose Christian testimony I have heard him give). And the fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant wouldn’t really come under these prohibitions, since they’re mostly  just bad slogans and trite advice.

Here are God’s specific prohibitions and their modern equivalents:

  • Human sacrifice: known to be practiced by some Satanic cults and still by some isolated pagan groups 
  • Divination: fortunetelling by cards, pendulum, etc.
  • Sorcery:  witchcraft, casting spells and”white” or “black” magic of any kind
  • Interpretation of omens: astrology, tea leaf reading, crystal gazing, palm reading, etc.
  • Mediums or spiritism of any kind: consulting the “dead”, séances, channeling, the Ouija board

Note that all these prohibitions are also repeated elsewhere in the Law of Moses, so that there can be no mistake that God through scripture is not completely consistent with this prohibition:

  •  “Do not allow a woman who practices sorcery to live” (Exodus 22:18, Dale’s sight translation).
  • “Do not practice divination or interpret omens.” Leviticus 19:26, (context of religious practices)
  • “Do not turn your attention to mediums and do not seek after spiritists – you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:31,
  • “I myself will set my face against every soul who seeks after mediums and spiritists – to prostitute himself or herself after them! – and I will cut that person off from among my people.” (Leviticus 20:6, Dale’s sight translation).

All these practices received the death penalty under the civil law of Israel. This was because they were covenant treason. These practices were violations of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). They involved treating other beings as gods besides the one true God of the Bible.  These practices are also violations of the second commandment because they often treated created beings and objects – parts of God’s creation — as if they were gods – a substitute for the true and living God. In addition, the third commandment – “You shall not use the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .” (Exodus 20:7) — is often violated in these practices where the name of the God of the Bible is used in occult practices as if he were involved or approved of these practices or he were equal to or could be invoked alongside the pagan gods in magic rituals or he could be manipulated or compelled to any kind of action through magic or sorcery. This shows just how serious the third commandment truly is, that it’s not just about using the name of God as an expletive or swear word but in a way which involves him in practices which he condemns.  The imposition of the death penalty was  to remove the spiritual pollution and indication to later generations how the consequences of these practices, as sin and transgressions of the Law of God,  are death (Romans 6:23). And it is one of the marks of later lawlessness among the people  of Israel that the prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah confronted and mocked these practices also. Indeed, these practices of fortunetelling and sorcery even seemed to have been a part of a strange kind of feminist religiosity in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 44. I’ll leave it to the reader to consider these passages.

One question that I have had for years when reading the gospels, then, was why Jesus encountered so many demon possessions among Jewish people in his time, when few if any demon possessions are evident in the Old Testament. One possible answer which makes sense to me is that compromises with pagan idolatry and occult practices were probably responsible for most of the demon possessions which Jesus encountered. In later times it’s noteworthy that these practices also  included use of mind altering drugs such as marijuana and opium the further they went away from even educated pagans beyond the Roman empire – and this occult connection of these drugs with occult and idolatrous practices is often enough not mentioned among people in our churches. That these drugs and practices can open a person up to demonic influence and bondage is something that many people who were professed believers may not realize before they begin.  Yet from the beginning of scripture to the end, God confronts occult practices as forbidden and abominations And from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to the end he brings in the victory and defeats these counterfeits, and this continues wherever the God of the Bible does war with the evil of this world, when the gospel reaches new people and new peoples.

There is nothing really vague about what God has forbidden in occult practices. There is no confusion about what God is specifying in his Word when he forbids magic, sorcery and fortunetelling. So when these things sprout up even among professed believers in Christ they are actually a mark of ignorance of the Word of God or even outright defiance of the Word. And because we may see ourselves as ‘Not under the Law’ because we stand on this side of the cross of Christ and the New Covenant, they are still not something which we can look into or dabble in today. Rather, in the light of scripture from beginning to end we must see magic, sorcery and fortunetelling as spiritual evil which was first defined under the Law which but which continues to apply to all ages and times and cultures.

Again, some of these same practices are found nowadays in Hinduism and Buddhism, even in the watered down forms which infiltrate the modern western culture in different waves. For several centuries there have been practices and ideas from Hindu and Buddhism which have come across western culture and which tended to follow both popular atheism and lukewarm and entertainment based Christianity (late 1700s; early 1900s; mid 1960s). These waves of curiosity and becoming fascinated with pagan practices tend to follow shallow and lukewarm Christianity in western culture. The general principle is:  after boredom with churchianity and ritual and tradition based Christianity spiritual curiosity tends to spiritual compromise with what God has forbidden. This was what happened in the early church, such as in Colossae, and then later in late 2nd century – one of the prime characteristics of Gnosticism was spiritual compromise with pagan magical practices. And though the ‘emergent church’ seems to have become much less fashionable and to have lost its cachet, renewed interest in these same practices has also been a part of the ‘emergent church’ and with ‘progressive’ Christianity. 

There was a case which the late Walter Martin mentioned which described how a young woman became involved with the occult and then went into demonic possession. The case is remarkably similar to that of Gottliebin Dittus, which Johann Blumhardt dealt with. Dr. Martin was called to help with young woman who was a nominal Christian, but was actually unconverted. She found that God wasn’t answering her prayers, so she went into the occult instead. She then became victim of multiple possessions. Through a time of ministry she was eventually delivered of the possessions. She then confessed her sins of occultism, renounced the devil and his works, repented and put her faith in Christ. In the years to come she became exemplary believer, wife and mother and showed the power of Christ to deliver.

