What’s the Difference Between Godly Sorrow & Worldly Sorrow

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of but the sorrow of the world worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The Difference Makes the Difference

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul begins chapter seven by launching into a lengthy discussion about how to “perfect holiness” by “cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1)”. Inevitably, this dovetailed into a unique perspective on sorrow and repentance. Paul describes (and we’ll look closer at it in a moment) the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. It’s a vitally important distinction because one leads to spiritual death and the other to salvation. The difference makes the difference. We’ve all got to get this one right.

Called to Stop Sinning

The Bible teaches us that the Church is a called-out assembly. God has called us out of sin, and God has called us into holiness. We are supposed to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). That standard is very high because God is supremely holy. You might be thinking that it is impossible to be sinless. And in a way, you’re right. However, the New Testament reminds us repeatedly that we are to be without sin (holiness). In fact, 1 John 2:1 pauses and says, “Stop sinning. Just stop it!”

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not… (1 John 2:1).

If you take the Bible and boil it down to its essence, the central theme is God’s grand plan to get humanity from sinfulness to sinlessness.

Our Response to Sin is the Key

It’s easy to start sinning, but it’s hard to stop. That’s basically been humanity’s problem from the beginning. For most people, defining what is and isn’t sin is problematic. Sin is so pervasive and normal that we don’t feel horrified by it. And if we don’t feel horrified by sin, we don’t think of it as all that bad. My struggles with sin have taught me that sin’s grip is hard to break. If you’re human, you have your own stories and struggles with sin too. I also know how enticing sin can be from the countless hours I’ve spent trying to help others find deliverance from every sin you can imagine. I’ve noticed through the years that the real issue isn’t that we have sinned (because we have) or if we will sin (because we will).

The question that matters is, what will we do with our sin? How we respond to sin usually helps us stop or causes us to keep on sinning. Godly sorrow over sin produces genuine repentance, which allows the Holy Spirit to step in and empower us. Worldly sorrow leads to lackadaisical repentance, which only perpetuates sin in our lives. Worldly sorrow produces a self-sustaining cycle of sinfulness. Before highlighting the vital differences between godly and worldly sorrow, we must clear up an apparent contradiction in the Bible.

Does God Cleanse Us, or Do We Cleanse Ourselves?

Sin is a stain on our lives. God desires to present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). God is deadly serious about His church being holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). That’s why we’re all in such desperate need of the blood of Jesus. Only His blood cleanses all the stains of sin. But do we cleanse ourselves, or does Jesus cleanse us? The passages below might be a little confusing at first glance.

…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

To answer this question, we need to identify the context of these two verses. In the previous chapter, Paul clarifies his target audience, “for ye are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16).” Clearly, Paul is talking about repentance to people who have already obeyed the Gospel and are in the Church. He’s referring to the ongoing process of sanctification (holiness), which requires continued repentance. We must skip forward to pinpoint John’s intended audience:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).

So, it’s clear that John is writing about the initial salvation experience, when we first take ownership of our sinfulness, leading to repentance and obeying the Gospel. At that moment, God covers us with His blood.

God’s Role & Our Responsibility

At salvation, something compelling happens; when we repent, our sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9); at baptism, our sins are remitted (Acts 2:38); at the infilling of the Holy Ghost, we are empowered (Acts 1:8). God did the cleansing work at Calvary, and we stepped into that cleansing flow via obedience. However, regarding our continued walk with God, 2 Corinthians 7:1 clarifies that we must “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In other words, God does the initial work. Then He expects us to put some effort into the process from that moment forward. To be sure, His Spirit comes inside to help lead, guide, comfort, correct, convict, strengthen, and encourage us along the way. But the infilling of the Spirit doesn’t remove our free will. After salvation, God expects us to exercise an often-overlooked fruit of the Spirit – self-control (Galatians 5:23).

Sometimes I hear church folks say, “if only God would give me the power over this ____ sin.” But God has already given us His Spirit. He’s already cleansed us. So now we must cleanse ourselves daily. If we’re not careful, we’ll use God as an excuse for our continued sin. God cleanses us first, and then we are responsible for walking in that cleansing. That’s the process of sanctification or holiness. In answer to the original question: Does God cleanse us, or do we cleanse ourselves? The answer is that God does the major cleanse first, and then we step in and do minor cleansing as we continue our walk with the Lord.

A Simple Illustration

A simple, albeit imperfect illustration, may help clarify this concept. Roughly once a month, I take our family SUV to a full-service carwash. They detail our vehicle inside and out. I do that because they have the equipment, chemicals, and expertise that allow them to do a thorough cleaning that I’m not capable of doing. It’s almost like having a new vehicle when they get done. I didn’t do the cleansing. They did. But if I eat a bagel in the car and crumbs fall everywhere, I must clean that mess myself. Otherwise, I’ve wasted my time and money on that professional cleaning job. They cleaned it first in ways I can’t do alone. But I still have a responsibility to keep it clean. In much the same way, that’s how walking in holiness works.

Problems in the Corinthian Church

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he is very forthright with them. The church was super messed up with big-time problems and significant sin issues. For example, a young man was having an affair with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Even more revolting, rather than the church being grieved. They laughed about the situation like it was a joke (1 Corinthians 5:2). Paul was so angry that he demanded that if the guy refused to repent, they should turn him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). That leaven of malice and wickedness would destroy the whole church if they didn’t deal with it correctly (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). All this background is essential because we can now understand 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 and answer the question: What’s the difference between godly and worldly sorrow?

I’m Not Sorry That I Made You Repent

8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance… (2 Corinthians 7:8-9).

In the above verses, Paul was trying to let the church know that his first letter (1 Corinthians), with its strong rebuke, was not intended to make them feel sorry but was a call to repentance.

…for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of… (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

In other words, when you have godly sorrow. It leads to godly repentance, and you don’t have to confess the same sin repeatedly.

…but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things, ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

The Contrast

In his unique way, Paul carefully contrasts these two types of sorrow. They both lead to outward repentance, but only one is genuine. The result of godly sorrow is a change in behavior and attitude. But worldly sorrow brings death. It certainly brings spiritual death, but in the immediate, it might mean the death of a marriage, a friendship, victory, blessings, spiritual power, or family relationships. Tragically, in extreme cases, it could culminate in an untimely physical death because of sin.

For All That Is in the World

Anything derived from the world is compromised, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 John 2:16).” Worldly sorrow is derived from either the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. So, for example, a person might feel sorrow for their sin because of the pain it produces. They feel that pain in their flesh, and that pain can be intense. It’s real! Emotional and physical pain caused by sin can become unbearable at times. And many people assume the remorse they feel because of their agony is genuine repentance. But if that remorse is a temporary emotion birthed from pain, it’s not godly sorrow.

A second kind of worldly sorrow results from the lust of the eyes. People can be sorry because they see how sin has impacted their life; lost loved ones, broken relationships, wasted moments, embarrassments, and failures. Their kingdom might be crumbling before their eyes like a slow-motion nightmare. Consequences that used to seem so unlikely and distant come crashing into focus. They might think, “I’m going to lose my wife, kids, or job.” But ultimately, their focus is on their kingdom. Many people feel this kind of worldly sorrow and confuse it for genuine repentance. But true repentance is not self-centered. It’s God-centered.

Thirdly, the pride of life produces another type of worldly sorrow. People may feel sorry because they are embarrassed that people can see their sins. They see their reputation going down the drain, their influence waning, or they feel disliked. Perhaps they want to be viewed in a more positive light. But the critical issue is their name. Again, the sorrow is selfishly motivated. Therefore, the resulting repentance is only skin deep.

Me, Myself & I

Worldly sorrow always brings the focus on me. It’s all about my feelings. My pain. My reputation. My happiness. But godly sorrow focuses on the fact that my sin has grieved God and others. Ephesians 4:30 warns us not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit. Godly sorrow is acutely aware that my sin has grieved the Holy Spirit. Godly sorrow isn’t just sorry because of sin’s consequences on my kingdom. It’s more concerned with God’s Kingdom. Godly sorrow isn’t worried about the reproach that I brought on my name but with the reproach that I brought on God’s name. As the prophet Nathan said to David after his horrific sin with Bathsheba, “You have brought great occasion to the enemies of the lord to blaspheme his name (2 Samuel 12:14).” Nathan was more concerned with how David’s sin would impact the world’s understanding of God than he was with king David’s reputation.

