Lust of the Flesh

Confronting Temptation

June 26, 2014 – Confronting Temptation

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. No human being could have been more vulnerable. Jesus was alone in the wilderness and on the verge of starvation after fasting for forty days. The temptation was directed at His humanity. The goal was to show us how a spiritually alive person could stand up to Satan’s temptations in a worst-case scenario. It wasn’t a show of superior power; it was an example of humble dependence.

The devil, seeking to take advantage of Jesus’ vulnerability, said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). Satan wanted Jesus to use His divine attributes independently of God the Father to save Himself. That was essentially the same as Peter’s advice to Jesus that prompted His stern rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” (16:23). All temptation is an attempt to get us to live our lives independently of God. Jesus responded by declaring His dependence on God the Father: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (4:4).

Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and stood Him on the highest point of the Temple. “’If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up into their hands”’” (verse 6). The devil wanted Jesus to test God’s Word, but Christ knew we don’t put God to the test. He tests us. Finally, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain to show Him the kingdoms of the world. He offered these kingdoms to Jesus if the Lord would only worship him (see verses 8-9). However, Jesus said He would only worship the Lord our God and serve Him only (see verses 7-10).

John describes three channels of temptation that we will have to face in this world: “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). These were exactly the same for Adam and Eve as they were for Jesus. Adam and Eve failed the test and plunged the whole world into sin, but Jesus passed the test and proved to be the Savior of the world and an example for us to follow. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

As we study these three channels, keep in mind that they are only doors of opportunity that Satan takes advantage of. In Christ we have the resources and the power to conquer every temptation that Satan throws at us. The basis for temptation is legitimate needs that we all have. When we don’t perceive that our basic needs are being met, we are much more vulnerable to temptation. God promises to meet all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:19). If we know that our lives, identity, acceptance, security and significance are all found in Christ, we will not be so easily tempted to find them elsewhere.

Dr. Neil

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Counterfeit Gifts

June 25, 2014 – Counterfeit Gifts

Pharaoh of Egypt was not willing to let God’s people go, so the Lord sent one plague after another upon the land. It is interesting to note that Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times before the Lord finally hardened it (see Exodus 9:12). He likely could have turned his heart to God at one time, but ultimately he no longer could. This sequential hardening of our own hearts will lead to a depraved mind – a mind devoid of logic that will lead to extreme depravity (see Romans 1:28-32). It wasn’t until the tenth plague that Pharaoh finally relented and let God’s people go for self-preservation (see Exodus 12:31), but he never repented.

At first Pharaoh summoned his magicians and sorcerers, and they, by their secret arts, were able to mimic what Moses had done (see Exodus 7:11,22; 8:7). “But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. . . . The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God’” (verses 8:18-19). The magicians’ powers could only go so far. They could mimic what Moses did until God created gnats out of dust. Satan has no power to create, so the rest of the plagues went unmatched.

The magicians knew it was the finger of God when they couldn’t counterfeit what He was doing. Similar spiritual counterfeiters will continue throughout the Church Age, culminating with “terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (verse 8).

The magic the sorcerers practiced in the Old Testament is not the same as the entertaining tricks that our modern magicians do. Magicians who seek to entertain us have the ability to create illusions by using clever tricks and slight of hand. In a similar way, some “psychics” are only doing “cold readings.” These clever charlatans ask the naïve a few leading questions. They observe their clients’ speech, mannerisms, appearance and dress. Based on these observations, such “psychics” make general statements that can appear to be accurate. The gullible are so impressed with the accuracy of their “revelations” that they start giving more information, which these charlatans fabricate into a “reading.” This is not demonic; it’s just verbal slight of hand. However, it does reveal just how easy it is for people to be deceived.

