Central Baptist Winter 2022-2023 - How to Discern the Voice of God



This page goes over some basic meta information about this study on BibleDocs.

About this study

The Sunday morning class for the college/career group at Central Baptist in Warner Robins is going through a study in the class workbooks. This series here is just a collection of whatever thoughts I have about the material from each week.

I’ll reference the starting page number in the workbook for each week, but people who aren’t part of this group at Central Baptist shouldn’t have much problem following the topics, as most of them ought to stand alone reasonably well. I’m not making it my purpose to necessarily try and teach what the lessons already do, but more explore tangents that I got interested in, having thought about things in the lessons.


If I’m thinking about the materials anyway, jotting things down to do research later, and then actually doing said research, writing it up in some form helps me capture it for the future just for myself, so I don’t forget things. Sharing it publicly on the internet is a step past that, to be sure, but it’s mostly because I’m doing it anyway.

Maybe other people will find it interesting too. That is the hope.

Does the Voice Agree with the Bible?


In our examination of how to discern the voice of God, the natural and most important place to start is with the question of whether or not the voice agrees with the Word of God. Put simply, God will never lead us into anything that runs counter to His Word; any voice that does is not His. The Bible is perfect… although we need to be careful, because even though that is true, our understanding of it may not be! It takes spiritual growth to be able to know what it is the Bible actually says, so that we may use it as the measuring stick by which we evaluate all things.

This week’s lesson starts on page 63 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 01/22/2023.

The Bible Is How We Know What Is from God


Only through the Word of God can we properly identify God’s voice – only by submitting to Bible teachers and personally reading the Bible can we grow in such a way that we develop the discernment God wants us to develop, the discernment that will allow us to identify His guidance.

This is because for us to properly use the Bible as our measuring stick for everything, we have to know it inside and out – to know its correct interpretation, not just its words. And how you get that is by reading it consistently and learning from a gifted and prepared Bible teacher who can explain it in a systematic and detailed way. Doing these things will help us grow spiritually, until eventually we will find that discerning God’s voice becomes ever easier, because our minds have been transformed by His truth (compare Romans 12:2).


How do you recognize God’s voice, as opposed to the voice of Satan and/or others under Satan’s sway? Through the Word of God

As we went over this week, the primary answer to the question of “How do we know if a voice is from God?” is that God speaks to us through His Word. That Word is all about Jesus Christ, and He is Himself a message from the Father (that is, His life and what He did for us upon the cross); Hebrews 1:1-2a says that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.”

It is no surprise that the written Word of God is all about Jesus Christ, the living Word (compare John 1:1-14). The two are inextricably linked. For this reason, if we want to come to know Jesus Christ (and that is, in essence, what we are all about as Christians), then how we come to know about Him is through the Bible. There is no other way – none whatsoever. For the Bible is the very “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). It is – quite literally – the message that the Omnipotent Creator and Redeemer of the universe has seen fit to put into the hands of humanity. That is no small thing, aye?

Bringing us back to the point at hand, it is only through the Word of God that we will be able to properly “discern the Spirits” (1 John 4:1-3), and so correctly make out the voice of God from among the veritable chorus of false voices.

We must both submit to Bible teachers and personally read the Bible to grow in such a way that we develop the discernment God wants us to develop

False things can sometimes be rather obvious (so, for example, the Bible does most assuredly not tell us that we as Christians are guaranteed to have lives of overflowing abundance completely free from suffering – ever read John 15:18-21 and 1 Peter 4:12-19?), but they can also be subtle and much harder to spot.

Part of this is because Satan’s lies often have at least a grain of truth in them. When Satan speaks to Eve in Genesis 3, he is not wrong that God forbade Adam and Eve from eating… but he does purposely misrepresent God’s words. It is actually not all that subtle here (God forbade eating the fruit from a single tree, not all the trees), but how about in Matthew 4:1-11 during the temptation of Christ? Satan quotes scripture at Jesus. How can scripture be wrong? But Jesus quotes scripture right back at Him, showing that Satan’s interpretation of what that scripture meant was faulty. Satan had twisted things, even though all he did was quote the Bible!

This introduces a major wrinkle: using the Bible as our measuring stick only works when we know what the correct interpretation of the Bible is. How then do we get this correct interpretation of the Bible? The basic answer to that question is that we must grow spiritually. And how do we grow spiritually? By listening to Bible teachers, and by reading the Bible ourselves.

The Bible says that God has put some in the body of Christ as pastor-teachers, and these men are specially empowered by the Holy Spirit to learn and then explain the Bible, “in order to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (see Ephesians 4:11-13). This means we can come to know what the Bible actually teaches by listening to these gifted and prepared individuals God has placed in the body of Christ to explain the Bible to us. Teaching the Bible is their primary job, so we ought to take full advantage of their gifts, for that is how things are supposed to work in the system God has designed: the Church, the united body of Christ here in the world, composed of various parts each fulfilling their respective role (see 1 Corinthians 12). In fact, to grow to spiritual maturity, we must submit ourselves to these Bible teachers; that is what the Ephesians quote from above demands, albeit indirectly.

Secondly, we all need to build up our own personal knowledge of the Bible by reading it consistently. For one thing, the matter of choosing which Bible teachers to listen to is impossible to do properly without us verifying that the words coming out of their mouths line up with the Bible (compare Acts 17:11). Even though this is the case, we are not authorized to think we can go it alone, and forgo the step of submitting to teachers. Instead, we do need to submit to teachers… but only the ones whose words we can verify with the Bible. To do this, we certainly need to be conversant with what the Bible says!

It’s not just about getting us past that first hurdle of figuring out which Bible teachers to listen to, though. Let me try to use an analogy: let’s say that the truth contained in the Bible is like a puzzle – individual verses and passages are like puzzle pieces. The end goal is for each of us to have collected pieces of the puzzle (pieces of scripture), and have them “properly assembled” in our hearts, fitting together piece-by-piece to form a solid edifice of truth. If that is the goal, then what is the most effective way for this goal to be achieved? Is it to put the sole responsibility for our growth in the hands of our teachers? Do we think that will maximize our spiritual growth?

Is it not instead the case that we should do absolutely as much as we can on our own to make the process more effective? If we read our Bibles every day, we will be accumulating in our hearts more and more puzzle pieces, so to speak. Some of them we can probably fit together all on our own, but others we probably won’t be able to (those are the ones we need Bible teachers for). Us taking the initiative to consistently read our Bibles greatly enhances the process, because then teachers don’t always have to be re-explaining “what the Bible says” alongside “what the Bible means,” but can instead mostly just focus on explaining how some of the trickier pieces fit together. It should be very obvious that the more familiarity people have with the Bible – even if they are fuzzy on some things – the more effectively they can understand Bible teaching, as a general rule. So, for example, if a teacher is teaching about the theological concept of Justification, he might work on explaining how James’ description of faith being proved genuine by the fruit it bears in people’s lives (compare James 2) does not at all contradict Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith, not by works (compare the end of Romans 3, particularly verse 28). This particular teaching will be more easily understandable and more useful for those who are already familiar with what these passages talk about, how they are situated in their respective narratives, and so on.

In short, reading our Bibles is our “homework” as Christians, so that when we show up to “lecture,” we will be able to better follow the words of our teachers. If we neglect our homework, we will not learn nearly as well from our teachers, and if we do not learn nearly as well from our teachers, our understanding of what the Bible really means will be limited, and if our understanding of what the Bible really means will be limited, then we will be unable to effectively use the Bible as a measuring stick for everything (like how we are supposed to). Our discernment will be crippled, and we will not be nearly as successful in picking out the voice of God, instead being more likely to follow other voices we ought not.

To wrap up this section, trying to learn from homework alone is no good – if we are wrong, who will correct us? Who will answer our questions if we get stuck? That’s why we need Bible teachers. But the point we have just been making is that trying to learn from lecture alone is no good either, because Bible teaching won’t make much sense to us unless we are already familiar with the Bible – the thing that all good Bible teaching should be singularly focused upon – and no one but us can make us familiar with the Bible (through a personal choice on our part to read it consistently). So it is that we must both submit to Bible teachers and personally read the Bible for the process to work as God intends – for us to grow spiritually, and therefore know the correct interpretation of the Bible, that we might be able to accurately discern the voice of God.

Conclusion and recap

It is always through the Bible itself that we make our way through life, through its light that we know where to go (compare Psalm 119:105). And so it is that if we consistently read our Bibles, consistently immerse ourselves in the Bible’s teachings, and consistently learn about the Bible from the Bible teachers whom God has placed in our lives, eventually we will build up an edifice of truth in our hearts – truth fully learned, believed, and applied = epignosis (ἐπίγνωσις) rather than just “head knowledge” = gnosis (γνῶσις) – such that we grow up in our faith, even to the point of spiritual maturity.

After this transformation of our thinking through the Word of God, this “renewing of our minds,” we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2), and will therefore “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). This is the spiritually-empowered discernment God wants for each and every one of us, if we would but trust Him and make use of the tools He has given us in the Bible and gifted Bible teachers to help explain it.

Would that we would always let Him work in us as we ought! For if we would, never again would we struggle so to make out God’s voice, but would instead come to joyfully listen for it, using the Bible to banish uncertainty and doubt from our minds.

Satan Is the Serpent of Genesis 3


When discussing the serpent of Genesis 3, it is natural to ask if this is Satan we are talking about here. There has been a certain amount of scholarship of late that has scoffed at Christians “reading the devil back into the Old Testament” (as they would phrase it) – arguing that the specific being discussed in the Old Testament did not at time of writing have overtones of supernatural evil, and that it is only possible to view things that way by back-reading the New Testament. (This, they say, means that the Old Testament does not itself “support” viewing Satan as a supernatural adversary of God).

The issue with this sort of argument is that you could well say that Isiah 52:13ff. (the prophecy concerning the suffering servant), the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), and Psalm 22 (a Messianic Psalm) are in similar fashion “reading Jesus back into the Old Testament.” Is that an appropriate attitude to take towards God’s truth? Honestly, past a certain point, it is not worth our time debating with people who think it is unreasonable to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, since both are the Word of God. But in this discussion, we will nonetheless examine the personage of Satan in the Old Testament, and how we can identify the serpent of Genesis 3 with him. Even if it means we quote from the New Testament.


Is the serpent of Genesis 3 Satan?

Regarding the main point of this week’s teaching (the importance of the Bible in recognizing the voice of God), our Workbook used the deception of Eve (as recorded in Genesis 3) as an illustration of how important the Word of God is in protecting us from falling prey to false voices. If Eve had stayed firm in God’s actual words (remembering them and trusting them, even when challenged as to their reasonableness), the serpent’s attack would not have found purchase. The mechanism for Eve’s fall was, essentially, a failing in knowledge of and belief in God’s Word = what God had told Adam and Eve at that time. (For us nowadays, the equivalent is the Bible, the written Word of God. That is God’s revelation to us in our current so-called “dispensation” of the truth).

This is an excellent example of the Word’s central importance in our discernment, no question about it. But tangential to this main discussion is that of the exact identity of the serpent in Genesis 3. Our Workbook says “Though Genesis doesn’t identify the serpent as being inhabited by the devil, Scripture later identifies the serpent with Satan (Revelation 20:2).”

This is in fact the correct interpretation (that is, that the serpent in Genesis 3 was Satan and/or was controlled by Satan), but exactly how can we go about establishing the evidence for this identification? Revelation 20:2 alone is a good starting place, but as we shall see, there is certainly more to be said, and this “more” is what we shall now explore.

Who is Satan, according to the Old Testament?

The word Satan (שָׂטָן in Hebrew) is a noun meaning “adversary” or “accuser”. Hebrew as a language uses so-called “triconsonantal roots” to form both nouns and verbs (and so on), and here the root is Sin-Tet-Nun (note that it is Sin not Shin – hence “Satan” rather than “Shatan”). These same three consonants can also form a verb that in the simple form means “to obstruct” or “to oppose.” So the meanings of the noun fit.

Technical discussion

The Nun in שָׂטָן is here word-final, and therefore in the sofit form.

The Hebrew noun can be used without a definite article. So, for example, The Angel of the Lord (a Christophany = pre-incarnate appearance of Christ; The Angel of the Lord) opposes Balaam as “an adversary” in Numbers 22:22.

When used with a definite article (הַ), however, the being in view (= הַשָׂטָן now that we have added the article, transliterated ha-satan) refers to the supernatural adversary of God.

This specific being is, somewhat surprisingly, not actually mentioned particularly frequently in the Old Testament. The ha-satan form is used in Job 1:6-9, 1:12, 2:1-4, 2:6-7 to refer to an angelic being in the court of God who accuses Job before God. It is also used in Zechariah 3:1-2 in a very similar manner – a supernatural being leveling accusations. Some exegetes have argued for seeing these instances as an elect angel serving in a “divine prosecutor” sort of role, but the problem with that idea is the being’s apparent antagonism towards both God and (for example) Job – why would an elect angel be interested in trying to get a human whom God took pride in to stumble, in a seeming bid to prove God’s words false? Moreover, Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night.”

It is therefore theologically irresponsible to even entertain the possibility that the accuser mentioned in the Job and Zechariah passages is anyone other than Satan. There is no “literary development of the Satan character”, no “Jewish legal conception of ha-satan improperly retconned by later Christians to be supernatural evil”, no “borrowed characterization based upon literary parallels in other Near-East cosmologies.” Regardless of what false things others might say (as additional examples, you might also see here or here), the accuser mentioned in the Old Testament has always been the devil – a very real, very powerful spiritual force for evil, not some legal bureaucrat angel just doing his job – even if people of the past may not have been as aware of him as we are today, now that we have received the New Testament. The greater nuance over time in our understanding of Satan’s true nature is just so-called “progressive revelation” at work. (More on that in a moment).

There is one more Old Testament passage that interpreters typically take to be Satan proper (rather than a “small s satan” = an adversary generally, rather than the adversary), and that is 1 Chronicles 21:1. If you check the Hebrew, you might expect to find the definite article as with the other usages, but… not here. For whatever reason.

The interpretation of this passage (1 Chronicles 21:1-6ff.) is rather vexing for multiple reasons. 2 Samuel 24:1-9ff. is directly parallel. 2 Samuel 24:1 says that God moved David to take the census, not an adversary (who we interpretively ought to take as the the adversary even despite the lack of definite article – it’s the only thing that makes sense). Isn’t that a contradiction since 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan who incited David?

It really isn’t. For example, God states explicitly that He used Assyria to punish wayward Israel (Isaiah 10:5-7), and this Isaiah passage makes it crystal clear that God is using Assyria despite what Assyria (personified, or “the Assyrian” if you prefer) intends – compare “this is not what he has in mind”, verse 7. God is simply so smart (in fact, Omniscient) and so powerful (in fact, Omnipotent) that he can use evil people in His Perfect Plan, and there’s nothing they can do about it, no matter what evil they intend. Like ha-satan in Job 1 and Job 2, evildoers can never do a single thing except that which God explicitly allows. They are dancing completely in the palm of His hand, to borrow a metaphor.

So, to reconcile 1 Chronicles 21:1 and 2 Samuel 24:1 only requires that you take the interpretive leap that God allowed Satan to incite David to take the census, that God used Satan. Satan was the agent; God was the architect. We might assume that Satan knew that taking the census would be a sin against God (for reasons we shan’t get into here – this is “the other reason” why the interpretation of this passage is vexing), and thought that getting David – a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) – to stumble would somehow damage God’s plans (compare Satan’s desire to trip up Job in Job chapters 1 and 2). This thought was, of course, utter madness… as sin always is. Satan, a mere creature, thought he could somehow successfully raise his hand against his Maker? What a joke. We may laugh at his foolishness, yet who are we to talk? We all sin (Romans 3:23, James 3:2), and our sin is just as insane for this very same reason.

Anyway… these are the Old Testament references to Satan. What remains to be established is how we know that the supernatural being referenced in these other places is the same as the serpent in Genesis 3, and that is to what we shall turn next.

Technical discussion

If you’d like to read a second analysis of Satan in the Old Testament, you might have a look at this page. I should note that I do not agree with certain things this page, but am just linking it because it covers similar topics, so may be good as a point of comparison.

