Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (And What to Do About It!)

[When I read the December 10, 2015, post at Inspiring and Challenging Dreamers, I thought, “That sounds like good advice. I’m going to try it.” And I am trying it. In addition to acting on the post, I asked its writer–Benjamin Conway, founder and pastor of the Tree of Life Network—if I could post the article at Open Theism so that its followers and visitors might benefit from it too. He kindly gave me permission to, and so here it is.]

I am preparing for Sunday this morning, writing a church bulletin, reviewing my sermon, making sure people are in place to do what needs to be done. And I thought this preview from this Sunday morning’s message might really help some people:

You see, New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. You know it and I know it. Yet year after year we make the same resolutions, the same promises, deep down knowing that by mid-January we will have broken them in spades, and extinguish even that glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe this year will be different. We have to get off that roller-coaster folks, it’s not good for you!

The problem is this: most people live their life on the basis of will-power. You will see it in the next few weeks across the country. Those of you who go to the gym, suddenly your gym is crowded. Don’t worry by February they will be empty again. Some people will come back to church in January telling me “I will be here forever now, pastor”, “I will never miss church again”, “I will be on time for every service”. By February they will be back to their 1 week in 3 or 4, turning up nonchalantly at the end of the worship wondering why nothing is working in their life.

So we know these resolutions do not work. So what do we do? We stop making resolutions, and we instead set GOALS. This New Year’s Eve we are not making resolutions for 2016, we are setting goals.

Now let’s reason together – let’s use our brains and grasp how and why this works. A resolution is a resolve to do A, B, or C, and not do X, Y, and Z. It is based on willpower. Willpower is your ability to muster strength from your soul – your thinking, the information you have and your feelings. The problem is your soul is not redeemed yet – you know it and I know it – and it has feelings, whims and wild ideas.

Let’s talk about dieting. The most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Now you all know how to lose weight – some ways are better than others, but you all know that stuffing your face with doughnuts is bad, and eating your greens is good. It’s not an information problem. So you make a resolution: you resolve to stop eating cake.

So day 1 you fight the temptation to eat badly all day, and all day you think about what? Cake! The house is still full of goodies from Christmas. There is still Christmas Pudding in the house. It’s not so bad the fight, you are stuffed full from Christmas and the belt is already tighter, so you manage day one. You eat the good stuff.

Day 2 is just day 1 again, but harder. Your resolve causes you to focus on the forbidden. Remember the Bible teaches the strength of sin in the law. In other words, people don’t want to do wrong until we start telling them not to. No one walks around touching the walls, but if you put up a sign that says “Wet Paint, Don’t Touch” there is something in us that wants to touch. The same is true for ourselves: if we set a law to ourselves – I will not eat cake. Then something inside you rises up and wants to do it. When you think “Do not eat cake”, you are thinking about cake. It’s that simple. You are setting yourself up to fail because you are programming your brain badly.

Day 4 you have a tough day. The kids really need to be back at school, and parenting is tough, you are tired, going stir crazy, you have started back at work and it’s hard catching up and getting in the swing again. And all day you are telling yourself “Do not eat cake” – you have cake on your mind! You are starving, so you eat the Christmas pudding. Just a little. And a little more. And some cream. And some more pudding.

And now less than one hundred hours after you made your resolution, you are lying on the sofa, stuffed full of pudding – but you are also full of regret, recrimination and shame! Your resolve is gone, so your resolution is over.

I think if you want to make some money you should open a gym called Resolutions. It is a gym the first two weeks of January, and then it become a pub for the rest of the year. We all know this is how things play out, but each year we play the same gain.

What can we do? How can we make choices that have longevity? By not making them resolutions and not making them from our willpower.

Instead, make choices on the basis of priorities. And you get your priorities right by setting goals. If you are on resolution mode, you are only thinking about the “don’t” all the time. You are being negative and are attracting failure. Thinking “I
must not eat cake, I must not eat cake” only attracts cake into your life and will inevitably end up with you eating cake. But if you are on GOAL MODE – we step away from all those negative thoughts and we look at what the GOAL IS.

So if you want to lose weight – don’t make a resolution. Don’t resolve to do anything! Set a GOAL instead. Tell yourself I am going to weigh X stone and Y pounds, or better still get yourself a size goal – I will fit into these trousers, that dress.

