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Endurance

Don’t Squander Your Invitation to the Kingdom of God

“For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14 (J.B. Phillips)

The 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew starts with a parable that the Lord Jesus told about the Kingdom of God.  In the J. B. Phillips New Testament there is a paragraph title heading before this parable entitled “The Kingdom is not to be lightly disregarded.”  Since the parable in Phillips is such an easy read I’ll include it here in its entirety:

“The kingdom of Heaven,” he said, “is like a king who arranged a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come. Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my wedding-breakfast all ready, my bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared. Come along to the festivities.”’ But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business. As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them disgracefully, and finally killed them. At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Matt. 22: 2-14

One of the common mistakes that people make when trying to interpret the Biblical parables is that they look too deep for complex meaning, attempting to find alignment and a matching analogy for every detail of the parable.  Most times the meaning is straight forward and simple, and therefore the analogy should be kept simple and direct.  Find the basic message and focus on that.  The key to understanding the parable is finding the basic message and this isn’t always obvious.

I must admit that this parable of the kingdom in Matthew 22 has always confused me a bit.  I always started thinking along the lines of “the original invited people must be the Jews” and then “the second group from the byways must be the Gentiles like us” and then I attempted to align the rest of the analogy.  When I read the Phillips version, the paragraph title, mentioned above, about “lightly disregarding the kingdom” set me looking at the parable from a different angle.  Another nudge in this direction (presumably from the Holy Spirit) came when discussing this parable with a brother who commented that the part that jumped out at him was the people who were too busy with their farms or businesses to respond to the invite.  The final epiphany happened when I looked closely at the last sentence: “For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Let’s drill down into this.

In the original Greek, the work translated as “chosen” is eklektos which means “picked out or chosen”  or more specifically can mean “chosen by God.” It comes from a root word eklegomai which has as part of one of its meanings “of God choosing whom He judged fit.”  In the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, addressing specifically verse 14 of Matthew chapter 22, it says “those who have become true partakers of the Christian salvation are contrasted with those who have been invited but who have not shown themselves fitted to obtain it.”  Verse 14 could then be translated as “Many are invited but few are judged as fit to remain.”

In the parable, we see that those who have responded to the invitation and are in attendance at the wedding feast are then inspected by the king.  One who is not dressed properly is rejected as unfit to remain.

Once again I say that there is wisdom in simplification.  My simple view of this parable is as follows:  Many people are invited, but many of them either reject or disregard the invitation altogether and don’t go, or they respond to the invitation, are in attendance, but are told they are unfit to remain.  Ultimately, the reason that people didn’t make it is because they did not take the invitation seriously enough.  Some seemed to disregard or ignore the invitation from the start, and others responded to the invitation, but didn’t take the requirements associated with the invitation seriously enough (i.e. the man who entered the king’s wedding feast but neglected to dress in the required wedding attire).

So how does this apply to us today?  Well, if you are reading this and you know that God is beginning a work in your life, if He is calling you or inviting you to be restored to Him and become a part of the family of God and of His kingdom, then don’t take it lightly.  Don’t find excuses to distract you from His urging.  There’s always something that will get in the way: work, family, activities, whatever.  Resist and recognize the immense importance of the invitation that God is presenting to you and don’t take it lightly.  If God has sent someone into your life as His spokesman, don’t disregard them or treat them with disrespect, but take very seriously what they are telling you because in reality it is coming from God.

Recognize that the invitation may only be afforded to you once in your life.  You would be wise to take full advantage of the invitation or you will have deep regret later.

For some who have responded positively to the invitation and desire to become a part of the kingdom of God, recognize that there are requirements that need to be met. God expects us to walk in the spirit, not in the flesh. He expects us to grow and mature in our faith.  He expects us to be transformed and become new creations, walking in love and holiness.  I see this as the requirement that He will be inspecting about us when we stand before Him on that day, and He will be “choosing the ones that He judges to be fit” for the kingdom.  I realize that some may say that the only requirement needed is the covering of the blood of Jesus, but this does not align with the Word of God.  Our original acceptance is due to the merits of Jesus on our behalf as we cannot earn our place in the kingdom of God by our own merits, but it is a free gift from God our of His mercy.