Seven Characteristics of Godly Sorrow

Paul doesn’t leave us with a nebulous definition of godly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:11 describes what godly repentance looks like in action. He lists seven things that accompany godly sorrow. Numbers are significant in the Bible, and the number seven represents completion and perfection. Therefore, it could be said that these seven things signify complete and perfect repentance.

1. Carefulness

Carelessness leads to sinfulness. A careful person is full of care, caution, and intentionality. Godly sorrow produces carefulness where casualness once reigned supreme. Decisions are weighed out and made thoughtfully. Every action is measured according to the Word of God. Godly sorrow refuses to blame sin on ignorance, incompetence, recklessness, or inattention to detail.

2. Clearing of Yourself

Godly sorrow doesn’t make excuses. It doesn’t blame other people or circumstances for sin. There’s no hiding, covering, manipulating, shifting, or maneuvering of responsibility. Worldly sorrow keeps things hidden and harbors secret sins and motives behind closed doors. Godly sorrow seeks to clear the air and clean the conscience. It thrives on transparency and always advocates for the truth to be displayed.

3. Indignation

Godly sorrow recoils at the thought of past sins. Old lifestyles aren’t viewed as the “good old days.” It doesn’t laugh at sin or find it entertaining. Carnal things that used to seem euphoric become repulsive. The thought of sin and evil produces anger, indignation, and disgust. Godly sorrow views sin as a vile thing to be detested. It doesn’t despise sinners, but it does hate sin. In much the same way as you would hate cancer while loving a cancer patient.

4. Fear

I’m always nervous when someone repents of a particular sin and says, “I know I’ll never do that again.” I’d much rather someone say, “I’m going to take every precaution possible to make sure I never fall into that sin again because I’m afraid of going back to that terrible thing.” You will take godly precautions when you have a healthy fear of a possibility. Furthermore, a little fear of the Lord is a good thing.

5. Vehement Desire

Godly sorrow is fueled by a fervent desire to serve God and avoid sin. Vehement means to show strong feelings. It’s forceful, passionate, urgent, and intense. It isn’t mellow, mild, or casual. Godly sorrow recognizes the seriousness of sin and its desperate dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

6. Zeal

The Greek word for zeal is spoudē, found twelve times in the New Testament. The primary meaning of zeal is “haste” or “diligence.” Meaning diligence in the sense of “earnest zeal.” It’s always used in the context of living out godly lives.[i] The idea is that godliness takes ongoing work and tenacious effort.  

7. Revenge

When godly sorrow is in play, everything in your being wishes you could return and fix the things sin has taken from you. So, in a certain sense, you are looking for revenge against the enemy of your soul. That’s why brand-new saints often get so on fire for God. They are avenging what the enemy stole from them when they were under the bondage of sin. Godly sorrow never looks longingly back toward Egyptian taskmasters.

Final Thoughts

It’s not hard to receive the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. But if you’ve been around an Apostolic church for a while, you’ve probably noticed that some people seek the Holy Ghost for weeks or even months without being filled. The apostle Peter didn’t say, “repent and be baptized, and you might receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” He said, “you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” My experience has taught me that many people struggling to receive the Spirit are actually struggling with repentance. They might be sorrowful and going through the motions of repentance, but their sorrow is worldly and does not lead to life. Gently and lovingly, helping them to decipher the difference between godly and worldly sorrow can lead them to the breakthrough they need.


[i] Renn, Stephen D., ed. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005.

What Will Become of Us All? – A Poem

White picket lines of peaceful persuasion
Cannot undo the cost of invasion
Endless fine lines of baser perversions
Weakened strains of moral conversions
Flawlessly wielding falsified searches
What will become of us all?

Cold, calculating meaningless data
Hiding underneath the smiling strata
Clinging to less fortunate ideas
Laughing, dragging, while dreaming of sions
Intricate veins coursing with curses
What will become of us all?

Meanwhile, one white robed throng preaches the Writ
Tenaciously keeping holy flames lit
Falling valiant, bleeding from vicious slits
Ten thousand swords critically slashing hits
Battered, beleaguered saints climb past ashen fritz
What will become of us all?

One bright light pierces the eastern sky
A triumphant shout falls from mountain highest
One brilliant white horse gracefully flies
The armies of Heaven closely aligned
Every blood-stained voice shouts toward the sight
What will become of us all?

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

The cultural tattoo fad shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, tattoos are becoming more popular each year. I’m pushing up against forty, which means I remember when tattoos were rare in law-abiding circles. Most Christians were united in their stance against tattoos. It certainly wasn’t a controversial subject or a topic of hot debate among professing Christians. I don’t claim to understand exactly when, why, or how the shift towards accepting tats began. I have a specific memory of seeing a reasonably well-known “prophet” on YouTube with tattoo sleeves coiling down his arms and ringing up his neck and onto parts of his face. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was still naïve enough at the time to be shocked.

Since then, a slew of “name brand” preachers have given cheeky pro-tat arguments on social media. Typically, their statements are flippant, funny, theologically thin, and arrogant. What they lack in character, they make up for in charisma, making them popular and convincing to many people. So, with the ever-increasing popularity of tattoos and all the theological misinformation floating around, I felt it was time to weigh in with why I (and many others) remain firmly against tats. However, I want to be clear for those who already have tattoos – that sin and all other sins can be placed under the blood of Jesus. And, while I’m all for conviction, this article is not intended to instigate condemnation against the forgiven. That said, the following are seven biblical reasons why tattoos violate God’s standards of holiness for men and women, and then I’ll answer a few common questions relating to tattoos.

God’s Clear Command in Leviticus 19:28

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:28).

Never slash (cut) your body to mourn the dead, and never get a tattoo. I am the Lord [God’s Word Translation] (Leviticus 19:28).

I consider tattoos to be a watershed issue of holiness. And by that, I mean it’s challenging to find a holiness standard more clearly articulated than “…never get a tattoo. I am the Lord.” We don’t have any Scriptures against meth or cocaine, yet we understand the principles of God’s Word to be in opposition to illicit drugs. But here, we have a clear and straightforward command directly from the Lord, and still, people find a way to wriggle around it. I’ve found that if someone can read this command and still not care about tattoos, there is very little else they will take seriously regarding holiness of lifestyle. If you can ignore one Scripture, you can easily ignore others.

Perhaps it would help to examine why God gave this command. First, “Both cutting and tattooing the body were done by the heathen.”[1] And secondly, “Tattooing was probably practiced in ancient Egypt… Any voluntary disfigurement of the person was in itself an outrage upon God’s workmanship and might well form the subject of a law.”[2] We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and significantly altering His design is an affront to His artistry. The Holman Old Testament Commentary clarifies the principles of holiness outlined in Leviticus 19:28 even further, “They were not to disfigure their bodies in any manner or adorn their bodies with tattoos.”[3] So, here we see that any bodily disfigurement and vanity of adornment are connected to this holiness standard. The IVP Old Testament Commentary agrees, “The Israelite law may prohibit this practice since it involves a self-imposed alteration of God’s creation, unlike circumcision, which is commanded by God.”[4]

Usually, pro-tat preachers give the feeble excuse that the Old Testament moratorium against tattoos is exclusively about getting a specific kind of tattoo. For example, they might say something like, “As long as you don’t get a tattoo of a false god, you’re fine.” While it is true that pagans often used tattoos to express allegiance to a particular false god, it’s far from the only reason pagans tattooed themselves. If that’s the only reason God forbids tattoos, He could and would have made that clear. Also, using that logic, God should have said something like, “If you do get a tattoo, make sure it shows allegiance to Me.” God’s previous and often repeated commands from Exodus 20:3-5 already forbids anything associated with idolatry or false gods:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…

I think God covered it thoroughly in the above Scriptures. No Hebrew in their right mind would read that and think, “Ah, but surely a Baal tat would be ok.” No. Leviticus 19:28 means something more profound than that. This leads us to the second and more misleading claim people typically use to justify tattoos. Because the context of the first portion of Leviticus 19:28 deals with mourning the dead, pro-tat folks might say, “Tattoos are fine; just don’t get a tattoo to mourn dead friends or family members.” The King James Version does make this exegetical error easy to make. However, even the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (hardly a shining bastion of conservative theology) states, “Unlike the first part of the verse, tattoos are not associated with mourning rites.” [5] Ironically, scores of Christians tattoo the names of dead friends and family members on their bodies in mourning and remembrance. Which further illustrates the sad pervasiveness of biblical ignorance or blatant disregard for biblical authority over modern lifestyles. 

