“Where Was God??” The Perennial Problem of Evil and Suffering

One of the age old questions about religion and faith is: If God is all-powerful and truly good, then why is there evil and suffering in the world?  When people experience deep pain or tragedy in their lives or in the life of someone they love, often the question is asked: “Where was God??  Why did He let this happen??”

Do you remember the story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden from Genesis chapter 3?  In the previous chapter God had given Adam and Eve only one command:
“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).  The serpent succeeds in tricking both Eve and her husband into violating God’s command and eating from the forbidden tree, bringing untold misery on themselves and generations to come as a result of their disobedience.

The world and the garden God created for Adam and Eve were perfect.  They contained no evil.  There was no death, no disease, no sin, no misery, no suffering, no tragedy, no unfortunate accidents, no natural disasters.  It truly was a paradise.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience changed all that.  By obeying the serpent, Adam and Eve became enslaved to him.  Scripture tells us the serpent was really Satan, the enemy of God, in disguise (Revelation 20:2).  Satan’s goal was to thwart God’s plans by interfering in His new creation, and subjugate mankind to himself.  Sadly, it worked.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command, the entire nature of creation changed.  Everything was thrown out of kilter.  Paradise became a prison.  Through sin, evil, death, disease, suffering, and tragedy entered the world.  We have to understand that none of these things were in God’s original plan and purpose for the earth, and we have to understand that it was man’s disobedience to his Creator that brought them into existence.  Evil and tragedy entered creation because of us.  We brought it upon ourselves.  Or at least our first ancestors brought it upon us.  And we, as their descendants, inherited it all.

But not only did we inherit death, disease, and tragedy, we also inherited their sinfulness, and their guilt.  Once sin entered the world, it became natural for Adam and Eve to sin, and we inherited that trait.  Sin became natural for us as well.  Along with their tendency to sin, we inherited their guilt, too.

Genesis 3 tells us that Adam and Eve’s sin brought with it a curse, and that curse was passed on to all mankind.  That’s another reason bad things happen, because the unredeemed human race is under a curse (see Genesis 3:14-19).

Now the Bible tells us that God sent Jesus Christ into the world to redeem us from the curse.  Gal 3:13-14 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  But we only receive freedom from the curse if we accept Christ’s remedy for it, his death and resurrection.  And by faith we must walk in the new freedom He gives us in order to experience it fully.

Now as we ponder that scene in the Garden between the serpent and Eve, we might think to ask, “Where was God?”  Where was God when the snake was telling Eve his subtle lies and she was buying it all hook, line, and sinker?  Why didn’t He show up and warn her “Don’t listen to him!!  He’s just deceiving you!!”?  Why didn’t God stop this awful tragedy from happening?  Especially when He no doubt knew its ramifications?  Surely God knew what would happen to His world and His new creatures if He allowed this to happen.  So why didn’t He intervene??

So you see, the age-old question “Where was God??” goes all the way back to the  Garden of Eden itself.

In fact, we could go so far as to ask, Why did God even put the Tree of Knowledge (and the serpent!) in the Garden in the first place??

The fact that God did these things tells us some important things about Him, and about us.  For one thing, it tells us God trusted us.  He told Adam and Eve what He expected, and then He trusted them to do it.

Genesis 1 says God made human beings in His image.  That’s not talking about a physical image but a spiritual image.  In his book Creation and Fall Dietrich Bonhoeffer says being made in the image of God means God gave us a will like His own will, and then entrusted us to use it.  He gave us choice.  He gave us freedom.  And God respected our freedom so much He didn’t force us to obey him, He left it up to us, and was prepared to deal with the consequences.  Part of the reason for this is that love is only real love if it’s freely chosen.  God wanted us to love Him, but he wanted us to be free to choose to love Him or not.  I imagine it broke His heart when we rebelled, even though He had to know it was going to happen; because He knows everything.

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please. – Isa 46:9-10

The fact that God left Eve and Adam alone in the Garden to choose to obey him or not also shows He’s not a control freak.  He doesn’t force us to make the decisions He’d like us to make.  This comes with respecting us, and respecting our choices, even when they are bad choices, and also allowing us to experience the consequences of those choices.  Let’s be honest, often it’s the bad consequences of our choices that humble us and cause us to realize we were wrong and to turn back to God in repentance.  “You were right, God, and I was wrong.  Your way really is the best way, though I refused to accept that for a long time.”