One thing that does need to be added: the word which is translated ‘sorcery’ is the Greek word pharmakeia in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Our word pharmacy is derived from this word. It’s also used in that translation in Exodus 7:11 and 22, and Isaiah 47:9 and 12. It occurs also in the New Testament in Galatians 5:21 and Revelation 18:23, 21:8 and 22:15. It brings out the relation of drug use in the ancient world as a part of the practice of magic. Marijuana, hashish and opium were definitely known in the ancient world, and the further one went from the more ‘civilized’ parts of the ancient world the more they were used in recreational and spiritual use. The Scythians in particular were known for their use of hashish. In the Mediterranean area, wine and beer were cheap and abundant, and anyone who wanted to could generally get drunk as an escape from reality. The use of these drugs as a part of sorcery was to make them more open to spiritual realities, much as they are used by some today – just Google ‘marijuana’ and ‘spirituality’ to see large number of links pop up – but don’t follow the links, please! I’ve always wondered why some people who were professed believers in Christ seemed to become spiritually dull and obtuse to the Christ and the gospel after they started to go into marijuana use, and I think that this is why: it seems to be a part of turning from pure and holy spiritual experience in Christ through the Holy Spirit to a defiled and defaced spiritual experience which is more open to the demonic.

The problem of professed believers in Christ entering into into the occult occurs every generation or two. It comes first of all because of a spiritual passivity and laziness after God which leads to an unnecessary ignorance of the plain teaching of the Word of God about the occult. It also becomes a problem for those who live by conformity to others and to outside authority, who may be easily led by others into the occult, and it is often a problem for those who are looking for feelings and experiences and yet do not have much discernment about the source of those feelings and experiences.  Following feelings and people out of ignorance of the Word of God and sometimes in outright defiance of the Word of God means that there will always be the need to make the plain teaching of the Word of God on this clear to every generation. And the truth of Proverbs 14:12 needs to be repeated in every generation as well:

“There is a way which seems upright to a man or woman, 
But its end is the way of death.’’

God doesn’t have to give the reasons for what he forbids. But he often does let us into the reasons, and he does so here was well. It’s part of his treatment of his people as adults, who can understand and follow his will and can understand his purposes. The spiritual purity that God expects from his people is why he forbids occult practices. The purity of heart, life and spirit which he expects means separation from defiling spiritual practices. This kind of purity of heart, life and spirit is then part of the general call of God for his people to show his purity and holiness in this world.

Spiritual purity means avoiding pagan paths which lead to spiritual defilement. Spiritual defilement comes from doing spiritual practices which God finds abominable. Understanding and avoiding this paths are part of the due attention that believers need to give to anything which God says in his Word that he hates. And this includes things he calls abominations which are abominations in all ages.

The clear statement of God’s revulsion toward occult practices is in verse 12: “ . . . because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD. And the peoples who are steeped in these things are the ones whom the LORD your God is dispossessing before your face.” All these pagan practices of divination, magic and Spiritism are detestable to God. Here it is clear that they are a reason for judgment of the Canaanites through work of God and warfare of the Israelites, during the conquest of the land of Canaan. God would work to drive out these nations since they had come to the point where they had exhausted the patience of God. And in the conquest of Canaan it is clear that the God of the Bible preceded and accompanied the warfare of the Israelites with supernatural judgments of God. One of the reasons that Israel would conquer the land of Canaan with the guidance and help of God was because the justice of God was coming because his patience with false religion and corrupting practices had come to an end.

It’s difficult to say how defiling these practices are, and how much they lead to deep spiritual darkness in the lives of the people who practice them. They’re not the unforgivable sin, though; there have often been people saved from lives of occultism and deep darkness among the followers of Christ. But no one would even begin if it were clear to them how much deep darkness goes along with these practices, even to mental illness and suicide. It’s no wonder that deep spiritual darkness upon the heart comes from practices which God calls abominations and detestable.  

The leaders in these practices often become leaders in opposition to the world of God in this world as well. This is now deep the darkness can be upon the heart which goes into these practices. The examples include:

  • The sorcerers of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:11,
  • Balaam (Numbers 22:7, 24:1)
  • Jezebel (II Kings 9:22)
  • Simon Magus (Acts 8;9, 20-24)
  • Elymas/Bar Jesus (Acts 13:6-8)

But with all these people, here’s the thing: they were all unsuccessful and they all paid terribly for their opposition. No magic or divination has ever been successful against the people of God as they have followed God.

When the scripture above says in verse 12: “ . . . because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD”, it does not look like a direct reference to the demonic, but it is certainly implied as revelation progresses through the Old and New Testaments. It seems like the scriptural explanation of the demonic nature of pagan religion and occult practices had to proceed much more slowly than the forbidding of these practices. There were mentions in the Old Testament and the New Testament, though, which spelled this out. For example: 

  • “Their sacrifices made him jealous;
    Their abominations made him very angry.
    They sacrificed to demons and not to God,
    To gods whom they had not known,
    Novelties which had just popped up,
    Which their ancestors did not recognize.” (Deuteronomy 32:16-17  — the Greek word in the Septuagint – the  ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament – is the same word which is used in the New Testament for for demon. Modern Old Testament dictionaries recognized this equivalence)
  • “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons” (Psalm 106:37)
  • “But whenever they make sacrifices, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I don’t want you to have anything in common with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (I Corinthians 10:20-21) .

Since the responsibility of the people of God is to hate evil (Psalm 97:10), it is clear what the responsibility of the people of God: the hatred of what God hates and  has called abominable. And since the earliest days of the church of Jesus, the profession of faith in Jesus has also meant renouncing ‘the devil and all his works.’ In light of this passage, what this means should be entirely clear: repentance for all previous indulgence in magic, sorcery and fortunetelling, even if it was done in ignorance.