To review a few reasons God forbids tattoos, “Holiness requires Israel not to act like the pagans in any areas of life.”[6] In other words, we are to be inwardly and outwardly separate, distinct, and different from the world’s people. Furthermore, “Leviticus 19:28 forbids the marking of the flesh.”[7] In the end, God doesn’t need a reason that makes sense to us. If God says don’t get a tattoo, the question should be settled regardless of our opinions. If God can’t tell a person how to live, then He is no God at all to that person. Tattoos violate several other holiness principles, which I will take a closer look at below. However, God’s clear command in Leviticus 19:28 is by far the only reason any Christian should need to abstain from tattoos.

Wisdom & Cultural Associations

In 2017 The Journal of Social Psychology released a research paper titled Tattoo or Taboo? Tattoo Stigma and Negative Attitudes Toward Tattooed Individuals. It’s long but fascinating, and I must resist the urge to highlight hundreds of quotes in the paper. I’ll try to use self-control and keep things concise and relevant to the point. This research confirms something I’ve long suspected to be true. Tattoos are socially problematic on several significant tiers. And even if God had no opinion on the matter, wisdom would dictate that Christians should stay away from tats.

The research found that “People view tattooed individuals as possessing a number of negative character attributes, including being less inhibited, less competent, having worse character, being less sociable, and being more sexually promiscuous.”[8] This creates real problems for tattooed people in the workplace. The research states:

Interviews with tattooed persons revealed that many tattooed individuals believed that they could not find employment because their tattoos were visible, suspicions that hiring managers confirm. Indeed, most hiring managers in Timming’s study explicitly stated they would not hire a visibly tattooed candidate, both because it would mar the image of the company and because of their personal dislike of tattoos. Potential customers have also tended to perceive tattooed employees as less capable and as riskier, and less physically appealing.[9]

Complicating things even more, tattooed people often discriminate against other tattooed people for a variety of reasons contained in the quote below:

Tattooed individuals may stigmatize other tattooed individuals if their tattoos are large or unconcealable, such as on the face, hands, or neck, or if their tattoos are seen as overly trendy and lacking authenticity. Thus, the stigmatization of tattooed individuals is not limited to the non-tattooed.[10]

And while the roots of the negative stereotypes might be sexist, the reality is that women with tattoos are viewed in a very undesirable light. Here’s just one tiny blip of what the research found:

In Britain, tattooed women were judged as more promiscuous, heavier drinkers, and as less attractive, and in France, men expected that tattooed women would be more likely to have sex on a first date than non-tattooed women. Studies on American college student participants have also found that women with tattoos are perceived as less attractive, less caring, and less intelligent or less honest and religious, depending on the type of tattoo.[11]

Men don’t escape that harsh judgment either. When the studies lump men into the equation, things are just as dire:

Differences have been found between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals in Big Five personality traits, measures of rebelliousness or needs for uniqueness or distinctive appearance, risk-taking behavior or attitudes, the prevalence of problem drinking, illegal drug use, and uninhibited sexual behavior, and education levels with tattooed individuals generally having less desirable traits, greater risk-taking behavior and rebelliousness, and more deviant behavior.[12]

The debate rages on whether these stereotypes contain any truth. While it’s glaringly apparent that the researchers are biased in defense of tattoos and do their best to mitigate the damage of the findings, they are forced to acknowledge that some of the stereotypes may have a factual basis. For example, “Tattooed participants reported significantly higher quantities and frequencies of drinking behavior than non-tattooed participants.”[13] The findings also indicated that tattooed individuals display a higher tendency to dominate others.[14] Regardless, Christians should exercise wisdom and avoid these negative cultural associations, whether warranted or unwarranted. The workplace problems alone are reason enough for a wise individual to stay away from tats.

Modesty & Vanity

By their nature, tattoos violate the holiness principles of modesty and vanity. Both subjects are worth a long discussion. However, for this conversation, I’m going to assume we already agree that Scripture emphatically opposes vanity and requires modesty of dress and conduct. The entire purpose of a tattoo is to draw attention to a particular portion of the body. Often, tattoos are exhibited on areas of the body that should be covered for modesty’s sake. Furthermore, the desire and willingness to use the body as an attention-grabbing canvas violates the biblical imperatives of meekness, shamefacedness, and humility (Colossians 3:2, 1 Timothy 2:9, Philippians 2:3, James 4:6).

Health Concerns

It amazes me that people have no problem covering their bodies with carcinogen-laced inks in a culture obsessed with finding things that cause cancer. I bought a guitar strap the other day, and the tag had a warning that said, “Some of these materials may cause cancer.” We’re worried about cloth guitar straps but not inking our skin! Many of the same people who ink their bodies are busy making their own “safe” soaps and worrying about the effects of pest control chemicals. There’s a disconcerting mental disconnect on display here.

Penn Medicine released an article called Think Before You Ink: Tattoo Health Risks which raises safety concerns that go largely unreported. Essentially, the ink in tattoos contains definite cancer-causing ingredients. But what I found most interesting was this concern:

In addition to the fear of carcinogens contained in the ink, individuals are also concerned about how these tattoos cover the body. A change in skin pigmentation is one of the earliest signs of skin cancer, particularly melanoma. When the body is “blacked out” with tattoo ink, individuals may not be able to notice these changes right away.[15]

An article in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery says:

Tattoos can cause bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, which could lead to impetigo, erysipelas, and septicemia; Staphylococcus aureus can cause rare toxic shock syndrome; skin and soft tissue infections can be caused by community-acquired methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA); treponema pallidum can cause syphilis; and Mycobacterium leprae which causes leprosy.[16]

Permanent Life Impact

Everyone knows someone these days stuck with an embarrassing tattoo of their ex’s name. Tattoo regret is common and creates a lot of anxiety, humiliation, and distress. That unicorn on a cloud might seem super silly as maturity sets in. That phrase that seemed so profound a few years ago might sound stupid now. Wisdom should inform us that permanently marking our bodies could lead to frustration and mortification later in life. No matter how sure you are now, you can’t be sure that you’ll be sure in the future.

You might say, “But they have tattoo removal procedures now.” Out of curiosity, I investigated that and found a lot of conflicting information. For one thing, it’s not a completely sure thing that every tattoo can be removed entirely. And even if you can remove one, it’s an awful process. Lauren Chan talks about it in a fascinating Glamour article, Tattoo Removal: 14 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting It. Lauren writes, “A complete tattoo removal takes a minimum of two and a half years.”[17] By all accounts, the process hurts and costs thousands of dollars to remove a single tattoo. And if that isn’t discouraging enough, the process usually leaves permanent scarring and possibly discoloration. And the common side effects are terrible, according to Lauren Chan.[18] In other words, it’s unrealistic to assume you can wipe away a tattoo later if you decide you don’t like it. I wish you could, but it just doesn’t work that way.

The Body Is God’s Temple, Not Ours

The Bible teaches that we have been “bought with a price,” therefore, we must “glorify God with our bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are God’s temple because His Spirit dwells inside us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Our bodies are meant to be the temple and a sacrifice. We are instructed to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God” Romans 12:1-2). I’m emphasizing this because I hear things like “it’s my body and my choice,” even in Christian circles. But the reality for a believer is that it’s God’s body, and He makes the choices. I don’t get to do anything I want to do with this body I’ve been given. I’ve given my life to Christ, and that includes my body. Tattoos defile our temple with rebellion and render our sacrifice unacceptable to God.