The mediums and spiritists whom God spoke against in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were not con artists but people who possessed real spiritual power. They were channels for the demonic and knew in their own ranks who the true psychics were. Today, while the charlatans, with their phony cold readings, are only interested in bilking us out of our money, true mediums and spiritists want to enslave us and expand the control of Satan. The evil one will also counterfeit many of the spiritual gifts with which God has endowed the Church. This is especially true of the gifts of tongues and prophecy, which are reported in false religions and in cults around the world. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Dr. Neil

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The Rise of the New Age

June 24, 2014 – The Rise of the New Age

Since the day of Pentecost, all believers have received the Holy Spirit. Persecution in Jerusalem caused the gospel to spread to surrounding regions. The believers in Samaria had an incomplete gospel, which the apostles now graciously supplied in full (see Acts 8:14-17), and they too received the Holy Spirit. The disciples of Jesus were performing miracles, and evil spirits were coming out of many (see verse 7).

At the same time in Samaria, a man named Simon amazed people with his sorcery. The people called him the “Great Power of God” (verse 10), and they followed him because he amazed them with his magic. However, when they heard the good news from Philip, they believed it. Simon also professed to believe and was even baptized (see verses 12-13), but then he tried to offer money to have the same “magical” power the disciples had – a practice to this day called “simony” (see Acts 18:18-19).

Peter immediately rebuked Simon for thinking that he could buy the gift of God with money. He called for Simon to repent, because he could tell that Simon was full of bitterness and captive to sin, which indicated he was probably not a true believer (see verses 20-23). Obviously, the spiritual battle continued after Pentecost. The thirst for knowledge and power still lures a gullible public to seek false guidance. There are many customers like those in Acts 16:16-18 who sought guidance from a demonized slave girl, and there are many who will make a profit from them.

Although spiritism and various cults and occultic practices have been present in American culture from the beginning, the New Age movement has received much broader participation. Through New Age teachings, materialistic humanism gives way to a new Enlightenment: “You don’t need God; you are God. You don’t need to repent of your sins and depend on God to save you. You just need to be enlightened. So turn off your mind and tune in to the great cosmic oneness through some mystical harmonic convergence.” The New Age pitch is the oldest lie of Satan: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Practitioners change the names from “medium” to “channeler,” “demon” to “spirit guide,” and a gullible public buys it and spends big money doing so.

The “harlots” of the New Age movement may well represent the mystery religion of Babylon. “With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries” (Revelation 17:2). Every country in the world has opened its doors to paranormal and psychic research. What the rulers of the countries of the world don’t know is that they have embraced the religion of the Antichrist – which is masquerading under the guise of science. They have no idea that they are playing right into the hands of Satan.

Such kings are like Jeshurun (a poetic name for Israel): “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked. They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior. They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God – gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your ancestors did not fear. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:15,17-18).

Dr. Neil

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Spiritual Demise

June 23, 2014 – Spiritual Demise

Saul had sinned, causing God to turn away from him. After much prodding by Samuel, Saul made a half-hearted attempt at repentance, but it was not complete (1 Samuel 15:24-31). “Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14). Under the Old Covenant, the presence of the Holy Spirit was a temporary gifting, just like God’s blessings were conditional. Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in those who believe, and God says He will never leave or forsake us.

The evil spirit was not of God, but was sent by God. God reigns supreme, and He can use Satan and his emissaries as a means to discipline His people, as He did with Saul. He also used the godless nation of Assyria to discipline His people (see Isaiah 10:5-6). Even the Church is advised to turn grossly immoral people over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh so that their souls may be saved (see 1 Corinthians 5:5).

After Samuel died, Saul sought guidance from a medium. Saul had previously purged the nation of mediums and spiritists (see 1 Samuel 28:9), but now he was paying a visit to the witch of Endor. Coming to the witch in disguise, Saul persuaded her to call up Samuel (see verses 11-19). However, the scheme backfired when God permitted Samuel himself to return, which terrified the medium. Samuel foretold the imminent capture of Israel by the Philistines and the death of Saul and his son (see verse 19).

