Category: Religion and Spirituality


The Bible teaches the existence of an immaterial, spiritual reality, unseen by human eyes. The physical reality is evident for all to see—although some doubt the existence of a material universe, too! The Bible says that the spiritual realm consists of both good—God and the holy angels—and evil—the devil and his demons. Demons are most likely fallen angels who rebelled against God and were thrown out of heaven (see Ezekiel 28:11–17; Isaiah 14:12–15; Revelation 12:7–9). The Bible also teaches that humans were created by God in His image, which means we have a spiritual component (Genesis 1:27). We are more than physical entities; we possess a soul/spirit destined for eternity. Even though the spiritual realm is invisible to the physical eye, we are connected to it, and what goes on in the spiritual realm directly affects our physical world.

In our culture, the most commonly accepted form of evidence for proving the existence of something is empirical evidence, which involves using the scientific method of observation and experimentation. Is there empirical evidence for a spiritual realm? It doesn’t take much research before one realizes there is “evidence” both for and against the existence of a spiritual realm. It comes down to which studies one wants to believe.

The best, and most prevalent, evidence available proving that there is a spiritual realm is testimonial evidence. We can look at the sheer number of religions around the world and the billions of people who focus their lives on the spiritual realm. Is it likely that so many people would report encounters with the spiritual and it not be real?

The best testimonial evidence for a spiritual realm is the Bible itself. Historians, both Christian and non-Christian, agree that the historical authenticity of the Bible is strong. Jesus claimed to be God’s Son, the One who came down from heaven. He made this fact quite clear: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). The Bible recounts numerous encounters that people had with the spiritual realm. Jesus cast demons out of people regularly, healed the sick by speaking to them, miraculously fed thousands of people, and spoke with people who should be dead: Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1–3). These are all indicators that the spiritual realm is real.

Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and, since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs.

Cultural relativism is widely accepted in modern anthropology. Cultural relativists believe that all cultures are worthy in their own right and are of equal value. Diversity of cultures, even those with conflicting moral beliefs, is not to be considered in terms of right and wrong or good and bad. Today’s anthropologist considers all cultures to be equally legitimate expressions of human existence, to be studied from a purely neutral perspective.

Cultural relativism is closely related to ethical relativism, which views truth as variable and not absolute. What constitutes right and wrong is determined solely by the individual or by society. Since truth is not objective, there can be no objective standard which applies to all cultures. No one can say if someone else is right or wrong; it is a matter of personal opinion, and no society can pass judgment on another society.

Cultural relativism sees nothing inherently wrong (and nothing inherently good) with any cultural expression. So, the ancient Mayan practices of self-mutilation and human sacrifice are neither good nor bad; they are simply cultural distinctives, akin to the American custom of shooting fireworks on the Fourth of July. Human sacrifice and fireworks—both are simply different products of separate socialization.

In January 2002, when President Bush referred to terrorist nations as an “axis of evil,” the cultural relativists were mortified. That any society would call another society “evil” is anathema to the relativist. The current movement to “understand” radical Islam—rather than to fight it—is a sign that relativism is making gains. The cultural relativist believes Westerners should not impose their ideas on the Islamic world, including the idea that the suicide bombing of civilians is evil. Islamic belief in the necessity of jihad is just as valid as any belief in Western civilization, the relativists assert, and America is as much to blame for the attacks of 9/11 as are the terrorists.

Cultural relativists are generally opposed to missionary work. When the Gospel penetrates hearts and changes lives, some cultural change always follows. For example, when Don and Carol Richardson evangelized the Sawi tribe of the Netherlands New Guinea in 1962, the Sawi changed: specifically, they gave up their long-held customs of cannibalism and immolating widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres. The cultural relativists may accuse the Richardsons of cultural imperialism, but most of the world would agree that ending cannibalism is a good thing. (For the complete story of the Sawis’ conversion as well as an exposition of cultural reform as it relates to missions, see: Don Richardson’s book Peace Child). (an interview with Don Richardson).

As Christians, we value all people, regardless of culture, because we recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We also recognize that diversity of culture is a beautiful thing and differences in food, clothing, language, etc., should be preserved and appreciated. At the same time, we know that because of sin, not all beliefs and practices within a culture are godly or culturally beneficial. Truth is not subjective (John 17:17); truth is absolute, and there does exist a moral standard to which all people of every culture will be held accountable (Revelation 20:11-12).

