A Woman with Initiative

On the one hand, I am staunchly complementarian.  I don’t believe women should teach or have authority over men, or even speak in church.  I believe women should consider themselves positionally beneath (i.e. “submissive”) to their husbands.  I believe those four things are very clear in Scripture.

But I also think there are some nuances in Scripture that get confused with our cultural traditions of patriarchy—in short, that the patriarchy of 16th century France and the patriarchy of Scripture may not be the same thing, but it can be hard for us to sort out.

In particular, I find it hard to understand Deborah being a judge, and hard to understand Abigail blatantly going against what she knew would have been the wishes of her husband, if he had had the chance to contradict her.  But she knew he would be displeased.

Today I read and noticed another such story, one I had read but not really thought about: 2 Samuel 20.  This man named Sheba has decided to rebel against David, and Joab is sent to quench the rebellion and destroy, apparently, the entire town of Abel.

Now—first of all, David is clearly in the right here.  Sheba was evil and wicked and it was entirely correct to destroy him.  Secondly, there’s a whole town involved, with plenty of elders and men to step up and do the right thing.  The “leadership,” apparently, made the executive decision to twiddle their thumbs.

But, enter this unnamed woman, who we only know as “a wise woman.” (v. 16).  While Joab is trying to break down the walls of the city, she—and she alone—calls out.  “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

And Joab listened.  And she made an argument, a very neat, concise, persuasive argument.  She let him know that there were faithful people in the city, and reminded him of the importance of the city, both presently and historically, and theologically.  Her words are rebuking and even harsh: “Why would you devour YHWH’s inheritance?”

She got Joab’s attention, and he protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy!”  And he offers her a solution—deliver Sheba, and the city will be spared.

This is a woman he’s bargaining with.  A woman who responds by promising him Sheba’s head.

So what does she do?  Does she go to her husband and say, hey, tell the elders about this, get them to make a decision so we can abide by it?

Nope.  This woman, who the Bible declares to be wise, goes straight to “all the people” and offers “her wise counsel” (v. 22).  They listen to her, cut off Sheba’s head, and throw it over the wall to Joab, who promptly retreats and goes back to David.  Disaster averted.

There are many things here that are both encouraging and perplexing.  Scripture seems quite clear that the woman was wise and correct, both in her character and in her actions here.  And yet she is very avidly arguing with men: first Joab, then the men of her city.  She is contradicting authority, both Joab (in his authority to destroy the city), and the city rulers (by not waiting on them to approach Joab, and not going to them first to ask them to give up Sheba).  She makes arguments and gives counsel—to men!—not suggestions and obeisance.  She is single-handedly responsible for pushing them to cut off Sheba’s head.

Now, what she doesn’t do is try to usurp authority.  She doesn’t remind one of Jezebel.  Like Abigail, and Deborah, when the men are willing to do what ought to be done, she fades into the background and we never hear tell of her again.  She works by persuasion and arguments, not force or unjust threats.

She’s an excellent example of bold biblical womanhood, womanhood that takes initiative, makes persuasive arguments, is not daunted, and whose wisdom is not hidden under a bushel, but ably helps all those around her, even a whole town and a king, for the glory of God.

Gentleness: Christian speech.

The book of James is a hard read for anyone who is in possession of a tongue.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell… no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

[James 3:6,8, hcsb]

The passage is bleak.  He doesn’t present tongues as a neutral thing, useful for blessing and cursing, he presents it as an evil thing, an untamable, impossible thing.  Like our flesh, like Paul complains about in Romans 7:15.  If only we could rip out our tongues!  If anyone doesn’t stumble in what they say, James says, they’re a perfect man (James 3:2).  The tongue is the final frontier of sanctification, the last chip to fall.

Honestly, I found this one of the most depressing chapters of Scripture I’ve studied lately, and it wasn’t until rereading it this morning that a little ray of hopefulness—of purpose—started to seep in.