Associations with the Occult, Death & Paganism

Throughout recorded history, tattoos have been intricately associated with occultism, death, mysticism, and paganism. Modern Christians either don’t know this, don’t care, or both. Many Christians no longer believe in the supernatural. To them, demons, witchcraft, and all things associated with it are biblical metaphors for something else. Just like Harry Potter, it isn’t to be taken seriously. They aren’t worried about the dark implications and associations shrouding tattoos. While researching, I noticed a testimonial on a blog by a woman identified as EB. Her real-life experience brings insight into the issue of tattooing that I couldn’t possibly give. Here’s what she had to say:

Prior to becoming a believer, I worked as a tattoo artist and am covered in ink. I spent years in that industry and have more tattoos than you’d care to count. Let me start by saying that the world of tattooing is absolutely and utterly demonic in every conceivable way. While its cultural roots are in paganism, its present life source is pride. I’ve tattooed hundreds, if not thousands, of people, and, without exception, each one of them (including my own and including the “Christian” pieces) were conceived of and carried out for purposes of self-exaltation and boastful individualism.

Up to my conversion, you would never have found me in long sleeves. My tattoos were my identity; without them, I was just. “Normal.” There is nothing the world hates more than normalcy. Almost immediately upon coming to Christ, my long sleeve shirt collection began to grow, and, at the present time, the only short sleeve shirts I have are undershirts that I wear… well, under other shirts. The only thing positive I can say about my tattoos is that they are a shameful and embarrassing reminder of how deep a pit I was pulled from and that it was not by my will but His that I was saved.[19]

From the historical perspective, The Tattoo History Source Book speaks to the twisted religious heritage of tattoos:

“The actual tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos, could only be done by priests and was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste… historically tattooing originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.”[20]

According to Amy Krakow in her chronicle The Total Tattoo Book, “Tattooing has had well-defined roles: Marking a rite of passage at a stage of life, calling the spirits, proudly, defiantly or sneakily showing who you are via body art.”[21]

Here’s another disturbing quote for your consideration:

“The reasons why puncturing the skin should be regarded with some degree of awe are not far to seek, for, in the first place, there is the drawing of blood, which to the savage world over is full of significance as a rejuvenating and immortalizing factor. There is, in addition to the opening of numerous inlets for evil to enter.”[22]

If you think the spiritual aspect of tattooing is a thing of the past… think again. One quick Google search into tattoo insiders revealed the current tat trends include “astrology inspired ink, religious tribal art, spiritual tattoos, specifically mandala, hamza, and lotus designs that are deeply associated with healing, balance, growth, rebirth, and positive energies.”[23] One popular tattooer described the hot new trend of abstract expression art “that allows us to free ourselves from the mental blocks placed around what we know to be right or wrong.”[24] Honestly, the past and current tattoo connections with humanistic, hedonistic, and demonist practices are so prevalent that it would take a large book to document all of it. I’m convinced that overlooking these things would take willful blindness or intentional complacency.

The Divine Tattoo (Common Questions & Objections Answered)

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me (Isaiah 49:16).

People often use this verse to argue that God has a cosmically divine tattoo. And so, the reasoning goes, if God can get a tattoo, I can too. But that kind of thinking is wrong on several levels. First, we don’t get to do everything God gets to do. For example, we aren’t allowed to seek revenge or vengeance. Yet, God said of Himself, “vengeance is mine” (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35, Hebrews 10:30, Leviticus 19:18). Secondly, people citing this verse are assuming the word translated in the King James Version as “graven” literally means “tattoo.” However, the Hebrew word used here is “chaqaq,” which means “to cut in.”[25] The illusion of something being “graven” on God’s palms is more closely connected to the symbolism of the divine engraving of the Ten Commandments into stone (Exodus 321:18). Or it might even be seen as a metaphor foreshadowing the nail-scarred hands of Jesus. But even if “graven” were meant to conjure up the image of tattoos on God’s palms, it still wouldn’t validate tattoos for us. Why? Because regardless of how you translate the verse, the imagery is a figurative illustration meant to drive a point home. God doesn’t have arms or hands, for that matter. Furthermore, God doesn’t need a string around his finger or a post-it note reminding Him to love us.

Jesus’ Cosmic Thigh Tattoo (Common Questions & Objections Answered)

And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings, And Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16).

This objection is even less plausible than the last one. Not only would Jesus not have a tattoo because it is forbidden in God’s Word (Leviticus 28:19), but neither would He immodestly expose His thigh (Isaiah 47:2-3). It’s offensive when people twist Scripture to their agenda. It’s a ridiculous and untenable leap from the word “written” to “tattooed.” There isn’t one shred of evidence that Revelation 19:16 hints at a cosmic tattoo on Jesus’ thigh. Admittedly, the King James’ translation is a little clunky here, which might cause some to wonder if the name is written on Jesus’ vesture and leg. Interestingly, out of the fifty or so English translations I checked; the Contemporary English Version was the most accurate (the CEV is not a paraphrase), “On the part of the robe that covered his thigh was written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).

The Forbidden Haircut (Common Questions & Objections Answered)

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard (Leviticus 19:27).

One of the silliest and more childish arguments used to justify the Christian tattoo goes something like: “Hey man, do you get a haircut or trim your beard? God condemned getting a haircut or trimming your beard in the verse before forbidding the tattoo. Dude, the tattoo is the same as getting a haircut.” God wasn’t condemning haircuts or beard trims, but He was expressly forbidding hairstyles and beard styles that mimicked their pagan neighbors. The IVP Commentary offers the most thorough and compelling explanation of Leviticus 19:27 I’ve seen thus far:

The prohibition against trimming the “sides of your head” or the “edges of your beard” uses the same terminology as Leviticus 19:9-10, which deals with the harvesting of fields. In both cases an offering is involved—one to the poor and the other to God. The law’s placement here immediately after the prohibition against divination suggests that the restriction on cutting the hair is based on the Canaanite practice of making an offering of hair to propitiate the spirits of the dead (see Deuteronomy 14:1). Hammurabi‘s code penalizes false witnesses by having half the person’s hair cut off. The Middle Assyrian code allows a debt slave’s master to pull out his or her hair as punishment (see Nehemiah 13:25). Both laws suggest that shame is attached to the loss of hair. There is a Phoenician inscription from the ninth century B.C. reporting the dedication of shaven hair by an individual in fulfillment of a vow made to the goddess Astarte. In ancient thinking, hair (along with blood) was one of the main representatives of a person’s life essence. As such, it was often an ingredient in sympathetic magic. This is evident, for instance, in the practice of sending along a lock of a presumed prophet’s hair when his prophecies were sent to the king of Mari. The hair would be used in divination to determine whether the prophet’s message would be accepted as valid.[26]

This is the New Testament (Common Questions & Objections Answered)

Many Christians confronted with Leviticus 19:28 are quick to point out that they aren’t bound by any of those pesky Old Testament laws. Of course, this is a theologically illiterate argument. Unfortunately, theological ignorance is the norm in modern Christianity. What did Jesus do when confronted by Lucifer’s temptations in the wilderness? He quoted moral commandments from the OId Testament (Matthew 4:1-11). While it’s true that the Old Testament’s ceremonial laws don’t bind New Testament Christians, we’re still bound to every moral law of God. For example, did you know that bestiality is only forbidden in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16)? Does that mean that God now, under the New Covenant, approves of bestiality? It’s also worth looking at Leviticus 19:29, which is the verse right after the tattoo verse:

Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness (Leviticus 19:29).

