Democrats vote their hopes; Republicans vote their fears; and that’s why Democrats lost

In recent months, one of the most common memes I’ve seen making its way around Facebook is the slogan, “Democrats vote their hopes; Republicans vote their fears.” If this is true, then it explains why Democrats lose mid-term elections, especially in recent years.

The truth is that the Republican Party has figured out how to win elections, and a big part of their strategy is fear-mongering. Republicans have convinced gun owners nationwide that Democrats want to take all of their guns away, even though the Democrats have proposed nothing more than common sense background checks and a reduction in the numbers of bullets in an assault rifle clip. Even worse, many of them have been convinced that President Obama plans to take their guns away by force through military action unauthorized by Congress. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of Americans believe that President Obama will declare himself dictator and take over our country , rounding up political opponents and locking them away (or worse), just like Hitler did. And of course, they get these ideas from the pundits at Fox News who, for the past six years, have been trying to equate Obama’s actions with Hitler’s in every way imaginable, no matter how absurd the comparison or how little evidence they have to support their claims.

As the 2014 midterms approached, Republican politicians spread the fear that ISIS was about to “come here and kill us all,” in the words of Senator Lindsay Graham, despite the fact that the president has aggressively pursued ISIS and halted their expansion in the Middle East. Worst of all, Republican media used the Ebola crisis to convince a large percentage of Americans that the Democrats were content letting us all die from Ebola. Of course, sensible people can already see that Ebola is about as non-contagious as a contagious disease can be in a country with sanitary conditions and universal indoor plumbing. The president has been proven the sane one, as he assured Americans that there was little to fear, while the Republican pundits proved to be the reincarnation of Chicken Little.

Nonetheless, the sad truth is that these fears influence people’s decision to vote much more than hopes do. Hopes for the future often seem distance and imaginary. Even the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2009, took nearly five years to implement. But fears of a hostile government takeover or a deadly disease running out of control seem like they could happen at any moment.

But if fear wins elections, the Democrats should not lose hope; rather, they should change course. The harsh reality is that political campaigning is a dirty business, and if your competition is winning with fear-mongering, you just might have to do it, too. The great news for the Democrats is that there’s plenty to fear if Republicans take total control of the federal government in 2016. Here are a few examples:

Debt doomsday and the Great Inflate: Both of these terms are of my own creation. According to the book, White House Burning, by former International Monetary Fund Director, Simon Johnson, debt doomsday, a day in which the government will be in so much debt that no one will lend it money, is probably going to occur in the 2040s, if we stay on pour current pace as far as taxing and spending are concerned. But, as Mitt Romney shared in the 2012 election campaign, the Republican plan was to increase military spending by 20% and cut taxes by 20%. He promised that other spending cuts would be made to balance the budget, but he refused to say what those cuts would be, because he didn’t have any significant cuts planned. Republicans know that if they make cuts that hurt to any great extent that they will be voted out of office in the next election. So the Republican plan to cut taxes and increase spending would probable put us at debt doomsday in about 10 years instead of 30. Romney’s plan is was a more drastic version of Ronald Reagan’s plan, and Reagan oversaw a national debt increase of 189% – the worst ever. This makes Obama’s pace for an 83% debt increase look mild.

What happens on Debt Doomsday?

The nation will have to simply print up the money to pay its debts. Mexico did this in 1982, and the result was over 100% inflation 4 years in a row. That means a $4 hamburger costs over $100 in four years. This will undo all that working class Americans have ever worked for, and since the Republicans no oppose the minimum wage, then our workers will earn poverty wages that differ little from those in developing countries.

More invasions: We know from the last election that Republicans are itching to go to war with Iran in the name of keeping them from getting nukes. Yet the real motive is probably that they want to feed tax dollars to the military industrial complex and turn Iran’s oil over to the oil companies, like they did with Iraq. Can we afford another trillion dollar war and thousands more American deaths? That’s something to fear.

Child labor epidemic: This one may not be as immediate, but the formula for a child labor epidemic, like we had in the late 1800s and early 1900s, already exists in popular Republican ideology. First, Newt Gingrich proposed giving children the “freedom” to work if they want to, because government has no business telling them what to do. Second, the Republican Holy Grail is the abolition of welfare, for which they have a seething hatred. Most recipients of welfare are children, so that leaves them with no means of eating (and don’t forget that many Republicans oppose school lunch programs, too), so now children will have no choice but to work for their food. Third, many Republicans, especially of the conservative Christian variety, want to abolish public schools and privatize k-12 education, so that it will become just as unaffordable as college education. This will make it unlikely that impoverished children will have school getting in the way of their long work hours. And finally, the reason child labor is so desirable for the corporate wealthy is that it’s cheap. Republican leaders now oppose the minimum wage, so if they can abolish it or devalue it with inflation, then children can work for the equivalent of a dollar an hour, and that, in turn, will decrease the demand for adult workers so that their wages will fall as well. The end result will be mass poverty, as was the result during the Republican-dominated Gilded Age.

Losing healthcare: And let’s not forget that one thing we can count on Republicans doing, if they take total control, is repealing Obamacare which will leave several million people who have pre-existing conditions (myself included) without coverage so that they lose everything they ever worked for in a health emergency, or they fail to get care at all during the early stages of serious illnesses when there is still hope for recovery.

That’s a lot to fear! Conservatives might argue that some of these concerns are far-fetched. Yet all of these have already happened, not in a totalitarian regime like Nazi Germany, but in this nation under this Constitution (with the exception of debt doomsday, which happened in Mexico). If a slave-like oppression of workers and children happened here before, as it did when Republicans ruled America from 1860-1932, then it’s not at all far-fetched that these things will happen when they take control in the future.

If we Democrats don’t share these fears with society, then society just might be unfortunate enough to live them out. Maybe in the next election, Democrats should vote their fears, so their fears don’t become reality.

Alcohol (Every Verse Bible Study) – Part 1

(All Bible quotes from the NASB, unless otherwise noted)
(Copyright © 2009 by K. Scott Schaeffer)

From 1920 to 1933, the sale of alcohol was a violation of the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For over 100 years prior to the passage of this amendment, Christians led the crusade to abolish alcohol in America. During this crusade, their political objectives became one with their religious beliefs, and opposition to alcohol consumption became a staple of the Christian faith.
Christians haven’t always opposed alcohol, however. The Puritans, who in the minds of most Americans represent religious rigidity more than anyone, actually loaded more beer and wine onto the Mayflower than they did water. They also served beer, brandy, gin, and wine at the first Thanksgiving celebration (1). So, even though they were strict in many other ways, the Puritans were far more lenient regarding alcohol consumption than most Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches are today.
Who’s right? Whose beliefs better align with the messages that resonate throughout the Bible? The Puritans or the Evangelicals?
To gain biblical clarity on this issue, we must analyze it with the Every-Verse Method. In doing so, we will exclude verses that give no indication of God’s feelings on alcohol consumption, such as Genesis (9:20-27), where Noah gets drunk and embarrasses himself. Neither will we cover ceremonial instructions, such as those applying to priests in the Tent of Meeting (Leviticus 10:9) or to Nazirite vows (Numbers 6). These ceremonial laws were wiped out by Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross. We will only examine verses that help us determine God’s will regarding alcohol consumption today.

Deuteronomy 14:26, “And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
Context: God instructs the Israelites to set aside a tenth of their harvest for a celebration. This is often referred to as the Festival Tithe.
Analysis: God’s first mention of alcoholic drink is a positive one. He created it for our enjoyment.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21, “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all of the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear.”
Context: Various laws of God are presented in these chapters of Deuteronomy.
Analysis: This is the Bible’s first mention of alcohol in conjunction with sin. Alcohol is absent from the laws of Exodus and Leviticus, which precede Deuteronomy. The focus of this passage is not alcohol itself, but rather, the sin of being disobedient to parents—a sin that breaks one of the Ten Commandments. No sound-minded parent would recommend that their child ruin himself with a hedonistic, self-destructive lifestyle abusing both food and alcohol. Here in this verse, drinking alcoholic beverages is no more of a sin than eating food (gluttony), but the abuse of either can be the ruin of any person.

Judges 13:3-5, “Then the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman, and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have born no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’”
Context: The angel of the Lord gives instructions to the mother of Samson regarding the son she would soon deliver. The Nazirite designation set Samson apart from other people. Samson would go on to become one of the Old Testament’s great heroes. He is best known today for his long hair that gave him strength, and for his encounter with Delilah.
Analysis: At this point in time, Samson’s mother was the only person in all of Israel who was prohibited from drinking wine, and that was only during her pregnancy. Since we now know how alcohol can hurt a developing fetus, it’s quite possible that God forbade alcohol consumption here so that Samson would be born physically superior to other babies. However, we cannot be certain of God’s reasoning, since the Bible gives no explanation. What we do know is that this was an isolated case of alcohol abstinence.

Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”
Context: No real context here, as Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings which apply to all people at all times.
Analysis: To be intoxicated by alcohol is not considered a sin here, but it is considered unwise. When drunk, some people do foolish things they ordinarily would not.

Proverbs 21:17, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.”
Analysis: Pleasure, wine, and oil are associated with feasting. Those who indulge in pleasure too frequently tend to be unproductive.

Proverbs 23:20, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will cloth a man with rags.”
Analysis: This verse’s focus is not alcohol, but the unproductiveness of pleasure-seeking. Drunkenness is often associated with gluttony in the Bible. It’s not a sin to drink alcohol or to eat food. It may not even be a sin to experience an isolated episode of drunkenness any more than it is a sin to overeat at a holiday dinner. It is a sin, however, to lead a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking. We cannot seek pleasure and be productive at the same time. We need not look far in today’s world to find people whose party lifestyles get in the way of something as basic as holding a job.

Proverbs 23:29-35, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine; those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will utter perverse things, and you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake so I can find another drink?’”
Analysis: The line, “Do not look on wine when it is red” does not mean that it’s a sin to look at wine, as some have suggested. These verses use exaggerations to make a point and are not to be taken literally. Their examples of hallucinations, confusion, and foolish acts never result from moderate alcohol consumption.
This quote opposes alcohol abuse and proves that it was every bit as much of a problem 3,000 years ago as it is today.

Proverbs 31:4-7, “It is not for Kings, O Lemuel: It is not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his trouble no more.”
Context: This proverb is not from Solomon, but from the mother of King
Analysis: The point here is that kings should not abuse alcohol, because it will lead them to become evil and oppressive. Again, this verse does not oppose moderate consumption, because moderate consumption does not cause memory loss and poor judgment.
It’s surprising to see a Bible verse recommend that the poor drink to forget their misery. We should not apply this message to the American poor who have an opportunity to better themselves and positively impact the lives of others. The poor in this passage were likely to have been suffering slaves who had no hope for their future on earth.

Song of Solomon 8:2, “I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, who used to instruct me; I would give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates.”
Context: Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is an eight-chapter love poem that is ignored by most Christians due to its erotic nature. The words in this verse are spoken by the woman in the poem.
Analysis: The fact that alcohol is mentioned in passing is proof that drinking wine (at least in moderation) was acceptable and undisputed in Solomon’s time.

Isaiah 5:11-12, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink; who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! And their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.”
Context: Chapter five lists various woes to those who indulge in sin.
Analysis: This text addresses the full time partier. Drinking wine is no more of a sin here than playing a tambourine, harp, flute, or lyre. God’s displeasure was in people partying their lives away and taking no time to think about God and what He had done for them. Clearly, people haven’t changed since the days of Isaiah.

Isaiah 5:22-23, “Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!”
Analysis: Even in the days of Isaiah, the biggest alcohol abusers were cheered on by other drinkers for their drinking accomplishments (again, nothing has changed). Also, God associates alcohol abuse among those in power with the injustices that they commit.

Isaiah 28:1, “Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley of those who are overcome with wine.”
Context: Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, was a luxurious city where the wealthy and the powerful enjoyed the high life.
Analysis: Here, the Bible associates drunkenness with those who have prospered and revel in the resulting luxury. Prosperity is the result of hard work, but those who prosper often indulge themselves in pleasure until they lose what had been gained.

Isaiah 28:7-8, “And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink. The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. They are confused by wine; they stagger from strong drink. They reel while having visions. They totter when rendering judgment; for all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.”
Context: The prophecy against Ephraim continues.
Analysis: The Lord paints a vivid picture of the debauchery of Ephraim’s religious leaders, who apparently had little concern for the ways of the Lord, but had lots of interest in their own pleasure.

Jeremiah 35:1-2, “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, ‘Go to the house of the Rechabites, and speak to them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.”
Jeremiah 35:6-7, “But they said, ‘We will not drink wine, for Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, “You shall not drink wine, you or your sons forever; and you shall not build a house, and you shall not sow seed, and you shall not plant a vineyard or own one; but in tents you shall dwell all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.”’”
Jeremiah 35:14, “The words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are observed. So they do not drink wine to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again; yet you have not listened to Me.”
Context: As a form of prophecy, God instructs Jeremiah to put this family to the test by offering them wine, since they had been obedient to their father’s command not to drink it. They remain steadfast by refusing to drink, and God uses their obedience as an example of how the people of Judah should obey their heavenly Father.
Analysis: From this story we know that, even in the 7th century B.C., people practiced abstinence from alcohol, even though it was not required by the law of God.

Joel 1:5, “Awake drunkards and weep; and wail, all you wine drinkers, on account of the sweet wine that is cut off from your mouth.”
Context: Chapter 1 of Joel prophesies a severe locust plague which would, among other things, destroy the grape crop from which the wine was made.
Analysis: There’s no alcohol message here, but there’s an anti-drunkard undertone.

Joel 3:3, “They have also cast lots for My people, traded a boy for a harlot, and sold a girl for wine that they may drink.”
Context: Most of this chapter prophesies judgment against the nation that conquered Judah (the southern half of the kingdom of Israel). This nation, Babylon, sold Jewish children into slavery in return for wine and prostitutes.
Analysis: Once again, alcohol is not the focus. God is angry at Babylon for having such little regard for His children’s lives that they would throw them away in exchange for pleasure.

Amos 6:6-7, “…who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.”
Context: Chapter 6 rebukes the complacency of the people of Israel during a time of prosperity.
Analysis: In addition to the drinking of wine, this chapter also lists lounging on couches, eating lambs, and playing the harp as elements of a hedonistic lifestyle that distracted the Israelites from paying proper attention to God.