Our goal as missionaries is not to westernize the world. Rather, it is to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the world. The Gospel message will kindle social reform to the extent that any society whose practices are out of step with God’s moral standard will change—idolatry, polygamy, and slavery, for example, will come to an end as the Word of God prevails (see Acts 19). In amoral issues, missionaries seek to preserve and honor the culture of the people they serve.

Pragmatic ethics is one of the three main schools under the umbrella of ethical relativism. Ethical relativism teaches that right and wrong, good and bad, are relative to the situation, circumstances, or personal conviction. Cultural relativism is another school of relativism, but it is less an ethical framework than a tool for anthropologists to use to remind themselves that other cultures have different social mores. Moral relativism teaches that morality is merely the following of any ethical framework—one is as good as another. Pragmatic ethics takes a more aggressive approach, insisting that mankind is responsible for determining the best ethical system possible, which will be refined as new discoveries are made.

Pragmatic ethics is the philosophy of ethics most championed by atheists and evolutionists. It combines the worldview of materialism (the supernatural does not exist) with the methodology of science in an attempt to develop a code of behavior for mankind. “Pragmatic” refers to the belief that we should use what works and alter or discard what doesn’t. Pragmatic ethics does hold that absolute/universal truth exists. But it also teaches that the imperfect human intellect will never recognize truth; all we can do is endeavor to get as close as possible. Practically speaking, then, pragmatic ethics is relativistic.

PRAGMATIC ETHICS – THE WORLDVIEW
The worldview of atheistic materialism directly relates to the theory of pragmatic relativism. If everything in the universe is physical and the supernatural does exist, then the spiritual has no effect on the physical world we experience. This means no God, but it also means no human soul, no afterlife, no thought, no feeling, and no consciousness. If we appear to feel or think something, it is merely a physiological reaction to stimuli.

The philosophical application of this is that humanity’s value, identity, and character have no innate worth and are not imbued by a Creator. We are simply physical beings interacting with the world. We are defined by the effect our actions have on other physical entities. Ethics takes on a great importance, then, since ethics is the standard by which we (should) interact with the world around us.

PRAGMATIC ETHICS – THE METHODOLOGY
Although it isn’t widely known, one of the key beliefs of most scientists is fallibilism. Fallibilism is the stance that mankind is incapable of knowing when we have come upon the truth. The truth may exist, and we may even believe the truth, but we will never know for sure when or if we do. Yet it is still our duty to seek the truth. We do this is by guessing (hypothesizing), experimenting, and then seeing if our guess was correct.

Fallibilism applies to ethics, too. Truth about human behavior may exist—an absolute standard we are meant to follow. But we will never know if we have discovered that truth. And so our duty is to observe and contemplate which actions lead to the best results for humanity. With continued effort and experimentation, we might come closer to knowing how to live.

PRAGMATIC ETHICS – THE SHORTFALLS
Pragmatic relativism doesn’t work for several reasons. First, it purports to strive toward truth while completely rejecting God. God is truth. He is the I AM—the essence of existence. Of course, mankind has done this since the Garden of Eden—searched for truth outside of God. The tragedy of pragmatic relativism is that it acknowledges many biblical truths (e.g., truth does exist, finite humans cannot fully understand truth, and mankind is responsible to live according to a truth we don’t know) while completely ignoring the fact that Truth came down and walked among us (John 1:1; 14:6). It’s like a lizard lying in a desert, willing to accept that light and heat are realities and knowing that his little lizard brain will never fully understand them, but refusing to believe that there is a sun.

Pragmatism gets some things right, like the fact that ethics and right behavior are directly related to truth. Psalm 15:2 speaks of the man who “walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.” Scripture also agrees that mankind will never discover truth with our limited intellect (called a “darkened understanding” in Ephesians 4:18). John 14:16-17 teaches that truth only comes from God: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” And John 15:26 says we cannot understand the truth about God incarnate without the leading of the Spirit.