This is the only place in the entire Bible where God directly forbids someone to prostitute their daughter. Would that still be a sin, or is it just an outdated Old Testament rule? Many other moral laws are only forbidden in the Old Testament, such as the human sacrifice of children. Nowhere in the New Testament is this forbidden. It’s only the moral laws we don’t like that we write off as irrelevant and antiquated. The Matthew Henry Commentary sums up how Christians should view Leviticus 19 in general, “Some ceremonial precepts there are in this chapter, but most of them are moral. Most of these precepts are binding on us, for they are expositions of most of the ten commandments.”[27]


[1]Charles Caldwell Ryrie, eds. The Ryrie Study Bible. Expanded, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), paragraph 2041.
[2]Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 4789.
[3]Glen S. Martin, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Max Anders, vol. 2 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2002), 224.
[4]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 134.
[5]John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, eds. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), paragraph 2017.
[6]Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), paragraph 2740.
[7]TDNT (Abridged), s.v. “στίγμα,” 1086.
[8] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[9] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[10] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[11] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[12] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[13] Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton, Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, 2018.
[14] Note: One thing that makes this research paper interesting is its extensive references to previous areas of research on the subject.
[15] Think Before You Ink: Tattoo Health Risks, http://www.penmedicine.org, Penn Medicine, July 17, 2018, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/july/tattoo-health-risks
[16] 5 Dangerous Health Risks of Tattoos, www.news24.com, News 24, May 4, 2018, https://www.news24.com/health24/medical/skin/about-skin/5-dangerous-health-risks-of-tattoos-20180504
[17] Tattoo Removal: 14 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting It, www.glamour.com, Glamour, Lauren Chan, September 7, 2022, https://www.glamour.com/story/tattoo-removal-cost-what-is-it-like
[18] Tattoo Removal: 14 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting It, www.glamour.com, Glamour, Lauren Chan, September 7, 2022, https://www.glamour.com/story/tattoo-removal-cost-what-is-it-like
[19] Tattoos: Pagan Demonism, Shamanism, Baal Worship & Occult Mysticism, www.5ptsalt.wordpress.com, 5 Pt. Salt, Joel Taylor, October 29, 2011, https://5ptsalt.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/tattoos-pagan-demonism-shamanism-baal-worship-occult-mysticism/
[20] Steve Gilbert, The Tattoo History Source Book, (Juno Books, 2001).
[21] Amy Krakow, Total Tattoo Book, (Grand Central Publishing, 1994).
[22] Wilfrid Dyson Hambly, The History of Tattooing, (Dover Publications, 2009).
[23] 7 Major Tattoo Trends You’re About to See Everywhere, www.bustle.com, Bustle, Carolyn Steber, February 2022, https://www.bustle.com/style/tattoo-trends-2022
[24] 7 Major Tattoo Trends You’re About to See Everywhere, www.bustle.com, Bustle, Carolyn Steber, February 2022, https://www.bustle.com/style/tattoo-trends-2022
[25] Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, 2710. חָקַק (chaqaq), www.biblehub.com, Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/hebrew/2710.htm
[26]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 130.
[27] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Thomas Nelson), 2003.

Three Trees

The Beauty of Biblical Symbolism

One of the many things I love about Scripture is the symbolism stretched across its pages. It’s everywhere. Of course, it’s all meant to conjure imagery and teach lessons within lessons. Almost every story in the Bible contains a message within a lesson within another moral. I realize we can get carried away and start imagining things that aren’t actually there. We might extract beliefs that aren’t divinely intended without careful consideration, which can be dangerous. And many of my friends are understandably wary of focusing too much on biblical symbolism. I get that. However, avoiding biblical symbolism altogether robs us of vast, awe-inspiring realms of beauty that God intended for us to experience.

The Juxtaposition of Jesus’ Rhetoric

One thing many anti-symbolists forget is that Jesus alternated between straightforward and intensely parabolic teachings. What is a parable exactly? It uses imagery, stories, and symbols to illustrate a moral truth. Jesus is perhaps best known for His use of parables. And they weren’t always immediately understandable because the parables were peppered with prophetic meanings. Quite literally, many of the implications of the parables could not be understood because they weren’t intended to be comprehended at that moment. Like full-fledged prophecy, many parables only made sense in the future as events unfolded. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jesus interacted this way because God has always used signs, symbols, parables, types, and shadows in His communication with us. For example, when God rebuked Satan in the Garden after The Fall, He spoke cryptically: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

The First Good News

Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the “first good news” because it’s the first foretelling of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God announced that a male descendant—He—would someday deal the serpent (meaning Satan) a fatal blow. The New Testament writers understood Jesus Christ to have fulfilled this prophecy (Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8). In an extended sense, the New Testament also indicates that God would work through the Church—those indwelt by the Spirit of Christ—to destroy the works of the Devil (Romans 16:20).

The Significance of Symbolism

It’s worth considering why God would employ so much symbolism throughout Scripture. As best I can tell, there are three reasons: One, because Satan does not know the future, prophecy is purposefully vague to keep Satan confused. Two, if humanity knew the exact details of future events, we might be tempted to help them along when we need to get out of the way. Three, it builds faith when humans look back through the lens of history and see the puzzle pieces clicking into place.

The uninformed might assume the Bible is a carefully orchestrated body of literature. Perhaps, like an epic Tolkein novel, all the little loose ends are skillfully tied up in the mind of a genius for our consumption. However, the Bible is a library of individual books, with over thirty-three inspired writers spanning 1,500 years, written in different places, cultures, millennia, and perspectives. The only constant across the Bible’s pages is God’s inspiration. It would have been impossible, unthinkable, and unmanageable for mere humans to coordinate such a thing without the divine breath of God.

Therefore, when we see various symbols popping up throughout the inspired Book, we see glimpses of the marvelous mind of God. The magnificent consistency of eternal Truth peeks out from Genesis to Revelation offering fresh illuminations of ancient revelations. And while we should be careful not to build beliefs entirely on symbolism, it certainly can reinforce clearly defined doctrines. Powerful inspiration comes from recognizing that these symbols come from God’s throne, not men’s mere imaginations.

A Tale of Three Trees

It’s no exaggeration to say that trees are necessary for life to exist. They suck carbon dioxide out of the air and release the oxygen we need to breathe. Historically, trees have provided food, shelter, energy, sustenance, biodiversity, beauty, and soil preservation. We literally cannot survive without what trees provide for us daily. It’s also not an exaggeration to say a single tree was at the center of the utter destruction of God’s original created world.

Tree One: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).

In God’s interaction with Adam, He begins by offering a level of freedom that you and I have never seen or experienced. “Of every tree,” He said, “thou mayest freely eat.” Adam had unparalleled autonomy to do as he pleased. He had comfort, ease, authority, abundance, creativity, beauty, and eternality. The nature of God was to lead with freedom before establishing the first human law. This almost imperceptible detail allows us to glimpse the goodness of God towards humanity. We tend to view God’s laws as burdensome without taking the time to appreciate the freedoms God provides. God’s privileges and benefits far outweigh the weight of the laws He levies upon us. We also think it would be easier serving God if we had fewer rules and regulations. However, humanity’s first sin proves that God’s rules aren’t the problem. The frailty of our flesh and the pervasiveness of evil are the problems. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not evil by its nature. There was nothing wicked about the tree. To claim this would imply that God created something evil, which would contradict Genesis 1:31. The tree was not the source of sin; humanity was. The tree didn’t contribute to man’s sinfulness beyond providing him with an opportunity to obey or disobey.

In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. Before that time, the two were separate, and evil had only a nebulous existence in potential. While free choice did exist before eating the fruit, evil existed as an entity separate from the human psyche, and it was not in human nature to desire it. Eating and internalizing the forbidden fruit changed this, and thus was born the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The closest comparison we have is the sadness of watching a child lose the sweet innocence of youth. No wonder Jesus commands us to be “born again” (John 3:5-7). It also sheds light on Jesus’ mysterious charge, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5).

In Rashi’s notes on Genesis 3:3, the first sin came about because Eve added an additional clause to the divine command: “Neither shall you touch it.” By saying this, Eve added to God’s command and thereby came to detract from it, as it is written: “Do not add to His Words” (Proverbs 30:6). However, evil already existed in the heart of Lucifer. Adam and Eve’s first sin offended God in three ways: One, by rejecting God’s authority (we typically call that rebellion). Two, by distorting His instructions (His holy Word). Three, probably most offensive to God, by accepting Satan’s influence. All subsequent sins follow that same threefold pattern of offense against God.