Micah 2:11, “If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ such a one would be the preacher for this people!” (NRSV)
Context: Micah prophecies against Israel prior to the northern Kingdom’s fall to Assyria. This was a period in which the entire nation paid little attention to God.
Analysis: Hmmm. Do you think a prophet promoting wine and beer would be popular today? Maybe not among Christians, but I’m sure everyone else would like him. The point of this verse is that the people only wanted to hear prophecies of prosperity and God’s favor, not the realities of His anger over their godless ways.

Habakkuk 2:15-16, “Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, who mix in your venom even to make them drunk, so as to look on their nakedness! You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup of the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter disgrace will come upon your glory.”
Context: This prophecy is directed toward the nation of Babylon, which would soon conquer Judah.
Analysis: The drunkenness and nakedness is an analogy of how Babylon abused its neighbors.

Zechariah 9:17, “For what comeliness and beauty will be theirs! Grain will make the young men flourish, and new wine the virgins.”
Context: Zechariah prophecies to the Jews after their return from the Babylonian captivity. In this chapter, God’s prophecy is one of a bright future for Judah.
Analysis: Wine is mentioned in a positive light, and it is associated with prosperity.

Alcohol (Every Verse Bible study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Matthew 11:18-19, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Context: Jesus is saying that the religious leaders of His day rejected both the ministries of John the Baptist, who fasted and abstained from feasts and from drinking alcohol, and of Jesus, who did not fast during His ministry, attended feasts, and drank wine. Either ministry would have been an acceptable path to knowing God, but the religious leaders remained unwilling to change their ways by accepting either one.
Analysis: The fact that John the Baptist and his disciples abstained from wine proves that others in Jesus’ day believed alcohol consumption to be a sin. The Pharisees also thought it inappropriate for a holy man to drink wine. That’s why they called Jesus a drunkard. Jesus openly defied this man-made standard for holiness and showed everyone that a holy man follows God’s standards for holiness, not man’s. God’s standards require that we love others, not that we follow man-made rules about what to eat and drink.

John 2:9-10, “…the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.’”
Context: This is the last verse of the story of Jesus’ first miracle, in which He turned water into wine at a wedding.
Analysis: This story does not say that Jesus drank wine at the wedding, but the fact that He created it for others proves that He allowed its consumption. What’s even more remarkable is that He turned water into wine at a wedding, an occasion in which people tend to over-indulge. This may indicate that Jesus permitted drunkenness on special occasions, much like gluttony is permitted at a feast. This approach is consistent with the Old Testament, in which God denounces drunkenness in conjunction with other indulgences (like music, lounging on couches, and gluttony) that lead people to fruitlessness and self-destruction. God permitted these pleasures at weddings and appointed feasts, but He opposed indulgence in pleasure as a way of life.
If we accept this interpretation, we are free to occasionally have a few too many drinks, but we must take care not live a life of pleasure-seeking in which we waste our time on alcohol, TV, movies, sports, fishing, and other hobbies. Christians who abstain from alcohol, but allow entertainment to dominate their lives, anger God far more than Christians who consume alcohol, but do some good in the world in Christ’s name. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the pleasure of alcohol that holds us back or the pleasure of gardening, video games, or shopping for clothes, all are unproductive for Christ. In biblical times, people didn’t have all the fun hobbies and activities that we have today, so they would entertain themselves by getting drunk. Today, we can waste our lives on pleasure without ever tasting alcohol.
Many not-one-drop-of-alcohol Christians have said that this wine that Jesus created (as well as the wine that He drank in other verses) was unfermented grape juice. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever to support this claim, but in this verse, the master of the banquet refers to Jesus’ wine as “good wine.” He says that when people have had too much good wine to drink, then the cheap wine is served. In other words, people eventually become too drunk from the good wine to be able to taste the difference when they drink the cheap stuff. So what kind of wine contained alcohol leading to drunkenness? The good wine! What kind of wine did Jesus create? The good wine! There’s a huge taste difference between alcoholic “good wine” and unfermented grape juice. The master of the banquet would have been disappointed with the grape juice.

1 Corinthians 5:11, “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even eat with such a one.”
Context: In this chapter, the Apostle Paul addresses the matter of a Christian who was having sex with his stepmother. The members of the Church had apparently found this behavior to be acceptable, so Paul is understandably upset. He reminds them that he had previously instructed them not to associate with church members who practiced various sinful ways.
Analysis: Simply another example of how God is opposed to a lifestyle of drunkenness.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Context: In chapter 6, Paul writes to the Corinthian church for believers not to sue each other or continue wronging and defrauding one another. Paul then again lists some of the practices in which we wrong other Christians.
Analysis: How do we wrong others when we abuse alcohol? Ruined marriages, drunken-driving accidents, abusive parenting, lost jobs, fighting, etc. Alcohol abuse is a serious sin, but that fact never convinced God to forbid moderate alcohol consumption.

Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Context: Paul instructs these Christians to follow the ways of the Holy Spirit rather than follow the desires of the flesh. These fleshly desires that he lists are the equivalent of animalistic selfishness—doing whatever feels good without regard for the negative effects that such behavior has on others.
Analysis: Drunkenness is cited as one of the many ways in which we lose self-control and succumb to the desires of the flesh. Notice that disputes, which are common among Christians, especially between members of different denominations, are on the same level as drunkenness.

Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.” (NRSV)
Context: In chapter 5, Paul encourages the Ephesians to live according to God’s will and discourages them from giving in to their selfish and destructive desires.
Analysis: In verse 15, Paul advises the Ephesians to make the most of every opportunity. He then follows by discouraging drunkenness here in verse 18. Being alert and active enough to take advantage of ministry opportunities is impossible when we indulge in recreational desires. Again, he refers to drunkenness, not moderate alcohol consumption, as debauchery—a lifestyle of indulgence.

Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore, let no one act as a judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things of which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Colossians 2:20-23, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit to decrees such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Context: Paul says to the Colossians in Verse 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ,” as he warns them to avoid man-made rules that serve no purpose. Paul spends most of Colossians refuting a heresy that likely included aspects of Gnosticism (a religion that believed that the spirit world is good and the physical world is evil; therefore, Gnostics could not believe that the Son of God would dwell in evil human flesh).
Analysis: The “drink” mentioned in verse 16 is most likely alcoholic, since cultures and religions rarely regulated non-alcoholic drink. Paul makes it clear that such regulations are of no value.
Paul could have done what many modern-day Christians do by telling the church that it’s okay to promote these man-made alcohol consumption rules as a part of Christianity, but he didn’t. God doesn’t want us to play it safe by erring on the side of too many rules. He wants us to be free from rules that originate from anyone other than Him.

1 Timothy 3:2-3, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money.”
Titus 1:7, “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain.”
Context: The Apostle Paul gives advice on what type of character is best for leaders in the church.
Titus 2:3, “Older women likewise are to be revered in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good.”
Context: Paul gives instructions for the personal conduct of both young and old women.
Analysis: To become addicted (or enslaved) to wine (or any other form of alcohol) takes at least five years of abuse (2). Moderate consumption never results in addiction.

1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”
Context: This verse appears to be unrelated to the verses that precede and follow it.
Analysis: This is the only biblical instance in which someone is instructed to drink wine. It appears that even 2,000 years ago, people were aware of wine’s health benefits.
It’s odd that well-meaning modern-day Christians often recommend soda over wine. Soda has no nutritional value, and can only be harmful to the digestive system.

1 Peter 4:3, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”
Context: Peter encourages the believers to leave their old way of life behind and live as God desires.
Analysis: The pursuit of drunkenness may be a way of life for non-Christians, but it’s not a lifestyle fitting for a Christian.

So there you have it: every Bible verse that reveals how God feels about alcohol consumption. Of these 34 verses, none prohibit moderate alcohol consumption, but 22 of them indicate that God hates alcohol abuse.
From these verses we see that alcohol abuse was as big a problem in biblical times as it is today, and that some people considered it wise to abstain from alcohol as some people do today, so we have no reason to deny moderate alcohol consumption under the claim that times have changed.

The Freedom Defeaters
How did we get from the biblical allowance of alcohol consumption to the modern-day, Evangelical church’s prohibition of it? We need to look no further than the Freedom Defeaters, which I described in the Christian Freedom study.
Many anti-alcohol Christians deny our biblical freedom to consume alcohol on the grounds that a person’s first taste of it may someday lead to alcoholism, the lifestyle of drunkenness God opposes. They say, “You can’t become an alcoholic if you never take the first drink.” That’s why I categorize this non-biblical belief as a sin-preventionism. Just as the Pharisees created religious rules to keep God’s people from coming anywhere close to sin, many churches today do the same by forbidding alcohol consumption. How did Jesus deal with these sin-preventionisms that robbed God’s people of their freedoms? As we saw in the Christian Freedom study, He opposed them and broke them in plain view of everyone.
Some may say, “Where do you draw the line between drinking alcohol in a reasonable manner and the drunkenness that God clearly despises?” It’s this desire to have a sin-boundary that classifies alcohol consumption as a measurable sin. Since God has given us no boundary between moderate consumption and drunkenness, some of us create our own boundary at the starting line by prohibiting the consumption of any alcohol. Why does God leave us without a sin-boundary? Since God “is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart [Hebrews 4:12],” He draws the line based upon our intentions, not our deeds. Two people could drink the same amount of alcohol, one because he wants to get drunk, and the other because he is thirsty, and God would count the first act as sin and the second as permissible.
As we saw in the Old Testament, gluttony also counts as sin. Most churches ignore it, because they cannot prohibit the eating of food, since we need food to live. This inability to set a sin-boundary doesn’t make gluttony any less of a sin in God’s eyes, however. To be free of gluttony, we must exercise self-control. To many Christians, self-control equals abstinence, but that’s not how God sees it. To Him, we exercise self-control when we enjoy good things in moderation, and alcohol is one of those good things.
Some Christians deny moderate alcohol consumption, because they believe that God is pleased when we forsake pleasure. That’s why alcohol abstinence is sometimes a penitent deed. As I stated before, we never have to give up a non-sinful pleasure to please or appease God, because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins perfectly justifies us in God’s sight. Now that we are justified, we are to become more like Jesus, and Jesus consumed alcohol moderately.
Some churches want Christians to abstain from alcohol as a means of wearing the Christian uniform, an outward appearance that makes one’s Christianity clear to others. They believe that a Christian who refuses to drink alcohol in a public setting will serve as a witness to others. When others ask, “Why don’t you drink alcohol?” your answer of, “I’m not allowed to drink it because I’m a Christian,” is somehow supposed to make them want to become Christians. However, they usually think, “I’m glad I’m not a Christian,” when they realize that becoming one would require them to abstain from alcohol for the rest of their lives.
To the contrary, I find that drinking alcohol in moderation is a great witness to non-Christians. Their surprised reaction provides me an opportunity to tell them that Christianity isn’t a bunch of pointless rules, but that its laws are designed to prevent us from harming one another out of selfishness. Having the freedom to drink alcohol provides better opportunities to share one’s faith than alcohol abstinence does.
I’m not saying that all Christians must drink alcohol as a statement to the world that alcohol prohibition is anti-biblical. It’s perfectly okay to abstain from alcohol, just as it was for John the Baptist and the Rechabites. However, the church must stop preaching that alcohol consumption is a sin, because, first of all, such a message is untrue, and second, it keeps some people away from the faith. While we Christians might argue that knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior far surpasses any enjoyment that alcoholic drinks might provide, those who do not yet know Christ will fail to see this point. We must not place “stumbling blocks” (a term used in Matthew 18) in the middle of the road that leads to Jesus. It’s fine for Jesus to be a stumbling block to some people, as the Bible says He is, but it’s not fine for a man-made rule to be a stumbling block that trips people before they ever get to Him.

Alcohol (Every Verse Bible study) – Part 3

The Defiled Conscience Principle
Some Christians oppose moderate alcohol consumption, even though they admit that the Bible allows it. They have one card up their collective sleeve that robs us of the freedoms that God lets us enjoy. I call it the Defiled Conscience Principle.
It’s based, in part, on a verse that has become one of the most distorted and misused in the Scriptures. We need to pay special attention to it, and its related verses, by examining its context at length. Here it is:

Romans 14:21, “It is not good to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which by which your brother stumble.”
Context & Analysis: At first glance, when taken out of context, this verse appears to instruct us to refrain from doing anything that might lead a fellow Christian to sin, and that makes sense. Leading others to sin (stumble) is a sin in itself, as Jesus said, “…whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea [Matthew 18:6].” Yet we know that the law permits eating meat and drinking wine. To understand how it could have led some Christians to sin, we must examine this verse’s historical context.
Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 discuss the issue of whether or not Christians were permitted to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol (a Greek or Roman god). Some Christians ate meat while others abstained from it. Paul explains in Romans 14 that both approaches are fine, as long as God receives proper thanks. Before the writing of Romans, however, Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 (which was written before Romans) addressed the same issue:

Acts 15:28-29, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourself free from these things, you will do well.”
Context & Analysis: These verses are the last part of a letter that Jesus’ Apostles sent to the early churches. This letter was written at the Council of Jerusalem, where the Apostles, including Paul, assembled to resolve debated issues within the church. The big debate was over whether or not non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians had to be circumcised, as the Jews had always been. The Holy Spirit showed the Apostles that circumcision was unnecessary.
The Apostles explain in this letter that their intent was to burden the Gentile converts with nothing more than essential practices. The practices from which they had to abstain were not random or unrelated. All practices forbidden by verses 28 & 29 were elements of the Greco-Roman worship services. The Gentile-Christians had, of course, converted from the Greco-Roman polytheistic religions, in which they worshipped such gods as Zeus, Mars, Aphrodite, and Apollo. Their worship rituals consisted of killing animals by means of strangling, drinking their blood, eating their meat, getting drunk on wine (thus, the mention of wine in Romans 14:21), and having sex with temple prostitutes, all while worshipping the statue of one of these man-made gods.
Why were these practices forbidden for those who converted to Christianity? The reason is obvious: Gentile converts who participated in these practices might have communed with their former gods by doing so and been tempted to return to them. Even if they didn’t fall away from the Christian faith entirely, they would have violated the first and greatest commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

1 Corinthians 8:4-5, “Therefore, concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and lords, yet for us, there is but one God…”
Analysis: Paul begins by saying that these Roman and Greek gods are imaginary; but even if they are real, they’re not the true God of the universe. Eating meat sacrificed to these fake gods had no spiritual effect. Christians were permitted to eat this meat as long as they didn’t do it as an act of worship.
Despite the Jerusalem Council’s orders for Gentile converts to abstain from meat offered to idols, Paul (and maybe some other Christian leaders) had apparently allowed Christians to do defy those orders. As he learned of the resulting damage to the Corinthian church, however, he may have realized that allowing meat consumption was a mistake. Remember, only Jesus was without sin. The rest of us, even the Apostle Paul, make mistakes.