On progressive revelation, and scriptural evidence for drawing the equivalency

I shall dismiss a great deal of scholarship with a wave of my hand in this next sentence: that some scholars wish to say that there is supposedly “no evidence” that the accuser of Job and Zechariah is the same being as the serpent of Genesis (or even the being mentioned in Revelation 12) is neither here nor there in terms of it being actually true. You get rather used to this sort of thing if you have a lot of respect for biblical inspiration and inerrancy and substantially less respect for comparative mythology and literary criticism and other such pursuits that exercise the academy.

To elaborate a bit more on why we can be so dismissive: there is a concept in theology called “progressive revelation.” It holds that God is not obligated to reveal to humanity all of His Plan all at once, but can space out revelation over time. So it is that when Jesus (the Messiah) came on the scene, the Jews were expecting a King to throw out the Romans, not the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13ff. Jesus will indeed come in radiant glory to crush the enemies of Israel (as prophesied all over the place in the Old Testament – which is from where the Jews got the idea of the Conquering King Messiah)… but not until Armageddon, at the second coming of Christ. It was not at all obvious to the Jews that there would even be a first coming, much less that its purpose was for Jesus to go to the cross as the propitiation for the sins of the world, bearing the iniquity of us all upon His blameless shoulders, taking God’s judgement in our place as the Sacrifice of all Sacrifices.

But after Jesus was crucified, died, and was resurrected (thereby positionally defeating death and overcoming the grave), what had previously been a mystery was now revealed to mankind. Our salvation was won on the cross, redeeming sinful humanity to a perfect God once for all. That this was what God had meant all along only became clear later, not when the prophecies were initially written. Hence “progressive revelation.”

This is relevant in our case primarily because of Genesis 3:15, the second part of the judgement against the serpent. The Hebrew word for serpent is nachash (נָחָשׁ), and this is the common word for a literal, physical snake in Hebrew.

To sidetrack for just a moment, the fact that we are dealing with what appears to be a literal, physical snake has a couple interesting implications. First off, it is notable that Eve is not recorded as being weirded out by the fact that a snake is talking to her, which is itself noteworthy. It is also fantastic inferential evidence for the snake being supernaturally possessed by a spiritual being (i.e., a fallen angel – cf. the demons possessing the pigs in Matthew 8:28-34). Why is that? Well, while we don’t know exactly what language Adam and Eve and their offspring spoke (things obviously changed after the Tower of Babel – it is likely Abraham spoke Hebrew, and then obviously his descendants did), unless snake physiology has somehow changed quite drastically (well, more than being cursed to crawl upon the ground, per Genesis 3:14), snakes cannot even form any human-like sounds to begin with. (Obviously).

You might take the position that God “allowed Eve to speak snake” (or animal languages generally). We have literally nothing to go on in terms of scriptural evidence one way or the other, so why not? Such a view does have the advantage that it would explain why Eve wasn’t surprised when an animal spoke to her. On the other hand, you then have to deal with the fact that this ability certainly didn’t persist. So was it revoked after the fall? Did it die out after Adam and Eve, even if they retained it for their entire lives?

While the above sounds like it would be an interesting premise for a work of fiction (and actually, cf. Dr. Dolittle – that’s already a thing), the more realistic explanation, to my mind, is that Eve wasn’t weirded out by the random communication à la snake because Adam and Eve probably spoke directly to not only God (that much we have directly from the text in Genesis), but also angels (that’s more of an inference). After all, why not? We humans will certainly speak to angels when we share eternity together with them in the final paradise (the New Heavens and New Earth and New Jerusalem) – so why couldn’t Adam and Eve likewise have spoken to them in the initial paradise (Eden), as in the setting of this passage? If we assume that this communication with angels was actually something that happened, it follows that while Eve may have been puzzled as to why an angel had possessed the body of an animal (or maybe that part was normal enough too – who knows?), the really strange bit about the snake speaking would be no major matter. That is to say, if Adam and Eve were already used to communicating with angels, then that clears up the interpretive question mark of the talking snake quite neatly.

More importantly, it supports a reading of the text that holds that the snake was possessed by an angel, not acting of its own accord as an animal. There are people who make this argument – “Since the Genesis text only says nachash, it must really have only been a snake, nothing more and nothing less.” I can’t exactly disprove this directly – as what I just went through is essentially just speculation on my part – but the passage does make perfectly good sense if you hold that the snake was being possessed by a fallen angel (that is, Satan).

At any rate, back to progressive revelation and Genesis 3:15. Upon an initial reading it may seem like this verse is just a literal curse against snakes. After all, snakes do strike at our heels as humans, and we do crush their heads (that is, interpreted, we kill them). But why emphasize the seed of the woman then? Is that just a poetic way of saying “humanity in general?”

Perhaps. That’s what the doubters say. But what is actually the case is that the “seed of the woman” mentioned in Genesis 3:15 is Jesus Christ, making Genesis 3:15 a prophecy. Jesus crushed Satan’s head with his victory on the cross – Satan has already lost! Satan is thus the serpent whose head is crushed.

We can keep going, too. Genesis 3:14 speaks of the serpent being driven down to the earth. That sounds an awful lot like Revelation 12:9.

Technical discussion

In the Greek in Revelation 12:9, we have “ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς.” That’s a lot of articles!

The adjectives μέγας (great/large) and ἀρχαῖος (ancient) go with δράκων (dragon) and ὄφις (serpent), respectively. The particular construct being used here follows the format “article > noun > article > adjective”, putting the adjective in the attributive position.

After those, καλούμενος is a participle and also in the attributive position, although this time just between the article and the proper noun Διάβολος. This is a different construct – that is, “article > adjective (participle here) > noun” – but has the exact same grammatical meaning.

Finally, we have the conjunction καὶ (and) and then an article and another proper noun in Σατανᾶς. Because of the coordinating conjunction, we are to take καλούμενος with ὁ Σατανᾶς as well.

Putting it all together, we then get “the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan.”

It might be a bit of a jump to identify the serpent of Genesis 3 with Satan just on account of “ancient serpent” being equated with “Satan” in Revelation 12:9 (cf. also Revelation 20:2), although that’s strong enough all on its own. What really seals it is the parallel of being driven down to the earth.

Some people still somehow explain all this away… but, well, they explain away a lot, as you can see. Once you see the typological connections between Jesus and the seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent, Satan and the serpent whose head gets crushed, and Satan as the serpent driven down to the earth, the only reasonable course in interpretation is to accept the clear prophetic typology.

I should note that prophetic typology and dual-application is super common in Old Testament prophecy. For example, another dual-application passage typologically related to Satan is Ezekiel 28:1-19 (note especially verses 11 through 19). These words (at least many of them) applied to the literal King of Tyre (i.e., a historical human being), but the passage also very clearly shifts into talking about Satan, and what brought about his fall. We might also here note that once again Satan is said to be “thrown to the earth” (verse 17), fitting right in with Genesis 3:14 and Revelation 12:9.

I will close off this discussion by noting that properly interpreting things the way that we have laid out here makes Genesis 3:15 a powerful promise of Satan’s defeat (because all prophecies of God truly are promises), alongside the promise symbolized by the so-called “protoevangelium” = “first gospel” (the animal skins God gave to Adam and Eve to cover their sin – blood sacrifice provided by God to redeem them). When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, while they lost paradise, they were not left completely bereft, for God had already even at this point told them through these things (that is, the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, and the animal skins of the protoevangelium) that they – representing humanity – would always have salvation so long as they believe. Even despite the curses of the fall!

Even more importantly, all of this shows that God was not surprised by the fall. He is not reacting to Satan, remember? (Cf. again when God used Satan in the events of 1 Chronicles 21:1-6ff.). Quite to the contrary: Satan, being a mere creature, is actually just serving as a pawn in God’s plan (despite the fact that he does not want this to be so), all the while inexorably marching ever onwards towards his inevitable defeat, his eternal destiny of being cast into the Lake of Fire forever.

So no, to reiterate again, God was not at all surprised by the fall. When God created mankind, the cross that very instant became inevitable, and He knew that. Before His first creative act, the Son (the second member of the Trinity) had already committed Himself to taking on weak human vesture – eternally tying Himself to us – and even more than that, committed Himself to living a life full of suffering, committed Himself to dying for the sins of the whole world, dying for the sins of all humans who ever have and ever will live. It was planned from the very beginning. Even knowing this, God created us anyway, thereby cementing the necessity of the cross, and the sacrifice of His Son. That is how much He loves us. We ought to always remember these astounding things, and the price that was paid to redeem us – the price that Jesus willingly paid to save us, even though we are unworthy.

Does the Voice Bring Conviction?


In our examination of how to discern the voice of God, we started by discussing how God will only ever lead us on paths that agree with the Bible. Now we are turning to another point: the idea of conviction. Spiritual truth is spiritually known; the Holy Spirit convicts us of it in our hearts. But the Holy Spirit will not do the same for things that are false. So it is that if a voice is from God, we ought to be able to firmly commit ourselves to listening to that voice, without double-mindedness or cognitive dissonance. God calls us to peace, and while following Him will be far from easy, deep down in our hearts, we ought to be able to tell that we are doing the right thing when we pick up our cross and follow after Jesus.

The thing that complicates all this is that God doesn’t force our hand, but allows us to harden our hearts, to lie to ourselves… and quite effectively at that. For this reason, emotional comfort is not itself enough. It’s pretty easy to be satisfied with one’s approach if you never read the Bible, for example, and only surround yourselves with friends who aren’t even believers. They will tell you that your sin is acceptable, and you might then even come to believe it and be comfortable in your choice to wallow, without it paining you. But that sort of conviction is no good at all!

The trick is being able to have that easy confidence when actually doing everything right. You need to be convicted based on the truth of what the Bible says, not based on selfish human rationalization. If you can’t have peace on a path when you spend time in the Word and in prayer about the matter – if you can’t have confidence when you truly put the matter in the Lord’s hands – then whatever it is you might think you have, conviction it is not.

This week’s lesson starts on page 71 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 01/29/2023.

On the Human Capacity for Self-Deception


In this week’s lesson, we talked about how God’s voice will convict us of the truth – whether that means convicting us of sin, or giving us bold confidence to pursue a path of action that is necessary to pursue God’s plans for us. Being able to act with the confidence of doing the right thing is a great blessing.

Yet, one need not read much history at all to come to the conclusion that many, perhaps even most humans act with great conviction, yet clearly act against God’s truth. What then is godly conviction? It cannot just be a “feeling” divorced from the truth, because if it were merely having confidence of one’s correctness, then all these people who think themselves right would not in fact be dead wrong. Just look at the Pharisees.

No, quite to the contrary. Godly conviction is less about emotion than it is about the truth – knowledge that one is obeying the scriptures and acting in accordance with the commands of God. It is rooted first and foremost in understanding of the Bible and spiritual growth. For example, you must grow spiritually to develop the discernment necessary to have conviction about what ministry God wants you to perform (for every one of us has a job to do in the body of Christ; compare 1 Corinthians 12).

The operative point we will be examining on this page specifically is the idea that we must be on guard to to ensure that we do not deceive ourselves and act contrary to the truth. By examining passages that outline the human capacity for self-deception, it should be clear to us that we must always be checking our confidence against the Word of God, and tossing it out as rubbish if we realize it does not line up. Otherwise our conviction – strong as it may be – will only be getting in the way of what it is God actually wants us to do – what He would actually convict us of (rather than whatever we have convicted ourselves of), if we would but open our hearts and minds to His truth.


Example verses concerning the idea of human self-deception
The deceitfulness of the human heart

To start of with, how about a cheery verse discussing the nature of the human heart?

We have no basis for trusting our own hearts. We are indwelt by the sin nature, as all humans have been since Adam (excepting Christ; part of the reason why the virgin birth is important). We are, down to a person, biased by the flesh. If we were witnesses taking the stand, we have already been tampered with, already taken a bribe.

Consequently, we ought not trust our own judgement any further than we can throw it. We ought to instead only trust the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit will use to convict our hearts of the truth, if we would but choose to listen to Him rather than charging ahead and dictating to God.

General example verses about self-deception

But if we don’t choose to listen, the Bible is very clear that we can deceive ourselves. It is far from impossible.

Self-deception can even apply to salvation

Many people don’t like talking about these verses. Uncomfortable subject, this. Who wants to think about the chilling fact that not all Israel is Israel (Romans 9:6-7)?

Yet there are those who engage in something that they call Christianity that will nonetheless end up in the Lake of Fire forever, for the only thing that is important is believing in who Jesus was and what He did for us on the cross by taking the penalty for our sin upon His shoulders. God is Just – He offers salvation to all, gives all an equal chance to respond to Him. Literally all we have to do is not say no! But He does not ever make exceptions or excuse unbelief. Not even for people who outwardly adopt the title of Christian and engage in things that society thinks are good, like giving money to the poor.

How can people who spit in God’s face by rejecting the Son He sacrificed on their behalf then turn around and consider themselves Christians and children of God – even consider themselves and their group “better Christians” than other Christians (cf. cults)? That’s human self-deception. That people can redefine salvation to be a set of legalistic works and then actually believe it ought to terrify us. Not because our own salvation is imperiled when we come to this realization (we are saved so long as we actually believe in Jesus Christ – end of story), but because it ought to thus be obvious to us that humans can in fact lie to themselves to such a degree that they get something as important as salvation by grace through faith dead wrong, all while being completely blind to it. They think they are right, legitimately believe it. But they are not.

Self-deception runs on human arrogance

Human arrogance is such that we all fail to recognize our own pitiful state; we all overestimate how much we have it together, and underestimate how much we need God. The Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 typifies this pattern of blindness, but it applies in greater or lesser measure to all Christians. It is more than possible for people to think themselves upon the right path while in fact not even being close. The point is that we must never forget this truth, but must instead turn it upon ourselves reflexively to make sure that anything that we think and believe has the Word of God behind it, rather than human rationalization and self-deception.

The Bible would not have verses about examining and testing ourselves if it were not important

Consider these verses:

It makes no sense for the Bible to speak of us testing and examining ourselves unless it was possible for us to be deceiving ourselves.

Does this mean we ought to always be fearful of “not really believing?” No. If we believe, we believe, and that is that. We need to have confidence in that. If we want to actually believe something, we do. We can’t mess it up like that; we do have free will.

But nothing will protect us from believing the wrong things, or actual unbelief. That free will cuts both ways. This is why we must always test ourselves against the scriptures to make sure that we really are holding to God’s truth, not some straw man version of it we have set up in our hearts. For, as we have just seen, it is more than possible for us humans to lie to ourselves so effectively that we completely blind ourselves to the truth, even though we claim we have it. Would that we would care enough to study the truth so that we might not be those people!

We Ought Not Have Unrealistic Expectations about Spiritual Conviction


One of the most natural questions to ask when the topic of spiritual conviction comes up, in my opinion, is the question of exactly what matters it typically applies in, and how far it goes. Are we given a wealth of detailed guidance, or only the barest hint of an outline as how we ought to order our behavior? Which extreme is the reality of the situation actually closer to?

It is a good question, for if we spend lots of time with an ear to the ground, listening for answers about things that God will in no way give us specific guidance on, at best we waste our time, and at worst we will come to listen to some voice that is not from God. So it does make sense to discuss the topic of exactly what conviction means for us as Christians, and whether we should regularly expect it in our lives. This page will set out to discuss such things.



For most matters in life, the Bible doesn’t give us specifics. Generalizing a bit, God tells us what is important writ large, but does not give us anything like direct verbal answers to every little thing we have to make decisions on. Figuring out how to map spiritual truth onto the complex, messy situations before us in life – that’s something that falls to us. We get better at it as we grow spiritually – that is, learning, believing, and applying more and more of God’s truth.

Consider that this state of affairs does not come about because God could not provide us clearer answers for all the things we ask. He is Omniscient and Omnipotent. So, given verses like Matthew 7:7-8, why doesn’t He just instantly give us those answers, firm feelings regarding which path to take?