Tree Two: The Cross on Golgotha’s Hill

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Because a tree became the symbol of condemnation looming before humanity in constant judgment. It’s fitting that a tree roughly formed into a cross by sinful hands would become the universal symbol of hope and salvation. In His infinite foreknowledge, God knew that He would become the sacrifice for our sins. Furthermore, God formed the tree that would become His mode of execution. When Lucifer slithered into Eve’s presence and convinced her to taste the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, he couldn’t have known that the mind of God had already formed the tree that would become crucial to the remedy. Only God can so thoroughly turn things around in such a beautifully poetic way.

Tree Three: The Tree of Life

22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim’s, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).

Contrary to popular belief, the Tree of Life did not predate God. The Tree of Life received its life-sustaining properties from the Lord: “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…” (Genesis 2:9). Mankind lost the privilege of accessing the Tree of Life by eating from the Forbidden Tree. In that instant, death became a looming inescapable aspect of human existence. Physical and spiritual pain throbbed into the hearts of the First Father and the First Mother and has been passed down to every subsequent family tree.

Every teardrop, every disappointment, every disease, and every act of unspeakable horror is a direct result of that first sin. Even worse, humanity lost connection and relationship with its Maker. Consequently, losing purpose, fulfillment, direction, inward peace, and intrinsic joy. In a symbolic gesture of finality, God placed an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance of the Garden to keep guard over the invaluable Tree of Life. Humanity was cast into a cruel cursed world. Yet, it’s sublimely splendid how God allowed Himself to be nailed onto the same roughly hewn materials central to humanity’s first sin. While that splintered tree bore Christ, He bore our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24). A tree for a tree, a perfect sacrifice in place of hopelessly flawed sacrifices, that’s what Christ did for us. And if we take up our crosses and follow Him in this fallen earthly realm, we will taste the Tree of Life’s exquisite fruit when we step into that faraway country beyond this kingdom.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

A Universal Problem the Invasion of Ukraine Exposes

If you are blissfully unaware of the atrocities taking place in Ukraine at the hands of Russia’s totalitarian president, Vladimir Putin, it’s past time to start paying attention. Why? Well, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would put it, “Something sinister is afoot.” Empires of evil are on the move. Or rather, they’ve always been on the move, but now they are out in the open. Even as I type these words, bombs are falling on innocent children, and bullets are raining down on civilians who once thought themselves insusceptible to such violence. As I watch and read news clips and have conversations with friends and acquaintances about the Russian invasion, something nags in the back of my mind like a repressed memory that won’t surface. I’ve pondered over it, but even still, the precise nature of my concern hasn’t fully formed. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll attempt to articulate a universal problem this recent invasion exposes.

An Oddly Shocking Emotion

I think it’s the shock—the sheer unadulterated disbelief. It’s plastered on the face of every pundit, politician, and private citizen as they talk about the invasion of Ukraine. Isn’t history filled with more war than peace? Yes, it is. Furthermore, doesn’t the Bible emphatically teach that peace will not be a long-term reality in this fallen world? Why, yes, it does. Sorrow, disgust, anger, disappointment, frustration, and indignation are appropriate emotions for this situation. Maybe I’m just strange, but all the shock doesn’t seem reasonable to me. Regardless, it does make sense because we’ve been carefully lulled into a utopian mindset. And I include Christians in that number. We’ve grown to believe that civilized nations don’t want war. We’ve bought the hedonistic lie that wars will cease to exist if everyone can just watch enough Netflix and get the newest Apple gadget. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think we have a well-developed philosophy. Theoretically, Christians know that things like materialism, social justice, and the redistribution of wealth are ultimately futile. They certainly don’t fill the human soul with peace. Yet, perhaps the materialistic side of things has unwittingly swept us into a slumber of sorts. To be kind, maybe it’s just been a light nap. Either way, it’s time to wake up and remember that evil is real, and it’s always prowling about in the shadows waiting for the chance to pounce.

The Fall of the Wall

I think the nap began at the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. When the Cold War ended, I was only six years old, and the Evil Soviet Empire collapsed. “We beat those commies back,” I’d hear the old folks say enthusiastically. But it would have been more accurate to say we temporarily pushed it back into the shadows. Few would have believed back in 1989 that most millennials would prefer socialism over freedom in a matter of decades.

It’s Hard to Find the Bodies

“At least they’re not commies,” you might say. But as Marion Smith, the director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, said, “Christians go to heaven, whereas socialists go to communism.”[i] Michael Knowles perspicaciously points out in the forward to the must-read book, The Devil and Karl Marx, “The problem with socialism isn’t the inefficiency; it’s the evil.”[ii] Paul Kengor refers to communism as a “killing machine.” He states, “Any ideology with a trail of rot like this is not of God but of the forces against God. It is not of God’s creation but a fallen angel’s anti-creation. It is not of the light but of the dark.”[iii] He’s referring to the bloody death toll communism has amassed, which is a number somewhere between 100 million and 166 million people killed by communist regimes in the name of progress. You might wonder why we don’t know the exact numbers. Well, it’s hard to find the bodies. We’ll probably never know how many die each day in the concentration camps of North Korea or the secret barracks of China. And remember, we’re not talking about distant history. No. These things occurred in the twentieth century, and they’re still happening right now.

Michael Knowles perspicaciously points out in the forward to the must-read book, The Devil and Karl Marx, “The problem with socialism isn’t the inefficiency; it’s the evil.”

The Prince of Darkness Sold It to Me

I know it’s hard to look evil square in the face and acknowledge it’s real. We like to think of evil as something confined in history books or tucked away in some remote place far from us. Interestingly, most people equate the name Hitler with the deadliest form of evil. But even Hitler’s murderous reign of terror doesn’t come close to communism’s body count. Paul Kengor puts it this way:

In fact, neither did the two deadliest wars in history, World Wars I and II, which need to be combined and doubled to get near communism’s butcher’s bill. The highest estimates of death produced during the entirety of the Spanish Inquisition (a period of some sixty years) come nowhere near the level of death in Stalin’s military purge or even Lenin’s first year in power.[iv]

Interestingly, most people equate the name Hitler with the deadliest form of evil. But even Hitler’s murderous reign of terror doesn’t come close to communism’s body count.

As more history comes to light, it’s increasingly clear that communism’s titular founder, Karl Marx, was demon-possessed. His own family and friends referred to him as “governed by a demon,” “possessed,” and as “a monster of ten thousand devils.” And he was oddly fond of writing darkly religious poetry for someone supposedly guided by sheer atheism. Consider this poem by Marx called The Player:

“Look now, my blood-dark sword shall stab
Unerringly within thy soul…
The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain,
Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed.
See the sword – the Prince of Darkness sold it to me.
For he beats the time and gives the signs.
Ever more boldly I play the dance of death."[v]

As more history comes to light, it’s increasingly clear that communism’s titular founder, Karl Marx, was demon-possessed. His own family and friends referred to him as “governed by a demon,” “possessed,” and as “a monster of ten thousand devils.”

The Courage to Confront

Michael Knowles, albeit unknowingly, prophetically summarized the current crises best:

The Evil Empire collapsed, but evil spirits continue to prowl about the earth seeking the ruin of souls because we contend in the end not against flesh and blood but against the spirits of wickedness in the high places, which will endure until the end of the world.[vi]

My point is not merely to decry the evils of communism, although I’d happily do that for hours on end; more importantly, I’m attempting to call us away from the self-inflicted ignorance of evil. Whether it’s a result of complacency, distraction, denial, simplistic naivety, or an “it’s not my problem” mentality. The thing about the “it’s not my problem” philosophy is that it’s not your problem yet. In his most famous Cold War speech Ronald Reagan quoting the infamous Sir Winston Churchill, said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits, not animals.” There’s a special kind of spiritual transcendence or religious awakening that can only be obtained by confronting the forces of malevolence head-on. And that process begins by mustering the courage to acknowledge the stark reality of evil and having the maturity to reckon with the fact that the problem of evil isn’t everybody else’s concern.

The thing about the “it’s not my problem” philosophy is that it’s not your problem yet.