1 Corinthians 8:7, “However, not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”
Context & Analysis: When people ate meat from a sacrifice in a Roman temple, they did so at a table that included a setting for the god whom they worshipped (3). In their minds, the god was with them at the table and nowhere else in the universe. Remember, they were polytheistic, so they didn’t believe in an omnipresent god who was everywhere at the same time. They were likely overwhelmed with a sense of their god’s presence more than many of us are, since we believe that God is everywhere when we worship Him.
Meat was a key element of the worship experience, because Romans rarely ate meat outside the temple, since they had no means of preserving it. Whatever meat they ate had to be fresh, and the easiest place to find fresh meat was at the temple (that’s why Christians went to the temples; they certainly didn’t go to worship). Therefore, whenever they ate meat, regardless of whether or not it had been sacrificed to a Greco-Roman god, they communed with their gods in their hearts and minds.
To compare this experience to something we encounter today, let’s consider Holy Communion. Many of us Christians have practiced it our entire lives and have had powerful worship experiences doing so. Imagine going to a non-Christian function, such a company picnic, and being served wine/grape juice in a tiny, clear plastic cup along with a little square of bread no longer than an inch. Where would your mind go at that point? Could you eat it without feeling a connection to Christ or feeling as though it’s necessary to commune with Him at that moment? Many of us could not eat that bread and drink from that little cup without communing with God in our hearts. Likewise, those who had converted from Greco-Roman polytheism to Christianity could not eat meat without communing with their former gods in their hearts.

1 Corinthians 8:9-11, “But take care, lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge, he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”
Context & Analysis: This verse is a big favorite of anti-alcohol Christians. They take verse 10 and make substitutions by saying, “If someone sees you in a place that serves alcohol, even if you’re just having a soda, they may be encouraged to drink alcohol, and thus sin against their conscience.” So they not only forbid the drinking of alcohol, but with this analogy, they prohibit Christians from going out dancing, singing karaoke, playing pool, or doing a number of other innocent activities that take place where alcohol is served. By ignoring the original context and intentions of these verses, many Christians lay burdens upon other Christians that greatly exceed those imposed by the Bible.
Some Christians assume that these verses tell us to do nothing with which other Christians may disagree, because those Christians might be tempted to go against their beliefs and imitate us. This assumption is far-fetched. The chances of an anti-alcohol Christian changing his or her behavior based on seeing another Christian drink alcohol are incredibly slim. First of all, anti-alcohol Christians are unlikely to be found in a place that serves alcohol, since they don’t believe it’s okay to be there, so they’re unlikely to see other Christians drink. And even if they did, they’d be more likely to pass judgment on that person as a lesser Christian than they would be to follow that person’s lead. Also, most anti-alcohol Christians feel so strongly about their anti-alcohol beliefs that they’re unlikely to be swayed, regardless of what examples or contrary evidence are set before them.
In verse 9, Paul contrasts the freedom of those who are strong in faith with the temptation of those who are weak in faith. Notice here that the strong-in-faith are the can-do Christians, and the weak-in faith are the can’t-do Christians. The experienced Christians, mentored by Jesus’ own disciples, who know what the Gospel is all about, have the fewest rules to follow. They know it’s okay to eat meat. But the new converts, who may be easily led astray, feel that they have to abstain from it. Nonetheless, Paul tells the strong-in-faith to make sacrifices for the weak-in-faith, because the weak-in-faith are more likely to fall away.
Today, many churches take the opposite approach: The supposedly strong-in-faith, the leaders of the religious establishment, are the can’t-do Christians who show no mercy on the weak-in-faith—the new (and often young) believers. The strong-in-faith heap loads of man-made restrictions on the weak-in-faith, until the weak-in-faith fall away and are, therefore, “ruined,” as Paul describes in verse 11. When young adult Christians are prohibited from dancing, singing karaoke, etc, because of where alcohol is served, and all they get to do is go to prayer night, many of them fall away. They have too much energy to spend all of their free time sitting in church, sitting in Bible studies, sitting in prayer meetings, sitting and reading the Bible, sitting while talking about the Bible, etc.
Those who are strong-in-faith might argue that young Christians need not have fun, because if their faith is strong enough, they’ll realize that Jesus is all they need. This mentality burdens the weak-in-faith by holding them to the standards of the strong-in-faith, just like the Corinthian church leaders pressured the weak-in-faith to live up to their standards and eat meat without faith-damaging results. Today, the strong-in-faith need to realize that today’s weak-in-faith may fall away as a result of ultra-high standards, just like the Corinthian weak-in-faith did.

1 Corinthians 8:12-13, “And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.”
Context & Analysis: Many anti-alcohol Christians use this verse to say that Christians may never drink alcohol, because doing so might cause other Christians to stumble and wound their consciences. This misinterpretation results from the fact that we take the words “stumble” and “wound” too lightly. They refer not to a little trip or scrape, but to something far more serious. Here, the weak-in-faith stumble and wound their consciences by communing with their former gods in their hearts when eating meat—an outright violation of the 1st Commandment. God make it clear throughout the Bible that He hates when we worship other gods. So the stumble here is not just a little trip, but a fall causing serious injury that jeopardizes the eternal life of a new believer.
The seriousness of this scenario lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from the minor issue of whether or not it’s okay to drink alcohol. These Bible quotes have nothing to do with feeling a little guilty about doing something that we used to think was wrong but now believe is right.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”
Context & Analysis: Paul again discusses the issue of eating meat offered to idols. This quote reiterates Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Some Christians use this verse to claim that any neutral activity is forbidden. In other words, if drinking alcohol neither helps nor hurts one’s faith, it’s a sin. If listening to secular music neither helps nor hurts one’s faith, it’s a sin. However, I have never seen a Christian apply this verse universally. If changing from glasses to contact lenses neither helps nor hurts one’s faith, is that a sin? If cutting the lawn neither helps nor hurts one’s faith, is that a sin? Of course not! There are plenty of neutral activities which we engage in on a daily basis, and God permits them. This verse does not prohibit engagement in sin-free activities. It prohibits the seeking of our own pleasure at the expense of someone else’s well-being.
When Paul writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable,” he means that some behaviors not forbidden by God’s law can seriously endanger someone else’s faith. Eating meat was one of these, as were lawsuits. In 1 Corinthians 6:7, Paul charges, “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” Lawsuits were legal, but they destroyed relationships within the church and demonstrated to the outside world that Christians could not live in harmony. Unlike lawsuits, moderate alcohol consumption harms nobody’s faith or physical well-being.
These common misinterpretations of verses in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 and Romans 14 (which I did not quote because it really ads nothing more to this issue, but feel free to open your Bible and read it) lead us astray when we are merely Bible-based rather than thoroughly biblical. But when we examine the other 34 alcohol passages, as we already have, we won’t make the mistake of building a theology out of this one example, which isn’t even about alcohol to begin with.

Universal Application
While many Christians employ the Defiled Conscience Principle when opposing alcohol consumption, no Christian applies it universally. With the many denominations and the differing beliefs among Christians today, it’s impossible to avoid practicing something that other Christians believe to be wrong.
For example, the Church of Christ denomination refuses to incorporate musical instruments into their worship services. If that’s the case, then all churches who promote the Defiled Conscience Principle when denouncing alcohol consumption should also abstain from using musical instruments in worship services. Otherwise, people from the Church of Christ might visit a church that uses musical instruments and be tempted to participate in a worship service that includes them. By participating, they defile their consciences by doing something that they had always believed to be wrong.
Here’s another example: some Christians believe it’s wrong for a woman to wear pants or shorts, and that women of all ages must wear a dress or skirt. Many anti-alcohol Christians, however, have no problem with women wearing pants or shorts. So if anti-alcohol Christian women were to apply the Defiled Conscience Principle universally, they would refrain from wearing pants or shorts, because women who think it’s a sin to wear them might be encouraged by their example and do the same. They would then sin against their consciences by doing what they had always believed to be wrong.
Don’t look at these examples and decide that you must now avoid all practices that others believe to be sinful. Before doing that, consider the example that Jesus set: Jesus was without sin, and yet He never preached or practiced the Defiled Conscience Principle. For example, Jesus openly ate without first washing His hands, as we discussed in Christian Freedom study. Was Jesus concerned that people who had grown up under the influence of the Pharisees, who had always believed that eating with unwashed hands was a sin, would be encouraged to follow His example and sin against their consciences by doing so? Of course not! Jesus was concerned with separating the Word of God from the rules of man so that God’s people could live in truth and freedom. Jesus also defied the Defiled Conscience Principle when He did good works on the Sabbath, picked grain on the Sabbath, drank wine, and befriended known sinners. By this we know that the Defiled Conscience Principle is not required by God. If it were, then Jesus would have been a sinner by defying it.
Martin Luther could not have launched the Protestant Reformation if he had obeyed the Defiled Conscience Principle. When his followers first repented of their sins directly to God, rather than through a priest, refused to pay indulgences to the church, and left the Roman Catholic Church altogether, most of them probably felt a little tweak of their consciences, because they practiced something they were raised to believe was wrong. They probably had second thoughts and wrestled with whether or not to break away from the non-biblical ways of the Roman Catholic Church. Had Luther been concerned with matters of conscience, the church could not have advanced in the direction of God’s will.
The same is true today. If we apply the Defiled Conscience Principle to all things, we can never remove man-made religious rules from the church, because any time we turn Christians from the false doctrines of men to the truth of God, some of them will feel guilty when embracing freedoms that they once thought were sins. That’s okay, however, because God wants us to be free. It’s those who wish to keep us in chains who misapply the Defiled Conscience Principle to issues for which it was never intended.

Non-biblical anti-alcohol arguments

Temptation of Alcoholics
Some Christians say we should avoid alcohol, because former alcoholics might see us drinking it, be inspired to drink it themselves, and then struggle with their addiction all over again. If we were to apply this principle universally, we would refuse to serve doughnuts and other sweets in Sunday school classes, because type II diabetics might be encouraged to eat them and suffer further complications to their health. We would have to abstain from peanuts too, because someone with a peanut allergy might see us eating them and be inspired to do so themselves, and then die from their allergic reaction. These examples sound preposterous, because they are—just like the idea that an alcoholic might return to alcoholism if we drink alcohol. It’s a fact of life that alcoholics, diabetics, and food allergy sufferers realize that they cannot eat and drink everything that other people do. We do not sin by enjoying food or drink that somebody else might not be able to have.

Alcohol is a Drug
Some people argue that alcohol consumption is a sin because alcohol is a drug. If that’s the case, then churches had better stop making coffee available at Sunday school classes, because caffeine is a drug too. Fortunately, we don’t have to junk our coffee-makers, because the Bible never opposes drugs. We have numerous drugs in our society, and only a small percentage of them are illegal. The rest of them are on the shelves at the grocery store or behind the counter at the pharmacy. Both legal and illegal drugs are harmful if abused. However, most of these drugs, including alcohol, have health benefits when used in moderation.

Alcohol is addictive
Some people argue that alcohol is addictive. But as drugs go, it’s hardly addictive at all. I’ve never known of a moderate drinker who became an alcoholic. It’s the long-time alcohol abusers who do that. Research has shown that people must abuse alcohol for more than 5 years to become physically addicted to it (2). In fact, I’ve known quite a few people who abused alcohol in college and beyond, and none of them had trouble reducing or eliminating their drinking if they did so by the age of 30. So alcohol’s minimally addictive nature is no cause for concern for those of us who obey the Bible by drinking it moderately.

Some People have a Genetic Tendency toward Alcoholism
Some might say that alcoholism is hereditary, and nobody should taste alcohol, because those with a genetic disposition toward alcoholism will be hooked on it when they do. However, recent research suggests that this genetic tendency does not create an unusually high craving for alcohol like an addicted smoker might have for a cigarette, but that it minimizes the negative effects of alcohol abuse, such as hangovers (4). So it’s just the allure of pleasure with no pain that leads to alcohol abuse, not a genetic disposition toward instant addiction. It’s no different than my temptation to eat a whole bag of jalapeño potato chips everyday. If we want to maintain or achieve good health, we have to know when to say when.
Christians who drink alcohol moderately face no risk of addiction. Further minimizing this risk is the fact that we Christians have a purpose in life. Most alcohol abusers live for the pleasure of the moment, because they have nothing else to live for. If they stopped partying, their lives would be empty. Today, we see this more than ever as the media spotlights wealthy people who live the wild life because they have no goals. They have everything they could want or need, and they have no desire to be a positive force in the world, because they have no Christian ethics. But we Christians have so much purpose in our lives that we should have no time to abuse alcohol. Also, if we seek to obey God, we will heed the 22 Bible verses opposing alcohol abuse.

It’s worth asking why God, who hates alcohol abuse, allows His people to drink alcoholic beverages at all. The Bible provides no answer to this question, and we should be content in trusting God’s decision. But the answer may very well be that God’s approach simply works best.
It’s likely that the United States’ alcohol abuse problem is the result of its anti-alcohol history. Less than one hundred years ago, alcohol was strictly forbidden in the United States. And yet, less than a century later, alcoholism in the U.S. is an epidemic. Contrast that to Israel’s and Italy’s alcoholism rates, which are among the lowest in the world (5). Both of these countries take the scriptural approach to alcohol consumption, because Italy is Roman Catholic and Israel is Jewish. Their cultures tolerate the consumption of alcohol with meals and in religious services, but oppose its abuse. They are proof that God’s approach works. America’s high alcoholism rates are proof that prohibition fails.
There may be a psychological reason that explains why the biblical approach works and prohibition fails. I call it the Forbidden Fruit Syndrome. Just as Adam and Eve thought the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden must have been something special, many Christians, raised in anti-alcohol households, feel the same way about alcohol. When parents teach that alcohol consumption is a big deal, whether it’s a great big deal or a terrible big deal, it becomes a big deal in the minds of their children. While some of these children choose to never taste alcohol, others succumb to the allure of the forbidden fruit and are controlled by it, because it was such a big deal in their minds all along.
Compare this to the household in which I grew up. My parents rarely talked about alcohol. They would buy a bottle of wine for New Year’s Eve, drink half of it, and let it sit in the back of the refrigerator until the next New Year’s Eve, when they would finish it. The message that my sisters and I received was that alcohol was no big deal. Our parents even let us have some wine, so we could see for ourselves that it was no big deal. While I’m not a child psychologist, I believe that my parents’ approach toward alcohol is the best approach. If parents glorify or condemn alcohol, they run a greater risk of their children becoming alcoholics, because they make alcohol consumption a big deal in their children’s minds.
Another reason for America’s high level of alcohol abuse is the church’s failure to promote moderate drinking. In the eyes of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist church, we sin whether we drink two ounces of wine or chug a gallon of beer, because once we fall off the purity wagon into the abyss of sin, the degree to which we sin is irrelevant. To them, a person cannot drink moderately and be in good relationship with God. So when many Christians drink, they have no reason to exercise self-control, since they believe they are already in sin.