Where we usually find ignorance of and indulgence in magic, sorcery and fortunetelling in modern churches is in the ‘compromised one third’. That’s the term I use for the percentage that usually can be found in surveys to have rather shaky conversions and a lot of ideas and habits usually associated with being unregenerate. Many may simply need to grow in Christ, but we can usually find a sizable percentage in our churches who try to serve multiple masters, to hold onto Jesus and a ticket to heaven in one hand and something else in the other. The practice of this practical idolatry usually includes some form of deep selfishness the false gods of romance, marriage and sex or money or politics as well as dabbling in non-Christian religions and religious practices. I leave it to the reader to see why it’s reasonable that occult practices usually have some attraction in Hollywood and form the subject matter for so many movies and TV shows. 

Someone might mention the occurrence of magic in the fiction of  J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S. Lewis,  and J.K. Rowling. But here’s the thing: Tolkien and Lewis never pretended and actually denied explicitly that occult practices were acceptable for Christians in this age. Even though J.K. Rowling has in the past claimed to be a believer in Christ as well, her fiction does not depict anything like modern occultism. In fact, in the final Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), actually deals with life and death with scripture in the last book. But I’ve personally grown much more cautious about Harry Potter in light of more recent indications that these books and movies incite curiosity and exploration into the occult by many. And this is a very real danger. For instance, many in my generation came to become curious about the occult when we saw the occult practices like witchcraft and I Ching in the old soap opera Dark Shadows in the late 1960s. I would counsel the people of God, therefore, to understand that for some people Harry Potter could be an incentive to investigate and go deeper into the occult.

Strangely enough, the significant difference in reality and effectiveness of the power of the name of Jesus was spelled out dramatically for myself once in a dream I had. I don’t claim any revelatory authority for this dream; rather, it seems that my unconscious mind explained this better through this little nighttime psychodrama than any words I could easily think up. In the dream I saw Harry Potter trying to do battle with evil forces through his magic wand, and that didn’t work very well. But then I stepped up and used the name of Jesus and his name was effective every time I used his name against the powers of evil. (For more information, see Authority Over Spiritual Darkness in This World).

The spiritual purity of the people of God demands radical separation, then, from the abominations which bring spiritual defilement. It’s part of what it means to live in the salvation from the God of the Bible. It’s why God repeats and makes his prohibition clear again in verses 13-14: “You shall be the completely pure nation of the LORD your God. Though these nations which he will dispossess before you practice divination and consult with fortunetellers, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” 

Again, the scripture is clear in calling for the complete and decisive separation of the people of God from both divination and sorcery. The clear statement of scripture is that God has not given any permission for these practices in any way among his people. The reminder is given to the Israelites that God is judging and kicking the Canaanite nations from their land for these practices. The people of God are therefore to understand that there will  never be no superiority in knowledge or understanding or any advantage to them in this life or before God for their practices.

God’s expectation is summed up in his command to be blameless and this means includes this kind of separation from divination and sorcery. It’s noteworthy that in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was prevalent in the time of Jesus, uses this very same word in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect (same word) as your Father in heaven is perfect.” So separation from divination and sorcery is part of what it means to be  wholehearted and blameless before God. before God, blameless. Throughout the ages this separation has been complete and decisive and no compromise permitted. And the reaction of the people, of confession and destruction of occult paraphernalia, in Ephesus in Acts 19:18-20 has been part of the deep repentance and renunciation that the Lordship of Jesus demands: “Many of those who had come to faith began confessing and divulging their practices. A large number of those who had been practicing secret arts brought out their books and burned them before everyone . . .”.

The decisive separation from the magical practices which God has not permitted has been a part of living as the people of God throughout the ages. It comes from the decisive victory of Jesus on the cross over the powers of darkness. He has forever delivered his people from the power of darkness, and God transferred his people into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:19). Living in this victory then means abiding in Jesus and learning from and putting into practice his Word in our lives: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Something that never seems to be much understood but which needs to be understood much more strongly among believers in Christ is the deep changes that following Jesus makes in the life, thoughts and emotions of the person who has renounced the occult and received eternal life by faith in Jesus. There may be some remnants of the old thought processes that persist for some months to several years afterwards. The truth is that purifying the thought life of the believer from the sheer weirdness, superstition and spookiness, jumbled thoughts, lingering deceptions, magical thinking and personal immaturity that involvement in the occult produces takes some time in the Word, in prayer and in fellowship with other believers.

Since this may take some months and years it is crucial that the body of Christ not become easily offended if the person coming out of occultism says or does something that others think is ‘weird.’ This is not a time to isolate, pathologize or gossip someone who love and follows Christ and may still be seeking to leave behind some of the thoughts and words of the old life – there’s never a time for that. The answer is always to love and gently instruct the person coming out of the occult according to the Word of God. The correction and healing of the thought  processes from the regular preaching, teaching and personal study and application of the Word of God can in fact bring about a remarkable transformation of life. And the relief from the infection of the thought processes simply calls for practice of renewal of the mind through the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2) over a lifetime to Christlikeness – just like everyone else who comes to Christ in faith for salvation.

No compromise with any kind of spiritual darkness is necessary, though, because God has given us instead is so much more. He has given us his Word for guidance, prayer for his guidance, provision and fellowship, and the authority of the name of Jesus for dealing with the powers of evil in this world. So it’s an amazing realization to come to, that not only are occult practices forbidden, but they are totally unnecessary for a child of God who understands what he or she has in Christ, namely,  every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in him (Ephesians 1:3).  you will never receive any greater happiness and blessing through the works of the devil than you would receive from following Christ closely in the first place

The God of the Bible has always been at war with the deceptions, counterfeits and other works of Satan in this world. He has always been at war with false religion because it is one of the counterfeits of he who was the liar from the very beginning. It is one of the counterfeits that he tries to use to draw us to where he can steal the glory of God, kill our joy in God and defile and destroy our relationship with God. But the war continued to the cross of Jesus, and that cross was the decisive defeat of Satan and all his works for all eternity. The reality is now that Jesus is Lord and conqueror, and that he has the victory for all time and in all places. Victory is in him, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

Make a clean, decisive break in life part of acknowledging Jesus Lord of all your  life if you are a believer in Christ. Make your repentance complete through complete renunciation, separation and avoidance from the practices that God forbids and finds repulsive. Sometimes this kind of repentance that may sometimes be part of conversion, of repentance and faith. Often, though, it’s part of later repentance that is a deepening and enforcing of the turning away from Satan and all his works. Let this complete repentance go as far as the removal of physical articles from a life which involved occult practices that you have you in possession. It’s preferable to destroy these objects, especially if personally used or used in rituals, even if just ‘art’. When I was in college, for example, the destruction of Ouija boards in the fireplace of the house where I lived off campus often accompanied someone’s coming to Christ and growing in Christ. 

