Thursday, May 9, 2013

How should a Christian view gun control?

The recent shootings across the United States have caused much heartache. The senseless and tragic incidents have also renewed the intensity of discussion regarding American gun laws. Politicians, sportsmen, and theologians have all weighed in on the issue of gun control. Guns are readily available in the U.S., and ownership is protected by the Constitution. How should a Christian view gun control? What does the Bible have to say that would apply to gun control?

The Bible was written long before the invention of any type of gun, so the phrase “gun control” will not be found in Scripture. However, the Bible records many accounts of wars, battles, and the use of weapons. Warfare is presented as an inevitable part of living in a fallen world (Mark 13:7; James 4:1), and weaponry is a necessary part of warfare. Weapons in the Bible were also used for personal protection. In some parts of Israel, robbers were common (see Luke 10:30), and many people carried weapons when they traveled. Carrying a weapon for self-defense is never condemned in the Bible. In fact, it was mentioned in a positive light by Jesus Himself on one occasion (Luke 22:35-38).

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, and they are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This would have to apply to gun laws, too. If American gun laws change, American Christians should submit to these changes and work through democratic means toward any desired alternatives. The Bible does not forbid the possession of weapons, and neither does it command such possession. Laws may come and go, but the goal of the believer in Jesus Christ remains the same: to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Another biblical principle to consider is that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus said this to Peter when Peter tried to mount an imprudent “defense” of Jesus against the mob that had come to arrest Him. Peter’s actions were not only futile against such a “large crowd armed with swords and clubs” (verse 47), but his rash behavior also belied Jesus’ submissive attitude (verse 50) and worked against the fulfillment of Scripture (verse 54). There is “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8), and Peter confused the two.

Christianity supports personal freedom. Romans 14:1-4 indicates that, when Scripture does not clearly address a particular issue, there is freedom for individual choice. America has historically embraced the concept of personal freedom that resonates with this principle, and the founding documents guarantee wide freedoms regarding firearms. Some point to Matthew 5:9, in which Jesus pronounces a blessing on the peacemakers, and apply it to the issue of gun control. The idea is that guns are antithetical to peace. This may be more of a philosophical or political idea than a theological one, however. There is nothing theologically, or even logically, that links guns to a lack of peace; sometimes, guns help maintain civil peace.

Debates over whether to control guns or how much to control them depend largely on political and philosophical arguments, not moral ones. This is not to say that there is no moral component to the issue. Obviously, the gun itself is amoral, an object that can be used for good or for evil. More important is the morality of the person wielding the gun, and that is too often the missing consideration in the gun control argument. The fact that some sinners use guns to commit sin does not mean guns are the problem. Sin is the problem, and that’s a moral and spiritual issue. Since the very beginning of humanity, people have been killing other people, with and without weapons (see Genesis 4). Taking a certain weapon out of circulation might make murder more difficult but by no means impossible.

As far as the Bible is concerned, the use of guns is a matter of personal conviction. There is nothing unspiritual about owning a gun or knowing how to use one. There is nothing wrong with protecting oneself or loved ones, even if it involves the use of weapons. We need not pretend there is never a need for guns, but pointing a gun at a person should always be a last resort. We should seek to neutralize threats without violence whenever possible.

So, how should a Christian view gun control? With the authority God has entrusted to it, the government has the right to allow or disallow gun ownership to whatever degree it deems right. We, as citizens, are called to submit to whatever gun control laws the government institutes. This is not, however, a statement on the wisdom of gun control. There are good reasons to allow law-abiding citizens to own guns. Ultimately, guns are not the problem. Sinful people are the problem.

Recommended Resource: Politics - According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem.

"What does the Bible say about demon possession / demonic possession?