There’s a special kind of spiritual transcendence that can only be obtained by confronting the forces of malevolence head-on. That begins by having the maturity to reckon with the fact that the problem of evil isn’t everybody else’s concern.

Sober & Vigilant

I’m not a war hawk. This isn’t meant to be a call to physical arms. I pray we’re not on the verge of World War III. I understand the United States shouldn’t be eager to fight even wars that would be morally good to fight. However, this is a call to spiritual arms. I’m sounding the alarm! We cannot be ignorant of the signs or the seasons. There’s more happening here than meets the eye. Prophecy is unfolding at the speed of light. I’m pleading with my brothers and sisters to be sober and vigilant. Put on the whole armor of God. Petty problems and silly past distractions must be discarded in the face of genuine evil.

“Therefore, let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:6-9).”


[i] Kengor, Paul, and Michael J. Knowles. 2020. The devil and Karl Marx: communism’s long march of death, deception, and infiltration. 7.

[ii] Ibid., x.

[iii] Ibid., xv.

[iv] Ibid., xix.

[v] Ibid., 39.

[vi] Ibid., xi

Why I’m Against Halloween (It’s Not What You Think)

Noteworthy, Episode 47

My brother Nathan has outlined terrific historical reasons Christians should avoid Halloween on his Noteworthy podcast (episode 47). Everything he points out is relevant, valid, and (I can’t resist) noteworthy. I recommend you listen because it’s a great discussion. But honestly, I’ve never needed historical context to dislike Halloween celebrations. My main reason for abstaining from Halloween festivities is different from the average objection others give. My concerns stem from a unique perspective after observing many enthusiastic Halloween celebrators over the years.

Typical Christian Objections to Halloween

Many Christian concerns about Halloween have focused on how people unwittingly participate in satanic rituals. Or they rightly sight the cultural elevation of demonically grotesque images. Indeed, Christians have no business glorifying demons, Satan, torture, death, or gore. And Christians have accurately deemed the spirit of fear and the proliferation of horror as contrary to biblical values. It’s also true that Halloween is historically connected to some pretty dark things. Past fears of razor-blade-infested candy and real witches waltzing about in the dark make many people suspicious of yearly Halloween celebrations.

Halloween Goes Mainstream

When I was young, it was pretty commonplace for creepy teens to use Halloween as an excuse to do crazy things. There were lots of weird séances and Dungeons & Dragons loons playing with stuff they didn’t understand. There was a real emphasis on actually scaring people. I know some of that still happens on a small scale. But Halloween has gone more and more mainstream in modern culture. These days everything about Halloween is packaged as cute and family-friendly. The scares aren’t scary, and the demonic isn’t fearsome to the average consumer. The devil is portrayed with benign little horn hats and non-threatening little red-tailed costumes. Parents have no problem dressing their kids as little demons because they don’t actually believe in demons. It’s all make-believe, after all.

Parents have no problem dressing their kids as little demons because they don’t actually believe in demons.

Why I’m Against Halloween

Halloween went from being an overtly anti-Christian holiday to an unbelief-in-the-supernatural holiday. The satanic went underground, and naturalism is the name of the game now. I stand firmly against Halloween because it helps desensitize children to the realities of Satan, demons, evil, and Hell. Generations of kids and now parents are comfortable with innocuous fake versions of real and very evil things. Demonically supernatural things have been reduced to mere fantasy on the same level as fairy dust and singing chipmunks, which leaves our culture in a numbed stupor, and completely unable to discern the realities of spiritual warfare. This mass naturalism plays nicely into genuine satanic strategies to keep people focused on the temporal while ignoring and disbelieving in the eternal.

Halloween went from being an overtly anti-Christian holiday to an unbelief-in-the-supernatural holiday. The satanic went underground, and naturalism is the name of the game now.

Demonically supernatural things have been reduced to mere fantasy on the same level as fairy dust and singing chipmunks, which leaves our culture in a numbed stupor, and completely unable to discern the realities of spiritual warfare.

The Demonic is Real

A few years ago, I heard a mother reassure her little costumed daughter not to be afraid of the boy wearing a demon outfit because demons aren’t real. The little girl seemed skeptical, but a few more years of reassurance from her parents likely resulted in a teenager with no respect for spiritual concepts. It would be better to fear Satan than not believe in him at all. But I have encountered demons, demons in disguise, and demon-possessed people. I’ve seen vile manifestations of genuine evil firsthand. It’s not cute or cuddly. It’s wicked, despicable, dark, twisted, deceitful, and legitimately terrifying. If you’ve ever seen a person immediately after multiple demons left their body, you know just how grateful they are to be alive. You’ve seen the terror they lived with and the perverse distorted things they did while under the control of malevolent beings. And you know how nasty the demons were while being commanded to come out of that person.

It would be better to fear Satan than not believe in him at all.

Only Support the Good

I believe demonic encounters are less noticeable by hellish design. Demons are still working, but their work is subtle and nuanced. Where they once manipulated people with fear, they now influence people with unbelief. Christians should have the wisdom to stay away from this con game. Instead, we should affirm the supernatural, both good and evil. We should only represent and support things that are good and beautiful in God’s sight. Let’s keep reminding everyone who will listen to us that God is real, and Satan is real too. There is a profoundly sinister evil lurking beneath the façade of a blissfully ignorant (or perhaps, willfully ignorant) naturalistic society. I, for one, can’t play the game of pretend others seems to enjoy during the Halloween season. I hope you feel the same.

Christians should affirm the supernatural, both good and evil. We should only represent and support things that are good and beautiful in God’s sight.

I believe demonic encounters are less noticeable by hellish design. Demons are still working, but their work is subtle and nuanced. Where they once manipulated people with fear, they now influence people with unbelief.

Been Hurt By A Pastor? (8 Reasons You Should Stop Talking About It) – Article + Podcast

I’m a pastor, and pastors have hurt me.

My most painful experiences came from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful. I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses; I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and everyone makes mistakes. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s precisely what you should NOT do.

I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I want to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.

Been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on.

1. It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart.

Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people do hurt people.

Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people do hurt people.

2. It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers.

Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW sinister truth preaching pastors.

I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW sinister truth preaching pastors.

3. It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are always looking backward.

As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you frequently talk about past church hurt, you destabilize your present and endanger your future.

When you frequently talk about past church hurt, you destabilize your present and endanger your future.

4. Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator.

Understandable as that may be, regularly rehashing church hurts goes against everything Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge; revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).

God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge; revenge is the Lord’s.

5. The constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart.

Despite human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.

The constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart. Despite human flaws, everyone needs a pastor.

If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.

6. Often, people who consistently dwell on ministerial failings use those failings as their primary excuse to justify their own bad decisions.

They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Our relationship with God should never be destroyed because of a minister’s wrongdoing or anyone else’s wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.

Often, people who consistently dwell on ministerial failings use those failings as their primary excuse to justify their own bad decisions.

Our relationship with God should never be destroyed because of a minister’s wrongdoing or anyone else’s wrongdoing.

David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.

7. It keeps the wounds fresh.

There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.

There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.

8. It might invite the judgment of God into your life.

I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation, he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening, they took a garment and walked backwards into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God, our demeanor matters.

When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God, our demeanor matters.

A quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leader’s failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize that many people incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.

Ryan French

Mass Killings and the Question of Evil

Two mass shootings have rocked the nation in the past month alone. One of them occurred right here in the Atlanta area that I love and call home. This isn’t a news story, it’s not my intention to give details or sensationalize the killings. Understandably, America always waits with bated breath for any details that might clarify the reasons behind a shooter’s sickening actions. Sadly, knowing a killer’s motivations (regardless of what they are) will be of no solace to those who have lost a loved one to senseless killing. Justifiably, the watching world craves some level of understanding going forward. One thing is sure, nothing discovered will produce any satisfying revelations. By assessing motives, we desperately hope to discover an inoculation from individual acts of evil. Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Pure Evil Can’t Be Intimidated

Undoubtedly, consequences (legal and otherwise) intimidate many people into submission. However, threatened social consequences are only preemptively impactful to a certain point. Obviously, suicide bombers can’t be intimidated by the loss of life over their actions. They give their lives willingly in the service of evil. Neither can a suicidal killer with hatred in his heart be thwarted by any punitive measures. A homicidal heart will find a way to commit murder regardless of the actions civil society takes. Please don’t misunderstand; we should take preventative measures when and where possible. It would be ludicrous for polite society to conclude that because rape can’t be totally eradicated, we shouldn’t make every effort humanly possible to prevent and punish rape. Indeed, the same goes for murder, whether it be mass murder or homicide in general.