Another lesson from the story of the serpent and Eve is that God doesn’t always step in and rescue us from making bad or stupid choices, or even tragic choices.  God let Eve and Adam do what they were going to do and, as I said above, was prepared to deal with the consequences.  Thankfully he didn’t abandon us when we sinned but already had a plan prepared to redeem us.  In fact, the Bible says His plan of salvation was set up before the creation of the world.  He knew what was going to happen, and had planned for it in advance.  1 Peter 1:18-21 says

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (emphasis added).

Before the creation of the world God had already chosen Christ to be the one who would save us from our sins.

And yet Christ didn’t come immediately after the fall.  Several thousand years passed between the time Adam and Eve sinned and Christ came into the world to rescue us.  This shows that God’s timetable is not the same as ours.  Most likely we would have rushed in to repair things as soon as we saw a problem, but God had other plans and purposes to fulfill.  But then again, 2 Peter 3:8 says “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” God is not bound by time as we are so from his perspective it may have seemed as though the time between Adam’s fall and Christ’s coming was just a few days.  At any rate, Scripture says God had an appointed time for Christ to come, and He was right on time.

The big picture in all this is that the God we are dealing with is good and just.  We may not understand everything He does, or all He allows, but we can trust that He’s good and will ultimately deal with every person and every situation wisely, justly, and fairly.  Everyone is going to get a fair shake from God.

Also, God is totally and completely sovereign.  That means that, even though He’s not a control freak, He is in complete control.  God and Satan are not equals battling it out for the souls of men.  Satan was created by God and so God is superior to Him in every way. (To explain: Satan was originally the archangel Lucifer, one of the highest angels, created good.  He became prideful and rebelled against God, trying to usurp God’s place in Heaven.  A third of the angels rebelled along with Lucifer.  There was an attempted coup in heaven, but God was more powerful and overthrew Lucifer and kicked him and his cronies out.)

God will have His way, which is a good way.  When Christ died on the cross and then rose from the dead, Satan was defeated once and for all, and provision was made for mankind to be restored to God, through faith in Christ.  When Jesus returns to the earth in bodily form he will defeat the evil that remains on the earth and set up his eternal kingdom.  The Bible says God has given Jesus the name that is above every name, and that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

I want to close my reflections on this topic with a story from the Bible about someone who experienced deep suffering.  The book of Ruth tells of Naomi, an Israelite from the tribe of Judah.  During a time of famine, Naomi along with her husband and two sons move to the neighboring country of Moab to find food.  While they’re living in Moab, Naomi’s husband dies.  Some years after that Naomi’s two sons die.  Now, I think having a child die must be one of the worst things a person can go through.  It goes against the natural of order of things.  Every parent expects their children to outlive them, and when this doesn’t happen, it’s just devastating.  People who have lost a child experience a kind of hell I doubt anyone else can understand.

Naomi went through this hell not once, but twice.  When she and her daughter-in-law Ruth (who has also lost her husband, one of Naomi’s two sons) finally return to Israel all her friends are excited to see her and exclaim “Naomi!  Can it really be you?!!”

Naomi replies, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi'” (which means “pleasant”) “…Call me ‘Mara,'” (which means “bitter”) “because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  Naomi was very bitter about all she had lost, and she blamed God.  And who can fault her?  She went through probably one of the most painful losses a human being can experience.

Naomi loved her daughter-in-law Ruth, though, and did what she could to help Ruth find happiness again.  She introduced Ruth to her kinsman Boaz.  Ruth and Boaz fell in love and got married, and Ruth conceived a son.  This brought joy to Naomi’s life again, as she got to help raise the child.  Naomi’s story ends on a hopeful note:

“The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ 16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son.'” – Ruth 4:14-15

Naomi never got her husband or her sons back.  But she did learn to find joy and comfort again in the good things God brought her way.  And she did what she could to make the lives of those she loved more meaningful.