Genuine safety from a world of spiritual evil and spiritual deception is in genuine conversion. Genuine repentance and faith in Jesus puts a person into the right kingdom and under the protection of almighty power and in the eternal goodness of God. The life of spiritual safety then comes through walking closely with him and letting his Word transform your mind and your life is the way of safety. Don’t stop short of this; if you have not yourself repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life, do so now.  

Finally, boredom with being a Christian or a churchy and religious routine should drive you to know more of the God of the Bible. There will always be more for us to know of him as we walk with him and grow closer to him. So, if you’re bored, or even worse, hurt and drained, don’t go looking for something else to replace him in your life. Rather, ask him to show more of his glory and what may be making you bored with the routine. Look to grow deeper in Christ and walk more closely with him than ever before.

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What They Don’t Teach You in Seminary

Simply awesome explanation of how to minister the gospel to the most hardened criminals possible.

MINISTERING TO ADULT SEX OFFENDERS: TEN LESSONS FROM HENRY GERECKE

A Simple Prayer

“Lord, lead me out of the crazy place.”

John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Imperative Mood in Evangelism

Many years ago I heard Dr. Lewis Foster, professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Bible Seminary and one of the translators of the New International Version, give this illustration at a college age retreat for the Christian Student Fellowship ministries at Miami University, The University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. The camera that he had at the time, which was quite high-tech for the 1970s, had a feature in the view finder which split the image horizontally down the middle. As he explained it, when he would focus the image, both halves of the image would eventually come into sync and eventually  merge into one, and the camera would be in focus. He told us this to tell us how we needed to bring the Jesus of our experience and the Jesus of scripture into sync to give us a clear picture of Jesus and put our Christian lives into correct focus.

Ultimately, the only Jesus worth knowing and worth believing is the one of scripture. The gospels are the trustworthy accounts that were set down for us to tell us who Jesus Christ is, and to tell us about his birth, life, ministry, and especially his death and resurrection. The Christ of the Bible is the Christ of our experience, if we have been born again of his Spirit by faith in him. The inspired Word of the Bible is the guide to the truth about the Lord that we claim to believe in, to his will that we claim to follow, and to the glory of the one  we claim to love and praise.

It can be quite startling for someone who has seen, heard or read some of the distorted pictures of Jesus in our movies, our history classes and texts or even in some of our religious institutions, to read how Jesus began his ministry in the gospel of Mark. This summary of the habitual message of Jesus, from Mark, the recorder and translator of the eyewitness and apostle Peter, describes Jesus as someone who burst onto the scene with good news. He started his ministry preaching the gospel, as Mark put it, and calling people to repentance and faith. It tells of how Jesus came with good news to the pity party of first century Judaism as they smarted under the domination and oppression of Rome. It tells of how he came with good news that called for a response, of repentance and faith.

So here is what Mark wrote down for us: “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, and was saying, ‘The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived. Repent and believe the good news!’”

The real message of Jesus Christ is that the kingdom of God has arrived. His ministry centered around the message that the time of God’s intervention into our world which had been promised by the prophets had begun. So he came and gave the message that was the fulfillment of the longings of the people of God, then and in all ages, had arrived in him and through his ministry.

Jesus began his ministry with the good news of the kingdom of God. He did not point to anything else or anyone else as the reason why he could make that stupendous claim.  Rather, he himself was the fulfillment. He was the kingdom of God in person, the center and the fulfillment of the promises which came through the Old Testament prophets. His sovereign authority and power were the demonstration of the truth of the promises, and in Jesus Christ the promises of God become reality.

When Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, Jesus took up where the ministry of John the Baptist left off. Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the Herod who had been king of Judea when Jesus was born, had John the Baptist apprehended and imprisoned. Jesus had already spent some time with John and his disciples in the area of Jordan in Judea, but now returned to Galilee where he had grown up in Nazareth. John had declared that there was a more powerful one to follow, and Jesus took up his ministry as the one that John had been predicting would come.  And so Mark wrote, “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God . . . “ Jesus  came as the good news of the kingdom of God both in his person and in his message. He came as the anointed King, with the authority and power of the Son of God, with the power over sin, disease and death. But his message was summarized as the good news of the kingdom, because it was good news that the King whom God had appointed had come. Indeed, the wording of Mark also shows a real intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prediction of Isaiah on his return to Galilee:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,
Proclaiming peace, bringing good news of good things, proclaiming salvation,
Saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

(Isaiah 52:7 — Dale’s sight translation of the Hebrew, informed also by the Septuagint).

Indeed, in the original Hebrew, there’s that word for salvation, yeshuah, which sounds a lot like Jesus’s name – Yeshua — in Aramaic. This may well be  And this takes up and continues the opening words and prophecy of Isaiah with which Mark’s gospel opened: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God – just as it has been written in the book of Isaiah the prophet . . .” . So, the good news of the kingdom of God is the the King has come with the salvation of God.