The Bible gives some examples of people possessed or influenced by demons. From these examples we can find some symptoms of demonic influence and gain insight as to how a demon possesses someone. Here are some of the biblical passages: Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22; 17:18; Mark 5:1-20; 7:26-30; Luke 4:33-36; Luke 22:3; Acts 16:16-18. In some of these passages, the demon possession causes physical ailments such as inability to speak, epileptic symptoms, blindness, etc. In other cases, it causes the individual to do evil, Judas being the main example. In Acts 16:16-18, the spirit apparently gives a slave girl some ability to know things beyond her own learning. The demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes, who was possessed by a multitude of demons (Legion), had superhuman strength and lived naked among the tombstones. King Saul, after rebelling against the LORD, was troubled by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-15; 18:10-11; 19:9-10) with the apparent effect of a depressed mood and an increased desire to kill David.

Thus, there is a wide variety of possible symptoms of demon possession, such as a physical impairment that cannot be attributed to an actual physiological problem, a personality change such as depression or aggression, supernatural strength, immodesty, antisocial behavior, and perhaps the ability to share information that one has no natural way of knowing. It is important to note that nearly all, if not all, of these characteristics may have other explanations, so it is important not to label every depressed person or epileptic individual as demon-possessed. On the other hand, Western cultures probably do not take satanic involvement in people’s lives seriously enough.

In addition to these physical or emotional distinctions, one can also look at spiritual attributes showing demonic influence. These may include a refusal to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10-11) and the belief in and spread of false doctrine, especially concerning Jesus Christ and His atoning work (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 John 4:1-3).

Concerning the involvement of demons in the lives of Christians, the apostle Peter is an illustration of the fact that a believer can be influenced by the devil (Matthew 16:23). Some refer to Christians who are under a strong demonic influence as being “demonized,” but never is there an example in Scripture of a believer in Christ being possessed by a demon. Most theologians believe that a Christian cannot be possessed because he has the Holy Spirit abiding within (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Spirit of God would not share residence with a demon.

We are not told exactly how one opens himself up for possession. If Judas’ case is representative, he opened his heart to evil—in his case by his greed (John 12:6). So it may be possible that if one allows his heart to be ruled by some habitual sin, it becomes an invitation for a demon to enter. From missionaries’ experiences, demon possession also seems to be related to the worship of heathen idols and the possession of occult materials. Scripture repeatedly relates idol worship to the actual worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20), so it should not be surprising that involvement with idolatry could lead to demon possession.

Based on the above scriptural passages and some of the experiences of missionaries, we can conclude that many people open their lives up to demon involvement through the embracing of some sin or through cultic involvement (either knowingly or unknowingly). Examples may include immorality, drug/alcohol abuse that alters one’s state of consciousness, rebellion, bitterness, and transcendental meditation.

There is an additional consideration. Satan and his evil host can do nothing the Lord does not allow them to do (Job 1-2). This being the case, Satan, thinking he is accomplishing his own purposes, is actually accomplishing God’s good purposes, as in the case of Judas’ betrayal. Some people develop an unhealthy fascination with the occult and demonic activity. This is unwise and unbiblical. If we pursue God, if we are clothing ourselves with His armor and relying upon His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18), we have nothing to fear from the evil ones, for God rules over all!

Recommended Resources: Logos Bible Software and Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels, and Demons by R.C. Sproul.

God vs. Satan - if God is all-powerful, why does He not just kill Satan?


One of the mysteries of the Christian life is why God didn’t destroy Satan immediately after Satan sinned. We know that God will one day defeat Satan by throwing him into the Lake of Fire where he will be tortured day and night forever (Revelation 20:10), but sometimes we wonder why God has not destroyed Satan already. Perhaps we will never know God’s exact reasoning, but we do know certain things about His nature.

First, we know God is absolutely sovereign over all creation, and this includes Satan. Certainly, Satan and his demons wreak havoc in the world, but they are only allowed a certain amount of freedom. We also know that God has planned everything from the beginning of time to the end. Nothing can thwart His plans, and things are proceeding exactly on schedule. “The LORD of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’” (Isaiah 14:24).

Second, “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Whatever God has planned for Satan, that plan will be the best one possible. God’s perfect wrath and justice will be satisfied, and His perfect righteousness will be glorified. Those who love Him and who wait for His plan to be fulfilled will be thrilled to be part of that plan and will praise and glorify Him as they see it unfold.

