How to Be an Overcomer
Preface: Your War Against Sin
God loves sinners.
Jesus Christ died for you. He sacrificed His life for you while you were yet a sinner (Romans 5:6‑8), the greatest act of love ever in the universe.
Many people have heard of that sacrifice. But they fail to understand what it means and what its deep implications are. They don’t realize what it reveals about God and His plan.
Forgiveness for sin is a free gift. We cannot earn the grace of God. However, God does give us a spiritual formula to follow in order to receive it. Many people are willing to accept the blood of Jesus to cover their sins, but they don’t follow what God says in the Bible—so they are not forgiven. Is it possible that you are among those who have made this mistake?
Once God extends forgiveness, He gives responsibilities to the one He forgives. Like Christ said to the adulteress whom He forgave, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). This is essential to ultimately receiving eternal life.
God loves sinners—so much so that He wants to free us from sin and all its terrible effects. Sin enslaves us. Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (verse 34; New King James Version; see also Romans 6:16; 2 Peter 2:19). God wants to bring you out of sin, just as He delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt. He wants to purge sin from your life completely, to remove it as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12).
God wants to empower you to live sin-free—a totally different, God-centered way, walking in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
This is the life of a Christian. It is a life of blessings—of understanding, peace, fulfillment and joy. But it is not the broad, easy way. Jesus said that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14; nkjv). This way is full of challenges and trials. It requires learning God’s will and following it, even against temptation and self-desire. It demands struggle and sacrifice.
It is a life of overcoming and conquering sin. The Bible backs this up from the first chapters of Genesis to the final chapters of Revelation. Scripture frequently describes it as a struggle, a fight, a battle. Anyone who has ever stepped through that narrow gate and undertaken a journey on the difficult path to the Promised Land can identify with that description: It is a war.
How to Be an Overcomer is a type of field manual for your spiritual warfare. It helps orient you on the battlefield, equip you for the struggle, and guide you through to victory.
This booklet includes several articles I have written over the years on this vital subject of overcoming spiritually. They contain abundant practical instruction and provide a clear guide for effective Christian soldiery.
To conquer the enemy, you first must identify it. Our most relentless foe is our own human nature. The first three chapters of this booklet will help you better recognize that enemy inside you.
Chapter One, “Repentance Toward God,” shows the attitude and action required to truly target sin in your life. Jesus Christ clearly said we must repent in order to be saved (e.g. Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). The Apostle Peter said repentance is required in order to be forgiven of sin and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:19; 2:38). But what does it mean to repent? Very few understand this lifesaving process as they should. This chapter gives you the right biblical perspective.
Chapter Two, “Are You Deceiving Yourself?”, helps you avoid a spiritual trap we all easily fall into. It reveals the danger of inaction. So many times we hear the truth and recognize it as the truth. But we don’t allow it to shape our thoughts, choices, words and deeds. We do not act and change.
Chapter Three, “What’s So Bad About Self-Righteousness?”, exposes the huge gulf between your own ideas of what is right—which lead to death (Proverbs 14:12)—and God’s knowledge of what is right, which leads to life. It will help you eliminate patterns of thinking that make you vulnerable to the devil and that prevent you from even seeing God properly.
Chapter Four, “The Meaning of Passover,” is the central chapter. It shows the true Christian how to properly understand and appreciate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for your sins. Shallow or flawed thinking on this subject makes it impossible for you to conquer sin. Right thinking gives you the focus you need for victory.
Chapter Five, “The War of the Wills,” uncovers yet another common misconception that undermines your efforts to overcome. It reveals the true source of power you need in spiritual combat.
The last two chapters draw instruction from successful physical warriors and show how to apply the principles spiritually.
Chapter Six, “The Science of Spiritual Warfare,” gives you four practical points that will help you marshal your forces for effectually besieging your human nature.
Chapter Seven, “Offensive Warfare,” shows you how the ultimate victory can be won: by taking the battle to the enemy. As Christ said in Matthew 11:12, “[T]he kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
We are all sinners. God loves us and wants to help us eradicate our sin so that we can be close to Him and so He can bring us into His Family and give us eternal life. The war on sin is the noblest war you will ever wage. If you overcome, then in the end you will be able to say, like the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.”
Chapter 1: Repentance Toward God
“So let me say right here something about conversion I find most people do not understand,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in his Autobiography, Volume 1. “The repentance required as a condition to being truly converted by receiving God’s Holy Spirit is something far different than most people suppose. It is infinitely more than … merely agreeing with certain doctrines.
“Whoever you are, you have, or you have had, an idol. You have had another ‘god’ before the true living Almighty God. … It might be your own vanity … or your business or profession. Very often it is the opinion of your friends, your family, your group or social or business contacts.
“But whatever it is, that idol must first be crushed, smashed—it must be literally torn out of your mind, even though it hurts more than having all your teeth pulled out and perhaps a jawbone too! … I don’t know of any anesthetic that will render it pleasurable. Usually it seems like something more excruciating than the agony of death by the cruelest torture. …
“I was never converted until I was brought to the place where I realized my own nothingness, and God’s all-encompassing greatness—until I felt completely whipped, defeated. When I came to consider myself as a worthless burned-out ‘hunk of human junk’ not even worth throwing on the junkpile of human derelicts, truly remorseful for having imagined I was a ‘somebody’—completely and totally and bitterly sorry for the direction I had traveled and the things I had done—really and truly repentant ….”
That is a very deep repentance. And as Mr. Armstrong said, most people don’t understand it.
Have you learned to repent the way Mr. Armstrong described?
“I told God that I was now ready to give my self and my life over to Him,” he continued. “It was worthless, now, to me. If He could use it, I told Him He could have it! I didn’t think, then, it was usable—even in God’s hands!
“But let me say to the reader, if God could take that completely defeated, worthless, self-confessed failure to which I had been reduced, and use that life to develop and build what He has done, He can take your life, too, and use it in a manner you simply cannot now dream—if you will turn it over to Him without reservation and leave it in His hands!” (emphasis mine throughout). How many of us have done that?
“What has happened since gives me no glory—but it magnifies again the power of God to take a worthless tool and accomplish His will through it!
“But don’t ever suppose it came easy. If a mother suffers birth pangs that her child may be born, most of us have to suffer that we may be born again of God—even in this first begettal stage we call conversion!” (ibid).
Mr. Armstrong was describing a total surrender to God.
Mr. Armstrong built a work that received over $200 million annually. He was on 400 television stations weekly and published a major magazine, the Plain Truth, with a circulation of 8 million. God used him mightily.
Conversion is a lifelong process. To become converted is to have God’s thoughts—rather than carnal thoughts and emotions and desires. We must think like God! That is very difficult to accomplish, and a deep subject to think on. We must constantly grow in our conversion. Baptism is only the starting point.
Here is how the Apostle Paul described it: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Many people know why we must have faith toward Jesus Christ: We must believe on and accept His sacrifice in order to be reconciled to God and to receive the Holy Spirit. But how deeply do you understand repentance toward God?
There are many great examples of repentance toward God in the Bible. One of the most lucid is that of David.
David had a weakness for beautiful women. This problem had been with him for some time—he had failed to overcome it. And terrible things exploded in Israel as a result of that sin. Thousands suffered and died.
Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s top captains, happened to be bathing nude on a rooftop one day. She must have known that David could see her. Her husband was off at war, and she was displaying no great loyalty to him in his absence. David made a decision that night that was burned into his memory for the rest of his life—one for which he suffered from that point on because of what he did to all of Israel.
Bathsheba got pregnant, and David had a big problem on his hands. So he began to scheme. He sent a message to Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to come home and be with his wife. But Uriah had more character than David at this time. He wouldn’t sleep with her while his fellow soldiers were still out at battle. So plan one of David’s didn’t work.
David came up with plan two. Some men tried to get Uriah drunk so he would then sleep with Bathsheba. But Uriah still didn’t cooperate.
David was getting desperate and further and further from God. His plan three was the most evil yet. He instructed Uriah’s commander to send him to the front lines of the hottest part of the battle so he would be killed. And that is just what happened.
Things seemed fine for a few months. David took Bathsheba as his wife. David thought he had gotten away with everything.
But then a prophet of God came on the scene. David was about to learn a deep lesson about repentance.
“And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor” (2 Samuel 12:1). The Prophet Nathan began unfolding this story before David, about a rich man with many lambs, and a poor man who loved his one little ewe dearly. He said that the rich man took in a traveler and, instead of taking a lamb from his own flocks, he “took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him” (verse 4).
This story deeply rankled David’s emotions. “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die” (verse 5). A serious judgment! This man ought to die, he said, because he showed no pity (verse 6). He didn’t realize that the parable Nathan had told was actually a picture of how he himself had treated Uriah, taking this man’s precious wife for himself. In fact, David had committed sins far greater than this “rich man” he was so quick to condemn to death!
At that point, Nathan brought David’s sins out into the open. “You are the man,” he told him (verse 7).
“Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight?” Nathan asked. A hard question! “[T]hou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2 Samuel 12:9). You did the deed, David, Nathan said, even though you didn’t raise the sword yourself. God knew all about it—every detail of David’s grisly sin. Somehow David had gotten so far from God that he didn’t think God knew.
This sin tore Bathsheba’s life apart. Her family was destroyed, and even her baby, which David had fathered, died. All Israel found out about it. Everyone had to know, because David didn’t deal with the problem when he should have.
While all this was happening, David’s son Absalom thought, Well, he’s not qualified to rule. God has shown that. I’ll take over. And he rose up and led the Israelites after David, and 23,000 of them ended up getting killed. All because of David’s sin.
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised
Now notice David’s response. “I have sinned against the Lord” (verse 13). A very interesting response. He didn’t say he had sinned against Uriah or Bathsheba or all Israel. After all the havoc he ended up causing in so many lives, his chief concern was what he had done to God.
When you sin, do you realize you are sinning against God?
“And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (verses 13-14). When we sin, we give people the chance to blaspheme God. We can bring all kinds of problems into the Church. The reason is that we represent God.
Psalms 49, 50 and 51 all talk about David’s repentance of his sin.
“Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world” (Psalm 49:1). He made a public proclamation to the whole world. David really revealed his heart in these psalms in a way few other people could. Consider it: We put these psalms to music and sing them today.
In verse 4, “I will incline mine ear to a parable” is talking about the parable that Nathan told him—a parable David never forgot.
“Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?” (verse 5). David was bemoaning his former attitude: Why should I be afraid? I’m the king—can’t kings get away with sin? But he knew now that he couldn’t bring Uriah back: “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: … That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption” (verses 7, 9). I’m helpless to help him, even though I’m a king. I can’t redeem him, or give him eternal life. What can I do? David wondered.
“(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)” (verse 8). David was realizing the need for Christ’s sacrifice. There would be a lot of injustice in this world never properly resolved if there wasn’t someone to resurrect us and give us a chance to be born into God’s Family.
“For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish” (verses 10-12). People think, perhaps only subconsciously, that they are going to live forever, but in the end, they die just as animals do. All men die, and that is the end of it, David was saying (verses 13-14).
When you sin, perhaps you see how your sin hurts other people. That is what David was seeing here. But do you have repentance toward God? You must be careful you don’t just have human sorrow over your sin, because that isn’t going to cause you to overcome your problems. Our repentance must rise above the human level. Only godly sorrow—repentance toward God—will cause you to overcome.
So at this point, David still had more to learn about repentance.
“I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me” (Psalm 50:8). David had been making sacrifices—while he was sinning—and God was saying, That doesn’t mean anything to me, David. All things belong to God (verses 10-12). He doesn’t need any of that from us. Those sacrifices were just to point people to Christ’s sacrifice. That is the sacrifice we need to be concerned about.
When you sin, you ram a spear into Christ’s side. That is the reason He died—because you and I sin. If nobody else ever were to enter the Kingdom of God but you, Christ still would have subjected Himself to that gruesome execution. There is a terrible penalty for sin, and someone has to pay it. That’s the way it must be, according to the law of God.
God really reproved David here. “Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee” (verse 17). David had gotten to the point where he hated God’s Word and His law. He was the king, supposed to be setting the example for all Israel. So God was justifiably angry with David! David had forgotten his covenant with God.
We also make a covenant with God at baptism.
Read verses 18-20. God gets specific about the guilt that was on David’s head. He had gotten into thievery, adultery, murder, deceit, slander—a host of horrible sins. “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes” (verse 21). God had let nine months go by before doing anything about David’s sin. Why? Because He was giving David a chance to repent. But David never did. He began to think, God thinks just like I do—I’m right on target. But God doesn’t think like us! We must put our thinking in line with His. He will often wait on us to repent, just as He did with David. We want to make sure that we never make Him wait too long.
God was patient with David, and He is patient with us. If you really see your sins, you know that is true. He is patient and forgiving. But you are not above the law. None of us is! David had been thinking that he was. But God corrected that attitude. Everyone is subject to the law. That is why Christ died—because a penalty always must be paid to the law.
Psalm 50 shows David becoming more bitterly repentant. He was learning about repentance toward God. It goes much deeper than just realizing the fact that, say, as a parent it hurts when our children do something wrong. We can relate to God on that level, but repentance toward God goes even deeper than that.
The Goodness of God
“And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4). Obviously, repentance is of the Holy Spirit. But here it says the goodness of God leads us there.
Do you realize how good God is? How good He is to you? How much He has given you? When we evaluate ourselves and compare ourselves with the goodness of God, we see how evil we are. Compare your goodness with God’s, and then you begin to see why we really need to repent toward God and not toward man.
How good is God? Just think about Christ’s crucifixion. Notice Genesis 22. After Abraham proved he was willing to sacrifice his son for God, the God who later became Jesus Christ said this: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven …” (verses 16-17). God swore by Himself in making this promise to Abraham. In other words, He was telling Abraham, I’m going to give my life for you, or I’m going to die trying. Because you have done this deed, my death will pay for your sins and I’m going to bring you into my Family. I swear this by my own life.
Yes, when Christ came to this Earth, His life was at stake. He could, indeed, sin. Christ’s life was the greatest risk in the history of man. But He took it because He wanted people like Abraham in His Family—people who would go out and sacrifice their own son if necessary, knowing that God would resurrect him to fulfill a promise (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham had that kind of faith and trust in God, and God returned that love many times over. All people who can repent like you, Abraham—I will give my life for them. I know that if I don’t make it, nobody else will. But I’m going to do this so we can build the Family of God. That is the cost it took for us to receive God’s Holy Spirit.
If Christ had failed, God the Father would have been sitting in solitary confinement for the rest of eternity! That’s the kind of sacrifice these Gods made for us. We can forget that in our callous, carnal thinking. But God the Father and Christ did it—and they did it for you. They want you to be aware of that. Not out of their vanity, but so that you will recognize that repentance must be toward
Meditate deeply upon God’s goodness! It is contrary to everything we see in this miserable, evil world. God would never even think about allowing Himself to do what David did. He is not that way. His mind is in perfect accord with His law in every detail.
A Psalm of Christ
David wrote Psalm 22 before he had committed the sin with Bathsheba. After his repentance, he probably went back to that psalm and spent a lot of time crying over it—truly understanding it for the first time. Because that psalm couldn’t have applied to David—it only applied to Jesus Christ.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (Psalm 22:1). These are the words Christ cried out just before He died (Matthew 27:46). Christ had to be forsaken because He became sin. It was the first time in eternal history that Christ ever knew what it was like to be abandoned by God because of sin! Can you see your part in the anguish that Christ suffered at that moment?
It was not impossible for Christ to sin—as some of God’s own people have said! He had to have faith in God every step of the way. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (Psalm 22:7-8; see also Matthew 27:43). Christ did trust in God. When we do the same, can we sin? Of course we can. And so could Christ have. Saying that it was impossible for Christ to sin takes all the majesty out of His achievement; it destroys His sacrifice! Christ totally turned Himself over to God—He trusted Him in a way we have never learned to do. He walked by faith, as we must. If there was no risk involved, it wouldn’t be faith! Why would He have had to walk by faith if it was impossible for Him to sin? He would have been a mere robot.
“They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Psalm 22:13-15). Does that sound like someone who couldn’t sin? No—those are the words of a man who was on the edge, giving everything He possibly could to keep from losing His faith! Christ was on the edge because of our sins! He went through a terrible beating because of our sins! Look at this from God’s perspective. He could easily say, Yes, I know what you did to Uriah, I know what you did to Bathsheba, and to Israel—but what did you do to
Sin is something that needs to horrify us. We must be aware of what Christ did for us. Grow in “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Have faith in that sacrifice. Then repent toward God, who planned the whole thing. You know, especially if you’re a parent, that the Father must have suffered horribly along with Christ.
If you have problems that keep recurring in your life, evaluate yourself by this measure. Are you repenting toward God? Realize your evil before God! David was a very evil man, but he became very righteous—so righteous that he will rule over Israel forever. Surely there will be people serving under him who never committed acts as evil as his were. But the difference is, David really knew how to repent.
Let’s continue studying David’s psalms of repentance. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness …” (Psalm 51:1). David had no mercy on Uriah—and yet, he could still come before God and ask for mercy. That’s the way God is, and David knew that. How wonderful to have such a loving, kind, merciful God—even when we can be so merciless sometimes!
The verse concludes, “according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” There was more than one sin involved here. David had done just about everything wrong there was to do. That’s the way we are, apart from God.
“Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (verse 2). How often have we gone before God and asked for this cleansing and really meant it? It takes courage to ask God to show you where you’re not clean, and to ask Him to cleanse you there as well. “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (verse 3). David wasn’t trying to hide anything anymore. He put it right up there before God and dealt with it.
“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (verse 4). David could see God’s righteousness; he understood God’s lovingkindness. He was ashamed to come before God after what he had done. But God was present in David’s life in a way He had never been before.
David plainly saw his own human nature. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (verses 5‑6). Do you think like God? God desires truth in the inward parts—just as He Himself has. He wants us to think like He does. It’s not enough to pretend we are thinking in the right way. It must be who we are, to our core. This is the lesson God was teaching David. Compare yourself to others and you may think, Hey, I’m not doing so bad. But compare yourself with God, and you’ll truly know repentance. The goodness of God leads us to repentance.
David really accepted God’s correction here. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice” (verses 7-8). Here is a great attitude: You’ve broken my bones, God—now will you make them rejoice?
“Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities” (verse 9). This is true repentance toward God. David was looking at God’s goodness and was so embarrassed about his own sin that he just said, God, when I come into your presence will you just hide your face? Isaiah said that when he was in God’s presence he was a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5). This is a very repentant attitude. You will never come before God this way if you are comparing yourself to other men rather than to God.
We often hear that we must become childlike to attain the Kingdom of God. “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-3). That sounds easy enough—just become humble as a child. Then you’re in the Kingdom and everything will be fine.
But notice—Christ goes on: “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (verses 8-9).
It takes this kind of action sometimes to “become” as a little child!
If you have a problem you can’t get a grip on, an area where
you’re not becoming childlike, Christ says, do whatever you must to overcome it! Become like a child and go to great extremes to make sure you stay that way. You can’t say, Look, I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. Christ is demanding that we keep a strict law! Even looking upon a woman lustfully is considered adultery, and Christ says we ought to figuratively pluck out our eye if we can’t control it! (Matthew 5:27-29). Unless we do, we’re despising God just like David did! Sometimes we must go to extremes to overcome.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). God must create a clean heart within us. David here realized that his spirit was all wrong, that God had to create and renew His Spirit within him.
David may have nearly lost the Holy Spirit during this episode. He prayed, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me” (verse 11). You certainly can commit atrocious acts and still have God’s Spirit. That is why we must remain very close to God. David let his weakness get the better of him, and it almost cost him his salvation (e.g. Psalm 73:2). If you leave a little leaven in your life, it will spread until your mind is filled with leaven (Galatians 5:9). We can never afford not to repent toward God.
“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Psalm 51:12). Notice—even though David was out doing “exciting” things like committing adultery, all his joy had gone! He was miserable because he was breaking the law of God. There is nothing exciting or joyful about that. If we violate God’s law, we lose our joy. It can only be rekindled by repenting and then staying close to God.
David really used this incident to turn things around. He went on to do great works for God. “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (verse 13). David wanted to turn everyone he could to the ways of God—to teach them God’s law. And that is just what he did. In fact, he still is, by his example and his wonderful words.
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation …” (verse 14). What bloodguiltiness? The killing of Jesus Christ! David knew that Christ had to die because of his sin—that was the real blood he was guilty of, not Uriah’s.
Do you realize that you are guilty of blood? Don’t take your sins lightly—it cost the blood of Jesus Christ to pay for them!
The God to whom David was praying to was the One who would eventually have to die. David recognized that! And he was moved by that. Even though that sacrifice had not yet physically happened, it was as though David was right among the Roman soldiers, taking that spear and thrusting it into His side.
As he says in verse 16, God desires so much more than burnt offerings and sacrifices. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (verse 17). What really shattered David was that he began to see what he had done to God—what his sins would put Christ through! And his broken spirit, as a result, was exactly the kind of sacrifice God was looking for in him.
David is going to be rewarded with a great position in the Kingdom of God. He will rule over the 12 tribes of Israel (Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5). Then David will teach them how to repent as he did.
Godly vs. Worldly Sorrow
Here is a description of the repentance all of Israel will one day experience. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
We must strive for this kind of repentance today. We are all Christ killers! We have killed the firstborn Son of our beloved Father! And if we are thinking the way God does, we will experience the same intensity of emotion over what we have done as we would over losing a firstborn son!
This is getting at the heart of the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The reason godly sorrow is “not to be repented of” is because it causes you to overcome your sin! Someone with worldly sorrow may feel bad for a while, but he will never overcome his problems. With godly sorrow, it may not be immediate, but you are not content until you overcome that problem. You get into contact with God and take the problem to Him, and you strive with all your being to become like God in that area. That is when you begin to make real progress.
One final point. God establishes His government in the Church to help us in this process. The ministry is there for a reason. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. … Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Sometimes repentance toward God is a matter of accepting correction from the ministry. God’s ministers are watching for your souls. God wants you to have a good working relationship with them—a joyful relationship, not grievous. That doesn’t mean the minister will always do everything correctly. But God must have government in His Church to be able to get through to us sometimes. Repent toward God, and don’t forget that He has representatives in the flesh. I have been corrected many times in my life, and it wasn’t always done exactly right, but I always tried very hard to accept the truth—and sometimes had to pray very hard to do so!
This is an area where we need to go to God and, like David, say, Search me, God. Reveal my secret sins to me. I want to be childlike. If we let something fester, eventually it will explode to where everyone will know about it. The whole world will know who is who when the Tribulation comes! Everyone will know who is Philadelphian and who is Laodicean—all game-playing will be over.
Here is what true repentance really comes down to: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Christ’s mind must be in us, so we are thinking like Him. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (verse 13). It is not a human effort. We may not actually want to overcome a problem. But God says that He will give us that desire. We must go to God for the desire to overcome. If we do, He promises to give us that desire. Our repentance will be toward God, and then we will be able to overcome any obstacle!
Chapter 2: Are You Deceiving Yourself?
Did you know that you can hear the Word of God—and at the same time, deceive yourself? Out of everyone on Earth, very few ever even hear the true Word of God. And a great majority who do actually deceive themselves.
Self-deceit destroys your happiness and deprives you of blessings. It makes your Bible muddled and confusing in many ways—in fact, God says He will actually hide His revelation from you!
However, if you overcome self-deceit, you will have a strong spiritual house that can weather any storm. Your life will overflow with joy and happiness, God will pour out blessings on you. You will understand your Bible better. These are all promises from God!
So, are you deceiving yourself? How can you know? And how can you break away from self-deceit?
Here is the plain, direct answer from your Bible: “[B]e ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
You deceive yourself by hearing and not doing. And you break free of that deceit by doing God’s word.
How to Be Happy
God has revealed the way of life that gives us wonderful blessings. When we violate that way, we bring misery and unhappiness into our lives.
Jesus Christ led an exemplary life so we can have a picture of the way we ought to live. “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you,” He said (John 13:15). “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (verse 17). Hearing God’s word does not make us happy. What makes us happy is the doing. That is a promise from God!
How many truly happy people do you know? Many reject Christ’s example and successfully gain temporary pleasures. But those pleasures do not bring real happiness, and they do not last. God created us to be continuously filled with hope, joy and vision! How much of those qualities do you see in the world today? A big reason for the prevalence of unhappiness is self-deception.
Jesus also said, “[B]lessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28). We must go beyond simply hearing God’s word. We must guard it, protect it, live by it. When we do that, Christ promises we will be blessed.
‘They Will Not Do Them’
This truth that Christ emphasized also appears in Ezekiel 33. This prophecy has a powerful warning about the hazards of being a hearer only.
In this passage, a mortal threat is approaching the nation. This prophecy actually describes the serious dangers facing our modern nations—problems that are becoming visible in world events today! God prophesies that He will commission a watchman to warn the people. He commands: “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me” (verse 7). This man must hear God’s word—and then do something: Warn the people from God. If that man fails to warn, God will hold him bloodguilty (verse 8).
Verses 10-11 show that the people who need warning are steeped in sin. God cries out: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” God is trying to get sinning people to turn—to change—to do something about the wickedness that is leading them to death! These people don’t think they are wrong. They believe they are right! But they have the same problem the Apostle James discussed—and it is a fatal problem!
Verse 30 adds a striking detail: These people actually endorse God’s message! While most people in the world reject God’s message, these individuals are talking about it, speaking to others about it, and saying, “Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord” (verse 30). They realize that this is God’s own word, and actually encourage others to come hear it! They probably feel righteous for doing so.
But something is still lacking. They are flagrantly deceiving themselves!
You can see this in what follows: “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words [from the watchman], but they will not
God emphasizes this in the next verse: “And, lo, thou [the watchman] art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (verse 32). These people love to hear God’s messenger; they admire him the way they would a skilled musician. But they have deceived themselves into thinking that if they hear the Word, and talk about it, and encourage others to hear it, this alone will make them righteous, and they will not have to do anything more. They think of themselves as spiritual people. But the truth is, they are not doing the Word!
That is serious self-deception! If you don’t apply what you learn in God’s Word, it is of no value!
Every one of us needs to examine ourselves because we have all made this mistake. We must keep and do all the words of God. Nothing else counts!
“And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them” (verse 33). The terrible prophecies discussed in Ezekiel 33 are coming to pass! Once they are fulfilled, people will realize just how important the watchman’s warning was—they will know God sent a messenger with His message. Finally they will begin to repent and turn to God. But by then it will be too late to be protected physically.
Is it possible you will be one who only takes action when it is too late?
Like a Little Child
Here is an important biblical teaching that few people realize. In order to understand God’s truth, God must open your mind to it. He must reveal it to you.
Christ made this clear: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25). How many people believe that? God hides His truth! He hides it from the powerful and scholarly of this world—and as a result, His Word has no value to them. They are not humble enough to listen to what He says and obey like obedient little children. They will hear, but they won’t do! So the truth remains hidden to them. They can hear it and read it from start to finish, but it only confuses them, and even after such a close brush with such incredible truth, they remain self-deceived.
God only reveals His truth to “babes”—those who approach God with childlike attitudes.
“[N]o man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (verse 27). These are Christ’s own words! He said you cannot know the Son or the Father unless God is revealed to you. And that only happens if you listen to Christ and obey.
Some people were following Jesus and even calling Him “Lord,” or master. That surely seemed right and good. But here is what Christ said to them: “[W]hy call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
This is shockingly serious! These people felt very righteous! They followed Jesus around. They wanted to hear His words. They regarded themselves as His followers. But they would not do what He said! They were self-deceived! Christ boldly told them, I’m not your master if you don’t do what I say! There’s no point in calling me Lord unless you obey what I’m telling you to do!
How do you explain those people’s behavior? Well, it is simply human nature. It is what we all naturally tend to do! We must overcome that carnal tendency or we won’t receive the blessings—the happiness, joy and biblical understanding—that God promises. He will not reveal His truth to you!
Built on a Rock
Christ went on to emphasize the importance of what we do with what God teaches us. “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:47-48).
What a marvelous picture! When you do as God commands, your life becomes stable and grounded—because you are building your life on the Rock! Hearing and then doing the word of God gives you great spiritual strength. Violent storms, difficulties and trials can arise, yet they will not shake you. No problem can cause you to leave Jesus Christ!
What happens if you don’t do as God commands? “But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great” (verse 49).
This man didn’t build on the Rock—Jesus Christ. He may have heard Him. He may have agreed with Him. But he did not do what He said. Matthew 7:26-27 say this man built his house on sand. When the flood came, the foundation of this house washed away in an instant. Many people who hear what God says fail to concentrate on applying it. Because they are not doing these words, they have no strength. Once a trial comes, their house quickly falls in, and they leave Christ.
God promises that if you take action and build your house on Jesus Christ’s words, nothing will dislodge you! Nothing will take you away from God! That is a wonderful group of verses to encourage us! Nothing can stop us from doing and obeying God.
Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that finding the truth, hearing the words and talking about them is all God requires of you. Hear—and then do! As you do, God will pour out blessings on you and bring tremendous happiness into your life, even amid trials and storms. He will reveal more and more truth to you; He will supply you with greater biblical understanding. And He will give you an abundant, joyful life! This is a promise from God: If you know these things, happy are you if ye do them.
Chapter 3: What’s So Bad About Self-Righteousness?
Once there was a messenger who came into a rich man’s house and told him that all his oxen and asses had been taken by robbers and many of his servants killed. Just as he finished talking, there came another messenger who said that fire had come down from heaven and destroyed all his sheep. That messenger had no more finished when another came saying that more robbers had come and taken his camels and killed the remainder of his servants. Another came right on his heels and said, “A tornado has hit your home, and your sons and daughters are all dead.”
Job was shocked. What a barrage of trials! He lost all his possessions, lost his own children, and was reduced to ashes. All this because God wanted to teach him about self-righteousness.
Job was the epitome of a self-righteous person. But this has been a big problem throughout the history of the Church. It is human, and very natural, to be self-righteous.
Holier Than Thou
Have you ever been around a person who made you feel guilty, or very unrighteous, because you felt this person was doing so many righteous deeds? You didn’t want to become close friends with him because he always made you feel so unrighteous. Job had that effect on people.
We need to understand that self-righteousness repels, while the true righteousness of God draws people to you as it did to Jesus Christ. People liked Christ. He was a nice man to be around because He didn’t put people down or make them feel inferior.
Christ condemned the Pharisees for their self-righteousness. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Christ said plainly that if our righteousness doesn’t exceed what these fellows had, we can’t even be in the Kingdom of God. It is that serious.
When the Pharisees fasted, they wanted the people to see what they were doing. They wanted to be thought of as good. Today we may be a little more sophisticated because we know about Job and about self-righteousness problems. But when we do something good—maybe we are fasting, or we are having many people over to our house—there is an eagerness deep down to tell somebody or let people see that we did something good. That is what the Pharisees were trying to do. God condemned it. They were wearing their righteousness outwardly—a big spiritual flaw.
That is why we feel uncomfortable sometimes around people who flaunt their self-righteousness. If we are self-righteous, that will turn people off more quickly than anything—guaranteed. If we want friends, we can’t go around feeling superior to them. On the contrary, we should work to make all people feel like royalty.
How do you feel, down deep in your heart, when you are in the presence of an adulterer or somebody who has committed a horrible sin? Do you feel uncomfortable? Jesus Christ sat with people like that all the time. The Pharisees hated Him for doing so.
Of course, Christ knew the Pharisees were just as sinful as those other people because they weren’t really repentant. Anciently, God condemned the Jews for this holier-than-thou attitude. They would look around at other people and just criticize because they couldn’t see that they personally had any faults. They only saw the faults of others.
The same thing can happen in your life. Self-righteousness makes you a person without much compassion because you just can’t understand why people have so many faults. If you don’t look deep down and see your own problems, you are going to be very critical of other people. You will be a difficult person to get close to, because who wants to be put down all the time?
Here is an example of real righteousness. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). The Apostle Paul is talking about a man who was put out of the Church because of incest. This person had repented and come back. Notice the reaction of the Corinthian church. “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (verse 7). When this man came back, the Corinthians began to criticize and condemn him because of the horrible sin he had committed. Paul had to sit down and write a letter in tears, saying, Please forgive that poor guy, or you will destroy him spiritually. Paul saw that this man had repented. He knew that God had wiped away his past sins, and they were all forgiven. Now he was going to become a son of God if he continued in the right direction.
Here is a principle I hope you never forget: True righteousness never looks down on others. No matter who it is or how dirty the sinner is, true righteousness never looks down on the person. It hates the sin but loves the sinner.
It is awfully difficult, if you are self-righteous, to see it in anybody else—let alone in yourself. Satan the devil could not even detect it in Job. He tried to find problems with Job and couldn’t. That’s because Satan is self-righteous!
In Job 29, Job uses I, me or my 52 times in 25 verses—more than two per verse! Job was self-oriented, as all self-righteous people are. They have a horrible problem with selfishness.
“The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth” (Job 29:8-10). People stood in awe of Job. The highest people in society believed and said that Job was truly a righteous man. This made Job’s self-righteousness worse. (We can do the same thing to others: Telling a self-righteous person of all his great deeds can swell his head and cause him to be more self-righteous.)
We all have a certain amount of self-righteousness in us; that is just the way we are. We have to get rid of it. Humanly it is almost impossible for us to do good deeds and not have a slight self-righteous kickback from it.
“Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (verses 12-13). James 1:27 says that pure religion means visiting the fatherless and the widow. Job did that, but his religion wasn’t pure. Why not? Why was it not acceptable to God? Because when Job would visit the widow, he would put a notch in his little mental notepad that he had done a good deed. He began to add them up and show others what a terrific guy he was—rather than going to those people and trying to show what a terrific God we serve! His motive in doing the good deeds was to exalt himself—not God! God didn’t like that kind of “religion.” Job was fulfilling it in the letter, but certainly not in the spirit. “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem” (Job 29:14). Job just kept boasting of his great, marvelous, magnificent, righteous way of life.
Before he was called by God, Paul was a “righteous” man, as the world viewed it (Philippians 3:4-6). He was one of the top Pharisees in the whole religious structure at that time. But later Paul developed real righteousness—the kind of righteousness God wants us to have. Paul was an unusually righteous man because he had so little self-righteousness. He knew that we are called for one purpose: to glorify God—not man.
Paul continued: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (verses 7-8).
Job did all of these righteous things and looked at them and said, Oh what a righteous person I am. Paul did all these righteous things, looked at them and said, What a pile of dung I am. That’s all he was, apart from God, in spite of all the good deeds he did. Sure, Job had a bigger pile of dung than other people, but it was still dung.
Paul was saying that we in this world can be so awed by dung! He had the titles, the degrees, all the education you can imagine, and he said, It is just so much dung if it doesn’t have Christ in it. God says we shouldn’t be awed by such things.
If a person continues in self-righteousness, it will harden him. Listen to Job: “My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:6). To these men trying to point out his problems, he said, I’m going to hang on to my righteousness. I’m not going to admit I’m wrong.
This hardness develops quickly within self-righteous people. Maybe it is because they really know the Scriptures and begin to think, Hey, I know a lot on this, and I know what I’m talking about, and I’m not going to let anybody tell me what to do. Maybe we will become expert in one particular area—we think we are outstanding with the teenagers or something like that. We become so vain in our reasoning that we won’t let anybody tell us that we could possibly be wrong in that area.
“So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God” (Job 32:1-2). Job had a severe trial here. He looked at himself and said, I don’t see anything wrong with me. Therefore, God has to be at fault—it isn’t me. That is a dangerous attitude to get into! Nothing these men could say to Job would have made any impression on his hardened mind. Job had gotten to the point where words couldn’t reach him.
So what did God do? There was only one thing He could do: Try him and humble him until he listened. It was not God’s choice; it was simply the only option Job left Him.
That is exactly what God is going to do to our nations. If God sends out His message and they won’t heed it, there is nothing else He can do but let the Tribulation come upon them to make them humble enough to listen to what He says.
Here is another example of how a self-righteous attitude can cut you off from God. “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:10-11). The Pharisee was just praying with himself. He was absolutely sure that he was not as other men, absolutely certain that he was right. Nobody, not even God, could change that.
Here is why Christ said you must remain childlike: because God may need to show you that you are off course, and you may need to be straightened out. What are you going to do with a person in this kind of attitude? You can talk for 30,000 years and never convert him; he would never believe you. When a person is self-righteous, he completely pushes God out of the picture. This man prayed with himself. It was just a silly game he was playing that had no meaning whatsoever. He was going nowhere spiritually.
Self-righteous people are not teachable. A righteous person is. Christ was teachable. He never once did anything His Father told Him not to do.
Contrast that Pharisee with the publican, whose attitude was free of self-righteousness. “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (verse 13). This man came to listen to God. He said, I am a sinner. Please be merciful to me, and I’ll listen and do what you say. God didn’t respond to the Pharisee because He knew it was hopeless at that stage. With the publican, it was different. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (verse 14).
That is a promise. God cannot lie. All we have to do is humble ourselves, and God will exalt us throughout eternity.
Talking Back to God
Self-righteousness puts a person on dangerous ground with God. Job talked back to God. We may presume that we would never, ever do that. Yet there is an entire church in this end time that has this problem.
Look first at the church that doesn’t do that: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth” (Revelation 3:7). This church has little strength and realizes it desperately needs more of Christ’s righteousness and more of God’s power.
But then God addresses another church that doesn’t see things so clearly: “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (verses 14-16). This is the only church out of all seven listed in Revelation 2 and 3 that talks back to God, just like Job. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (verse 17). The Laodiceans are telling God how rich, how right, they are!
Self-righteousness means “self-right.” We are either self-right or Christ-right. The Laodiceans have a self-right attitude. God tells them they are slothful and lethargic, yet they respond, Sure God, I am that way, but I have a reason for being that way. God says there is no reason for being that way. There is only one way He can reach that church. The Laodiceans won’t listen to words, so they must be plunged into the Tribulation so they will quit talking back to God.
We may be a little more subtle in our talking back to God, because we know the Scriptures. Consider this: Sometimes we’ll hear a sermon or read an article and be inspired to do something. We start for a week or a month or so and work very hard on what we are going to do, but we don’t have enough daily prayer and Bible study and occasional fasting to sustain us. Then we begin to think, Maybe I just overreacted; I really didn’t need to be that zealous. In a sense, we begin in a subtle way to talk back to God. But we must be careful to keep that inspiration alive in our lives, because that is what is going to motivate us to seek the Kingdom of God.
The Proper Perspective
At one point in Job’s trial, his friend Elihu asked him, “If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?” (Job 35:7). In other words, what does your righteousness contribute to God or to the Kingdom? What good does it do God? Job felt like everything he was doing was a great service to God. He felt, God needs me so badly. He didn’t see that the truth is the reverse of that—we desperately need God!
We need to realize that our own human righteousness doesn’t contribute one thing to the Work of God, or to God’s Kingdom, or to the growth of any person spiritually. Only the Spirit of God does those things. Good things only come from what God builds within us, and that is the mind of Jesus Christ.
Without this perspective, we get into all sorts of improper reasoning. For example, when we come into the truth of God, we tend to remember what we gave up: Oh, I had to give up this; I gave up that. We feel so righteous because we gave up all these things, instead of saying, Oh wow, look what God gave me! I’ve been given so many things! And He is letting me be a part of His Family!
Imagine being a father or mother and having your child tell you, You know, it is really important that I am in this family; I don’t know how it would function without me. You would probably paddle his little bottom. God feels the same way. He doesn’t want you to have an attitude of, Look at what I am contributing in this Work. Rather, He wants you to say, Thanks for working through me and letting me be a part of your Family and for sharing all you have with me. That is reality—the other view is a fantasy.
Evaluate the approach Jesus had. Do we like to be thought of as good? Christ didn’t. Remember the example in Matthew 19:16 when the rich man said to Christ, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Before Christ even answered that question, He said, Don’t call me good. He didn’t want people calling Him good. None is good but God. He was a human being. His goodness came from the Father living in Him. That demonstrates Christ’s true and perfect righteousness.
Here is the approach that we ought to have. “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6). This is just understanding what you are as a human being without God. It is the attitude Jesus Christ had on the stake.
Christ realized the human condition. We are no different from worms crawling around in the earth, as far as our future life is concerned. We are going to die just like worms do, and go back to the earth. Unless we have the righteousness of God within us, we won’t be resurrected into the Kingdom. Christ, if He had sinned, would have died just like a worm and never come up out of the grave. He knew the attitude and perspective He had to have. If you are looking for the spiritual posture you need to have, this is it. We are just worms. There is no future in our lives at all unless we can get the righteousness of God within us so we’ll qualify for His Kingdom.
Focus on Christ
Romans 10:1 shows us the focus a righteous person always needs. This is the difference between the self-righteous and the righteous person. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” Paul said in chapter 9 that he would give his eternal life if he could save his brethren in Israel—those who were cursing him and trying to kill him! Those who weren’t even in the Church. That is how much he loved them.
“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (verses 2-3). They didn’t have the Holy Spirit. They were just going about trying to build their own righteousness. They had “not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” These people were hard and unwilling to humble themselves under God’s government. You cannot receive God’s righteousness unless you are humble, childlike and teachable.
This is why so many of God’s people—the great majority—are deceived today. They “have a zeal of God,” but they are rebelling against His righteousness that we teach. They can’t believe that God would use anybody but themselves to do His Work. They are not ready to take God’s government and rule to the world. All they would teach the world now is how to rebel against God’s government.
Verse 4 explains why these people were self-righteous, not truly righteous. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “End” is translated from the Greek word telos, from which we get our word telescope. Paul is saying that in living a righteous life, you had better have your spiritual telescope right on Jesus Christ and make sure you are doing it just the way He did, or you are going to get off course. Law-keeping should be making you a Christ-like person instead of producing self-righteous snobbery and superiority as it did in the Pharisees.
We must have Jesus Christ in focus all the time. Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that Christ was living in him, performing righteous deeds. Job, when he was doing these righteous things, was not becoming like God. He never aimed at Jesus Christ. He was aiming at exalting himself. What an exercise in futility!
There is another growth-stifling attitude that crops up in self-righteous people: self-pity.
“And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13). Cain was just wallowing in self-pity. He could have repented, but he never did. Instead he just said, This punishment is too much—woe is me. He began to complain about his trial.
How does self-pity indicate self-righteousness? If we get into a trial and don’t see the need to change, it is easy to get into a self-pitying frame of mind.
Trials are a way God communicates with us. Every trial you ever had served a purpose. God has promised He won’t allow a trial you cannot handle. He knows what is going on in your life. God is focused on every member of His Family.
Self-pity is like cancer because it wipes out our enthusiasm to fight back. We just want to wallow in our self-pity when we receive a fiery trial. We endure the trial, but we don’t rejoice in it. We don’t see it as correction from a loving Father. That attitude won’t change anybody.
Paul said we need a positive attitude. We can fight our way out of trials. We can learn the lessons. We can overcome. Through Jesus Christ, he said, I can do all things. (He was in jail when he said that!) Never once in the Scriptures will you find self-pity in Jesus Christ. Why? Because He didn’t have one bit of self-righteousness in Him.
If you have children, the best way they learn is from your example. If they see a negative, self-pitying parent, they probably will become that way. It is important to keep a positive attitude. God said you can. He will not let you down.
The Gift of Correction
This is the hardest thing for the self-righteous person to take. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). Correction is something a self-righteous person can hardly cope with because he just can’t believe he needs to be corrected.
Look at what Paul says in verse 10: “For they [our human fathers] verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he [our spiritual Father] for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Every time you get corrected, it is for your profit. That is an absolute promise. The self-righteous person doesn’t understand this: that God is preparing sons to be in His Family, and correction is the only way He has of getting us there.
Correction is a sign from God that you are His son. He is saying, You will have to be a special person to be given something so wonderful and beautiful as membership in my Family. You will have to be changed—you must develop the character of my Son—before I will let you in my Family. Though salvation is a gift we cannot earn, we must fight and overcome our carnal nature to receive that gift.
David had one of the best attitudes toward correction in the Bible. When he got into trouble, he asked God to wash him with hyssop, the strongest cleansing agent there was. He said, God, wash me, clean me, do whatever is necessary to get me into your Kingdom!
It is easy for us to look at our problems and become discouraged. Yet if it weren’t for having some problems, we would not be building character and headed for the Kingdom of God! Correction in your life is the greatest blessing you can receive. It is an act of love designed to get you into God’s Family. What a privilege to be tried and tested by God, receiving the education we need to be in His Family.
God lovingly corrects His sons. If we reject His correction, then we are spiritual bastards. We are no longer sons.
The very fact that God is correcting us reveals that we are His sons, not bastards! Do we grasp what it means to become God and to live in His Family for all eternity as a son?
What happened to Job wasn’t bad; it was the greatest thing that ever happened in his life. Job finally realized that God was working with him and preparing him to become a son in His Family (Job 42:1-3). He got his focus on that and said, That’s too wonderful for me! Why should I have self-pity when I am being prepared for the Kingdom of God? Why should I talk back to God? Why should I refuse to be teachable when God is giving me something so great?
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (verse 5). Here, for the first time in his life, Job really saw God!
So, what is so bad about self-righteousness? It pushes God right out of the picture. It blinds us to God. We can’t even see Him! God passionately hates that because He is a jealous God who loves you.
If you are a member of God’s Church, then you are His begotten Family. His eyes are upon you every minute of every day. He knows every thought in your mind. He is so concerned, He didn’t even let Jesus Christ call you. He personally did it. That’s nothing to get self-righteous about, because it is all His righteousness.
When we are self-righteous, we are actually breaking the First Commandment, the most important commandment of all. We are putting self ahead of God.
Job concluded, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (verse 6). Now this didn’t mean he went around abhorring himself all the time. He just said to God, I abhor with all my being what I have been before you through this trial. Please help me to change. I repent in dust and ashes.
Consider the fruits we will bear if we have this attitude. Sometimes we have little problems with other people. In that situation, self-righteousness can produce a defensive attitude. We end up thinking, I try to get closer to people, but this person criticized me, and it causes us to hold back. But if we really saw what Job saw here, we would abhor ourselves. Then if somebody makes a negative remark about us, so what? It doesn’t really matter. We can go on and love them and be friends with them. What difference does it make what people think of you? All that matters is what God thinks.
We all go through trials like this where we ought to abhor ourselves. But if, through these trials, we keep our minds on the fact that God is preparing us for His Family, it will make all the difference in the world!
When Jesus Christ was on Earth, He said He could do nothing of Himself. That is where He started. So He went out and started preaching to others, Seek God and the Kingdom first, and
If we really understand that of ourselves we have no righteousness, we will be motivated to begin to seek it, and to build the righteousness of God within us through His Holy Spirit.
Think about this subject deeply, and root out every little vestige of self-righteousness. You will see a much more wonderful God than you have ever seen before, and you will become a much more righteous son.
Chapter 4: The Meaning of Passover
God commands that true Christians memorialize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ every year. He gives very specific instructions on how baptized members are to keep this annual ceremony.
The Passover is one of the most important occasions of the year, and we need to work hard to view it the way God says we must. We need to have the Passover message in our minds this time of the year. We must use the understanding God has given us to take the Passover with the right attitude and in the right manner.
The Passover is the first service of the holy day season. If our observance of that memorial is off, it can affect the whole holy day season and the whole year.
The question is—what is Passover really about?
Focus on the Lamb of God
The Passover is a memorial of the crucifixion of Christ.
God instituted the Passover as a memorial to that sacrifice of Christ, which paid for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. When we take the Passover, all of our attention should be on the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us. We must focus on the Lamb who paid the penalty for our sins.
“Every one of you has sinned, and God knows all about it, every one, and you’d better be sure they’re forgiven before you take the Passover,” Herbert W. Armstrong said in a March 4, 1982, sermon. “Now, maybe they already are forgiven. I don’t mean asking a million times over to forgive it. Once they’re forgiven, they’re forgiven. But you’d better be sure they have been.”
We need to take Mr. Armstrong’s words very seriously. The Passover is not a time to focus on ourselves or even on repentance of our sins. It is a time to focus on the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. What a price was paid for those sins!
Think about this for a moment. The Creator of the universe, of the angels and of man, came to this Earth. He did not sin. He did not have to repent, because He did not sin. He came here as God in the flesh to die for your sins and mine. The Creator of everything did that for us.
That is what the Passover is all about. Christ, our Passover, was brutally beaten and murdered to pay for our sins. That is what it takes to pay for your sins. Think about that price! Without it, none of us has any future.
Can you imagine how vile and grotesque sin is to actually claim the life of our Creator? He was the Creator, and He had to die! He was greater than His creation, and He died for all the creation so our sins could be forgiven. That was the cost. Think about that! That is what sin cost the God Family.
How seriously do we take sin? How can we possibly fight and overcome sin if we don’t deeply understand the mind-splitting price that had to be paid for it?
Sin is a big joke to this world, but it is not a joke to God—the God who was bludgeoned down here and spilled His blood. Sin is a serious matter. God paid a terrifying price to pay for our grotesque and vile sins. Only the blood of God in the flesh can pay for them.
Passover is a memorial of that great sacrifice and that terrible crucifixion. This is the meaning of Passover.
I usually open the Passover ceremony with these words, which came directly from Mr. Armstrong: “The most solemn and sacred occasion of the year, the anniversary of our Lord and Savior, a service observed in memory of His death. Partake of this service only if you have real faith in the symbols of Christ’s suffering and death.”
Romans 3:23 says we all have sinned. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of our sin is death. We are going to die unless we have our sins forgiven.
Our Savior came from outer space to pay for those sins. It is inspiring to think about what Christ did, and even more so when you think about what the Father did.
Passover was a phenomenal time for ancient Israel. The whole nation acted out the prophecy of the Lamb of God coming down from heaven to be sacrificed for all mankind (Exodus 12:3-5). Each household had a lamb; there must have been hundreds of thousands of lambs. It was a bloody night. They focused on the lamb, which pointed to the Lamb of God. No other nation in history has ever done anything like that.
If somebody in Israel decided not to go through the ceremony, that person was put to death. Today, if God’s people don’t take the Passover in the right manner or in the right spirit, they are going to die eternally (e.g. John 13:8; 1 Corinthians 11:29). This is a serious and sober warning.
All of those lambs that were slaughtered throughout Israel pointed to this sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The blood of those lambs saved nobody, but it pointed to the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. The Israelites knew there was a God who would come down from heaven and die to pay the penalty for our sins.
As John the Baptist said of Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This ceremony is not just for Israel or for the Church. The Lamb of God took away the sin of the world. The whole world will one day take the Passover as God’s people take it today—the way the Bible says to take it. We must make sure we do it God’s way.
So where should we put our focus on the Passover? It must be on the sacrificial Lamb of God. Realize what the Lamb has done for us. Understand the forgiveness God has given each one of us.
Striving Against Sin
Before Christ faced His fiercest trial, He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). How hard was that trial on the Father and the Son? Christ knew what He was about to go through. Humanly He wanted out of His trial, but He cried out to God and submitted to the Father’s will. That is what it took to pay for our sins!
What a Son! Whatever comes, I’ll take it, Christ said. If that is your will, then it is my will too!
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (verse 44). Christ’s sweat actually contained some blood in it! Drops of blood oozed out of the pores of His face because He was thinking about that terrifying beating and suffering He had to go through. The Romans called the beating before the crucifixion the half-death!
What suffering He endured in order to be perfect! Christ knew what was coming and He prayed fervently so He wouldn’t sin! He perspired blood to keep from sinning! He did all of this so He could be our Savior and give us a future.
Can you imagine someone praying with that intensity to avoid sin? Can you imagine Christ, who is supposed to live in us, working so fervently and fiercely to avoid sinning? He wants us to follow His example.
He had an attitude and a faith that brought power into His life. He trusted God and was strengthened (verse 43). He had the power to conquer all these indescribable acts of affliction.
Do you think you have tough difficulties, or that your trials are too hard? Psalm 69:20 is a prophecy describing Christ being full of heaviness. He was taken right to the very limits! This shows how serious God is about our healing now and our salvation.
Throughout His life and ministry, Christ knew all things that would come upon Him (John 18:4)—but He didn’t go around hanging His head. He inspired and motivated the disciples! He tried to get them to focus their minds on God’s plan.
Have you ever been full of heaviness? God tries us and He tests us. He wants us to sacrifice for the world and learn how to submit to His will as Christ did.
This can be awfully hard to do. Are you that strong? If we are not careful, we can get caught up in our own trials and think, Why is God so hard? But we need to think about Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Look at how Christ fought against sin and the temptation to do evil! Do you and I fight like that? We need to pray and appeal to the Father for the strength and the power to resist sin (Hebrews 12:1-4).
Satan tends to turn on the pressure around this time of the year. I believe the single greatest cause of discouragement around this time of the year—and perhaps throughout the year—is that people are not looking on the Passover the way they should.
If we don’t see the sacrifice of Christ the way we should, then we can get our minds on ourselves.
God commands us during this time of the year to get our minds off ourselves and think about the sacrifice that was made to pay for all of our sins! If we get our mind focused on that sacrifice, the Spirit will flow in us the way it should—and there is real power in that! That is how Christ gained the power to conquer those terrible trials.
Christ suffered far more than we will ever think of suffering. He suffered for us and said, Now I want you to follow that example.
Faith in the Symbols
Christ changed the Passover symbols from the lamb to the bread and the wine (Luke 22:19-20). At Passover, we take a little piece of bread and take a little wine in remembrance of Christ. The bread is a symbol of His body, which was broken for our physical sins. The wine is a symbol of the very blood of God in the flesh, shed because of our spiritual transgressions.
We need to have real faith in those symbols. They are necessary for our eternal life.
Before Christ was crucified, He endured cruel mocking, scorn and derision. Pilate then had Him scourged (Matthew 27:26). What was that scourging about? This is what the piece of bread that God’s people take on the night of the Passover represents: the broken body of Jesus Christ.
When Roman soldiers flogged a person, they would use a whip that had six to ten thongs, at the end of which were small pieces of broken bones or metal. Chunks of flesh would be ripped out of the victim’s body, leaving a mass of bloody, jagged wounds. Christ’s bones were protruding out of His flesh (Psalm 22:17).
Why did Christ subject Himself to that? So you could be healed! There is a healing covenant: By His stripes you are healed (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). We have to believe and have faith in that!
Do you think God could allow that to happen and not want to heal us? We may not know when God is going to heal, but surely the Father would never allow His Son to go through all of that if it wasn’t His will to heal us!
We need to turn the spotlight on ourselves and see if we really have the faith we need. God says we must have faith in those symbols—or we had better not take the Passover.
After the scourging came the crucifixion. During a Roman crucifixion, soldiers would stretch out a person’s hands and feet and nail them onto a stake while it was on the ground. Then they would shove the stake up and let it fall down into a hole, jerking the body and tearing the flesh, causing blood to spurt out. It was great entertainment for those evil Roman soldiers and anyone else watching.
This is what the Son of God went through just so we could be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God the Father. This is the kind of sacrifice the Passover is all about.
Can you imagine going through anything like this for somebody else? This is the love of God! This tells us so much about the Family that God is inviting human beings to enter into. This is a love so incredible that nobody can even come close to understanding it unless they have the Spirit of God!
Considering all that God and Christ endured, what do you suppose they think when their own chosen and Spirit-begotten people become lukewarm about this sacrifice? That is exactly what most of God’s people have become: They don’t get excited about the foot-washing or the Passover ceremony. They don’t like the gory things we must fix our attention on at Passover—and so they water the ceremony down.
What does God the Father—who had to watch this happen to His Son—think about such a lukewarm attitude? What does Christ—who had to endure this—think about them? Those people will be plunged into the Great Tribulation, and if they don’t repent, they will die forever. The same will be true of any of God’s people who don’t learn this lesson.
The Death of Christ
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Christ became sin and was momentarily cut off from God.
But what were the words He first spoke from the stake on which He was being crucified? Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34). Christ had no bitterness toward those people.
Can we forgive like that? Does Christ live in us to the extent that we can forgive the way God forgives? If we can’t forgive somebody, then we are not thinking like God. It takes a lot of forgiveness to keep human beings in the right attitude—loving, serving and sacrificing for each other.
Think about the magnitude of our sins and how God forgives them all. How God forgives! He purged our sins (Hebrews 1:3).
“Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost [spirit]” (Matthew 27:47-50). Christ screamed—and then He died.
Translators leave out “And another took a spear and pierced his side, and out came water and blood” from verse 49. Satan deceived this world into thinking that Christ died of a broken heart.
Christ died because a spear was rammed into the side of His body and His blood gushed out. That is why He died. Christ went through this so your sins could be forgiven. All of this is pictured by the Passover.
There was an earthquake and rumblings because the Son of God had just died (verse 51). The world was rejoicing, but the Father was not.
“And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose …. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (verses 52, 54). They finally got it! It didn’t change their lives, but at least they understood He really was the Son of God.
We must understand this on a far deeper level than those men did! God tells us, I want you to eat that bread and drink that wine. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. Fill your life with Christ! I want you to repent because I’m not going to forgive your sins otherwise.
How much does the Father hate sin? What does Christ think about when He thinks about sin? It takes the blood of God in the flesh to pay for our sins. God set that penalty for sin.
We must strive to be sinless! If we don’t try to avoid sin the way Christ did, then it is clear we don’t understand this as we should.
This is why the Passover is a sober occasion. We don’t talk any more than we have to before and after the ceremony, because we are to focus on the death of Jesus.
This is what Passover is about. When you eat the bread and drink the wine, you are saying you want Christ to live in you. You are saying you want to be just like Christ and give your life as He did. Christ set the example of suffering for us to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).
Declare His Generation
“[H]is appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance …” (Isaiah 52:14; Revised Standard Version). Jesus didn’t even look like a human being. His body was marred more than any man to pay the penalty for our physical sins and spiritual sins.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Christ’s disciples ran away when He was crucified. The only one who didn’t run was Christ. He knew if He did that, everything would be over for mankind. If He sinned once, or if He ever turned and ran, there would be no future for mankind.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (verses 4-5). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our lawlessness.
How much we understand the sacrifice that was made for our physical sins will make a difference in how much God heals us. His body was broken so we could be healed.
We know some of that healing will be done in the resurrection. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). God has a different perspective on death than we do. When a saint dies, another son is added to God’s Family for all eternity.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We get into problems when we turn to our own way. If we do that during our trials and tests, we will be discouraged, especially around Passover. It is time instead to think about the Passover Lamb, and God’s sacrifice for us.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter …” (verse 7). Christ was brought to the slaughter, just like the lambs at Passover in ancient Israel.
“He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? …” (verse 8). That is a beautiful question. Who will declare His generation? Who has the righteousness of God to get up and declare to the whole world about the crucifixion of the Passover Lamb? God’s people must do so. We must declare this sacrifice.
This question is repeated in Acts 8:32-33. Who is going to have the strength and the power to declare His generation? We have to get this message out and teach this world, even if it means we will face trouble.
“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord [or the Father] to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin …” (Isaiah 53:9-10). The Father watched it all. He had to turn His back on Christ because Christ became sin in that figurative sense.
But it pleased God to see His Son go through all of that because now He can have a family of billions. The Father wants a family! He gave His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins (John 3:16).
Discern the Lord’s Body
Paul wrote of this annual memorial of Christ’s death: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
Each of us is given a piece of bread and a little container of wine to show the Lord’s death. Then we make certain that we are going to live the way Christ lived more and more each year. We are to follow His example as we go into the Days of Unleavened Bread.
This is not just a religious ritual. Think hard about the Passover. The symbols of the bread and the wine are eternal! It’s about physical life and death when it comes to healing—but ultimately it’s about eternal life or eternal death!
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (verse 28). Examine yourself first. This is a time to examine yourself so you know you can take that bread and wine in faith. We should thank God that we have the honor and the opportunity to understand the Passover.
“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh [judgment] to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verses 29-30). Sleep in this verse means die. These verses are specifically talking about healing.
People in God’s Church died prematurely because they lacked faith. They didn’t discern that broken bread and why it was broken for you and me. Christ’s body was beaten and bludgeoned almost to death before the crucifixion so we may be healed.
There isn’t one of us who doesn’t have a lot of filthy sins to get rid of. Maybe one of our sins is not discerning the broken body of Christ the way we should, or not having enough real faith in that symbol.
Each individual must take that bread and wine. Each of us needs to have faith in it. We need to think about how Christ’s body was broken so we could be healed.
We also need to be careful questioning God when it comes to healing. Mr. Armstrong was practically blind when he wrote Mystery of the Ages. Why didn’t God heal him at that time and make it easier for him to write the book? Maybe it was because Mr. Armstrong would not have written it otherwise. Maybe that is what he needed to really be empowered by God to write the most important book since the Bible! God doesn’t tell us when He is going to heal us. That is where the faith comes in. Why would we need faith if we were healed immediately?
How to Conquer
Revelation 12:9-10 describe how Satan is cast down and full of wrath. He is coming after God’s people. Then it says this—specifically about the Laodicean or lukewarm saints who repent in the Tribulation: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (verse 11). The Revised Standard Version says they “conquered him.”
There are two parts to this inspiring verse. The first part is that these people conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb pictures the death of Christ for the remission of our past sins. This is what the Passover is about. But what about the future? When we sin again as we strive to become perfect, we must repent again! Then God will forgive us; the blood of Christ wipes out those sins if we repent.
The second part of this verse is that they conquered Satan “by the word of their testimony.” The word testimony comes from the same Greek word that we get martyr from. It is talking about the way we live our lives.
After the Passover, we go on into the next commanded observance, the Days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-6; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). During those days, we fill our lives with unleavened bread and keep the leaven out.
God says if you put those two parts together, then you are going to conquer the devil!
There is great power in this. We can conquer anything when we focus on that blood and on Christ’s example of how to avoid sin and prevail in righteousness.
How can we really be motivated to conquer if we don’t see the enormous consequences of sin? We need the power of Christ to resist that sin. Revelation 12:11 shows us how to obtain that power. God’s people, whether Philadelphians or repentant Laodiceans, conquer the devil with this understanding.
The very Word of the living God, Jesus Christ, should be living in us—even to the point that we are willing to die if we have to! That is what the Laodiceans are going to have to do to make it into God’s Kingdom.
We need this attitude even now. If we die, it is ok, because precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15).
After we accept that Passover and the sacrificial Lamb, we must go on and get sin out of our lives. We have to come out of sin. We must come out of Egypt and the world.
Here is the rest of the introduction to the Passover ceremony that I took from Mr. Armstrong: “Having had our sins forgiven by Christ’s blood, pictured by the 14th, we are not to stop there and remain in sin, but to go out away from sin. Why should we observe the 14th picturing the remission of past sins, and then we—commandment keepers of all people—refuse to continue the feast of Unleavened Bread, picturing the coming out of sin. Seven days of unleavened bread symbolizing and picturing complete putting away of sin. Or in other words, the keeping of the commandments. These feast days picture the keeping of the commandments.”
If we don’t get our minds off ourselves, we can’t really comprehend the Passover or conquer the devil. Satan is continually trying to destroy us or get us to the point where we become lukewarm, just as he has done to 95 percent of God’s people in this end time.
Peter says we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). We can be reconciled to the Father. And then we must go on from there.
We have to conquer by the blood of Jesus Christ and by the word of His testimony. What a beautiful and a marvelous plan this is! What a noble sacrifice God the Father and Jesus Christ made so that this plan could become a reality. This is what the Passover is about.
Chapter 5: The War of the Wills
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul describes a war of the wills that caused him a great deal of grief.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). Paul had human will to build godly character and to overcome. But even though his human will desired it, he couldn’t do it.
The human will cannot build spiritual character.
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (verses 19-21). Paul was shaken by this dilemma. He had an important spiritual lesson yet to learn in order to make some necessary changes in his life.
“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (verses 22-25). This really was a war between two opposing wills.
Paul was a highly educated man. He had a strong will, and he had learned for years to rely on that human will to do just about anything he wanted. But now he had to stop relying on it because that human will cannot overcome spiritually. In Romans 7, we read how Paul didn’t always see that like he needed to.
How well do you understand this lesson? If you are not overcoming, chances are you need to grasp this more deeply.
A Confusing Statement
In the September 1966 Good News, an article about this passage of Scripture appeared. I believe it gives us insight into why many of the Laodiceans failed after Herbert W. Armstrong died!
In that article, Raymond McNair wrote that the human will was not sufficient in itself to enable Paul to overcome. That is a confusing statement. I think it reveals a lot about why the Laodiceans had such problems.
The human will is human, and it cannot build godly character. It is of the man. Godly character is of God.
How many people were confused on this point in the Worldwide Church of God? I don’t think many of them understood this clearly. Certainly the human will plays a big role, which I will show you. But it cannot overcome as God tells us to overcome evil.
In Romans 7, Paul was experiencing a real trauma. He truly wanted to overcome. What am I going to do? I’m not overcoming! he cried. His experience was a disaster. He realized he wasn’t approaching it the right way at all. Oh, wretched man that I am! How am I going to be saved? Who is going to save me from this body of death? And he went on to say, God will do that.
Romans 8:14 shows us how we are to approach this situation: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Notice: We must be led and empowered by the Spirit of God, and through God’s inspiration, the human will must choose to follow that Holy Spirit. The human will plays a key role in our building of character because there would be no character without it. But we must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Mr. McNair’s statement makes it sound like the human will can get you partway there in developing godly character, but it is “not sufficient in itself” and needs the addition of the Holy Spirit to complete the process of overcoming. That is terribly incorrect! We must never make the mistake of thinking, I have the human spirit and I have God’s Spirit; I can do a lot of this on my own. If we do that, we will not produce the character God says we must have. Our human will must use the Holy Spirit to overcome.
‘Both to Will and to Do’
Notice this powerful statement Paul made some time after he wrote the epistle to the Romans: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
In Romans, Paul willed it, but it wasn’t God’s will. That is why his efforts were getting him nowhere spiritually.
Here in Philippians, he says God works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure—to overcome! Paul had learned that we must have both God’s will and God’s power working in us in order to produce real spiritual fruit. It is God’s will in us that makes it possible for us to do—to fulfill His will, His purpose and His good pleasure. You can’t do that with something human!
Understand: The human will plays its key role in making certain that we can build character because God cannot do it by fiat. He must have our support. Still, that human will cannot overcome or build godly character. We must always remember that.
What can you do with the human will? What can any human being do to build character that will prepare him or her for the Kingdom of God? It takes a lot more power than human will can provide. Here God says that both of these—the willing and the doing—are done by God, through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Herbert W. Armstrong understood this truth. In a sermon on September 24, 1983, Mr. Armstrong said this: “Now you and I have a part in our creation as we ultimately are to become, brethren. We have a great part in it. But don’t forget that we are a work of God’s hands. His creation is going on in us, but we have our part in it, and yet the character that is to come into us comes from God!” (emphasis mine throughout). The character comes from God, not from any human will!
He then said, “It’s God’s character, which must come into us. But it must come with our consent, with our desire, with our will and willingness; and we have to will ourselves and have the willpower to go that way and go that way constantly.” God cannot instill His character in us without our consent. We must set our will to allow Him to perform that spiritual creation within us.
Later in that sermon, Mr. Armstrong talked about Lucifer’s creation as described in Ezekiel 28. Lucifer was perfect as God created him, “till iniquity was found in thee” (verse 15). “Now, that iniquity [or lawlessness] didn’t come from God,” Mr. Armstrong explained. “God didn’t create that in him. But God can’t create perfect character by fiat! The independent entity, the created entity, has to make a decision and have its own part in that creation and in that decision, or there can be no character.”
In other words, the human will has to take and use the Spirit of God. It has to be willing to support God’s Spirit. Then, it is the use of that Spirit that causes us to grow spiritually. The Holy Spirit doesn’t overcome by itself. A human being must get behind and let God inspire the human will to use that Spirit to build the very character of God!
In order to progress spiritually, we must be led by the Holy Spirit of power, and really use that Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take over—we must use it. And if we let God work in us, real spiritual growth will take place! Daily we have to overcome with God’s Spirit! The inner man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
You can’t really give your life to God, build the character of God and do the Work of God until you have the Spirit. Even when it is working with you, that is not enough. It must be in you and empower you, or you don’t get the job done. You don’t will and do. You may will, but you don’t do what God wants you to do or achieve what He wants you to achieve.
In our concert series in Armstrong Auditorium, we strive to showcase “the best of the human spirit”—some of the finest artistic achievement a human being is capable of apart from God. That can be very uplifting—and it does point back to the Creator of that spirit, and of human beings. But look what the human spirit can do when it is led by the Holy Spirit! Then God is able to re-create Himself spiritually within a human being—create His very character—create another God!
‘By My Spirit’
Zechariah 4:6 describes a lesson Mr. Armstrong learned that I don’t think the Laodiceans ever really learned. This is in some ways the essence of what Mr. Armstrong was all about; it tells you why he was so successful. But how many of the Laodiceans talked about this, even when Mr. Armstrong was alive? They failed to learn this deeply, and they went down quickly after Mr. Armstrong was gone.
“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power [nor by human will], but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
If you want to know why Mr. Armstrong was so effective and so powerful in God’s Work, this is the reason! Unlike Paul in Romans 7, Mr. Armstrong knew that he could not do the Work of God by human power, human talent or human will. He could only do it “by my Spirit”! God’s Work is not done by human will.
We have to realize that we cannot do anything of ourselves, or we will end up lamenting like Paul: “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He had a lot of human will! But that can’t save anybody. Godly character is not created by human will at all.
I think the Laodiceans became arrogant and attributed the power to overcome to their own human will. “The human will was not sufficient in itself to enable him to overcome,” Mr. McNair wrote. That clearly implies that the human will has some capacity to conquer evil and build godly character. It does not!
Mr. McNair’s statement might have reflected ignorance of God’s Word—or possibly arrogance and reliance on self-will! When I read that, I just thought, There’s something not right about the way that is expressed. If there is anything we have to get right, it is this! We must get this right!
What caused all those Laodiceans to make such a horrifying mistake? Mr. Armstrong didn’t make it, and they had his example. Something must have been wrong with the thinking of those men near the top. They thought, We can do a lot of this ourselves, working with the Spirit of God. But Paul taught us, No, you can’t accomplish anything spiritual with that human will. Zechariah 4:6 tells you the same thing. It’s not by any kind of human effort that you conquer and overcome. The human will and the human effort is what you use to follow the Holy Spirit, and then use it! But it is the power of God, the Holy Spirit of God, that does the good deeds.
When you look at the fruits, it seems Mr. McNair’s statement gets to the heart of their problem. After Mr. Armstrong died, we saw so many of those Church leaders do terrible things and follow along with the abominable changes that were taking place. Even when they disagreed with some of the changes, they still didn’t walk with God, and they didn’t build the character of God because they didn’t use the Holy Spirit like Mr. Armstrong did.
Zechariah 4:6 makes it so clear that if we are going to get this job done, it is going to be by the Holy Spirit, the power of God! It takes God and His power to do the Work of God. How deeply Mr. Armstrong learned this lesson!
Think about what Zechariah 4:6 is saying: It’s about God re-creating Himself! How could the human will do such a thing? God is creating a God out of you! That process is going on right now; it is the purpose of our calling! God is creating God! Only God can do that! How could a human being ever create God? Imagine Mr. McNair saying, “Paul’s human will was not sufficient in itself to enable him to create a God being.” That’s silly to even think. But sometimes we don’t think deeply enough about what this is really about: actually letting God re-create Himself in each one of us!
It staggers the imagination to realize what we are a part of. You are going through the process of God creating Gods to be in His Family. It knocks you over when you think about that for a while! Never take that for granted: Always keep gaining a deeper understanding of that, or you could fall away from it.
And never forget how that process is done. Only God can re-create Himself! Human will has to be led by the Holy Spirit and participate in it, because God can’t do it by fiat. But it’s all done by God! It’s all done by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. With our human will and our human effort, we just have to make sure we are submitting to and following the Spirit.
Even when you look at what has happened since Mr. Armstrong died, you still see those people not willing to really turn to God. After all, God is still alive and is doing a Work. Yet the Laodiceans are not doing anything of any real importance. Why? Because so much of it is by their human will.
It can be a deadly problem to think, I can do this, along with God’s Holy Spirit. That isn’t the way Paul talked about it. He was relying on that human will, and then realized, I can’t do anything with my will! Our will has to be used the way God wants us to use it. God works in us, and it is God’s will that gets things done, and God’s Holy Spirit that accomplishes the job.
So many of those men seemed to understand so much. Frankly, they taught me a lot of what I know. What happened to them? Why are those men—even to this day—still hard and arrogant and self-willed? This is a crisis of tremendous magnitude! Those people left God and destroyed God’s Work, or participated in that destruction in some way. Most of God’s people in this age are in a terrible spiritual condition.
Meanwhile, God is doing a phenomenal, inspiring, encouraging Work through this Church! For all these years, this Work has been a shining light on a hill. Yet they won’t come to God! God is here—yet they are not. Why? Because they are relying on that human will and not on God’s will. They’re not using the power of the Spirit to overcome that stubbornness and rebellion!
Think about how powerful Mr. Armstrong was in doing what he did and you will see the big difference in what he understood and what the Laodiceans understand, even to this day. They don’t get Zechariah 4:6. If they did, they would be where God’s Work is! If a person really understood that verse, what would ever stop him from following God?
We have to make sure we are not hard like that, and that we overcome that hardness with the power of God’s Spirit.
The Will of the Father
Jesus Christ said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). How much are you really doing the will of the Father in your life, even in the smallest areas?
Can you do the will of your Father in heaven with human effort? Can you help build the eternal Family of God by human talent? Absolutely not. Now, you have to cooperate with God in doing it; that’s where the character comes in. But still, it is God’s Spirit that does it and that empowers us to do it.
The night before His crucifixion, Christ prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). He was empowered to do God’s will, but His constitution was really shaken. If the Father had said, O
“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). God says we have to understand His will. Human will isn’t going to save anyone. But some people seem to think it is a great aid to God’s Holy Spirit.
What is God’s will? We have to learn it! We don’t know it by instinct. We learn it from the Bible and the instruction God provides through His Church. Some people let down in Bible study or in attendance at services or Church-sponsored Bible studies, thinking they don’t really need them all that much. Which will is behind that kind of reasoning? Is that God’s will? God’s will is that we are “[n]ot forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25)—and the signs of that day approaching are all around us!
Just being in God’s Church does not guarantee that we will know God’s will. We must be zealous in coming to understand the will of God, or we will understand it imperfectly.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). That is the will we must understand and prove that we have in our minds. That means thinking about Church Bible studies and everything else the way God does. We have to say, I want God’s will—I don’t want my will! We have to study and listen and learn everything we can about His will, and learn to love what He loves, follow where He leads, hate what He hates, grow excited about what excites Him. On so many specific points, it really gets down to you understanding and doing what the will of God is through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what we all ought to be striving to do. We have to grow always in proving what is the perfect will of God.
Willing to Do Satan’s Will
In the May 1980 Plain Truth, Mr. Armstrong gave this definition: “This perfect spiritual character is the ability of a separately created entity with mind and free moral agency to come to the knowledge of the right as opposed to the wrong, to decide and will to do the right, even against desires or pulls to do the wrong, and finally to overcome pulls toward the wrong until doing the right becomes fixed nature!” It becomes your fixed nature because you are using the Spirit of God. So the human will has to be used, but we have to know how to use it.
Mr. Armstrong continued: “But since the right way is simply God’s way—the way of God’s own character and the way of God’s law—and righteous and perfect spiritual character is God’s character, that character must actually come from God, but on the decision and will of the separate entity.
“Righteous and perfect spiritual character is God’s character, that character must come from God.” That character includes God’s will.
Notice how Mr. Armstrong concluded that statement: “but on the decision and will of the separate entity.” That means that we must decide and will humanly to follow God. That is how we are involved in the character building. However, even that decision and human will are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
It is all about cooperating with God as He re-creates Himself in us. That can only be done by the Holy Spirit, which includes God’s will.
You would have to say that those Laodicean ministers, considering what they have done and continue to do, did not have enough of God’s will in their character. The fruits show that they have a lot of self-trust and self-will.
In Revelation 3:9, God prophesied about Satan setting up a “synagogue” within His Church in the Philadelphia era! If there can be a synagogue of the devil in God’s Church, that must mean this is really a battle over the wills! The battle is this: Which will are we going to follow? God’s will? Or human will, which worships Satan to one degree or another? (2 Corinthians 4:4). It ends up being one or the other—God’s will or Satan’s will.
Christ told some Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own [nature]: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). There is more depth here than would appear. This verse shows the battle between God’s will and the devil’s will and how it all works.
The Companion Bible says “you will do” should be simply “you will.” Word Studies in the New Testament says this of the expression “you will do”: “Wrong! Properly, you will to do.” Christ was telling those religious people, You
Paul warned in Colossians 2:18: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of [demons] ….” Translators rendered that word “angels.” Surely it’s not worshiping of demons, they reasoned. You’re not supposed to worship angels either, but this verse is talking about worshiping demons. It is talking about an Antiochus-type man in the Church of God “intruding into those things which he [has] seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head …” (verses 18-19). This tragedy took place in God’s Church after Mr. Armstrong died. We saw it happen.
Paul says these people of God are worshiping demons! How can you explain that?
The passage goes on in verse 23 to say that some practices have “a [show] of wisdom in WILL worship.” People worship the will—but it isn’t the will of God; it is actually the human will. These people have it all mixed up! And they are really getting down to will worship—but not God’s will!
God’s own people learned from Mr. Armstrong “not by [human] might, nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit,” yet they didn’t get this right—and they have ended up worshiping demons! That is what Mr. McNair was doing! Something is terribly wrong when you’re a follower of God and then end up worshiping demons! That is the worst possible disaster! Fifty percent of the Laodiceans will never recover from it. That’s what we are dealing with when we talk about following the human will.
We must know how the human spirit is used and how God’s Spirit is used. Frankly, we also have to learn a lot about Satan’s spirit. He is the one deceiving God’s people.
The phrase “wisdom in will worship” is better translated “forced worship of demons.” Satan actually got them in a position where he could force them into his worship. God never forces you into this at all. He asks you to voluntarily get behind it, being led by the Holy Spirit and using that Spirit. God is love. Satan is hate. He forces people to worship his way because, in a lot of cases, they won’t do it unless they are forced.
Verse 8 talks about “the rudiments of the world”—which are ruling spirits, or demons. The Laodiceans are worshiping demons, the ruling spirits who wrecked the universe. The Church is under a demonic attack, and Mr. McNair and those ministers didn’t know it! How sad is that?
We must learn this deeply! We have to build within our minds the very will of God and the character of God! Then we will do of God’s good pleasure. We’ll do His Work. It takes massive effort to do that. We need to recognize how easy it is not to do it.
Worshiping the Will
Adolf Hitler once said, “What you tell people in the mass in a receptive state of fanatic devotion, will remain. Words received under a hypnotic influence are radical and impervious to every reasonable explanation.” He said this hypnotic influence is inexplicable.
He went on to say, “A new age of magic interpretation of the world is coming, of interpretation in terms of the will and not of intelligence.” This is what Hitler and Satan had in store for mankind: to be ruled by “a new age of magic interpretation.” It’s magic! It’s worshiping the will of the devil!
That is what the Laodiceans are doing! It’s not that hard to do—in fact, it is hard to avoid.
Christ said of Satan, “The truth is not in him.” That’s the way he is. The truth is not there! He speaks of his own nature—he has to lie! What a terrible problem when people end up worshiping that will: It is a satanic will, and it’s what Satan does when he gets a grip on human beings and on the human will!
Satan is working through human beings on this Earth by having them promote his will. Powerful people are implementing the will of the devil! That’s how dangerous this “will worship” can become. The devil has snares, Paul said, and there are people—even in the Church—“who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). What about people in the world? Satan can take many people captive any time he wants to.
Satan’s will is being used fiercely and with great speed in this world. His power is growing mightily today, as is the power of his deceptions. Satan loves to force things on people. The Bible prophesies of a time very soon when he will get control of a political leader who takes charge of Europe, and the will worship in this world will explode to new levels! All this is leading to an unparalleled crescendo of violence in this world!
“And in the latter time of their kingdom [the time we’re living in now], when the transgressors are come to the full [did you ever see so much sin and transgression in the world as there is today?], a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up” (Daniel 8:23). This is Satan’s man! He’s going to understand dark sentences. He will be into this magic interpretation and the worshiping of the will. Don’t worry about strong reasoning or intelligence; that’s not important. Just follow along. This goes beyond logic—this is magical! It is really about worshiping the devil! That is what it was all about with Hitler, and it is going to happen again!
This tyrant is going to kill God’s people! (verse 24). These saints relied on their human effort and will rather than on His power through the Holy Spirit—and as a result, God is going to make them stand up and be loyal to Him when they face death.
In the end though, this man’s success will be short-lived. Verse 25 tells us, “he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.” In the midst of all that horror, there is the most wonderful news you can imagine: Jesus Christ is about to return!
At that time, a spiritual nation will be born—a nation of people God has worked with, re-creating Himself in them so they actually have the mind and character of God! This experience we are going through is such a wonderful blessing. Even amid all the horrors in this world, what God is doing through us is so inspiring and uplifting! Everything about it points to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the expansion of God’s spiritual Family! Then the whole world will come to see God’s most exalted spiritual creation!
Chapter 6: The Science of Spiritual Warfare
We are involved in a terrible spiritual war. We must fight against our own carnal nature and against evil influences of this world. We are even locked in direct combat with Satan himself. That is why we are instructed to “Put on the whole armour of God” and to “war a good warfare” (Ephesians 6:11; 1 Timothy 1:18). How successful are you at fighting this spiritual war?
Napoleon Bonaparte was a ruthless dictator. But he was also one of the most phenomenally successful military leaders in history. Many great military men have studied him in detail, including Winston Churchill. His life contains principles and examples we can emulate in order to better fight our spiritual war.
Napoleon wrote a lot about war. He was not a great innovator in warfare; instead, he scrupulously studied the great generals of the past and copied the habits that led to victories. One truth he discovered was that there is a science to waging war. He said all successful, victorious generals followed scientific rules and principles that produced success.
Do we approach our spiritual war as a science? Our war is far more important than any war in this world. Consider the importance of our war next to any that Napoleon fought. There is no comparison!
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). There is a hardness to our calling. Endure hardness means to suffer evil, or to sustain afflictions. We must expect afflictions and problems through which we have to sustain ourselves.
And not only must we endure hardness. God’s people today are also being trained to help others endure hardness. We must endure hardness ourselves and then—by our example, our encouragement, our words, our counsel or whatever God may require of us—help all those whom God calls to endure hardness.
Napoleon’s aim in war was to destroy the will of his enemy. He criticized those military leaders who wasted time on secondary goals.
“Make war offensively,” Napoleon said. “It is the sole means to become a great captain and to fathom the secrets of the art.” That is a profound statement. If you are not fighting this war offensively, you will not be a great leader.
Napoleon advocated using “a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defensive, followed by rapid and audacious attack.”
God gives us a tremendous amount of knowledge. But what good is it if we don’t apply it in offensive warfare? That is how we truly learn—through application. We must go on the offensive in God’s Work in every possible way with the knowledge we receive. That means serving God’s people, helping in the congregations, supporting the Work. Anything that gets in the way of that, we must try to destroy—particularly our carnal nature.
That is how we win battles. That is how we become outstanding soldiers and leaders for God.
In his book The Campaigns of Napoleon, David Chandler wrote, “Napoleon was extremely thorough in all his planning; as little as possible was left to chance.”
In your spiritual warfare, how much do you leave to chance? If you think, I won’t worry about that—hopefully it will work out
“As soon as the possibility of a war with a European power arose,” Chandler wrote, “the emperor would send for his librarian and demand a comprehensive series of books—historical, descriptive, geographical and topical—which he would read … building up a clear mental picture of his future opponent.”
How clear is your mental picture of your enemy and of your problems? Do you have a severe recurring problem? Certainly, a problem you have had all your life takes time to overcome, but if you don’t see it clearly, you can’t battle it! We each battle Satan, society and self—and all of that comes down to conquering our own human nature. You need to understand yourself—your own carnal nature—and then go on the offensive. How well do you understand that? Once you see your problem, you must wage offensive warfare on that problem.
Lessons for the Spring Holy Days
During the Days of Unleavened Bread, God challenges each one of us to see the leaven in our lives and get it out so we can replace it with unleaven. We all need to kill off the old man and build the new man. God drills that lesson into us year after year.
Think again about the example of King David. He was sorely tempted. A king has greater temptations than an ordinary individual without such power. And he gave in and committed the abominable sins of adultery and murder. But after he repented, David never committed those sins again—and there is a reason why. He learned some powerful lessons from that experience.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions,” David prayed. “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity [lawlessness], and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1-3). From that point forward in his life, David kept that sin right before his eyes. He had a clear mental picture of his problem—kept it right before his eyes—and never let it happen again. And any time that old man—that carnal nature—began to rise up, David went on the offensive and smashed it! That is how he was able to avoid that sin and become a man after God’s own heart. He waged an “audacious attack,” as Napoleon would term it. With Christ living in him, he replaced his evil heart with God’s righteousness.
Replacing your human nature with God’s nature is the most magnificent victory you can ever achieve! It results in eternal glory!
What is your greatest enemy? How much do you think about that?
Is it laziness? Or lust? Resistance to government? Discouragement? Do you have to battle selfishness? Or an inferiority complex? How about intellectual vanity? Or all of the above?
We are all different. We all have different weaknesses and strengths. God wants to seize the potential in every last being He possibly can. He wants you to fulfill your potential. That means you must conquer your problems! You must see them clearly and pray regularly about them. Like David, you must ask God to show you even your secret faults (Psalm 19:12)—those that, perhaps, others see but that you don’t see.
Napoleon sought to destroy his enemy’s will to resist. That is what we must try to do with our “old man” (Ephesians 4:22). Our problems always try to come back. God instructs us to destroy that old man so completely that he doesn’t have the will to come back! If you deal with a problem lightly and return to your business, it will come right back. You will be dealing with the same problems year after year! And a big enough problem will destroy your successes—as we have seen happen in so many of God’s people.
But as Paul said, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Napoleon wrote, “Nothing is attained in war except by calculation. During a campaign, whatever is not profoundly considered in all its details is without result. Every enterprise should be conducted according to a system. Chance alone can never bring success.”
War is serious business! Do you have a system to deal with your major problems? Chance will not cut it. What are you doing to ensure success in your war against them? How systematic are you in wiping them out of your life?
You must be calculated. You need some science to your war.
Here are four points on how to make your spiritual war a real science.
1. Morale in Warfare is Vitally Important
“Napoleon was always aware of the vital importance of morale in warfare,” Chandler wrote, “and another of his best-known maxims declared that in war, the morale is to the physical as three is to one.” With high morale, a general will win three times as many battles!
If you really have the spirit God wants you to have, the high morale, you are going to win three battles where you would normally win one.
The morale that Napoleon prized is sometimes called esprit de corps—the spirit and enthusiasm of the group, loyalty to each other and to the cause. Webster’s defines morale, “The mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand. A sense of common purpose with respect to a group: esprit de corps. The level of individual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future.”
That is what we need in our war: high morale! How is your morale in this war? How is your morale right now?
Napoleon would travel with his soldiers, and sometimes they would be away from home for months or years. At times he couldn’t pay them—couldn’t even feed them—yet he kept his armies intact. How did he do that? He would be a phenomenal success by today’s standards, with our modern soldiers. How does a man convince an army of men to live off the land much of the time, away from their families, with no pay—and yet, when it is time to fight, get those soldiers to fight with high morale? His speeches lit a fire in his men to fight. In that respect very few leaders have ever reached Napoleon’s level.
That is definitely an example we should seek to emulate in our spiritual warfare. The way for us to develop high morale is to get our hearts into God’s Work. The question is, what prevents you from doing that fully? What is holding you back? This is God’s Work!—what holds you back from absolutely throwing yourself into it? We should all have high morale—and inspire that in others. Do you inspire others to have high morale, or do you drag them down?
This is an issue that will be decided in your prayer closet. That is where you will get most of your power. In our warfare, we resolve the major issues on our knees, crying out to God.
Napoleon wrote, “A man does not have himself killed for a few halfpence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul [the spirit in man] in order to electrify the man.” And that is exactly what Napoleon did.
Can you and I do that? Christ did. And He said that if He lives in us, we can too. Of course, we have to conquer our old man in order to show the kind of concern for other people we need to. But God’s Church is full of spiritual troops whose morale God wants us to lift up! When God’s people have high morale, they are a fearsome force!
“More than anything else, it was Bonaparte’s unequaled gift for binding men to his service, instilling in them a devotion to his person closely akin to worship, that made his successes feasible,” Chandler wrote. “… Bonaparte became an idol from Lodi [one battle in which he was very courageous in leading his men] onwards, creating those vital personal bonds which would cause his troops to march to almost certain death, crying, ‘Viva Bonaparte!’”
Again, humanly, Napoleon was an ugly, barbaric dictator—though he did know how to lead men. We should never worship a man—but we really do worship our Leader. Can we go around saying, “Viva Jesus Christ!” and have excitement and high morale over whatever God asks of us? What a difference that makes in battle!
Would your friends say of you, “That person really has high morale”? Are you known for being ready to do battle in this Work—doing all you can to finish the job?
Nehemiah 8:10 reads, “[T]he joy of the Lord is your strength.” How much joy of the Lord do you have, and how much strength do you have?
Are you close enough to Christ? Do you use your prayer closet enough—and powerfully enough—that you truly have high morale? Enough so that just your example helps others to have higher morale? We have all faltered in that respect. But it is exactly the areas where we have faltered that we need to attack! Know where you have faltered—and why you have faltered. If you fall down, get back up! Christ still lives in you. Failure is only temporary if you are letting Christ live in you and you have high morale! A problem is just something you are about to overcome.
Wellington remarked about Napoleon, some years after he had actually defeated Napoleon, that “his presence on the field made a difference of 40,000 men.” If Napoleon was with them, it was like the army was as powerful as if it had 40,000 more men!
Chandler praised Napoleon’s “incontrovertible evidence of his power over men and his ability to inspire a high state of morale. … He fought a war of the mind as much as a war of cannon and bayonets …” (emphasis mine throughout).
You, too, can be a person who lifts others’ morale and excites them to be part of God’s Work! Perhaps that high morale is the best sign that you are winning your battles.
2. You Must Have Maximum Concentration
“One of the basic maxims of Napoleon stresses the all-importance of achieving maximum concentration of forces at the right place and time, in other words on the battlefield,” wrote Chandler. “Another striking feature of the First Italian Campaign is the way Bonaparte always contrived to bring the greatest possible number of his available men onto the field.”
When you have to tackle a problem, concentrate everything you have on that problem. Bring everything possible to bear on solving it.
“The principles of war are the same as those of a siege,” Napoleon said. “Fire must be concentrated on a single point, and as soon as the breach is made the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing ….”
He had a clear picture in his mind of the problem he faced. He would aim all of his attention on breaking through at one point just to get his enemy off balance.
Do you lay siege to your big problems? A siege is a military blockade of a city or a fortified place intended to compel it to surrender. It is a persistent attack. To lay siege means to pursue diligently or persistently. How about preparing a siege against your laziness? Or your lust, or sense of inferiority, or vanity, or whatever problem you face? Lay siege on it—go right at the heart of it with everything you can muster! Destroy its will! Decimate your old man’s will to rise back up—and you will conquer it. That is how we can win battles against our serious problems.
“In the words of General Camon, [Napoleon] was ‘a devourer of books,’” Chandler wrote. “Volume after volume was taken up, ruthlessly analyzed …. Bonaparte’s mathematical mind forged through the inessential to grasp the kernel of truth.”
Napoleon wrote, “In military, public or administrative affairs, there is a need for deep thought as well as deep analysis, and also for an ability to concentrate on subjects for a long time without fatigue.”
Can you do that? You must have deep thought, deep analysis, and long periods of concentration without fatigue in order to understand the enemy! Some of us have health problems that prevent intense concentration—but if you are fatigued, ask yourself why. Is it because you are losing battles? Is it because you’re not fighting with a system? What is the reason? Do you have trouble staying alert? Can you concentrate on subjects for a long time without fatigue?
Napoleon could get the books and study and think and deeply analyze, concentrating for a long time on a subject without fatigue. That is an amazing ability to have. We can do that too—because we have all the power in the world if Christ is living in us!
If you get fatigued too easily, you need to attack that problem! You have to get yourself in physical and mental shape to do that—and spiritual shape, most of all.
Napoleon wrote, “Read and meditate upon the wars of the greatest captains. This is the only means of rightly learning the science of war.”
Think about that spiritually. Look at all the captains we can study who knew how to win wars! God the Father, Jesus Christ, Abraham, Paul, Peter, John—and on and on! We have a whole library of material from Herbert W. Armstrong, a great spiritual captain. You could find a system for fighting almost anything just by studying what he wrote and what he lived through. Mr. Armstrong knew the science of this spiritual war. So did all the men of the Bible. They knew how to fight! And we can learn not only from their strengths, but even from their weaknesses, if we analyze them deeply.
“There are in Europe many good generals,” Napoleon said, “but they see too many things at once. I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves.”
Getting distracted by the secondary matters doesn’t bring down the enemy. It only wastes precious time! We must concentrate on the main body—the heart of the problem—and crush it! Then the secondary matters will fall into place.
Chandler explained, “Here lies the kernel, the central theme, of Napoleon’s concept of warfare: the blitzkrieg attack aimed at the main repository of the enemy’s military power—his army.” I wonder where the Nazis got their concept of blitzkrieg warfare!
Napoleon tried to destroy not only the field forces, but also the enemy’s will to resist. That is what we want to do with the old man, so there is nothing left to battle against.
One big weakness can drag you down and destroy you. Two of them certainly can do it even better. We have seen that many times with ministers and members of God’s Church. What you need in order to defeat that serious problem is maximum concentration in your battle.
3. Learn the Value of Time
“Strategy,” Napoleon said, “is the art of making use of time and space.” That is a wonderful definition. Napoleon was deeply convinced of “the vital significance of time and its accurate calculation in relation to space,” Chandler wrote.
Of those two commodities, Napoleon put the greater value on time. He said: “Space we can recover, time never. I may lose a battle, but I shall never lose a minute.”
Napoleon’s ability to get the very most from his time contributed greatly to his success. “As [Commandant] Colin describes it, ‘Rapidity is an essential and primordial [or fundamental] factor in Napoleon’s warfare.’ This insistence on speed and mobility was a basic feature of the emperor’s campaigns from beginning to end, and was the feature of his warfare that most confused and unsettled the majority of his opponents, brought up in a tradition that taught a more leisurely type of warfare,” wrote Chandler.
Consider the difference! Napoleon put a premium on speed and mobility. His enemies wanted to wage war in a more leisurely fashion. That is a big reason they were so often his victims. Waging war casually will get you killed.
For the sake of victory, Napoleon really worked his soldiers. One of them made this comment: “The emperor has discovered a new way of waging war; he makes use of our legs instead of our bayonets.” He made them run. If they could arrive at the scene of the battle a day ahead of time, it would give them a tremendous advantage over an enemy that wasn’t expecting them. “[H]e would present his stunned enemy with no option but to accept a battle a full 24 hours ahead of the time he had expected,” Chandler wrote. Napoleon used the element of surprise whenever he could.
“[F]or Napoleon there is no doubt that speed was the element that could transform danger into opportunity, defeat into victory,” Chandler wrote.
Jesus Christ had the same sense of urgency. He had so little time on Earth, so His time was extremely critical. On occasion, He would miss meals in order to finish some work—to do what His Father wanted Him to do. He was so consumed by His responsibilities that He didn’t even think about eating.
Our lives are comprised of time—precious time. We don’t have much of it! Look at how quickly time is going by! The older I get, the more I realize how easy it is to waste time.
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:10, 12).
To really wage effective spiritual warfare, we must learn the value of time.
4. Embrace Unity of Command
“It would be possible to continue almost indefinitely describing and analyzing different features of Napoleon’s military philosophy, but there is room here only to mention one further principle, perhaps the most important of all, namely that of unity of command,” David Chandler wrote. “The emperor was convinced from an early stage in his military career that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’” Of course, that principle comes right from the Bible (Matthew 12:25; Luke 11:17).
We must have unity of command within God’s Church! Jesus Christ is the Head, and we are the Body. Christ commands the Body through the government structure He has put in place in the Church, and the Body does what the Head says to do.
“A split command was anathema to [Napoleon] from as early as 1796,” Chandler wrote. “When the Directory wished to divide his Italian command and make him share it with General Kellermann, Bonaparte threatened to resign: ‘Better one bad general than two good ones’ was the theme of his reply to Paris.” That is a good insight. At least one bad general who has authority can get something done; two generals, and you have gridlock. We see that everywhere in politics today.
“As soon as he was in a position to really impose his authority, Napoleon did away with the revolutionary system of operating a whole series of semiautonomous armies, and centralized all formations into one single army under a single head—himself,” Chandler wrote. Again, Napoleon was a dictator and an evil man—but the reality is, that unity of command is the way Christ wants to lead us!
Napoleon was convicted that unity of command was “the first necessity in war.” He’s talking about government. In order to wage an effective spiritual war, we must accept the unity of command by the Father and the Son and their government.
Those ministers and members who have left God’s Church generally would not embrace that unity of command. If we have a problem in this area, we must solve it! Do you resist the authority Christ has given to the leaders in His Church? Do you resist submitting to what Mr. Armstrong taught?
“Napoleon laid down five principles for opening a campaign …. First: An army must have only a single line of operations,” Chandler wrote; “that is to say, the target must be clearly defined and every possible formation directed toward it.” That is what makes God’s Work effective. Every department at headquarters, every student at our college, every minister, every member, is working toward the same objective. When we all have Jesus Christ living in us, that kind of unity becomes possible, and it gives us marvelous and wonderful power! The very power of God resides in the Body! That enables this Work to move ahead rapidly.
Often today, civilian leaders and military leaders work at cross-purposes with one another. Sometimes, civilian leaders will only use military men who are little more than yes-men. Napoleon avoided that conflict of purposes by taking both jobs: He was both president and general. There is an evil side to that kind of leadership when it is inspired by the devil—but with God’s government, it works beautifully.
Napoleon once said, “It is upon the field of battle that the fate of fortresses and empires is decided.” For us, in our spiritual warfare, it is in the prayer closet that the fate of God’s Church is decided. It is in our drawing on the power of God and using that power to overcome.
Christ has called each one of us to become a leader! And we can be great leaders if Jesus Christ lives in us, but we must learn the science of spiritual war.
Victory in this warfare produces the ultimate results. If we win, the universe is ours. Our future is so phenomenal that we simply cannot grasp it completely. When we are spirit beings in God’s Family, I don’t think we will ever look back and say, It was just so hard in those days. I’m sure we will look back instead and say, Wow—what a bargain that I was to be able to go through that—and receive
Chapter 7: Offensive Warfare
Prior to World War II, Winston Churchill grew increasingly frustrated with Britain’s defensive maneuvers. He wanted Britain to brace itself to accept the “hazards of action,” as Martin Gilbert wrote in his biography.
Later Churchill said, “Ever since the beginning of the war we had let the initiative rest with Germany.” Germany was constantly on the offensive.
Churchill said, “All this makes me feel that under the present arrangements, we shall be reduced to waiting upon the terrible attacks of the enemy.”
Now notice this: “The offensive,” Churchill said, “is three or four times as hard as passively enduring from day to day. It therefore requires all possible help in early stages. Nothing is easier than to smother it in the cradle. Yet here, perhaps, lies safety.” If you want to be safe, Churchill said, go on the offensive.
This principle applies to Christians and to the Church. The Bible has much to say about offensive warfare.
“And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2). The book of Judges is one of the former prophets. It is prophecy for us in this end time. Gideon had this army, and God was cutting it down to size so the Israelites would give Him credit for what they were doing. That is important to God. If 32,000 Israelites had won this battle, they would have said, We did this ourselves! But God wants us to know that He is the one responsible for those successes.
“Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand” (verse 3). These people were about to go into battle—I’m sure they would have fought to protect Israel. But they weren’t what God was looking for. God said, Because they’re fearful and afraid, I want you to send them back.
“And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go” (verse 4). These men in Gideon’s army were ancient Marines of Israel, chosen for a special offensive warfare. Today, God is doing the choosing of His spiritual Marines, the ones He wants to do this final work in the Philadelphia Church. You and I are being tested right now. God is learning a lot about all of His people.
“So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water” (verses 5-6). Many of these men, though they were really going out there to fight, weren’t eager to do battle. They had a case of the “slows,” as Abraham Lincoln said of his people and his generals during the Civil War. If you are not eager to fight, you are going to lose crucial battles. God is looking for people who are eager to do battle and go on the offensive.
“And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place” (verse 7). These 300 men were not going to wait for the Midianites to come after them, as most of Lincoln’s generals did. God said He would send out this 300 after the Midianites, and they would go on the offensive and destroy them.
Notice, though, that God said, I will save you. God is going to have to save us. There were over 30,000 people who weren’t eager to do battle with God, even though God had told them He would save them. They may have known God was with Israel, but they didn’t feel personally secure about it. They didn’t believe God. They were afraid. We can easily become afraid. But God says, I want you to go on the offensive. Don’t worry about what anybody else says—you just go.
Notice what God said to Gideon, commanding those 300: “Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand” (verse 9). These are powerful words. God says, I’ve already beaten them, just go down and reap the fruits of your victory. But you have to know that God is doing it.
What an honor to be among the 300! What a glorious honor to be in God’s Philadelphia Church today.
Winston Churchill said that the great principle of warfare, or going on the offensive, is doing it wholeheartedly. If going on the offensive is three or four times harder, you need to be wholehearted. If you are not, then when you get out on the battlefield you will begin to hesitate—and you’re going to get slaughtered, physically and spiritually.
That is exactly what has happened with so many of God’s people in this end time. Just look around at the people who have been slaughtered spiritually.
What God is looking for is that noble 300 who will wholeheartedly go on the offensive. Only one small group is fighting for God today; 31,700 are willing to fight, but they are not willing to go on the offensive like God says—to do it wholeheartedly and trust God to do the fighting. And what a price they’re going to have to pay.
Theodore Roosevelt used a small group of special forces to drive the Spaniards out of Cuba. They would never have driven the Spaniards out if not for Roosevelt’s leadership. While most of his men were crawling to avoid bullets overhead, he led the charge up the hill on his horse, yelling to his men, “Are you afraid to follow me?“
We have to be willing to die in this warfare. War is dangerous, but if you go into that war and you’re not on the offensive when you should be, a whole lot more people are going to die. And if you die spiritually for all eternity, what tragedy is worse? Eternal lives are at stake. That is not something to take lightly.
A Strategy Failure
In World War i, Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty—the leader of Britain’s Navy. The fighting had gotten into trench warfare. The Germans came into France and entrenched in Verdun. In one three-month period, the British lost a million men. They would gain a few feet and then lose it the next day, back and forth—a brutal type of slaughter.
Churchill was disturbed. He decided to go on the offensive to try to break that bloody deadlock. So he came up with the idea to take the army and navy through the Dardanelles strait, which is through Turkey, right by Constantinople. He was certain that if they succeeded, they could knock Turkey out of the war and move their forces through the Balkan states. That would enable them to come around behind the German lines and break up this terrible, bloody bog they’d gotten themselves into.
The problem was, this strategy was run by a committee. You know how committees do things. They had the weakest soldiers; they couldn’t get together; there were all kinds of delays. When they finally did go, the army arrived well after the navy was there; it was not coordinated, and a lot of them ended up getting slaughtered. (God still delivered many of them.)
Later the Turks admitted that if Britain had pursued that first initiative, Turkey only had three rounds left when the navy withdrew. Britain could have easily taken Turkey and executed what I think most military strategists today would tell you was one of the greatest strategical ideas they have ever seen in warfare. But they didn’t, and Churchill ended up getting fired because of that.
Churchill really had his trials in World War i. God was preparing him for World War ii. Today you and I experience problems and trials. God puts us through those in order to prepare us for greater battles ahead. He knows what He is doing.
When Churchill got kicked out of office, he was very depressed. He said that was the worst time of his life. He felt he was ruined forever. His wife wondered if he would get through it. Winston Churchill was disgraced, but God was using that to humble him. He wasn’t a humble man.
But he was a warrior. He decided, All right, I’m going to go and get involved in this trench warfare. So off he went, and was put in charge of a battalion of men in France.
Violet Bonham Carter writes this about him: “He then suggested to the colonel that he would learn more of the conditions in the trenches if he lived with the companies in the line instead of the battalion headquarters.” God undoubtedly gave Churchill special protection in World War i to save him for World War ii.
She continued, “One incident … seems to afford further proof that his life was miraculously protected and preserved to fulfill some hidden purpose. As it was written, chance, fortune, luck, destiny, fate, providence, seems to me only different ways of expressing the same thing, to wit, that a man’s own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external, superior power.”
She says that as Churchill waited in the bunker there, for some reason the general sent word that he wanted to talk to him. Churchill thought it was probably important, so he got up and took off. He hadn’t gotten far when he saw a mortar fired on that bunker, and it looked like it hit the place where he had been. He came back later and found that the mortar had hit in that very area, and his best friend had had his head blown off. The general really hadn’t had anything significant to talk to him about at all. Churchill later said, “Then upon these quaint reflections there came the strong sensation that a hand had been stretched out to move me in the nick of time from a fatal spot.”
Sometimes when we are fighting for God, a hand reaches down and plucks us right out of a problem. God is with us. If it will happen for Winston Churchill, it certainly will for God’s very elect today.
The point is, God loved the way that man fought. He loved the way he went on the offensive. And He said, That’s the kind of man I can use to save the nation in World War ii.
Our Offensive Weapon
We are at war—the worst war we could possibly fight—a spiritual war with Satan and his demons and the world and our own human nature. And Satan is full of wrath like never before. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We don’t fight flesh and blood. Ours is a spiritual battle. We are fighting against the god of this world.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (verse 13). Most of this armor is protective.
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness” (verse 14). Get yourself wrapped up in the truth. Clothe yourself in the truth. Then, if somebody tries to take it from you, it would be like them trying to rip your clothes off! You would never allow somebody to strip you naked! God compares the righteousness of the saints to fine linen (Revelation 19:8). We have to fight to hang on to it.
“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). You have to take the truth and do something with it: Preach the good news around the world, as Mr. Armstrong did. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (verse 16). Satan’s fiery darts come at us all the time, but that is not a big problem for people who have this shield of faith.
Amid this armor there is an offensive weapon. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (verse 17). God tells us to take that sword and go on the offensive! The following verses explain how.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me ….” I ask you always, please pray for me. I know what I am up against. Satan wants to destroy me because of the office I hold. This is what Paul is asking of the people: “… that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel” (verses 18-19).
Paul wanted to go on the offensive, speaking God’s word. God says, When I give it, you deliver it. “For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (verse 20). Paul didn’t get put in jail for keeping his mouth shut. He got put in jail because he was out there speaking boldly for God! That is what we must do. That is our job as Philadelphians—to speak out where the Laodiceans are not.
Look at the sickness in this world—in politics, in journalism, in entertainment. The content in movies and in print is getting sicker all the time; and all the while, people justify it in an educated, scholarly way. Somebody has to tell these people that they are sick! They think they’re so educated, when in fact they’re into utter madness—evil so satanic it would have been hard for us to imagine a few years ago. And they are not going to like people who tell them what they really are.
God’s people are the only ones who are willing to fight for the full truth, who won’t give a watered-down version of the truth. What kind of a fighting spirit do you have?
Soldiers of Christ
Paul wrote his last epistle, 2 Timothy, while in jail. He was about to die and he knew it. He was an apostle of God. He preached the truth of God. And they were going to kill him. That’s the way it is in this world.
In these circumstances, most men would have relaxed during those last few days of life. But Paul didn’t. He sat down and wrote perhaps the most stirring book in the Bible, about what soldiers we have to be. He said, I have something I must do before I die. I must write 2 Timothy for the people who will follow after me, so I can stir them and maybe save them, and prepare the foundation for the World Tomorrow. I am really glad Paul went on the offensive in jail!
“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Here, in jail, what was Paul most concerned about? He said, I want you to commit this message of God to faithful men and women who won’t let Satan destroy it—men and women who will go to jail and die or do anything to save God’s truth!
It doesn’t matter who you are or what color skin you have. What matters is, are you a faithful man or woman? Where you find the truth, you will find faithful men. God guarantees it. If the pcg didn’t have faithful men, the truth would not be here.
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (verse 3). We are soldiers. Where it says “endure hardness,” the Greek means “suffer hardship with me,” referring to Christ. Our purpose is to suffer hardship with Christ to get this message out. We encounter problems in giving this message to the world. There is a lot of stress in war. People have broken down from that stress. But did you know that real fighters almost never get stressed out?
Dying for the Cause
Near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was finally able to get a man who would fight: General Grant. Lincoln had gone through so many unsuccessful generals. Whenever those men suffered defeat, they always had excuses. Lincoln came to the point where he said, Don’t give me excuses, give me victories! The nation is about to fall apart!
As Churchill said, there is no substitute for victory. You have to win victories in war. You have to find somebody who will go on the offensive and achieve results like General Grant did. He slashed his way through the South and unified the nation.
“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4). If you are in God’s Church, then God chose you to be a soldier. Soldiers always have to fight, and sometimes they have to die.
“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (verse 5). This scripture is about people losing their crown. The Laodiceans no longer have a crown laid up for them. They still have the potential to receive it, but Scripture tells us that half of them will not. People who are casual simply will not hang on to the truth of God.
“Strive for masteries” means, in the Greek, contend in the battle. The Romans gave several different crowns for the military. The ultimate crown was called the corona obsidionalis. This would be given to a general who had been sieged, and, rather than shamefully capitulating, had gone on the offensive and saved the day.
That is what God wants us to do. He is going to crown us. Follow the right course and He will crown you, for all eternity, as the Bride of Jesus Christ. What is that worth? Paul sat in jail, knowing he was going to die, and was encouraging the brethren, saying, I want you to be crowned. Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be crowned. Will you? He had a vision that you and I need.
“The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (verses 6-7). Wherever you find soldiers of Jesus Christ, you will find understanding. Christ has given us understanding, because if you are confused in warfare, you are in trouble. Somebody is going to injure or destroy you. You cannot afford to be confused.
“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (verse 8). Paul, sitting in jail, about to die, said, Remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. It is time to be thinking about rising from the dead! That is what is going to happen if you die loyal to Jesus Christ—the grave can’t even hold you. Remember that, Paul said, and fight for that.
“Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (verse 9). Paul wasn’t concerned about being bound. He knew men couldn’t bind God’s truth. God will keep it alive. He promised that His Church would not die.
If we let God work through us, the truth will live on. But it will bring suffering and maybe even death. God said you have to give up mother, father, sister, brother—you may have to die for this cause (Luke 14:25-27). We tell God at baptism that, if necessary, we will do that.
Realize that everything God gives us will be stripped from us if we are not willing to put our life on the line! Even if you are a little widow, God says you will have to be a warrior and a soldier and let Jesus Christ live in you so that you act in warfare the way He does.
Now, we are all cowards, let’s be honest. But when I am following Jesus Christ, I can get pretty bold. I know where that boldness comes from, and I can handle anything through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.
In the World Tomorrow, people are going to receive God’s wonderful truth because God’s very elect fought and suffered. Because men like Paul and Mr. Armstrong fought, suffered and died. They are going to have it all laid out for them. It is going to be such a beautiful world. The truth isn’t bound. This truth—the cause for which we fight—must be held above our life.
Of course, physical death is not a big deal if you look at it spiritually. “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
General McClellan was never a good general in the Civil War. He was too emotional. He loved his men so much that he would put them above the cause. Do you know what happened? He ended up getting a lot of them killed!
Churchill said during World War i that we have to get more war-thinking into our minds! We must think like people who are in a war. We are warriors. We are soldiers for Jesus Christ. How exciting and wonderful: We are soldiers for Jesus Christ, and if we get killed, the enemy will have to see us again, because we are going to come right back at them out of the grave. Isn’t that amazing? Nobody ever fought a war like this before, where you kill them and they come again—to rule! How blessed we are to be a part of this.
“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (2 Timothy 4:16). All the people in Paul’s area simply turned and ran. Here was poor Paul, in jail. If ever he needed the members, it was then; even one member telling him, Oh Paul, I really appreciate and thank God for you. But not one! They just ran away! How shameful.
Look what happened in God’s Church just after Mr. Armstrong warned them specifically. He said, “Most of you don’t get it.” Oh, no, Mr. Armstrong, surely that can’t be! But it was even worse than he thought. Look at the Laodicean numbers.
In the Civil War, they had 7,300 desertions a month. It is easy to desert. Both sides found that those deserters were nothing but chaff.
Here is what Lincoln said—this is a classic lesson in warfare: “At the battle of Antietam, General McClellan had the names of about 180,000 men on the army rolls. Of these, 70,000 were absent on leave granted by company officers, which as I said before, is almost as bad as desertion.” McClellan gave them leave at the time of battle! “For the men ought not to ask for furloughs with the enemy drawn up before them, nor ought the officers to grant them.” Can you imagine what Lincoln was dealing with? He went on to say, “About 20,000 more were in the hospital or were detailed to other duties, leaving only some 90,000 to give battle to the enemy.”
General McClellan went into the fight with this number, but within two hours after the battle commenced, 30,000 more straggled behind or deserted! So the battle was fought with 60,000, and because the enemy had about the same number, it was a draw.
The South, for the first part of that war, had much better fighters. The North had a lot of people who didn’t want to fight. “The Rebel Army had coiled itself up in such a position,” Lincoln said, “that if McClellan had only had the 70,000 absentees, and the 30,000 deserters, he could have surrounded Lee, captured the whole Rebel Army, and ended the war at a stroke without a battle.”
How easy it would be for us today to get the Work done if everybody, including all the Laodiceans, were rallying around Jesus Christ and wanted to fight offensively. What an impact we would be making on this world!
Lincoln went on to say, “We have a stragglers’ camp out here in Alexandria, in connection with the convalescent camp, and from that camp in three months General Butler has returned to their regiments 75,000 deserters and stragglers who have been arrested and sent there. Don’t you see that the country and the army fail to realize that we are engaged in one of the greatest wars the world has ever seen, and which can only be ended by hard fighting? General McClellan is responsible for the delusion that is untoning the whole army—that the South is to be conquered by strategy.”
General McClellan thought war was like a chess game, to be won by a little strategy. But you couldn’t conquer the Southerners by strategy; it took a lot of blood to conquer them! Everybody kept talking to Lincoln about strategy, but nobody wanted to get involved in the hard, bloody fighting that would preserve the Union.
Warfare is not easy. It is going to take a lot of suffering and fighting if we are to conquer.
Even when he was abandoned by all those people, Paul remained spiritually strong. Here is why: “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me …” (2 Timothy 4:17). Even though you may be “one of a city” (Jeremiah 3:14), don’t feel sorry for yourself. God is with you. One from a city and God is a big majority in that city! God strengthened Paul in his cell, and He will give you the strength you need.
“[T]hat by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:17). Apparently, Paul’s captors decided that normal jail wasn’t enough, so they threw him in a cell with a lion.
When the state of California attacked the wcg, if they had had their way, Mr. Armstrong would have ended up in an institution. But he always maintained the peace and calm of God.
Winston Churchill told his troops to learn to have smiles on their faces as bullets flew over their heads. Especially in trench warfare, you see bullets overhead all the time. Anyone who stuck his head up, often lost it. That could get depressing to those men. But Churchill knew you need calming leadership, or you will make a lot of mistakes in warfare. During the Civil War, all of General Rosecrans’s men panicked in one situation, and he panicked with them. What do you think happened? They were badly beaten.
Paul’s actions here demonstrate what you can do if you stay with God. There isn’t any reason for us to be overly stressed.
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26). The Greek word for overcome means conquer! Don’t give me excuses, give me victories! Lincoln said. At times those generals would come back with a partial victory, and Lincoln would say that still is not victory.
Then Lincoln finally found Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who began to take the superior resources of the North and create a juggernaut that smashed and slashed through the South all the way to the Gulf. Lincoln had never had a general like that. When Lincoln heard critics say Grant was a drunkard, he told those men to go find out what he was drinking because he wanted to give it to his other generals.
Preserving the Constitution
In Matthew 16:18, Christ said He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Yes, at times the Church might get close to death, but there will always be a few warriors to whom God will give the truth, and they go on the offensive.
Right after Christ said that, He set out specifics. He told Peter that he would be the chief apostle. Peter immediately became arrogant, and started rebuking Christ (verse 22). Christ said, Get behind me, Satan! (verse 23). How humbling that must have been to Peter—and right after he was exalted. It shows you how Satan is right there waiting to pounce if we give him a chance.
When Herbert W. Armstrong first came on the scene, the Church of God was almost dead. It was the Sardis era, about which God prophesied, “[T]hou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1). Satan had just about destroyed the people of God. But Mr. Armstrong went on the offensive, and God was able to build a great Work through him.
That was very difficult work, and it came at a high cost to Mr. Armstrong. At times he grew tired of the battle. At least once he asked God to let him die. In 1978, he actually died—but then God promptly revived him! God said, No, I’m not finished with you. I want you to get this Church back on track. After God brought him back, Mr. Armstrong had a tremendous amount of work yet to do. Satan had destroyed the college and almost destroyed the Church—and Mr. Armstrong had to revive it all again! But despite that powerful example, most people didn’t learn the lesson. When Mr. Armstrong died in 1986, the Church fell like a falling star. In less than a decade it was finished!
Keeping God’s truth and Church alive takes work! If the Philadelphia Church of God weren’t here, the truth of God would have been destroyed, and there would be nothing but blackness and darkness on this Earth.
Throughout the Civil War, Lincoln said he was fighting for unity to preserve the Constitution. Lincoln said, If we lose this battle, we will lose this experiment, we will lose the Constitution—we will lose true freedom.
We have done something much greater—we have preserved the Constitution of God. We have done that through the power of God.
People of Contention
Jeremiah 15:9 says the seven Church eras were exhausted, just like the Laodiceans today. The sun had gone down on them. And Jeremiah went on to say that he was “a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth” (verse 10). What made his life so contentious? It wasn’t because he was hiding out—it was because he was going on the offensive like a great prophet of God!
Like Jeremiah, we are people of contention. Satan, the god of this world, is against us. The world is against us. The Laodiceans, and even some few who leave the pcg are against us. We are people of contention to the whole Earth. Our job is to get God’s message out and make it so strong and so powerful that the land cannot bear it (Amos 7:10).
Jeremiah had to learn hard lessons in offensive warfare. Even from the time God called him as a teenager, Jeremiah was warned that he had difficult times ahead. “But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:7-8). Jeremiah would experience a lot of fearful things. But God commanded him to be strong. Likewise today, as we go into battle for God, we don’t have to be afraid.
“See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (verse 10). Jeremiah could have said: No, God, I don’t want to go and build and plant. I am just into defensive warfare. But he didn’t. God gave him this commission and he did it.
“Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land” (verses 17-18).
God expects the same of us today! God will strengthen us to do our job. With Christ living in us, we are fenced cities, iron pillars, brazen walls against the whole land. We are going to have to go up against kings, priests and people—offensive warfare. They will fight against us. But they can’t knock down iron pillars! If we are loyal to God, they will be striking the pillar and kicking against iron. “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee” (verse 19).
Hope of the World
What hope we can deliver to the world! We have the opportunity to win a glorious victory that we can savor for all eternity! We will never regret what we did for God in the pcg in this end time. That will be our joy forever.
In World War ii, after France surrendered to Germany and it looked like Germany would conquer all of Europe, Churchill said, “What has happened in France makes no difference to our actions and purpose. We have become the sole champions, now at arms to defend the world cause. We shall do our best to be worthy of this high honor.”
We have the greatest honor God could possibly bestow on His people in this end time. We are able to continue to preach and teach God’s message. And doing so prepares us to be the Bride of Christ. What an opportunity!
Notice what Churchill said to the young people: “There never has been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of wars, such an opportunity for youth.” Oh, can I ever say that to you. There has never been such an opportunity for youth. The same is true for adults.
Churchill quoted one of the poets with this line, “When every morning brought out a noble chance, and every chance brought out a noble knight.” Every day you and I have the most noble chance human beings will ever have.
What a noble chance it is to finish this Work, to introduce our Husband to the world, and to say to God and to all the Earth that we remained loyal to the end. What a noble chance. And oh, what noble knights that will make us if we are loyal. We are the very elect of God; those who cannot be deceived. We just cling to our attire—our wedding attire. We hang on to it. We want to marry Jesus Christ, and we want to become the most noble knights of all.
Let’s all be noble knights together and thank God that we have the opportunity.