Now take the goal and put it on your dream wall. What does Habakkuk tell us: write the vision down and make it plain. I would (and have done) buy the trousers. I started this year with a 48? waist, and now it is a 40? waist. I assure you there are 38? trousers (and 36? and 34?) in the house. I will do it!

Now meditate on the goal. Reflect on the goal. Imagine the end result. Dream it, imagine it, visualize it. This is what the Bible calls “hope”. Now here is the good news – you are not even thinking about cake, you are focussing on the goal.

Your goal sets your priorities. The more you focus on the goal, the more your priorities naturally shift. You stop caring about the cake (the cigarette, the ex-girlfriend who is not good for you, the spending too much on shoes, the whatever) and you start caring about the goal. What you meditate on is where you will end up. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23.7, made famous by Napolean Hill, but penned by Solomon!). You have to let the goals lead, not the resolutions. The resolutions will lead you back into trouble, the goals will lead you forward to victory. Your resolve will fail. WE ARE NOT THAT GOOD TO BE RESOLUTE – we have to take our mind off that and PUT IT ON THE GOAL.

WE ARE NOT LOOKING TO BE A FLASH IN THE PAN – WE ARE LOOKING AT A LONG TERM SUCCESS, as individuals and as a church! SO, MAKE GOALS NOT RESOLUTIONS!

With a resolution, when you fail, it’s all over. But with a goal, it’s awesome, a long range goal supersedes short term failures. The goal enables you to get back up again and keep walking forward.

[Happy New Year!]

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Born of a Virgin

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [’God is with us’]” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

The verse quoted above is best known to Christians because of its being quoted in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (1:18-25). Discovering that Mary, who was betrothed (pledged to be married) to him, was pregnant although they hadn’t had sexual relations, Joseph decided to divorce her but to do it quietly to avoid putting her to shame. However an angel of the Lord told him in a dream not to be afraid to marry Mary because the Holy Spirit had caused her to conceive. The angel went on to tell Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus [‘saviour’] for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Matthew adds that all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by Isaiah.

However in Isaiah the prophecy was given by the Lord as a sign to Ahaz, the king of Judah, that he had nothing to fear from Syria and Israel, who had joined forces against Judah. The Lord went on to tell Ahaz that before the promised child had reached an age in which he could refuse the evil and choose the good Assyria would remove the threat of Syria and Israel. Thus Ahaz would expect Isaiah 7:14 to be fulfilled in his lifetime. Bible scholars disagree on who the promised child was, but history tells us that shortly afterwards Syria and Israel did fall to Assyria (in 732 and 722 B.C.; the prophecy was made shortly after Ahaz became king in 735 B.C.). But, as Matthew observes, the prophecy was also fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, his being born of a virgin and being God with us.

Luke also records that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. He does so in his account of the angel Gabriel’s visiting Mary before the birth of Jesus (1:26-38). Gabriel told her, “[B]ehold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and call his name Jesus” (1:30), and, on her asking how this could be, her being a virgin, Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (1:35). Thus, although the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled partially in Isaiah’s day, it found its full fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Despite the Bible’s affirmation of the virgin birth of Jesus in both of its accounts of his birth, many objections have been made to it. Here I’ll present and respond to four of them.
– The brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during his ministry (John 7:5), suggesting that they didn’t know of a virgin birth. However it’s possible that Mary and Joseph hadn’t yet told them of it.
– The New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus except for the two passages quoted above. However, as Theodore M. Dorman points out, “This is an argument from silence, however, and carries no force when we keep two things in mind: (1) only Matthew and Luke write anything at all about Jesus’ birth, and (2) the Birth narratives are historical accounts, not theological interpretations” (Theodore M. Dorman, “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ,” in The International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988; volume 4, page 992).
– There are parallel accounts in the literature of other religions. Dale Moody responds, “The yawning chasm between these pagan myths of polytheistic promiscuity and the lofty monotheism of the virgin birth of Jesus is too wide for careful research to cross” (Dale Moody, “Virgin Birth,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick; New York: Abingdon Press, 1962; volume 4, page 791).
– The virgin birth cannot be reconciled with the preexistence of Christ. However his preexistence relates to Jesus’ deity and the virgin birth relates to his humanity.
(For a fuller consideration of objections made to the virgin birth, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, third edition; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2013; pages 683-687.)

