How does a Christian “give up his life for others”?

Remembrance Day honours those who gave up their lives to rid the world of evil.

But is that what God calls Christians to do, to sacrifice their physical lives in war to stop evil?

Two answers come to mind, the first being that we will never be able to stop evil by the sacrifice of human life. We’ve already proved that many times over, where an evil is stopped but another soon takes its place, or the evil simply continues in another form, like those who taught and practiced terror tactics in World War 2 taking their craft and teaching terrorists elsewhere after the war, the results of which we are still experiencing today.

Human sacrifice, therefore, no matter how well-meaning, is not the solution to evil. That’s because the sacrifice required to rid this world of evil was never ours to make in the first place.

That job went to Jesus, according to 1 John 3:8, which says: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And it so obviously took him to do it too, because for thousands of years before he appeared on Earth we humans had never been able to destroy the devil’s work. Evil ran rampant in the pagan nations. Vicious empires came and went, leaving an endless trail of human misery and death. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were never able to stop evil either. They were supposed to be God’s instruments in saving the world from evil (Isaiah 49:6), but they ended up needing to be rescued themselves. Only Jesus has been able to resist evil and defeat it, so the only need for human sacrifice to stop evil was his to make, not ours.

The second answer that came to mind was the statement in Romans 12:1 about Christians being a “living sacrifice,” not a dead one. In other words, the days of God’s people going to war and killing and being killed – like they did in the Old Testament – are over. Jesus has replaced that in the New Testament with a better way for his people to give up their lives for others.

It’s in verse 2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The “pattern of this world” in stopping evil has always been war, so Christians do not conform to that. What they do instead is seek to get rid of the evil in their own heads, which is exactly what Jesus said he’d do for us in 2 Corinthians 3:18. So, again, Jesus is the only solution to evil, which he’s now demonstrating in the lives of living Christians, not dead ones.

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Who is our real enemy – the devil, or each other?

How tragic that we humans see each other as the enemy. Think how many wars have been fought between people who, in peace-time, could well have been the best of friends. And think how many people live and work happily together all their lives who then ferociously turn on each other in a time of war.

How do we get so twisted up that we view each other as enemies? How can millions of people through the centuries be hoodwinked over and over again into picking up arms and killing their fellow humans, when they have nothing personally against them? How can we fall so easily for charismatic leaders justifying the invasion of other countries and killing innocent children? And how come bullying is such a problem in schools and the workplace, as though we actually hate each other and love hurting people? Something is tragically wrong.

Yes there is, but Jesus came to change it. How? 1 John 3:8 – “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” because our real enemy is the devil. It’s not each other. And that really struck me while following a slow driver. For mile after mile a whole trail of us were stuck behind him travelling well below the speed limit, and when, at last, the opportunity came to overtake him he immediately drove out in front of me without signalling, forcing me to take evasive action. Whether he did it on purpose or not, I do not know, but I realized at that point he wasn’t my enemy. The fact that we’re all driving cars on packed roads with few opportunities to overtake isn’t his fault. The reason we’re all stuck in these ridiculous circumstances is because the devil got to us from the very start.

He’s the enemy, because he got us all thinking we could do without God, and look what we’ve got as a result. We’re into endless situations cropping up where we think of and treat each other as the enemy. I watch siblings, for instance, who stir and poke each other to get a reaction and make the other cry, but when faced by a common enemy they join hands in mutual support. It’s insane. They’d die for each other when others oppose them, but when there’s no opposition they fight each other.

But, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It helps explain the utter insanity and cruelty we inflict on each other. Somehow the devil has made us into enemies, when, in fact, our only enemy is him.

Why no peace yet, and no end to evil?

So how come pain, suffering and evil still exist when Christ in his death “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3), and in his resurrected state he’s now at God’s “right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion…not only in the present age but also in the age to come“ (Ephesians 1:20-21)?

Anyone suffering surely has the right to ask that question, that if Jesus really is fully in charge of what happens on this planet right now, then why isn’t he putting a stop to terrorism, serial killers, corruption in high places, and all the other awful things happening to people? And if it’s true in Colossians 1:20 that he’s “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” then why aren’t we seeing peace spreading throughout the Earth as well?

Paul answers both questions in verses 21-23, that Jesus IS creating peace and he is putting a stop to the awful things happening to us – by getting at WHY we have so much pain, suffering and evil still, and why we don’t have peace. And the simple reason why is because “You were God’s enemies. You hated him, and you were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions” (21).

