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?

Divine Inspiration (What the Bible Has to Say for Itself)

The Good Book

The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time. It’s estimated that roughly a billion copies have been sold. That’s probably not entirely accurate. And it doesn’t consider the millions of free electronic editions available to the masses. Ironically, the Bible is more accessible thanks to the internet than ever. Yet, biblical illiteracy increases with each passing decade. Regardless, millions of people have a Bible on a shelf or hidden away in some forgotten drawer. Others treasure their Bible like gold and read it with sacred reverence. Grab ten people off the street, and you’ll get ten opinions about the Bible. However, if it’s not the whole Word of God, then it cannot be a good book.

All or Nothing

C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus Christ was either “Lord, liar or lunatic.” Similarly, the Bible makes claims about itself incompatible with the idea of being just a good book of wisdom. The Bible is either the Divinely inspired Word of God or the silly ramblings of misguided delusional men. It’s either entirely true or the longest-running, best-coordinated con job in recorded history. Essentially, the Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition. If it’s genuinely from God, half-hearted attention will never suffice. And if it’s not, it’s the worst form of manipulative evil. No viewpoints in-between those two options are logical or possible.

Divine Blessings

Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” Regardless of race, denomination, or background, if you ask any Christian if they would like to have Divine blessings, they will answer, “yes.” And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find large portions of them hearing and obeying the entirety of God’s Word. Most Christians have their candy stick verses or their preconceived dogmas. Sadly, most Christians ignore, overlook, or gloss over large portions of Scripture that seem extreme or inconveniently counter-cultural. Sometimes, they miss so many vital doctrines that their salvation is jeopardized. Others might slip into Heaven, but they miss tremendous blessings that otherwise would have been poured into their lives. Complete obedience to God’s Word is the key to accessing Divine blessings. There is no shortcut or substitute.

What Does the Bible Have to Say for Itself?

As I mentioned earlier, the Bible is either entirely true or a complete lie. But it’s impossible to remain intellectually honest without acknowledging the miraculous continuity of the Bible. Don’t forget that the Bible was written over a period of nearly 2,000 years by forty authors writing from three continents, and it maintains perfect uniformity of message. All sixty-six books comprising the Bible are united in perfect harmony and point exclusively to Jesus Christ, the true Author. Unlike the famed futurist Nostradamus, the Bible’s fulfilled prophecies are precise and uncanny. Scripture’s flawless internal consistency defies natural explanation. But rather than talking about the Bible, let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say for itself.

The Bible Lays Claim to Divine Origins

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Biblical authors were consistent in claiming that their words were not theirs. Holy men of old viewed themselves as vessels filled by God. They emptied themselves of the words poured into them by the Holy Ghost. If the Bible is not God’s divinely inspired Word, it is a fraudulent document filled with dribble. Of course, I believe the evidence proves (including my life interactions with it) that the Bible is true. However, the claims Scripture makes about itself are so radical that they demand complete acceptance or total rejection. Anything in between complete acceptance or total rejection is an intellectual cop-out. Partial approval or shallow half-hearted nods of respect aren’t compatible with the very nature of the Bible. In our culture plagued with near psychosomatic commitment issues, the biblical insistence upon total adherence is difficult to digest. However, it is the essence and the reality of what the Holy Writ requires.

The Bible Lays Claim to Perfection

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7).

It could help to rephrase this claim in more understandable terms. The Bible lays claim to moral perfection. If Scripture is the divine Word of God, and if it is true that God is supremely just, then anything prescribed in His book is perfectly righteous. God’s Word sets the standard of right and wrong, good or bad, and so on. Therefore, even if our human sensibility is offended or confused, it does not make God’s Word imperfect. Humanity is corrupted by sin and does not easily comprehend genuine justice. We don’t perceive evil as precisely as we should. Meaning we are reliant upon the Bible to reveal moral Truths to us. Without the authoritative Word of God, humanity is left to its own misguided inward moral compass. Our understanding of good and evil has been tampered with by sin and by the sins of our fathers. We hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) to replace our broken compass with God’s flawless GPS.

The Bible Lays Claim to Sanctifying Truth

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17).

Without falling off a theological cliff, sanctification can be described as the process of being made holy. So how can one become holy? By living according to God’s Truth. And that Truth is contained in the Bible. Obedience to God’s Word is the only path to holiness. Anything less falls short of sanctification. All other versions of morality, although containing measures of truth, are not the Truth. Therefore, they fail to make one morally pure in the eyes of the Lord. It’s prudent to remember that God’s holiness is His most biblically acclaimed attribute. Our call to be sanctified through the Word is no insignificant thing. It isn’t just theological jargon or intellectual banter. It is a God-given imperative to be taken seriously.

The Bible Lays Claim to Flawlessness

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him (Proverbs 30:5).

The word “pure” in the above Scripture comes from the Hebrew word yastsib, which means “true.”[i] However, in the more profound sense of the word here, it means “certain” or “reliable.”[ii] The distinction is important because God’s words aren’t just true at the moment they’re given. They are eternally reliable. This alludes to the prophetic surety of God’s Word. And to Its literal reliability in the past, present, and future. The Bible is eternally true. Its Truth doesn’t morph, degrade, or rescind. So, when the Bible speaks of the past, we can trust that it is true regardless of what current science might say. When the Bible tells of the future, we can believe it shall be so without reservation. When so-called modern “facts” contradict Scripture, rest assured that Scripture will stand vindicated.

The Bible Lays Claim to Vitality

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Admittedly, despite the King James Version being the best English translation, it sometimes creates embarrassing moments for the modern reader. I can’t tell you how many years I took the word “quick” to mean that the Word of God is a fast-moving sword. And while it is true that the Word can and does often move quickly in a person’s life, “quick” is an Old English word for “alive.” The Holy Bible is living. As we interact with the Word, the Spirit of God moves in us and upon us. The Word doesn’t change but progressively reveals things to us as we interact. That’s why you can read the same verse a thousand times, and one day, you comprehend something that previously seemed mundane. As we humbly submit ourselves to the Word, it changes us from the inside out.

The Bible Lays Claim to Salvific Exclusivity

13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:13-17).

The Bible is crystal clear in the claim that it holds the exclusive plan of salvation for humankind. No other book, creed, faith, or culture has access to eternal salvation with God in Heaven. Universalism is the deceiver currently working to deceive the very elect. It might be tempting to buy the lie that many paths lead to God. For some, that sounds tolerant and exceedingly loving. However, it is not possible to believe the Bible and hold to universalism at the same time.

Furthermore, for those who like to deny the relevance of the Old Testament in the New Testament era: When Paul declares that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” the New Testament was not yet completed or in circulation among the Church. The apostle was referring to the Old Testament. Indeed, the theological relevance of the Old Testament was affirmed by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. All of whom referred back to the Old Testament in their preaching, teaching, and correspondence.

The Bible Lays Claim to Unbridled Power

Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9).

Undoubtedly the apostle Paul was a mighty man of God. He walked in power and authority. Yet, he was still just a man. He suffered unending trials and tribulations. Paul was aware that his multiple incarcerations might cause some to doubt the power of God’s Word. He quickly reminded fearful believers that while we might be bound, the Word of God is never bound. God’s Word bristles with unbridled power even in the darkest of times. It’s working even when we can’t see it. It’s moving even when we can’t feel it. There is no thwarting or diminishing the Word of the Lord. A particular comfort comes when we understand that our weaknesses and sufferings cannot bind the work of the Word.


[i] “יציב,” Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance paragraph 3620.

[ii] “י,” The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament 1613.