So far I’ve demonstrated that the Bible affirms the virgin birth of Jesus and that objections to it can be adequately answered. But why is the virgin birth important? Obviously one reason is that it is affirmed in the Bible, God’s Word. However there are other reasons, three of which Wayne Grudem considers in his Systematic Theology:
1. It shows that salvation ultimately comes from God. As Galatians 4:4-5 says, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”
2. It made possible the uniting of deity and humanity in one person. God could have sent His Son into the world as a man in other ways (Grudem considers two other ways), but the virgin birth was the best way for Him to do it so that both Jesus’ deity and his humanity were evident.
3. It made possible Christ’s humanity without inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam. But wouldn’t he inherit a corrupt nature from Mary? Grudem suggests that when the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive Jesus He also prevented the transmission of sin from her to Jesus.
(For a fuller consideration of these three ways in which the virgin birth is important, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994; pages 530-532.)

As we celebrate Christmas this year “[m]ay we not make it our concern to commit ourselves afresh to the reality and wholeness of the Christmas gospel as the very carols sung from our lips attest it, and with this gospel humbly accept the holy birth of Jesus which in the wisdom and power of God is so apt to denote the significance of his saving action as the incarnate Mediator, the first-begotten of the new creation and family of God?” (”Our Lord’s Virgin Birth,” Christianity Today, December 7, 1959; for the full text of the article, see Our Lord’s Virgin Birth)

Merry Christmas!

Paul in Caesarea – 3. Paul Before Agrippa

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and a few days later, on their commander’s learning of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, taken by military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters. Felix couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, hoping for a bribe from him, kept him imprisoned. Similarly Festus couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, fearing that Festus might turn him over to the Jews to do them a favour, Paul appealed to have his case heard before the emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

Some days later Agrippa II, ruler of an adjoining kingdom to the north, and his sister, Bernice, came to pay their respects to Festus. Agrippa’s being considered by Rome to be an expert on the Jewish religion, Festus laid Paul’s case before him to help him know what to write to the emperor about Paul. Agrippa told Festus that he would like to hear Paul himself, and the next day Festus had Paul brought before them (and Bernice) and the military tribunes and the important men of the city. On Festus’s introducing Paul to him and the others present, Agrippa told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (Acts 26:1, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

In this article I’ll consider Paul’s speech and Festus’s and Agrippa’s response to it, as they are recorded in Acts 26. In summarizing and commenting on Paul’s speech, I’ll divide it into three parts: his life as a Pharisee, his conversion and call, and his subsequent ministry.

Paul the Pharisee

Paul opened by expressing appreciation to Agrippa for his being able to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews before someone “familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews” (26:3) and asking Agrippa to listen to him patiently. He went on to tell how he was brought up as a Pharisee and to attribute his being on trial to “his hope in the promise made by God to our fathers” (26:6). Although Paul didn’t specify what that hope involved, his going on to ask, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (26:8), indicates that it must have included the hope of the resurrection of the dead which was held by the Pharisees. He then acknowledged that, despite his belief in the resurrection of the dead, he had once thought that the claim by followers of Jesus that God had raised him from the dead was incredible. He went on to tell about his persecution of Christians not only in Judea but even in foreign cities.

Paul’s Conversion and Call

Paul continued, “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests” (26:12). Then he described his conversion and call.

Acts 26:13-18 Acts 9:3-19 Acts 22:6-16
13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 6 As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.
14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew [probably Aramaic] language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
15 And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” 8 And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?”
[15] And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” [5] And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. [However further on in the chapter Luke reports that when Barnabas took Paul to the apostles on Paul’s return to Jerusalem, he told them that Paul had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus (9:27).] [8] And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
Verses 10-19 describe Jesus’ appearing to Ananias and Ananias’s visiting Paul. It includes Jesus telling Ananias, “[Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” In verses 12-16 Paul describes Ananias’s visit to him. It includes Ananias’s telling Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”

The three accounts seem to differ on what happened on the road to Damascus, but the differences can be reconciled by recognizing that each account gives only some details of what happened. A comparison of the three accounts suggests that all in the group saw the light, heard a voice, and fell to the ground but that only Paul was blinded by the light, saw Jesus, and understood what he said. Also only Paul’s speech to Agrippa refers to Jesus’ quoting the Greek proverb, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” when he addressed Paul. Goads were sharp sticks used to prod oxen; the oxen’s kicking back would only hurt them worse.