Mass Shootings: A Modern Problem

Mass killings are a relatively new social manifestation of evil. While every society from the beginning of time (going all the way back to the biblical account of Genesis) has suffered the scourge of violence and homicidal hatred, the particularly heinous rise of senseless mass murder is a distinctively modern problem. Since the dawn of so-called civilization, governments and power-hungry tyrants have slaughtered more innocents than historians can count. But otherwise, average individuals killing innocent people they don’t even know (or barely know) en masse is terrifyingly unique. The level of hatred required for this nightmarish breed of viciousness defies comprehension. Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

The Origin of Evil

Evil is evil, and while individuals are responsible for their own actions, evil does not originate in the human psyche. It is always easier to relegate every depraved human action down to mental illness or madness. While mental illness is undoubtedly a real problem, not all (or even most) mentally ill individuals commit horrific crimes. Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not. We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not.

We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Out of the Shadows

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint. We can’t look directly at it without excruciating pain. It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them. Like the prophets of old, those who do notice and comment are labeled depressing, downers, boorish, buzz killers, alarmists, catastrophists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized. So, we hunger for the elusive why behind the “madness.” Some point the finger of blame at God in these circumstances (here’s a great article on the origins of evil). But ultimately, evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint.

It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them.

Like prophets of old, those who notice evil are labeled depressing, downers, buzz killers, alarmists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized.

Evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Because the fallen nature of humankind is vulnerable and consistently capable of awful behavior, Jesus instructed us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil… (Matthew 6:13).” I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while simultaneously claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about events like mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity. Facing the depravity of the human condition head-on is depressing and hard to grasp. The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). C.H. Spurgeon wrote:

“As the salt flavors, every drop in the Atlantic so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” He added: “The venom of sin is in the very fountain of our being; it has poisoned our heart. It is in the very marrow of our bones and is as natural to us as anything that belongs to us.”

I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity.

The Bad News and the Good News

We inherited that sinful nature from the lineage of Adam (Romans 5:12). You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption. In the weeks and months ahead, I have decided to write, podcast, preach and teach about the Gospel. If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless, please know there is hope. If you’re reading this and you know someone who feels hopeless, please tell them about Jesus. Tell them how God wants to forgive their sins and fill them with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). Tell them how the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can raise them above the hopelessness of sin (Romans 8:11). We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news.

Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption.

We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

Podcast

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Link to the David French Article Mentioned in the Podcast

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

Officer Jason was excited to be a part of the task force commissioned with retrieving Suzie who had been kidnapped out of a Supermarket when she was only 8 years old. Now five years later they believed they knew exactly where she was being held captive; a small house on the edge of a sleepy California town. They watched the house and waited until her captor stepped out onto the front porch for a smoke.  He was on the ground and handcuffed without incident within a matter of seconds. Officer Jason’s heart pounded with pride as he stepped into the house anticipating emancipating Suzie.  His thoughts raced to the inevitable tear-filled reunion between Suzie and her loving parents, who had been inconsolable these past five years without their little girl. The house was filthy and filled with an odor so pungent that his eyes began to water; as Jason crossed the living room he suddenly found himself staring down the muzzle of a revolver; Suzie was holding the gun and her eyes were full of worry with a tinge of rage as well. “Where’s my Edward?” she screamed! “What have you done?” she sobbed! And then she pulled the trigger.

Thankfully Officer Jason was wearing his vest that day. He recovered quickly from the bruised rib, but Suzie is still struggling to recover from a terrible condition known as Stockholm Syndrome.

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME (sometimes referred to as Capture Bonding) is a psychological phenomenon where hostages identify with, become emotionally attached to, and sometimes even fall in love with their captors. They often defend, protect and develop strong emotional connections with their abusers. Victims of abuse such as battered wives, battered girlfriends, children, concentration camp survivors, and prisoners of war often suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Sadly, people like Officer Jason have learned the hard way that victims of Stockholm Syndrome will resist the rescue, they will fight against salvation, and they will protect their abusers. It’s tragic! It’s heartbreaking! And many never fully recover from the psychological damage that lingers in their lives even long after the physical captivity is over. They are physically free but emotionally bound.

I see evidence of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME all around me. We know that Satan has come to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:19). His mission is total domination of your soul. He wants your soul as a trophy for Hell’s mantle place.  He knows what his fate will be, but he also knows that every tortured soul breaks God’s heart. So he roams like a silent assassin, a quiet killer; looking to bring you into captivity (1 Peter 5:8). He knows better than to present himself as your enemy. No one would willingly open up their front door to a thug or a kidnapper. Instead, he presents himself as a friend, a protector, a savior, a helper, or even an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) if needed. He morphs into whatever it takes to bring your guard down. He’ll tell you whatever you need to hear in order to manipulate your actions and dominate your thinking. He’ll separate you from everything that can truly help you, and everyone who truly loves you. He’ll twist your mind until you’re not sure what’s wrong & what’s right, what’s up & what’s down, what’s real & what’s not. Until you call right, wrong and you call wrong, right (Isaiah 5:20).

We’ve all witnessed victims of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME who were so confused, they actually believed the thing holding them captive and destroying their life was their dearest friend.  In dramatic cases, we see the drug addict who thinks they can’t live without another hit.  The alcoholic who can’t make it without “just” another sip. The gambler who can’t resist playing away his kid’s college fund.  The promiscuous person who lives for another cheap thrill. But those are only the obvious cases. Many others suffer silently from Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome; they’re held captive by false doctrines, fooled by faulty teachers, drained by evil philosophies, and clinging to false promises made by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Satan is a master of deception and subtlety. When he approached Eve in the Garden he seemed friendly, familiar and caring. He disguised himself as a leader who cared more about her well-being than God did. He just wanted her to have a good time. He just wanted her to meet her full potential. He just wanted her to be free.  In reality, he was setting the world up for pain, and death, and sin, and evil beyond Eve’s ability to comprehend.

Satan is not your drinking buddy, your partner in crime, your small-time pot dealer, or your local pimp; Satan is the incarnation of evil.  He’s worse than your worst nightmare, and the only thing that he hates more than you is the God that made you. His only goal is gaining total dominion over your soul. Hell is not a party boat, a late night club, or an afterlife playground. Hell is not a curse word or a descriptive term for your bad day. It’s a real place of eternal judgment. Captivity there will be final. There is no escaping Hell once Satan gets you there. Hell will make your worst day on earth seem like a lazy summer afternoon.  In Hell, God’s mercy will no longer restrict Satan’s evil. In Hell, the blood of Jesus will no longer set the captive free. In Hell, salvation will not be available.  But if you’re still breathing that means you still have access to freedom.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, Jesus had a fascinating exchange with the crowd that he was teaching that day. He had just made an impassioned statement of hope and deliverance by declaring, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Their response was an indication of full-blown Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome. They said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free (John 8:33)?” First of all, they had been and still were in a form of physical bondage (they were under Rome’s thumb). They were hostages in their own land. But beyond that, they were certainly in spiritual captivity. The religious leaders of the day had distorted the law into something that it was never intended to be, and sin was running rampant amongst God’s elect. Their response was as arrogant as it was ignorant. But Jesus was undeterred by their blatant Stockholm Syndrome. He ignored their denial and responded, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth forever (John 8:34-35). Sin is a cruel taskmaster who often masquerades as a friend. We fall in love with the hostage taker and attack our savior. Isn’t that exactly what they did to Jesus when they screamed crucify him and hung him on a tree? Thankfully, the jubilant words of Jesus are just as true today as they were when he first said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:36).