The reason we don’t have peace and why pain, suffering and evil continue, is because our minds have been so twisted against God that we can’t stop the evil thoughts and actions that wreck our relationship with him, and with each other.

But that’s why Jesus died. He died, as Paul phrases it, to “reconcile” us to God (verse 22). Jesus’ dealt a death blow to our hatred for God, so that the process of healing our twisted up minds could begin. And the process begins with the dawning in our minds that we are all now “holy in God’s sight, without blemish and free from accusation” because of Jesus’ death (22).

That’s “the hope held out in the gospel” (23), that in Jesus’ death we have a fresh start. None of our past evil thoughts and actions are held against us. We all stand in God’s presence with a completely clean slate. But that’s just the beginning, because the hope that’s ALSO held out in the gospel is that “if we continue in our faith, established and firm” (23) God will complete what he started.

We now enter a lifetime of healing, where the evil thoughts and actions that are the cause of all our pain, suffering and lack of peace are brought to the surface and dealt with. And there we have God’s solution, which is happening right now in the minds of those who believe it and trust him.

How did evil get started?

Has evil always existed, or did God create evil to see if we’d choose it, or not?

Scripture is vague on the subject. It doesn’t explain the origin of evil. It does, however, explain the origin of all goodness. God is good (Exodus 33:19, Psalm 33:5), and whatever God made was good (Genesis 1:31). God made us humans good too, stamping us with an impress of his own image so we could enjoy a paradise existence with him forever. God’s all grace and loveliness. On that point Scripture is clear: God’s into goodness, not evil.

But evil exists too, so where did it come from? Scripture hints, without stating it outright, that evil first appeared in an angel, whose attitude then infected other angels. But how did evil get a foothold in the angels’ minds in the first place? Well, God made that possible because he gave the angels a will of their own, which meant they could choose either good or evil, and whether to follow God or reject him.

But why would they reject God when it was obvious, surely, that God loved them and that everything he did was for their good? He’d given them brilliant minds and amazing beauty, so why choose evil instead? Was it because of pride, or envy? Scripture hints at both. Whatever the cause, evil was “out of the bag” and it was deadly, because it could twist even a brilliant mind into rejecting the love and goodness of God.

God then created humans with a will of their own too, and they also experienced a lovely, open, innocent relationship with God in a paradise of his making, which was theirs to enjoy forever so long as they didn’t eat the fruit off one tree. Obey that one prohibition and paradise was theirs for eternity. Disobey and they could kiss paradise goodbye and live in a world where they’d have to cope with evil.

So why did they disobey? It made no sense at all. If they’d simply obeyed God’s instructions they would now be “gods and sons of the Highest,” Psalm 82:6, living in a permanent paradise. But the serpent convinced Adam and Eve they could be gods without obeying God, and they believed him. But why? Why believe the serpent and not God? And why didn’t they consult God first before deciding, too?

Because evil can twist a mind into rejecting the goodness of God. It can even make God seem evil. Wherever evil came from, therefore, we are left in no doubt what it does. The question we’re really faced with, then, is not “How did evil get started?” but “How do you make it stop?”

Why is there so much evil still?

Christianity says that Christ destroyed the works of the devil, and Christ reigns supreme over all powers and authorities. But if that’s true, why is there so much evil still?

One obvious reason is that a lot of people love evil. They enjoy being tyrants and bullies and making people squirm. They like using their talents to their own advantage, and lying their way to the top. Deceit pays, so does pushing your weight around. It makes you feel superior and powerful.

But evil people are never safe. They make enemies. They get caught. People rise up against them. Their worlds fall apart, their egos are crushed, and the media relishes their come-uppance at last. Evil has shown again and again that it eats up and spits out those who feast on it.

Evil is so powerful, though, it can suck in even those who hate it. Only Jesus managed to resist it. And why was that? Because he trusted his Father to “save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7. When he felt the power of evil suffocating the life out of him he cried out to his Father to rescue him, and his Father always answered.

And now Jesus does the same for us (verse 9). He does for us what his Father did for him. But it’s still our choice whether we trust him, or not. Paul made that clear in Romans 6:12-13, which in the Phillips translation reads: “Do not, then, allow sin (evil) to establish any power over your mortal bodies, in making you give way to its lusts (and temptations). Nor hand over your bodily parts to be, as it were, weapons of evil for the devil’s purposes. But, like men rescued from certain death, put yourselves in God’s hands as weapons of good for his own purposes.”