Now, the gospel of the kingdom is not the physical presence of the anointed King, and his conscious use of his sovereign authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Rather, it has become the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God. He is still the same anointed King, though, and still has the same authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Since his ascension into heaven, he still gives eternal life and righteousness through those who come under his sovereignty and enter his kingdom by being born again of his Spirit. This is still the good news that the King has come, and that now through his spiritual presence through his Holy Spirit in his people he still brings salvation. This good news is still the stupendous news that brings hope in the midst of this world. This gospel is the same gospel that once came to Winston Churchill once said to Billy Graham: “I am an old man. Life has lost all meaning. I am ready to take a fateful leap into the unknown. Young man, can you give me a ray of hope?”

So then, the message of Jesus that the kingdom of God had arrived meant that the time had come when God was fulfilling his promises made in centuries past. God had announced his purposes long ago through the Old Testament prophets, and now these promises had begun to reach their fulfillment in him. All the goodness that God had for his people had arrived, in the person and ministry of his anointed King from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth.

The summary of the form of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed, appropriate to the opening of his ministry, was, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.” Though there are many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, when Jesus said that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had arrived, he is specifically referring back to Daniel 2:44 and 7:22. The first reference came in the dream that God gave to the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar, which the prophet Daniel had to interpret for him, of the four empires that there would be, including his own. In the days of the fourth empire, which we now know as the Roman empire, God was to set up his own kingdom. In the second reference, as part of the interpretation of a vision that Daniel himself had of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, God would set up a kingdom for his people. So Jesus was saying that the time had come when this kingdom was being set up and being given to the people of God, and it was coming at the prophesied time and according to its predicted schedule. Therefore Jesus, who himself would call himself the Son of Man throughout his ministry in conscious identification of himself with the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14, was announcing the fulfillment of prophecy to them. He came as the King to the people who had the Old Testament revelation, all the Bible that there was up to that time, who were looking for its fulfillment. He did not bring a new ritual, a new set of rules or anything else, but in him, God came in person, in the person of God the Son, to set up his kingdom. This brings the understanding that the good news that came through Jesus was fulfillment of the promises of God.

Though the content of the gospel itself has changed through addition, as more of God’s promises were fulfilled through Jesus, even to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality is that the message is fulfillment of the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament. So often, when we go over the central events of the gospel, as the life and ministry of Jesus came then to the cross and the empty tomb, we may miss the stupendous understanding that it was all fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the promises of God. But Jesus took special care to keep on explaining this in depth to the apostles after his resurrection, in a time which some have called his post-resurrection ministry, on how his the circumstances of his life, ministry, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of what God had already declared through the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44-45). Even in the statement of the outline of the gospel, the apostle Paul repeated several times that it was according to the scriptures: “I make known among you, brothers and sisters, the gospel with which I evangelized you, which you have received, in which you stand and by which you are saved — by that word with which I evangelized you, if indeed you are holding fast to it – apart from which you would have believed in vain. I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he arose on the third day according to the scriptures . . .”   (I Corinthians 15:1 -4 ).

So, even in this day and age, where some voices are coming up again that say that the Old Testament is not really necessary, and some may even want to do like the ancient heretic Marcion and ditch the Old Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ establishes for all time the continuing validity and relevance of the Old Testament, since his coming was in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Even more, it becomes necessary to chop all the passages out of the gospels where they point out the different places in his life, ministry, death and resurrection where he fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. And then whatever gospel that there may be left of Jesus seems as if it lacks foundation and context, and all that is left are some moralizing stories, some miracles which they usually gloss over as well, and a death that seems more tragic than purposeful and a resurrection that seems more gratuitous than victorious.

And because the content of the message began in the prophetic Word of God in the Old Testament, and was fulfilled and explained by Jesus Christ himself through his ministry, there is no authority on earth for anyone ever to change or alter the gospel message. Again, there are some who may try to excise parts of the message out to try to make it more appealing to those who make no profession of following Christ – the parts that they say that the post modern mind cannot accept. We’ve heard that kind of thing before for almost every generation  in the church in the Western world for the past five hundred years or so. In fact, from before and after the First World War, the attempt was to downplay the parts that some said that the modern mind cannot accept. One word added to the cliché – the post modern mind instead of the modern mind, and the same error that emptied mainline churches pops up again. But the center of the gospel has always remained Jesus Christ, the promised King, the Son of God crucified and risen, despite the reappearance of the same readiness to cave in to the intellectual fashions of the moment.

And so the question comes on where anyone else can come into a church of Jesus Christ and claim any kind of authority for changing the content of the gospel, and changing proclaiming the message of the good news of the gospel into something else – like doing some kind of good deed or church task. In the past pastors and teachers within the body of Christ, in clarifying what Biblical evangelism really is, have often had to say that inviting people to church is a good thing and a good deed, but in itself it is not evangelism as defined and practiced by Jesus and the apostles. We’ve also had to say that doing some church support ministry such as teaching Sunday School or playing the piano is not in itself evangelism, though there may be opportunities for evangelism. (And sometimes I’ve startled some people within churches by saying that church musicians – directors, composers, instrumentalists and singers – need themselves to be grounded in the Word of God and to be able to share their faith – and that may transform much of the current music from its current emotionality and superficiality to something that reflects more of a Biblical faith and universal Christian experience. ) And we’ve had to say that doing humanitarian deeds as Christian service is not itself evangelism, though again it may well furnish opportunities for witness and corroborate the reality of how the gospel transforms people.