Emmaunel In a Manger

Heaven came down without a sound
  Into a lost world needing found
Majestic angels gathered round
  Shepherds bowed low onto the ground
Even as wise men sought the crown

Emmanuel in a manger
  A single ray of light shown down

The tyrant trembling at the news
  Assembled swords to slaughter Jews
Hues of red innocent blood oozed
  The baby king is dead he mused
Yet Christ lived on our sins to take

Emmanuel in a manger
  A single ray of light shown down

Heaven came down without a sound
  The miracle growing in a stable
God in the flesh came to save us
  A lamb slain from the beginning 
Glory to God in the highest

Emmanuel in a manger
  A single ray of light shown down

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).

The Lynching of Leo Frank

An innocent Jew hung unjustly from a tree to the great delight of an onlooking crowd. Only a handful of quietly spoken words crossed his lips before he died. His accusers craved his death long before it occurred. He wasn’t given a fair trial. An actual murderer went free. And history will forever grieve the tragedy. Although the details are similar in many ways, I’m not referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, I’m referencing the undeserved lynching of Leo Frank.

The Tragic Death of Mary Phagan

For the sake of time, I can only give the highlights of a story that sparked national attention in the Atlanta area in 1913. “Little Mary Phagan,” as she became known, left home on the morning of April 26 to pick up her wages at the pencil factory in Marietta and view Atlanta’s Confederate Day parade. She never returned home.

The next day, the factory night watchman found her bloody, sawdust-covered body in the factory basement. When the police asked Leo Frank to view her body, Frank became agitated. He confirmed personally paying Mary her wages but could not say where she went next. Frank, the last to admit seeing Mary alive, became the prime suspect. Sadly for Frank, he was a Northern-born, college-educated, wealthy Jewish man, making him the easy target of intense bias and hatred.

A Sham Trial

Cobb county prosecutor Hugh Dorsey painted Leo Frank as a pervert who was both a homosexual and also preyed on young girls. What he did not tell the grand jury was that a janitor at the factory, Jim Conley, had been arrested two days after Frank when he was seen washing blood off his shirt. Conley then admitted writing two notes found by Mary Phagan’s body. The police correctly assumed at the time that, as the author of those notes, Conley was the murderer, but Conley claimed, after coaching from Dorsey, that Leo Frank had confessed to murdering Mary in the tool room and then paid Conley to write the notes and help him move Mary’s body to the basement.

Even after Frank’s housekeeper placed him at home, having lunch at the time of the murder, and despite gross inconsistencies in Conley’s story, both the grand and trial jury chose to believe Conley. In August 1913, the jury found Frank guilty in less than four hours. Crowds outside the courthouse shouted, “Hang the Jew.”

Historian Leonard Dinnerstein reports that one juror had been overheard saying before his selection for the jury, “I am glad they indicted the… Jew. They ought to take him out and lynch him. And if I get on that jury, I’ll hang that Jew for sure.”

Facing intimidation and mob rule, the trial judge sentenced Frank to death. He barred Frank from the courtroom because, had he been acquitted, Frank might have been lynched by the crowd outside.

A Brave Man Tries

Georgia’s higher courts rejected Frank’s appeals despite these breaches of due process, and shockingly the U. S. Supreme Court voted, 7-2, against reopening the case. Frank’s survival depended on then Georgia Governor Frank Slaton. After a 12-day review of the evidence, Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. He hoped to allow Leo Frank time to clear his name and for further evidence to come forward as tempers abated. Governor Slaton told his wife on the day he decided to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, “My conscience is forcing me to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, but that means I can’t possibly run for a second term as governor, my life will be in constant danger, and our reputations will be ruined in this state.” Without hesitation, she responded, “I’d rather be married to a dead hero than a living coward.”

That night, state police kept a protesting crowd of 5,000 from the governor’s mansion. Wary Jewish families fled Atlanta. Slaton held firm. “Two thousand years ago,” he wrote a few days later, “another Governor washed his hands and turned over a Jew to a mob. For two thousand years, that governor’s name has been accursed. If today another Jew were lying in his grave because I had failed to do my duty, I would all through life find his blood on my hands and would consider myself an assassin through cowardice.”

A Midnight Lynching

On August 17, 1915, 28 men — described by peers as “sober, intelligent, of established good name and character”— stormed the Milledgeville, GA prison hospital where Leo Frank was recovering from having his throat slashed by a fellow inmate. They kidnapped Frank, drove him more than 100 miles to Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and hanged him from a tree at the stroke of midnight. The Cobb county’s mayor and sheriff and former Georgia governor Joseph Brown were among the 28 vigilantes.

Frank conducted himself with dignity, calmly proclaiming his innocence.

Townsfolk were proudly photographed beneath Frank’s swinging corpse, pictures you can find with a quick online Google search today. When his term expired a year later, Slaton did not run for reelection, and the dishonest prosecutor, Dorsey, easily won the election to the governor’s office. None of the vigilantes were ever arrested or convicted of any crime. This story has gone down in the pages of history as Georgia’s Great Shame.

The Deadly Silence of a Good Man

In 1982, a death bed confession by a former office boy at National Pencil, along with hosts of other pieces of evidence, confirmed what many suspected. Alonzo Mann, 83 at the time he came forward, said he witnessed Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the factory’s basement on the day of her death. He kept silent, he said, because Conley threatened to kill him and his family.

Self-Righteous Vigilantes

Fascinatingly, from all the accounts I’ve read, the men who hanged Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan did not go about it with a spirit of lawlessness or vindictiveness. They felt a duty to their state and commonwealth and a responsibility to the memory of Mary Phagan. In other words, they really thought they were correcting a breach of justice and doing the right thing. Now. Did their biased prejudice blind them to their own inconsistencies? Absolutely. Did they have their own sins and hypocrisies to deal with? Yes. Those men, who were otherwise upstanding citizens, committed a horrific act of unspeakable evil. They committed an atrocity while wearing self-aggrandizing badges of righteousness. They even called themselves the Nights of Mary Phagan. They died believing they’d done the right thing, and because they paid no earthly consequences, it seemed like a confirmation of righteousness.

Crucify Him

The people who screamed for the crucifixion of Jesus were the Old Testament equivalents of good church folks. They went to Temple services, paid their tithes, offered their sacrifices, and dressed right. The religious elites stirred them up, but the average saint got caught in the current of opinion and outrage. They believed in half-truths, complete falsehoods, and total misnomers. Folks otherwise considered “good” people released a murderer and killed their savior. This odd ability to consider ourselves good while being thoroughly evil is a product of The Fall. And therein lies the lesson within the lesson from the events leading to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Within each of us, “good” people reside carefully masked malevolence, unrealized potential for evil, and thinly veiled hypocrisy.

The Lie of Innate Goodness

The Western preoccupation with people’s (especially our own) relative goodness is astonishing and spiritually toxic. It’s harmful because when we think of ourselves as relatively “good” or “descent,” we compare ourselves to other sinful human beings. Thus, creating a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable sins based on our feelings, current culture, upbringing, socioeconomics, and personality. Historically, Christianity has endeavored to walk the fine line between radically affirming the value of all human life because it is created in the image of God while concurrently rejecting the humanistic philosophy which presupposes people are innately good. Muddying the waters, even more, is the fact that even if we accept that people are not inherently good, we easily exempt ourselves (and our loved ones) from that incriminatory viewpoint and reckon that we are good deep down. We hear of horrible things individuals did in the distant past and, with the delightful advantage of hindsight, assume we would never have participated in such a terrible thing. But truthfully, we don’t really know that to be a fact.

Why Do You Call Me Good?