Faced with the temptation to do something evil, we can either give in to it or be rescued from it. Jesus chose to be rescued, and now he’s there to rescue us, because we’re in exactly the same boat he was in: “These bodies of ours are constantly facing death (and evil) just as Jesus did.” It’s interesting to read, then, why God allows it. It’s to make “clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe,” 2 Corinthians 4:10.

Evil can be overcome, yes, but only by Christ. So it’s only when every person realizes that and trusts him that evil will stop. In the meanwhile, for those who don’t want anything to do with evil, “the Son of God keeps him safe, and the Evil One cannot touch him,” 1 John 5:18.

Why do people do such terrible things?

Humans have done terrible things to humans, but all justified in the minds of those doing them, of course – in self-defence, combatting evil, fighting for freedom, or “because it’s God’s will.” And then in movies and other propaganda we’re constantly fed the idea that justice justifies revenge, “payback time” and settling disputes by violence, and even brutal violence by good people.

So atrocities continue, and God allows them. Why? “In order that sin might be recognized as sin,” Romans 7:13. We can’t see sin for what it is, that’s our problem, so we keep on sinning.

So how do we recognize sin for what it is? By what it produces. And look what it’s produced: never-ending atrocities and death, and insane, twisted minds that hate and kill and don’t think twice about it.

But “sin is deceitful,” Hebrews 3:13. It’s very clever. It makes us think we’re right even when we’re blatantly wrong, like the husband who says he loves his wife but he’s having sex with someone else. Who does he think he’s kidding? But there’s “another law at work inside us, waging war against our minds” that’s very good at deceiving us, Romans 7:23. So what’s the source of this law of sin? According to Paul it’s “The ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” Ephesians 2:2.

But note what he’s saying here. Yes, there’s a real devil at work, but where he works is in the disobedient. Disobedience, then, is what gets things started, as we see in the Garden of Eden. God gave a clear command to Adam and Eve but along comes a serpent with a pathetic excuse for disobeying it, and they’re hooked. It didn’t take much for them to disobey God.

And nor does it today, either. Any excuse to disobey God will do, but unfortunately that opens the door to the devil and he can convince us of anything after that, including the idea that God supports our atrocities, witness the prayers of people on both sides of a conflict believing God will bless their bullets.

So what makes us disobey? It’s our weakness for putting self before God. That’s why we need the mind of Christ, because he never put himself before God. Result? Sin never deceived him, he was never tempted into disobedience, and the devil couldn’t mess up his mind. And we can have that too. How? By the Spirit who is now at work in those who are obedient, Acts 5:32. And therein lies the solution to all atrocities. It’s a mind in tune with the Spirit of God, not the spirit of the devil.

How can we trust God when we don’t understand him?

God was quick off the mark in making himself hard to understand. He creates a tasty looking fruit and tells Adam and Eve they’ll die if they eat it, but he lets an evil, crafty creature into the garden to entice them into eating it. Then Cain kills his brother but God issues a warning in Genesis 4:15, that if “anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” So an evil man is allowed to live, which in time leads to the entire population becoming so evil that “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain,” Genesis 6:6.

God then makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants to solve the problem of evil, but tells Abraham to kill the only descendant he’s got. And around that same time a “blameless and upright” man who “feared God and shunned evil” called Job had his family and business destroyed by a deal Satan made with God, to which God so strangely agrees. And when God frees Israel from an evil Pharoah it’s only to scare the liver out of them a few days later when they’re jammed up against the Red Sea and the Egyptian war chariots are thundering towards them.

And then we find out in Romans 9:17 that God deliberately stirred up this evil Pharaoh and killed him off to spread the word, verse 18, that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” It sounds like God does whatever he wants, including allowing evil free rein, and humans don’t have a choice in the matter. Nor did Esau (verse 13), when God loved Jacob the rascal but hated Esau the victim. Clearly, God doesn’t play by our rules, or rules that make sense to us, which surely makes it difficult for us to trust him.

Oh really? says Paul. But aren’t we rather glad that this entire existence of ours “does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” verse 16? In other words, if it wasn’t for God’s mercy we’d be extinct. And God has set up all kinds of scenarios in history to illustrate that fact, that first of all evil is so powerful it would have destroyed us, and secondly, that God has every right to destroy us as well (verse 22). So, hopefully we get the point that everything God does in his dealings with us humans is to “make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy,” verse 23, because without his mercy where would we be? And understanding that we can trust him.