The hopefulness, I think, is in verses 13 and 17-18:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

My Bible helpfully cross-referenced 1 Peter 3:15, which tells us to make our defense (for the Gospel) “yet do it with gentleness and respect,” as well as 2 Timothy 2:25 which tells elders to correct their opponents—in the context of teaching sound doctrine!—to correct their opponents “with gentleness.”   And that when we are correcting a sinning brother, we should restore them “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

And, of course, verses like Proverbs 15:1 (“a soft answer turns away wrath”) and Titus 3:2 (“avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”), 1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind, not provoked, not selfish, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never ends!), Ephesians 4:2 (“walk… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”), James 1:19-20 (“be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”).

Gentleness is all over Scripture.  Soft words.  Patience.  Long-suffering.  Gentleness is the way we respond to even our opponents and enemies.  Gentleness is the heart of the yoke Jesus tells us to take upon ourselves (Matthew 11:29).  Your gentleness made me great,” David praises in Psalm 18.

And here, in James 3, gentleness is the proof of wisdom, of maturity.  Gentleness that loves and leads to peace.  Wise people “cultivate peace.”  Beautiful phrase.  Gentleness that is compliant (interesting word, that!) and merciful.

The tongue works great evil.  And James is really honest about that, and it’s really… disturbing, the power that one little part can wield over the whole.  But then he spells out the alternative—the wise man is the gentle man, the one who seeks peace and pursues it (Psalm 34:14).  The wise man isn’t the one who is full of great insights and always quick to correctly exegete a passage, or even the one everyone regards as giving reliable advice… the wise man is the one who is speaking gently and kindly and selflessly and actively working to cultivate peace.  And while the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God, the gentleness—a gift and hallmark of God, a fruit of the Spirit—that is indeed how “the fruit of righteousness is sown, in peace, by those who cultivate peace” (James 3:18).  The wisdom from above—which leads to the fruit of the righteousness—is gentle.

Memorial stones.

I love the part in Joshua 4 where Joshua tells Israel to set up 12 memorial stones, so that,

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’  you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.”

Then Joshua set up in Gilgal the 12 stones they had taken from the Jordan, and he said to the Israelites, “In the future, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you should tell your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.”

I mean, this incredible supernatural event just happened: the fast-flowing waters of the Jordan suddenly stopped and piled up in a giant pile that reached all the way over to the next city, so that the ark of the covenant (and all the Israelites) could cross over on dry land downsteam.

So they made a memorial, plucked from the middle of the now-dry riverbed, and a mirrored memorial in the middle of the Jordan itself.  Something to remind themselves, and to provide an opportunity to testify to their children, and indeed the whole earth, of God’s mighty work and providential care.

There are a lot of ways in which this seems odd to me.  Unlike the Israelites, we are not a people of holy days or symbolism or relics.  We have Christ, we have changed hearts; we are not a people of sinners and a remnant, we are a people who know God.  We are in the New Covenant and the symbolic has become realized (Hebrews 8), the copy and shadow is now manifest.

And yet: God was the one who instructed this memorial of Joshua’s, and it pleased Him to have His name glorified and to have an occasion for them to tell their children.  I think how often we pass over things that ought to remind us of God’s past goodness to us, and not remark on them.  When maybe, what we ought to be doing, is taking every opportunity to remember and remind others—wow, do you remember when God provided this car for us?  I love our yard—do you remember when we were so amazed that God led us to this “perfect” house, and how very great of a blessing it has been to us?  Wedding anniversary—an opportunity to praise God for His sovereignty and grace in our marriage.  Birthdays—do you remember when God gave us this baby?  The hardships that were involved, and yet by His grace we overcame?  The things we have learned from interacting with this child?

Something to think about.  We can’t take “too many” opportunities to recount His faithfulness!

Getting Scripture Right

Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

“But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

[Matthew 25:24-27, hcsb]

l have been reading through Deuteronomy this week, with a bit of a better understanding of Judaism now, and the wild differences in the way we interpret some of these passages (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 22:5-12) and the way Judaism does… the differences in the way we understand Scripture itself compared to how Judaism (or even Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, etc.) understand it—it is no small thing.  The assumption that Scripture is clear compared to the assumption that Scripture requires specific interpretation from an appointed body makes a resounding difference.