Designed for Alcohol
It may be that God allows alcohol consumption because He designed humans to ingest it. I can’t help but think back to the mulberry tree my parents had while I was growing up. As I approached the tree, I saw mulberries in varying degrees of ripeness. If I ate one that was too light in color, it would be sour and bitter, because it wasn’t ripe yet. If I ate one that had reached a solid shade of purple, it would taste just right, because it was ripe. However, if I ate one that had a dark purple color, it would taste like wine, because it was too ripe and had started to ferment.
Few people today experience what I experienced, because they go to the grocery store and pick out the best fruit. If the fruit is too ripe when they attempt to eat it, they throw it away. Throughout history, however, humans haven’t had this luxury, because food was scarce. Avoiding starvation has been one of mankind’s greatest challenges. So people had to eat whatever fruit was available, not just perfect fruit. By eating fruit that was a little too ripe, they ingested alcohol that resulted from fermentation. A significant percentage of the fruit and fruit juice consumed by humans throughout history has contained alcohol.
God designed us to benefit from a diet that included fermented fruit. How do we know this? We know it from the overwhelming number of studies revealing that moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. I won’t bore you with overwhelming evidence, but here are three examples:
• “A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study asserts that ‘The totality of evidence on moderate alcohol and CHD (coronary heart disease) supports a judgment of a cause-effect relationship…there are cardio-protective benefits associated with responsible, moderate alcohol intake.’”
• “The Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of over 44,000 males found moderate alcohol consumption to be associated with a 37% reduction in coronary disease.”
• “A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal found abstainers’ risk of stroke to be twice that of moderate drinkers.” (6)
By these few examples, we see that moderate drinking is the healthiest approach to alcohol consumption. Isn’t it amazing how these medical studies perfectly align with the biblical approach to drinking? God knows what’s best for us, after all! The man-made religious requirement of total abstinence from alcohol is damaging to our health. So if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” perhaps we should recommend moderate alcohol consumption to our neighbors, not abstinence.

1. Prof. David J. Hanson, PhD, Puritans to Prohibition (Potsdam, NY: 1997-2007)

2. Encyclopedia Britannica Online (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.2008)

3. The Roman Empire in the First Century, (Washington, D.C.: Devillier Donovan Enterprises, 2006)

4. Encyclopedia Britannica Online (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.2008)

5. Encyclopedia Britannica Online (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.2008)

6. Prof. David J. Hanson, PhD, Alcohol and Health, (Potsdam, NY: 1997-2007)

Baptism (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
(Copyright © 2009 by K. Scott Schaeffer)

(All quotes from the NRSV. Personal pronouns referring to divinity are not capitalized per this translation)

Must we be baptized to get into heaven? If so, must we be dunked under water, or is it okay to have water sprinkled on our heads? Should we have our children baptized as infants, or must we wait until they reach adulthood and let them choose to be baptized?
If we are to learn the answers to these questions, we must consult the Bible. And we must examine every baptism verse in the Bible. Don’t assume, however, that doing so will clear up all confusion over the issue. There’s a reason it exists.

Matthew 3:6-10, “…and they were baptized by him [John the Baptist] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume and say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Context: After the Bible tells the story of Jesus’ birth, it leads into the story of His ministry by telling of John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus. See a repeat of this conversation in Luke 3:7-10.
Analysis: According to John the Baptists’ warning to the Pharisees, bearing fruit worthy of repentance is a key to baptism. Therefore, repentance is a key to baptism. Baptism by itself is worthless. It’s not for those who refuse to turn from their sinful ways. Before we may partake of a baptism acceptable to God, we must first renounce our sin and intend to obey God’s will as revealed throughout the Bible.
The Pharisees are an interesting example of people unacceptable for baptism, since they were the religious leaders of their day. They were the rule enforcers who fasted and tithed while refraining from drinking and adultery. They would have exceeded the standards of righteousness in the eyes of many of today’s devout, Evangelical Christians. Where they sinned so greatly, however, was in their arrogance, judgmentalism, and mercilessness—attitudes that run rampant among today’s devout Evangelicals.

Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Context: John speaks to those who have come to him to be baptized.
Analysis: Again, John associates water baptism with repentance. He then speaks of a second baptism that can only come from Jesus: the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
Of course, the “fire” is not a literal fire. Rather, it is a term used to symbolize the power, majesty, and intensity of the Holy Spirit we receive.
Notice that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which comes from Jesus, is separate from the baptism of repentance, which comes from John the Baptist. While it’s possible for both to happen simultaneously, it’s not necessary that they do. Today, many Christians believe that we receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized, but this quote provides no indication of that.

Matthew 3:13-17, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Context: The Bible’s introduction of John the Baptist leads right into the story of his baptism of Jesus.
Analysis: Despite what I said in the analysis of Matthew 3:11, here we have an example of a baptism followed immediately by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. What we don’t know is whether or not Jesus is receiving the Holy Spirit for the first time or whether the Holy Spirit descends upon Him as a display of God’s approval, even though Jesus already possesses the Holy Spirit.
Most Christians would agree with the latter interpretation, because they believe in the Trinity to the extent that Jesus is God in the flesh and, therefore, cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Context: This quote is known to many as the Great Commission, in which Jesus, after His resurrection, instructs His disciples to spread the gospel to the world.
Analysis: Are we to baptize entire nations and make disciples of them, or are we to baptize individuals from all nations?
Most of us today would probably choose the latter interpretation. However, when the nations of Europe converted to Christianity in the early Middle Ages, many of them did force baptism upon entire nations of people. The mentality in those days was that an entire society had to hold the same religious belief. Therefore, Christianity was not an individual choice but a national mandate. Baptism was a part of that mandate.
This national religion mentality continued until the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and other fighting among Christians defeated the will of those who insisted upon a single theology for an entire nation. Out of their religious war fatigue came the concept of denominations – the idea that people with differing Christian beliefs could live together in a community. The denominational structure relied upon personal choice and made it a driving force in Christianity, like it was in the early days of the church.
Of course, most people in recent centuries remained in the denominations of their families and perceived themselves to be Christians because they belonged to a Christian church. In the past couple centuries, however, Evangelical Christianity has popularized the notion of faith-in-Christ being a personal choice that has nothing to do with church membership or having grown up in a church. The personal choice to be baptized then accompanies this personal choice of faith in Christ. That’s why many of us today see this verse as a requirement to spread the gospel to people of all nations rather than as a requirement to force entire nations to be baptized.

Mark 1:4-8, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”
Context: The first chapter of Mark parallels the third chapter of Matthew, telling the story of John the Baptist.
Analysis: Again, in verse 8, we see that John’s water baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This verse lends additional support to the inseparability of baptism and repentance.
When the Bible says that “all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him,” it doesn’t literally mean every single person in the city was baptized by him. In fact, many religious leaders opposed John’s ministry. It’s common for the Bible to use the word all to mean many or all kinds. For example, this verse may indicate that people from all walks of life came to John for baptism. Or it may simply mean that a great number of people came out to him – so many that it seemed like all the people.
It’s interesting to note that this quote says the people came out to John “confessing their sins.” This is something we don’t practice today. It’s easy to see why we don’t. It would be embarrassing for most of us to confess our greatest wrongs in front of those witnessing our baptism. Naturally, many of us would hold back our darkest secrets. However, it’s inspiring to see that those baptized by John were so repentant that they didn’t care if everyone knew about their past sins.

Mark 16:16, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”
Context: Jesus sends the disciples out into the world to spread the gospel. He follows these words with descriptions of signs believers will share, such as picking up serpents and drinking poison without harm.
Analysis: Baptists and other Christians who insist that adult baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life quote this verse more than any other to support their belief. Most Christians, when asked to give the biblical requirements for salvation, quote verses instructing us to believe in Christ. But this verse adds a second requirement to believing in Christ—baptism.
However, if we read the last part of this verse, it says that “the one who does not believe will be condemned.” It does not say that the one who fails to be baptized will be condemned. Therefore, we must conclude that this verse fails to damn the unbaptized.
What hurts this verse’s credibility most, however, is that the earliest New Testament manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20. Apparently, these verses were tacked on to the end of Mark a couple centuries after it was written. Today, most Bible’s include these verses for tradition’s sake, but they sometimes go as far as to separate it from the rest of Mark, so that people think twice before taking these verses as the Word of God. Therefore, it’s best that we not use verse 16 as the foundation of our baptism theology.

Luke 3:3-6, “He [John the Baptist] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth; and all the flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’”
Context: Like Matthew and Mark, Luke also tells the story of John the Baptist.
Analysis: Yet again, repentance and baptism are intertwined. This quote, however, calls this a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It shouldn’t alarm most of us that repentance is for the forgiveness of sins; nonetheless, this is the first verse to define repentance in this manner. Some might argue, however, that this passage implies that baptism is also needed for the forgiveness of sins.
The prophecy from Isaiah gives us added understanding of the purpose of baptism. It exists to “prepare the way of the Lord.” For years, I understood this to mean that John the Baptist had to begin his ministry first so that Jesus could then be baptized by him. However, this passage may also mean that a baptism of repentance prepares us to receive Jesus. Naturally, most of us choose to submit to Jesus before we are baptized. But to know Him intimately, we need a baptism of repentance to lead the way.

Luke 7:28-30, “‘I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)”
Context: Jesus speaks to a crowd about John the Baptist. He goes on to explain how both His and John’s ministries were rejected by the religious leaders of the day.
Analysis: Here we have proof that not “all” people in Jerusalem were baptized by John, because many of the Pharisees and lawyers resided in Jerusalem, yet this passage says most of them refused to be baptized by him.
Luke goes out of his way to tell us that the violent, thieving tax collectors, who were seen in the eyes of the people and the religious leaders as most evil of all, received John’s baptism of repentance, but the religious leaders were too arrogant over their righteousness and spiritual knowledge to allow themselves baptized by a simple man from the wilderness.

Luke 12:49-50, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Context: Appears to be unrelated to quotes which precede and follow it.
Analysis: At this point, Jesus had already been baptized by John. Here he uses the word baptism as a metaphor for His trial and crucifixion. We will learn later how baptism symbolizes our being buried with Christ in earthly death and being resurrected in new life.

John 1:24-27, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.’”
Context: John the Baptist is questioned about his identity before baptizing Jesus.
Analysis: The Pharisees wanted to know by whose authority John baptized others. In their eyes, John had to be someone special, someone they respected, or someone who had credentials, in order to carry out God’s work. John answered by telling not who he was, but the purpose of his baptism. He then pointed to Jesus as the authority for his ministry, but this answer failed to satisfy the Pharisees, since they saw Jesus as a nobody, too.

John 1:31, 33, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel…I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
Context: John the Baptists testifies about his experience baptizing Jesus.
Analysis: How did baptism begin? It all started with a revelation from God to John the Baptist. He received no human instruction to baptize. It wasn’t Jesus’ who told him to baptize. Nonetheless, God worked His revelation to John together with His plan for Jesus’ ministry.
It’s interesting to think about the fact that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus after baptism. This seems to imply that Jesus didn’t possess the Holy Spirit until this point in time, but that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were one throughout His ministry. This passage alone could spark hours of conversation about exactly how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another and work together. But I’m not going to get into all of that, because it’s a subject that none of us in this world can fully understand, and because our understanding of it has no impact on how we live our daily lives.

Baptism (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]


John 3:22-24, “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized…”
Context: This famous chapter explains what it means to be born again or born anew.
Analysis: This verse seems to say that Jesus baptized others. For some reason, it seems odd that Jesus would baptize people directly. Who should be so privileged that the Son of God himself would baptize them? Wouldn’t everybody rush to Jesus rather than the others for baptism? Then again, at this point, people may not have realized that Jesus was the Messiah. They may have thought He was on the same level as John the Baptist.

John 4:1-3, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’—although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—he left Judea and started back to Galilee.”
Context: Jesus then goes on to speak with the woman at Jacob’s well.
Analysis: This verse seems to say that Jesus did not baptize people personally. Either way, it probably doesn’t matter too much.
We see from this verse and others that baptism was a huge part of both Jesus’ and John the Baptists’ ministries. This public expression of repentance and faith had its dangers, as it drew the attention of the disapproving leaders of the religious establishment. Then again, public expressions of Christian faith have been dangerous at many times throughout history. That may be part of why it’s so important that baptism be public. Taking such a risk is evidence of just how committed we are to Christ. If we refuse to express our faith publicly out of fear of the reaction of others, then we probably don’t have much faith.

Acts 1:4-5, “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit many days from now.’”
Context: Luke opens Acts by picking up where the Gospels left off.
Analysis: Here, Jesus foretells the coming of the Pentecost. As we saw early in the Gospels, John foretold how his baptism would pave the way for Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit. Here, the fulfillment of that promise is just days away.

Acts 2:38, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.”
Context: Peter speaks to the crowd on the original day of Pentecost.
Analysis: Yet again, the repentance comes first, and then the baptism. According to Peter, this baptism is to be in the name of Christ. Why repent and be baptized in the name of Christ? “…so that your sins will be forgiven…” Here’s the big question: Are we forgiven because we repent in Christ’s name, or are we forgiven because we repent and are baptized in Christ’s name? In other words, do we have to do both to be forgiven?
Of course, Peter goes on to say that those who do these things will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That prompts the question: Must we first repent and be baptized before we can receive the Holy Spirit, or do we receive the Holy Spirit simply for believing in Christ, as many have said we do?
Notice that I’m not answering any of these questions. We have to look at the remaining baptism verses in the Bible before we can come to a conclusion.

Then Peter says that this promise is also for the children of those at Pentecost, as well as for those who are far away. This promise for the children tempts us to think that our repentance and baptism might cover our children as well as us, and that they don’t even have to repent and be baptized to be forgiven. However, the fact that Peter goes on to say that this promise is also for those who are far away negates this thinking, because it makes no sense that repentance and baptism of one person would cover random people thousands of miles away. Peter is saying nothing more than that his words to the crowd don’t just apply to them, but to all people.

