Q&A: Is Christmas a holiday with pagan roots?

Question: I've heard that December 25th has pagan roots and believers are foolish to participate in a pagan holiday. What's the truth?

Imagine for a moment that you — a believer and follower of Jesus — live right next door to a pagan. Now imagine that on a particular day of the year both you and your neighbor choose to celebrate something related to your faith. Your neighbor, as a pagan, celebrates his pagan deities and holds a feast and invites his friends. You, on the other hand, use that very same day to celebrate the Lord who created all things and who saved you from your sin. Like your neighbor, you also hold a feast and invite your friends.

Now the question: Are you celebrating a pagan holiday simply because your celebration lands on the same day as your neighbor's?

If pagans at one time in history used December 25th to celebrate their pagan deities, does that mean that date is forever off-limits to believers of the One true God? And if so, WHY?? Did not the God, whom you and I serve, Create ALL THINGS...including the days of the year?? Why then should ANY of those days be off limits or unavailable to Christians simply because some poor pagan soul used that day to worship a god that is really no god at all?

I have been celebrating Christmas ever since I can remember. For me, December 25th has ALWAYS been about celebrating the incarnation — God becoming a man in the Person of Jesus Christ. When I grew up I learned that December 25th had also been used for a pagan celebration. But that information didn't affect me at all, because paganism has never been part of my reality. In other words, for me, December 25th has only ever been a celebration of the goodness and mercy of God. And it remains so to this day.

Here's the point. To celebrate a pagan holiday I must 1) be a pagan and, 2) worship what pagans worship. And yet those descriptions don't apply to me. I am a child of the Living God, and I serve and worship Him alone. I, for one, am NOT about to surrender one single day of the calendar to pagans. They have no right to take the days my God created as if they were their own. All 365 days of the year belong to the One who made them.

Q&A: How can I tell God's voice from my own?

Question: How can I tell God's voice from my own head/heart/gut??

It's not uncommon to hear Christians say things like, "The Lord showed me..." or "Then the Lord spoke to my heart and said..." or even, "God told me..." It happens a lot, and frankly, those kinds of remarks leave a lot of believers wondering why they don't hear God's voice that way. When those same believers are facing important decisions they pray for guidance but their answers never seem as clear-cut and specific as some Christians seem to experience. And even when they seem to get some sense of direction, they end up wondering if it's really God, or just their own mind playing tricks.

Welcome to the world of living by faith.

Here are some tips:

Tune your heart to God’s voice

This rather challenging business of discerning God's voice is nothing new. But the reason it's so hard is because hearing from God is spiritual work — and let's face it, our daily lives are lived in a very physical world. That means we're dreadfully out of practice when it comes to operating on a spiritual level.
So the real question ought to be: How can I learn to tune my heart to hear God's voice?
Understanding as we do that God wants to communicate with us through His Spirit, it should be obvious that we're not waiting for an audible voice. Sure, God can speak audibly if He wants to, but don't forget that His Holy Spirit lives in your heart, and that is where He wants to communicate with you.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that. "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things..." and, "...we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV) But the mind of Christ is not apprehended by mere intellectual pursuit. Jesus told us that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and that means pursuing His will and His direction for our lives is a spiritual pursuit of God Himself.

Learn to quiet your heart
Learning to hear God's voice means learning to quiet your soul (emotions and intellect) and waiting on the Lord.
David said to the Lord: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me." Psalm 131:2 (ESV)  David was in a place to hear from God. Ask the Lord to teach you how to quiet your soul.
Pray and be patient
Prayer is a major key in all our pursuits with God. James 1:5 says, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. That is a rock-solid promise. God will give you wisdom and direction. The real question is: how long are you and I willing to wait for the answer?
Learning to wait in prayer is essential. Our modern approach to life with express lanes and fast food drive-throughs have fostered an impatience in our hearts that doesn't serve us well in the area of hearing from God. I've learned over the years that God is never in a hurry, and if I want to hear His heart on a matter, I'm the one who needs to adjust to His timeline, not the other way around.
Exercise your faith
Christians forget that it takes FAITH to hear from God. James reminds us that when we ask of God, we are to "...ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."
God responds to our faith, so if you're struggling in that area chances are good you will also struggle to hear from God. Thankfully, we serve a God who is rich in mercy. Come humbly before the throne of grace and confess the weakness of your faith. You can know for certain that God wants very much to see you built-up and strong in that area, and He will do it.
And finally...
Be in the Word regularly and prayerfully
Along the lines of getting your faith in shape, spend as much time in the Word as you’re able. The Bible is our guidebook for life and you may just find the answer you're looking for right there in the Word. Even if you don't, reading your Bible builds your faith.
...faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (ESV)
The other reason it is so vitally important to know God's Word is that we learn the heart of God through His Word. Even if I don't get a specific answer, knowing His heart helps me to understand His will for my life. And finally, knowing God's Word keeps me from running after things that are not His will. God will never contradict His Word, so if I'm sensing the Lord's leading in a way that directly violates something in the Bible, I know immediately that I'm on the wrong path and I need to make a U-turn.
For more on this topic check out the teaching: Why We Struggle Getting Close to God

