Category Archives: Christian Character

SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE:

Christians often talk about the need to “speak the truth in love,” a command found in Ephesians 4:15. Many times what they mean is the need to share difficult truths in a gentle, kind, inoffensive manner. From a practical standpoint, we know that difficult things are best heard when our defenses are not up. In a loving, non-threatening environment, hard truths are more readily received. So it is biblical to share hard truths with others “in love,” in the manner that the phrase is commonly used. Looking at the context of Ephesians 4:15, however, gives us deeper insight on what it means to “speak the truth in love.”

In the verses prior to the command to speak the truth in love, Paul writes about unity in the body of Christ. He urges the Ephesians, and all Christians by extension, to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). He describes this life as one in which we are humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, and making efforts toward unity. Paul reminds his readers that we all serve the same Lord and are part of the same body. He talks about Christ giving apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–13). Having reached maturity, we will not be spiritual infants, easily deceived, and tossed to and fro “by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

In this context—of church unity and spiritual maturity—Paul writes, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Rather than be spiritually immature and easily deceived, we are to speak the truth to one another, with love, so that we can all grow in maturity. We are to train one another in truth—the foundational gospel truths, truths about who God is and what He has called us to do, hard truths of correction, etc.—and our motivation to do so is love.

The “love” referred to in this verse is agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of the loved one. We speak truth in order to build up. Several verses later Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Our words should be beneficial to the hearers of those words. We should speak truth in love.

Paul also counsels “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of you minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:22–25). As members of the same body, we should not deceive one another. We cannot defraud each other through lies. Nor should we attempt to hide things about ourselves out of shame or in an effort to manage our images. Rather, as those who are part of the same body intended for the same purpose and united by the same love, we should be characterized by honesty. Those who love must speak the truth: “Love . . . rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Dishonesty is unloving and abusive.

Speaking the truth in love is not as much about having a gentle demeanor as it is about the way truth and love go hand-in-hand. Because we love one another, we must speak the truth. Because we know the truth, we must be people characterized by love (John 13:34–3515:1–17). Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As His followers who are being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29), we should also be characterized by grace and truth.

Importantly, we are also called to love those who do not know Christ. The best way we can show love is to share with them the truth of the gospel. Apart from Christ, people are dead in their sins and destined for an eternity in hell (John 3:16–18Romans 6:23). But in Christ they can receive new life and eternal salvation (Romans 10:9–152 Corinthians 5:17). This is a message we must share. Peter wrote, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We share the gospel because we love the people for whom Christ died. We speak God’s truth because of His love and in a way that clearly and unapologetically communicates both truth and love (1 John 4:10–12).

Prophet Nathan Emol

IS CHRISTIANITY A RELIGION OR A RELATIONSHIP?

Religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” In that respect, Christianity can be classified as a religion. However, practically speaking, Christianity has a key difference that separates it from other belief systems that are considered religions. That difference is relationship.

Most religion, theistic or otherwise, is man-centered. Any relationship with God is based on man’s works. A theistic religion, such as Judaism or Islam, holds to the belief in a supreme God or gods; while non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, focus on metaphysical thought patterns and spiritual “energies.” But most religions are similar in that they are built upon the concept that man can reach a higher power or state of being through his own efforts. In most religions, man is the aggressor and the deity is the beneficiary of man’s efforts, sacrifices, or good deeds. Paradise, nirvana, or some higher state of being is man’s reward for his strict adherence to whatever tenets that religion prescribes.

In that regard, Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship that God has established with His children. In Christianity, God is the aggressor and man is the beneficiary (Romans 8:3). The Bible states clearly that there is nothing man can do to make himself right with God (Isaiah 53:6; 64:6; Romans 3:23; 6:23). According to Christianity, God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Colossians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Our sin separates us from His presence, and sin must be punished (Romans 6:23; Matthew 10:28; 23:33). But, because God loves us, He took our punishment upon Himself. All we must do is accept God’s gift of salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Grace is God’s blessing on the undeserving.

The grace-based relationship between God and man is the foundation of Christianity and the antithesis of religion. Established religion was one of the staunchest opponents of Jesus during His earthly ministry. When God gave His Law to the Israelites, His desire was that they “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). “Love” speaks of relationship. Obedience to all the other commands had to stem from a love for God. We are able to love Him “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). However, by Jesus’ time, the Jewish leaders had made a religion out of God’s desire to live in a love relationship with them (1 Timothy 1:8; Romans 7:12). Over the years, they had perverted God’s Law into a works-based religion that alienated people from Him (Matthew 23:13–15; Luke 11:42). Then they added many of their own rules to make it even more cumbersome (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:9). They prided themselves on their ability to keep the Law—at least outwardly—and lorded their authority over the common people who could never keep such strenuous rules. The Pharisees, as adept as they were at rule-keeping, failed to recognize God Himself when He was standing right in front of them (John 8:19). They had chosen religion over relationship.

Just as the Jewish leaders made a religion out of a relationship with God, many people do the same with Christianity. Entire denominations have followed the way of the Pharisees in creating rules not found in Scripture. Some who profess to follow Christ are actually following man-made religion in the name of Jesus. While claiming to believe Scripture, they are often plagued with fear and doubt that they may not be good enough to earn salvation or that God will not accept them if they don’t perform to a certain standard. This is religion masquerading as Christianity, and it is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 23:1–7 when He rebuked the Pharisees. Instead of pointing people to heaven, these religious leaders were keeping people out of the kingdom of God.

Holiness and obedience to Scripture are important, but they are evidences of a transformed heart, not a means to attain it. God desires that we be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He wants us to grow in grace and knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). But we do these things because we are His children and want to be like Him, not in order to earn His love.

Christianity is not about signing up for a religion. Christianity is about being born into the family of God (John 3:3). It is a relationship. Just as an adopted child has no power to create an adoption, we have no power to join the family of God by our own efforts. We can only accept His invitation to know Him as Father through adoption (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:15). When we join His family through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside our hearts (1 Corinthians 6:19; Luke 11:13; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22). He then empowers us to live like children of the King. He does not ask us to try to attain holiness by our own strength, as religion does. He asks that our old self be crucified with Him so that His power can live through us (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6). God wants us to know Him, to draw near to Him, to pray to Him, and love Him above everything. That is not religion; that is a relationship.

Prophet Nathan Emol

NEVER GIVE UP:

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The opposite of giving up is perseverance or endurance—two qualities encouraged for believers (2 Thessalonians 1:4; Romans 5:3; James 1:3). When we persevere through difficulties or weariness, we refuse to give up on what God has called us to do. Galatians 6:9 encourages us to never give up: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Several factors can cause people to consider giving up. The first is discouragement. We may begin an endeavor gripped with passion to see it through, but after a while, when we don’t receive the results we expected or when people don’t appreciate our efforts, we can become discouraged. The Bible instructs fathers not to be harsh with their children, lest the children become discouraged. Discouraged children often give up trying to please their parents and act out. Discouraged, disillusioned adults often give up or act out as well. God’s solution for discouragement is that the church “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Another factor that leads to people giving up is pride. We may take on a challenge, confident of our own abilities and eager to impress people we care about. God has warned us that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). When we crash, our pride is wounded, and we often give up altogether, rather than get up and try again. This happens to some in ministry. They start in the ministry for the right reasons, but somewhere along the line pride takes over. When they are embarrassed, confronted, or challenged, pride insists on giving up, and they walk away.

Exhaustion can also lead to giving up. If we don’t pace ourselves and set healthy boundaries, we may become so mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally exhausted that we simply quit. Those in helping ministries are most susceptible to giving up due to exhaustion. Needy people are everywhere, and helpers who try to be all things to all people all the time are subject to burnout. It helps to remember that we cannot give to others what we don’t possess, so taking care of ourselves is not selfish. Caregivers for young children, the elderly, or the terminally ill must remember to carve out time to keep themselves healthy. Those in ministry must keep themselves immersed in a personal relationship with God, or they will lack the spiritual strength to continue pouring into others. Jesus gives us a perfect example of someone who continually ministered to others, while still prioritizing His relationship with the Father. Jesus often slipped away “while it was still dark” to spend time in prayer (Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16).

Scripture exhorts us that, when we are on the path God has ordained for us, we are not to give up (Philippians 4:1; Galatians 5:1; Revelation 3:10). Nehemiah never gave up the construction of Jerusalem’s walls, despite the fierce opposition he faced. Caleb never gave up on the promise of God, and he conquered a giant-infested, fortified hill country when he was 85 years old. Jesus persevered all the way to the cross. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). When we give up too soon, we lose out on all God planned to do through and for us.

Sometimes giving up is an indication that people were never true followers of Christ. That’s what the Bible calls apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 2:19). Those who have truly been born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3) will never give Jesus up. They are kept in the Lord’s hand (John 10:28–29), and they will persevere to the end.

Prophet Nathan Emol

WALK WITH GOD:

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There are several people described as “walking with God” in the Bible, beginning with Enoch in Genesis 5:24. Noah is also described as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9). Micah 6:8 gives us a glimpse into God’s desire for us: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Walking with God is not an activity reserved for a select few. God desires all of His children to walk with Him.

What happens when we walk with someone? Imagine that you and a close friend are enjoying a walk down a country lane. You are in close proximity. You talk, laugh, listen, and share your hearts. Your attention is focused on this person to the exclusion of almost everything else. You notice the beauty around you or an occasional distraction, but only to point it out to your companion. You share it together. You are in harmony, and you both enjoy the peaceful camaraderie.