Well, who are we to say that it would be better for us to actually immediately get such answers and conviction for all our matters of discernment? If we believe Romans 8:28, no matter what happens, God is working all things out for our ultimate (spiritual) good. In fact, it is the best – the superlative is appropriate. The Plan of God is completely perfect. So if we don’t get any firm answers from God as to exactly what we ought to do about some specific thing, it is no accident.

Nowhere does Romans 8:28 say that we will understand God’s plans most or even much of the time. When you think about it, the reason for such is kind of obvious. We are incredibly finite beings with perspectives warped by our own sinful flesh and Satan’s world system trying to turn us away from God at every turn. Even the most spiritually advanced among us are still just puny humans. Who are we to talk to back to God? Do we really think we know better than Him now, hm? Perhaps we feel that we are owed guidance. That it is somehow our due. But just as a parent cannot always explain their complicated reasons to their whiny indignant four-year-old (even if they wanted to), so to does our blind human perspective pretty sharply limit God’s ability to share with us the real reasons behind things in life.

This case might perhaps feel like one of those that is fundamentally incomprehensible for that reason, but it really isn’t as incomprehensible as all that. Put simply, God doesn’t immediately answer every decision we put before Him like some sort of divine magic eight ball because He views the development of our faith as more important than our temporal gratification. If God were to answer our every question instantly, where is there room for faith on our part in that? How then could God perfectly work every single thing out right under our noses – even better than we could have ever imagined or prayed for ourselves – thereby demonstrating His perfect faithfulness… if we would but trust Him, trust that He has it all in hand?

So it is that we are left down here to struggle with limited perspective and imperfect information in order to demonstrate exactly how much we really do trust the Lord. He will always come through for us – maybe not in a way that maximizes comfort or wealth or any other ephemeral material parameter, but in a way that maximizes our spiritual wellbeing – but we have to have faith and wait upon Him. That is much the point, in fact.

This does not mean that God does not give us enough information to do what we ought

Put quite simply, we are always given enough information to make the decision we ought. These two propositions are not identical:

  • God gives us all the information we need
  • God gives us all the information we need to be so confident in our path that things will be crystal clear, without having to take difficult steps of faith

No matter what decisions stare us down (college major, career, who to marry, how to deal with difficult family relationships, what to focus one’s ministry efforts on as an individual calling, etc. etc.), if we actually trusted God as we ought, we could always “get it right.” Always.

So never ought the excuse “but I didn’t have enough information!” cross our lips. Enough information for what?

For example, let’s say you come to decide that you need to change you major after already being in college two years. Seems like wasted time and money, right? But what happens if God has some greater plan at work here? What happens if you might use that information you now think is fall-through in some way in the future? How do you know that such a thing for sure won’t happen?

Or maybe you really were being selfish and hardheaded in pursuing the earlier major, and you finally got your act together and started listening to God’s prodding that had been there all along. That’s possible too, sure. It actually doesn’t matter. The past is in the past. We just need to not get resentful and blame God. Either He has His reasons, or we we failed to listen as we ought. We’ll probably never know exactly what combination between these things (and others besides) truly explains “the why.” The point is that God always gives us everything we need to follow Him as He wants us to. If we make a mess of it, then that is on us, not Him.

Emphasizing this is important because the very worst thing we can do is make excuses for ourselves and blame God. If it seems to us like we prayed and prayed for guidance only to end up on a bad path that we had to backtrack on later (“why couldn’t you have just pushed me in this correct direction in the first place when I asked!”), things didn’t happen that way for a reason, one way or another, and that reason is never because God is unfairly stingy in His guidance.

The principle is in fact absolute

Very often the toughest matters of discernment are matters of application wherein there is no global absolute to go on. Sometimes people fancy themselves clever for having come up with some hypothetical thought experiment that seems to defy any possibility of knowing the “right answer.”

But if we pray earnestly, no matter how bad our intel, we can still always do what God wants of us, given where we are. We always have that potential. Even if some of these challenging hypotheticals were to actually come about for us personally (and that is sometimes not even remotely realistic), well we can properly answer all such things when we actually face them personally and pray for guidance, relying on the Holy Spirit that indwells us. We must have faith in that.

But, again, having all we need to follow God’s Will is different from it always being clear and dead obvious

Conviction is a spectrum, and we have no guarantees about where all matters in our life will fall, as we have just been discussing.

Blessedly, we can have rock-solid conviction about many things. For example:

  • God loves us, loves us so much that He sent His only Son to take the penalty of our sins in our place.
  • Our sin – no matter how dark a stain it may truly be – has been paid for and wiped out. If we but confess and mean it, that is it. It was already nailed to the cross with Christ, so God has justified legal basis for now declaring us clean, so long as we rest in the blood of His Son.
  • As long as we believe, nothing can separate us from God and His love (cf. Romans 8:38-39) – for now, and forever.
  • Everything that happens happens for a reason, maximizing the ultimate spiritual good of all (Romans 8:28).
  • Etc.

In fact, everything the Bible truly teaches we can be rock-solid on. The problem is that there is plenty in life that is not directly addressed in the Bible. What to do then? Well, we can certainly avoid the extremes:

  • On one side, we should avoid getting improperly preoccupied with “getting conviction” on every minute decision in our life – majoring on the minors. God probably doesn’t have grand spiritual guidance on which brand of paper towels to buy, for example. You probably ought to just pick one and get on with doing the spiritual things he actually wants you to do!
  • On the other side, while it true that being overmuch enthusiastic about making all minor decisions matters of spiritual life and death is going to open you up to all sorts of problems, being too closed to the spiritual dimension behind reality is a very perilous approach too. We need to always evaluate things on the eternal spiritual plane, not the ephemeral material one. We shouldn’t waste lots of our time endlessly praying about minor nothings, yes, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that all of our decisions have spiritual implications, will all come together to echo for us throughout eternity. We always need to be listening for God’s Will in our everyday decisions too, because everything in this life for us as Christians ought to revolve around God’s Will – for the world generally, and for us specifically.

Perhaps all of this is seems unsatisfying, leaving things vague and far from parsed out in a clear set of rules and principles. Welcome to life – grey and messy.

Sometimes conviction comes stronger with time, but sometimes not

To close us out, it is worth noting that it is not uncommon to better understand things with some 20/20 hindsight – for stronger conviction to come after we find ourselves halfway down a path, not when we first find ourselves at the fork. I personally have a couple examples of this phenomenon from my own life:

  • Transferring universities to learn Greek and Hebrew to prepare for a role in Bible teaching
  • Studying for and then working a day job as a software engineer rather than going through seminary, ending up in academia, or following some other career path.

It was not until I was months down these paths that things crystallized into full certainty in my mind. When I was forced to make the decisions in the moment – through much prayer – I honestly was not confident that I was not making mistakes in both cases. But over time God opened my eyes to things that had been hidden before, things that gave me a level of peace and certainty that I hadn’t had at the beginning.

We cannot always expect this across all situations though. Sometimes that process of difficult faith and persistent lack of answers may drag out rather than getting resolved in a few short weeks or months. No matter what, we just need to trust that settled emotions or not, if we are doing everything we can to learn, believe, and apply God’s Word to our lives (and keep in constant prayer about it all too) – if we are doing everything that we are supposed to – that God will work things all out perfectly. As Christian soldiers upon the battlefield of this life, we can keep our heads down and let our commanding officer handle all the rest – for there is no greater commanding officer than Jesus Christ.

The Momentousness of Acts 2


This week, our Workbook examined the idea of conviction through the lens of Acts 2:32-41. This is the end of Peter’s address to the crowd at Pentecost.

These verses present an example of how conviction works in practice. First, the truth is presented (vv. 32-36). Then the people, upon hearing the truth, are convicted of its truth… and thus indirectly, are convicted of their mistake in crucifying their own Messiah (v. 37)! Their realization of the truth naturally leads to them to the question of what they should now do based upon this truth; true conviction always demands response on our part. Finally, Peter answers this question (v. 38). When God convicts us of something, he never leaves us in the lurch, but always gives us the direction that our response must take. (If we ask for it and truly want it, at any rate).

Hopefully all this (which our lesson in the Workbook covered – more or less) is clear enough. But this page, instead of focusing upon these main points, will instead briefly examine a couple contextual points that may throw into relief the true importance of this day in Church history, and the poignance of thousands of Jews all at once becoming aware of their past blindness, and collectively being pierced to the heart. It’s powerful stuff.


Acts 2 is really when the Church takes off numbers-wise. It represents a massive change in scale

Acts 1:15 states quite clearly that the number of believers at that time numbered around 120. Contextually, the “they” of Acts 2:1 is this group (we get this from the third person plural ending on ἦσαν combined with the fact that there is no noun in the sentence to directly serve as a subject – since the subject of “were all together in one place” is not stated directly in the sentence, the subject must come from earlier).

So those who spoke in tongues in the first part of Acts 2 were the people making up this small group of initial believers, the very first people in the New Testament Church. It is somewhat startling when you consider how many people congregated around Jesus when He did miracles and taught the crowds. Thousands were touched by his ministry, yet just a few dozen are gathered soon after His resurrection and ascension. We do not know exactly how many of those Jesus had sent out before (e.g., Luke 10:1ff.) were part of this group, so it is possible there were more godly people who were not present in Jerusalem at this time, for whatever reason. One might also consider some of those from the Samaritan village who had believed (John 4:39-42), for example, among other individuals or groups mentioned throughout the gospels (like the centurions of Matthew 8:5-13 and Mark 15:37-39, who perhaps were not able to leave their posts to be together with the other believers). We needn’t get overly fixated on the precise number; the point is that the overall number of people starts out startlingly small.

This is an important point to make given that after Peter’s Spirit-filled speech at Pentecost, Acts 2:41 says that “about three thousand” (ὡσεὶ τρισχίλιαι) were added to their number. Three thousand. Whether the multiplier was actually a full 30-fold, or was perhaps a bit less than that overall, the point is that the change here is drastic, and would lead to fundamental and sweeping changes in the structure and organization of the Church.

We should thus bear in mind whenever we talk of the conversion of these folks at Pentecost exactly how massive a thing this day was. It represents, in many ways, the day the Church was truly born. For while there were believers before Pentecost, Pentecost marks the coming of Holy Spirit and beginning the Church Age as a distinct phase of human history.

Many of these new converts were the very same people who may have clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion

Consider again Acts 2:36-37 (also cf. v. 23). In context, it clear that the thing that really pierced many of Peter’s listeners to the heart was the realization that they had crucified the very Messiah that they had been waiting for for hundreds of years!

In some ways, this collective realization on the part of the Jews prefigures the collective realization that will occur at the second return of Christ (Revelation 1:7, cf. Matthew 24:30), when Jewish people alive at the second coming will recognize the Messiah returning in glory, and once again collectively turn to Him:

Quote from Ichthys

every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him: The dramatic return of our Lord will be visible to everyone on earth. Singled out for special mention are His kindred people, Israel, in the phrase “those who pierced Him”, referring to the episode at the cross as predicted by Zechariah (compare Jn.19:34-37 with Zech.12:10; cf. Ps.22:16). This is a description of an instantaneous repentance and conversion of the Jews alive at the Second Advent when they witness the return of the Messiah as explained by the apostle Paul (Rom.9-11): the “hardness in part” that has characterized the majority of the descendants of Abraham since the 1st Advent will dissolve instantly upon the Messiah’s return.

Of course, we Gentiles are now part of the Church as well. But in these cases – both past and future – there is something decidedly right about God’s chosen people turning to Him en masse, a dramatic show of collective repentance. In much the same way as the prodigal son returning home, the things out of place will be set to rights, as the separation between Israel and the Church will be completely torn down, never again to rise. For we will all then be truly one in Christ, forever. Israel, after millennia of hardness, will have finally come home, joining us at the feet of the Father.

At any rate, the upshot for our passage here in Acts 2 is that this event hits hard on account of exactly who it is being convicted. It was not some group of people who had never heard of Jesus who were so stirred by Peter’s speech that they put their faith in Him. Instead, the crowd here was composed – at least in part – of the very Jews who had pushed for Jesus’ crucifixion (or if not that, had nonetheless not opposed it when Jesus was turned over to Pilate in a mockery of Justice).

So, again, we need to view this account of mass conversion at Pentecost as something a great deal more important than a bunch of random people being converted. For it marks the repentance of many Jews, who would go on to become the backbone of the very early Church as it expanded outwards from Judea to encompass the Roman Mediterranean. Those who had set themselves against God’s Son came to realize the truth, and decided to be born again, throwing themselves upon the Mercy of the very one they had betrayed. It ought to give us chills, even today.

Conviction Is Not Based upon Emotion, but upon the Truth


In an earlier discussion page from this week, we examined the fact that it is completely possible for human beings to deceive themselves and yet be completely unaware of such. I did not particularly break out the root causes of self-deception there, but it turns out that there are a couple different umbrella categories.

On the one hand, some people lie to themselves by twisting scripture: pulling things out of context, improperly limiting or expanding the scope of things based on false interpretations of perceived audience (e.g., some people in the present day say “Well, Paul only meant this to apply to the people in the time/culture he wrote to, not us!”), or even just picking the wrong interpretation of multiple possibilities based on less overtly incorrect (though still incorrect) reasoning. The key word here would be “rationalization.” These folks still base the evidence for their positions on the Bible, they just have such faulty presuppositions – or do such violence to the text itself, hermeneutic principles, logic, or some combination thereof – that their “Bible-supported position” is in truth nothing of the sort.

On the other hand, others lie to themselves by making it all about how they feel, minimizing the role the Bible itself plays in their beliefs. Arguing with such people is very difficult, because emotion/experience is not directly falsifiable. If someone says “I feel like God has told me that I ought to ‘speak in tongues’ when I pray,” well, you can’t have much of a debate about 1) what “speaking in tongues” means to begin with (e.g., in Greek, the word γλῶσσα refers to a real language, not babbled nonsense – cf. Acts 2:4-12), and 2) whether this practice is something that God still empowers even in the modern day. Both things are simply presupposed based upon how the other party “feels,” with emotion put forth as the last word on the matter.

Of course, many times, people believe things that are false due to a veritable “cocktail” of rationalizations and presuppositions and mental gymnastics. These things are not necessarily mutually exclusive with each other, in other words. Nonetheless, on this page, we are going to briefly examine just the relationship between emotion and conviction, and make a case that true conviction is based primarily upon the truth as contained in the Word of God, not emotion.


Why emotion alone is a faulty basis for establishing spiritual truth

Put simply, human emotions are fickle. They are not consistent enough to draw conclusions from; any conclusions that people do try to draw from them are not repeatable or generalizable.

There really isn’t a great deal more to it than that. For anyone who is truly honest with themselves, it ought to be obvious that our emotions don’t always track perfectly with the truth, at least not initially. For example, most people have a very positive emotional response regarding God’s love and grace, and not nearly so much positive emotional energy when it comes to actually putting in the hard work of daily Bible reading and taking in Bible teaching in order to grow to spiritual maturity.

To be clear, this does not mean that we need to be utterly against emotions as Christians, or try to stifle them, as if they are necessarily evil. Emotions are part of being human (cf. John 11:33-36). There is nothing inherently wrong with them, per se. We can be joyful when we have occasion to be joyful, and mournful when we have occasion to be mournful. We can laugh, and cry, and feel outrage at evil conduct. We do not need to try to somehow not feel these things.

The point is simply that our emotions ought not be in the driver’s seat, but us. The truth is a thing independent from them. When our emotions line up with the truth, well and good. But if they do not, well, best go with the Bible, not our emotions.

Example: Facing down the wind and the waves

In Matthew 14:22-33 Peter starts walking out to Jesus upon the water, but when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink.

The Lord of the Universe had just told Peter to come out to Him. What did Peter have to be afraid of? Yet he was afraid nonetheless… because it was an emotional reaction, not one based on the truth. His emotions told him that he was in trouble, that nature’s fury would overcome him. And, believing them, he earns a soft rebuke for his lack of faith.

My purpose in bringing up the example of Peter’s reaction here is this: it is common for our initial emotional response to events to be particularly untrustworthy. If we keep throwing truth at our emotions, eventually they’ll get back in line. But if we let them rule us, we will be like Peter, and find ourselves sinking beneath the waves, even though God is so much more powerful than any storm could ever be.