But the Bible differs from pragmatic relativism in that God teaches that mankind can know truth—with help. Absolute truth exists, and it is knowable. Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” Proverbs 3:3 agrees: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” In addition, we are to worship in truth (John 4:24), discern truthfulness in our leaders (Matthew 7:15-20), and be characterized by truth (John 17:17; Ephesians 6:14).

Romans 1:18-32 explains why pragmatists refuse to acknowledge God’s truth. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (vs. 21, 25). When men refuse the truth of God, whether that truth is a warning that forbidden fruit will bring certain death or God’s very existence, they reject God’s sovereignty over them. With God’s guidance flouted, something must take its place—”the creature” of verse 25. In the case of pragmatic relativists, that “creature” is mankind—the base, physical, material part of man. Not even the heart or soul of man, because that would be too close to God, but arms and legs and neural synapses. The search for truth is futile in their case; 2 Timothy 3:2, 7 says that people who seek truth apart from God are “lovers of self …always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

First, it is important to recognize that this is not a question of whether God still performs miracles today. It would be foolish and unbiblical to claim God does not heal people, speak to people, and perform miraculous signs and wonders today. The question is whether the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, described primarily in 1 Corinthians 12–14, are still active in the church today. This is also not a question of can the Holy Spirit give someone a miraculous gift. The question is whether the Holy Spirit still dispenses the miraculous gifts today. Above all else, we entirely recognize that the Holy Spirit is free to dispense gifts according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

In the book of Acts and the Epistles, the vast majority of miracles are performed by the apostles and their close associates. Paul gives us the reason why: “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:12). If every believer in Christ was equipped with the ability to perform signs, wonders, and miracles, then signs, wonders, and miracles could in no way be the identifying marks of an apostle. Acts 2:22 tells us that Jesus was “accredited” by “miracles, wonders, and signs.” Similarly, the apostles were “marked” as genuine messengers from God by the miracles they performed. Acts 14:3 describes the gospel message being “confirmed” by the miracles Paul and Barnabas performed.

Chapters 12–14 of 1 Corinthians deal primarily with the subject of the gifts of the Spirit. It seems from that text “ordinary” Christians were sometimes given miraculous gifts (12:8-10, 28-30). We are not told how commonplace this was. From what we learned above, that the apostles were “marked” by signs and wonders, it would seem that miraculous gifts being given to “ordinary” Christians was the exception, not the rule. Beside the apostles and their close associates, the New Testament nowhere specifically describes individuals exercising the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

It is also important to realize that the early church did not have the completed Bible, as we do today (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, etc. were necessary in order for the early Christians to know what God would have them do. The gift of prophecy enabled believers to communicate new truth and revelation from God. Now that God’s revelation is complete in the Bible, the “revelatory” gifts are no longer needed, at least not in the same capacity as they were in the New Testament.

God miraculously heals people every day. God still does amazing miracles, signs, and wonders and sometimes performs those miracles through a Christian. However, these things are not necessarily the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. The primary purpose of the miraculous gifts was to prove that the gospel was true and that the apostles were truly God’s messengers. The Bible does not say outright that the miraculous gifts have ceased, but it does lay the foundation for why they might no longer occur to the same extent as they did as recorded in the New Testament.

Discernment is defined as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; an act of perceiving something; a power to see what is not evident to the average mind.” The definition also stresses accuracy, as in “the ability to see the truth.” Spiritual discernment is the ability to tell the difference between truth and error. It is basic to having wisdom.

Arguments and debates surround spiritual truth because it is obscure. Jesus, speaking to His disciples about the Pharisees, said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). Satan has “blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4), so God must shed light on the human mind to enable us to understand truth. It is impossible to attain wisdom without God. He gives discernment or takes it away (Job 12:19-21).

Some have mistakenly defined spiritual discernment as a God-given awareness of evil or good spiritual presences—the ability to tell if a demon is in the room. While some people may possess this capability, it is not the biblical meaning of discernment. Spiritual discernment ultimately has to do with wisdom and the ability to distinguish truth from error.

Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 1 and described as someone that we can “get to know” (vv. 20-33). The Bible says that Jesus Christ is “wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Therefore, wisdom, or spiritual discernment, is something that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. The world’s way of getting wisdom is different from God’s way. The learned of the world gain knowledge and apply reason to knowledge to solve problems, construct buildings and create philosophies. But God does not make the knowledge of Himself available by those means. First Corinthians 1: 18-31 says the “wisdom of the wise” is frustrated by God who delivers wisdom to the “foolish” and the “weak” by way of a relationship with Jesus Christ. That way, “no human being can boast in His presence” (verse 29). We learn to be spiritually discerning by knowing Him.

It is not wrong to possess knowledge or have an education, and it is not wrong to use reason and logic to solve problems. However, spiritual discernment cannot be attained that way. It must be given by the revelation of Jesus Christ to the believer, and then developed by way of training in righteousness (Hebrews 5:14) and prayer (Philippians 1:9). Hebrews 5:11-14 shows how spiritual discernment is developed. The writer speaks to those who had become “dull of hearing,” meaning they had fallen out of practice discerning spiritually. The writer of Hebrews tells them that everyone who lives on “milk” (rather than the “solid food” desired by the mature) is unskilled in the word of righteousness; however, the mature Christian has been “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” The keys, according to this passage, are becoming skilled in the Word of God (by which we define righteousness) and “constant practice” (through which we gain experience).

So, how does one increase spiritual discernment? First, recognizing that God is the only one who can increase wisdom, pray for it (James 1:5; Philippians 1:9). Then, knowing the wisdom to distinguish good from evil comes by training and practice, go to the Bible to learn the truth, and, by meditation on the Word, reinforce the truth.

When a bank hires an employee, he is trained to recognize counterfeit bills. One would think that the best way to recognize a counterfeit would be to study various counterfeits. The problem is that new counterfeits are being created every day. The best way to recognize a counterfeit bill is to have an intimate knowledge of the real thing. Having studied authentic bills, bank cashiers are not fooled when a counterfeit comes along. A knowledge of the true helps them identify the false.

This is what Christians must do to develop spiritual discernment. We must know the authentic so well that, when the false appears, we can recognize it. By knowing and obeying the Word of God, we will be “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” We will know God’s character and will. This is the heart of spiritual discernment – being able to distinguish the voice of the world from the voice of God, to have a sense that “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Spiritual discernment fends off temptation and allows us to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

The gift of discerning spirits, or “distinguishing” spirits, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Like all these gifts, the gift of discerning spirits is one of the gifts believers are given by the Holy Spirit, who disperses these gifts to individuals for service in the body of Christ. Every believer has spiritual enablement and capacity for a specific service, but there is no room for self-choosing. The Spirit distributes spiritual gifts according to the sovereignty of God and in accordance with His plan to edify the body of Christ.

When it comes to the gift of discerning spirits, every born-again believer has a certain amount of discernment, which increases as the believer matures in the Spirit. In Hebrews 5:13-14 we read that a believer who has matured beyond using the milk of the Word as a babe in Christ is able to discern both good and evil. Not only is the maturing believer empowered by the Spirit of God through the Scriptures to tell the difference between good and evil, but also between what is good and what is better. In other words, any born-again believer who chooses to focus upon the Word of God may be enabled to be spiritually discerning.

There are certain individuals, however, who have the God-given ability to distinguish between the truth of the Scriptures and erroneous and deceptive doctrines propagated by demons. Although we are all exhorted to be spiritually discerning (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1), some in the body of Christ have been given the unique ability to “spot” the forgeries in doctrine that have plagued the church since the first century. But this does not involve a mystical, extra-biblical revelation or a voice from God. Rather, the spiritually discerning among us are so familiar with the Word of God that they instantly recognize what is contrary to it. They do not receive special messages from God; they use the Word of God to “test the spirits” to see which line up with God and which are in opposition to Him. The spiritually discerning are those who “rightly divide” (2 Timothy 2:15) the Word of God in a thoughtful and diligent manner.

As the apostle Paul writes, there may be diversities of equipping in the body of Christ, but those diversities are meant for the edification and building of that body as a whole. And the success of that body is dependent upon all parts of the body faithfully fulfilling their place in the body as God has enabled them. No spiritual gift should be used to “lord it over” others or claim for oneself a special anointing from God. Rather, the love of God is to be the basis of how we use our spiritual gifts to edify or build up each other in the Lord.

