Episode 46: Who Can Explain the Fear?

DESCRIPTION: Jack asks why there is so much fear that typifies the Christians and their fellowships today, when Romans 8 paints a picture of the Christians being delivered from slavery to fear. It’s a hard-hitting episode, positing a question many will be tempted to ignore.

In this episode, I’ll be reading from a recent blog post of mine at jackpelham.com, and then expounding on it. We’ll get into a large portion of Romans 8, which is frequently quoted, but poorly understood and poorly executed.

So here’s the blog post:

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Why do so many Christians today live in fear? Who can explain that? Popular belief says that every Christian, upon coming to Jesus, receives the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the verse above seems adamant that the Holy Spirit used to have some sort of transforming effect on those in whom he lived. It seems that it transformed people from their former slavery to a life of fear into the freedom of a life of confidence, as the to-be-adopted children of God.

Yet when we look around Christian fellowships today, do we not see in them the same fears that are common among the unchurched? I don’t know about you, but where I have lived, I have seen fears like these among believers:

  • Emotional “insecurity”
  • Fear of pain (emotional or physical)
  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear of aging and death
  • Fear of being rejected by others
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of public speaking/singing
  • Fear of taking a stand on moral issues
  • Fear of telling the truth
  • Fear of finding out the truth (on certain matters)
  • Fear of standing out
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of being corrected
  • Fear of confessing their sins
  • Fear of digging into the Bible / hashing out doctrines
  • Fear of overcoming bad personal habits
  • Fear of work
  • Fear of discomfort (emotional or physical)

I suppose we could go on and on about things like this, but I trust these are enough to paint the general picture of what I’m talking about. I think that our culture is awash in such fears, and that most people are indeed enslaved to such things to some extent. And I’ve been particularly paying attention as I have been teaching for a few years, as well as having participated in countless Bible-related discussions. And I direct a mixed chorus, which serves as a fine example of what I’m talking about. In my chorus, many who like to sing participate, but at least half of them are considerably hampered by fear, and are not emotionally “free” to sing out—to make full use of the voices God gave them—even though they are regularly in the company of several others who have long-since overcome such fears, and sing out regularly.

So, what gives?

And I’ve seen that this slavery can go on for years! And the outstanding (unafraid) people among them don’t generally seem to “rub off” on the scared ones. The scared ones generally stay scared, and will for years. To their credit, they do dare to participate, but to their loss, they do nothing to learn to do what the better singers are doing. Very few will dare to seek out help so that they can “level up”. And that’s a beautiful thing to see when it happens—when someone recognizes they are lacking that spirit of excellence and of overcoming and of courage, so they go out in search of attaining it! But sadly, this is very rare. Indeed, you can challenge the whole group weekly to overcome their fears, and almost never will any scared individual reach out for help. They know, or should know, that they’re not really changing, but they’re just so paralyzed that they are not going to try anything new. They are enslaved by it.

And this doesn’t just happen in chorus; it happens at Pizza Hut. The one stellar server, who has a great time serving, and whose customers love her dearly, stands out like a star shining against the dull backdrop of how the other servers get along with their customers. She has more return customers, gets better tips, has more fun, and is a happier person. But do the dull ones there learn from this? Do they say, “Wow, I want to be like Lilli?” Nope. They are stuck. They are trapped. They are enslaved in being as they are. And it would seem nearly miraculous to find any of them deciding to break free.

So what’s up with that?—because this same thing is going on in millions of churches every week.

And I’m not talking about “bad” people here! I’ve seen this in people have have lots to love. I see it in people who are very smart, who have noteworthy accomplishments in life, who are very kind and fun to be around, and so forth—so it’s not like I’m talking about people who are menaces to society. But they are so not going to overcome their fears. There is no track record of progress—or if there is, it is so slow as to defy observation, except by the most patient and meticulous accountant. That is, except in the tiniest of degrees.

So, what’s going on here?

To Paul, it seemed like a no-brainer that the indwelling Holy Spirit was not like the spirit of fear that had the world under its control. How is it now, then, that these same common human fears seem to have such wide-scale control over believers today?

Where is the spirit of daring and overcoming? Or learning and pushing oneself? Of self-improvement and growth and maturation and discovery? Of emulating Jesus and God? Of the courageous following of Jesus’ example, and the examples of his apostles? Why does that forward-moving philosophy not typify today’s Christian fellowships?