This is why following our emotions (rather than leading them) is dangerous.

Example: Joy in suffering

As another example, the Bible directly tells us to rejoice when suffering comes upon us (compare Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4). But is that really what humans tend towards, our initial emotional response?

If you want a persuasive yet short argument against the idea of basing much of anything at all upon our emotions, one good option would be something like: “The Bible commands us to look to the spiritual – seeing how testing grows our faith – in order to have genuine joy amidst suffering. The initial emotional response to intense suffering, common among all humans to one degree or another, is decidedly not joy. Therefore, our emotions cannot reliably be used to drive our spiritual outlook, QED.”

The natural response we feel when finding ourselves in the middle of suffering is dismay, not joy. As we grow more mature, we definitely will get better at looking to the unseen spiritual dimension in order to bolster our attitude and square our shoulders like good Christian soldiers – in order to snap out of our emotion-induced pity party that much faster. The more we believe 2 Corinthians 4:17 – really believe it – the less phased we will be by the temporary afflictions of the world. But we will still probably always have to wrestle our feelings in line at least some, to get back our peace and joy when things really get tough.

Emotional conviction vs. spiritual conviction

The Holy Spirit operates upon the truth in our hearts. The more biblical knowledge we store up in our hearts (from reading our Bibles and taking in Bible teaching from gifted and prepared Bible teachers – from growing spiritually), the more “spiritual capital” the Holy Spirit has to work with within us.

For us to become spiritually convicted about something, the Holy Spirit operates by means of this truth. This is why our spiritual discernment grows as our knowledge of the Bible grows; the two things are intrinsically linked.

Hopefully all this makes it clear why emotions have no part in true spiritual conviction. Emotions are simply not involved on either side of the equation. This means that they are, more or less, a red herring when it comes to what we ought to think, say, and do. The truth is the truth; it doesn’t care if we feel good about it, if we feel downright lousy about it, or if we are somewhere in between. We still have a duty to accept it and obey it, no matter how we might feel.

By way of contrast, emotional conviction operates independently from the biblical truth stored up in our hearts, and independent from the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Without God’s Word and the indwelling Holy Spirit coming together to shine light on our path, why would we expect emotional conviction to be worth much of anything at all? Seems obvious, right?

Yet, even so, it is still difficult in the moment to keep this in mind, and keep ourselves from getting caught up by the tide when it sweeps over us. Being able to resist – to hold firm to the truth, no matter how strong the waves of emotion – requires spiritual growth on our part, and lots of it.

So once again, growing spiritually (by consistently reading our Bibles and taking in Bible teaching from gifted and prepared teachers) is our answer, the answer as to how to deal with emotions in a godly way. You will seldom ever be wrong in guessing that spiritual growth is the ultimate answer to some problem we might face as Christians, and this case is no exception.

Does the Voice Call You to Trust God?


We humans have an unfortunate tendency to only trust in that which we can see right before our eyes. Those are things that are safe, things without as much risk and uncertainty. Maybe trusting in these things seems wise; after all, as the saying goes, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” But consider… these are also paths that don’t require much faith. If we can do it all on our own, what need have we for God? On the other hand, sometimes taking the road that seems to have an infinite number of unknowns – the road blocked by thorny hedges and landmines (as it were) – is not exercising godly faith in choosing a path that requires us to lean on God, but is instead exercising foolishness in picking a path that is obviously the wrong one. Yet… knowing the one from the other requires spiritual growth. See a pattern in these lessons? Spiritual growth – as accomplished by consistently reading our Bibles and listening to our Bible teachers – is basically the answer to all problems, if we would just deign to do it as we ought.

In this week’s teaching, we went over how God’s voice will challenge us to trust Him. There is no growth without stretching those faith muscles, and that usually means that we will somehow have to trust God and put it all in His hands rather than relying on our own abilities. This life for us Christians is in truth all about faith and how far we are willing to push it, and we would do well to remember that truth when the road forks before us. The world will insist that the path of career success, material prosperity, financial stability, “keeping up with the Jones’s,” and so on is certainly the one that we ought to take – even earning it with our own hands, according to the great American dream. But if we are only willing to trust in our own hands, then how can God work great things through us according to His power? He can only work fully through those who submit themselves to Him and trust in Him, not themselves.

So voices that don’t demand faith of us probably aren’t from God, because it is only through exercising faith – that is, through leaning on God’s power not our own – that Christians can really do most of what we are actually called to do.

This week’s lesson starts on page 79 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/05/2023.

Faith Is Not Irrational


In this week of our study, the Workbook used Hebrews 11:1-6 and Hebrews 11:13-16 in its discussion of how another variable in determining if a voice is of God is if it calls us to trust God, to exercise faith.

Hebrews 11 starts off with a definition of faith: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This page will examine this statement, especially as it relates to the idea that having faith is not somehow illogical, despite not having “proof” in the sense that science-focused skeptics want.


Technical discussion
The translation of Hebrews 11:1

This sentence is not that complex grammatically. The core sentence is “ἔστιν πίστις ὑπόστασις… [ἔστιν πίστις] ἔλεγχος”. This is a normal “{subject} {linking verb} {complement}” construction, with the only twist being that there are two complements, but without a coordinating conjunction between them (that is, there is no καί between ὑπόστασις and ἔλεγχος). The subject and linking verb are thus implicitly understood to go with both complements: “faith is assurance… [faith is] conviction.”

Ichthys’ translation of this verse – “It is faith [in the Living and written Word], moreover, that substantiates what we hope for. [Faith] provides proof of things unseen” – doesn’t mirror the exact grammatical structure as much, using indirect statement in the first bit (i.e., “it is faith… that”).

Arguably, Ichthys’ translation that translates with verbal phrases (that is, “faith substantiates… faith provides proof”) adds clarity, but on the other hand translating more literally (that is, “faith is assurance… faith is conviction”) works fine too. The meaning is clear either way.

Analysis of Hebrews 11:1

“Things hoped for” have not yet happened. How can you prove that they even will happen?

“Things not seen” are not before us. How can you prove that they even exist?

For us as Christians, our confidence in things that haven’t happened yet comes from faith, as does our confidence in things that we cannot see (the spiritual realm). This is what Hebrews 11:1 says, in essence.

We cannot prove that prophecy will play out how God says it will with science, or verify the promises He makes us about eternity with science. We also cannot prove the existence of the spiritual realm with science, as it cannot be observed or measured like the material world.

This is because science (at least the epistemologically-sound variety, rather than the wild scholarly speculation that is rampant within some fields like evolutionary biology and the branch of theoretical astrophysics concerned with the creation of the universe) by its very nature only deals with the material world that can be subject to observation and experimentation. Metaphysics is simply outside its purview, or at least it ought to be.

All of this is a natural conversation to have when talking about Hebrews 11:1, because while Hebrews 11:1 doesn’t say in so many words that there is no other way (that is, aside from faith) to have assurance of things hoped for or conviction of things unseen, it is very much an inference we are supposed to make.

Why is this important? Well, because it tells us that…

Faith is necessary, not illogical

It may seem incredibly obvious, but faith is actually 100% necessary for us to believe what we must as Christians. Let me repeat that: faith is necessary. Christianity without faith is no Christianity at all.

The fundamentals of Christianity largely center around who Jesus was (fully God yet fully man), what He did for us upon the cross, and how He was resurrected from the dead. Respectively:

  • How could one “prove” that Jesus is God according to observation strictly of the material? You might make the argument that Jesus’ miracles proved his divinity, but Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 7-8 did miracles too (presumably somehow through the power of demons, whether that was full demon possession or not), and the false prophet in Revelation is also said to have miraculous power (compare Revelation 13:11-18 – the false prophet is distinct from the beast per Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10, and is somewhat like a cheerleader for the beast, albeit one having great power of his own).
  • What’s more, how could any human actually “prove” that Jesus paid the price for all human sin upon the cross, facing the fiery judgement of God in our place? That’s definitely what the Bible teaches, but how do you prove that with science? You just can’t; the very idea is nonsensical. Because the judgement happened spiritually when Jesus was physically hanging upon the cross.
  • And finally, in the modern day, it is simply impossible for us to test or verify observationally whether Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead. We cannot have video evidence or what have you. It’s just impossible.

The points being brought up here are sorely lacking in many discussions about faith and science. Christians are made to feel like they are uneducated and ignorant for having faith, that faith is somehow illogical. But science can say exactly nothing about whether Jesus paid for human sin when upon the cross, for example. Literally the only way to take a position on that proposition is through faith. Even if you wanted to do things “the science way,” it is simply not a possibility.

The thing is, God never demands that we believe things that contravene reason and logic. That most people in the world have deceived themselves into thinking that Christianity actually does contravene logic (e.g., they’ll say that evolution contradicts Genesis) is neither here nor there. It matters not what other people think or how many of them think it (see the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum). It only matters what is in fact true.

Where I am going with all this is that we cannot even “prove” (in the scientific sense, according to observation of and experimentation with the material world) that Jesus was God and that He fully paid for human sin upon the cross and that he was subsequently resurrected from the dead – the very most fundamental points of Christianity. If we have confidence in these things, that confidence comes 100% from faith and 0% from material evidence. It is thus no surprise that everything else in Christianity largely follows suit – the “things hoped for” (such as future promises of our eternal home) and the “things not seen” (such as the spiritual battle being waged all around us) all rest upon faith. And the vast majority of them are scientifically untestable propositions.

Define “illogical”

Certain materialists take the epistemological position that any claims that are made absent supporting scientific evidence ought not to be believed. I will readily grant that under the presupposition that this material world is all there is, this is logical. The issue is, that’s a presupposition, not a logically necessary fact. If you presuppose instead that the spiritual does exist, then suddenly talking about about spiritual matters is far from illogical.

The subtle thing that happens in arguments is that people sneak in their presuppositions as fact. How can you scientifically prove that God doesn’t exist? You can’t, if God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. In terms of formal logic, this is purely “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In like manner, you also cannot scientifically prove that Goes does exist. Because again, God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. We can infer his existence (cf. the so-called “God of the gaps” argument), but that is not scientific proof.

Atheists base all their reasoning on the proposition that God does not exist… despite us just saying it is impossible for them to prove such scientifically! They will readily point out that we do the same thing in presupposing that God does exist. And yeah, we do. But we acknowledge the presupposition and call it faith. We don’t pretend our positions are scientifically provable, but instead readily acknowledge that they are not. The difference is that their position is not one whit more scientifically provable, yet they do not similarly acknowledge the fact that their belief that God does not exist actually has no scientific basis. Even though they won’t admit it, theirs too is a faith-based position, a presupposition.

Let me put it this way: what is illogical is asserting that scientifically untestable propositions must (by logical necessity) be true or false “because science”, whichever direction you make the black and white claim. This is illogical because treating things that are not decidable by science as decidable by science is illogical.

Christians do not do this because, while we view our belief as true and correct, we don’t base our confidence in spiritual things on scientific premises, but instead freely acknowledge that our belief rests upon presuppositions that we hold by faith. That our faith picks up where science leaves off, rather than contradicting it.

Final comments

Faith is not just a hunch or something. When we believe things the Bible speaks to, it needs to be absolute, as sure to us as the fact that we draw breath into our lungs. God’s truth, as contained in His Word, is more sure than everything else in the world.

Even if science can’t prove God created the universe from nothing, well, science can’t prove that God didn’t create the universe from nothing either, can it? People can’t run experiments with a controlled randomized trial that has a great enough sample size of universes to ascertain whether there is enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis (e.g.). At best, the astrophysicists can hypothesize based upon the limited evidence available to them. Sometimes their current hypothesis might actually contradict what the Bible says. Well, what of it? The thing about most of the things that trouble materialists (e.g., ex nihilo creation, the ark and worldwide flood in Genesis 6, the virgin birth, etc.) is that there is no way for them to formally disprove these things. They weren’t there. And there are many possible explanations for how things could perhaps end up looking XYZ way to us in the future, yet somehow be misleading at the same time.

The point of all this is that the skepticism of others regarding the Bible’s claims needn’t make us feel ashamed of our faith. For we don’t believe what the Bible says because of empirical scientific evidence; that is going about faith all wrong. We believe it because the Bible says it. That’s all there is to it.

The point I have been trying to make here is that, practically speaking, all those things that atheists have issues believing are no problem whatsoever; their smear campaign against faith is completely toothless, if one takes the time to consider things rationally. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a violation of natural law, to be sure. But what is that to the God who created and sustains the universe, the architect of said natural law?

That’s just one example, someone might say. Well then, what of Jonah and the fish (how does a man survive underwater for days when humans cannot breathe underwater)? What of God protecting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of the fiery furnace (how can human beings stand in a furnace and yet not at all be burned or harmed)? If an Omnipotent God external to spacetime exists, these things are perfectly plausible and not at all illogical to believe – such a God would be more than able to accomplish them. It’s just that without having faith in even that most basic proposition, the truth of all other spiritual matters will be veiled from people’s eyes, and seem like so much nonsense (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). In this way, faith is everything, everything, in this life. And we ought never forget that.

Drawing Inspiration from the Faith of Others


The passage that our workbook quoted from this week, Hebrews 11, describes some of the “heroes of the faith”—believers of the past who are specially commended for their actions of faith.

Although there is much to say concerning these people specifically, on this page we will be examining the general concept of drawing inspiration from the faith of others, and how we might do that in our personal lives, alongside drawing inspiration from exemplary believers mentioned in scripture.


What about so-called saints, famous martyrs, church fathers, the reformers, and so on?

Some traditions tend to make a practice out of looking to other categories of people for inspiration too: so-called saints, famous martyrs, church fathers, the reformers, and so on.

While we don’t want to fall into legalism by banning something scripture does not, it is also true that unverifiable third-party reports may or may not be true. We may glorify God inasmuch as things we hear about these people seem to put Him first and bring Him glory. Perhaps we shouldn’t go so far as to say that it is a uniformly terrible idea for us to try to find inspiration in historical Christians who show up only in history rather than inspired scripture. But it is also true that we must be careful in doing such, that’s all. Appearances can be deceiving.

This is why this page will mostly be discussing people whom we can have direct relationships with in our own lives, and therefore can have less doubt about. It’s hard (perhaps functionally impossible) for someone to fake serious interest in the Bible and actual spiritual growth for a long period of time, and yet not mean it. People who are not genuinely interested will be driven away, because the truth gives no quarter, and it unfailingly divides and convicts (Hebrews 4:12). Any place where the truth is actually being taught in a substantive way (rather than just given lip service to, as is unfortunately common in many modern churches, which barely even teach anything at all, much less anything that could be said to be offensive to and truly demanding of their attendees… since that would drive away said attendees, and therefore money and prestige) – such places actually teaching the truth in a substantive way will be extremely uncomfortable for anyone who doesn’t sincerely want the truth.

All that is a long way of saying that it is relatively safer for us to admire people whose spiritual maturity we can observe ourselves. We can do such with a good bit less wariness than that we probably ought to exercise in admiring the supposed spiritual maturity of historical believers whom others have put up on pedestals… even and perhaps especially if by “others” we mean “well, many Christians in our present lukewarm day.” Even though it sounds really harsh, since in current times many Christians are not truly all that zealous about the hard work of spiritual growth and production (despite what they say with their lips; their lack of care towards the truth in how they organize their lives clearly and irrefutably puts the lie to their words), how likely is it that the people they think are excellent and praiseworthy are really the ones deserving of the most honor in God’s eyes?

See Matthew 19:30; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30. In my estimation, the believers in eternity who will be most highly rewarded will not be the ones most people would guess, but the faithful few who work out God’s Will tirelessly, seeking His glory rather than attention for themselves. Compare also Matthew 6:1-2. This idea of “being careful not to perform righteous acts before men to be seen by them” is precisely why you don’t hear about them, and why they don’t grace the pages of history books as much as the sort that lukewarm believers idolize. Because showing up on magazine covers or the historical equivalent—gaining recognition so that people know of you and say nice things about you—matters not one whit. Only doing the Will of God matters, doing the things He actually demands of us. And God’s judgement on that Great Day of Days will make that incontrovertibly clear to all.