And I think about this passage in Matthew, and: fear God.  Wow.  The man who received one talent had the totally wrong idea of what his master wanted.  He feared, but in the wrong way.  His fear immobilized him and underlined that his fear was for his own skin, not for pleasing his master.  And he didn’t understand his master at all.  He may have known things about him, but he didn’t know him.  He had the wrong interpretation.

One thing I have come to understand a little bit more over the past year is that people misinterpret Scripture.  I have misinterpreted Scripture; I was thinking just this morning about the way I used to understand John 3:16 compared to the way I understand it now.  Scripture is clear—the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is clear enough in its statements about itself—and yet our pride and our sin and false teachings certainly lead us into misinterpreting it.

There is a great urgency to ask the Spirit to enlighten us, lead us, keep us from error.  And to pay attention, to not be like the servant with one talent who hid it in the ground, but to learn our Master’s ways and seek His benefit rather than satiating our self-centered misunderstandings of Him.

Branches with Fruit

In John 15 Jesus makes His famous speech about “I am the vine; you are the branches,” and when we studied the passage in Bible study at my church about a month ago the metaphor really stuck in my head as… fearsome.  The passage (vv 1-8, hcsb):

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.  Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

Jesus is the vine; the Father is the keeper and pruner.  Jesus tells us there are two kinds of branches: those that don’t produce fruit (and are a) removed, and b) thrown into the fire and burned), and those that do produce fruit (and are pruned so they produce even more fruit).  He also tells us the means of fruit, remaining in Him; and that the fruit glorifies God.  And that we can’t produce fruit without Christ, and that with Christ we can’t help but produce fruit.

So we see that:

  • True fruit comes from abiding in Christ (John 15:4).
  • God prunes the branches to lead to an increasing crop of fruit (John 15:2).
  • Abiding in Christ leads to “much” fruit (John 15:5).
  • Branches that don’t have fruit will be thrown into the fire (John 15:6).
  • True fruit glorifies God (John 15:8).

There is more to unpack here, but this is the crucial picture: there is a vine (Christ) and there are branches that are in Him (and bear fruit) and there are branches that aren’t in Him (and are burned).

What kind of branch am I?

First, What is fruit?

Jesus doesn’t say here a neat little laundry list of fruits.  In fact, He says very little about it, except that it is a consequence of remaining in Christ (v. 4) and that it glorifies the Father (v. 8).  The first is an important point; God isn’t going out and gathering fruitful branches and splicing them into Christ, rather, it is their abiding in Christ that causes the fruit to grow.  The second is an insightful point—we know that there are those who think they are in Christ but aren’t (Matthew 7:22) and those who proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:17), but as believers, we are told to do nothing out of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3) but rather “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17) and “whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Similarly, in 1 Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything.”

Real fruit is that which glorifies God.

A few months ago I read a little book called The Doctrine of Repentance which in a small description really helped me grasp the distinction.  Repentance is a biblical fruit, a necessary fruit even.  But there is a difference between repentance which comes from abiding in Christ and leads to glorifying God, versus what Watson intelligently refers to as “counterfeit repentance.”  Things like fear of temporal consequence, partial turning from sin, vows against sin with no actual follow-though, embarrassment of public humiliation, etc. are not true repentance: they are neither the result of abiding in Christ, nor following His word, nor do they lead to the glory of God—they glorify self.  This is not fruit of the Vine.  There are many such counterfeit fruits.

Second, what brings the fruit?

Jesus doesn’t mention the Spirit explicitly in John 15, but He does in the very next chapter.  He says the Spirit “will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 15:13-14), and “He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 15:13-14).  The Spirit declares to us the things of Christ.  The Spirit convicts us of sin.  The Spirit convicts us of righteousness.  In John 14, Jesus said the Spirit “will teach you all things” (14:26), and, importantly, “He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).  The Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, abides in us and teaches us, which is why “it is to your advantage that I [Jesus] go away” (John 16:7).  We abide in Christ—and bear fruit—through the ministry of the Spirit.  “The Spirit is the One who gives life,” John 6:63.  Paul says in Romans 8:9, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”

Third, the Spirit or the Flesh?