Q&A: Are angels still among us?

Question: I've seen several places in the Bible where angels came to people with messages from God. Do you think angels are still among us? Do they bring messages from God?

Since we are told that angels are "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Heb. 1:14) there is every reason to believe that angels are all around us and active in our lives.  I would recommend the book Angels (God's Secret Agents) by Billy Graham. It is a wonderful book packed with real-life testimonies of the intervention of angels in people's lives.

As far as angels bringing messages from God, it's certainly possible, but with the unprecedented access we have these days to God's Word in printed and digital form, there's very little reason for angels to bring a message from God. His message is all around us if we would just pick up a Bible and start reading!

Q&A: Are Christians Under the Law of Moses? And what about the Sabbath?

Question: Are Christians under the same covenant as Israel, and does that mean we are required to keep the Sabbath?

There are two points that I want to make in regards to the Law and specifically the Sabbath. And I will show you the evidence for each of them through the Scriptures.

1. God made a covenant with Israel that included Sabbath-keeping. That covenant is called "The Mosaic Covenant" and it was limited to God and Israel. The Mosaic Covenant was NOT made with the Church.

2. The meaning of the Sabbath was fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

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Let’s take the first point. There is an assumption by many Christians that the covenant God made with Israel is fully binding on the Church — the Body of Christ. I say this is an “assumption” because it is NOT supported in the Word of God. The Scripture is clear that God made a covenant between Himself and Israel, and that Law is lined out for us in the Old Testament. Consider this passage regarding the Sabbath:

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. Exodus 31:16 (ESV)

First, this passage tells us that ISRAEL is to keep the Sabbath. Secondly, it tells us that it is part of a lasting covenant. Again, that covenant is between God and Israel.

Is there biblical evidence that God has made a NEW covenant with the Church? Yes!! (By the way, this New Covenant was FIRST offered to Israel, and the Gentiles were to be included.) This was prophesied in Jeremiah 31. It goes like this:

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34

There are four things I want to bring out from this passage. Each point is highlighted with an underline above.
  1. God promised a time when He would make a new covenant with His people.
  2. He said it would NOT BE LIKE the old covenant made through Moses.
  3. A key to this new covenant is that He would take His Law and write it on their hearts. (A very lovely reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit, which did NOT happen under the old covenant.)
  4. The new covenant would be a covenant offering FORGIVENESS.

I want to emphasize one of the points here, and that is point 2: God specifically spoke through Jeremiah saying the NEW Covenant would NOT be like the OLD Covenant. They would NOT be the same.

Now, let’s ask the question: When was this New Covenant brought into play for God’s people?

The answer is that it was inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Listen to His words at the Last Supper:

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 (ESV) 

So, as Christians, we are under the New Covenant enacted by Jesus and established by His death on the cross. It is a “new covenant in [His] blood.”

This squares with the words of the Apostle Paul:

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:14-15

Twice in those two verses Paul declared that believers are “not under law.”

That means we are not bound to the Law as a means of being accepted by God. We are accepted BY FAITH, because “...without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

And “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Hab. 2:4)

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Okay, let’s look at the second point:

The meaning of the Sabbath was fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Do you remember what Jesus said about the Law? He said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

Jesus claimed that His coming was to “fulfill the Law.” Let’s look specifically at how He fulfilled the Sabbath.