I should close by stating that not all well-known believers of the past were necessarily trying to draw attention to themselves in a Pharisaical manner. Some people who seem great really were great, it is true. The point is that it is difficult to know for certain in a great many cases, and for that reason there are many people held up glowingly as examples that ought to instead be held at arms length more than is commonly the case. Our skepticism should only be stoked all the more by the fact that the truth is usually quite unpopular (since it demands so much from us), such that people whose teaching is beloved are commonly not teaching much truth, as a rule of thumb. And we ought not forget that.

The dangers in comparison; looking to others for inspiration is not really comparison

In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Paul talks about judging nothing before the time. We are not even supposed to judge ourselves, much less others (whose thoughts and motivations and so on we can never truly know).

Nonetheless, it is oftentimes very tempting to compare ourselves to others. This is true regarding such material things as wealth, status, career prestige, and so on, but it can also be true spiritually. To soothe our own egos, we might engage in the practice of trying to see how our choices and our spiritual progress stack up against the choices and spiritual progress of others.

This practice is dangerous for several reasons. First of all, our minds are entirely self-serving, and comparing ourselves to others tends to lead to legalism very quickly. It is easy to make the sins of others seem so much worse than one’s own, to redraw the lines in a way that makes one seem relatively better and others relatively worse than what is accurate to reality.

Secondly, we humans are very poor at judging anything deeper than the surface level. The issue is, what God really cares about most of the time is the heart. It is true that the actions of spiritually mature people—their “spiritual fruit”—will shine forth their faith, but it ought to take only the tiniest bit of honest reflection to realize that it is simply impossible for human beings to really know the hearts of others in the way that would be necessary for us to make completely accurate assessments about “how well they are doing spiritually.”

Finally, comparing the skeletons in our closets tends to put the emphasis on the past, rather than focusing on the present. We can’t change the past and we can’t control the future, so the only day we should care about as Christians is the present. No matter if yesterday holds a long chain of spiritual victories or an unfortunate chain of spiritual defeats, either way, what we ought to be doing today does not actually change one bit. Think about that for a second. Our orders from our Commanding Officer will not wait on excuses of past failure. And if we let focus on the past get in the way, then we are failing as soldiers in the present!

For all these reasons, and others besides, comparing ourselves to other Christians is not something that we ought to do as general practice. The natural question to ask then is if it is possible for us to look to the example of other Christians to find inspiration in our own walk without at the same time engaging in this sort of harmful comparison? While one might be able to make a longer argument, we shall here content ourselves with simply asserting that the two things are not identical—that is, that it is entirely possible for us to draw inspiration from our brothers and sisters in Christ without at the same time necessarily slipping into comparison of the problematic variety.

Given that presupposition, well, who is it exactly we are looking to for spiritual inspiration? We can certainly look to those who came long before—like the folks mentioned in Hebrews 11—but we can also actually look to those around us in our own individual circumstances. We can marvel at the work God is doing through them, appreciate the glory their faith brings to God. We can try to make similar choices in our own lives to similarly reflect God’s glory, try to also act in such a way that God is not ashamed to call us His people. And we can do all of this without slipping into comparison. It mostly just requires us to firmly keep in mind that we are all of us but tools in the hands of the Master Craftsman, and all glory thus belongs to Him, not ourselves.

Examples of Christians in our own lives who we might look to for inspiration
Our Bible teachers

If we are going about the process of spiritual growth correctly, each of us should have a Bible teacher that we submit to, the person we look to as our primary point of contact for answering spiritual questions we may have, the person who provides the primary form of spiritual nourishment that we take in.

Put simply, if we have done well in selecting our Bible teachers, they ought to be very natural people for us to be inspired by. Since trusting their character and spiritual knowledge is something that is all but mandatory anyway for us to be able to submit to them and trust what they say, then it ought to be no surprise that lay Christians commonly end up looking up to their Bible teachers. This is completely right and proper.

Older mentor figures

In my own personal experience, I have found it very helpful to cultivate relationships with Christians older than me, treating them as people with experience and perspective that I lack, people I can learn from. Given that sometimes our Bible teachers end up older than us (although sometimes not too, as there is nothing wrong with younger pastor-teachers—cf. 1 Timothy 4:12), then this sort of “looking up to older believers” idea may overlap with what we discussed above with respect to looking up to our Bible teachers. But it can also be true of other lay Christians in the body of Christ—those who perhaps have a similar role to play as the one you may have identified for yourself, for example.

While age is no guarantee of maturity, with greater age comes greater potential. In this way, while it is perhaps accurate to say that age is commonly overrated in terms of what it means for one’s spiritual maturity, it is also improper to pretend like older folks have had no more time than younger folks to grow in the truth. It is simply not true.

The trick then is finding the older folks who have actually lived lives worthy of emulation, who have made good use of their lives by putting God first and growing spiritually. Not so you can put them up on a pedestal and treat them as some sort of unattainable ideal, but so that you can learn from them—so that the body of Christ might properly build itself up in love.

The high outliers

We might also draw inspiration from people who are in our own generational cohort, or even people who are younger than us. If we look towards people’s spiritual growth and zeal for God, then there will be times when we ought to marvel at all that someone has done given their relative youth, their relative economic or social disadvantage, or whatever else might tend to set certain expectations that these exceptional folks then shatter.

Put simply, the hottest of the red-hot, no matter their age or relation to us, are always worth looking to for inspiration. It may be human nature to struggle to respect young people or poor people or people without lots of education (and so on), but we ought to fight against that, for if we do not, we will find ourselves incapable of drawing encouragement from God’s masterful use of such people, and the example in faith that they set us, if their faith actually is something special.

And that really is all there is to it. Once we recognize, as we ought, that faith is honestly the only thing of importance—and exactly how hard it is to hold tightly onto faith in this world of ours—then in fact it ought to be easy for us to be inspired, even awed, by all those who run an exceptional spiritual race, regardless of everything else about them (like their age or social status or level of education and so on). These other things simply aren’t relevant when it comes to appreciating the witness of their commitment to the Lord.


Alongside the accounts of particularly faithful historical believers we have in scripture, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11, we can also look to Christians in our personal lives for inspiration. The example of these others can serve as a witness to us that the exercising of godly faith was not only something possible for believers of old, but is also something possible for us for us here in the present.

What We Believe Will Always Become a Reality… If and Only If We Target Our Faith Properly


This week, our Workbook made several points:


Our faith gives us assurance that what we believe will become a reality. When we know the character and power of God, and we believe what God has promised, then we can be assured that God will do what He has said He will do.

In the Bible, faith is always God-centered. The writer of Hebrews does not encourage us to have faith in ourselves or in our own desires, but in God. We cannot always make our own dreams successful, regardless of how hard we work to that end. But faith in God is always rewarded. It is not the power of positive thinking, for we are limited in how much we can make our thoughts become a reality. God, however, can bring every one of His purposes to reality in our lives. When we place our faith in Him, we can be absolutely confident that He will do what He has said.

On this page, we will be examining the idea that our faith leads to certain outcomes if and only if said outcomes are in the Will of God. In other words, we do not get to twist God’s promises into whatever we might want them to be.


Not everything we ask for is a guarantee

Consider John 14:13 as an example. When the Bible tells us that Jesus will do whatever we ask in His name, it is a mistake to get greedy, so to speak, about the “whatever.”

God will always do what is best for us spiritually (compare Romans 8:28-30), even unto giving us life eternal. That does not always mean it is what we ourselves might wish for, because very often our perspective is not as complete as God’s is. For example, oftentimes we would wish to avoid suffering in life. However, the Bible is clear that suffering provides the testing that refines our faith, meaning that it is an important part of spiritual growth (compare James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). So is praying that we might avoid all suffering really even a good thing for us, spiritually speaking?

Where I’m going with this is not so much that we ought to pray that we might suffer or not pray that we might be delivered from it, but simply that we must make a point to not get angry at God if we pray to avoid suffering yet find ourselves being tested with it nonetheless. Because God knows so much better than we ever could what is truly best for us.

What we are going to talk about now is basically when certain parties take the “whatever” of John 14:13, and start plugging in things that have no business being there. And then get mad at God because “we ought to have certain faith in God’s promises, and God promised He would give us whatever we asked!”

Many people might here roll their eyes and remark that they would never engage in a pattern of behavior that is so clearly foolish. However, it is very common for us (all of us) to let our own desires or expectations get in the way of our relationship with God on a smaller scale… perhaps even at a level under our conscious attention. We might feel a sense of entitlement, like our prayers deserve an answer, that it is owed to us. Because we prayed earnestly and asked God to do something for us, we might feel put out if it does not happen how we asked.

So, for example, we might become angry at God if a family member is sick and we pray for their healing but they die from their illness instead. Or perhaps we pray for continued employment to provide for our family in the midst of an economic recession, and yet we lose our jobs. We prayed these things in Jesus’ name, did we not? So why did they not happen? Doesn’t John 14:13 say that whatever we pray in the name of Jesus He will do for us? So what gives?

The heading of this section is the main point of this page, more or less. It might be tempting sometimes to feel like God is perhaps a bit flaky, if we keep praying for all these things and yet they don’t happen how we pray for them to happen. Maybe we are left feeling like we can’t trust God to come through for us.

If ever we find ourselves feeling this way, it usually has something to do with us not lining up our prayers with the Will of God as we ought. All the noises we make about being able to boldly trust in all that God has told us and rely upon His promises, all of that rests upon us actually knowing what His promises are, and also what they are not.

In broad strokes, God’s promises are not individual things in our lives like specific events—a promotion at work, an important medical checkup, or whatever else—but are much broader. For example, He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us; He promises us that we will have eternal life so long as we believe in Him. These are things that we may have complete and total trust in; this is the certainty that Hebrews 11:1 calls to mind.

Some of the hardest situations we may have to navigate in our lives are when we cannot see the reasons for something—like the death of a loved one, like war and disease and genocide. We might pray for specific outcomes relating to some of the horrors of the world, only to find ourselves still afflicted, not spared in the way we might wish.

When we are tempted to bitterness in such times, it would do us well to remember that God does not in fact promise us blissful lives free from suffering and pain, even though some people falsely claim so. He promises us many things, but actually many of the things that people might think would be promises of God—things that they’ve heard others call promises of God, things that they want to be promises of God—many of these things are not in fact promises of the certain variety. And that can be a hard lesson for us.

Rather than immediately getting angry at God when we feel like our expectations have been violated, we should instead check ourselves and first examine whether the Bible really supports what we feel to be necessary, whether it mandates it in a way that would make God’s actions certain. If we are honest with ourselves, did God not do something that He promised, or is the thing that we wanted Him to do something that He never actually promised?

It is far better for us to err very much on the side of giving God the benefit of the doubt, to acknowledge that we are but small humans with just a very narrow slice of perspective. Even acknowledging this, however, does not always make things easy in practice. But if we trust in the wider promise that God is always working things for our eternal spiritual good, perhaps it will be easier for us to trust Him in all the rest of the things that we may not understand at present, and in fact may not ever understand until we see Him face-to-face in eternity.

Why Was Abel’s Sacrifice Acceptable, Even Praised, but Not Cain’s?


Hebrews 11:4 says that by faith Abel was approved as a righteous man on account of the sacrifice that he gave to God, and that his sacrifice was better than Cain’s.

People have an easy time understanding why Cain was punished after he murdered his brother. But why was Abel’s sacrifice pleasing to God to begin with, but not Cain’s? That is the question that this page will set out to answer.


The passage in Genesis chapter 4

In Genesis 4:2-5, we have the scriptural account that outlines the fact that God found Abel’s sacrifice pleasing, but not Cain’s:

Because we know that God is completely Just, we know that He cannot show favoritism simply because He likes offerings of livestock better than offerings of crops (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 34:19; Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35; etc.). Nor do I personally believe we have ground to stand on to say that this event had much of anything to do with raising livestock being inherently more godly than farming crops. On what basis? That’s nonsense.

The thing that makes the interpretation of this passage somewhat difficult is that the text itself does not explain much; it does not have a clear description of why God favored Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s, at least not directly.

One possibility is that the only difference between the two was heart state

Let me use an analogy. Let us say that two men both make about the same amount of money, and both contribute about the same amount to support their Bible teacher financially, as is appropriate (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-18).

To an outside observer, their actions might appear quite similar. But let us say that the first man gives willingly and joyfully, thankful to be given the honor of directly supporting the teaching of the Word, while the second man only gives because his wife nags him to do so to keep up appearances, so that their neighbors will not view them as miserly.

Do you think that God would be unjust in having a positive attitude towards the first and a negative attitude towards the second?

Mapping this onto our passage, Abel would be like the first man, and Cain like the second.

The symbolism of blood sacrifice

I think it would be acceptable to leave things even at just that. That is, I do not think it is necessary to spill more ink in order to explain how God’s actions in context could be completely Just. Different heart states, in other words, is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why God might treat Abel and Cain differently, even though their sacrifices might seem similar on the surface.

However, I will make one additional point. From the Protoevangelium in Genesis 3 all the way through the temple sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, blood sacrifice was always highly symbolic, pointing to the eventual sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, shedding His blood1 in order that we might have life, even eternal life.

Hebrews 11:4 emphasizes Abel’s faith. Quite simply, if the matter of sacrifices in Genesis 4 had just been something along the lines of “giving the first fruits of one’s labor to the Lord,” then there is little logical basis for why Abel’s sacrifice would be marked out as a sign of special faith. It would be the right thing to do, sure, but would that alone make him “Hebrews-11-worthy” (so to speak), alongside the other heroes of the faith?

Both the Genesis passage itself and reference to Abel’s faith in Hebrews 11:4 make a great deal more sense if this sacrificing business was really all about acknowledging the fact that it is impossible for us to work our way into God’s favor—if Abel’s blood sacrifice here was acknowledgment on His part of God’s Grace and Mercy. Abel was willing to submit himself to God, looking by faith towards God’s eventual sacrifice for sin once for all, while Cain only focused on bragging to God about what he had done himself on his own effort.

Personally, this is how I take the passage in Genesis 4, although I do acknowledge it is somewhat of an inference. This is also the position that Ichthys takes:

Quote from Ichthys

“Works” are things “we do for God”. That whole mentality is sinful because God doesn’t need anything from us (contrary to what pagan religion assumes: Acts 17:25). God doesn’t need us – we need God. This principle is seen clearly in the example of Cain and Abel. Cain offered God some vegetables: “Look at what I did! And now I’m giving you some!” This whole attitude is abhorrent to the Lord because 1) He needs nothing from us so to assume He’ll reward us for doing something He neither needs nor wants nor asked for is arrogant in the extreme; 2) To think that we can actually “reward God” so that He then “owes us something” (cf. Rom.4:4) is downright blasphemous; and 3) anything we could ever “do” in this life is only possible because God has given us the means to do it (cf. Deut.8:18; 1Chron.29:16).

Faith, on the other hand, is the opposite of work. Faith is being willing to receive a gift. Faith is the completely non-meritorious function of our will. Faith is free-will exercised without effort or sweat. Faith is accepting God’s authority, and, in the case of salvation, accepting God’s free gift. The difference is profound. If we exert effort for salvation, we are earning it (if it could be earned, which it cannot); we deserve it – in that hypothetical, impossible case. But in fact there is nothing we could do in a thousand lifetimes if we devoted all of our waking efforts to the problem to remove the guilt of the smallest sin we have ever committed. Salvation cannot be earned. It cannot be worked for (efficaciously, at any rate). And trying to work for salvation is the most egregious insult to God the Father who judged all of our sins in His beloved Son so that we might not have to face such an impossible situation, and to God the Son who has born the guilt of all of our sins so that we might be saved in the only way it was possible to be saved: through non-meritorious faith, accepting Him as our Substitute. Abel understood and accepted what Cain would not have. His “offering” was a symbolic representation of what Christ would do – die for all sin to open the way for mankind’s salvation. Abel’s offering was not “work”; Abel’s offering was “worship”. When Christians “do” anything in a spiritual vein it is “good” because God has planned it and empowered it. Legitimate Christian “good works” follow salvation rather than preceding it and are done in the power of the Holy Spirit not in the power of the sinful flesh.