Our invitation to the Kingdom of God is a gift of grace.  It is the free gift of salvation through the offering of Jesus’ redemption on the cross represented by His blood.  To be judged as fit to remain in the Kingdom of God is dependent on our meeting God’s requirements.

In fact the Scripture suggest that the act of kindness shown towards us by the grace of God through the gift of redemption from the sacrifice of Jesus is intended to lead us to an inner change from evil to good, and to think and walk in newness of life that leads to righteousness.

“Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]? Romans 2:4 (AMP)

Yes we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to what we have done.  I firmly believe that this judgment will determine if we are fit to remain in the kingdom (and not just to see how much of a reward we will be getting as some have suggested).  We should not take this lightly.  The redemption of the blood of Jesus, much like the invitation in the parable, is the means for us to enter into the kingdom, but once we are in, there is no need to inspect again for the entrance requirement (i.e. blood covering), but rather we are inspected for the additional requirements, in our case, the fruit of the spirit in our lives.

Here are some Scripture to reinforce this (I like the extra comments in the Amplified Bible version):

“And I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them [for this heaven and earth are passing away].  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged according to what they had done as written in the books [that is, everything done while on earth].” Revelations 20: 12-13 (AMP)

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth] or away from home [and with Him], it is our [constant] ambition to be pleasing to Him. For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].”  2 Cor. 5: 9-10 (AMP)

“Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5: 19-21 (AMP)

“But do you think this, O man, when you judge and condemn those who practice such things, and yet do the same yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment and elude His verdict?” Romans 2:3

“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you again, why do you look down on your [believing] brother or regard him with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God [who alone is judge].” Romans 14:10 (AMP)

Be aware that God is a merciful and forgiving God, and that He has made a provision for us to receive His mercy and forgiveness as long as we are in this world.  We all stumble at times and need to humbly come to our heavenly Father and ask forgiveness, and He is faithful and just to forgive us.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

We must realize that our opportunity for this mercy is limited to this life, and once we are dead, the window of opportunity will close, and then we will be judged.  Consider this advice from the Lord Jesus:

“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5: 25-26

As any lawyer will tell you, the time for mercy is before you get before the judge, for the judge must follow the rule of law, but your accuser can be merciful outside of the court.  Likewise, before we stand before the judge, we have the opportunity to receive mercy and to correct any evil or ungodliness in our lives.  We must not squander this opportunity.

We must remember also that it is the Holy Spirit who will work in us to attain holiness and righteousness in our walk.  Our job is to humbly respond and work with Him, and not against Him, in this process of sanctification.

“For this is the will of God, that you be sanctified [separated and set apart from sin]: that you abstain and back away from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (AMP)

May the Lord grant to all of us the wisdom to see our own faults and to correct them properly before that day so that we will not have squandered our invitation to His Kingdom, but will be judged as fit to remain.

And may the Lord cause you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may strengthen and establish your hearts without blame in holiness in the sight of our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints (God’s people).” 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (AMP)

Amen.

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We must patiently endure to obtain the promise!

“…that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  …And so after he (Abraham) had patiently endured he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6: 12 & 15

Throughout the Bible we are encouraged and exhorted to love God and to love one another.  We are told also to even love our enemies and those who are difficult to love.  We are told to be merciful, in the same way that God is merciful to us.  We are encouraged to be strong, and to not grow weary in this love, but to be steadfast and continue walking in love, accompanied by good deeds.

The writer of Hebrews uses the analogy of running a race and suggests that we should run with perseverance:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12: 1

I see a clear, overarching message in the Bible that the people of God need to push through, continue on, and endure to the end.  That we are not to give up, or to waver in our persistence, but rather, we are to increase our efforts and become stronger and stronger, rather than to slow down or to allow our efforts to wane.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” 2 Thessalonians 3: 13

Sadly, we humans have a strong tendency to be impatient, and we allow ourselves to be easily distracted and misguided to other interests that take away from what should be the main focus of walking in love.