Our circumstances may not change.  When suffering comes into our lives, we can choose to become bitter, or we can make the choice to become better, with God’s help.  The path of bitterness only hurts us.  Taking our hurts and our pain, even our anger, to God is really the only way to deal with tragedy, suffering, and pain.  There’s really only two choices: You can deal with your pain by yourself, or you can ask God to help you with it.  Thankfully, we can trust that God is good, kind, loving, and just, and will do what is good and right and fair according to His infinite and unknowable wisdom.

If we know Jesus Christ, then we have the Holy Spirit as a companion in our sufferings.  In the gospel of John the Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete.  This Greek word can be translated several different ways, but one of those ways is “comforter.”

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. – John 14:15-20

25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14:25-27

2 Corinthians 2 also tells us that when we go through suffering, God is there to comfort us, and then we have an opportunity to comfort others who are going through something similar:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

For more on the story of Naomi and reflections on how to face suffering in this life, check out the book Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.

For Shirley.

My Reaction to the “Hunger Games” Trilogy

With the release of the last “Hunger Games” movie I thought this post from last year might be of interest to some.

Morgan Trotter

(This is not a review, nor is it a plot summary.  There are plenty of those to be found all over the internet, I’m sure.  This is just my unadulterated response to reading the Hunger Games trilogy [The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins].  This will probably only make sense if you’ve read the books, or at least seen the movies.  [Warning, if you haven’t read all three books, there will be some spoilers below.])

Hunger GamesAfter seeing Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie that just came out, I became interested in the story of Panem and decided to read the books. I just finished the trilogy. Yes, I know.  As usual, I am way late to the party.  As I recently posted on Facebook, I tend to live my life on the trailing edge.  But that’s a topic for another…

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Priscilla Shirer breaks down what it means to put on the FULL armor of God

Here’s a great post from my friend Heather.


If you’ve never had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of Priscilla Shirer you are flat out missing out. This woman is empowered, y’all. Like Yoda said about about Luke, “The force is strong in this one.” And by force I mean Holy Spirit. She’s got an anointing, that’s for sure.

She was in my hometown a few months ago presenting a simulcast that was broadcast live around the world, and I and several thousand others were so fortunate to have attended this day of worship and teaching in person and in my city!

She taught from Ephesians on the armor of God, giving us a battle plan for victory and teaching us how to push the enemy back and take back what he’s stolen.

Stop right there. Take back what he’s stolen. Hmm. He’s a thief. But just what has he stolen from me? I wrote down a few things:…

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Book Summary – “Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling” by Richard F. Hall

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

This is the third of three book summaries I had to write for a class on Discipleship Counseling I’m taking through my church.  The first summary can be found here, the second right here.  The third book we had to read has the captivating title Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling by Richard F. Hall.  It is somewhat of a brief textbook for the type of biblical counseling in which we’re being trained.

Explained briefly, the term “exchanged life” refers to the idea that when we place our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, he takes our sin, death, and selfishness and in exchange gives us forgiveness, life, and a loving heart.  Hall says the exchanged life involves exchanging our self-centered approach to living for a new approach in which we live for Christ.

Here is my brief summary of the book.  I’ve included a few explanatory comments in [brackets].