Ephesians 2:8-10 | NIV

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

  1. Figurative blood not literal blood is what is important salvifically: it was Christ taking the divine judgment for our sins upon His shoulders in our place that saves us, not His physical blood. See here for more on this frequently used metaphor in scripture. ↩︎

Does the Voice Align with God’s Character?


Our Workbook uses Exodus 34 (particularly Exodus 34:6-7) to help illustrate the character of God. The voice of God will always align with His character.

This is one of the more straightforward connections to make in this series on recognizing the voice of God, honestly. That is because this method of discernment works exactly the same between humans: knowing someone’s character can instantly let us judge claims about them. “Would person X really say that? Is that consistent with their character?”

Unlike humans though, God’s character is completely unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8; cf. Malachi 3:6). Humans can put on masks, can lie, but scarier even than those truths is that human character can change. As goes the famous quote from Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” Even the most idealistic can become the very thing that they had initially set out to reform. It happens all the time. And the hopes that others pin upon them are trampled and betrayed.

But, by way of contrast, God will never let us down. According to Exodus 34:6-7, not only is God perfectly just, but He is also incredibly loving. We know this because the Bible says it. This is not the only passage in the Bible that speaks to God’s character, of course, but it is useful as it does put up rails on both sides. On the one hand, God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son to take the punishment for our sins in our place. But on the other hand, God will not tolerate iniquity, not in the slightest. Any time we are trying to make out the voice of God, we can immediately throw out any voice that goes too far in either direction.

So, for example, we know that voices of guilt are not from God, because God loves us so much that He paid for our sin while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He doesn’t want us to be weighed down and crushed by sin. But we also know that voices of complete tolerance and acceptance are not from God either. God requires belief from us, and true belief always bears genuine fruit of repentance (cf. James 2, John 15). Sin is never OK to make peace with, no matter how vocally certain parties in our culture might shout that it is so.

If we take the time to come to know God, to understand His character through the process of spiritual growth (reading our Bibles and taking in Bible teaching from gifted and prepared Bible teachers), then in time we will have an ever easier time discerning what it is God wants us to do, since we will know what will and will not please Him, based upon who He is.

This week’s lesson starts on page 87 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/12/2023.

Did Moses Do Wrong in Throwing the First Set of Tablets?


In the Exodus 34 passage that the Workbook drew from this week, Moses brings a second set of stone tablets to God to write the Ten Commandments upon again. The first set of tablets was broken by Moses in Exodus 32:19, when “his anger was kindled” after he came upon the Israelites dancing around and worshiping the golden calf.

This page will examine whether this destruction of the first set of tablets reflects poorly upon Moses or not, insofar as it is actually something that we might be able to know.


A simple formulation of the question

Consider Exodus 32:16 and Exodus 32:19.

In Exodus 32, Moses receives tablets written upon by God himself, containing the Ten Commandments. (On that identification, see here). However, when “his anger was kindled” after he came upon the Israelites dancing around and worshiping the golden calf, Moses threw them, and they were broken.

Put simply, is this action by Moses disrespectful toward God, given that these tablets came directly from the hand of God? Did Moses lose his head in anger, and destroy God’s gift?

We’ll be examining this question from several angles, and ultimately conclude that while it’s hard to be completely certain and dogmatic, it is likely that if this itself were truly such an affront against God, it would probably have been made clear somehow in the text.

On the nature of Moses’ apparent anger
There is no such thing as “righteous anger” in the sense some people think there is. But having emotions coursing through our veins is not completely within our conscious control, so…?

This is not at all a simple concept to understand; it is incredibly easy to tie oneself into knots trying to wrap one’s head around where the all the lines are here. There are several reasons for this (although these are probably not the only ones/an exhaustive list):

  • Ephesians 4:26 is commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted
  • The cleansings of the temple by Jesus are commonly misportrayed in popular imagination. Jesus may have overturned the tables of the money changers and driven them out of the temple – and the text does mention zeal, it is true – but nowhere do we have any indication that Jesus was acting out of overflowing anger. That is simply an incorrect assumption that has been widely propagated over time.
  • Another thing commonly misunderstood is that the “Wrath of God” is so-called “anthropopathism” – that is, an attributing of human emotions to God to help us better understand Him, even though God is not actually human with human emotions. This means that using the argument “but God gets angry, and God obviously doesn’t sin in doing so because God cannot sin, therefore it is possible to be angry without sinning, QED” is not quite what it seems, since God does not actually “get angry,” per se.

The following links (some from me, some from Ichthys) may hopefully help explain some of the complexities in all these matters:

If all that is too much, a somewhat shorter summary version will now follow. First of all, we have directly in scripture that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). There is no qualification there – no “man’s improper anger” (as opposed to “non-sinful anger,” whatever exactly people mean by that).

Anger is an emotion like other emotions we have. We humans do not always have the good fortune of being able to completely control what feelings swell within us. What we are always capable of, however, is choosing how we respond to them.

Let us take lust as a different (but basically parallel) example. If a man sees a beautiful woman walk by, he may – not by such conscious choice, but just inherently – have his physical body (the flesh, the sin nature) respond in a certain way, as a consequence of her beauty. In his mind may come the realization “Wow, she is absolutely stunning.” Has he sinned? Let me rephrase that: is temptation sin?

Temptation is not sin. But giving into it (in any way whatsoever) most assuredly is. If a man indulges his attraction – not just acknowledging it, but courting it, even if just in his heart – lines have been crossed. And so too here; anger is really no different. If a flare of intense displeasure shoots through us, the ball is put in our court. What we do after that makes all the difference.

In this way, it is in fact true that it is possible for people to have the physiological responses associated with anger (eyes afire, nostrils flaring, etc.) while not yet actually falling prey to the sin of anger. Their heart is being bombarded with “anger temptation signals,” but so long as they keep a lid on it – so long as they keep the reigns firmly in their own hands, rather than letting the emotion take control – things do not cross from temptation into sin. The physical symptoms are there though – scientists would no doubt call you “angry” if you register the elevated blood pressure and elevated heart rate and so on associated with the biological state. But when intense emotion swells within us, these responses happen whether we consciously choose them or not (to a degree – what we think does very much matter too, as it affects the intensity of our responses and how quickly we can get them under control).

For example, I imagine most of us would have boiling blood in confronting exceptionally gross evil. Be it the sexual abuse of underage girls, the gross oppression of orphaned refugees, or whatever other morally bankrupt crimes one might consider, coming face to face with the perpetrators is not likely to happen without our bodies reacting strongly, in a way that is largely outside our conscious purview. Where the rubber hits the road is what happens after that. Do we deck them in the face, beat them to a pulp? Do we yell and shout and rage? Or do we keep ourselves more in check?

Whatever we do, it must be entirely under the control of the Holy Spirit. And completely losing our temper means we are not under His control – full stop. There are various basically-synonymous expressions for this phenomenon:

  • “Losing it”
  • “Losing one’s cool”
  • “Flying off the handle”
  • “Snapping”
  • “Exploding” or “blowing up”
  • “Seeing red”

In all cases, the fundamental aspect is loss of control. If we lose our temper, we are not in control of our thoughts, words, and actions, but anger is. And there is no way to lose control without sinning in the process.

While this is perhaps popularly viewed as a black and white phenomenon (e.g., the difference between someone remaining silent vs. losing it by shouting and cussing another out), it is in truth really more a spectrum, and that’s what makes evaluations here so thorny, and why giving even an inch to the emotion of anger is so dangerous. Thinking, speaking, or acting “from anger” in even the smallest aspect is still loss of control (and therefore problematic), even if it is more localized, and therefore not as bad is it “could have been.”

Why all this gets so confusing is because it probably sounds an awful lot like I am arguing for a concept that some would wish to call “righteous anger” – along the lines that feelings of anger you do not consciously indulge are alright/not sinful, since we can’t fully control them even if we completely wanted to. The reason I am so very skittish of assenting to that label is that that label always strikes me as fishing for an excuse. Positionally, we should strive to not feed the beast whatsoever, as much as it depends upon us. Giving into feelings of anger “because it is possible to experience anger righteously” is not much different from “lighting a cigarette but not inhaling.” It is playing with fire, and rife with rationalization.

To summarize
  • Our bodies’ physical reaction to events is partially (although not completely – it is complicated in the way the psycho-physical mind-body interface always is, with our thoughts and mental state affecting our physical biology and vice versa) outside of our control. This means we may register physiological signs of anger when emotion swells within us in response to intense external stimuli, without necessarily consciously choosing anger in a manner that would indicate sin.
  • Giving into anger means thinking, speaking, or acting “from it.” This means we have lost control (even if only a bit) – putting anger in the driver’s seat, rather than retaining control ourselves. And that is always sin.
  • It is impossible to “use anger as a motivator” or nurse it within one’s heart or whatever without courting it consciously. This is why making noises about “righteous anger” is dangerous, given what people usually mean by that. Taking fire into one’s lap is never the right answer.
The text of Exodus 32:19, and what it can tell us about this situation of Moses breaking the tablets
Technical discussion

Exodus 32:19 has וַיִּֽחַר־אַף (vayyihar ap), which we translate along the line of “his [Moses’] anger was kindled.” אַף is rather commonly the subject of some form of חָרָה (like וַיִּֽחַר, which is what is used here):

Quote from BDB Hebrew Lexicon


חרה אף (one’s) anger was kindled, burned Genesis 39:19; Numbers 22:27 (J), Exodus 32:19, 22 (JE), Judges 9:30; Judges 14:19; 1 Samuel 11:6; Job 32:2, 5; with בְּ against Genesis 30:2 (E), Genesis 44:18 (J), 1 Samuel 17:28; 1 Samuel 20:30; 2 Samuel 12:5; 2 Chronicles 25:10; Psalm 124:3; Job 32:2, 3; with אֶל Numbers 24:10 (E).

If you want to look up some of those references, for your convenience:

Per our above discussion, the question is whether the anger kindling within Moses here is something that he consciously chose or not. Per the grammar, this is not an active construct (i.e., it does not read “he kindled his anger”, but instead “his anger was kindled”). But did Moses at all “fan the flames” within his heart?

Ultimately, we really can’t tell from the text itself. Since it is so difficult for humans to experience intense negative emotional stimuli with perfect application, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that maybe Moses let all this get to him a bit more than he should of. But that is still a far cry from taking the position that he completely lost his cool and threw a hissy fit, contrary to propriety. Could you take the passage that way? Maybe. But you could just as well not take it that way. Either seems to me to be possibly textually.

So if we can’t make out details about his anger from the text itself, what else can we use to determine whether or not the throwing of the tablets was problematic?

Most of the rest of our discussion here will be a bit indirect, and decidedly less than dogmatic.

The fact that God does not ever call Moses out for the destruction of the tablets

Between when Moses broke the first set of tablets in Exodus 32:19 and when the process of acquiring the second set of tablets was started in Exodus 34:1ff., there is no statement like “And the Lord was angry with Moses, given that he had destroyed the tablets upon which the Lord Himself had written.”

In fact, while God was very displeased with the Israelites (and Moses was very displeased with them too), there doesn’t seem to be a single statement that suggests that God was angry with Moses throughout the events of Exodus 32-34. Of course, absence of evidence of God’s displeasure here is not necessarily evidence of absence, but it is nonetheless a reasonably strong inferential argument in favor of taking the position that the breaking of the tablets here was not problematic.

We have other instances of God rebuking Moses, strengthening the argument further (i.e., because if God corrected Moses in these other contexts when He did wrong, why would He uniquely not do the same here?).

In Exodus 4:14ff., God becomes displeased with Moses due to his reluctance to lead due to his lack of eloquence. God most certainly lets Moses know then.

And perhaps an even better cross-reference for the present situation – since it also involves Moses being intensely displeased with the Israelites, and “doing something” in that state – is Numbers 20:1-13. The passage doesn’t say it directly, but by inference (cf. “Listen you rebels!” in v. 10), Moses’ temper had flared here, frustration with the whiny, rebellious people overcoming him. Rather than following the exact instruction of the Lord as given in vv. 7-8 (that is, speaking to the rock), Moses instead struck the rock with his staff (v. 11).

This action alone – one act of disobedience – is enough for God to bar Moses from entering the promised land (v. 12 – also cf. Deuteronomy 3:23-28)! The exegesis as to why this was so serious and meriting such severe punishment is somewhat involved and we won’t get into it here, but the point is that God certainly did not hold back in punishing Moses when he acted improperly.

We might note that nothing of the sort happened in Exodus 17:1-7 – a very similar story of the people whining due to lack of water, God telling Moses how to receive water from a rock, and then them subsequently getting water. But unlike in Numbers 20 when God commanded Moses to speak to the rock (but Moses struck it instead, against God’s direction), here in Exodus 17 God actually did command Moses to strike the rock. And when Moses did, God did not rebuke him; he had obeyed God.

The upshot for us is that these other examples (Exodus 4:14ff., Numbers 20:1-13) provide indirect evidence that Moses did not do wrong in Exodus 32:19 by throwing the tablets (or at least did not do wrong enough for a rebuke relating to it to end up in scripture). Can we be certain? Not really. But indirect evidence is evidence too.

We might also consider Exodus 32:31-35. The only sin mentioned is that of the people. This would have been a very logical place for Moses to receive discipline or rebuke from the Lord if he too had done wrong, but there is nothing mentioned here. Arguably, vv. 32-33 is the strongest, for if Moses really had sinned against the Lord, it would be strange for this exchange to go in this manner were that the case.

The symbolism behind the tablets being destroyed

Here’s an argument someone might use to argue that Moses breaking the tablets was a bad thing:

  • Why would it be God’s desire for the tablets to be broken, then needing to be remade again?
  • Anything that contravenes God’s desire is wrong/sinful
  • Therefore Moses did wrong in Exodus 32:19

Whether or not this argument means anything rests entirely upon the first premise, for the second premise is obviously true, in some form at any rate (cf. Romans 14:23).

Now, we don’t necessarily have to prove that it was God’s Will for the tablets to be broken to make the situation less than black and white. Instead, all we have to show is that it might have been His Will.

To that end, consider that there is dead obvious symbolism in the tablets being destroyed when the Israelites turned away from God in their actions with the golden calf. If the tablets symbolically represented the covenant, and the Israelites severed the covenant right from the get go here in their idolatry, then the tablets being shattered makes perfect sense. One might even go so far as to say that it would be odd if the covenant God was giving them (and the tablets symbolizing it) stayed intact given what went down. (Although of course the covenant stayed in place many later times the Israelites turned to idolatry, so there is that).

We needn’t be dogmatic about whether the tablets shattering was truly supposed to be understood in this symbolic way. Personally, I find it very likely, but I don’t teach it dogmatically. The point is that it is perfectly logical and could be the case, which means the first premise of argument above could potentially be false, making the conclusion less than certain.

Moses’ apparent closeness to God throughout the events of Exodus 32-34

Reading Exodus 32-34 ought to make it clear that Moses was close to God all throughout this period.

Perhaps the clearest verses we have are Exodus 33:11, 17. If God spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11) and tells Moses that He is “pleased with him, and knows him by name” (v. 17), then on what basis would we we take the destruction of the tablets in Exodus 32:19 as being problematic/some form of serious sin? It just doesn’t fit the immediate context here.

God showing Moses His glory in Exodus 33:12-23 is an extraordinary blessing given to Moses – far from a minor thing. Again, this blessing simply doesn’t fit if Moses had just previously done something substantially wrong, such that he would have angered God.


While I do not believe we can know the exact nature of what happened in Exodus 32:19 and Moses’ internal heart state at that time, I do think given the weight of evidence, we can be reasonably confident in saying that Moses’ throwing of the first set of tablets was not some sort of grave slap in the face to God… certainly not like the Israelites’ idolatry was, at any rate. Moses was outraged at the Israelites awful conduct, just like God was. This was in fact an appropriate response.

My own personal hypothesis, in line with the above general outline of the mechanics of anger, is that Moses had all the physiological responses to the situation that one might expect (“steam coming out of his ears,” so to speak), given the seriousness of the Israelites’ sin. But as we discussed in that linked section, having fire in your veins does not necessarily mean you sin. It’s what you do with all those feelings that matters.