The three accounts also seem to differ on when Paul was commissioned: Paul told Agrippa that Jesus commissioned him when he spoke to him on the road to Damascus, but the other two accounts say that Ananias told Paul that Jesus had commissioned him. Some commentators reconcile the accounts by suggesting that in speaking to Agrippa Paul merged what God told him on the road to Damascus with what Ananias subsequently told him. However it is certainly possible that Jesus commissioned Paul both directly when he spoke to him on the road to Damascus and indirectly through Ananias.

Paul’s Ministry

Paul continued, “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (26:19), and described briefly how he had declared the Gospel in Damascus, Jerusalem, and the rest of Judea, and to the Gentiles (on his missionary journeys). He then told of how the Jews had seized him in the temple and tried to kill him and asserted that he would continue to proclaim the Gospel, which he summarized as “that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim ‘light both to our people and to the Gentiles’” (26:23).

Festus’s and Felix’s Response

Festus interrupted Paul’s defence by calling out, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you mad” (26:24).

Paul responded by asserting that he wasn’t out of his mind but was speaking the truth. Then, observing that Agrippa surely knew about the events that he was talking about, Paul appealed to him, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (26:27), implying that if as a devout Jew Agrippa believed the prophets then he must believe the predictions that they had made about Jesus and acknowledge the truth of what Paul said.

Agrippa replied, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (26:28). The KJV translation of Agrippa’s reply, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” is often quoted, but most Bible scholars consider the ESV rendering to be the correct translation. Paul replied, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become [a Christian] as I am—except for these chains” (26:29).

Then Agrippa, Festus, and those with them rose and withdrew, agreeing with each other that Paul hadn’t done anything that deserved death or even imprisonment. Agrippa told Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:32). But he had and shortly afterwards he was sent by ship to Rome. In my next articles in this series on the life of Paul I’ll consider his journey to and stay in Rome.

4. Angels – Evil Angels

This week the church Life group which my wife and I attend completed a two-part study of “4. Angels” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. Five of the ten who have attended this fall were present. My wife, Leonora, opened with singing and prayer; we discussed the material on evil angels that I’d given out earlier (see below); Ray Noble took prayer requests and led us in prayer; and we closed with lunch.

4. Angels – Evil Angels

How are you fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How are you cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you will be brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the Pit.

Although this passage (Isaiah 14:12-15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) is addressed to the king of Babylon, it seems too strong to refer to just a human king. Thus many take it as being also addressed to an angel who sometime before the fall of humans led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. We know the angel as Satan and at least some of his followers as demons.

The Origin and Nature of Satan and Demons

Other passages also suggest the fall of Satan and his followers, notably Ezekiel 28:11-19, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, and Revelation 12:3-4. However these passages refer to fallen angels who are confined, whereas the Bible, especially the Gospels, shows Satan and demons as active in the world. Perhaps they have Hell, rather than Heaven, as their home but are able to range from there to affect people and events in the world.

Being angels, Satan and demons fit the description which I gave of angels in our last study except that they work against instead of for God. Thus they are “spiritual beings created by God” without physical bodies, “personal beings who can be interacted with,” and “moral creatures who can be characterized as good or evil.” Like angels “they have superhuman knowledge but are not omniscient” and “have superhuman power but are not omnipotent.” However since sin has a weakening and destructive influence, Satan and demons have less power and knowledge than they originally had.

The Activity of Satan and Demons

As I observed above, sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. Genesis 3:1-5, 14-15 describes his temptation of Eve to disobey God and his punishment by God for tempting her. Since then his activity has been to tempt us to sin. Thus his main characteristic has been to originate sin and tempt others to sin.