We live in a world where success is measured by what is accomplished, and where quick results are expected in whatever we do.  Rarely are we encouraged to be a patient and persistent worker who quietly performs what is needed over the long haul without the need for recognition or fanfare.  Rather, when results aren’t seen after a short while, we quickly abandon our efforts and move on to the next thing.

To patiently endure is boring!  There is no excitement in concentrating on doing what is right and good, day in and day out.  We would rather see tangible results and accomplishments.  We would rather see miracles or revivals.  We would rather see big buildings built or large sums of money gathered.  We would rather experience the excitement of charismatic speakers or emotional services where prophecies occur and the Spirit is moving powerfully. All of these things could be good when in their proper place, but they should not be our main focus, and they should not distract us from our persistence in walking in love with the goal of receiving what God has promised.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus as an example of endurance.  So not only are we being told to focus on our efforts to patiently endure, but we are told to use Jesus as an example of this endurance.  Have you ever seriously looked at Jesus as an example of endurance?  Maybe you have looked to Jesus as an example of compassion or of a miracle worker, but most likely not as someone who has endured patiently to reach a goal.  Here’s what the Scripture says:

“…looking unto Jesus, the author (originator) and finisher (perfecter) of your faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Hebrews 12: 2-3

We can see from these verses that Jesus has defined our faith by His endurance, showing us how we should act.  Following His example, we should focus on what God has promised, in the same way that Jesus focused on the joy set before Him. For Him it was the future glory of being seated at the right hand of God.  We have been promised to share in His glory, to have a resurrected body, to meet Him in the sky and to be with Him in Heaven; this hope should be set before us as we endure what we must in this life.

There is also an indication in these verses that we should be prepared to suffer, as Jesus did, specifically in our struggles against sin and our flesh.  We know that it is a constant battle to put down the flesh and to resist temptation or to be purged of sin in our life.  We need to be strong and continue in our battle, even to the point of shedding blood, if it should come to that.

“You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12: 4

Also, it is the discipline of our loving Father that will cause us to suffer as we are being chastened, and this we must also endure with patience until we have been trained by it.

“Now no chastening (or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 11

Life can be difficult at times, and painful, but this is all part of running the race.  We need to keep in the race and press on towards the prize, understanding that it will be well worth it in the end.  The pain and suffering in our lives has a purpose, and it is for our good.

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25

I have heard it said that if you are not moving forward then you are going backwards, there is no such thing as standing still when running this race.  I agree with this, and this is why we need to press on and not take a break. We need to be strengthened so that we can be completely healed, or if not, the weak areas will be damaged and made worse.

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12: 12-13

We are temporary residents here, just passing through to reach our true and eternal home in heaven.  This journey is not an easy one, as we must endure many hardships along the way.  We can find strength by looking at the reward that awaits us, and by looking to Jesus as an example of how the endurance and persistence will pay off in the end.

Let us continue in strength, encouraging one another to press on in this race towards the promised reward that awaits us.  We will be in His presence sooner than we think.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” Philippians 3: 13-15

 

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.

Don’t Worry about the Wicked

“The Lord is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.” Psalm 129: 4

No matter which news outlet you choose to listen to, whether the main stream media or the alternative online media, all news seems to be bad news.  The media’s role appears to be to expose the evil in our society, and so we are constantly seeing evil.

I would agree that there is an important role of the free press to keep other powers in check and this sometimes requires exposing the evil of powerful groups or governments, but the volume of negative news is constant and overwhelming.

Currently, there is also a battle going on to determine what media outlet represents the true view of reality and which represents “fake news” or propaganda. The battle lines are drawn.  On one side there is the accusation that the main stream media is owned and controlled by the evil elites who want to control the opinion of the masses, promoting their agenda and world view, with most of the “talking heads” having this same world view, allowing it to influence and bias their presentation.  On the other side there is the accusation that the alternative media consists of amateurs who create stories based on rumors and don’t verify their sources, or even worse, that some are at least sympathetic to, or possibly controlled by, Russian or communist propagandists.