Third, we know that to question God’s plan and its timing is to question God Himself, His judgment, His character and His very nature. It is not wise to question His right to do exactly as He pleases. The psalmist tells us, “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). Whatever plan comes from the mind of the Almighty is the best plan possible. It is true that we can’t expect to understand that mind perfectly, as He reminds us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Nevertheless, our responsibility to God is to obey Him, to trust Him, and to submit to His will, whether we understand it or not. In the case of His timing for Satan’s demise, it has to be the best possible plan because it is God’s plan.

Recommended Resource:
The Serpent of Paradise by Erwin Lutzer.

How can we prevent our young people from losing faith?

This question highlights an unfortunate trend. As numerous recent books and studies have revealed, a large number of today’s youth are becoming disenchanted with the church. As a result, they are either leaving the church altogether or exploring other avenues to satisfy their spiritual appetites. And, contrary to what some may believe, more young people leave the church during their middle and high school years than will leave during their college years. Over 60 percent of young adults who attended church in their teens will ultimately become spiritually disengaged at some point during their twenties (The Barna Group).

Although the reasons behind this youthful exodus are many and varied, the answer to this epidemic is really quite simple. Our children need to fully understand that Scripture alone can give life and bring sanctification to a sinful soul, and only Scripture can equip us to discern truth from error. Yet, as the Apostle Paul aptly pointed out, how can they believe when they’ve not heard? (Romans 10:14). In a world in which there is a growing tide of hostility towards Christianity, we need to teach our children the Word of God and how to defend it (1 Peter 3:15). There are three places our children ultimately learn and develop their worldview and belief system: school, church, and home.

Beginning around age five, kids will spend the better part of two decades becoming educated. And public school systems, along with the colleges and universities they attend, continue to indoctrinate kids with the religious beliefs of humanists. Half a century ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized humanism as a religion. So, when the Bible and prayer were tossed out of public schools, they did not throw out religion. They simply replaced the Christian worldview with an atheistic one. As a result, practically everything a child learns in school about science and history has nothing to do with God. Everything is explained without any reference to our Creator. On the other hand, while kids are in school they are taught and expected to tolerate all beliefs, points of view, and different behavioral preferences. A sign at one college epitomizes this expected tolerance: “It is OK for you to think you are right. It is NOT OK for you to think someone else is wrong.” It should come as no surprise, then, that over 70 percent of young adults under the age 25 think all beliefs are equally valid.

Let’s look at the church, as this is certainly a place where the truth of God’s Word should be vigorously defended. Unfortunately, however, more and more churches are deviating from scriptural truth. The Apostle Paul warned us this would happen (2 Timothy 4:3). Discussing the church’s diminishing adherence to the hard truths of God’s Word, Charles Spurgeon had this to say: “There will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today…how is the world to be saved if the church is false to her Lord?” One theologian aptly commented in response: “We who love the Lord and His church must not sit by while the church gains momentum on the down-grade of worldliness and compromise. Men and women before us have paid with their blood to deliver the faith intact to us. Now, it is our turn to guard the truth. It is a task that calls for courage, not compromise. And it is a responsibility that demands unwavering devotion to a very narrow purpose.”

The development of a Christian foundation, then, must begin at home with the parents. Yet the truth is that, by the time the average child leaves for college at age 18, he or she will have never read the entire Bible (which can be read cover to cover in about 80 hours), and many will never have opened a Bible. Yet they will have watched roughly 21,000 – 30,000 hours of television, which will most definitely have played a significant role in developing their worldview.

The Bible tells us that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). Even though we are their stewards for a relatively short time, our parental influence in their lives is significant, to say the least, and it is our responsibility to pass along our faith and values to them. In the Old Testament, Moses stressed to his people the importance of teaching children about the LORD and His commands, decrees, and laws: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:19-20). And in the New Testament, parents are taught to raise their children in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), as all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, training, and correcting (2 Timothy 3:16). Parents need to instill in their children a thoroughly Christian worldview so they understand that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). This requires studying the Bible and a lot of hard work. For our children to be able to defend the Word of God (1 Peter 3:15), they need to know it well. The importance of teaching our children the truth of Scripture at an early age is put into perspective by this sobering statistic from Barna: only about 6 percent of people who are not Christians by age 18 will become Christians later in life. That frightening thought should reverberate deeply in the hearts of parents who aspire to have their children attain the eternal life that Jesus Christ died to give us.