In Mark 10:17-23, a wealthy young ruler came running to Jesus and offered a greeting he never intended to be controversial. He asked, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As usual, Jesus responded to a question with another question, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, and that is God?” The man called Jesus “good.” The Greek word the young man used is agathos, meaning “intrinsically good.” This word was not used lightly nor for every good thing. Had the man made the leap that Jesus was indeed God, who was intrinsically good? Was he prepared to accept the full weight of his pronouncements?

It became clear as the conversation continued that the young man considered himself quite good based on his actions. Maybe even intrinsically good. But Jesus zeroed in on the man’s secret sins: pride, love of money, and lack of generosity. And because he loved his money more than Jesus, he missed the opportunity to become a disciple. Or perhaps, we might assume the young man missed the broader point Jesus was inferring, which was that He was God manifest in the flesh and that alone made Him intrinsically good.

Capable of Good & Evil

To summarize a weighty biblical theme from this little interaction: Human beings are capable of both good and evil at any given time. Because we are capable of evil and often do bad things, we are not primarily good deep down. In fact, the deeper we go, the more malevolence we find within the human heart. To view ourselves and others as mostly good is to deny the reality and the seriousness of sin. Only God is good all the time. Only God is utterly incapable of evil. To think anything less of God is heresy. If humanity is essentially good, the cross was unnecessary, and the Bible is a colossal waste of time. Most Christians know this to be true but live as if it is not. We accept the grace and mercy of God and slowly begin to lean on our own goodness. And that’s the trap because once humans believe they’ve become thoroughly good, they do awful things without a hint of conviction or remorse. That is the very definition of self-righteousness.

How Can It Be So Wrong When I’m So Good?

Furthermore, most unsaved people believe their perceived goodness will buy them a ticket to Heaven. “After all,” they think to themselves, “only terrible people need saving, but I’m a decent person.” Meanwhile, they point fingers at other people’s splinters while ignoring the log poking out of their eyes. Self-justification says, “If I’m doing it, it can’t be so dreadfully wrong because I’m so good.” It’s sort of like the parent who criticizes everyone else’s kids but winks when their kids do the same things. How can that be? Well, their kids are innately better than your kids in their eyes.

A Flawed Pentecostal Preacher

I think it’s so interesting that God chose Peter to preach the first Gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Of all the disciples, Peter was far from the most exemplary. By my hasty count, Peter failed twelve times before preaching that sermon. Of course, some of those failures were more severe than others. But some of them were pretty significant. Even outright sinful. To name a few, Peter, filled with selfish ambition, argued with the other disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He rebuked Jesus for talking about His soon-to-be crucifixion and had to be severely corrected. He failed to stay alert in prayer during Jesus’ greatest hour of need. He denied Jesus with “oaths” and “curses” in the public arena. And after being completely overwhelmed by his sins and the self-discovery of his weaknesses, he abandoned the Apostolic Team and returned to his former life as a fisherman.

Yet, Peter was still allowed to preach the first apostolic declaration of the Gospel. I don’t think that was coincidental. In God’s grand design, a man thoroughly acquainted with his internal badness faithfully preached the convicting of sins to a self-righteous crowd. Peter didn’t waver when he declared (and I’m paraphrasing), “You have taken Jesus with wicked hands and have crucified Him and slain Him (Acts 2:23).” He didn’t stop there, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” Only a man fully convinced of his own capacity for badness could preach with such convicting fervor. Because Peter had faced his personal heart trouble, he could see the disease in others who couldn’t see it for themselves.

Convicts Always Recognize Convicts

An individual who’d spent a great deal of time in prison once told me he could always spot someone who had served jail time in any setting. And they could spot him too. I witnessed that very thing several times while with him. It was intriguing to watch. You might assume it was because of tattoos, stern expressions, or something obvious. But it wasn’t. Two perfectly normal-looking people could walk past each other and instantly know they’d served time somewhere. Besides, tattoos are so common now that you’d hardly assume they’re prison-related.  

When Peter called otherwise normal-looking people sinful cold-blooded murderers, it was a convict recognizing convicts. Because he acknowledged his sin, he could see there’s too. Peter’s conviction gave him the anointing to preach conviction. Notice the crowd’s response in Acts 2:37, “…When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart and said… ‘what shall we do?’” Peter didn’t convict them; they were already convicted and pronounced guilty by God. They just didn’t realize it until Peter made it clear. Thankfully, the burden of guilt doesn’t have to end with the punishment we deserve if we’ll obey the way of escape Peter preached. He said with God-given authority:

…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

Reaching the Religious

Nearly everyone Peter preached to that day was religious. They didn’t consider themselves bad or lost. Every preacher knows the most challenging crowd to reach is a group of smugly religious people. People who can lynch an innocent man in cold blood in the name of God. People who’ve tasted the loaves and fishes yet still shouted: “crucify him.” Or people who once were blind but now see after one touch from Jesus who now use those healed eyes to find fault in the one who gave them sight. Or folks who had no voice until Jesus touched them, and now their voices are lifted in gossip and slander. Somehow, Peter had to reach these people and show them their spiritual blindness. That’s still the mission of the Church today. However, we won’t fulfill that mandate until we attend to our sin and then call others to do the same.

You Can’t Skip the Grave

We love to tell the story of the resurrection. And that’s a good thing, but we can’t skip over the grave to get to it. There’s no resurrection without a painful death and a dark grave. We modern Christians are far more comfortable with the celebration than with the necessary conviction that must precede that celebration. We don’t like to think about it, but we’re no better than the crowds that shouted for Jesus’ death. Our sin put him on the cross just as their sin did. We’re full of corruption too. Evil is always crouched at the door, waiting to pounce on us. We might even be the modern equivalent of a Sadducee or Pharisee. We might have been photographed standing under Leo Frank’s swinging body with smug grins in a different time and place.

Most folks want to skip right past the painful death-to-self repentance brings. But the apostle Paul, another flawed sinner turned preacher, called that death-to-self a daily process. Calvary brings graphic clarity to a twofold revelation: First, humanity is desperately sinful and deserves punishment. Second, God loves us so much that He took that punishment on our behalf and now offers pardon for our depravity. We aren’t good. Not even close. But He’s good—more good than we know. His blood can cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but first, we must face the ugly truth about ourselves. Letting the old you die hurts. It hurts a lot. But the resurrection that follows is worth it.

It Filled the House – The Journey from Tabernacle to Temple to Earthen Vessels with Samuel Vaughn (Article + Podcast)

After reading It Filled the House (The Journey from Tabernacle to Temple to Earthen Vessel), I knew Samuel Vaughn needed to be a guest on the Apostolic Voice podcast. I’ve never met Samuel, but I knew we were like-minded thinkers from how his book was written. Vaughn is a systematic thinker. As the title suggests, It Filled the House takes the reader on a Holy Ghost journey from the book of Exodus to the New Testament. Actually, if you count some detours in the book, it takes the reader from Genesis to the New Testament.

Systematic Theology Made Enjoyable

Essentially, Vaughn has connected the theological dots between the types and shadows of the Old Testament and the explicit commands regarding the infilling of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Furthermore, It Filled the House does more than demonstrate the necessity of the Holy Ghost in the New Birth experience. It also highlights the continuing role of the Spirit in a believer’s life. But don’t mistake It Filled the House as a boring theological read. It’s not. Along the way, Vaughn scatters practical illuminations from the Scripture that encourage, uplift, and challenge our walk with God. It’s almost as if the systematic theological aspect of the book sneaks up on you from chapter to chapter, which is the mark of a good writer.