Acts 8:13, “Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
Context: Simon was a popular magician who dazzled the people with his magic.
Analysis: There’s not much to analyze about baptism here. It’s simply another example of baptism following belief in Christ.

Acts 8:14-17, “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Context: In verse 18, Simon the magician tries to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Peter and John and receives a strong rebuke.
Analysis: This passage delivers a blow to those who say that we receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon believing in Christ, because these Samaritans did not receive the Holy Sprit after believing. Also, they didn’t receive it immediately after baptism like Jesus or the people at Pentecost did. Does this mean that some who believe and are baptized never receive the Holy Spirit? Would these Samaritans have never received it had Peter and John never laid hands on them?

To answer these questions thoroughly, we would have to get into a deep discussion about the Holy Spirit. Contrary to popular theology, it’s possible that different people have different amounts of the Holy Spirit at different times. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit comes and goes for people like Saul and Samson. Whenever Samson did something miraculous, it was because the Holy Spirit entered Him. Most theology today says the Holy Spirit that we Christians possess is constant. But it may be that all of us have enough of the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ, but that there are times that we receive heavy doses of the Holy Spirit in order to experience God’s power or to carry out His will.

Acts 8:36-38, “As they [Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch] were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.”
Context: The Holy Spirit directs Philip to the eunuch just as he puzzled over a biblical text.
Analysis: As holy as baptism is, it doesn’t require any special kind of water. Many churches use so-called holy water. But Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch used the closest water available. Water is water. It all works the same. God has no desire to make us go through pointless, tedious rituals to acquire special water for baptism.

Acts 9:18, “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
Context: The scales mentioned here covered Paul’s eyes after he had been blinded by the light during his conversion experience. Ananias then cane to him and baptized him.
Analysis: This passage gives us a sense of urgency in baptism, because Paul is baptized before he even bothers to eat. He’s weak from malnutrition (or from being struck down by God), yet his baptism is so urgent that he puts off eating so that he may be baptized first. Wow!
All of the baptisms we find in the Bible appear to occur the same day that a person comes to faith in Christ. Nowhere in the Bible is a believer’s baptism planned in advance, as baptisms are today. Biblical baptisms all appear to be spontaneous; they’re the equivalent of an alter call and baptism all-in-one.
Must we follow this same format for baptism today? It’s difficult to say. We can argue that we must conduct ourselves in the same manner as the early church, but the Bible never requires us to emulate the early church or anyone else (except for Jesus) in the Bible. It only requires us to follow the commands of God.
It’s possible that the disciples conducted same day baptisms because they were on the move and didn’t have churches established for people to come back to. Also, there were so many people coming to Christ simultaneously that scheduling everyone’s baptisms for the future would have been a nightmare. These scheduling difficulties may have discouraged new believers from being baptized. The disciples may have decided that the best time to baptize new believers was when they were right in front of them.
Would it really make any difference if we replaced pre-planned baptisms with same-day baptisms? Are pre-planned baptisms more effective than spontaneous ones? Would same-day baptisms discourage people from confessing Christ because they didn’t bring their swimsuits (it’s not like they knew they were going to believe in Jesus that day)? Of course, new believers in Jesus’ day didn’t bring swimsuits; they just went home in wet clothes. If we switch to same-day baptisms, it might all be pointless and discouraging to those who would believe in Christ and be baptized. Then again, maybe same-day baptisms are what God prefers. I can’t give a definitive answer on this one, but it’s an idea worth kicking around.

Acts 10:44-48, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing theses people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
Context: Despite Jesus’ earlier teachings, His twelve disciples still believed that He had come only for the salvation of the Jews and not for people of other nations and religions. Through a vision, God led Peter to Cornelius, a Gentile, who received the Holy Spirit out of faith in Christ, just like the Jewish Christians did.
Analysis: So much for the idea that we must first be baptized in order to receive the Holy Spirit. These Gentiles not only received the Holy Spirit before baptism, but they received a heavy dose of it, speaking in tongues, etc.
It was necessary, in this instance, for the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit in dramatic fashion as a sign to Peter that God had chosen them as Christians. Peter and the other disciples had believed up to this point that Jesus had come only for the Jews. The Gentiles speaking in tongues proved to him that Christianity was for people of all races and nations. Peter and the other disciples needed to understand this so that they would spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, rather than stay in Judea to preach it, as they had intended to do up to this point in time.

Acts 16:14-15, “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
Context: Paul and his counterparts travel from place to place on a missionary journey.
Analysis: Notice that Lydia’s household is baptized with her. This most likely means her children were baptized. What we don’t know is whether her children chose to believe in Jesus, or whether they were baptized because of their mother’s faith.
It’s possible that baptism may have been like circumcision in this regard. When a person committed to God’s Old Testament covenant, he had all of his sons circumcised as well as himself. Circumcision was a symbol of that particular covenant with God. In the New Testament, circumcision was no longer required, but baptism became the symbol of the New Testament covenant. Everyone who believed in Jesus was baptized as a symbol of that belief and covenant with God through Christ.
Since the descendants of Old Testament believers were circumcised as a result of their fathers’ decisions of faith, could it be that the descendants of New Testament believers were baptized as a result of their parents’ decisions of faith, too? If they were, were they baptized again as adults despite having already been baptized as children? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t answer these questions.

Baptism (Bible Study) – Part 3

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]

Acts 16:30-33, “Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.”
Context: When an earthquake frees Paul and Silas from prison, they decide to convert the jailer and return to prison rather than run for their freedom, which would have left the jailer responsible and likely punished by death.
Analysis: The words, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” indicate that even salvation covers the children of a believer. This message is contrary to modern theology which says that salvation can only result from a personal decision of faith. To explore this conundrum further, we’d have to examine every salvation verse in the Bible. But this study is about baptism, not salvation, so we’ll just have to move on.
Here we see that Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the entire household, so this leads us to conclude that all who were old enough to understand it chose to believe and be baptized. However, we don’t know for a fact that everyone in the household believed. It may be that only some believed, but all were baptized as a symbol of their father’s covenant with God through Christ.
Let’s imagine that there were seven people in the jailer’s household and seven people in Lydia’s household. What are the odds that all fourteen of them instantly made a personal decision to convert to Christianity? It’s much more likely that some of them didn’t believe than that all of them believed. However, unanimous belief is certainly possible.

These stories of Lydia and the jailer may indicate that infant baptism is God’s will and that we need not be baptized as adults if we were baptized as children. Everyone else baptized in Acts did so out of a personal decision of faith, because none of them had been raised as Christians, since Christianity was brand new.
Since the book of Acts covers a period of only a few decades, it never shows us how baptism worked for children born to someone who was already a believer. Even the stories of Lydia and the jailer only tell us of existing children. What would have happened had either of these families bore more children later? Would they have been baptized as a symbol of their parents’ covenant? Or would they have waited until making a personal decision of faith later in life to be baptized? Unfortunately, while many of us have strong opinions on this, none of us can say for sure.

Acts 18:8, “Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.”
Context: Paul preaches the gospel in Corinth.
Analysis: Here we see an entire household believing in Christ, despite the odds against everyone believing with no dissenters. Should we, as a result of their belief, assume that Lydia’s and the jailer’s families all believed in the same manner? Or should we conclude that since Acts 18:8 specifies that the whole household believed, while Acts 16 does not, that only Crispus’ entire household believed, not Lydia’s and the jailer’s households?

Acts 19:1-7, While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophecied—altogether there were about twelve of them.”
Context: The story pretty much tells it.
Analysis: Here we find the Bible’s first double baptism. The first was a baptism of repentance from John the Baptist, and it looked forward to Christ. The second was apparently nothing more than a baptism in Christ’s name, since these Corinthians had already repented when baptized by John.
It wasn’t until these Corinthians believed in Jesus and were baptized in His name that they received the Holy Spirit—more evidence that a person may only receive the Holy Spirit after believing in Jesus.

Acts 22:16, “And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.”
Context: Paul recounts the story of his conversion and how he came to be baptized.
Analysis: This is the only biblical instance in which baptism is said to wash away sin. This wording makes it sound as though sin remains if we are not baptized. Those who insist that baptism is a requirement for salvation probably love this verse. But is it enough to prove their point? Or are the words, “have your sins washed away,” nothing more than symbolic of God’s forgiveness of those who repent in Jesus’ name?

Romans 6:1-8, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin would be destroyed, and we might no longer be a slave to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”
Context: Paul explains how we are not to abuse God’s grace by choosing to sin. We are to avoid sin, since we died to it when we submitted to Christ and symbolized the commitment in baptism.
Analysis: Those who insist on baptism by submersion (dunking) rely on these verses for support, because these verses imply that being under water is similar to being underground in burial. This watery burial is symbolic of our dying to our old sinful ways.
These verses also support Baptist theology by saying that we are buried with Christ in death in order to then “walk in newness of life.” This newness of life is eternal life. Does this mean that we must be “buried with Him by baptism into death” in order to “walk in the newness of life?” Or does it mean that baptism is symbolic of our repentance in which we die to our old ways and “walk in the newness of life” in Christ?

1 Corinthians 1:12-15, 17, “What I mean is each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name…For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
Context: Paul expresses concern over Christians dividing over which early church leader they favored.
Analysis: In the early Middle Ages, church leaders debated over whether the credibility of a sacrament, such as baptism or marriage, was dependent upon the person who performed it. For example, if a priest was caught in adultery, did that nullify all of the baptisms he had performed?
Few of us today would answer, “Yes.” to that question. And this Bible quote, to some extent, supports our view. Paul indicates that it doesn’t matter who performs the baptism, because everyone is baptized into the name of Christ and nobody else.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
Context: Paul warns Christians to avoid the sinful ways of the Israelites who rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf.
Analysis: Since baptism didn’t exist in the Old Testament, the Israelites were not literally baptized into Moses. This terminology must be symbolic of their covenant with God through Moses, which looked forward to the covenant that God’s people would one day have with God through Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:29, “Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”
Context: Paul refutes those in and around the church who claim there’s no resurrection of the dead.
Analysis: The practice of being baptized for those already dead is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible and is inconsistent with modern-day salvation theology. It suggests that we can accept Christ and be baptized in the name of those who never had the opportunity to accept Him. Let’s not forget, however, that these dead folks never had an opportunity to hear of Christ, so their situation differs from ours today. Most people who pass away in our culture had a chance to choose Jesus when they were alive.
Some say that these people received baptism for those who believed but died before they could be baptized. This is unlikely, however, since all biblical baptisms appear to take place the day of conversion.
It’s worth asking why people would bother to be baptized on behalf of those who passed. Since Paul explains that doing so would be pointless if there were no such thing as resurrection, we must conclude that they were baptized so that the dead could be resurrected, and that these deceased people could not have been resurrected without these acts of baptism. Therefore, these verses lend further support to the Baptist view that baptism is necessary for salvation.
To delve into this issue further would lead us into salvation theology more than it would baptism theology, so I’ll stop here.

Ephesians 2:12-13, “In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision on Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Context: Paul goes on to warn of giving into man-made religious rules that burden the believer but miss the point of Christianity altogether.
Analysis: This passage is the foundation for the idea that baptism replaces circumcision as a symbol of our covenant with God. Our circumcision is no longer a physical one, but a spiritual one, that is now symbolized by the physical act of baptism. Through this baptism, we die to our old selves and are resurrected by God as new creatures in Christ. This is not a resurrection that occurs after the death of our earthly bodies; rather, it is a spiritual resurrection during this life, in which we are reunited with God in a new relationship, reversing the separation between God and man that resulted from Adam’s fall. After our earthly lives end, then God will literally resurrect our bodies, just like He resurrected Jesus.

1 Corinthians 18:18-21, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
Context: Peter encourages Christians to be willing to suffer for having done good rather than for having done bad.
Analysis: The words, “And baptism…now saves you,” gives us our fifth verse that indicates baptism is required for salvation. The other four verses were found in Mark 16, Acts 22, Romans 6, and 1 Corinthians 15. That’s more support for Baptist theology than I expected. Conducting this study has made me more of a Baptist that I was before. The Bible proves that baptism is a must for every Christian.
However, I’m still uncertain about whether to baptize children as a symbol of the covenant, and whether these children should be baptized of their own accord as adults. Since the Bible leaves us hanging on this issue, it mustn’t be important that we understand it perfectly.
My personal recommendation is to do both. I’ve noticed, just from people I’ve known in my life, that those baptized as children tend to stray less from God than those who aren’t, even if those who aren’t are children of devout Christians. Some might argue that we shouldn’t have two baptisms in a lifetime, but I’ve yet to see what harm it does. I’ve known numerous people, including myself, who did both, and we seem to have turned out just fine. There’s no biblical indication that the second baptism reverses the first.
As we conclude this study, you may find yourself disappointed. Most Every-Verse method studies give us clear answers. But this one gave us few of those. That’s why there’s so much confusion and disagreement over baptism today. Nonetheless, you now have a better understanding of what the whole Bible says about baptism, and that’s never a bad thing.