Okay, so now to get to the nitty-gritty: what is it that Scripture tells us is the kind of fruit hanging on Christian branches?  Galatians 5:22-23 is an obvious place to begin, but first, the context—verse 16-17: “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.”  Paul begins with acknowledging that there’s a conflict here: the flesh versus the Spirit.  And then he will conclude (v. 24) by affirming that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.”  This fits perfectly with what Jesus had said in John: the branches have fruit (have crucified the flesh) but still need pruning (walk by the Spirit).  The fruit should increase and the flesh should continue to die.  Paul affirms this further in Romans 8:13: “But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  And also, Colossians 3:5, “put to death what belongs to your worldly nature.”  Those who are in Christ live by the Spirit and bear fruit according to the Spirit; those who live by the flesh must die (Romans 8:13).  Those who live by the Spirit and have no obligation to live by the flesh (Romans 8:12), although Paul is nevertheless clear that the flesh is still present and pushes us so that “you don’t do what you want” (Galatians 5:17) and, as he says of himself in Romans 7:14-24:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power.  For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.  For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.  Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me.  So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me.  For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law.  But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?

This description—this battle—this imperfection fits well with Jesus’s metaphor.  We are not the branches with no fruit, and yet we still need pruning.  We still wrestle, we still have an internal war, an internal clash of good (Spirit) and evil (flesh).  God prunes us, and one day will rescue us entirely.  In the meantime, though, we have the comfort that we are released from our obligation to the flesh (Romans 8:12) and that our inner selves joyfully agrees with God’s law (Romans 7:22).  And that there is also a very real sense in which our flesh has been crucified (Galatians 5:24), we “have died to what held us” (Romans 7:6), we have been “liberated from sin” (Romans 6:18).  While we still wrestle we are free.  While we still need pruning, we bear fruit.  We are not captives of sin and the flesh, but slaves of righteousness.  We are not dead branches thrown on the fire but fruit-bearing abiders in Christ.   We do not yet know fully, but we have begun to see (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Foundational fruits

Scripture itself speaks of things that we are called to be (e.g. temperate) and things that we absolutely are (e.g. repentant).  It speaks of a “foundation” (Hebrews 6:1) and then it also speaks of “growth” (2 Peter 3:18).  Scripture also speaks recurrently of “mature” believers and “immature” believers.  At any rate, since my main purpose here is to make a list of “marks of the Spirit,” so to speak, I think it is good to begin with the things Scripture says not merely eventually come about in the lives of believers but the things Scripture says believers are, from the moment they are born again.

Repentance

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Acts 3:19: “Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”

Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!”

Acts 17:30, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent,”

1 Corinthians 6:11, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

belief in Christ

Luke 12:8-9: ““And I say to you, anyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, but whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

John 3:16: ““For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

1 John 2:22-23: “Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son can have the Father; he who confesses the Son has the Father as well.”

Love, Hope, joy, and trust in God

These can also clearly increase; as other verses describe, but there is the fundamental element of them even in the beginning:

1 Peter 1:8-9, “You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Romans 14:17-18, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

Hebrews 11:6, “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:6-9: “So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight, and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him.”

Love for the people of God

1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”

1 John 3:17: “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him?”

John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.–

1 Thessalonians 4:9: “About brotherly love: You don’t need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

Testifying to the Gospel

Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”

Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1 John 5:10: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.”

Worship (and prayer) by the Spirit

1 Peter 2:5: “you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 6:18: “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.”

Taught by and Discerning by the Spirit

John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”

1 Corinthians 2:10-15: “Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.  We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.  But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone.”

Galatians 5:7-10:“Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.  A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.”

2 Corinthians 10:1-5: “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Fighting the flesh / Forsaking sin

1 John 2:3-6: “This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15,17: “For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died.  And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.”

Galatians 5:24: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Romans 8:5-8: “For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit.  For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 6:16: “Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

John 3:6: “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Ephesians 5:5, “For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.”

Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light—for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—discerning what is pleasing to the Lord.”

1 John 3:18-19: “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.  This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence.”

Ephesians 4:20-24: “But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.”

Sober-mindedness

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6: “But you, brothers, are not in the dark, for this day to overtake you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness.  So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be serious.”

Fruit of Sanctification

Beyond these things, Scripture describes many more things that we are told please God, or told to strive for by the Spirit.  These are also “fruit” of how we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  It is beyond my ability to list them all, but here are some of the passages that come to mind which are such “lists” offered by Paul and the other apostles.

2 Peter 3:11, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness

Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11-25: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyoneSee to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Rejoice alwaysPray constantlyGive thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Don’t stifle the Spirit. Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is goodStay away from every kind of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 4:7-11: “Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer.  Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. ”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4: “For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God.”

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12: “But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.”

Ephesians 4:1-3: “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.”

Ephesians 4:25-32: “Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption.  All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”

Colossians 3:12-4:6: “Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patienceaccepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged.  Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism. Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.  Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

Ephesians 5:8-21: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light—for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truthdiscerning what is pleasing to the Lord.  Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret.  Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you. Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord,  giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Ephesians 6:14-17: “Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.”

Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.”

Fruit of the Flesh

Similarly, in a number of places the Apostles list out things which are signs of living in the flesh.  Again, there are many more.  It is worth noting that while some of these are clearly in the context of “Christians, stop doing this,” others are in the context of “those who do this aren’t Christians.”

Galatians 5:19-21,26: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar… We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

1 Peter 4:3, “For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the pagans choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry.”

Ephesians 4:14: “Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.”

Ephesians 4:31: “All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice.

Colossians 3:5-9: “Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices.”

Ephesians 5:3-5: “But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.”

1 John 2:16-16: “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.”

2 Timothy 3:2-7: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!  For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

fruit as evidence: for ourselves

The first thing to consider is whether or not we can really evaluate our own lives to see how they stack up to sanctification, to the work of the Spirit changing us.  Have we laid the foundation? Are we going on to complete sanctification, “with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18)?  Are these questions helpful? Is our conduct informative?

Galatians 5:16: “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

1 John 1:6: “If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.”

1 John 1:10:  “If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

Romans 8:13: “for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Philippians 2:12-13: “Just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”

1 Peter 4:18: “And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

1 John 2:3-6: “This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him:  The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.”

Our good conduct is certainly not salvific (“all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”, Isaiah 64:6); in 1 John, John, in the middle of explaining who is “not in”, stops to assure his readers that he is writing “so that you may not sin” (2:1) and that there is hope not because we can do better, but because “we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ…He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.”  But, John continues, “this is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands” (1 John 2:3).  Throughout the book John lays down three very specific dichotomies: 1) those who  believe Jesus is the Messiah vs. those who don’t; 2) those who obey God’s commands vs. those who continue in sin; and 3) those who love the brothers vs. those who hate the brothers.  And his stated purpose in writing is to discourage sin and assure believers of their faith, so he clearly intends these statements to be useful.

Fruit as Evidence: for Others

The second question of consequence, then, is whether or not we are called to evaluate others, whether such a thing is possible.

Titus 3:10-11: “Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and sins, being self-condemned.”

Romans 16:17-18: “Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.”

1 Corinthians 5:11-13: “But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person…Put away the evil person from among yourselves.”

It is worth noting that there is nothing here to suggest that the evaluation of someone as “evil” is prescriptive.  The hope (1 Corinthians 5:5) is that the disassociation will lead to their repentance and salvation, not that it will shut them out from the Gospel for their damnation.

Nevertheless, the language is that they are “condemned,” they are “evil,” they “do not serve our Lord Christ.”  And we are called to “know” this.  2 Timothy 3:9 says of those who resist the truth that “their lack of understanding will be clear to all.”