When the Glory Cloud Seems to Be Departing

Vaughn begins It Filled the House by noting the first instance the Bible refers to the glory cloud in Exodus 13:21-22. The cloud represented the Spirit of God, and it led them through the wilderness away from Egypt. The inference is that God’s Spirit still guides us today, but it does so internally rather than externally. It’s important to recognize that God purposefully led the Hebrews to a dead end at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on their heels. And that’s the moment the glory cloud moved from the front to the back. Vaughn paints the picture like this:

What beautiful imagery of the cloud floating over the children of Israel toward their enemy. But can you imagine the confusion and anxiety of Israel? The God that had been leading them in front was now behind them instead. What did it mean? Did it mean God was leaving them or walking away? No doubt, many within the group believed God’s repositioning to be abandonment. But God was not abandoning them. He was posturing Himself.

Vaughn compares that Red Sea experience to how we often feel when faced with trials where God seems far away. I like the way Vaughn phrases the reality of what God was doing, “What we think is desertion is actually deterrence!” He continues:

God goes before His people. Sometimes, God goes behind them as well. He provides direction from the front and protection from behind. God is acting as the bookends of provision and protection. He is truly the author and the finisher of our faith.

God goes before His people. Sometimes, God goes behind them as well. He provides direction from the front and protection from behind. God is acting as the bookends of provision and protection.

Years ago, the Lord illuminated something that impacted my understanding of How God operates. I was studying the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18. And I was a little troubled because there’s nothing listed in the vast array of God’s spiritual armor that offers protection for our backs. It’s as if our backs are completely exposed to attack. And my life experience informs me that most spiritual and physical attacks come from behind. During that time of prayer and study, God reminded me of how the glory cloud moved from direction to protection at the Red Sea encounter. The principle of God’s word is that if we always move in the direction God leads when opposition arises, if we have put on the whole armor of God, the Lord Himself will fight from behind, and the Spirit empowers us to battle forward.

God Exposes the Egyptian False Gods

God manifested His glorious presence with a cloud during the day, and at night that cloud morphed into a pillar of fire. God did not choose these two symbols randomly. These symbols exposed two of the most revered false gods in the vast pantheon of Egyptian gods. Vaughn gives a short history lesson to set up a profound point:

The Egyptians worshipped the sun god, Ra, which used fire to create light. Another deity in their pantheon was the god, Shu. Shu was the god of the air and light. One of Shu’s responsibilities was to protect Ra from the evil snake-god Apep that tried to destroy Ra each night and prevent the sunrise.  

Vaughn leaps to the crux of the lesson:

God used fire at night to show that He could provide light when Ra could not, thus proving to Egypt that Ra was dead. He used a cloud that moved freely in the sky to show that He had power over the air, showing that Shu was no more.

God used fire at night to show that He could provide light when Ra could not, thus proving to Egypt that Ra was dead. He used a cloud that moved freely in the sky to show that He had power over the air, showing that Shu was no more.

God intentionally used symbols the Egyptians revered to prove that their gods were subdued. It was a magnificent display of God’s power over false gods, ideologies, and philosophies. Similarly, the Spirit of God is required for us today to expose falsehoods, strong delusion, and anything opposed to biblical Truth.

The Spirit of God is required for us today to expose falsehoods, strong delusion, and anything opposed to biblical Truth.

Types & Shadows Within the Exodus Story

Warning: I’m going to seriously nerd out on this topic. So, if you’re a casual reader looking for quick points, go ahead and skip down to the next subject.

The apostle Paul compared New Testament baptism to the crossing of the Red Sea in 1 Corinthians 10. Vaughn describes it this way, “The Red Sea is a shadow of water baptism for Christians today.” He continues, “Crossing the Red Sea, then, is akin to passing through the water for the remission of sins.” The typological imagery of the Hebrew’s deliverance from Egypt to New Testament salvation is fascinating. Each element of salvation and the Christian life is foreshadowed in the Exodus story.

Egypt represents both the bondage of sin and the world from which we need saving. Moses, as the deliverer, then becomes a type of Christ. The captive Hebrew’s decision to leave Egypt is a type of repentance. As mentioned, the Red Sea is a type of water baptism. The cloud and pillar of fire become symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew’s subsequent wandering in the wilderness post-Red Sea is a type of a believer’s life as a stranger and pilgrim in this present world awaiting entrance into the Promised Land. And, of course, the Promised Land itself is emblematic of our eternal home in Heaven.

As Vaughn carefully points out, Acts 2:37-38 emphatically states that the three elements of the New Birth (or salvation) is repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost, first evidenced by speaking in other tongues (or previously unlearned languages) as the Spirit gives the utterance (or inspiration). Apostolics differ from numerous other persuasions in that we affirm the essentiality of baptism and Spirit infilling. However, this has caused some consternation when comparing the typology of the Exodus account to the apostolic view of New Testament salvation. The glory cloud typifying the Spirit of God leads them but does not fill them as the Spirit does in Acts 2.

Vaughn does an admirable job of continuing the biblical narrative of the cloud going from the Tabernacle to Solomon’s Temple and finally into human vessels in Acts 2. He demonstrates that Scripture doesn’t leave the typology of the infilling of the Spirit unfinished or unfulfilled. However, as is often the case in Scripture, there’s a mixing of metaphors that completes the short-term picture emblematic of salvation in the Exodus account. For those who would like a resolution of salvific foreshadowing, it can be found in Exodus 15:22-27, which describes the Hebrew’s encounter with the bitter waters of Marah.

Upon leaving the Red Sea (baptism), Moses led the people into the desert of Shur. The King James Version says, “Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22).” The New Living Translation says, “Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea (Exodus 15:22).” However, the literal translation of “brought” and “led” is that he “made them journey,” which is not a common expression in this context.[i] As you will see momentarily, the forcefulness of this language further drives home the Scriptural theme of moving from baptism to the infilling of the Spirit. Once again, I’m reminded of Acts 2:38 and its declaration to repent and be baptized, “and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” 

After three days in the desert, they desperately needed life-giving water. This typifies the believer’s need to be filled with the Spirit to survive life in the wilderness (this world) traveling to the Promised Land (Heaven). Arguing that the infilling of the Holy Ghost isn’t necessary for salvation is like arguing that water isn’t essential for life. When the Hebrews finally reached the waters of Marah, it was too bitter to drink. Some commentators suggest the bitterness of the water referred to the taste due to high mineral content. As if people literally dying of thirst would fuss about bad-tasting water. I find that view ludicrous. Likely the water was undrinkable due to high salt content.[ii]

Arguing that the infilling of the Holy Ghost isn’t necessary for salvation is like arguing that water isn’t essential for life.

So, in Exodus 15:24, Moses cried out to God, and the Lord showed him a tree. Isn’t that amazing? Now we have a tree that becomes a type of the cross. Interestingly, this verse doesn’t describe Moses receiving any Divine instructions about what to do with this tree. Although perhaps we can take it for granted that the instructions were given. Regardless, Moses cast the tree into the bitter water, and it miraculously became sweet (drinkable). Furthermore, after tasting the sweet water, the people received a standard from the Lord to listen carefully to His commands and obey all His ordinances and decrees. That instruction came with a promise that if they were obedient, they would not suffer the diseases of the Egyptians, and they would find healing from the hand of the Lord (Exodus 15:25-26).

Let me try to unpack all the New Testament parallels in that brief passage of Scripture.