God expressly forbids the practice of necromancy, which is an attempt to bring up the spirits of the dead (see Isaiah 8:19-20). The story of the rich man and Lazarus teaches the present-day impossibility of communicating with the dead (see Luke 16:19-31). When a secular psychologist claims to have regressed a client back to a former state of existence through hypnosis, don’t believe it. When a psychic claims to have contacted the dead, don’t believe it. When a New Age medium purports to channel a person from the past into the present, realize that it is nothing more than a demonic spirit or the fraudulent work of a con artist.

A lady was once working through the Steps to Freedom when she suddenly became frightened. When the encourager asked what she was hearing or seeing, she said, “You mean you don’t see my father standing right there?” The encourager didn’t bother to look, because he knew he wouldn’t see anything. Instead he asked, “Tell me about your father.” She said, “I’m responsible for my father.” Of course that was not true, but that was what she had been taught by her father, who was a Mormon. When they started the Steps again she had another apparition of her grandmother, who had introduced the family to Mormonism. The woman became free when she renounced Mormon practices and beliefs.

Mediums have to reach a passive state of the mind in order to channel spirits, which is the most dangerous thing one can do spiritually. God never bypasses our minds; He works through them. Hypnosis also bypasses the conscious use of the mind and is not a practice in which Christians should participate. “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Dr. Neil

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Esoteric Knowledge

June 20, 2014 – Esoteric Knowledge

The craving for esoteric or “extra” knowledge has led many people to seek out mediums and spiritists, which God strictly forbids. “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:31). God is not restricting us from having knowledge that we need; He has made Himself and His ways known so that we can live productive lives. Sadly, some people don’t want to take the time to seek God and study His Word.

Isaiah wrote, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20). Not much is known about the biblical terms “medium” and “spiritist.” Because “medium” (taken from ob, meaning “witch” or “necromancer”) is feminine, and “spiritist” (taken from yidd oni, from the root “to know”) is masculine, some scholars think they are the male and female counterparts of the same role, which is to introduce false guidance.

The Lord does not take lightly those who give false guidance or those who seek it out. “I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people” (Leviticus 20:6). God takes an even tougher stand against those who would lead his people astray: “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (verse 27).

We don’t stone mediums today because we no longer live under Old Testament theocratic law – we are under Christ’s New Covenant. However, our culture tends to make them celebrities, put them on talk shows, and schedule them for entertainment. Late-night television is loaded with psychic hotlines promising divine guidance and spiritual help. Many people – including gullible Christians – have sought their false guidance and found themselves in spiritual bondage. God doesn’t want such false guidance to pollute the Church, so He cuts them off. This is not what you want!

Younger Christians naively participate in what they think are just harmless parlor games. So they ask the Magic 8-Ball questions or play with the Ouija board, but such games are not harmless. A mother and daughter attended a Discipleship Counseling conference and the mother said on the way home, “I don’t think people in our church people have these kinds of spiritual problems.” The daughter replied, “Mom, when I had a slumber party in our home for my birthday, we were upstairs trying to have a séance. I have been plagued by a voice in my head ever since.”

To resolve spiritual conflicts arising from false guidance, it is necessary to renounce all involvement and association with false teachers, false prophets, and any and all cult and occult practices. That includes all vows or pledges made to anyone or anything other than Christ. The need to do this also applies to the children and grandchildren whose ancestors participated in any type of idolatry or false guidance (see Exodus 20:4-5). Paul says, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Dr. Neil

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Counterfeit Christianity

June 19, 2014 – Counterfeit Christianity

The thirst for knowledge and power has seduced the naïve and undiscerning since the dawn of history. More people have their palms and tea leaves read or read the astrological column in the paper than read the Bible. People want to know the future for various reasons, but the shrewd ones know that knowledge is power.

Just imagine the power you would have if you had “precognition” – if you knew events before they happened. You could become a billionaire just by betting at the racetrack or become politically powerful by accurately predicting future events. In order to accurately predict future events, you would need the power and means to arrange them. God can do that because He is omnipotent and omniscient, which is why the predictions of true prophets are always fulfilled.