Birth Control (Bible Study)

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
(All Bible quotes from the New Revised Standard Version)
(Copyright © 2009 by K. Scott Schaeffer)

This debate is much more heated among Roman Catholics than it is Protestants. However, it affects so many lives that it’s worth examining.
While most Protestants seek to establish their beliefs based only on what the Bible says (although we don’t always succeed in doing that), Roman Catholics seek to establish their beliefs by a combination of the Bible, church traditions, and the authority of church leadership, which they believe expresses the voice of God.
The Roman Catholic stance is that Birth Control is a sin. What leads them to this conviction? One might expect Catholics to claim that church leadership has received special revelation from God that birth control is forbidden. Such a claim would be difficult to disprove. How can any of us know what God tells the pope in private? Surprisingly, however, the arguments we hear from Roman Catholic leadership usually cite the Bible. And it all boils down to two Bible quotes. Here they are:

Genesis 38:8-10, “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go into your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, so He took his life also.”
Context: Onan’s brother Er had just died. In ancient Israel, when a man died childless, his brother could impregnate his widow and the offspring would count as the child of the deceased man, not as the child of the brother who was the biological father. The purpose of this was so there would be someone to carry on the family name and inherit the land. Also, having an heir would then allow the widow to remain on family lands. Without an heir, she was left homeless, or, if she was lucky and her father was living and willing to receive her, she could go back to her father.
Land in Israel was divided among a man’s male children, and then further divided among the next generation, and so on. As for daughters, they married into a family and lived on the lands of their husbands. Fathers were eager to give away their daughters in marriage, because in a male-dominated world where women struggled to survive on their own, fathers had to provide for their daughters throughout adulthood, which was a considerable expense.
Analysis: This story is frequently quoted as the biblical prohibition of birth control, because God strikes Onan dead after he pulled out and “wasted his seed on the ground” in order to prevent pregnancy.
But is the technicality of practicing birth control the real reason God was displeased? Or were there other sins of Onan’s that, unlike birth control, actually violated God’s laws expressed throughout the Bible?
Let’s count Onan’s sins:
First, Onan disobeyed his father’s command—a command that was intended to be for the good of the family. So he angered God by failing to honor his father.
Second, Onan pulled out because he was envious that the child would not be his. Numerous verses throughout the Bible condemn envy.
Third, Onan hated his brother. We see throughout the Old Testament that having descendants was of utmost importance to the Israelites. Had Onan loved his brother, he would have wanted to provide a descendant for him. But Onan failed to love his brother as himself and thus angered God.
Fourth, Onan took sexual advantage of his brother’s widow. He used her for sexual pleasure without her permission. She was willing to have sex with him for the sake of having offspring, not for pleasure’s sake.
Fifth, Onan lied! He had agreed to obey his father’s command. He, his father, and his deceased brother’s widow were all of the same understanding that he would attempt to provide offspring for his deceased brother. In the end, however, Onan broke his vow. He lied. And the Bible opposes lying and deception on over thirty counts.
Sixth, Onan demonstrated disregard for the well-being of his brother’s widow. Imagine what she went through. She was willing to have sex with Onan so that she might have a child. This child would be the descendant that she and her deceased husband, whom she loved and missed, had always dreamed of. Also, by having this child, she would get to remain in her home and enjoy the land upon which she and her deceased husband had been living. Not only may the land have held sentimental value for her, but being unable to stay could have meant homelessness for her (although she was able to return to her father, according to the Bible).
So as Onan came into her, she felt great hope that her and her deceased husband’s dreams were about to come true. Imagine the horror and the hurt when she learned that Onan had only come to take sexual advantage of her, that her dreams were forever crushed, and that her worst fears had become reality.
When we examine these great sins of Onan, it’s no wonder that God struck him down. What is a wonder, however, is that so many people, including the Roman Catholic Church, overlook these sins and conclude that God killed Onan for the technicality of practicing birth control. Had this story been of God punishing a man and his wife for practicing birth control because they couldn’t afford anymore kids, the Roman Catholic view would make sense. But the Bible contains no such story.

Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the ground.’”
Context: God creates the human race and tells the humans to reproduce.
Analysis: Like any species that’s small in number, its best chance for survival is to grow in size. If only a few beings of a given species exist, it won’t take much to wipe them out. But if a species numbers in the thousands or millions, extinction becomes an improbability. God wanted the human race to succeed and populate the whole earth and have dominion over wildlife. God got His wish. We’ve succeeded in doing His will as expressed in this verse.
However, now that we’ve succeeded in filling the earth, we’ve gotten so good at it that we now face a whole new set of challenges. I revealed in the creationism study that the human race has nearly quadrupled in size over the last century. That means that we’ll have 100 billion people on earth by the year 2200 if we continue at our current pace. These humans will occupy 20 times more land than they do now, leaving far less room to grow food. Yet the need for food will be 20 times greater than it is today.
Over the coming centuries, billions will starve, while wars and disease run rampant as a result of the food shortage. This was not God’s intent when He instructed humans to multiply. He intended good, not harm. His mandate worked for the good of the human race for thousands of years, but now the situation is drastically different. Is God so inflexible that he won’t make a change for our benefit? Is He more concerned with us upholding His original command than He is with the well-being of the human race?
If that were the nature of God, then He would never have altered the Old Testament covenant expressed in the Mosaic Law by giving the world a Savior through whom our sins may be forgiven. He would have just stuck with the original plan, never changing for the good of His people. But God proved to be flexible, because He cares about people.
Birth control is the one solution that can save billions of humans from a dreadful future. God is flexible and caring enough to allow this invention to change the direction of population growth. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church leadership is not.
Is their ruling consistent with God’s desire to reduce suffering in the world and His love for the human race?
It is not.
Rather, it is the epitome of religious oppression: a non-biblical, man-made religious rule that adds to human misery, rather than decreasing it as God’s laws are designed to do.

Erroneous Arguments Opposing Birth Control

The Bible never says that birth control is a sin, because the Israelites already knew it was wrong, totally avoided it, and, therefore, didn’t need to be told about it:
Leviticus 18:23 says, “Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled by it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.”
Are we to believe that the Israelites instinctively knew that birth control was unnatural and a sin, but had no idea that sex with animals was unnatural and a sin? If God had to tell people not to have sex with animals, then it’s safe to conclude that God mentioned all sins in the biblical law. If there was any chance at all that people might commit a given sin, God addressed it.

The death penalty was not the biblically prescribed penalty for a brother refusing to impregnate his deceased brother’s wife; therefore, God must have killed Onan because he practiced birth control.
Indeed, the Bible did not require the death penalty for refusing to impregnate your deceased brother’s wife. Let’s think about why this might be. Perhaps it’s because a man might have no sexual attraction to his brother’s wife and would then be unable to perform? In fact, if he has the death penalty hanging over his head, that would really make it difficult to perform—talk about pressure! Putting a man to death because he’s unable to become sexually aroused by a given woman is inconsistent with the love of God.
But that does not describe Onan’s situation. He was very much attracted to his deceased brother’s wife, so he had no excuse for refusing to provide offspring, especially once he started having sex with her. The fact that Onan had sex with her changed everything. At that point, this situation became nothing like that of a man who had no sexual attraction to his deceased brother’s wife.

The fact that the Bible uses the words, “wasted his seed,” to describe Onan’s sin means that it’s a sin to let sperm go to waste.
If that’s the case, then all men are guilty, because the body makes sperm on a daily basis. That sperm is then replaced with new sperm every few days. So the sperm situation is one of use-it-or-lose-it. Abstinence wastes sperm too, and even sexually active married men fail to use all of the sperm their bodies make.
However, the ancient Israelites were unaware of these realities of human anatomy. They probably assumed that the body contained a limited amount of sperm that could not be replaced once leaving the body. To them, sperm that fell outside the female body was wasted; therefore, their language reflected that belief.

Birth control interferes with God’s plan, because humans he intended to use for His purposes will never be born.
This argument underestimates the power of God. We see throughout the Bible that all of God’s plans come true. Never does it mention even one instance in which a person’s action, even if it was murder, interfered with God’s plan. While none of us knows exactly how He does it, God is able to work our deeds together with His plans.
If our actions got in the way, all of God’s plans would fail. Even if we didn’t use birth control, our choices of who to marry or when to have sex would interfere with God’s plans for a person yet to be born. God knows what we’re going to do, including our use of birth control, and our actions are already a part of His plan.

Sex is for procreation only
This argument has grown in popularity in recent years due to opposition to homosexuality. The idea is that any sexual activity that fails to result in a chance of pregnancy is a sin, whether it be birth control, masturbation, homosexuality, or sex with animals.
This is a nice and tidy theology. It can even be beautiful in that it promotes the belief that life is such a wonderful thing that God wants every sperm cell to be used to create it.
The problem with this theology (aside from arguments I’ve already made) is that the Bible never states it. Also, the Bible never states that it’s a sin for a man to have sex with his wife when she’s pregnant—a time when she’s unable to conceive. Nor does the Roman Catholic church say (to the best of my knowledge) that it’s a sin to have sex with a woman who has had a hysterectomy and, therefore, can no longer produce children. If sex were only for procreation, it would be a sin in these scenarios, too.
The Bible is a big book with lots of rules. If birth control, masturbation, and sex with pregnant women were sins, the Bible would say so. But since the Bible doesn’t, the Roman Catholic belief that sex is only for procreation falls apart due to lack of biblical support.

Fasting (Bible Study)

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]

(All Bible quotes from the NRSV, unless otherwise noted)
(Copyright © 2009 by K. Scott Schaeffer)


Fasting isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Buddhists, Muslims, Native Americans and people of many other faiths engage in fasting and have done so throughout history. Due to its prevalence worldwide, it’s easy for Christian fasting to resemble the fasting of other religions, both in the way we do it and in our attitudes toward it.
The following study, which examines every fasting passage in the Bible, will surprise most readers. Church teachings about fasting (which, of course, differ from church to church) rarely align with God’s attitudes toward fasting as revealed throughout the Bible. Most churches build their fasting theology around just a few passages while ignoring what the entire Bible has to say about it.
What makes this study so important is that our understanding of God’s attitude toward fasting is key to our understanding of His attitude toward us. If we misunderstand what fasting is all about, we understand what Christianity is all about.

Exodus 34:28, “He [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”
Context: God had Moses write the law on tablets.
Deuteronomy 9:18, “Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight.” (The NRSV does not capitalize personal pronouns referring to God or Jesus; therefore, I avoid capitalizing them when quoting the NRSV.)
Context: Moses speaks at length to the Israelites throughout early Deuteronomy. Here, he describes how he pleaded for God to not destroy the Israelites.
Analysis: This is unlike any fasting we do today. The only way to survive a fast of both food and water for 40 days is by being sustained by God. Therefore, it’s difficult to let these passages to influence our behavior.

Judges 20:26, “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord.”
Context: The Israelites lose 18,000 men in a battle to the Benjaminites.
Analysis: At an unknown point in history, fasting worked its way into Israelite culture. Since God had never commanded it up to this point in time, the Israelites must have adopted it from neighboring civilizations. Some will say that God commanded fasting on the Day of Atonement, but the instructions for that occasion in Leviticus 16 mention no such thing. The Israelites may have chosen to incorporate it into the Day of Atonement, but God never required them to.
In this example, the Israelites fasted out of mourning after suffering heavy loss of life in a battle. Mourning for the dead often included fasting in the ancient Near East. We no longer practice this bereavement ritual today. So we must be careful not to equate this fasting with religious fasting.

1 Samuel 7:6, “So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.”
Context: Samuel had told the Israelites to destroy their idols from foreign religions and they obeyed. They followed the act with this fast.
Analysis: Here we see the first Old Testament example of fasting as a form of penance. It appears to have been done as a demonstration of remorse or as a means of staving off God’s judgment.
We must ask ourselves, however, whether we need to fast to repent since Jesus’ sacrifice stave’s of God’s judgment for us. We know that we no longer need to make sacrifices to receive God’s forgiveness, so makes no sense to fast to receive His forgiveness. Some might argue that we should fast as a sign that we’re sorry, but one would have to think that the New Testament would mention such a requirement since it contains lots of passages explaining repentance and forgiveness.

1 Samuel 31:13, “Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
Context: These bones were those of King Saul, who had just been killed by the Philistines.
Analysis: The Israelites fasted not only when mourning the death of loved ones, but also when mourning the death of kings. Again, this is not a religious fast.

2 Samuel 12:22-23, “He [King David] said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’”
Context: Through the prophet Nathan, God informed King David that the child born of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. This was God’s discipline, not only for David’s adultery, but also for his murder of Bathsheba’s husband. As the child was sick and dying, David fasted in an attempt to change God’s mind.
Analysis: David gives us the first biblical explanation for fasting: to persuade God. Did it work? No. God administered His discipline of David according to plan, despite David’s attempts to change His mind.
David’s fasting resulted from his own thinking, not from the command of God. Some Christians say that we must follow David’s example and fast, because he was a hero of the Old Testament. But no Bible verses tell us to do that. They only tell us to obey God’s commands.
Nonetheless, from this passage we learn yet another inappropriate reason for fasting—attempting to persuade God to change His mind.

Ezra 8:21, 23, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions… So we fasted and petitioned our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.”
Context: The prophet Ezra prepares to lead people from Babylon back to Judah, once the Babylonian exile had come to an end.
Analysis: Ezra combines fasting with prayer to ask God for guidance and protection on a journey. Apparently, the Israelites had developed a belief that fasting made prayer more effective. In this case, the prayer was effective, but we have no way of determining whether or not the fasting was a factor in God’s decision to protect them.

Ezra 10:6, “Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God, and went to the chamber of Jehohanan son of Eliashib, where he spent the night. He did not eat bread or drink water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.”
Context: God had repeatedly instructed the Jews not to marry people from other nations and religions, but many of them had disobeyed. Ezra was greatly upset by this.
Analysis: This verse informs us that mourning was the reason for this fast. It was not done as a religious ritual. Notice also that this fast, along with some other biblical fasts, includes abstinence from water, something that few Christians incorporate into their fasts today.

Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Context: Nehemiah heard of Jerusalem’s destruction in the preceding verses.
Analysis: Once again, fasting is added to prayer as a means of increasing its effectiveness. Mourning may be a reason for the fast as well, since Nehemiah is greatly distressed by the news of his homeland’s destruction.

Nehemiah 9:1, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth and with earth on their heads.”
Context: The Israelites spent a day listening to the reading of the Book of the Law, worshipping and confessing their sins before God.
Analysis: Some Christians insist that we fast because the ancient Israelites practiced it. But unlike the fasting practiced by today’s Christians, Old Testament fasting included the wearing of sackcloth and ashes (or in this case, dirt). If we fast because we believe that we are to behave as the ancient Israelites did, then we also should wear sackcloth and ashes like they did.
The purpose of the Israelites wearing of sackcloth and dirt was to inflict humiliation upon themselves. It, along with fasting, was an act of self-imposed suffering intended to appease God. Such self-imposed suffering through fasting and other acts has been common in many other religions as well.

Isaiah 58:3, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah. The questions asked here represent the complaints of the people. The final sentence is God’s response.
Analysis: In Isaiah 58, God speaks on the issue of fasting for the first time. He does not command it, as many Christians might expect. Rather, He questions it and downplays its importance. He implies in verse 3 that the Jews’ priorities are out of line. Their fasting fails to gain His favor, because they continue in selfishness and oppression of the poor as they fast.

Isaiah 58:5, “Is this a fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
Analysis: A paraphrase of this verse: “Did I tell you to fast and look pathetic? Why should I be pleased by your self-imposed suffering?” Just as God grew weary of His people’s animal sacrifices (even though He had commanded them in the Mosaic Law) as they continued in sin, He was unimpressed with their man-made sacrifice of humiliation and self-imposed suffering through fasting.

Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Analysis: God is far more impressed when we love others than when we deny ourselves food. In the study on Greed and Oppression of the Poor, I reveal how far we fall short of satisfying God’s commands to feed the hungry and stop oppressing the poor. Since we fail in this way, should we even bother to fast? If God desires us to fast at all, He desires it far less than He desires that we obey His commandments and help those in need. The fasting that we Christians do today is likely nullified by our selfishness and disregard for the poor.

Joel 1:14, “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
Context: Joel prophecies impending judgment upon God’s people.
Analysis: Like Ezra and Nehemiah, Joel orders a fast. Some might say that these fasts were from God since prophets ordered them. But we must remember that prophets spoke of their own accord, too. Not every word they said was from God. Had the order to fast been preceded by the common Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” then we’d have to conclude that they were God’s orders.

Joel 2:12, 15, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning… Blow a trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
Analysis: Here we have God’s only instruction to fast in the Bible. This particular fast (as well as the one in Joel 1:14) was part of a “solemn assembly” in which the Jews gathered to mourn and fast over the suffering that was prophesied to come upon them. Therefore, this fast was an act of mourning rather than an element of worship. The purpose of most fasting in Protestant churches today is not as an act of mourning, and is, therefore, inconsistent with the purposes of Old Testament fasting.
Notice also that this fast appears to be an isolated event rather than a regular practice. God never instructs anyone to fast as a part of their religious routine.

Jonah 3:7-10, “Then he had proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no heard or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’ When God saw what they did, and how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
Context: After surviving in the digestive system of a great fish, Jonah obeyed God and preached repentance to the enemy city of Nineveh, and its inhabitants repented of their sins.
Analysis: These verses give us the reason for this fast in the words, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” In this story, God changes His mind, but He probably does so because the people of Nineveh turned away from their evil ways (as the verse says), not because they and their animals fasted.
Some Christians today argue that we should fast as a sign that we are sorry for our sin, much like the Ninevites do here. If it weren’t for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross, they might have a point. The Old Testament covenant, which was given by God, required that animals be sacrificed in order for sins to be forgiven. Fasting was a sacrifice of a different sort that originated from human minds instead of from God’s commands. Once Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, however, God’s people no longer had to make animal sacrifices (which never fully atoned for human sin anyway, because animals were not created in God’s image and, therefore, were not of the same value in God’s eyes). Whether God’s people sacrificed animals or their freedom to eat (fasting), these sacrifices have become worthless before God, because Jesus’ sacrifice covers all of our sins, since He, as the Son of God, is of greater value than any human.

Zechariah 7:5-6, “Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?”
Context: The Jews, after returning from exile in Babylon, inquired of God whether or not they were to fast as they had in Babylon. Through Zechariah, God replied that they were to no longer fast as they had, but were to conduct themselves properly instead.
Analysis: God indicates that our fasting is for our own benefit and does Him no good, just as our eating and drinking does Him no good.
I’ve known Christians to say that fasting makes them feel closer to God—that every time they experience hunger, they think of Him. If you are one of these Christians, I say this: Fast all you like! It’s not a sin to do so. If it works for you, that’s great! Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that God gets something out of it. He’s far more impressed with you when you follow His commandments and reach out to others in Christ’s love than He is when you fast.
I’ve heard others say that fasting removes toxins from the body and is good for one’s health. If that’s the case, then go ahead and fast! Nothing in the Bible says fasting is a sin. We’re all free to do it if we please. If you love to fast, do so. If you hate to fast, then why burden yourself? You benefit neither yourself nor God with self-imposed suffering.

Zechariah 8:18-19, “The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.”
Context: God promises blessing on the Jews upon their return from exile in Babylon.
Analysis: Here we have the loving nature of God revealed! God replaces the fasts with festivals that likely included feasting. He wants us to enjoy life, not to suffer unnecessarily by denying ourselves food. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a pastor or Bible study teacher quote either this passage or Isaiah 58 when addressing fasting. We only ever hear one side of the argument when it comes to whether or not to fast.

Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”
Luke 4:1-3, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. The devil said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’”
Context: Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist at the end of chapter 3. Before Jesus could begin His ministry, He had to withstand this great temptation.
Analysis: Many Christians make the mistake of believing that Jesus fasts in this story as a means of gaining strength from God so that He may endure the temptation to come. This belief is in error, because Jesus is the Son of God and has total access to God’s strength without having to fast to obtain it.
The purpose of this fast was to increase the temptation. Had Jesus just eaten before the temptation, He might have responded to Satan by saying, “No thanks. I’m full. I can’t even look at a loaf of bread right now.” But, as the Scriptures say, Jesus “was famished.” His hunger made the temptation much more meaningful than if He had been satisfied.
In most situations, we should try to follow Jesus’ example, but this fast is a rare exception to that rule. Jesus, knowing that He would pass the test of temptation, increased the amount of temptation He faced in order to prove that He was the Son of God. We should never try to increase our own temptation for the obvious reason that we may fail and sin as a result, so we should never emulate Jesus’ 40-day fast.

Matthew 6:16-18, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you that they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Context: This quote is of Jesus as He gives the Sermon on the Mount. It is the third of three examples that Jesus uses to show that we should not flaunt our piety in order to impress others.
Analysis: This is it—the one Bible verse upon which all fasting promotion is based. Those who insist that we fast say, “Jesus says, ‘When you fast,’ not, ‘If you fast.’”
As I stated in the Every-Verse Method Introduction, we must be careful not to build theologies out of isolated verses, because we may have an improper translation, an unoriginal quote, an inexact quote, or a misunderstanding of context. Here, we can’t prove whether or not we have an improper translation or unoriginal quote, but the possibility for either always exists.
We do know that the Gospels use inexact quotes which vary in wording from Gospel to Gospel, but keep the point of the message intact. This quote from Matthew 6 is absent in the other Gospels, so we cannot compare wording. However, the point of the message, which Jesus conveys with two other examples in this chapter, is that we are not to flaunt our devotion to God so that others may be impressed by it. The focus of this message is pride, not fasting.
As for the context, it’s likely that the recipients of this message, Jesus’ disciples, grew up under the influence of the Pharisees. Since they fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), and they loved to display their devotion to God in front of others, it’s likely that Jesus speaks of them in this quote. He uses the words, “Whenever you fast,” because He’s addressing people who had fasted regularly.
If those who use this verse to insist that we fast are to be consistent in hanging on every word of every quote, then they must refrain from public prayer, because Jesus says in verse 6 of this very same chapter, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Unlike the words, “Whenever you fast,” this verse is a command, because Jesus instructs the people to pray in secret. Yet I know of few Christians who refuse to pray in church services or Bible studies out of obedience to this verse. If they were to do so, they would not defy the Bible, because it neither commands us to pray in groups nor does it give examples of Jesus and His disciples joining together in group prayer.
Most Christians will argue that Jesus uses this private prayer command to discourage showing off our faith, and that He doesn’t intend to forbid group prayer by it. Since nothing else in the Bible forbids group prayer, I’m fine with that argument. In fact, it’s the same argument that I apply to the issue of fasting: Jesus uses the example of fasting to discourage showing off; He is not requiring us to fast.

Matthew 9:14-15, “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
Mark 2:18-20, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples fast and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”
Luke 5:33-35, “Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’”
Context: In all three Gospels, this story appears to be unrelated to those surrounding it.
Analysis: Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the claim that His disciples don’t fast. Therefore, we may conclude that they did not fast during His ministry. For many years, I assumed that they fasted regularly after His crucifixion, because Jesus says in these quotes that they will fast when He is gone. But, according to Matthew 9:15 (see above), the fasting of which He speaks is one of mourning like when a bridegroom is taken away. The disciples likely fasted as they mourned His crucifixion, but that fasting came to an abrupt end when they met Him in His resurrected state.
The Bible never records any of Jesus’ twelve disciples fasting. Neither do they recommend, nor even discuss, fasting in Acts or in any of their Epistles.

Acts 13:2-3, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them off.”
Context: Paul, who is called Saul for the last time in this verse, is sent by the Holy Spirit on his first missionary journey, and he takes Barnabas with him.
Acts 14:23, “And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”
Context: After successful preaching in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas return to these cities to establish church leadership in each.
Analysis: Having been a former Pharisee, fasting was a way of life for Paul, so he continued to fast after becoming a Christian. Unlike most early Christians who were converted by Jesus’ disciples and their followers, Paul was converted to Christianity through a miraculous vision (Acts 9) and was taught the gospel by revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12). We cannot assume that He was taught all spiritual knowledge, but that He was taught the gospel. So he may not have realized that fasting was unnecessary, or he may have realized it but continued to do it because he enjoyed it.
Once Paul meets Jesus’ disciples at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the Bible never again records Paul or any other Christians fasting. He may have learned from the disciples that Jesus never required it. At that point he either stopped fasting or, at least, stopped instructing others to fast. In fact, the last 22 books of the Bible, many of which were written by him, make no mention of fasting.

Why Fast?
So what have all of the Bible’s fasting verses taught us?
First, we learned that much of the fasting was not for religious purposes, but was for bereavement or mourning purposes.
Second, we learn that Old Testament fasting was not a regular religious ritual. Fasts only occurred under special circumstances. It wasn’t until the centuries approaching Jesus’ day that the Pharisees made it part of the weekly grind.
Third, we learned that fasting fails to influence God. It can’t change His mind, stave off His judgment, earn His forgiveness, impress Him, or benefit Him.
Fourth, we learned that fasting can be abused, defying God’s will. We should never use it to impose suffering on ourselves, increase temptation, manipulate God, or show off how righteous we are.
So if all of these reasons for fasting are inappropriate, what’s a good reason to fast?
Some will argue that fasting is necessary for development of spiritual discipline. In other words, if we can avoid eating when hungry, we will then be able to avoid sinning when tempted. Paul opposes this idea in Colossians 2:20-23, when he says, “Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with the use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence [‘no value against fleshly indulgence’ in the NASB].”
We cannot prove that Paul speaks of fasting here, but it’s hard to believe that he would use a phrase like “severe treatment of the body” to describe abstinence from pork or some other food that could easily be replaced with a different food. Paul makes it clear that rules and practices involving denial of food are ineffective in preventing sinful behavior, are man-made, and result only in unnecessary suffering. Fasting didn’t keep the Pharisees from sinning (see the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in Luke 18:9-14); neither will it keep us from it.
The reason fasting is ineffective in preventing sin is that the psychologies behind fasting and sinning differ. When we fast, we give up something good temporarily. With regard to sin, we are to give up something evil permanently. If you’re fasting, and good food tempts you to break the fast, you can resist the temptation by telling yourself that you may have that food many times over when the fast ends. But when presented with an opportunity to sin, you cannot tell yourself that you may indulge in that sin later, because we’re called to put it off forever.
In fact, some sinful temptations are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For example, if a man is tempted by an amazingly attractive woman, he may reason to himself that he may never have another opportunity like this one if he refuses her advances. Or a man might be tempted to steal money from his corporation or church in a manner that’s unlikely to be detected by anyone else. Heightening this man’s temptation is the knowledge that he’s unlikely to ever have such an opportunity to easily obtain riches again. This temptation is far greater than that of eating while fasting, since we know that we will eat regularly when the fast is over.
Others argue that we should fast, because when we do, we deny ourselves and carry our own crosses as Jesus required of us. I agree that we are to deny ourselves and take up our own crosses. But we must do it like Jesus did. Did Jesus say, “Hey everybody, can you come nail me to this cross? I need to inflict suffering upon myself, because that makes God happy.” No, Jesus simply focused on fulfilling God’s purpose for Him. His ministry sometimes forced Him to have no place to lay His head, and ultimately, He was killed for doing what was right. Likewise, we Christians often have to make sacrifices, giving up money, popularity, etc., in order to carry out God’s will. But we need not give up anything or inflict suffering upon ourselves pointlessly, because Jesus never took up His cross in this manner during His ministry.
Yet another argument in favor of fasting is that we hear God’s voice better when doing so. Most religions throughout history have shared this belief. But the Bible never states that we hear God’s voice better when fasting. The idea that fasting helps you hear God’s voice comes from people who fasted so long (sometimes without water) that they starved their brain and hallucinated and then “saw God” in their hallucination. It’s not much different than taking LSD in order to see God.
Again, why fast? Based on what the Bible teaches us, it’s hard to come up with a good religious reason to do so. The best one I’ve heard is, “Fasting makes me feel closer to God.” If that’s how you feel, by all means, go ahead and fast all you want. You may even encourage others to give it a try. But don’t guilt people into fasting by making them think it’s required by God, because such an argument is a lie, and it may do more harm than good by placing too heavy of a burden on those who find no value in fasting.

God’s Will for Your Life (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
(All verses taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted)
(Copyright © 2009 by K. Scott Schaeffer)

“How do I know God’s will for my life?”

For teenage and college-aged Christians, no question arises more frequently. As young people look toward their futures, they want direction. And young Christians have the right idea by looking to God for that direction.
This question gets asked more often than it should, however, because few people can provide a sufficient answer to it. Therefore, young Christians keep asking it. The most common answers anyone gives are, “Pray to God and listen quietly for His answer. If you’re not hearing God’s voice, you’re not listening hard enough,” or, “God isn’t listening to you because you have sin in your life. You have to eliminate all of your sin in order to hear His voice.” These answers have many Christians going out of their minds, because they try their best to follow this advice, yet they remain confused about God’s will for their lives.
Adding to the frequency of this question’s utterance is the fact that its asking is often commanded. Many pastors and youth leaders tell their followers, “You must find out God’s will for your life!” They follow with the warning, “If you don’t, you’ll miss out on the wonderful journey God has for you.”
Nobody wants to miss out on something wonderful, so the curiosity about God’s will becomes an urgent crisis—a need to know His will before it’s too late. An inability to figure out God’s plan could lead to a disastrous life followed by an encounter with an angry Maker on Judgment Day. Wow! Talk about pressure!
How do many young Christians respond to this pressure? By grasping at straws. They pray for God to reveal His will for their lives, and, within a short time, they have an answer. Unfortunately, the answer rarely becomes reality. In fact, many believers find themselves pursuing a different path in a matter of only a few months.
Back in my college days, I knew a couple Christian men who had a tremendous heart for God and desperately sought His will. What did they find? A call to become missionaries to China. One of them told me all about this calling with great enthusiasm. Six months later, I spoke to that same man again.