  • We have no access to the life-giving water of the Spirit without the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Peter 2:24-25, John 3:16, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:13, Philippians 2:5-8, Colossians 2:14, Colossians 1:19-20, Ephesians 2:16, 1 John 2:1-4, Romans 6:6, Isaiah 53:5).
  • There is no life (salvation) without the infilling of the Spirit (Romans 8:5, Romans 8:9, Romans 8:14, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 John 4:13).
  • Not only is the Spirit necessary, but it is wonderfully sweet.
  • The infilling of the Spirit enables us to live in obedience to the commandments of the Lord. It empowers us to overcome the bondage of sin. Without the Spirit, we would quickly be enslaved again by the world (Egypt) (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8, Acts 4:33, 1 Corinthians 12:10, Hebrews 2:4)
  • The Spirit opens the door to the miraculous. Spiritual and physical healing are obtainable because of the cross and the successive working of the Spirit in and through God’s people (James 5:14-15, Matthew 18:18, John 14:12).
  • Because of the supernatural empowerment over sin the Spirit provides, we can be impervious to common ailments typical of Egyptian (worldly) lifestyles.
  • For reference sake, here is a list of other Scriptures that speak metaphorically of the Spirit as water (John 4:10-15, John 7:37-39, Isaiah 12:3, Isaiah 44:3, Revelation 21:6, Revelation 22:17, 1 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Corinthians 12:13, John 6:63, Exodus 17:6).  

There is no life (salvation) without the infilling of the Spirit (Romans 8:5, Romans 8:9, Romans 8:14, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 John 4:13).

Without the Spirit, we would quickly be enslaved again by the world (Egypt) (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8, Acts 4:33, 1 Corinthians 12:10, Hebrews 2:4)

Whew. Ok. One final thought on the typology found in the Exodus story: Exodus 16 introduces the miraculous manna from heaven that God provided for the children of Israel to sustain them during their wilderness wanderings. That manna typifies the Word of God a believer needs to be spiritually sustained today. Just as the people had to gather the manna for themselves each morning, we are to hide God’s word in our hearts daily. A day without feasting on the Word should be as rare as a day without food.

Just as the people had to gather the manna for themselves each morning, we are to hide God’s word in our hearts daily. A day without feasting on the Word should be as rare as a day without food.

Just as it was the ministry’s job to preserve the manna for future generations in Exodus 16:33, today it is the ministry’s responsibility to preserve the Word from generation to generation. Also, the Israelites grew tired of the manna. Eventually, their gratitude turned to ungratefulness, and they hungered for Egyptian foods (Numbers 11:6, Numbers 21:5). When the people spoke against Moses and the manna, God sent poisonous snakes among the people as a judgment. Here are a few lessons we should learn from the manna:

Just as it was the ministry’s job to preserve the manna for future generations in Exodus 16:33, today it is the ministry’s responsibility to preserve the Word from generation to generation.

  • People who grow tired of the Word will attack the man of God over them.
  • Tiring of the Word is a sign of carnality.
  • The Word is our spiritual sustenance. We die spiritually without the Word, just as we would die physically without food.
  • Grumbling about the Word invites poisonous things into our lives.
  • There is hidden manna in Heaven for those who are victorious (Revelation 2:17).
  • Deuteronomy 8:3 tells us that God humbled the Israelites by letting them go hungry and then feeding them with manna to teach them that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus quoted this Scripture while being tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4).
  • Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the Word incarnate (John 1:1-3), the Living Word (John 6:63), the bread of life (John 6:35). One of the most dramatic links between Old Testament types and shadows is in John 6:58, where Jesus refers to Himself as the “true bread” that came down from heaven. Jesus describes how the ancient Israelites ate manna from heaven, but it did not provide eternal life. In contrast, Jesus promises that the manna He provides will live forever.

There is hidden manna in Heaven for those who are victorious (Revelation 2:17).

Desire Invites the Divine

Vaughn brings out a beautiful point from Moses’ forty days basking in the cloud of God’s glory as he received the Ten Commandments. I’d never thought of it this way, but Vaughn notes that the forty days on the mountain was a time of total isolation from people. While Moses was enjoying the presence of the Lord, the people were creating a golden calf and falling into idolatry. Vaughn says:

It was when the people wanted to distance themselves from God and the man of God that God called Moses to meet with Him. Often when we are ostracized from people who feel threatened by our relationship with God, He will call us up to the mountain to stay a bit longer with Him.

Often when we are ostracized from people who feel threatened by our relationship with God, He will call us up to the mountain to stay a bit longer with Him.

There is inevitable loneliness that accompanies true dedication to the Lord. A social dissidence resides in the heart of every lover of God’s presence. As Vaughn says, “God will always lead you where He can be with you.” If God has to sever friendships to be with you, He will do it. If God is leading you away from a relationship, rest assured He is doing so to be with you. God calls you to climb the mountain, not as a punishment, but as an invitation to be with Him uniquely and memorably. Never allow peer pressure or the desire to fit in keep you from climbing the mountain and experiencing the glory of God. Vaughn stresses that it takes discipline to climb a mountain, and it requires spiritual discipline to enter into God’s presence today. Vaughn gives this insightful thought:

God will always lead you where He can be with you. If God has to sever friendships to be with you, He will do it. If God is leading you away from a relationship, rest assured He is doing so to be with you.

Never allow peer pressure or the desire to fit in keep you from climbing the mountain and experiencing the glory of God.

The exclusive presence of God only seems exclusive to those who are unwilling to pursue Him. Praying, fasting, and studying are disciplines, but eventually, discipline becomes desire. And desire invites the Divine.

The exclusive presence of God only seems exclusive to those who are unwilling to pursue Him. Praying, fasting, and studying are disciplines, but eventually, discipline becomes desire. And desire invites the Divine.

The Difference Between the Cloud and the Glory

Vaughn spends a good deal of time underscoring how the cloud of God and the glory of God are two distinct manifestations. In reference to Exodus 40:33-35, Vaughn states, “The cloud covered the tent of the congregation while the glory of God filled the Tabernacle.” You might remember that Moses asked to see God’s glory. But God responded that no man could look fully at His glory and live. Therefore, God only partially granted Moses’ request by allowing him to look at the hinder parts of His glory. Even that little glimpse of God’s glory was so powerful that it caused Moses’ face to shine with a brilliant light.

The cloud was a shield or partition that covered the glory of God so the people could see it without really seeing it. But just as Moses’ shining face became a conduit for God’s glory to be glimpsed by the people, we can also become glowing lights of God’s glory for our generation. Consider this powerful quote from Vaughn:

Can people tell we have been in the presence of God? We should have an afterglow of His character in our attitude if we are spending time with God. More time in the presence of love will make us more loving. More time in the presence of peace will make us peaceful. More time in the presence of joy will make us joyful. Consequently, the people you come in contact with will notice the difference, and it will brighten their day. If your life is not shining light into this dark world, then perhaps you are not spending enough time with God.   

We should have an afterglow of His character in our attitude if we are spending time with God. More time in the presence of love will make us more loving. More time in the presence of peace will make us peaceful.

If your life is not shining light into this dark world, then perhaps you are not spending enough time with God.

The New Tabernacle of God

Vaughn draws an interesting comparison between the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the New Testament Church. He begins by quoting a portion of John 1:14, “…and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Vaughn points out that “dwelt” is the Greek word meaning “to tabernacle.” Jesus became flesh so that God could tabernacle with humanity in a new way. Vaughn makes his main point, saying:

Since the Tabernacle is a type of the Church, it can be argued that the Israelite camp represents our life. Just as the Tabernacle was at the center of the Israelite camp, we must build our lives around the Church, the dwelling place of God. God is not limited to a physical structure, but like the Tabernacle, the Church is a place where we regularly visit with God.