The non-thinker may never stumble across such a question, but as the analytical sort, it’s a question I don’t think I can morally afford to ignore. To me, it’s a question that demands an answer. But alas!—only a courageous people would have the heart to get into this, because we can sense from the beginning that the answer to such a question might indeed be a troubling one. So why not just sweep it under the rug for now, and hope for better times ahead without having had to stop to find out the answer?

I think we’re in a serious crisis. I think that the difference between our modern Christian culture and the Christian culture that was enjoyed by those congregations in the First Century is huge. And I don’t think we can afford to ignore it. I think that a state of emergency exists today, given how much different we are from what they seem to have been like—or at least, when we are so busy believing that we live in the same general spiritual context as them—in the same general circumstances and conditions. If the times haven’t changed, they why aren’t we as courageous as they were? Something’s wrong.

I have some ideas about how best to answer this question, but they’re still in a time of testing, and aren’t ready to be formally published. But I’m not writing this post to insist on the answers; I’m writing to insist on the question! I believe we have a moral obligation to ask the question and to go after an answer. A good answer. Honest. Rational. Responsible.

Sadly, though, while a lot of Christians have opportunity to stumble across this question in the natural business of living out the faith they have, I have seen very few rolling up their sleeves in search for an answer. It’s much easier for them to default to the popular meme culture—to our hearsay culture that readily provides mindless answers of various kinds, that they will never stop to vet. Indeed, the reason for adopting one of those answers is not to get at the truth of the matter (because they will never do the work of confirming whether the answers are true or not). Rather, they latch onto the hearsay in order to escape having to deal with the truth, by pretending to have a true answer already. Ironically, most are afraid to vet such notions, for fear that they might prove to be false.

And this is just another example of us living as slaves to fear, when that does not seem to have been how the First-Century Christians lived.

So you can put yourself to the test here today, to see whether you are a slave to fear or not. You could, for example, share this article on social media, and spread the question around, inviting discussion of this crucial topic. And if you think that’s a good idea, pay attention to whatever happens in your mind between thinking it’s a good idea and actually taking the steps to get it shared.

And I’m not doing this as some manner of marketing ploy. My website is not monetized, and I’m lucky to have more than ten visits on any particular day. Rather, I suggest this as a practical self-test of your own spirit of courage.

Let’s talk about it, Christians!

That’s how my blog article ended. And now let’s dig into Romans 8 some more, because I think it gets a lot of lip service in the churches, but little implementation. Just like with a shy singer in a chorus, who will have zero objections to the notion that it sounds better if singers will sing out, but who will simply not sing out herself, a great many Christians regularly hear about courage and overcoming and growing, and yet have little courage and little growth, and hardly ever overcome anything. They’re living split lives: they own inward intents and acknowledgements, versus their long-term failure to become like Jesus.

So let’s dig into Romans 8:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Episode 45: Is Divorce the ONLY Thing that God Hates?

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses Malachi 2:16, where some translations say that God hates divorce. He asks whether divorce is the only thing God hates, and whether there might not be some very serious issues that concern God at least as much as divorce does—and whether those other issues are being given the same weight in the churches as divorce is.

Let’s talk about divorce.

First of all, I need to point out that our culture tends to be pretty sloppy in our understandings of Bible doctrines. While the Bible has over 1,100 pages of information, we tend to draw on tiny segments of it when developing our beliefs, ignoring the full body of information and deferring to a one-liner passage here and there. And to be even more specific, it’s not the one-liner so much as our interpretation of that one-liner that’s the problem. That is to say, there are many Bible passages that could reasonably taken in more than one way. But when do we ever roll up our sleeves to consider all the reasonable interpretations of a verse before deciding that we know what the author or speaker meant to convey?

Continue reading Episode 45: Is Divorce the ONLY Thing that God Hates?

EPISODE 44: The Golden Rule and Who Is Responsible for Filling Up the Emotional Void You Naturally Have Inside

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses the common problem of people hoping to fill up their internal emotional voids, and how Jesus’ “Golden Rule” may just provide a lot of the answer to this problem.