To some extent, we shouldn’t get overly fixated on trying to figure out whether actions taken by people in narrative parts of the Bible (in the Old Testament and New Testament both) were right or wrong, and past that, how right or how wrong. Some of that is between those folks and God, and only knowable by those parties.

It’s not bad to ask questions though, trying to puzzle out what happened and why; it can enrich our own understanding of the narrative. Hopefully this page has been helpful at least along those lines.

What Is Going on in Exodus 34:27-28?


In our passage this week, the Workbook focused on the character of God as described earlier in the chapter, Exodus 34:6-7.

This page, instead of focusing on those words, focuses on the writing: the writing God commanded Moses to do in Exodus 34:27, and the writing of the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets in Exodus 34:28. For various reasons, getting a proper understanding of exactly what was written and who wrote it is a bit less straightforward than one might expect.


Technical discussion
It was in fact the Ten Commandments written upon the stone tablets. Full stop
Cautionary note

You should probably skip this section if you are not conversant or comfortable with incorrect but strongly-written academic scholarship about the Bible. It can be unsettling and difficult to argue against such scholarship, even if it teaches things that are dead false, as here.

Much to my surprise, I came across a page seriously questioning what was written on the stone tablets God gave to Moses: the page. It waxes long and erudite about arguments and interpretations that challenge the traditional intepretation that God wrote the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) upon the stone tablets.

I had not previously know this was an area of any controversy whatsoever. Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:1-5 seem to me to be so clear as to leave no doubt, and despite skimming the arguments within the linked piece, my views have not changed even the tiniest bit. I find it most unpersuasive, for all its veneer of rigorous analysis.

For example:

Quote from the mentioned page

This interpretation, however, is problematic. The verse [Exodus 24:12] fails to explicitly mention עשרת הדברים “the Ten Words” or “words of the covenant.” Instead, it refers to התורה והמצוה, “the teaching and the commandment” (perhaps a hendiadys: “the legal teaching” or the like). It seems quite odd, however, to refer to the Decalogue as “the teaching and the commandment” without any further clarification. How is the reader supposed to know that this phrase refers to the Decalogue?

Apparently, to the author, Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:1-5 do not count as ways “the reader is supposed to know” that what God wrote on the tablets was the Ten Commandments. On what basis can we ignore the rest of the Old Testament?

As to the fact that it would not be known in the specific context of this passage, well, this is only a problem if one forces each passage to stand alone in interpretation, which is never how biblical interpretation works. It is a ridiculous and nonsensical standard to impose.

Quote from the mentioned page

Furthermore, the formulation, “the tablets of stone and the teaching and the commandment that I have written to teach them” sounds as if something new is being given that must be taught. But Israel was already taught the Decalogue by God! Again, the formulation indicates that the tablets with their teaching (torah) were to be used by Moses to educate the people, as in “they shall teach your laws to Jacob and your Torah to Israel” (יוֹרוּ מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ לְיַעֲקֹב וְתוֹרָתְךָ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל; Deut 33:10).

The “tablets of the covenant” with the Decalogue, however, are stored in the ark, far away from the public eye, and (at least according to P texts) serve as a testimony (hence: לוחות העדות) rather than as an educational tool (see Exod 25:16; 31:18; 40:20; cf. Deut. 10:1-5).

(We are still focused on Exodus 24:12 here).

Our author’s argument goes something along the lines of “how can the tablets be said to ’teach the people’ if they are locked up in the Ark of the Covenant?”

One would think, based on such an argument, that the physical tablets being in the Ark of the Covenant would somehow prevent the words upon them from being discussed or taught in the assembly. An interesting assumption, is it not? I’d like to hear some evidence for it, or otherwise any sort of explanation as to why where the physical tablets are stored matters when it comes to the things upon them being taught.

Quote from the mentioned page

The sequence of events described above is almost certainly the result of a splicing together of two separate traditions. According to the longer tradition recounted (Exodus 20:1-24:11), God revealed the Decalogue to all of Israel (Exod 20), followed by the Covenant Collection to Moses (Exod 21-23). Moses then wrote all of them—the Decalogue and the Covenant Collection—on a scroll and conducted the covenant ceremony (Exod 24:3-8).

The brief tradition in Exodus 24:12-15, in contrast, reports of a divinely inscribed law on stone tablets handed over to Moses on the mountain for the instruction of the people. It was originally unrelated to the account of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant that now precedes it.

Indeed, the formulation “come up the mountain” (עֲלֵה אֵלַי הָהָרָה) suggests that Moses is being called upon to go up the mountain to receive the law for the first time. Thus, our passage of Exodus 24:12 may be said to reflect a parallel and alternative tradition to that of Exodus 20-24:11.

About here is where I lose interest a great deal more. I have negative patience when it comes to the obsession scholars have with trying to identify “editorial traditions” and so on (cf. the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis” and the so-called “Isaiah Problem”).

With essentially non-existent actual physical evidence, scholars attempt to argue that parts of the Bible were written or compiled by multiple people having different authorial intents and styles and so on. Hogwash. One needs actual evidence to put forward assertions, not wild speculation. Especially for something so monumentally important as challenging the Bible’s trustworthiness.

People who don’t respect the Bible enough to trust it almost always draw problematic conclusions (as here). You shouldn’t waste your time or energy listening to a single word these people have to say, for the most part.

And in that spirit, this is where I’ll end my brief review of this idea that something other than the Ten Commandments was written upon the tablets. I am sure the piece I linked is not the only thing in the world that argues for a different interpretation than the normal one, but I do not think this is a question deserving of much serious discussion, for all who are content to take the Bible at face value.

You may read an email Q&A chain on Ichthys about this topic here, if you’d like to see even more on the question.

The text of Exodus 34:27-28
The interpretation of Exodus 34:27-28

There are two matters of interpretation to wrangle here: what “these words” refers to in v. 27 (the two options are the commands of vv. 10-26 or the Ten Commandments), and who wrote on the tablets in v. 28 (the two options are God and Moses).

Admittedly, prima facie, taking vv. 27-28 as they are seems to say that God commanded Moses to write some things in v. 27, and then Moses obeyed and actually wrote the things he was commanded to write in v. 28.

There are issues with this, though.

First, the question of what “these words” are in verse 27. If one takes them as retrospective (vv. 10-26), the issue is that the commandments given in vv. 10-26 are not the Ten Commandments, which are thing things mentioned in v. 28. So that doesn’t seem to work.

Things work fine if you take the “these words” as prospective: “write down these things – {list of things coming after}.” But the problem with taking things prospectively is that v. 28 would then essentially logically mandate that we take Moses to be the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב (since he is the one commanded to write in v. 27, which we are now prospectively tying with v. 28). In v. 28, this verb meaning “to write” does not have an explicit subject, so the subject must be inferred.

Moses being the subject is completely unworkable, even though it works fine grammatically. Why? Because Deuteronomy 10:1-5 states definitively that God was the one who wrote on the (second set of) tablets here, not Moses:

In the more immediate context, Exodus 34:1 also definitively states that God is the one doing the writing on the stone tablets, not Moses.

But if God is the one writing on the tablets, then the referent of “these words” in v. 27 cannot be looking forward to what is written in v. 28, but must be looking back to the commands that God gave in vv. 10-26. It is simply the only possible interpretation that “works” logically.

Technical discussion

God being the one writing on the stone tablets is in fact quite acceptable grammatically.

וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28 could have as its subject either God or Moses, given that the form is a 3rd person masculine singular imperfect Qal sequential. 3rd person masculine singular would obviously be right for Moses, but it is also the person/gender/number we would expect for God – cf. when God is the implied subject of וַיֹּאמֶר in Exodus 34:10.

The וַיֹּאמֶר of v.10 is basically grammatically identical to the וַיִּכְתֹּב of our v. 28 (i.e., it is likewise a 3rd person masculine singular imperfect Qal sequential without an explicit subject), even though it comes from a different verb (אָמַר instead of כָּתַב). So if God can be the implied subject there in v. 10, he can also be the implied subject in v. 28.

This is why we can say that it works fine grammatically for God to be the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28.

If your head is all a muddle now, in plainer English, all this means that after giving some commands (vv. 10-26) – commands that are not the Ten Commandments) – God tells Moses to write down all those commands he had just given (v. 27), probably on a scroll or what have you (i.e., something other than the tablets). Then God Himself inscribes the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets (v. 28).

A clearer translation for these verses might then be:

Exodus 34:27-28 | original translation

27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words [I have just finished saying to you] (i.e., vv. 10-26), for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And [just as He said He would] (i.e., in v. 1), [the Lord] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant — the Ten Commandments.

The reason why this interpretation doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the right one at first blush is because Moses is a closer antecedent for the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28 than God is, and v. 27 and v. 28 both speak of similar things (i.e., commandments dealing with God’s covenant), making it easy to equate the commandments mentioned in one verse with the commandments mentioned in the other. Equating the commandments is not logically necessary, however; it is also possible for both sets of commandments to be associated with the covenant, as well as everything else God said to Moses for these forty days and forty nights that was not captured in the commandments of vv. 10-26 – that is, the ones God instructs Moses to write down in v. 27 – or in the Ten Commandments God Himself inscribes in v. 28. This is in fact how I take things – that all of it together is associated with the covenant God speaks of.

Trying to explain by extended analogy

Let me give a sort of parallel example (that I’ve purposely made similar to our verses), to perhaps help illustrate things by analogy:

John said, “healthy snacks include apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” Then John told Paul to write down his suggestions in a shopping list. Paul was with John for 30 minutes in the store. And he wrote down a shopping list with just pears and pecans.

Grammatically speaking, either John or Paul could be the subject of the last sentence, but most people would probably tend to take the subject as Paul, since he is a “closer antecedent,” being the subject of the preceding sentence. In isolation (particularly if one interprets Johns “suggestions” as not directly referring to the things mentioned in the first sentence, but a new set of things = prospective rather than retrospective), some people might also take the shopping list of the last sentence to be the same one as the one mentioned by John a couple sentences before. They’re both shopping lists containing healthy snacks, right?

To carry forward the analogy, let’s say that David tagged along to the store with John and Paul, and the next day told his wife, laughingly, that John (that goofball) had written a shopping list with just two items on it (pears and pecans), because he is so used to his wife doing all the grocery shopping that he didn’t even get everything he had needed to when he had first been sent to the store earlier in the day to pick up healthy snacks for the party he and his wife were hosting alongside Paul and his wife, meaning he had to tag along with Paul when Paul went later in the day, in order to buy what he had missed when he had previously gone on his own. The families were splitting hosting duties, so both husbands were sent to buy healthy snacks as their wives prepared the main meal together. John’s family would be responsible for some snacks, and Paul’s family for other snacks.

When a different friend, James is telling his wife the same story (having heard from the others), he uses the exact wording we started off with. That is:

John said, “healthy snacks include apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” Then John told Paul to write down his suggestions in a shopping list. Paul was with John for 30 minutes in the store. And he wrote down a shopping list with just pears and pecans.

James’ wife, frowning about it later that evening, texts her friend (David’s wife from before) because she can’t figure out who the “he” is. David’s wife laughs and tells her it was John who wrote the tiny shopping list with just the two things in it.

This logically necessitates that Paul wrote a shopping list that contains “apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” He had just been asking John for suggestions on what to buy since he too was a grocery shopping neophyte. (Pfft, men, am I right?)

…Did that help at all? Hopefully it showed how things “work” both grammatically and logically if you interpret things in the way we did in our own situation vis-à-vis Exodus 34:27-28.

Reflections Upon God’s Love As Expressed in Exodus 34:6–7a, in the Context of the Exodus Generation


God makes this proclamation right on the heels of the Israelite’s sin regarding the golden calf. On this page, we will be examining what it means that God says such things even in this context, and what we might take away from such.


Recall, some of the great things God had shown to this generation

God led his people out of slavery in Egypt. He showed them many miraculous signs, sending plagues upon the Egyptians when Pharaoh did not let His people go. Even more, when Pharaoh sent his army in pursuit, God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, and then utterly destroyed the pursuing army in a breathtaking display of power and glory. After that, God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, giving them quails and manna for sustenance in an overtly miraculous way.

The Lord did all of these things in the sight of the people. Never once did He fail to provide for them, never once did He fail to deliver them. Instead, they were given to see miracle after miracle as God delivered them from the hand of their enemy and led them into the land He had promised Abraham, their ancestor.

But the hearts of the people were hard

So were the people grateful for the deliverance God had worked for them? Did they praise Him for His Mercy and Power?

Unfortunately not. The people whined and grumbled, even pointing their hearts back towards Egypt, where they had been in captivity (Neh.9:16-17; cf. Num.14:1-4). And they did not content themselves to leave their sin at just that, but in Exodus 32 even went so low as to make an idol of gold and worship it instead of contenting themselves to wait for Moses’ return.

Yet God’s Mercy did not utterly turn from them even so

Following their idolatry in Exodus 32, the Bible is very clear that God was displeased with the Israelites, to be sure. And He had every right to be, given their poor attitude and evil works.

Yet in Exodus 34:6-7a, God still proclaims to Moses His Grace and Mercy. He did not wipe the Israelites off the face of the Earth, nor, as the following narrative shows (as in the book of Joshua), did He abandon them as they went on to conquer Canaan. Instead, He still lovingly superintended them and led them into their inheritance.

What might we take away from all this?

If you have ever been tempted to hide your face from God on account of sin, then God speaking these words to Moses right after the gross sin of the Israelites ought to provide example enough of God’s gracious attitude toward sinners. If we refuse to turn back to Him, the only ones we are hurting are ourselves. We will be disciplined for our sin as all true children of God are (compare Hebrews 12:4ff.), but never will God’s attitude of Love and Mercy towards us be turned to Wrath and Judgment. All we must do is believe.

Let me phrase this more bluntly: in your sin, did you make a golden calf and bow down to it right after God miraculously delivered you from your enemies? Did you truly spit in His face to such a degree as them? So who are you to doubt that God will forgive you? He said these gracious words after being betrayed by them then, so how much more will He not cast us aside now? It is actually subtly arrogant to think that God can’t handle our sin, because Jesus already paid for it all, nailed to the cross. So when God tells us we are forgiven when we confess and mean it (not arbitrarily so, but because of that precious blood that has been shed), the correct response on our part should be an immediate “Sir, yes Sir!” with a heart of gratitude, not moping and hand-wringing and worrying that we are too bad to actually be forgiven. Give God some credit here! The cross is not powerless in the face of our sin, but it is in fact very much the other way around.

In any case, the point is not to compare ourselves and our sin to the Israelites and their sin, to think that we might somehow have done better in their circumstances. The point is that God’s Graciousness and Mercy are more than sufficient—on account of Jesus’ work on the cross—to cover all our sin, no matter how wide and dark it may be. This is God’s nature, by His choice: not because He is somehow obligated to forgive our sin, but because He loved us so much that he sent His only Son to suffer in our place upon the cross in order that we might be reconciled to Him forevermore.

Does the Voice Honor God?


This week, our Workbook took us through part of John 17, Jesus’ prayer towards the end of the upper room discourse (which had begun in John 13).

Jesus prays for God’s Will to be done. In John 17:1, He prays that the Son might be glorified, that the Son might then glorify the Father. It might seem an odd prayer, even self-serving… except in context this prayer is concerning the cross!

Think about that for a second. In a short time, Jesus was going to be arrested, questioned, beaten, and then crucified, all in a mockery of justice. He knew this, and yet what He is concerned about is not Himself, but the glory of the Father.

In John 17:4, Jesus then states that He glorified the Father when upon the earth by completing the work that He was given to do. The work set before Jesus – including the cross He would soon voluntary pick up to pay for the sins of us all – was the hardest work any human ever has or ever will face, and to an incalculable degree. But Jesus knew that the completion of His course brought glory to God.

And we must also remember that Jesus did not have to do any of this. He chose to, made the sacrifice willingly. The next verse, John 17:5, alludes to what Jesus gave up when He emptied Himself during the incarnation, a doctrine known as kenosis. While Jesus was indeed still fully God even as He came to take on humanity as well (forever binding Himself to us – fully God yet fully man), He did not at all use the advantages or privileges of His divinity to skate through life. And that makes His example all the more powerful.