Just as the Tabernacle was at the center of the Israelite camp, we must build our lives around the Church, the dwelling place of God. God is not limited to a physical structure, but like the Tabernacle, the Church is a place where we regularly visit with God.

Three Factors Always Surrounding A Move of God

In great detail, Vaughn builds the case beginning with Leviticus 9:22-23 and moving carefully to the book of Acts, that three common factors always surround or proceed a move of God:

  1. A house was built.
  2. There were consecrated people who followed instructions.
  3. There was a sacrifice.

And there were two responses from God:

  1. The cloud.
  2. The fire.

To prove his point, Vaughn walks us through the parallels between the move of God surrounding the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. In both instances, a house was constructed, consecrated people carefully followed instructions, and sacrifice was present. And both times, God responded with a cloud and fire. In true systematic fashion, Vaughn intended these images to fill our minds so we could fully comprehend the spiritual formation of the New Testament Church. And he begins that comparison in a unique manner which few other commentators have touched upon, by quoting Jesus’ shocking declaration found in John 2:19-20:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up… Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

Of course, those words were shocking to the listeners because they didn’t understand that Solomon’s corrupted temple was about to become irrelevant within the New Testament paradigm. The presence of God was about to relocate from the Temple to earthen vessels thanks to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead desires to dwell inside us individually (Romans 8:9-10). Vaughn says it best:

It was never enough to have a house among His people; He wanted to be inside of His people. God wants more than to dwell among us; He longs to live in us! In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle preceded the Temple because the Tabernacle was a mobile place for a mobile people while the Temple was a permanent place for a permanent people. God’s glory dwelt in the fleshly temple of Jesus while He walked with humanity. Now He resides in the fleshly Temple of our hearts as a permanent fixture in our lives. Jesus was the living Temple. Now we are the living Temple! When we receive the Holy Spirit, we carry the glory of God around with us.

It was never enough to have a house among His people; He wanted to be inside of His people. God wants more than to dwell among us; He longs to live in us!

Jesus was the living Temple. Now we are the living Temple! When we receive the Holy Spirit, we carry the glory of God around with us

The New House

In the final pages of It Filled the House, Vaughn begins tying the threads of prophecy and biblical symbolism into a coherent thread. Once he is done, the reader can easily see the tapestry of God’s design woven throughout Scripture. Vaughn draws from Hebrews 3:6, reminding us that Christians are now the house of Jesus or the dwelling place of God. Remember, the first factor surrounding a move of God is the building of a house. Vaughn explains:

The house built on the Day of Pentecost was not a physical structure like the Tabernacle or Temple. Instead, each individual became the Temple of the Holy Ghost. After the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, the Bible began referring to the group as the church.

The house built on the Day of Pentecost was not a physical structure like the Tabernacle or Temple. Instead, each individual became the Temple of the Holy Ghost.

The new house of God is bonded together, not with brick and mortar, but by the Holy Spirit. And while we are thankful for buildings dedicated exclusively to worshipping the Lord, buildings are not the church. The church is the collective body of Spirit-filled believers. Vaughn concisely drives that point home:

Whereas the people of God once worshipped solely at a physical place that God had filled, they now become the structure that God fills.

Whereas the people of God once worshipped solely at a physical place that God had filled, they now become the structure that God fills.

In a scene intended to remind us of Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, cloven tongues of fire descended upon the heads of the disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 2). Furthermore, they spoke in other tongues (previously unlearned languages) as the Spirit gave them utterance. God responded to their sacrifice with Divine fire. Here we see that the people in the Upper Room became the house, the sacrifice, and they followed instructions. Anyone longing to receive the Holy Spirit today must follow that example. In other words, if a person longs to receive the Spirit of God, they must present themselves as a temple longing to be filled. Also, they must empty themselves through repentance, therefore presenting themselves as a living sacrifice. And they must be completely obedient to God’s Word. Anyone willing to do so will undoubtedly experience the glory of God.

The Superiority of the New House

The moving of the Spirit from Tabernacle to Temple to Earthen Vessels was a necessary progression that God intended all along. And because God does everything perfectly, the new house of God comprised of Spirit-filled people is superior to the former houses made with human hands. For example, Vaughn astutely points out that Solomon’s Temple, although massive, was fixed in size while the people multiplied around it. Meaning the Temple in all its splendor could not have accommodated worship forever. No building is large enough to accommodate and contain the worship of the countless multitudes God is reaching towards. Vaughn says:

Instead of adding to the Temple, God designed a new house that would always grow at the same rate as His people. This new house is called the church.

Instead of adding to the Temple, God designed a new house that would always grow at the same rate as His people. This new house is called the church.

This subject reminds us that when we become overly fixated on building better buildings rather than reaching souls, we have misplaced our mandate. That’s not to say that facilities aren’t good, necessary, and even wonderful. They are. Just as a family needs a house, the family of God requires a shared space that accommodates its needs. But there’s an old saying that applies to individual families, and it’s relevant to the church family as well: A house does not make a home. It takes far more than a building to make a group of people family, and it takes far more than a church house to make a group of people the church. Vaughn gives one last example of how the new house of God is superior to the Tabernacle and Temple of old:

When we become overly fixated on building better buildings rather than reaching souls, we have misplaced our mandate.

A house does not make a home. It takes far more than a building to make a group of people family, and it takes far more than a church house to make a group of people the church.

Like the Tabernacle in Moses’ day, the church is mobile… Like the Temple, the church has the permanence of God’s Spirit within the hearts of the believers. In this way, the church carries both the mobility of the Tabernacle and the permanence of the Temple.

Like the Tabernacle in Moses’ day, the church is mobile… Like the Temple, the church has the permanence of God’s Spirit within the hearts of the believers. In this way, the church carries both the mobility of the Tabernacle and the permanence of the Temple.

As you can see, the Spirit enables, unites, excites, and invites the whole world into fellowship with God. The infilling of the Spirit isn’t a side doctrine or a menial gift for some super-elite people. It’s the very thing that makes the church the church.

As you can see, the Spirit enables, unites, excites, and invites the whole world into fellowship with God. The infilling of the Spirit isn’t a side doctrine or a menial gift for some super-elite people. It’s the very thing that makes the church the church.


[i] John N. Oswalt, “Exodus,” in Genesis Exodus, vol. 1 of Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), 401.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Cornerstone_Commentary#4238

[ii] Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, Kregel Exegetical Library. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 412.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/KEL_OT-7#4063

Link to purchase It Filled the House by Samuel Vaughn on Amazon.com

Your Past Is Not Your Future with Coley Reese (Article + Podcast)

Evangelist Coley Reese is a long-time friend. His ministry is a blessing, and it’s enjoyable talking with him. I knew we could sit down and talk about anything and have a good time, but I precisely wanted to focus on his conversion story. Because we have such different backgrounds, I wanted to learn from his past. I’m a fourth-generation apostolic, and Coley had no church upbringing. He’s the pioneer of Pentecost in his family, and that perspective permeates his ministry. I hope you’ll listen to the entire podcast (featured below). There’s no way I can cover even a tenth of the testimonies and nuggets of wisdom shared in our conversation. However, I want to share some highlights from the podcast in this post for those who prefer to read or as a quick reference for those listening and reading simultaneously. As always, thanks so much for reading and listening to Apostolic Voice. If you’d like to support this ministry financially, please follow this link www.anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support. Or you can bless Apostolic Voice by leaving us a simple iTunes review at this this link www.podcast.apple.com.