In his Systematic Theology Augustus Hopkins Strong describes these activities of demons:
1. They oppose God and strive to defeat his will.
2. They hinder man’s temporal and eternal welfare,—sometimes by exercising a certain control over natural phenomena, but more commonly by subjecting man’s soul to temptation. Possession of man’s being, either physical or spiritual, by demons, is also recognized in Scripture.
3. Yet, in spite of themselves, they execute God’s plans of punishing the ungodly, of chastening the good, and of illustrating the nature and fate of moral evil.
(Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907, pages 454-457).

Our Relationship to Satan and Demons

The bulk of Wayne Grudem’s chapter on Satan and demons in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, pages 412-36) is about our relationship to demons. Here I’ll summarize the main points that he makes:
– Demons are active in the world today. Our still being in the church age, there’s no reason to think that there is any less demonic activity in the world today than there was at the time of the New Testament.
– Not all evil and sin is from Satan and demons, but some is. If there is a continued pattern of sin in a Christian’s life, the primary responsibility rests in his or her choices to continue that pattern. However if the Christian has struggled for some time to overcome the sin, he or she may also consider whether a demonic attack or influence could be contributing to it.
– Whether a Christian can be “demon possessed” depends on how the term is defined. If it is defined as the Christian’s being completely dominated by a demon so that he or she has no power left to choose to obey God, then the answer is “No” (“For sin will have no dominion over you,” Romans 6:14). However if it is defined as a Christian’s being under attack or influence by demons, then the answer is “Yes” (“A thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited,” 2 Corinthians 12:7).
– Demonic influences can be recognized by the affected person’s exhibiting odd and often violent behaviour (as in Mark 1:23-24) or making blatantly false doctrinal statements (as in 1 Corinthians 12:3) and/or by a subjective sense of their presence. 1 Corinthians 12:10 notes that some Christians are given “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” and Grudem suggests that all Christians have something similar to but not as developed as that gift.
– Jesus gives all believers authority to rebuke demons and command them to leave. The basis for our authority over them is the work of Christ on the cross and we exercise it as children in God’s family. In actual practice we may simply command, in the name of Jesus and possibly with a quotation from the Bible (as Jesus did when tempted by Satan), the demon to leave. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
– Grudem suggests several other considerations that a person should take into account in ministering to other people whom he or she suspects are under demonic attack or influence.
– We should expect the gospel to come in power to triumph over the works of the devil. After all, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

[END OF PRESENTATION]

We had a good discussion of the above presentation, particularly on whether a Christian can be demon possessed and on the discerning of spirits. Although all of us agreed with what Grudem said about whether a Christian can be demon possessed, I concluded our discussion of it by reading what the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador says about it (see “B. The Believer and Demons” below).

At the end of our study of good angels two weeks earlier, I’d asked the group to consider before this week’s study “4. Angels” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador and the benefits or uses of studying the doctrine of angels. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to discuss either. However I’ll give both here.

4. Angels

A. Classification

Angels were created as intelligent and powerful beings to do the will of God and worship Him (Psalm 103:20; Revelation 5:11,12). However, Satan, the originator of sin, fell through pride and was followed by those angels who rebelled against God. These fallen angels or demons are active in opposing the purpose of God (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 Timothy 4:1; Jude).

Those who remained faithful continue before the throne of God and serve as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14).

B. The Believer and Demons

Demons attempt to thwart God’s purposes. However, in Christ, the believer may have complete liberty from the influence of demons (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8; 4:1-4). He cannot be possessed by them because his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in which Christ dwells as Lord (Matthew 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19,20).

Benefits of Studying the Doctrine of Angels

Millard J. Erickson gives these benefits of studying the doctrine of angels in his systematic theology textbook:
1. It comforts and encourages us to realize that angels are available to help us. Erickson illustrates this benefit by referring to the relief that Elisha’s servant must have felt on seeing the army of angels that surrounded the city of Dothan when it was under attack by the Syrians (2 Kings 6:17).
2. The angels’ praise of and service to God gives us an example of how we should act towards God.
3. Some angels’ yielding to temptation and falling reminds us of the need for us to be careful. Erickson quotes 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (ESV).
4. Knowledge about evil angels alerts us to how dangerous they can be and gives us insights into how they work.
5. We receive confidence from knowing that, although they are powerful, there are limits to what Satan and demons can do. We can resist him successfully with the help of God, and his ultimate defeat is certain.
(Systematic Theology, Third Edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013, pages 419-20. Erickson gives fuller statements of the benefits than I have.)