  1. Each person is made up of three parts: the spiritual (i.e., spirit), the psychological (i.e., soul) and the physical (i.e., body).  An unsaved person operates out of the psychological part of themselves. For a Christian, the spiritual aspect is the essence of who they are.
  2.  [This “tri-partite” view of the person is based on the following Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ~ “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.   And Hebrews 4:12 ~ “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”]
  3. The primary cause of problems in people’s lives is living life out of their own resources rather than in dependence on God.  [This way of living is known in the Bible as “living by the flesh.”  The apostle Paul uses the term “flesh” in a unique way, not to refer to our physical bodies but rather to speak of that part of us that is drawn to sin and opposes God. Key passages in which Paul uses the term “flesh” this way are Romans 7:14-8:17 and Galatians 5:16-25.]  Sin and the flesh are the source of people’s problems.  Living out of the flesh is a self-centered approach to life and ultimately detrimental.
  4. There are certain qualification a person needs to meet in order to be an exchanged life counselor.  First and foremost, they must have a personal experience of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They also need to be totally surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.  The exchanged life counselor needs a good overall knowledge and understanding of Scripture, as well as training in communication skills.  Finally, he or she should meet the qualifications for Christian leadership outlined in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
  5. As with most counseling methods, exchanged life counseling begins with the client’s presenting problem–their stated reason for seeking counseling. The counselor then takes the client’s personal history.  This helps the counselor get to know the client. It also helps both counselor and client identify unhelpful patterns the client follows to deal with life.
  6. After the client’s problem is presented and a personal history is taken, the first step in the actual counseling process is a presentation of the salvation message if necessary, for this is the foundation of the entire method. The second step is to acquaint the client with their former identity “in Adam”–that is, the way they were as a fallen, sinful, and unredeemed person when they were born into this world. The third step is to help the client understand his or her new identity in Christ.  [The assumption is that we are all born “in Adam” but when we accept Christ we are born again, or “born from above” (see John 1:12-13 and John 3:1-21).  From that moment on we are no longer in Adam, but we are now in Christ.]
  7. The counseling method presented in the book has six steps: A) Assess the problem. B) Learn the client’s social history. C) The connection needs to be drawn between the presenting problem and the client’s past living patterns. D) The client is taught about his/her identification with Christ. E) The client is led to appropriate his or her identity in Christ. F) Further areas need to be dealt with that relate to the issue at hand.
  8. Exchanged life counseling techniques include: A) Preparation – through prayer, reviewing previous counseling sessions, and relaxation. B) Attentive communication skills, listening. C) Observation, concreteness, respect, and empathy. D) Confrontation, self-disclosure, and immediacy. E) Genuineness. F) Use of visual aids such as charts or diagrams which illustrate the truths being taught. G) Appropriate use of Scripture. H) Homework tailored to the client’s needs.
  9. The primary goal of exchanged life counseling is that the client come to understand and experience his or her identity in Christ and apply this understanding to life’s problems. Sub-goals to this primary goal include: A) Helping the client grow in Christ-like-ness. B) Helping the client grow to spiritual maturity. C) Seeing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) start to emerge in the client’s life. D) Helping the client experience freedom in Christ’s life.
  10. Exchanged life counseling is founded on certain theological concepts: A) The Bible as the infallible source of authority. B) The doctrine of man and sin. C) The doctrine of salvation. D) The doctrine of sanctification.

In conclusion, Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling serves as a good summary and explanation of what exchanged life counseling is all about. As such it serves as a good resource to consult over and over again.  My one criticism of the book is that it’s very conceptual and therefore mostly abstract.  The author doesn’t take time to illustrate the concepts.  It would be very helpful if the author would release a later edition in which illustrative material is added to flesh out the concepts.  However, the book does include a number of drawings which could be used in counseling sessions to help explain concepts to the client.  All in all the book is a good beginning resource for exchanged life counseling.


On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter

This is a blog post I wrote about 18 months ago.  I feel it speaks surprisingly well to the events of the last couple weeks.  I commend it to you again.  (To read the article, click the link below.)

On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter.

A Conservative Christian Response to the Supreme Court Rulings on Gay Marriage

This is a post I wrote back in July 2013 when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Everything I said back then still applies today, and even more so. My thinking on this topic has not changed even though the SCOTUS has now required all states to recognize marriages between people of the same sex.

Morgan Trotter

Well, the US Supreme Court (a.k.a. the SCOTUS) has ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California Proposition 8, and both rulings went in favor of those who support gay marriage.  Among Christians there is no monolithic response.  Some more liberal-leaning Christians are falling in step with the prevailing view in the culture, saying it’s time we “modernize” and allow gays to marry.  Supporters of this view both inside and outside the church treat it as a civil rights issue, claiming it’s discriminatory to prevent homosexuals from having the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals when it comes to marriage.

