Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Understanding our lives in Christ can sometimes get confusing. We struggle with getting rid of sin or maybe we can’t seem to make our lives feel any more holy than they already are. You listen to sermons and the pastor says you have to be perfect (and just to make sure their congregations shape up they add a tinge of fear into their lessons); you read your Bible and Jesus rails against every sin and says you have to be more holy than the holy people you know. It’s frustrating, you want to be what God has called you to be, and yet sometimes nothing seems to change. To that, the Spirit reminds us that we shouldn’t always expect change to happen overnight, and that God actually has a process set up to help us in our sanctification.
To understand this a little, let’s go back in time. When David was going to face off against Goliath, Saul gave him his armor. The Bible records in 1 Samuel 17:38, “Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.” However, this didn’t work for David. The story continues,
David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off (1 Samuel 17:39).
Why didn’t Saul’s armor suit David? From the physical standpoint, David was supposedly the runt of his family whereas Saul was one of the tallest men in Israel. But the Lord set this up so that we can see the relationship between Saul and David. Saul was self-reliant, he no longer had God, and instead of representing a Godly steward, he had become a worldly king. David wasn’t made to fit in those shoes (or armor in this case) because he was a servant of God. Therefore, Saul’s protection was not David’s protection, but rather a hindrance to him, just like wearing awesome armor that is way too big for you. Hebrews 12:1 tells us,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
So through this little episode of David with Saul’s armor, the Lord teaches us that if you want to win a spiritual battle, you must throw off worldly beliefs and practices. This is an important step for those who seek righteousness.
However not everyone will win by simply shedding their armor because that isn’t the first step. In the book of Zechariah we find the High Priest Joshua. Joshua wasn’t having a problem with worldly armor at all, he had a Satan problem. The prophet reports, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side, to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). Joshua was unable to perform his duties as a priest properly because he had the devil on him all the time. Why was the devil constantly accusing Joshua? We find out in Zechariah 3:3, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” Joshua, although called to be a servant of God, had some stuff in his past (or maybe his present) that wasn’t so good for him, and it kept Satan on him all the time. Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was sin, maybe it was rebelliousness; we don’t know and I’m sure we’re not told so that the story can be applied more broadly (kind of like Paul’s thorn in the flesh). But without the power of Christ’s cleansing sacrifice on the cross, you’ll be stuck in dirty clothes before the Lord with the devil right there at your side. This is why Christ tells us,
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:17-18).
No matter how “righteous” or non-sinful you may be, if you’re living your life without Jesus, you’ll always have Satan with you. Therefore, our Lord and Savior tells us that we should seek out from him white clothes to wear. This is representative of what happens when we come to Jesus in repentance and accept his salvation for us through his blood being shed on the cross. By being saved by Christ Jesus’ atoning death the dirty clothes of our pre-Jesus lives are taken away and we’re given new, clean lives to start over with. And, unlike our old lives, the dirt doesn’t build up as long as we keep coming to Jesus for forgiveness when we make mistakes; in this way we’re able to keep our clothes clean, and the devil doesn’t have anything to say against us. Joshua’s story is a great image of what happens when you receive Jesus’ salvation. First, the devil is kicked out. We read about this in Zechariah 3:2, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’” When the Lord gives his grace to you through your repentance, all of that built up sin is washed away, and no longer does the devil have anything to accuse you of because your sins have been forgiven (and actually forgotten) by God. After this, you’re made new again and given a completely clean slate. We can find this illustrated in the story of Joshua the high priest,
The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4).
By coming to Christ for salvation, we’re given a completely new chance at life, one that can be renewed daily through prayer and confession of sin. Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This is the first step for anyone to find any sort of real positive change in their life.
It is after salvation that real healing and strengthening can take place. Now that you’ve taken off the ways of the world and put on Christ as your covering, next is to put on the armor of God. David took off Saul’s armor because it wasn’t his, but the armor of God is for everyone in Christ; it comes in all sizes. Paul writes,
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:10-13).
Now a lot of people interpret this (and the verses that follow) as things that sort of just come, faith, peace, and whatnot. But Paul says that we are to put it on. This means that we should be seeking out lives worthy of our salvation. That is to say that after coming to Jesus for salvation we should work to replace our old habits with new ones (we are after all new people in Christ). We read,
Put to death, therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:5-10).
Paul reminds us that a large part of the Christian walk is to take off all the scraps of the world that have tried to latch on to you even though you’ve been changed by Jesus’ blood. This is a lifelong, ongoing practice. Don’t let a sermon or Bible reading break you, the Holy Spirit speaks through these things to make you aware of places that you still need to work on- however God does not expect an overnight result. Rather, the Lord would rather see you steadily and faithful working with him to take off every last speck of worldliness. Now there is a right way to do this in order to have better and lasting results. If you try going from sex, drugs, and all sorts of sin to some sort of ascetic lifestyle you’re going to have a bad time. Rather, as you shed off your old bad behaviors, replace them with positive habits. Paul writes of these,
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).
This is a concept that is woven throughout Scripture and is highlighted upon frequently in the New Testament. We must take off that which hinders us with sin and replace it with that which raises us up in righteousness. Paul notes,
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:12-14).
Our lives are a process, and though it’d be great if you’d be quick about restructuring your life, nobody is perfect or has attained perfection here on earth. This is not an excuse to sin though, we should be working towards becoming more like Christ while on this earth so that the light of Jesus will shine through in our lives. It’s a daunting task, but remember what Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). By taking off the old and putting on the new you’ll find that self-improvement becomes progressively easier, because you’re not just quitting something; rather you’re replacing something harmful with something good. I’d love to give specifics, but everyone’s life is different. Pray to God and see what he puts in your heart to do, read your Bible and see how the Holy Spirit moves you to act. And above all else, trust in God, because it’s his goal to make you more like his son.
Awake, awake, O Zion,
Clothe yourself with strength.
Put on your garments of splendor,
O Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
Will not enter you again.
Shake off your dust;
Rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
O captive Daughter of Zion