Continue reading EPISODE 44: The Golden Rule and Who Is Responsible for Filling Up the Emotional Void You Naturally Have Inside

Episode 42: Why There is Suffering In This World, and Why Getting Mad at God About it is Foolish.

DESCRIPTION: In this episode, we deal with questions that frequently arise, and that are rarely answered well. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers as we might think he should? Why are we in this world in the first place? Why is there so much suffering here?

Continue reading Episode 42: Why There is Suffering In This World, and Why Getting Mad at God About it is Foolish.

Episode 41: Eight Possible Ways Jesus Could Save The United States of America

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses eight possible ways Jesus could fix the mess that is ailing America. It raises the question of just what we’re expecting when we pray for God’s help.

Continue reading Episode 41: Eight Possible Ways Jesus Could Save The United States of America

Episode 39: You Are Not An Apostle.

DESCRIPTION: A great deal of confusion exists in the churches today because of the careless attention that is given to the various roles that people played in the First Century ekklesia (“church” to most). Without careful attention, it’s easy to assume upon ourselves roles and promises that were given to someone other than us. This episode takes a detailed look at the role of the apostles, and shows how it was a crucial and special role, and how we ourselves are not apostles.


This episode entails a reading (and expounding upon) of a September 2, 2013 article that Jack posted at his newly-restored website, bibleinvestigation.com. The article has been copied and pasted below for your convenience.

You are not an apostle.

You know this already, of course.  So why am I writing an article to prove it?

Well, interestingly, an awful lot of believers who already know they are not apostles routinely assume upon themselves various promises and duties that Jesus gave to his apostles, and not to anyone else.  So I thought it would be good to set the record straight on a few matters about which there seems to be widespread confusion.

First, some basic facts about the apostles:

1. The word “Apostle” means “one who is sent out”.  From apo–out or away, stellein–to send.  Read more here if you like.  As we shall see below, the apostles were sent out by Jesus.  They were expected to deliver his message impeccably to the entire “world” (whatever amount of the surface of Planet Earth that was supposed to cover), calling people everywhere to follow Jesus.  Here’s the scripture that says so:

Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Interestingly, the word for “church” is ekklesia, which means those who are called out.  So perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that the apostles are the ones out doing the calling on Jesus’ behalf, and that those who responded were the “called-out ones” (ekklesia).

2. Apostles were personally appointed by Jesus.  Even in the case of Paul, who came considerably after the appointment of Peter and the others, Jesus had a personal meeting with him.  Here’s a start on some passages in support of what I’m saying, with an occasional note inserted:

Luke 6:12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.

Acts 9:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

NOTE: This is the conversion of Saul/Paul, who is well established as having been one of Jesus’ authorized apostles.

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

NOTE: Not all were apostles, but only a few. And note also that they were the first in the order, having a special place.

3. Apostles had miraculous abilities. Here are six brief passages about this, with some notes.

Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

NOTE: This was more than the power to cast out demons and to heal diseases, for they had already been given this in Matthew 10:1.

John 14:12“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 

NOTE: I know of no believer in this generation who does greater works than Jesus, although this could have been true of the apostles with their “signs and wonders”.  If the Bible were a complete record of what happened, I get the feeling we’d have lots of accounts of the apostles doing mighty works.

 Acts 2:43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles

NOTE: Why only through the apostles? Why were not all believers given such powers?

 Acts 4:33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 

NOTE: This is probably literal language concerning miracles, and not figurative as in “What a powerful message today, Pastor!”

 Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. 

NOTE: We don’t know just HOW many. It could have been an exceedingly large number, for all we are told.

2 Corinthians 12:12  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds

NOTE: This seems to have been a standard feature of apostleship.  There is no promise of such powers for all believers, and there is certainly no evidence that all believers have such gifts–or that it ever was so.

4. The apostleship was only for a limited time. In no place does scripture lay out any plan for an apostolic succession; once the apostles were gone, there would be no replacement for them.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

There were two ages in view:  “this age”, said Jesus, and “the age to come”:   

Matthew 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Paul would write that they were at the common terminus of two ages—that is, the end of one and the beginning of the next:

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

With this, Hebrews agrees:  

Hebrews 9:26 … but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Jesus therefore, was promising to continue guiding the apostles’ work only up until the end of that age in which they were when he gave the promise.  It was not a perpetual state, but a temporary one.  Hence, there are no more apostles today, and this is as it was planned.