We need to recognize, though, that there are real problems with this view, especially for Christians who believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God and have committed themselves to following what the Scriptures teach.  We who are Bible-believing Christians trust that in the Bible God has…

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“The Naked Gospel” by Andrew Farley – Summary and Response

Farley, Andrew.  The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Farley, Andrew. The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church. As part of the class we were required to read three books and submit book reports on each one.  (You can read the first book report here.) The second book we read had the intriguing title The Naked Gospel, by a pastor named Andrew Farley.  It’s a present-day explanation of what is often called “The Exchanged Life” view of the Christian life. I had not heard of Farley before, so I was interested to see what he had to say. Here is my summary and response to the book.

Farley begins by telling his own story, saying he started out his Christian life by, one might say, “busting his tail for Jesus.” He says he burned out trying to do this and eventually realized he simply couldn’t live the Christian life by his own strength. He talks about how he had to unlearn a lot of his misconceptions about Christianity in order to learn what the Bible really teaches.

Farley then explains carefully and systematically how Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law or good works as a means to secure God’s favor. He points out what both the apostles Paul and James taught, that if you try to keep the Law, you’re responsible for keeping the whole thing, and if you fail to keep even one part of it, you’ve broken the Law (see Galatians 3:10 and 5:3 and James 2:10). Since no one can keep the Law perfectly then we are incapable of keeping it at all, which is why God provided salvation by a different means—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Farley says this is also the means by which we are to live the daily Christian life as well – by grace through faith in Christ.

Farley even extends this to the Ten Commandments. He points out that Paul says “the letter kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6, meaning the letter of the law) and calls the law a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Farley says this is no less true for the Ten Commandments; even trying to live by the Ten Commandments will bring death to us rather than life, because the Law incites sin (see Paul’s discussion of how the Law evokes sin in Romans 7:5-13 and also Romans 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:56). Grace is the only means to be free from sin.

Farley goes on to demonstrate in various ways how the New Covenant (Testament) sets us free from the Law. He gives the example discussed in Hebrews 5-7 that the priesthood of Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek, while the Law prescribes a priesthood descended from Levi and Aaron. Moreover, Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, so His priesthood does not conform to the Law.

Farley offers more examples of how the Law has been superseded in the New Testament. He sees both the tithe and the Sabbath as Old Testament concepts no longer in force under the New Covenant. The author shows that the Old Testament Sabbath was a picture or precursor of the true Sabbath rest of God spoken about in Hebrews 3-4, in which we are able to rest from our striving for good works because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

Farley talks about how in the New Covenant, instead of trying to keep the Law, we rely on the Holy Spirit, who produces fruit in us that leads to a way of life that satisfies the requirements of the Old Testament law. He shows that through faith in Christ, believers are made truly and actually righteous before God, not just positionally righteous. He talks about how we were born in Adam, but through salvation we are taken out of Adam and placed in Christ. Farley makes much of our identification with Christ. This is the key by which we actually live the Christian life – by Christ living through us.

Farley spends a good bit of time trying to show that the forgiveness we have through Christ is once-for-all, that when we are saved, all our sins–past, present, and future—are forgiven for all time. Therefore we don’t have to ask for forgiveness every time we sin because we already have forgiveness once and for all. He even goes to pains to show that 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins God is faithful…to forgive us…” is for unbelievers, not believers.

This was the part of the book I found least convincing. To begin with I question his exegesis of 1 John 1, though he did help me to see certain aspects of it in a different light. But also there are other passages of Scripture which imply that walking in blatant unrepentant sin hinders our relationship with God, or at least our experience of that relationship. (1 Corinthians 5 comes to mind as an example, in which Paul deals with a case of gross sexual immorality in the Corinthian church.) Even for the Christian, ongoing repentance seems vital for walking in an intimate experience of relationship with God.

Farley claims people are suspicious of grace because they fear an emphasis on grace will give people a license to sin. Therefore Farley emphasizes over and over again that grace does not lead us to sin more, but is actually the only true means to overcome sin. We think the Law will deter us from sinning, but actually Scripture says the Law provokes us to sin (see Romans 7:5-13 as mentioned above). It’s grace then, not law, that helps us master sin. This overcoming of sin is entirely dependent on Christ living in us and through us.

There is much more I could say about The Naked Gospel. While there are some parts of it I question, overall I found it to be a very helpful and very Scriptural explanation of the life that is lived by grace through faith in the indwelling Christ.