So what we are to learn from Jesus and His dedication towards the glory of God? Scripture puts it better than I ever could:

Philippians 2:5-11 | NIV84

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 | NIrV

5 You should think in the same way Christ Jesus does.
6 In his very nature he was God.
But he did not think that being equal with God was something he should hold on to.
7 Instead, he made himself nothing.
He took on the very nature of a servant.
He was made in human form.
8 He appeared as a man.
He came down to the lowest level.
He obeyed God completely, even though it led to his death.
In fact, he died on a cross.
9 So God lifted him up to the highest place.
He gave him the name that is above every name.
10 When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone’s knee will bow to worship him.
Every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow to worship him.
11 Everyone’s mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And God the Father will receive the glory.

Jesus gave up everything for the glory of the Father. Are we willing to do the same to honor God in our own lives? We ought to be – this consideration of honoring God ought to weigh heavily in all the decisions we make, including which voices to listen to. For our purpose here in this world is not comfort or blessing or even family, but to glorify God and fulfill the mission He has given us.

This week’s lesson starts on page 95 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/19/2023.

Who Are the People the Father “Gave” Jesus?


In John 17:2, 6 Jesus mentions those “whom the Father gave Him.”

This page will examine exactly what that means, in the context of Calvinism, predestination, and free will.


Foreword: On Calvinism, predestination, and free will

In theology, the idea of salvation being all about God’s choice (completely ignoring our choice) is usually discussed in terms of so-called “Calvinism,” with this idea in particular called “predestination.” The idea that God specifically predestined some to heaven and some to hell is called “double predestination” (at least by those of us who disagree with it). The double bit comes from acknowledging explicitly the logical complement of God predestining some for heaven—that He must then also predestine some for hell simply because He does not predestine them for heaven. That is, if God chooses to save some arbitrarily, it also means that he chooses to damn others arbitrarily (well, to be precise, He condemns them on the basis of their unbelief—which He doesn’t actively coerce within them—but more the operative point is that He arbitrarily decides not to save them by irresistibly drawing them to Himself as He does the elect). Yet, apparently, some parties try to wriggle out of the second bit somehow, and just make it about God saving people.

Even people in the Reformed camp (those actually themselves teaching double predestination) point out the irrationality of arguing for so-called single predestination, which only focuses on the saving bit. For example, R.C. Sproul of Ligonier. On that page, Sproul does also make the point that the traditional Reformed view of double predestination only makes the positive side irresistible (i.e., coerces man’s will therein), not the negative. Put more simply, God is only the author of salvation; when human beings sin and choose unbelief, it is not because “God made them do it.” Under Sproul’s view, this makes God’s actions “asymmetric”—God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation, but does not positively and actively intervene in the lives of the reprobate to bring them to sin and unbelief.

By way of contrast, those of us who do not believe in any form of arbitrary predestination at all (such as myself) do still believe that God is the one who brings the elect to salvation (on His power, and through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf—not on account of our own works), but that our free will is in fact a critical component. Put succinctly, God chooses all who choose Him; His election of us specifically is conditional upon our individual choice.

There is still “predestination” in this, the point is just that it isn’t arbitrary, but conditional upon our choice. God is outside spacetime, and knows who will choose for Him before they even exist. These people—who both sides in the debate call “the elect” because scripture itself uses that language (cf. Matthew 24:24; Luke 18:7; Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1; etc.)—were known by God and worked into His plan from the very beginning. But they are not elect because God grabbed them by the coat and made them elect—as if by dragging them kicking and screaming—but they are elect simply because God foreknew their free will choice for Him.

Believing in free will does not mean that we believe that we save ourselves

A straw man that some Reformed folks might throw up is something like “But you are arguing that humans can save themselves—how arrogant!” No… not in the least. Even believing in free will, we are still in great need of a savior, and if God didn’t do all He had in judging Jesus Christ in our place upon the cross, every single one of us would be damned with no hope of saving ourselves on our own power. We cannot work our way into heaven in the slightest… and that is not what believing in human free will means. Believing in human free will just means that we think the elect believe not because God brainwashed them into believing, but because they make a choice to do so, without any pressure from God.

First of all, we only have free will (the very image of God, cf. Genesis 1:27) because God gave it to us; the ability to have a will and to choose is what makes us “godlike”, and distinct from the animals. So if we only have the ability to choose because God created us as possessing the ability to choose (not due to any action on our part), how then can we be said to save ourselves, when our very salvation is contingent upon this ability to choose?

Secondly, we would not even know of our need to turn to God if He did not make it clear through natural revelation (compare Psalm 19 and Romans 1)—if He did not first call all of us to Him. If the testimony and warnings of natural revelation are like signs warning of a washed-out road ahead, then we only turn back because God put up those signs. Otherwise all of us would simply rush headlong into our doom, none the wiser. This too is worked entirely by God’s hands, not our own.

Thirdly, even if we want to heed the signs, we still have need of instruction in what to do next to solve our terrible dilemma (namely, that we are sinful beings, that death is inescapable, and that we will face a Perfect God when we die). This is so-called special revelation: specific knowledge of Christ that God provides to all those who truly heed the warnings of natural revelation in their hearts. If God did not tell us how we might be rescued from our plight (that is, by believing in Christ), we would still be helpless to escape our destruction. Even if Christ had died for us already, we wouldn’t be able to lay hold of that means of escape if God didn’t Himself point it out to us, because we are too blind on our own to see it. Again, all God, none us.

Finally—and most importantly—we cannot actually solve even the tiniest bit of the dilemma on our own power. We are not lambs without blemish; we are not even qualified to pay for our own sin, since we are unworthy sacrifices! Because of this helplessness, 100% of the “payment” for our salvation comes from God, not ourselves. This means we are only saved because God did absolutely everything needed for us to be saved (that was the cross, upon which Jesus paid for the sins of “the world” = of everyone who ever has or ever will live—compare John 1:29; John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14; and also see Romans 3:25-26 for more on the idea of pre-cross sins still being paid for through the blood of Christ, but just “on credit”).

So no, believing in free will does not mean we believe we save ourselves. Not in the least. Our non-meritorious faith does not bring about our own salvation on its own. It is merely us choosing to grasp the rope that God has thrown down into the pit to save us, instead of stubbornly refusing to grab ahold of it due to the fact that it is God on the other side of that rope.

The family of God in eternity will be self-selected

God reaches out to all and calls all to believe, not only those whom He foreknows will actually respond; because Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world, every single human being who has ever lived has been given all they need to be saved, if only they would “not say no”. It’s just that most people choose not to respond positively to that call… due to their free will. And so if they won’t choose God, God won’t choose them either (even though He greatly wishes for them to be saved too—cf. 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4), and they will thus not number among the elect.

And so it is that the family of God in eternity will be self-selected, a group of people who esteemed God over the world, who chose to love Him despite the fact that doing such earns us the world’s hatred and a life of suffering for His glory.

So… back to those the Father “gave” Jesus in John 17

Maybe that preamble seemed overly long and a bit irrelevant, but it was all so I could now simply say:

God gives all those to Christ whom He foreknew as believing in Christ.

That really is all there is to it, no Calvinism necessary. This concept works with human free will just fine, it just requires one to acknowledge God’s foreknowledge, exactly as the Bible itself does.

Eisegesis, exegesis, and Calvinists

This passage in John 17 serves as an excellent showcase of the tendency some Calvinists have to engage in eisegesis. You may be more familiar with the term exegesis. These words have to do with our approach to interpreting the Bible—the process by which we settle upon its meaning.

Put simply, when we interpret, we must always focus on what the text actually says—taking things out of it (hence ex-), not reading them into it (hence eis-). If we have presuppositions, we must acknowledge them and not use the passages to circularly prove them.

And this is where certain Calvinists fail here. If you presuppose double predestination, nothing will inherently stop you from interpreting those God gives to Christ here as people God has arbitrarily chosen to give eternal life to. It is textually allowable; it does not engender a logical contradiction to interpret that way in this particular passage.

The point is, it is also textually allowable here to take the elect given to Christ as those God has foreknown as believing based upon their own free will choice. And that is exactly why using this passage as “proof” of double predestination is complete nonsense. (To be clear, this particular passage also cannot be used as proof for my position either, as both interpretations work fine textually in this specific place). For either side, if you use this passage in John 17 as a proof text, you are assuming the very position you say you are proving!

This split holds absolutely everywhere. Consider John 3:16, a very famous verse to be sure. Calvinists will say that the people who believe and therefore have eternal life have just been irresistibly called by God. The rest of us, myself included, will say that believe just means believe and that there is nothing else “there” in this verse. The thing is, the verse hardly says “double predestination is a false doctrine!”… and thus we end up right back at this problem of eisegesis.

Here’s the thing though: no matter how many verses you look at (interpreting scripture with scripture, as we are supposed to—that is essentially the cornerstone of hermeneutics), you will not find any that directly teach double predestination, the idea that God arbitrarily chooses some people but not others. There are a number of places in scripture that can be made to “work” with such an idea—such as the one we have just gone over above—but none of them actually logically mandate the position, leaving it only ever as a complete assumption.

Now, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t here provide some direct scriptural evidence for the opposing position I’m putting forward, yes? Turnabout being fair play and all that. Well, what about Romans 8:29-30?

Romans 8:29-30 | NIV84

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

It is my opinion that Romans 8:29 is plenty clear about what is going on here. Calvinists still disagree (pointing out, for example, that the verse says just “those God foreknew” and not “those God foreknew [as believing in Jesus Christ of their own free will]”), but one reaches a point where the burden of proof falls squarely upon those who object to what is by far the most straightforward way to take the text. That is to say, I have never come across a single convincing explanation for what sense it makes for “foreknew” to be in this progression of “foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified” if those God would foreknow are the very ones He Himself arbitrarily predestined. If He’s the one doing the predestining, then what reason would He have for foreknowing before predestining? Since human free will wouldn’t matter anyway, there would be nothing to foreknow.

The straightforward reading of this passage logic-wise is that God predestines all those whom He previously foreknows (i.e., He foreknows before He then predestines, in the sense of “first this… then this… then this”). The logical causality is clearly in that direction; that is, the predestining does not come logically first (as the Calvinist position would require), but logically second. Just as God calls (in a salvific sense here—contrast the fact God does actually “call” the entire world in the sense of natural revelation) all those He predestines, justifies all those He calls, and glorifies all those He justifies.

This is therefore the passage, in my opinion, that one ought to base one’s rejection of double predestination on, not John 17. Because while both positions might work relatively OK in John 17 textually, only one works acceptably here in Romans 8:29-30. Otherwise, we read our assumptions into the Bible when interpreting, and fall into eisegesis rather than exegesis.

Does the Voice Lead You to Be More Like Jesus?


This week, our Workbook used passages from Colossians 3 to discuss the transformation that God works within us as Christians. Over time—if you do as you ought in learning, believing, and applying God’s Truth, as contained in the Bible—you will “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9) and “put on the new self… being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator” (Colossians 3:10).

This sort of thing is discussed by Paul elsewhere as well, in some of his other letters. Ephesians 4:22-24 is basically directly parallel to Colossians 3:8-10. Romans 12:1-2 is closely parallel too, talking about the transformation effected by the renewing of our minds. And in Romans 6:6 Paul says that our old self has been nailed to the cross with Christ, such that we are no longer slaves to sin.

Ephesians 2:1-10 can help us understand the magnitude of the changes God works within us. We—who were once dead in our transgressions and sins, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts—have not only been saved, but have also been given works from the very hand of God, in order that we might walk in them, and by so doing, bring Him glory. Though once dead, we have been made alive in Christ!

The point of all this is that scripture is full of this talk of us being ever more transformed to conform to the image of Christ—turning away from sin and the lusts of the flesh, and turning towards “the things above” that Colossians 3:1 mentions. And therefore, God’s voice will always lead us on paths of change and transformation. If a voice doesn’t require this of us, then it is certainly not of God.

This week’s lesson starts on page 103 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/26/2023.

On Seeking the Things Above


This week’s lesson discussed Colossians 3, including Colossians 3:1-2, verses that talk about setting our minds on things above, rather than on earthly things.

In this world of lust, rust, and dust, it is all too easy to let our focus slip off of higher spiritual things and down into the mud and mire of our lives here in Satan’s world system. And it’s not always just us getting distracted by the temptations before us in the world; sometimes it may be pressure that gets to us instead, rather than temptation.

When things get really hard and everything goes sideways, it can be difficult to keep our head up and our eyes quickened with the spiritual perspective that comes through faith. It is all too common for people’s Christianity to go out the window when they metaphorically get punched in the face, even though it is the very time they most ought to trust in God rather than themselves.

Instead, we ought to aspire to have the peace and confidence that comes from intentionally holding onto the proper spiritual perspective, even as the world falls to pieces around us (compare Psalm 46:2-3), leaving God to sort out our provision. This page is going to examine this concept.


The answer is always focusing on spiritual things. Always

Trouble at work? Think on the things above.

Politics got you frustrated—with the incompetence and general madness of our trajectory? Think on the things above.

Discouraged and disgusted by your sin? Think on the things above.

Have worries about finances and making ends meet? Think on the things above.

Relationships (family, friendships, marriage, dating) going poorly, even falling apart? Think on the things above.

It is hard—so hard—to do this as we truly ought. Things will go wrong, even spectacularly so. They always will. But that doesn’t matter. Why should it bother us? What is this life, that it should so capture our attention? It is but a single drop of water compared to the endless oceans of eternity. How small is our faith if we don’t trust that the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe can handle our problems! Are they really such great matters for an Infinite God, One who is Omniscient and Omnipotent?

Colossians 3:1-2 is not so very difficult to understand conceptually, but you will very quickly find out how hard it it in practice to keep one’s mind always focused on the spiritual. The sin nature within our flesh and Satan’s world system will together always try to steer us away from the spiritual focus we ought to continuously maintain, but we can fight them… if only we trust God enough to lean on His strength in our fight, rather than trying to go it alone.

What are the things above?

Spiritual things. The Bible—God’s written word—and in-depth Bible teaching coming from it. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).

We know what these things are. It is no trick question.

We have duties, it is true. But priorities are priorities

Consider this passage from Luke 10:

It is probably really easy for us to sympathize with Martha in this passage, especially if we consider ourselves “the responsible sort.”

But if what we are about is not truly “Kingdom business,” how urgent is it really? How much does it really matter? After all, what do we imagine is more important than sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him?

So yes, we must provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8), we must work to support ourselves so as not to be a burden to others (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10), and so on. But in truth there are very few things that ought to take us away from the feet of Jesus, out of His Word and His Truth. Don’t be like Martha and worry about the things of the world, but be like Mary and choose the better part that comes from focusing single-mindedly upon spiritual truth, and the One who gives it to us.

God will provide, if we put our focus in the right place

Consider this passage as well, this time from Matthew 6:

What use does worrying about worldly things get us if when we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” all of our legitimate needs will be given to us? For that is what God promises here. That is why we need not worry about tomorrow.

So we should err far on the side of over-prioritizing spiritual things in our lives

As mentioned briefly above, there are some common-sense lines we cannot cross, such as failing to provide for ourselves and our families.

But Luke 10:38-42 and Matthew 6:25-34 definitely show that the single-minded focus on “things above” that Colossians 3 commands is really that: single-minded. We cannot properly sit at the feet of Jesus and give ourselves over towards His Truth if we let our hearts be split by worldly worries—even things that are far from bad or sinful. It’s just that everything in this ephemeral world weighs in as completely inconsequential compared to eternal spiritual realities. We need to be pleased to put God and His Truth first in our lives—making that our primary focus—and hand over the reigns to Him in absolutely everything else.

We may not get everything we want when we do this, when we completely hand control over to God, but the Bible is clear that we will get all we truly need. And in exchange, we will gain ever so much more on the spiritual front. For the least spiritual reward that is eternal will be worth more than all the wealth in this present world that is passing away. That is the calculus that we should always strive to keep within our minds.

And that is precisely why we should always set our hearts on things above.