But when we read about Jesus proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, we can correct a misleading picture and cultural stereotype which many may have of evangelizing – of a man in a tie and suspenders, yelling, huffing and puffing in a microphone in a deep accent from the southern United States, as he is “preaching the gospel”  — like a character from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Certainly many who may have fit that stereotype during the 1920s and the 1930s did preach a Biblical gospel, were not corrupt as the fictional Elmer Gantry, and did lead many to a real salvation in Christ.The reaction of some to that kind of straw man character is to the style, and they may consider themselves more sophisticated. But we can see Jesus speaking in his normal calm, controlled, direct and forthright style – sometimes stupendously compassionate and kind, at other times commanding with all the authority of the Son of God — as he did so much throughout the gospels. So then he showed us a genuinely Christlike way to proclaim the gospel and truly evangelize – the Biblical content in a truly Christlike way, without the stereotypical style that some have associated with evangelism, and which they have avoided because they want to appear more sophisticated and intelligent than a straw man stereotype.

But even further — the very coming of Jesus Christ as the promised King was therefore the corroboration of the truthfulness and faithfulness of the God of the Bible. He is the God who stands by his promises and purposes, even if others might forget them, be indifferent to them, or even be skeptical or dismissive of them. The good that he has promised will come about just as he had said. And this is a reason for every believer in Jesus Christ to  look forward with anticipation for the fulfillment of all the promises of God for his people and to live in the strength of his promises. Though the kingdom came in its opening installment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and continues since his death and resurrection in his church, the citizens of his kingdom, yet there is all the fullness of his kingdom yet to come, when he returns in glory. This will mean that we can continue to live in  hope and anticipation, with the knowledge that through Jesus Christ we know, love and serve an eternally faithful, truthful and trustworthy God. It is like the reply of a Marine during the Korean War to the reporter Marguerite Higgins, when she found him eating beans in –42 degree Fahrenheit weather. She asked him, “If I were God, and could grant you anything you wished, what would you like?”

The Marine replied, “Give me tomorrow!”

In the fulfillment of his promises to bring his kingdom into this world, and the fulfillment of his promises through Jesus, God has given us tomorrow. The coming of Jesus Christ into this world meant that God’s kingdom has already arrived, and there is yet more to come, when it comes in its fullness. The saving sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the power of sin, disease and death through the power of his death and resurrection. God’s message to this world began in the ministry of his Son and continues with us today. This means that the good news for us today started with the good news that Jesus came with both in his message and in his presence so many years ago. And this is the good news which he has passed on for us to share with the entire world until he returns.

The reality of the kingdom being present now is not something that brings the goodness of God to everyone and anyone without a personal response. The reality of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ calls for repentance and faith. The reality that came with Jesus still calls for our response and acceptance. The valid, expected responses to the good news of the kingdom of God still remains exactly what Jesus was calling for in his ministry.

The call for repentance was very definitely part of the ministry of Jesus. The reality of the presence of the kingdom called for this response, and Jesus was plain in calling for it. He himself had all the authority in himself to call for repentance, and he did so as part of the condition for anyone to participate in the kingdom of God. His call reflects the impossibility of acknowledging and coming under the sovereignty of God, becoming a part of the kingdom, while remaining in selfish charge of one’s own life. His call was for a complete change of life as the proper response to the good news of the kingdom of God, for people to turn from sin to follow the will of God.

Jesus simply used that one word, “Repent!” This verb came in the imperative mood, as a command to the people whom he heard. In this command to repentance he followed clearly the Old Testament prophets who called the people of God to repentance, and here as the anointed King he also fulfilled the ministry and office of prophet – not a moralizing teacher, but someone clearly echoing the message of the Old Testament prophets.

This is why Jesus didn’t have to spend much time defining repentance for those who heard him. First century Jews were well aware of what repentance meant from the prophets. Here is how Isaiah defined it:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
Call on him while he is near!
Let the wicked man forget about his own way,
And the evil man his own thoughts and plans,
And let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, because he will abundantly pardon.”

(Isaiah 55:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

Turning away from sin – and not just from an outward act, but also the very thoughts, intentions, plans and schemes to think, speak and act outside the will of God — and turning to God for pardon and mercy – that is the scriptural definition of repentance. And the prophet Hosea even went so far as to give the Israelites some specific words to say to God to express repentance, to tell him of their turning away from sin to him:

“Turn, Israel, to the LORD your God,
Take these words with you to him, and turn to the LORD,
Say to him, ‘Forgive our sin, And receive us for good, so that we may offer you the fruit of our lips.’”

(Hosea 14:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).

And just as Mark already wrote a few words earlier, the baptism with which John the Baptist came was a baptism of repentance, and as the people were baptized they confessed their sins. So, with this emphasis on repentance, John was recognized as a prophet clearly taking up the Old Testament call to repentance, and Jesus took it up as well. Though they both made predictions – John of the immediate appearance of Jesus, and Jesus of his own crucifixion and resurrection, as well as the events leading up to his second coming (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21), they were not regarded as prophets for making predictions. Rather, the call for repentance marked them clearly as prophets consistent with the prophets God sent to Israel during the centuries of the Old Testament. So it’s noteworthy that while during his ministry, then, that Jesus was recognized not just as a teacher, but also as a prophet – just like his forerunner, John the Baptist.

So then, it can be quite shocking to some when they really pay attention to what Jesus said when he once defined his mission as, “I have not come to call the ‘righteous’, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). And even more startling to anyone who has been propagandized by the picture of  Jesus as a moralizing story teller, is this declaration of Jesus: “I say to you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:4). And in his post resurrection ministry, he put the emphasis on repentance as a clear part of the expected response to the message of the gospel (Luke 24:47) in practically the same words which he had used earlier and which had been characteristic of the ministry of John the Baptist.

So on the day of Pentecost, at the conclusion of his great proclamation of the gospel, it’s no wonder that the apostle Peter concluded, “Repent! And be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These words clearly echoed the prophecies of John the Baptist and of Jesus, but were now being fulfilled in the age of the gospel. And apparently at the conclusion of his sermon he went on to plead at length with those who heard to “Save yourselves from this broken generation” (Acts 2:40). And this call to repentance was a part of the ministry of Paul as well – but more on that shortly.