Sabbath-keeping was all about RESTING. God commanded the nation of Israel to REST on the Sabbath, which meant to do no regular work. Obviously, you know the Jews took that simple command and they made it ridiculously complex and horribly legalistic. When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath the Jewish Leaders were outraged and wanted to kill Jesus because of it. That’s how far they had fallen away from God’s original intent for the Sabbath. Jesus had to remind them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 (ESV) 

The Sabbath was made FOR MAN TO REST. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the idea of entering God’s rest takes a prominent place in chapter 4. And the author Hebrews makes this amazing statement:

For we who have believed enter that rest… Hebrews 4:3 (ESV) 

He goes on to explain his statement in the chapter:

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11 (ESV) 

Notice the words I’ve underlined. The writer of Hebrews tells us that those who have “rested from his works” have, in fact, entered into God’s rest. We see from the context of Hebrews that the author is speaking of the work of Jesus on the cross. And that for those who BELIEVE and trust that the work of Jesus on the cross is ENOUGH, they have entered into God’s rest. Why? Because they are RESTING in the finished work of Jesus.

This resting is powerfully foretold in the substance of the Passover celebration. Do you recall it? When God was delivering Israel from their bondage to slavery in Egypt, He had Moses instruct the people of Israel to slaughter a young lamb and to mark the doorposts of their homes with its blood. They were told that during the night the Destroyer would go throughout Egypt bringing death, but wherever he saw the blood, he would “passover” that home and bring no death.

So what were the people doing? They were sheltering under the blood of the lamb. They were “resting” in God’s solution for their deliverance. There was nothing they could do except to TRUST that God’s Word was true and that the blood of the lamb would be enough.

This presents for us a New Testament picture of Sabbath-keeping. Rather than keeping a single day of the week, we are RESTING in the finished work of Jesus on the cross 7 days a week. And in this way, BY FAITH, we are “keeping” the Sabbath. As the writer of Hebrews said: For we who HAVE BELIEVED enter that rest… Hebrews 4:3 (ESV) 

This is why the New Testament writers never told believers to “keep” the Sabbath in the Old Covenant way. (Remember, the New Covenant would NOT BE LIKE the old one.) NOT ONCE are believers in the New Testament told to keep a specific day. In fact, the OPPOSITE is true.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:5-6 (NIV) 

If the Sabbath was required for us to reach heaven, why in the world would the Apostle Paul say what he did above??? And then, check out this passage:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV) 

Here Paul clearly says that Sabbath-keeping (as it was done under the Old Covenant) is a “shadow of thing...to come.” He tells us the reality of the Sabbath is found in Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Sabbath regulations through His death on the cross. When we rest in what He did for us, we keep the Sabbath.

Finally, listen to Paul’s words in Romans...

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:31 (ESV) 

Faith upholds the Law because our faith is in Jesus, who fulfilled the Law for us in every way.

I want to make one final point: The law was never intended as a means of salvation. In other words, God never promised that by keeping the Law people would obtain heaven. Salvation is offered one way: through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Jesus is ENOUGH!


For more on this topic check out Pastor Paul's verse by verse study of Galatians.

Related:
Q&A: How should Christians apply promises that God gave to the Israelites?
Q&A: When did the Sabbath day change?
Q&A: Do the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 still apply to believers today?

Q&A: What does the Bible say about Christians being involved in political affairs?

Q: I was recently confronted with the idea that Christians should not concern themselves with politics since our hope is in Christ and His eternal kingdom. I was wondering what the Bible has to say on our involvement in political affairs. 

 This question has been debated for years.

It's true we're told in the Word to focus our minds on "things above." We're also told that our "citizenship is in heaven." (Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 3:20) I guess someone could use those passages to make the point that political involvement is unwarranted for believers. But the Apostle Paul also urged us to pray for the leaders of our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV). That command shows that God wants our presence in this world to make a difference.

"Wait a minute!" someone might say. "Praying for our nation's leaders is one thing. But voting and running for office is quite another! We're never told to participate that way!" And that's true. But remember...the kind of political involvement you and I are privileged to have here in America was virtually unknown in biblical times. Democracy as we know it was unheard of, and a political process that involved citizens casting a vote was incredibly rare in the ancient world. No wonder the Apostle Paul never spoke of it. Even when citizens were allowed to vote in ancient Roman elections, often the outcome was determined by the upper-class or by those in power who had already pre-selected their candidate of choice. The voice we have today in the USA along with our ability to change the political landscape is truly unique.