Satan has a limited capacity to arrange the future by manipulating people who pay attention to his deceiving spirits. Everything he does is a counterfeit of Christianity. Precognition is a counterfeit of prophecy. Clairvoyance, which is the power to see what the normal five senses cannot see, is a counterfeit of divine revelation. Telepathy, which is the ability to communicate from one mind to another by extrasensory means, is a counterfeit of prayer. Psychokinesis, which is the manipulation of physical matter without the use of physical means, is a counterfeit of God’s miracles. Spirit guides, or deceiving spirits, are counterfeits of divine guidance. Why would people want a spirit guide if they could have the Holy Spirit as their guide?

These finite longings for the infinite can only be fulfilled by the knowledge and power that come from an intimate relationship with God. Satan tries to pass off his counterfeits as the real thing. He will gain a foothold in our lives if he can lure us into the deceptive world of psychic knowledge and power. Moses’ words of warning in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 are as viable today as they were for the Israelites under his leadership: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”

We live in a contemporary Canaan in which it is socially acceptable to consult spiritists, mediums, palm readers, psychic counselors and horoscopes for guidance and esoteric knowledge. Because Satan has the capacity to deceive the whole world, it is possible for him to arrange future events – but never perfectly. Only God can prophesy something and guarantee that it will come true. This is one way that we can know whether a prophet is true or false. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

All the false prophets, psychic counselors and spiritual mediums have superhuman knowledge, but they are getting it from a counterfeiter. However, because they seem to know more than what is humanly possible, a gullible public pays attention to them and is deceived.

Dr. Neil

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Dreams and Nightmares

June 18, 2014 – Dreams and Nightmares

A mother visited her daughter on the mission field and became sick with malaria. Her body temperature rose to more than 105 degrees, and she started to hallucinate. Back in the States she attended a Discipleship Counseling conference and asked if her hallucinations were demonic. “What were you hallucinating?” she was asked? The woman replied, “Donald Duck, Pluto and Mickey Mouse.” She had spent two days at Disney Land before her trip to Asia.

What this woman experienced was a natural process similar to dreams. When we go to sleep at night, our brain continues to operate and has access to stored information. The normal dreams we experience while sleeping typically consist of people we know and places we have been. The story can be rather creative, but the players and places have already been stored in our memory banks. If a child watches a horror movie in the afternoon and has a nightmare that night, chances are the nightmare will include the characters in the movie. If we put garbage in, then garbage comes out.

On the other hand, terrifying dreams with grotesque images and demonic figures that we have never seen in the natural realm can’t be coming from stored memory. It is also highly unlikely that our brains spontaneously create such images against our will. When inquirers report such night terrors, they need to be led through the Steps to Freedom in Christ. The night-time terrors end when they submit to God through genuine repentance and resist the devil (see James 4:7).

The spiritual source of dreams can also be God, as it was for Nebuchadnezzar. However, in such cases the dreams will always be true and lead to a healthy fear of the Lord, not a debilitating fear that excludes faith in God. So, before you put too much stock in the content of dreams, consider the words of Jeremiah: “Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” (23:28).

Dr. Neil

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Mental Illness

June 17, 2014 – Mental Illness

God warned Nebuchadnezzar in a dream and Daniel encouraged him to repent (see verses 5-27), but 12 months later he was as proud as ever (see verses 28-30). Finally, he raised his eyes toward heaven, and his sanity was restored (see verse 34). Was he mentally ill? Today’s mental health workers would conclude that he was, because they believe people are mentally healthy if they are in touch with reality and relatively free from anxiety. Based on secular standards and definitions, anyone experiencing a spiritual battle for his or her mind would fail on both counts.

What would secular mental health workers think if their clients told them that they were hearing voices or seeing things that frightened them, but the counselors couldn’t see or hear anything? They would conclude that their clients were out of touch with reality. Actually, the mental health workers may be the ones out of touch with reality. The ultimate reality is God, and what their clients are seeing and hearing is very real, though not seen and heard through the natural senses.