Summary

To conclude, then, we see that there are certain evidences which a Christian must have—some fruit on the vine!  And there are more fruit which grows from God’s pruning.  And there are certain evidences which a Christian cannot have—which are incompatible with saving faith.  Especially in a church context, we are encouraged to act upon these evidences even in others.  But much more immediately, we are called to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling;” Jesus warns of the fire that awaits fruitless branches.  Paul tells us “whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12) and “do not be arrogant, but tremble” (Romans 11:20). Peter says “be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stability” (2 Peter 3:17).

Scripture is verbose in describing fruit—and all of this is from the New Testament alone, to say nothing of the Psalms or Proverbs or anywhere else—and blatant in affirming its useful evaluation.

2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.”

A Holy Priesthood

The concept of believers as “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) as I have long understood it is very much the object of derision and scorn.  “The Bible isn’t clear!”  Whether it’s formal ordination by an approved apostolic body or a Th. D. and peer-reviewed papers, the ability of the simple Christian to understand Scripture effectively is in serious question.

Yet Scripture itself testifies, and the testimony of God is greater (1 John 5:9).

The sufficient teaching of the Spirit

Jesus said to the disciples in John 14:26, speaking of the coming ministry of the Spirit, that He will “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you” (hcsb).  Jesus says a little bit later, “He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13).  This is affirmed by Paul, who says in 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, “God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone.” and by John, who writes,

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know…The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.” (1 John 2:20,27)

And also, “the one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in himself” (1 John 5:9).  Solomon also said in Proverbs 28:5, “those who seek the Lord understand [what is right] fully.”  And Jeremiah prophesied it in 31:34, “they will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 holds a really important point: how do we understand spiritual things?  By the Spirit.  Not by being taught them, not by man’s wisdom, not by advanced theological concepts… but by the Spirit.  And why?  2:5, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Our faith rests in the power of God.  Our discernment comes from that power, from the Spirit, which Jeremiah prophesied, Jesus promised, and Paul and John affirmed.

The sufficient evidence of Scripture

The second, tangential question, of course, is whether or not Scripture is adequate as a written text to go alongside the ministry of the Spirit.

The go-to verse is 2 Timothy 3:16, but I am struck even more strongly by the context (vv. 12-17, hcsb):

In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

So, in the context of talking about persecution, Paul warns Timothy that deception is coming, exhorts him to continue in what he was already taught, affirms who taught him (his mother and grandmother, neither ordained nor seminary graduates), and then names what he already knew—the sacred Scriptures.  And then he makes this profound statement: “Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  I really don’t think he could possibly be any more clear about the sufficiency of Scripture (and the Old Testament alone, at that, as Timothy knew these Scriptures from childhood!) to lead to wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ.  It’s very precise and very adequate.   And it’s into this context that the famous verse 16 falls.  Is Scripture just useful and vaguely profitable?  Resoundingly not.  It’s sufficient for faith and salvation.  And then Paul elaborates, verse 17, “so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  Scripture, taught by one’s own parents, is adequate protection against deceivers, and adequate teaching to for wisdom for salvation, for faith in Christ Jesus, and for completeness and readiness for everything.

And yet even more can we say!

Jude 3 reminds us that “the faith was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  It’s not an ongoing revelation.  The faith is established.  That’s why Paul warns “if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be anathema!” (Galatians 1:8) And John joins in, warning again against “many deceivers,” saying that “everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God… if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 7-10), again warning against adding to the basic, given teaching of Christ, which we are supposed to not add to, but rather “abide in.”  Proverbs 30:5-6, “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.”

In 2 Timothy 4:2-3 Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word… for the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.”  Once again, the idea to stick to the word as opposed to “new” doctrine.

David also spoke of the beautiful adequacy of the words of the Lord (Psalm 19:7-8, hcsb):

The instruction of the Lord is perfect,
renewing one’s life;
the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
making the inexperienced wise.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
making the heart glad;
the command of the Lord is radiant,
making the eyes light up.