So then, this was part of the expected response to the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ: becoming part of his kingdom calls for repentance. This means the renunciation of all self righteous pretensions, of holding to getting one’s own way at all costs to oneself and to others, and it means trusting in God’s readiness to forgive. The message of repentance was not intended to put anyone down, but to give people the truth about themselves so that they could enter the blessings of the kingdom. This message of repentance is the invitation of love and grace to receive forgiveness and to change the direction of one’s life into the direction of the kingdom of God.

This message of repentance needs regularly to be asserted in every age of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is in full accord with the direction of his earthly ministry and his stated expectations during his post resurrection ministry. It addresses the reality of a person which is known deep inside each person’s conscience, about the reality of one’s own sin, but it also demonstrates genuine faith in the readiness of God to forgive. This means turning from sin, and even the thoughts, intentions and schemes of sin, and turning toward following the will of God, so that the direction of one’s own personal life is turned into the direction of the kingdom of God.

How repentance is a change of heart leading to a change of life and a change of sides can be understood from an incident which happened during the ministry of John Wesley. There was a group of his followers that were planning to hold a meeting in a barn, and there was a group that opposed them. So one man hid inside the barn inside a sack. He was planning to open the door after the meeting started, to let the others from his group in to break up the meeting. But after the singing, prayer and preaching of the gospel began, the man hiding inside the sack came under deep conviction, and came to Christ that evening. He never opened the door to let the others in, because he had repented and he had changed sides.

But repentance was not all that Jesus called for in response to the good news that he brought. He expected to be believed and trusted as the anointed King of God, the Savior who had come at the predicted time. So, coming into the blessings of his kingdom means trusting the word of the King.

Jesus called for faith in himself as a part of the response that he expected to himself and to his ministry. As Mark recorded, he said, “ . . .believe the good news!” Faith in the good news meant confidence in the word of the messenger, and the bearer of the good news was the King himself. As he came and presented himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, of all the hopes of the people of Israel, he expected those who heard him to accept his word and believe him. He called for confidence in his words and promises, as the Son of God, God’s chosen ruler of his people. This entailed more than just acceptance of the facts of monotheism, of belief that there is one God, but also of the claims and trustworthiness of the messenger from God, the Messiah himself, the promised King. And as it would become evident throughout his ministry, the reality of this faith would mean following the King. And this new emphasis on faith in the Messiah as leading to personal salvation as being central to the personal conversations and public teaching of Jesus is also the central theme to the gospel of John.

This was a new emphasis, then, in the response that was expected with the inception of the age of the kingdom of God with the ministry of Jesus. Faith in the Old Testament was belief in one God, the God of Israel and the renunciation of idolatry, and while trust in him was expected and encouraged, the explicit call to faith becomes much more prominent with the arrival of Jesus and start of his ministry. But with the coming of John the Baptist, who pointed to the people to the Messiah in their midst, and with the ministry of Jesus, faith in the Messiah became paramount to become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom of God. And this emphasis on faith continued after the life and ministry of Jesus came to the culmination of his earthly mission in his crucifixion and resurrection, so that belief in the gospel came to its full New Covenant meaning of faith in Jesus, King Messiah, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again to life. He is now the crucified and risen Son of God who calls for our full trust and allegiance still, and for faith in his good news of his salvation that he has brought. Certainly belief in his gospel means concurrence with the facts of his death and resurrection, but even more, it is a personal, conscious trust and allegiance to him. It is trust in his good new which opens our lives to where we can receive all the goodness of God in his kingdom, as we trust in his word and the trustworthiness of the messenger, who was the King himself.

This call to faith in the crucified and risen Son of God continued onward in the New Testament ministry of the gospel. The apostle Peter concluded his message to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, “All the prophets bear witness that everyone who puts his or her faith in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The apostle Paul told the jailer of Philippi, “Put your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31). And Paul joined repentance and faith together as the expected response to the gospel when he said that he had “ . . . testified to both Jews and Greek about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And it was Paul who defined what it meant to come to saving faith in Jesus when he wrote in the epistle to the Romans, “ . . .  if you acknowledge with your mouth that, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ and you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . .” (Romans 10:9).

This is also an emphasis that needs to be kept paramount in the preaching and teaching of the church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times. Belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ is saving faith. J. Gresham Machen once wrote, “  . . . saving faith is acceptance of Christ, not merely in general, but as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It involves acceptance of the truth about Jesus as in the New Testament, not merely as a historical figure, but as the Son of God who came, suffered and died and rose again, and trusting him alone for one’s eternal salvation. And this is what brings anyone now into his Kingdom and into the fullness of the goodness of God that his Kingdom brings.

In the Old Testament, God told his people, “I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Now choose life!” ( In Jesus Christ, God came as the sovereign King, God’s own anointed Son, as the bearer and messenger of the Kingdom of God, came near to us and in person to set before us the way of life and the way of death, and call us to choose life by repentance and faith in his good news. In his preaching and teaching, then, Jesus expected response to his message. He expected no complacency or a business as usual attitude to his message. Moreover, he, as well as John the Baptist, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul and the Old Testament prophets were totally unashamed of using the imperative mood to call people to repentance and faith. They did not deliver requests to think about it for a little while. They called for, and expected response to their message. And responses they received as they called for repentance and faith: 300o on the of Pentecost, some several thousand more after another time of great preaching and teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, the household of Cornelius, the Philippian jailer, Lydia the seller of purple dye, and so on. They would all take the time to explain the gospel in depth and to explain repentance and faith in depth, as well as to answer honest questions with honest answers, but they were all calling for a verdict and a decision in response to the gospel of God.