The spiritual gift of prophecy is listed among the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and Romans 12:6. The Greek word translated “prophesying” or “prophecy” in both passages properly means to “speak forth” or declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in any way the truth of God which is designed to influence people. Many people misunderstand the gift of prophecy to be the ability to predict the future. While knowing something about the future may sometimes have been an aspect of the gift of prophecy, it was primarily a gift of proclamation (“forth-telling”), not prediction (“fore-telling”).

A pastor/preacher who declares the Bible can be considered a “prophesier” in that he is speaking forth the counsel of God. With the completion of the New Testament canon, prophesying changed from declaring new revelation to declaring the completed revelation God has already given. Jude 3 speaks of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (emphasis added). In other words, the faith to which we hold has been settled forever, and it does not need the addition or refinement that comes from extra-biblical revelations.

Also, note the transition from prophet to teacher in 2 Peter 2:1: “There were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you” (emphasis added). Peter indicates that the Old Testament age had prophets, whereas the church will have teachers. The spiritual gift of prophecy, in the sense of receiving new revelations from God to be proclaimed to others, ceased with the completion of the Bible. During the time that prophecy was a revelatory gift, it was to be used for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of men (1 Corinthians 14:3). The modern gift of prophecy, which is really more akin to teaching, still declares the truth of God. What has changed is that the truth of God today has already been fully revealed in His Word, while, in the early church, it had not yet been fully revealed.

Christians are to be very wary of those who claim to have a “new” message from God. It is one thing to say, “I had an interesting dream last night.” However, it is quite another matter to say, “God gave me a dream last night, and you must obey it.” No utterance of man should be considered equal to or above the written Word. We must hold to the Word that God has already given and commit ourselves to sola scriptura — Scripture alone.

  In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, one of the Beatitudes is “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Mercy is what we express when we are led by God to be compassionate in our attitudes, words, and actions. It is more than feeling sympathy toward someone; it is love enacted. Mercy desires to answer the immediate needs of others and alleviate suffering, loneliness, and grief. Mercy addresses physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual crises with generous, self-sacrificial service. Mercy is a champion of the lowly, poor, exploited, and forgotten and often acts on their behalf.

A good example of mercy is found in Matthew 20:29–34: “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ Jesus stopped and called them. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. ‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’ Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.” Notice that the blind men associated mercy not with a feeling but with an action. Their physical problem was that they couldn’t see, so to them, the act of mercy was Christ’s intervention to restore their sight. Mercy is more than a feeling; it is always followed by an action.

This gift has a practical application of active service as well as a responsibility to do so cheerfully (Romans 12:8). Additionally, we are all called to be merciful. Jesus says in Matthew 25:40 that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 5:7 promises mercy to those who are merciful toward others. As spiritually dead and blind sinners, we are no better off than the two blind men in Matthew 20. Just as they were utterly dependent on Christ’s compassion to restore their sight, so are we dependent on Him to “show us His mercy and grant us His salvation” (Psalm 85:7). This bedrock understanding that our hope depends on Christ’s mercy alone and not in any merit of ours should inspire us to follow Christ’s example of compassionate service and show mercy to others as it has been shown to us.

Spiritual adultery is unfaithfulness to God. It is having an undue fondness for the things of the world. Spiritually adultery is analogous to the unfaithfulness of one’s spouse: “‘But like a woman faithless to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20; see also Isaiah 1:21; 57:8; Ezekiel 16:30).

The Bible tells us that people who choose to be friends with the world are an “adulterous people” having “enmity against God” (James 4:4–5). The “world” here is the system of evil under Satan’s control (John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). The world system, with its contrived and deceitful scheme of phony values, worthless pursuits, and unnatural affections, is designed to lure us away from a pure relationship with God. Spiritual adultery, then, is the forsaking of God’s love and the embracing of the world’s values and desires (Romans 8:7–8; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15–17).