Jesus Christ said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall as it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). It is clear that the forces of our increasingly secular world will bring torrents of “rain” and “wind” into our children’s lives so as to turn their ears away from the truth. Christians are not surprised by this, as the Bible tells us this is going to happen to a greater degree as we draw closer to Christ’s return. The wise Solomon taught us to train our children in the way they should go and when they are old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6). Quite simply, it is imperative that we construct a Christian paradigm in our children’s hearts at a tender age.

Recommended Resource: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.

How can I know if something is a sin?

There are two issues involved in this question, the things that the Bible specifically mentions and declares to be sin and those the Bible does not directly address. Scriptural lists of various sins include Proverbs 6:16-19, Galatians 5:19-21, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. There can be no doubt that these passages present the activities as sinful, things God does not approve of. Murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc.—there is no doubt the Bible presents such things as sin. The more difficult issue is in determining what is sinful in areas that the Bible does not directly address. When the Bible does not cover a certain subject, we have some general principles in His Word to guide us.

First, when there is no specific scriptural reference, it is good to ask not whether a certain thing is wrong, but, rather, if it is definitely good. The Bible says, for example, that we are to “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). Our few days here on earth are so short and precious in relation to eternity that we ought never to waste time on selfish things, but to use it only on “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29).

A good test is to determine whether we can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use the particular activity for His own good purposes. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If there is room for doubt as to whether it pleases God, then it is best to give it up. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). We need to remember that our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This great truth should have a real bearing on what we do and where we go.

In addition, we must evaluate our actions not only in relation to God, but also in relation to their effect on our family, our friends, and other people in general. Even if a particular thing may not hurt us personally, if it harmfully influences or affects someone else, it is a sin. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall....We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 14:21; 15:1).

Finally, remember that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and nothing else can be allowed to take priority over our conformity to His will. No habit or recreation or ambition can be allowed to have undue control over our lives; only Christ has that authority. “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Recommended Resource: Making Sense of Man and Sin by Wayne Grudem.

What is general revelation and special revelation?

 General revelation and special revelation are the two ways God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. Special revelation refers to the more specific truths that can be known about God through the supernatural.

In regard to general revelation, Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” According to this passage, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator.

General revelation is also taught in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Like Psalm 19, Romans 1:20 teaches that God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen” and “understood” from what has been made, and that there is no excuse for denying these facts. With these Scriptures in mind, perhaps a working definition of general revelation would be “the revelation of God to all people, at all times, and in all places that proves that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent.”

Special revelation is how God has chosen to reveal Himself through miraculous means. Special revelation includes physical appearances of God, dreams, visions, the written Word of God, and most importantly—Jesus Christ. The Bible records God appearing in physical form many times (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4, 34:5-7), and the Bible records God speaking to people through dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2) and visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7).

Of primary importance in the revealing of God is His Word, the Bible, which is also a form of special revelation. God miraculously guided the authors of Scripture to correctly record His message to mankind, while still using their own styles and personalities. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is inspired, profitable, and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God determined to have the truth regarding Him recorded in written form because He knew the inaccuracy and unreliability of oral tradition. He also understood that the dreams and visions of man can be misinterpreted. God decided to reveal everything that humanity needs to know about Him, what He expects, and what He has done for us in the Bible.

The ultimate form of special revelation is the Person of Jesus Christ. God became a human being (John 1:1, 14). Hebrews 1:1-3 summarizes it best, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” God became a human being, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to identify with us, to set an example for us, to teach us, to reveal Himself to us, and, most importantly, to provide salvation for us by humbling Himself in death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus Christ is the ultimate “special revelation” from God.

Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns.