Sometimes the most intimidating thing about God is His holiness and justice (Isaiah 6:1-3; 1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 1:18). Being confronted with God's majesty and holiness can bring a person to their knees (Isaiah 6:4,5; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17). But the alternative to a holy God is a universe with no basis for moral right. A universe where the strong oppress the weak and everyone is simply out for their own self-interest. But the problem is that all people are sinners and fall short of God's standard (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Even those who are believers in Christ fall short of what we should be (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-20; Galatians 5:17). The solution is not to bring down the standard so that we can keep it, but to realize that we cannot keep it (Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10; Titus 3:5,6). Rather, we need that failure to live up to the standard to be paid for so we can be forgiven (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14) through faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). God can then begin to change us (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6) based on our love for God, for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2).
But the standard needs to be upheld. The standard is the character of God (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:14-16; Colossians 3:10) and being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29,30; 1 John 3:2). This is important because it totally undercuts our self-righteousness. If we recognize the standard, we will recognize how badly we fall short. And even we who have put our faith in Christ will realize we are far from where we should be. Also, we will see we will not get there in this life. Certainly, we will not lightly think we have attained to that standard of perfection. But we will realize that nonetheless we can, based on what Christ has done, enter boldly into the presence of God and call Him Father (Romans 8:14,15; Galatians 4:4-7; Hebrews 4:16). And this is not based on what we have done, but what Christ has done (Romans 8:31-39; 5:1,2; 2 Corinthians 2:14). This destroys at the same time the discouragement that we will never measure up and the pride that thinks we can do so by our own deeds. And it leaves the goal as something we are pursuing but have not yet reached. And the majestic holiness of God is what it should be, without our being crushed under the weight of it.
This does not mean, of course, that we are committed to believing all stories of miracles. Most stories about miraculous events are probably false: if it comes to that, most stories about natural events are false. Lies, exaggerations, misunderstandings and hearsay make up perhaps more than half of all that is said and written in the world. We must therefore find a criterion whereby to judge any particular story of the miraculous.
C. S. Lewis, 1896-1963, Miracles, 13: On Probability, (Harper Collins Publishers, 1996, p. 159)
What criteria should we use to test the historical reliability of miracles? Why?
The Bible makes it clear there is an obligation to honor and obey government (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17;1 Timothy 2:1,2). But it also makes it clear there is a place for disobeying when required to do what is wrong (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Daniel 3:16-18). There is also a clear place for rebuking those in authority when they do wrong (1 Kings 21:17-29; 13:1-10; 2 Samuel 12:1-15). Therefore, the idea that those in charge cannot be questioned is a serious error. But so is our common modern assumption that those in power are virtually always wrong. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Tyranny and anarchy are both destructive. And the one is often the cause of the other. People see an unacceptable political situation and jump from one extreme to the other. Democracy is the standard alternative, but even it can degenerate. When it becomes a tyranny of the majority over the minority, even it can become unjust. There needs to be a concept of justice that is higher than the government, to which it is required to conform. The problem is we do not necessarily have a universally agreed on rule of justice in this country. And to make the civil law an authority that cannot be questioned is also dangerous. The Christian may base such a rule in the commandments of God. But even Christians do not always agree. One temptation is to try use tyrannical methods to impose our idea of justice. This does not work in the long run and frequently results in a backlash. The only workable approach is to try to convince people of your point of view. And that requires the ability to question the people currently in charge.
This means being willing to put up with people you do not agree with having a freedom to advocate their point of view. It also means being willing to meet them honestly and fairly in the realm of ideas. But merely trying to force your ideas down someone's throat almost never works and only produces hypocrites. This has an effect on Christian legal action. If the intent is to maintain our freedom to express and practice our belief, it is appropriate (though we should carefully pick our battles). But if this is so, we may need to grant with it the option for others we disagree with to express and practice their beliefs, even ones we find abhorrent. However, if our intent is to force others to observe our beliefs without being convinced of them, it is unworkable. Now I am speaking of beliefs and conviction. The government must enforce certain kinds of behaviors. But what those behaviors are need to be arrived at through the free exchange of ideas. And we must allow our opponents the freedom to make their case so we can have the freedom to make ours. Otherwise, we cannot persuade; we can only browbeat.
Sometimes I think the Bible says as much by what it does not say as by what it does. If not every sin or every illness is the result of demons, I have to ask, how do I tell which is which? But I search in vain in Scripture for some kind of an easy method for diagnosing demonic involvement. There are extreme cases, such as the person who lived among the tombs and broke chains (Mark 5:1-13), but this was indeed an extreme case. There may be supernatural powers (Acts 16:16-18) or the demon speaking or acting through a person (Acts 19:13-16), but not always. And we have to ask what is real and what is simply faked. One can rely on a gift of discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). But how do we test the genuineness of such a gift (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22) if we do not have something to test it by?
The thing I would conclude from the Scripture's silence is that it is not always necessary to understand whether something is demonic to deal with it. When we encounter problems of whatever type, the basic thing we need to do is to pray (Philippians 4:6,7; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6). This is true whatever the source of the trouble. When we do this, sometimes we may be led to conclude that there are unusual circumstances that suggest demonic involvement. We may even feel led to pray against or directly rebuke such involvement. We may in the long run conclude, through a series of unusual occurrences, that we have the gift of discernment of spirits (I have).
This can be helpful. It can remind me that I face things bigger than myself and cannot simply rely on my ability and intelligence. It can help me not be surprised if things go wrong when I am trying to do the right thing. It can encourage me to look beyond the superficial in understanding a situation. But it is not the main thing. God can answer our prayers even if we do not perfectly understand what is going on (Romans 8:26,27; Ephesians 3:20,21; Acts 12:1-17). What we need to do is turn to Him.
There is a great divide in our world that is a hindrance to living a consistent Christian life. That is the division between the spiritual and the secular. The concept is that we can push God into some corner of our lives. We then proceed to live our secular life the same as we would without God. And then, on a regular basis, cross over into the spiritual area and offer respect to God. That paints a rather extreme picture, but the reality can often be much more subtle. We start out with good intentions, we avoid blatant compromises, but we drift slowly, bit by bit, into a divided life. And it is hard to put the parts back together again. Also, it does not help that there is a tendency to confuse spirituality with those things that are connected to the church organization. Those things associated with the organization are sacred time and sacred places. Everywhere else is simply mundane. Is there a way to avoid this dichotomy?
We need to start by realizing that God is at work in all of us all the time (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). We are told to respond with obedience to this working (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7). Nowhere is this confined to a specific area of life. Rather, we are told we can do all things to the glory of God, including even the most menial of work (1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25). Also, the church, the body of Christ, is the people (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4,5; Colossians 2:19). Now those people are required to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 12:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). But the organization is an expression of the people; it is not the people who are made acceptable by being part of the organization.
But bringing Christian teaching into the rest of life is the real test. It is easy playing the Christian in an entirely Christian context. It is hard being a Christian out in the world. It is hard being pure without being self-righteous and loving without compromising principles. That is where the rubber meets the road. I have said that church is the practice session for the game of life. It is where we are encouraged and instructed to face the rest of life (Hebrews 10:24,25; Colossians 1:28,29; Ephesians 4:11-16). I am convinced that we very much need that practice session. But it is the preparation for the real event. We may do well in practice and fail when the pressure is really on. And if we see the practice session as the main event, we set ourselves up for that.