I believe it's possible to take advantage of our political freedom to cast our vote and still keep our minds focused on things above. It's true, we are citizens of heaven, but we are also citizens of the country in which we live. And as those who are commissioned to be "salt and light" in this world, I believe we have a responsibility to positively affect the way our country operates. In fact, throughout the centuries it was believers in Jesus who spearheaded change in areas like the slave trade both here and in Europe. They did it by affecting the political process and changing the laws of the land.

Participating in the political process does not mean we've sold out to the world or that we're trusting in man. Biblical Christians fully understand that the heart of mankind is corrupt and deceitful. Furthermore, we know that the condition of this world will go from bad to worse. (2 Timothy 3: 1-5) But until the Lord calls us home, we ought to be using whatever opportunities and freedoms the Lord has granted us to bring the light of His presence into this dark world.

Q&A: Are Christians required to forgive when there is no repentance?

Question: Are Christians required to forgive when there is no repentance? 

I suppose it depends on which passage of Scripture you're looking at. Here's one that supports that idea:

Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 (ESV)

So, I suppose based on a passage like this an argument could be made for withholding forgiveness when repentance has not been expressed. But, to be fair, there are other passages which speak of extending forgiveness while mentioning nothing of repentance. Check out the two passages below...

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)


When it comes to forgiveness I have a question of my own: Why would you not want to forgive? As believers we come to learn that unforgiveness is not unlike a poison that courses through our hearts, corrupting our thoughts and ultimately leading to bitterness. And bitterness ruins everything — including our relationship with God. (See Hebrews 12:15) So I think it's better to err on the side of seeing forgiveness as a mandate regardless of what the offender does or doesn't do.

But let me be quick to add that real forgiveness is a work of the Holy Spirit. That means if you and I are waiting around for the desire to forgive someone who has hurt us we're in for a long wait. Forgiving others is first and foremost an act of obedience. And secondly, it's just a smart thing to do. If you're struggling with forgiving someone you need to come to God and confess that inability and ask for His grace to forgive.

Does God forgive without repentance?

This is a common follow-up question but I have to be honest that I feel uncomfortable comparing the forgiveness we extend to others with the forgiveness that God offers. The sins and offenses we commit against one another are made by sinners, against sinners. But the sin that is committed against God is a wholly different matter since we are offending One who is perfect in purity and holiness. In other words, it's not comparing apples and apples. The One eternal, almighty God is on a level that is entirely His own when it comes to such things.

Q&A: What does the Bible say about where you are immediately after death? Do we soul sleep?

Question: What does the Bible say about where you are immediately after death? Do we soul sleep?

It's not uncommon to run into Christians who think that after death we enter into a state of sleep, often called soul sleep, and the reason for this is the many usages of the word "sleep" in the Bible when referring to physical death. Some examples are:

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 1 Kings 2:10 (ESV) 

A New Testament example is used by the Apostle Paul:

...we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 (ESV) 

Three times in 3 verses Paul uses the idea of sleeping to describe those who died in Christ. You can see why for some the idea of soul sleep is a slam dunk. 

But when the Bible uses a reference to sleeping in place of death it is employing a euphemism which is defined as:

a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

In death, the physical body takes on the appearance of sleep, thus the usage of sleep-related terms to describe it.

But we have to have a good biblical reason to consider that a euphemism is being used in all these cases, otherwise we're just projecting nothing more than a personal opinion. And there are very good reasons for not believing in soul sleep. The first comes from the Apostle Paul who, when speaking of life both in the body and out of the body wrote:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV) 

Paul declared that he much preferred to be absent from the body because that meant he would be present with the Lord and enjoy all those wonderful blessings.

But perhaps the best reason for not embracing soul sleep is a story — not a parable, mind you — that Jesus told about the death of two men. This story is located in Luke's Gospel chapter 16. It concerns a wealthy man and a diseased beggar by the name of Lazarus.* In this story, both men suffer physical death. Lazarus is transported by the angels of God to a place of comfort and the wealthy man is sent immediately to a place of suffering where he awaits judgment. In the case of both of these men, they are fully conscious and aware of their present circumstances and surroundings. Since there's no reason to consider this story anything other than a telling of real events, it shows that Jesus taught something other than soul sleep. And since His is an unimpunable authority I believe we are left with some very concrete reasons to believe that the human soul does not sleep after death.

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*The fact that this man is mentioned by name along with Abraham tells us Jesus was not using a parable but instead was relating very real events with very real people.