The nature of the kingdom of God, as the salvation and sovereignty of God through Jesus Christ, then, calls for the response of repentance and faith. The people of God today do not need to have any kind of reluctance in making this known. Some will question our authority to command this; we can point to the command that we received from the Word of God and our own response to the command to do just that. Some will dislike it because of their theological position that repentance and faith are the gifts from God, and must come from the working of God. We can point to the reality that the Holy Spirit who inspired the scriptures is present when the gospel is proclaimed to bestow those gifts of repentance and faith, and that he inspired the Word which set forth the direct commands to men and women of all ages to repent and believe in the gospel. Some will simply not like the style of directly calling men and women to repent and believe in the gospel. But there is no need for any kind of false dichotomy between immediate response or allowing people more time to consider their response of repentance and faith. It would be scriptural to give a clear understanding of the gospel and clear directions of what repentance and faith, as well as making it clear that an immediate response is possible and that a delay can be eternally fatal as to anyone who wants to consider his or her response at length. There does not need to be great pressure on anyone but rather loving clarity and even loving pleading, much as Peter gave on the day of Pentecost.

But even more, making clear the expected response of the human will to the gospel in repentance and faith – which can be understood themselves to be good works brought about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as John and Charles Wesley asserted – can correct an impression that some may have that being born again means waiting for God to zap them with the same kind of experience of overwhelming love and joy that so many believers may give witness. The reality of the turning to God through repentance and faith in Christ as he is presented in the gospel does not require any kind of passive waiting on God to provide anyone with any kind of experience. Rather, there is the conscious response to the gospel in repentance and faith and many may have an overwhelming experience of the joy of salvation at that time, but there is no need to seek or look for that same kind of experience. At the same time, there is no gradual sliding into the kingdom of God, but rather a real point of decision in response to the call of the gospel through Jesus Christ to repentance and faith. It is as Henry Wright once wrote: “No man or woman oozes unconsciously into the Kingdom of God. In the final analysis, all enlist, and every soldier knows when he enlisted.”

Through the message of his gospel, then, King Jesus has challenged each of us personally to enter his kingdom. This good news comes from the risen Lord himself, and he himself, in his death and resurrection, is the gospel himself. Life, righteousness and healing are the blessings of his kingdom to those who respond to him, who come to him by repentance and faith and then find out how good the good news really is.

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the reign of sin, death, disease and Satan, and entrance into his reign of salvation, to eternal life and righteousness. This is the good news that calls for our response in repentance and faith: repentance to receive forgiveness and faith to receive eternal life from the King. It means for each one who comes to the King in repentance and faith a place of personal place of acceptance in his kingdom, pardon for sins, acceptance with God and the possession of eternal life. So the question comes to each one of us: have you responded to the invitation of the King?

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ, in his saving power and authority, is our message to the world. The salvation which was secured by his death and resurrection is available to everyone. That is the reason for our witness to others, and for our working together to bring his message to all the world. The entrance of the kingdom of God to our world is good news for everyone, and we cannot keep that message to ourselves.

But finally, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the reason for our praise and rejoicing. We cannot remain sullen and self pitying, as if he had never come to our world as the kingdom of God and salvation of God incarnate. He came to give freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and living in that freedom means the joy and the celebration of how the kingdom of God has come into our world and how it has entered and changed our lives.

The Reception of Salvation: Repentance

What does this mean?

Repentance is part of the expected response to the scriptural gospel!

  • Jesus: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

  • Peter: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . . “ (Acts 2:38, 3:19).

  • Paul: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus . . . first to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 20:21, 26:20).

True repentance involves:

  1. Humbling oneself before God and turning from sin: ” . . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

  2. Confession and renunciation of sin: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 29:13). This means rejecting any excuses for sin or shifting the blame for one’s sins on anyone or anything else before God and man. It means the full acknowledgment of personal responsibility for one’s own sins.

  3. Renunciation of the thoughts, desires, and intentions of sin, as well as the outward actions and habits of sin: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

  4. Agreement with God about the reality and offenses of sin, and desires to be rid of them entirely: “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).

  5. Godly sorrow that leaves no longing for the former way of life: ” . . . yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (II Corinthians 7:9-13).

    Thus false repentance involves worldly sorrow, wounded pride, and shame at the exposure of sin. It means no change of actions or direction. It leads to hardness of heart, demonstrates resistance to the Holy Spirit, and contempt for the grace of God, and continues in sinful ways with stubbornness. It comes from spurious decisions, where repentance is not presented as part of the expected response to the gospel. It comes from dishonest decisions, where a person goes through the outward appearance of faith in Christ, but has not decided to be done with sin. These spurious and dishonest decisions not only come from an incomplete presentation of the gospel, but many times where a person is seeking something else — church membership, the approval of family or friends — instead of salvation by Christ from sin. In these cases a person is really coming to God with his or her own agenda instead of paying attention the extremely serious promises, commands and warnings of the gospel.

  6. The realization of the truth: “Those who oppose (the man of God) he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape fro the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:25-26).

  7. The working of God’s prevenient grace: “So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; see also Acts 5:31).

    Prevenient grace is the theological term for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the gospel to enable them to repent and believe. True repentance and saving faith are thus the work of the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, and not “works salvation” by any means. This is an enabling which does not reduce or eliminate any human responsibility to repent and believe when the gospel is heard, since the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit brings with it the ability to respond. It is not natural to the pride and stubbornness of sinful people, though, to repent when the gospel is preached.


What does this mean to me?

  • Let us make a call for repentance a definite part of the presentation of the gospel.

  • Let us each consider the matter of our own conversion, and be sure that our own repentance has been deep and thorough!

  • Let us pray for others who need to know the salvation of Christ to receive God’s grace for repentance, and for him to incline their hearts to repent.


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.