The instruction of the Lord is perfect.  It doesn’t need us to embellish or impose elaborate scholarship upon it.  The testimony of the Lord makes the inexperienced wise.

the priesthood of all believers

So, God is able by the Spirit to make us understand all spiritual things, without special teachers, and Scripture is an adequate collection of knowledge for salvation, faith, and wisdom.  The final piece falls into place very neatly: the temple veil was rent in two, and there is now “one mediator between God and men,” Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), who is the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14).  The Spirit of God no longer rests over the Ark of the Covenant, but indwells His people (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Christ was the sacrifice for sins once for all, and replaces the intermediary priests in that way (Hebrews 10:12) but now Christians also “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).  By His blood our worship is acceptable.  Priests in the Old Testament had another function: the priests made the offerings, and they appealed to God on behalf of the people (e.g. Joel 2); they distinguished between the “holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Lev. 10:10), they adjucated legal decisions (Deuteronomy 17), acted as judges and maintained the Sabbaths (Ezekiel 44), and settled all disputes (Deuteronomy 21).  All of this echoes in the New Testament descriptions of Christ as High Priest (Hebrews 9:11) of a more perfect tabernacle and believers as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). 

The wonderful working of grace here is that not only does the Spirit teach us, not only is Scripture able  for salvation, wisdom, and equipping, but we as believers are also adopted into a holy priesthood…

so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:9-10)

This is what the priesthood of all believers is about; a people called to glorify God, for He alone is the source and instructor of their salvation.

Sufficiency in action

One of my favorite examples of this is in 2 Kings 22.  Josiah becomes king of Israel at eight years old, and “he did what was right in the Lord’s sight” (v.2).  One of the first things he does is turn to the repair of the temple, and in the process, Hilkiah the high priest finds… the book of the law.

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes…Go and inquire of the LORD for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. (2 Kings 22:11-13)

Scripture led to repentance and, indeed, salvation (2 Kings 22:20).  The priests had lost it, but it was easily recovered from the book of the law.

The second major example is in Acts 17, where the Bereans are commended for not merely accepting the words of the apostles, but for comparing what the apostles taught to the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  So we see that even when the Apostles taught, it was still “noble-minded” to check their words against Scripture.  And the reward, the “therefore,” was that many of them believed.  Again, Scripture leads to repentance and salvation.

Biblical cautions about tradition

One final point worth noting is how tradition plays into the story, biblically speaking.  While we are exhorted to hold fast to the traditions that were already taught by the Apostles (2 Thesalonians 2:15), Colossians 2:8 warns against being taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” In 2:23 Paul is even more specific, ascetic and additional “regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  We are not to go beyond the bounds of Scripture.  Paul also tells Timothy, “guard what has been entrusted to your care.  Turn away from.. the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20).  This is in perfect alignment with the view of tradition in the Old Testament prophets and as taught by Christ.

Beginning in Isaiah 3:12 we see the caution of following the leaders’ teaching: “Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths.”  Micah 3:5 also warns of “prophets who lead my people astray” and Jeremiah cautions “the lying pen of the scribes has made [the law of the Lord] into a lie.”  These are the same traditions, additions to Scripture, that Jesus questioned in Matthew 15:3, “why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” and 15:6, “for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” 

An appalling and horrible thing
    has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
    and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
    but what will you do when the end comes?
(Jeremiah 5:30-31)

Christ appeals to the authority of Scripture specifically, against the traditions that had developed after the law was given, and the disciples of Jesus did “not walk according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5).  Jesus rejected the authority of even the priests and elders to go beyond the teaching of Scripture.  Paul warned that this is how deceivers would lead the church astray, by adding to Scripture.  Peter exhorts us further, “remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2).  And all throughout, the constant theme is that “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness”—and how?—”through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). 

What does Peter say God gave us by that glory and goodness?  Not the teachings of men, which he warns against again in the very same section (2 Peter 2:1), but “very great and precious promises,” (v 4), promises found in Scripture (the testimony of the prophets and apostles, 3:2) and taught through the Spirit (1:20-21).

Judges: God uses broken people.

I just finished my study of the book of Judges, and, wow, so many thoughts.

The stories that have stuck out to me: Deborah and Barak.  Gideon.  Abimelech.  Jephthah.  Samson,  Micah, Gibeah.  With a few others stuck in.  Every single story is about the failure of people to do the right thing. 