Here are a few other benefits of studying the doctrine of angels given by Augustus Hopkins Strong in his systematic theology:
– It teaches us humility that beings with so much more knowledge and power than ours gladly perform unnoticed services for us because of their love for God, and it should encourage us to perform such acts of humble service for others because of our love for Him.
– It helps us in our struggle against sin to know that angels are near us to note our wrongdoing if we fall and to help us if we resist temptation.
– It demonstrates that the Gospel is wholly of grace since God hasn’t made any such provision for the angels who rebelled and fell.
(Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907, pages 462-64. Strong gives five uses of the doctrine of good angels and four uses of the doctrine of evil angels, and like Erickson he gives fuller statements of them than I have.)

Paul in Caesarea – 2. Paul Before Festus

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and taken to their barracks. The next day the tribune commanding the soldiers had them take Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin so that he could find out why the Jews were angry with him and decide what to do with him. However a dispute arose there that threatened Paul’s safety and he was returned to the barracks. Then, hearing of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, the tribune sent Paul under military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters.

In my last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul I described Paul’s appearance before Felix, which resulted in his being kept in prison but allowed some liberty. Two years later Felix was replaced by Festus. In this post I’ll describe Paul’s appearance before Festus as it is narrated in Acts 25. I’ll divide my account into three parts: the Jews’ request to Festus, Paul’s appearance before Festus, and Paul’s appearance before King Agrippa.

The Jews’ Request to Festus

Only three days after arriving in Caesarea, Festus went up to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the Jews. They laid out before him their case against Paul and requested him to transfer Paul to Jerusalem, their planning an ambush to kill Paul on the way, perhaps by the forty men who had planned an ambush against Paul in Acts 23:12-15. Richard N. Longenecker suggests that they may also have hoped that if the ambush failed they could arrange to have Paul tried before the Sanhedrin on the charge of profaning the temple, for which they could impose the death penalty (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, “Acts,” page 545).

Festus turned down their request, explaining that Paul was being held in Caesarea and that he intended to return there shortly. He invited them to send “the men of authority among [them]” along with him and “if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him” (Acts 25:5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Paul’s Appearance Before Festus

The day after Festus arrived back in Caesarea, he convened court and had Paul brought before him. The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around Paul, making against him serious charges which they couldn’t prove. Luke doesn’t specify what the charges were, but Paul’s arguing in his defence, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (25:8), indicates that they were similar to those which their spokesman had accused him of in his initial appearance before Felix (24:5-8): being leader of a new religious sect, profaning the temple, and stirring up riots among the Jews.

Festus didn’t know what to make of the Jews’ charges and Paul’s denials and, wanting to do the Jews a favour, asked Paul if he’d be willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried on the charges. Although Festus specified that the trial would be before him, Paul was naturally afraid that once in Jerusalem Festus would give in to Jewish pressure to turn him over to the Sanhedrin to be tried on the charge of profaning the temple. Thus to remove the case from Festus’s hands, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by the emperor by proclaiming, “I appeal to Caesar” (25:12).

Probably relieved at being provided a way to be freed of responsibility for a case which he didn’t know what to make of, Festus consulted his advisors and told Paul, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (25:12).

Paul’s Appearance Before King Agrippa

Some days later Agrippa II, ruler of an adjoining kingdom to the north, came to pay his respects to the new governor of Judea. With him was his sister, Bernice, who lived with him. Although Agrippa didn’t rule over Judea, the emperor had appointed him curator over the temple and Rome looked on him as an authority on the Jewish religion. Thus during his visit Festus laid Paul’s case before him. It was a straightforward explanation (25:14-21). After hearing it, Agrippa told Festus that he would like to hear Paul himself, to which Festus replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him” (25:22).

The next day Paul appeared before appeared before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice (and the military tribunes and the important men of the city) in “the audience hall” in the palace built by Herod the Great. Festus introduced Paul to Agrippa and the others present thus:

King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him. (25:24-27)

Agrippa then told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (26:1). In response Paul delivered the last and longest of his defence speeches. Recorded in Acts 26, it contains not only Paul’s defence but also a positive presentation of the Gospel. I’ll consider it in my next post in this series of articles on the life of Paul.