In the natural realm we can’t physically hear anything unless there is a sound source that sends an audible signal through the medium of air to our eardrums. The eardrums pass the signals to our brains. In the same way, we can’t physically see anything unless there is a light source sending a light ray that reflects off a material object to our optic nerve, which then sends a signal to our brains. There is no physical source of light and sound in the spiritual realm, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). The battle is in the mind. Therefore, a spiritual attack that is “seen” or “heard” by one person will probably not be seen or heard by another person in the same setting.

The battle for the mind is tearing families apart. A child cries out at night, “Mommy, there is something in my room!” Most parents will look under the bed and in the closet and say, “Honey, there is nothing here. Go back to sleep.” If you saw something in your room, would you go back to sleep? Or a mother comes home from the hospital with her third child. The kids are fighting, her electrolytes are depleted, and she suddenly has a thought: Kill you kids! Who is she going to share that thought with? Her husband? “Honey, I’ve had thoughts about killing the kids!” When people have such thoughts they generally don’t kill their kids, but in rare occasions they actually do. Those who don’t are disgusted with themselves for even thinking such things.

Such battles for the mind are happening in every church. So why don’t we know more about this spiritual battle? First, because we can’t read each other’s minds, so we have no idea what another person’s struggle is unless they have the courage to tell us. Second, because few people are willing to disclose what is going on inside their minds. If one person had the courage to share, and it is dismissed by others, nobody else will ever share again. Third, because some fear they are losing their minds, and they don’t want others thinking that they are. Fourth, because some are embarrassed with the thoughts they are having, which may be vulgar, sensual and just plain evil. All this chaos, and it is just a lie.

Dr. Neil

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Deceiving Spirits

June 16, 2014 – Deceiving Spirits

Paul, after speaking about the Church of the living God—the pillar and foundation of truth—inserts a parenthetical remark about the historical visit of Jesus on earth (see 1 Timothy 3:16). Then he says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (4:1).

Paul’s parenthetical insertion in 1 Timothy 3:16 was to draw attention to Christ, which is the major work of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:14). Christians believe deeply in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If there were no Holy Spirit, there would be no life, no power to live, no gifts, no guidance, no assurance and no Church. However, we are to be Christ-centered, not spirit-centered. We are to be truth-based, not experienced-based.

 “The Spirit” is to be contrasted with “deceiving spirits.” There is only one Holy Spirit, but there are many deceiving spirits who are demons or evil spirits. Paul is not telling us by way of parables or by signs and wonders; he is clearly saying there is a coming apostasy in the later days. Concerning the end times, Jesus said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time” (Matthew 24:24-25; see also 2 Peter 2:1-12).

Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers and pastors routinely work with people who are struggling with their thoughts, are having difficulty concentrating, or are hearing voices. Many cannot read their Bibles or concentrate when they pray or worship God. The voices are usually condemning or blasphemous. Such voices and thoughts cannot be fully explained as a neurological condition or a chemical imbalance.

How can a chemical produce a personality or create a thought that we are opposed to thinking? Is there a natural explanation for this? Why not believe what Scripture has taught and then take the appropriate measures to correct the problem? If the condemning, lying and blasphemous thoughts leave after we submit to God and resist the devil (see James 4:7), then the origin of the thoughts is not natural or neurological. Believers all over the world have found such relief from oppressive thoughts through genuine repentance (see the Steps to Freedom in Christ). The peace of God is now guarding their hearts and their minds in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:7).

Doctrines of demons “come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). They profess to believe one thing but live another way. They have no conscience. They are modern-day Gnostics who advocate an ascetic form of life (see Colossians 2:16-23). Their message is abstinence from things such as marriage and food, but Paul counters by saying, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

Food is the “enemy” for those who struggle with eating disorders. Why do they defecate, binge and purge, and even cut themselves? Because they believe there is evil present within them (see Romans 7:21), but their efforts to rid themselves of that evil are fruitless. Only the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can cleanse them from sin. It is all deception, and only truth can set them free.

Dr. Neil

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