First we have Barak (Judges 4), who ought to have obeyed God’s command to go to Mount Tabor… but doesn’t, until Deborah summons him and reminds him of what God already commanded.  Then he still refuses until Deborah agrees to go with him, at the cost of losing all honor for the victory, and Jael kills Sisera.

Then we have Gideon, who is a pretty decent if highly-doubtful guy, who actually meets YHWH (Judges 6) in the flesh, continues asking God for extra confirmation at every step, but basically, fears God and does well… until the end, when he collects booty from everyone and makes an idol which leads his household astray.  He also has tons of wives and children.

This doesn’t bode well for Gideon’s son Abimelech (Judges 9), who kills every last one of his brothers except the youngest, Jotham, who manages to escape.  Abimelech names himself king after this mass slaughter, and various other atrocities and mass-murders ensue, until God “turns back” the evil Abimelech had done on his head.

Then we come to Jephthah, who fears God and judges pretty well, but does this awful hideous thing of promising to human-sacrifice something (which turns out to be his beloved daughter), and then… he follows through on his oath (Judges 11).

Then Samson (Judges 13), whose parents have an encouraging and unblemished testimony of fearing God, and who is himself filled with the Spirit incredibly constantly, but Samson himself makes a ton of foolish decisions, is vain, is a womanizing partier, is prone to fits of incredible temper, revenge, and wiping people out, breaks his vows, lies, gives into nagging women repeatedly… and dies.

Then Micah (Judges 17), who steals from his mother, then creates a completely invalid little shrine in the name of YHWH but with false gods abounding, bribes a Levite priest into lending it some legitimacy.  But along comes the tribe of Dan, which steals his little shrine, his priest, and his false gods, and carries them off to set up in Dan, where it remained for “as long as the house of God was in Shiloh” (18:31, hcsb).

Lastly, there’s Gibeah, which is really just… unspeakable.  Atrocity compounding atrocity, one after the other.  I’m not sure there are more revolting chapters anywhere in Scripture than Judges 19-21.

And yet, through all of this, God is accomplishing His ends.  Israel  has no king.  Joshua, the faithful leader, has died, and the tribes have continually (chapter 1) failed to take control of the land from the Canaanites.  A lot more of that is accomplished through these stories.  And the Israelites are disciplined again and again, and forced to return to God and beg for mercy and assistance, again and again.  One time God denies them—I’ve rescued you before, and you went away again, “cry out to the gods you have chosen” (Judges 10:14, hcsb), but they persist in their repentance and God “became weary of Israel’s misery” (10:16, hcsb), which is one of the most startlingly beautiful phrases in Scripture.  Another time—after Gibeah—the Israelites consult Him for help, and He tells them what to do… only to have them be considerably wiped out, beginning with Judah (Judges 20).  It is only after they come to God again with fasting and sacrifices and weeping that He delivers the rebelling tribe Benjamin into their hands.

So we see here, first of all, how remarkably God works.  This is both justice and mercy tempered together, love and discipline.  But what I found incredibly encouraging—and surprising—was how very screwed up the “good guys” are, and yet they are included in Hebrews 11 among the faithful and righteous.  We point to David as an example of how fallen Christians can be, but here we have Barak, who ignores God’s explicit calling; Gideon, who doubts God repeatedly and falters at the end; Jephthah, who murders his own daughter in the name of God; and Samson, who seems in many ways to live a really, really depraved lifestyle filled with women and drinking and hedonism and lawbreaking.  And yet these are the people God called, used, and justified.

It’s also scary the reality of God’s judgment here.  Barak loses the honor of the victory.  God repays Jephthah’s rash vow with the loss of his daughter.  Gideon’s whole family is massacred by his own son.  Samson loses everything he seems to strive after, and then his own life.  The nation of Israel as a whole loses many of their men in the skirmish with Benjamin (not to mention nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin itself), then because of their own rash vow-making, they end up losing another entire town of people, and basically inviting the remaining Benjaminites to come along and kidnap and rape innocent women in Shiloh with no consequences.

Judges is a really easy book to read.  But a very hard one to process.