Walking with God is like that. When we enter into an intimate heart relationship with God through faith in His Son (Hebrews 10:22), He becomes our heart’s greatest desire. Knowing Him, hearing His voice, sharing our hearts with Him, and seeking to please Him become our all-consuming focus. He becomes everything to us. Meeting with Him is not an activity reserved for Sunday morning. We live to fellowship with Him. A. W. Tozer states that the goal of every Christian should be to “live in a state of unbroken worship.” This is only possible when we walk with God.

Just as walking with a close friend requires saying “no” to many other things, so walking with God requires letting go of anything that would be a distraction. If you were on a walk with a friend but you brought a kazoo and played it the whole time, the walk would not be satisfying for either of you. Many people attempt to walk with God, but they bring along kazoo-like habits, sins, worldly entertainments, or unhealthy relationships. They know these things are not God’s choice for them, but they pretend everything is fine. The relationship is not satisfying to either of them. To walk with God means that you and God are in agreement about your life. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3, KJV). To walk with God means you have aligned your will with His and seek every day to consider yourself “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). You don’t have to be perfect, as none of us is (Romans 3:10). But your heart’s desire is to be pleasing to God, and you are willing to let His Spirit conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

When the Bible speaks of “walking,” it often refers to a lifestyle. We can walk in the ways of the world as well (2 Kings 8:27; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 3:7). In the New Testament, walking with God is often called “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16; Romans 8:4). To walk with God means we choose to glorify Him in every way we can, regardless of personal cost. And there is a cost. Walking with God also means we cannot also walk with evil people as companions (Psalm 1:1-3). We choose the narrow road over the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). We don’t live to please our sinful flesh (Romans 13:14). We seek to eliminate from our lives everything that does not enhance our walk with Him (Hebrews 12:2). We apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 literally: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” God’s ways are reflected in our thoughts, our actions, our motivations, and our life choices because we spend so much time with Him.

It is not difficult to identify people who walk with God. Their lives are a stark contrast to the world around them, like stars in a nighttime sky (Philippians 2:15). They produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) rather than the fruit of fleshly desire (Galatians 5:19-21). In Acts 4:13 Peter and John had been arrested for preaching and were brought before the authorities. “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” When we walk with God every day, the world cannot help but recognize that, in spite of our imperfections and lack of knowledge in some areas, we have been with Jesus.

Prophet Nathan Emol

WHAT CAN I DO WHEN I AM UNDER SPIRITUAL ATTACK?

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The first thing to do when we believe we may be under a spiritual attack is to determine, as best we can, whether what we are experiencing is truly a spiritual attack from demonic forces or simply the effects of living in a sin-cursed world. Some people blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons they believe need to be cast out. The apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6) and to wage war against the evil one (Ephesians 6:10-18). But whether we are truly under spiritual attack from demonic forces or just battling the evil in ourselves and that which inhabits the world, the battle plan is the same.

The key to the battle plan is found in Ephesians 6:10-18. Paul begins by saying that we must be strong in the Lord and in His power, not in our own power which is no match for the devil and his forces. Paul then exhorts us to put on the armor of God, which is the only way to take a stand against spiritual attacks. In our own strength and power, we have no chance of defeating the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12). Only the “full armor of God” will equip us to withstand spiritual attack. We can only be strong in the Lord’s power; it is God’s armor that protects us, and our battle is against spiritual forces of evil in the world.

Ephesians 6:13-18 gives a description of the spiritual armor God gives us, and the good news is that these things are readily available to all who belong to Christ. We are to stand firm with the belt of truth, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness, wear on our feet the gospel of peace, hold up the shield of faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God—the only offensive weapon in the whole armory. The rest are defensive. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent in spiritual warfare? We are to speak the truth against Satan’s lies. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the gospel no matter how much resistance we receive. We are not to waver in our faith, no matter how fiercely we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, an assurance that no spiritual force can take away. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. Finally, we are to follow Jesus’ example in recognizing that some spiritual victories are only possible through prayer.

Jesus is our ultimate example when it comes to warding off spiritual attacks. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan when He was tempted by him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each temptation was answered the same way—with the words “It is written” and a quote from the Scriptures. Jesus knew the Word of the living God is the most powerful weapon against the temptations of the devil. If Jesus Himself used the Word to counter the devil, do we dare to use anything less?

The ultimate example of how not to engage in spiritual warfare is the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish priest, who went around driving out evil spirits by trying to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. One day the evil spirit answered them, “‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16). The seven sons of Sceva were using Jesus’ name, but because they did not have a relationship with Jesus, their words were void of any power or authority. They were not relying on Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and they were not employing the Word of God in their spiritual warfare. As a result, they received a humiliating beating. May we learn from their bad example and conduct spiritual warfare as the Bible instructs.

Prophet Nathan Emol