Helping Sinners Receive the Holy Ghost

I’ve pulled several thoughts from Coley Reese’s conversion story: One, God can use backsliders and even totally unsaved individuals to push us towards the Truth. Two, a worshipping church will cause lost souls to feel a connection with God they don’t even understand. Three, it’s imperative that churches have at least a few individuals that know how to operate in the altar with wisdom, sensitivity, and apostolic boldness. Four, we must ensure that hungry hearts seeking the Holy Ghost understand how to repent and have repented of their sins. Otherwise, they will not receive the Holy Spirit, leaving them frustrated. All the shaking, praying, weeping, spitting, and gyrating in the world won’t change that fact. However, once a person has repented, we must encourage them to move past remorseful weeping, shame, doubt, and condemnation so they can accept God’s forgiveness and worship their way into the infilling of the Spirit.

A worshipping church will cause lost souls to feel a connection with God they don’t even understand.

It’s imperative that churches have at least a few individuals that know how to operate in the altar with wisdom, sensitivity, and apostolic boldness.

We must ensure hungry hearts seeking the Holy Ghost have repented of their sins. Otherwise, they will not receive the Holy Spirit, leaving them frustrated. All the shaking, praying, weeping, spitting, and gyrating in the world won’t change that fact.

Once a person has repented, we must encourage them to move past remorseful weeping, shame, doubt, and condemnation so they can accept God’s forgiveness and worship their way into the infilling of the Spirit.

Feel Called to the Ministry?

If you’re feeling called to the ministry, remember that God doesn’t care about your past, pedigree, education, or financial status. All God is concerned with is that you’re a willing vessel that can be used, changed, taught, and molded into His image. Often, we think of ministry and preaching in church or something lofty and mystical. But the reality of ministry is servanthood and sacrifice. If trash needs picked up, pick up trash. If chairs need set out or put away, do it. Do it without being asked. Stay longer than others, looking for ways to be a blessing in every church setting. If you are given a leadership position or an area of responsibility, refuse to view that as a stepping stone to something better. Throw yourself into those responsibilities, no matter how big, or small they seem, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t feel called to something higher in the future, but if God can’t trust you in the process of exaltation, you will forfeit the higher calling. Many David’s have missed the anointing because they weren’t faithful in their father’s fields doing the menial work entrusted to them for that season of life.

God doesn’t care about your past, pedigree, education, or financial status. All God is concerned with is that you’re a willing vessel that can be used, changed, taught, and molded into His image.

The reality of ministry is servanthood and sacrifice. If trash needs picked up, pick up trash. Do it without being asked. Stay longer than others, looking for ways to be a blessing in every church setting.

If you are given a leadership position or an area of responsibility, refuse to view that as a stepping stone to something better. Throw yourself into those responsibilities, no matter how big, or small they seem, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Many David’s have missed the anointing because they weren’t faithful in their father’s fields doing the menial work entrusted to them for that season of life.

You Don’t Know Me

Coley Reese shared a story that moved me the most about the time he decided to preach at a homeless shelter without even being asked. This was long before he had much experience as a preacher, but he was passionate and wanted to do something for God. He simply got up and shared the plan of salvation as best he could. No one seemed like they gave his passionate sermon any attention. Twenty years later, he was preaching at Rev. Brandon Batton’s church in Columbus, GA, when a man walked up to him and said, “You don’t know me, but I was at that homeless shelter when you preached all those years back.” How amazing is that? A man was saved and serving God twenty years later because of one sermon that Coley Reese thought had been a moment of failure.

The Ground Doesn’t Care Where the Seed Comes From

Coley referenced a sermon by one of our favorite preachers, Rev. Wayne Huntley, called The Treasure’s in the Field. In that message, Rev. Wayne Huntley points out that the ground doesn’t care if the seed falls from the hands of a seasoned farmer, an inexperienced child, or a novice agriculturalist. All that matters to the ground is that it gets the seed. Could it be that we try too hard to package the seed just right and worry about our status too much? I think that analogy morphs well into another similar one; hungry people don’t care who hands them the food. They need their hunger satisfied. I think it’s time for us to all grab a handful of the Word and spread it everywhere we go until it finds good soil.

Bishop Wayne Huntley points out that the ground doesn’t care if the seed falls from the hands of a seasoned farmer, an inexperienced child, or a novice agriculturalist. All that matters to the ground is that it gets the seed.

Advice for Student Pastors and Ministers

Before Coley Reese hit the evangelistic field, he was a veteran Youth Pastor with fifteen years of hard-earned experience. Some jokingly referred to him as the “Bishop” of Youth Pastors. I’d personally witnessed his excellence in that role and wanted him to give a few quick words of advice to Student Pastors and ministers connected to Apostolic Voice. I’m just covering the basics of his response in this summary: One, don’t feel pressured always to put on a high-energy event. Two, don’t be discouraged because students are paying closer attention to your words than they might seem on the surface. Three, it sounds trite, but kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Four, personal connections are more critical than your preaching. Five, don’t view your role in student ministry as a stepping stone to the next best position. Six, your life speaks louder than your words. Be a good example.

F.A.N.O.S.

While Coley and I discussed praying people through to the Holy Ghost, a thread popped up several times. The importance of leading people into repentance. Coley Reese mentioned how he often offers to repent with a person seeking the Holy Ghost. Sometimes, it’s good to call the entire congregation to repent together, which creates an environment of repentance. But evangelists and pastors may run into trouble when certain saints feel as though they are too sanctified to repent like an ordinary sinner. To push back against that ridiculous idea, I mentioned a marriage tip my wife, Taylor, and I have been using for many months.

For the sake of memory, we use the acronym F.A.N.O.S. which stands for Feelings, Affirmation, Needs, Ownership, and Struggles. Essentially, we take turns on each topic once a day, sharing our current status related to those five topics. Depending on the circumstances, the process can take anywhere from five minutes to a few hours. Everything usually flows naturally for me until I get to the subject of ownership. That’s the moment I’m supposed to own up to mistakes, failures, or attitudes, whether big or small. The same is true for my wife. It’s incredible how many times I can’t think of anything to take ownership over, only to realize Taylor is hurting over my actions that day or vice versa. We have a happy, loving, intentional marriage, and if that’s true in our earthly marriage, how much more do we grieve God without realizing it?

The bottom line is this. Repentance should be a daily activity in the life of a saint. We don’t always see actions the way God see’s our actions. It’s not that we technically sin intentionally, but we are frail humans in need of God’s constant grace. Beyond that, we should humbly demonstrate repentance so the lost can see it in action. If a call to repentance offends us, we probably need to repent of pride, arrogance, or self-righteousness.

Repentance should be a daily activity in the life of a saint. We don’t always see actions the way God see’s our actions. It’s not that we technically sin intentionally, but we are frail humans in need of God’s constant grace.

We should humbly demonstrate repentance so the lost can see it in action. If a call to repentance offends us, we probably need to repent of pride, arrogance, or self-righteousness.

Takis Fuego Lime Flavored Meat Sticks

Stick around to the very end of the episode to hear the entire Reese and French families taste and rate Takis Fuego Lime flavored meat sticks by Cattleman’s Cut. It was so much fun recording that tiny segment of Gross-Good-Great. We’d all love to hear your thoughts on the episode, your testimony, or your rating of Takis Fuego Lime flavored meat sticks. You can leave a voice recording at this link www.anchor.fm/apostolicvoice. Say hello, and we might just play it on the next episode. And friend, please know your past does not have to be your future. God can take you to heights and blessings you didn’t even know existed.