5. The apostles were the chief authority for the ekklesia (“church” to most) on the Earth.  Yes, Jesus was in charge of the whole thing, but he had appointed them to lead the ekklesia:

Matthew 16:18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

1 Corinthians 12:28  And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 

NOTE: Not only are the apostles first on the list, but Paul makes it certain that they are to be first inasmuch as he uses the word “first”.

Ephesians 2:19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,… 

NOTE: Without the apostles, there could have been no “foundation” to the ekklesia. Whatever someone today wants to make of it all, this is the way that JESUS decided to build his ekklesia.

Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 

NOTE: Apostles start the list again.

Revelation 20:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 

NOTE: Their role in the ekklesia on the Earth was so profound that they even have special honor in heaven!

7. The revealing of Christ to the world and to the ekklesia would happen through the ministry of the apostles. I have already mentioned that the “calling” to those who were to be “called out” seems to have been done through the work of Jesus’ apostles.  Here are some passages that support this idea.

John 12:18  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world….20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;

Acts 1:8  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Ephesians 3:4  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel

2 Peter 3:1  This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

So those are the basics.  And surely, you don’t think you are an apostle.  But what follows below is a list of bad assumptions made by many believers today, in which they presume upon themselves either promises or duties that were only ever made to the apostles.

Promises and Commissions That Were Only For the Apostles

“Christ’s Ambassadors”  Paul wrote to the Corinthians the following: 

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  

“Whatever you ask…” 

John 14:13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

“Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Matthew 17:18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.  19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”  20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

“I can do all things.” 

Philippians 4:12  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

“Teach you all things” 

John 14:25  “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

“Guide you into all truth” 

John 16:12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

The Great Commission. 

Matthew 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

So cut it out!

Do you have any idea, Christian, how much strife and cognitive dissonance is caused by the careless application of these promises and commissions to those for whom they were never meant?  How many believers feel bad about themselves because they have been taught to believe that if only they had enough faith, they’d be able to do whatever they want or get whatever they ask for?  And how many people’s faith has been wrecked by believers who are still too ignorant and immature to be good representatives, taking upon themselves the role of an apostle in some way or another?

The Craziest Part

The craziest part of all this is that we can prove, by way of direct observation, that these promises are not true for us today. Even so, so very many continue to tell themselves lies with regard to these things, telling themselves what they know, or should know, does not apply to us.  This habit, therefore, is dishonest, irrational, and irresponsible.  For an apostle to have claimed these promises and commissions faithfully would have been wholly rational (reality-based), for the apostles had indeed been so promised and commissioned.  But for any non apostle to assume these promises and commissions is an exercise in unreality, for they were simply not given to us.  If if we’re going to be honest and responsible, this simply has to be OK with us.  We didn’t get to live in the Garden of Eden, to ride on Noah’s Ark, to worship in the Temple, to sit at Jesus’ feet, nor to be one of his apostles.  Those things were only for a time, and that time has gone.  Let us be content, therefore, to live in the time and circumstances into which our lives were created.

Episode 38: Recommending an Interview with Dr. John Walton at BibleProject.org

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses various things, including a great and relevant interview The Bible Project did with Dr. John Walton, regarding interpretations of Genesis 1. Jack mentions the Jack, Anne, and George Problem (Hector Levesque) from Cognitive Science, and how it has such a crucial lesson for us with Bible study. (The lesson is to consider all the possibilities before giving a final answer.)

Continue reading Episode 38: Recommending an Interview with Dr. John Walton at BibleProject.org

Episode 37: Jack’s Considerations for Good Bible Study, Part B

DESCRIPTION: Jack continues discussing several ideas about what makes for good Bible study attitudes and techniques. It ends with a discussion of how having a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is not necessary for good Bible study, where having a high RQ (Rationality Quotient) is.

Continue reading Episode 37: Jack’s Considerations for Good Bible Study, Part B

Episode 36: Jack’s Considerations for Good Bible Study, Part A

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses several ideas about what makes for good Bible study attitudes and techniques. It ends with a discussion of how having a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is not necessary for good Bible study, where having a high RQ (Rationality Quotient) is.

Continue reading Episode 36: Jack’s Considerations for Good Bible Study, Part A