Spiritual adultery includes any form of idolatry. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel tried to mix the worship of other gods such as Baal with that of God (Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 16:31–33; Jeremiah 19:5). In doing so, Israel became like an adulterous wife who wanted both a husband and another lover (Jeremiah 9:2; Ezekiel 6:9; 16:32). In the New Testament, James defines spiritual adultery as claiming to love God while cultivating friendship with the world (James 4:4–5). The person who commits spiritual adultery is one who professes to be a Christian yet finds his real love and pleasure in the things that Satan offers. For believers, the love of the world and the love of God are direct opposites. Believers committing spiritual adultery may claim to love the Lord, but, in reality, they are captivated by the pleasures of this world, its influence, comforts, financial security, and so-called freedoms.

The concept of spiritual adultery against God is a major theme throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 16:15–19). This theme is illustrated especially well in the book of Hosea. The prophet’s wife, Gomer, symbolizes the infidelity of the children of Israel (Hosea 2:2–5; 3:1–5; 9:1). Hosea’s commitment to Gomer symbolizes God’s faithful, patient love with His erring people.

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible exhorts us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15–16). Believers must echo the words of the old hymn: “The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back.”

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Spiritual adultery is like trying to straddle the fence with one foot in the world and the other heaven. We cannot have both. As Jesus warned the church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).

The love of the world is primarily an attitude of one’s heart, and we can cast away worldliness by cultivating a new affection. To avoid spiritual adultery, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2, KJV).

To be sure, many conflicts throughout history have been ostensibly for religious reasons, with many different religions involved. For example, in Christianity, there occurred (just to name a few):

• The Crusades — A series of campaigns from the 11th to the 13th centuries with the stated goal of reconquering the Holy Land from Muslim invaders and coming to the aid of the Byzantine Empire

• The French Wars of Religion — A succession of wars in France during the 16th century between Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots

• The Thirty Years’ War — Another war between Catholics and Protestants during the 17th century in what is now Germany

This list is by no means exhaustive. In addition to this, one could add the Taiping Rebellion and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Christianity has certainly been a factor in many conflicts throughout its 2,000-year history.

In Islam, we see the concept of jihad, or “holy war.” The word jihad literally means “struggle,” but the concept has been used to describe warfare in the expansion and defense of Islamic territory. The almost continual warfare in the Middle East over the past half century certainly has contributed to the idea that religion is the cause of many wars. The September 11 attacks on the United States has been seen as a jihad against the “Great Satan” America, which in Muslim eyes is almost synonymous with Christianity. In Judaism, the wars of conquest chronicled in the OT (in particular the book of Joshua) at the command of God, conquered the Promised Land.

The point should be obvious that religion has certainly played a part in much of the warfare in human history. However, does this prove the point made by the critics of religion that religion itself is the cause of war? The answer is “yes” and “no.” “Yes” in the sense that as a secondary cause, religion, on the surface at least, has been the impetus behind much conflict. However, the answer is “no” in the sense that religion is never the primary cause of war.

To demonstrate this point, let’s look at the 20th century. By all accounts, the 20th century was one of the bloodiest centuries in human history. Two major world wars, which had nothing at all to do with religion, the Jewish Holocaust, and the Communist Revolutions in Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Cuba, have accounted for anywhere between 50-70 million deaths (some estimate upwards to 100 million). The one thing these conflicts and genocides have in common is that fact that they were ideological, not religious, in nature. We could easily make the case that more people have died throughout human history due to ideology than to religion. Communist ideology necessitates ruling over others. Nazi ideology necessitates elimination of “inferior” races. These two ideologies alone account for the death of millions, and religion had nothing to do with it. In fact, communism is by definition an atheistic ideology.

Religion and ideology are both secondary causes for war. However, the primary cause for all war is sin. Consider the following Scriptures:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

What is the testimony of Scripture as to the primary cause of war? It’s our wicked hearts. Religion and ideology are simply the means through which we exercise the wickedness in our hearts. To think, as many outspoken atheists do, that if we can somehow remove our “impractical need for religion,” we can somehow create a more peaceful society, is to have a mistaken view of human nature. The testimony of human history is that if we remove religion, something else will take its place, and that something is never positive. The reality is that true religion keeps fallen humanity in check; without it, wickedness and sin would reign supreme.

Even with the influence of true religion, Christianity, we will never see peace in this current age. There is never a day without some conflict somewhere in the world. The only cure for war is the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ! When Christ returns as He has promised, He will close this current age and establish eternal peace: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).