The Treasure Is In the Field by Rev. Wayne Huntley

An Open Letter to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Dear Dr. Peterson

Please forgive the gimmicky aspect of this letter. Your immense popularity or repulsiveness (depending on whom you’re talking to) renders you unreachable by normal means. I’m under no illusion that you will see this letter. However, I sincerely hope this reaches you at some point. Allow me to begin by expressing my sincere earnestness in praying for your health and for the health and safety of your family, whom you seem to love dearly. Also, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful, meaningful, and life-impacting contributions to national conversations. 12 Rules for Life has roused many forgotten young men to rally to the challenges of existence with courage, integrity, and goodness.

Beyond Refreshing

Along with millions, I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcast and following your lectures. I’ve cheered in admiration as you’ve resolutely refused to be cowed by woke media personalities or bullied into submission by cultural fads. You are a voice of reason, logic, and morality. That’s beyond refreshing in this post-postmodern or metamodernist culture (I’d love to hear your thoughts on post versus post-post versus metamodernism). It must be strange navigating the complexities of fame on a worldwide platform. I, for one, am appreciative that you do so with grace and kindness even when in strong disagreement.

Your Popularity Among Christians

I’ve heard you ponder the question of why you are so popular among Christians several times. And why your lectures on Genesis garnered overwhelming positive attention. Even though you are not a theologian, I thoroughly enjoy your religious conversations. Your influence has impacted me to take a renewed interest in Jungian psychology. I’m indebted to you for that as I quote Jung several times in a soon-to-be-released book that takes a biblical look at alcohol. Anyway, most people you speak with lean more philosophical than evangelical. Although you remain cautiously critical of “orthodox” Christianity, the liturgical influence on your religious (or philosophical) thinking is obvious.

A Brief Context

For the sake of transparency, I am a minister within a marginalized segment of Christianity. Interestingly, postmodernism helped and hurt us at the same time. It hurt in the sense that culture moved away from seeking or even believing in absolutes or Truth. Yet, it helped because we are less ostracized due to our beliefs (we were severely persecuted at the turn of the twentieth century). These words might sound a little foreign; I am a Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. We’re the fastest-growing religious movement in the world, even as liturgical churches are shrinking. In the past one hundred-plus years, we have exploded to the tune of approximately fifty million worldwide. Even though we are technically evangelical by definition, historically, our evangelical brethren have been loath to allow us that title.

Answering the Question

I mention my beliefs not because I expect you to find my theology particularly interesting (although you might). But because I believe my perspective allows a unique insight into your immense popularity among Christians of all stripes. You are tremendously popular in my circles and the converging circles of Christianity. And here’s why: You intellectually articulate the defense of our existence. That’s the nutshell version. Beyond that, you are the most intelligent person using your influence to help us maintain space and have a voice in the public space. Even when you don’t agree with everything we say or believe, you brilliantly defend our right to hold those thoughts and speak them out loud, whether in our churches, public forums, or the universities. Your unique one-foot in Christianity and one-foot outside Christianity stance gives you gravitas blatantly religious leaders can’t wield.  

The Woke Wave

Sincere Christians saw the woke wave coming decades before it hit culture full force. We were silenced and demonized in the public schools. Our children were bullied into submission by Stalin-like totalitarian tactics. The universities turned Christian shaming into an art form. I’ve been forbidden to open up city council meetings by praying in the name of Jesus. And that’s in the Bible Belt of the United States. That’s only one small aspect of the anti-free speech overreach directed at Christians in public forums. We’ve watched our cities covered in graffiti while the Ten Commandments were removed from our courtrooms. We’ve had to fight like mad to keep the government from forcing us to fund abortions for people on our payrolls. Same-sex couples who’ve never darkened the doors of our churches routinely try to force us to marry them in our buildings, hanging legal action over our heads if we don’t comply. If we dare try to help children suffering from gender dysphoria overcome their confusion lovingly, we’re called hate-mongers and worse. I could go on and on.

You’re the Voice We Could Not Use

We’re subjugated to name-calling constantly while being told to keep our mouths shut. Free speech is only allowed for certain woke groups these days. All this seemed to go from a simmer to a boil when the transgender movement began doing its best to force us into ignoring science and radically changing definitions. Then you stepped onto the scene and became the voice we could not use in that arena. Your brilliance, coupled with genuine humility, captured our consciousness. As we got to know you, we realized you were a true friend and a sincere moralist. And while we may approach morality from divergent directions, we hold it dear nonetheless.

You’re Much Like Aaron

In some ways, your notoriety reminds me of Aaron (greatly anticipating your book and lectures on Exodus). As you know, much has been assumed about the Bible’s description of Moses as being “slow of speech and slow of tongue (Exodus 4:10).” Was Moses simply inarticulate? Did he have a stutter? I’ve always leaned towards the theory that Moses had a speech impediment of some kind. Whatever it was, God wanted Moses to overcome it and speak. But Moses resisted God and failed to use his voice. God relented and sent Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh and often before the people. Moses’ failure to speak up created a vacuum (particularly in the political and secular realm) that Aaron naturally filled. God even acknowledged that Aaron was intelligent and eloquent compared to Moses (Exodus 4:14-16). It seems you have become the confident voice the Church was too afraid or perhaps unable to use. You’re the unofficial spokesperson, if you will.

The Overlooked Experience of Glossolalia

Admittedly, my primary motivation for writing is a burning desire to humbly add something to an ongoing thread that permeates your conversations. First, you have mentioned a particular mystical religious encounter that was personal to you. Also, the question of transcendent, mysterious occurrences, their origins, and repeatability comes up periodically. Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more scientific questions involving the use of psychedelics to replicate (or achieve) a spiritually transformative experience. I find myself talking to your podcast through my air pods when these topics arise. Mainly because the transformative encounter described in these conversations, although rare in liturgical circles, are frequent experiences for Pentecostals. We experience many types of transcendent encounters with God, but most notable is what the book of Acts refers to as speaking in other tongues. Which can be a known language (although previously unlearned) or a heavenly language, but it produces an ecstasy and clarity like nothing in this world can offer. This biblical phenomenon is commonly referred to as glossolalia in academic circles. Apostolics consider it to be a necessary element in the process of redemption.

Glossolalia’s Transformative Narrative

Regardless, I’ve witnessed countless individuals give up smoking, various drugs, and alcohol without any withdrawal symptoms after experiencing glossolalia (we would refer to it as receiving the Holy Spirit). It’s that well-documented transformative religious experience you’ve mentioned at various times. I know how strange this can sound to a person unfamiliar with it. However, is it stranger than looking for answers in psychedelics? Having witnessed your intellectual curiosity at play, I’m reasonably confident you would find the data interesting at the very least. Hundreds of millions have experienced glossolalia. Many of those millions have been permanently changed for the good. If this sounds overly preachy, I apologize. I am a preacher, and there’s nothing I can do to change that reality. Believe it or not, I’ve tried very hard to avoid inserting gobs of theology, dogma, and personal opinions into this letter. My only hope is that perhaps you will use a measure of your vast intellect to investigate glossolalia with a level of openness. Whatever else, it can’t just be discarded outright or ignored with any genuine intellectual honesty. Just the plethora of historical biblical accounts (Isaiah 28:11-12, Mark 16:17, Acts 2:1-47, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) set a narrative that’s difficult to reject off-hand.

Encouragement in Exodus

Please continue to speak against impending malevolence courageously. May you and your family be blessed. I pray your body remains as strong as your mind. I’ll bid farewell with one of my favorite passages from the book of Exodus:

8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel (Exodus 1:8-12).

This passage encourages me when I’m feeling weak and insignificant, and adversaries seem intensely overwhelming. It’s a reminder that even enemies perceive the strengths that I can’t see. Furthermore, affliction placed upon righteous people is a precursor to growth and eventual deliverance.

Sincerely, Ryan French