I asked him, “When are you going to China?’
He said, “What?”
I said, “Weren’t you and your friend called to become missionaries to China?”
He replied, “Oh, that. That’s ancient history. God wasn’t really calling us. In fact, my friend and I don’t even talk to each other anymore. It’s funny you remembered that. I had forgotten all about it.”
My friend wasn’t the only person I knew who was misguided about God’s will for his life. Another person, who I often refer to as “me,” made a similar mistake. When I first arrived at Belmont University as a Music Business major in the fall of 1990, a former president of Belmont’s Baptist Student Union insisted that we young Christians figure out God’s will for our lives ASAP.
Of course, I focused on this task immediately. After a couple days of prayer and deep thought, I concluded that God wanted me to be a successful performer in the music business who then spread the gospel through my fame. This was quite a coincidence, since I already desired to be a rock star. God’s will and my will matched!

So have you heard my songs on the radio yet?
Do you know why?
Because I never came anywhere close to becoming a rock star!

I fell for the common lie that circulates among young Christians that if you pray over God’s will, and you have a desire to do something, that it must be God’s desire for you to do that very thing, because God gives you your desires for a reason. However, we are about to find that the Bible never says this.
The moral of these stories is that we’re often mislead about God’s will for our lives, because we go about seeking it the wrong way and sometimes have the wrong motives when doing so. The only way we can find it is to seek it the proper manner.
How do we do that? A good start would be to examine everything the Bible says about God’s will.

Genesis: 12:1, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.’” [All verses from the NASB unless otherwise noted].
Context: The 11 chapters preceding these provide a quick overview of many generations; but here, the Bible slows down and gives us a detailed look at God’s relationship with Abraham, because it is through Abraham that God initiates the process of building Himself a nation.
Analysis: This story of Abraham makes no mention of the term, God’s will. But it paints the kind of picture that comes to many Christians’ minds when we think of what it means to know God’s will.
Many of us long for an experience just like this one, where God speaks to us in an audible voice and gives us a task for the present, as well as a direction for our personal future. When we try to obey biblical commands that tell us to know and obey God’s will, this is what we aim for. We want Him to tell us in plain words what He wants us to do, and why He wants us to do it.
Unfortunately, occurrences like these are incredibly rare. Therefore, many of us become frustrated in seeking God’s will. Out of our impatience, we often try to force it. We do so by praying to God to tell us His will, and then we assume that the desires we have thereafter must be from Him. The sad reality is that these desires are often nothing more than our own desires; they’re not God’s desires at all.
Why do we want God to work through us in this manner? Sometimes we desire a command like Abraham’s out of our pride, because we want to feel as though we are more important than others. We know that God instructs few people in this manner, and that we will feel special if God addresses us like He addressed some of the Bible’s greatest heroes.
Sometimes we desire instructions like this one, because they are easy to follow and have guaranteed positive results. We hate to be confused over what to do next, and we hate the vague uncertainty of the future. We want God to tell us what decision to make and to assure us a future as great as we had ever hoped for.

Genesis 25:22-23, “The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, then why am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your body; the one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’”
Context: Isaac’s wife Rebekah prepares to give birth to Jacob & Esau.
Analysis: Again, most of us dream of having God reveal a plan this spectacular to us with spoken words. Imagine God telling you that He plans to make a nation out of both your children. During their childhood years, you wouldn’t even have to worry about them running onto the road or sticking a fork in an outlet, because God’s plan would see them through to child-bearing years safely. It would take all of the worry out of being a parent.
Of course, imagine the pride that many of us would have, too, because God chose us out of all people for this special assignment. Unfortunately, pride is sin according to numerous Bible verses.
On the other hand, imagine the love we would feel from God because He chose us for this task. Feeling God’s love isn’t sin. But we shouldn’t have to have a miraculous personal plan revealed to us in order to feel it. The fact that God chose us at the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) to be His children and have eternal life should be enough for us to feel His love. Also, we should not feel His love any less because His plan for us may not be as grand or romantic in our opinion as the plans revealed to the heroes of the Bible.
Unlike Abraham, Rebekah voiced a concern to God, and He eased her mind by telling her what was going on. How many times do we wish that God would ease our concerns by telling us what He plans to do? Many of us pray for God’s direction, not because we want to do what He wants, but because we want to eliminate any concerns we might have about an uncertain future.

Exodus: 18:15-16, “And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God (“seek God’s will” in the NIV). When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and His neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws.’”
Context: Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, expresses concern over Moses’ heavy work schedule. The Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law have not yet been given at this point (that happens in chapter 20), so the people have to inquire of God through Moses as to how to behave. Moses reveals the will of God by making “known the statutes of God and His Laws.”
Analysis: This is the Bible’s first example of someone seeking God’s will. Abraham did not seek God; God approached him. And Rebekah simply asked what was going on; she did not ask for direction.
There’s one big difference between the Israelites’ pursuit of God’s will and our pursuit of it: Here, the Israelites had not yet received God’s law. That’s why Moses was so overwhelmed with requests. We, on the other hand, have God’s law revealed to us in the Bible.
Unfortunately, many of us fail to examine these biblical laws when seeking God’s will. Instead, we pray for God’s guidance and then rely on gut feeling for the answer. Or we ask our pastor for guidance—a solution better than relying on gut feeling, but still less reliable than knowing the Bible.
Sometimes, it’s as if the Bible is the last place we want to look to find God’s will. This is especially true for charismatic Christians who indulge in the emotional spirituality of the faith, but avoid examining the Bible with the mind. In fact, some of these churches tell their members that it’s a sin to study the Bible with their minds, and that they may only study it through the Holy Spirit. Of course, guess who has the Holy Spirit? The church leadership. This theology is nothing more than a tactic to keep congregations from questioning the church’s non-biblical and anti-biblical rules, beliefs, and practices.

Joshua 9:14, “So the men of Israel [‘leaders’ in the NRSV] took some of their provisions, and did not ask the counsel of the Lord.”
Context: The Gibeonites, having seen the military might of the young nation of Israel, tricked Israel’s leaders into making a treaty of peace with them, so they wouldn’t be destroyed.
Analysis: The nation of Israel was a theocracy in which its leaders were to inquire of God before making a decision. They were to either inquire of God directly, through a prophet, or by doing the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin (i.e.: casting lots). When the Israelites failed to seek the Lord’s guidance, bad things happened, as is the case in this story.
I will not include in this study every instance in which Israel’s leaders inquire of the Lord on the nation’s behalf, because we cannot assume that God’s requirements for individuals are the same as His requirements for His nation. Therefore, going forward, I will only cover verses that reveal God’s will for our personal lives.

1 Chronicles 10:13-14, “So Saul died for his trespass that he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse.”
Context: Saul, the first king of Israel, died. He had turned away from God during His reign.
Analysis: Again, this verse focuses on Israel’s king seeking guidance for the nation. Nonetheless, this verse applies to us, too, because it shows the dangers of seeking council from the dead through mediums and spiritists.
Why does God forbid such a thing? Is He so hungry for attention that He doesn’t want us talking to other spiritual beings? That’s not the reason at all. No spirit or deceased person can advise us as well as God can, and none of them know the totality of God’s plans. Even more worrisome is that many channeled spirits are evil (I won’t say that all of them are, because Saul had a medium channel Samuel in 1 Samuel, chapter 28, and Samuel was righteous in God’s sight), so they might guide us into committing evil and hurting others.

Jeremiah 10:21, “For the shepherds have become stupid, and have not sought [‘do not inquire of’ in the NRSV] the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.”
Context: Jeremiah prophecies against the house of Israel.
Analysis: This may be the first verse to criticize individuals for not seeking the Lord’s guidance. However, it’s more likely that this prophecy uses the word, “shepherds,” to denote Jewish leadership. Notice that the word, “flock,” is singular, implying that the shepherds share a common flock, rather than each having a flock of his own. It’s the nation’s leaders who share a common flock; whereas, shepherds tend to individually own flocks.
According to this verse, failure to seek the Lord’s guidance brings about a negative result: lack of prosperity. God wants us to enjoy life. When we seek and follow His guidance, we find happiness; when don’t, we’re left searching.

Zephaniah 1:6, “…those who have turned back from following the Lord, and those who have not sought the Lord or inquired of Him.”
Context: God says that He will destroy Judah and Jerusalem (which fell to Babylon in 586 B.C.) and lists the types of people He will punish.
Analysis: This verse appears to be about those who turned away from the Lord altogether. Nonetheless, this verse assumes that those who follow the Lord seek Him and inquire of Him.

Many of us Christians today claim to follow God but rarely seek out His will. Instead, we use Him to support our personal agendas. Sometimes, we find ways to twist solitary Bible verses so that they appear to support our political or religious beliefs. Other times, we think of God as someone who smiles on everything that we do; therefore, we never change our ways to match His will. When we fail to seek His will, we fail to follow Him altogether.

Matthew 12:50, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:35, “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Context: Here, someone had told Jesus, as He spoke to a crowd of people, that His family was waiting for Him. These quotes are Jesus’ response.
Analysis: Do you want to be close to Jesus? So close that He feels like family? If so, these quotes direct you toward achieving your objective.
Of course, at this point, we have yet to find out what this “will” is. This verse may be giving us a hint, however, as it ties family and God’s will together. Will obeying God’s will turn us all into a close-knit family?

Matthew 26:39, “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Context: Jesus prays to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. He dreads going to the cross where He will bear the punishment for our sins.
Analysis: This is the only example in the entire Bible of someone ending a prayer with the words, “not as I will, but what Thou wilt” or, “not my will but Yours be done.”
These words have inspired many Christians to end prayers in the same manner. This gesture is noble, but is it really how God wants us to pray?
No other prayers in the Bible end in this manner, not David’s prayers, not Moses’ prayers, not any of the Psalms. The reason for the difference between their prayers and Jesus’ prayer is that Jesus, being the Son of God, already knew God’s plan. He knew God sent Him into our world to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He knew He had to die on the cross. His prayer was both an expression of dread and a last minute check to be sure there wasn’t a less painful way for Him to save us from God’s wrath on Judgment Day.
When we pray, on the other hand, we don’t know God’s plan as Jesus did, and we don’t know how God might respond. When we end a prayer by saying, “not my will but Yours be done,” that’s the same as saying, “Never mind what I just prayed; go ahead and do what You were going to do anyway.” We show a total lack of faith that God will fulfill our prayer requests, and thus we fall short of Jesus’ encouragement to “have faith and do not doubt (Matthew 21:21 – also see Luke 17:6).”
It’s good to acknowledge that God’s plan is of greater importance than our desires, but we underestimate God’s ability to work our prayers into His plans. We give up too easily when we pray. If Moses would have said, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” when pleading for God not to destroy the Israelites in Numbers 14, the rest of Judeo-Christian history may have never happened. So while Jesus may have negated His prayer because He already knew God’s plan, that doesn’t mean that God requires us to do the same.
Notice that I said Jesus already knew God’s “plan.” In this quote, that’s the definition of God’s will. However, in verses to come, we will find other definitions for God’s will.

John 6:40, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Context: Jesus explains how He is the bread of life.
Analysis: This is the first place in which the Bible spells out a definition of God’s will. This will is not a plan for an individual’s life, but a desire for all who believe in Jesus to have eternal life. It’s a plan of God’s that’s sure to happen.
The certainty of this plan becoming reality is not unique in the Bible. The Bible contains numerous prophecies, etc, that have come true and others that will be fulfilled in the future. All of God’s plans recorded in the Bible succeed. None of them have ever failed. Neither does the Bible give us a single example of a person thwarting God’s plans, whether it be intentionally or by mistake. Even when Satan schemed to kill the Son of God, God worked that scheme into His plan for the redemption of His people.
It’s important that we understand the certainty of God’s plans coming to pass. Many Christians worry that God’s plans will fail if they don’t figure them out and make them happen. That worry in unnecessary. God’s plans will happen.

John 7:17, “If any man is willing to do His will, He shall know of the teacher, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.”
Context: While at a feast, the Jews expressed wonder at how Jesus could teach without having the proper religious education. Verse 17 is part of Jesus’ answer.
Analysis: One who “is willing to do His will” is someone who commits himself (or herself) to God and places God’s desires above his (or her) own. For any of us to do this, we must first learn what God desires. The big question is, “How do we learn what God’s desires are?”
Jesus says here that anyone who seeks to do God’s will is certain to recognize that His teachings are from God and not from men. Perhaps, those who seek it are God’s chosen people and God simply gives them a gut feeling that Jesus’ words are truth. Or it may be that God’s will itself—for those able to discover it—reveals whether or not Jesus’ teachings are true.

Acts 16:7, “When they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them….”
Context: Paul and his companions pass through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) en route to Macedonia on Paul’s second missionary journey.
Analysis: Here’s a biblical example of how God’s plans happen no matter what we do. Even though Paul headed toward a place where God did not intend for him to go, God steered him in another direction.
Was Paul concerned that He almost missed out on God’s plan for him? Was Paul even repentant of the fact that He had not figured out God’s plan ahead of time? The answer to both questions is “no.” Paul was content to let God guide him, and he was never worried that God’s plans for him would fail. Therefore, we should rest assured that God will steer us in the right direction, regardless of whether we figure out His plans or not.

Acts 21:4, “And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”
Acts 21:14, “And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of God be done.’”
Context: As Paul prepares to go to Jerusalem, other Christians, including Jesus’ disciples, begged him not to go, because they expected him to be arrested or killed. Even the prophet Agabus foretold Paul’s imprisonment. Nonetheless, Paul insisted upon traveling to Jerusalem, because He possessed a greater desire to do God’s work than to ensure his own safety.
Analysis: These verses are interesting in that verse 4 says that “through the Spirit” they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem, and then verse 14 says that they decided to let the Lord’s will be done. At first glance, these verses seem to say that the Holy Spirit opposed God’s will. What’s more likely is that these Christians knew through the Holy Spirit that something bad would happen to Paul if he went to Jerusalem. (They were right. Paul would go on to be imprisoned there.) While they feared for Paul’s well being, God, on the other hand, planned to spread the Gospel through the events of Paul’s journey.

Acts 22:14, “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One and to hear and utterance from His mouth [“own voice” in the NRSV].’”
Context: Paul recalls his conversion experience in which Ananias informed him of God’s intentions.
Analysis: Is this will a general will that applies to all people, or is it a plan for Paul’s life? It could be either, but since Paul says in Galatians 1 that he received the gospel through revelation, it’s more likely that he speaks of that revelation, which God revealed to him with “His own voice”. Fortunately for us, Paul recorded this gospel and other revelations in letters to churches (the Epistles), and these letters are now in our Bibles, so we need not look anywhere else to experience Paul’s revelation.