Personally, I think that both sides are biased by their world view/philosophy and by what they think is the best thing for the future of our society or the world.  As Christians though, we must take all news with a grain of salt, recognizing that absolute truth only comes from God, via His Word, and all other information must be subject to being overridden by the Scriptural truths.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to discern what is true and what we need to take to heart or what we should dismiss.

As I stated earlier, no matter what source of news we choose, we are being bombarded with continual exposure of wicked devices and criminal rackets.  We are also faced with the choice of which evil is the source of blame for our problems.  Is it the government and politicians, or the wealthy one percent elites, or is it the big corporations, or is it the banks and financial system, or is it the racists, or is it the lazy welfare entitlement seekers, or is it the illegal immigrants, or is it the dead church and religious fanatics, or is it the Islamic terrorists?  (I could go on)  I would say that there is enough blame to go around to all of them.

It stands to reason that this onslaught of news about the evils and the wickedness of our current situation would cause us to be distressed and worried.  For many the solution is to block it out or ignore it; pretend it’s not there; put on the glasses that make everything look rosy.  I would suggest that ignoring reality is never good and potentially could result in serious problems.  For example, prudence requires that we assess our situation and, if need be, make the proper preparations for the future.

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3 & 27:12

A much better approach is to establish in our hearts the reality that God is in control and will deal appropriately with the wicked people of the world.  As biblical Christians we learn from the Scriptures that although Satan has been given some authority in this current age, the Lord is still in control and will assure that in the end the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be blessed.  Let’s look closer at what the Bible says.

The opening verse from Psalm 129 in the Amplified Bible says this:

“The Lord is righteous; He has cut in two the [thick] cords of the wicked [which enslaved the people of Israel].”  Psalm 129:4

You might ask the question, “Why does God allow the wicked to enslave His people in the first place?”  We must recognize that both Satan and the wicked men in this world are tools that God uses for His purpose.  And what is His purpose and why does He allow evil to touch His children?  The answer is: It’s not our place to question God’s ways.  This verse in Romans 9 applies to this situation also (although not the exact use in the context of Romans 9):

“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay….” Romans 9:20-21

We do know from the Scriptures that God uses the trials in our life to produce in us a deeper character, making us stronger, more loving, and more like Him.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,…”1 Peter 1:6-7

The fact that God allows His people to suffer affliction at the hands of the wicked is confirmed in the first three verses of Psalm 129, just before the verse quoted above:

“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth – Let Israel now say – many a time they have afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.  The plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.” Psalm 129:1-3

The metaphor used in these verses of someone plowing on your back suggests that these afflictions were not insignificant.  The key words in this verse are “they have not prevailed.”  God knows what we need and how long we need it.  The wicked always lose in the end.

We, therefore, as God’s beloved children, do not need to worry or fret, or fear what the wicked may do to us.  We can rest assured that God will protect us and will only allow us to be exposed to the evil of the wicked when in accordance with His purposes for our lives.

Here’s my testimony of recent events in my life:  Back in 2007 it started with hearing that I had health issues with my cholesterol being too high and need to change my diet, so I embarked on a serious  and challenging change to my eating habits.  Next I heard from my wife of 28 years that she didn’t want to be married to me any longer; (we split up then and later divorced in 2012).  A month after my wife’s leaving I was laid off from my job where I had been employed for almost 10 years.  Not much later the crash of 2008 came when I was laid off again from my next job and I lost half of my 401k retirement savings and was forced to cash it out with no place to roll it over.  I also was under water on my mortgage since I recently refinanced, couldn’t sell my house in the current market to pay off the mortgage, and was forced into foreclosure on the house.  The low point came when I was given a 2 week notice to leave my house and I had no place to go.  The Lord provided for me then (a friend allowed me to stay in a 1 room apartment attached to his business and hired me as a laborer) and the Lord has continued to provide for me, and has now turned my situation around completely.

I look back and see this time as being a very valuable time of spiritual growth for me.  I can look back and connect the dots to see how God has brought me though many situations for my good and the good of my friends and loved ones. It would have been a mistake to look to the evil forces of the world as the reason for my predicament. God was allowing these things to occur and He was in control.  He had me right where I needed to be.

I’m sure that many of you have faced much more difficult trials than what I went through.  My purpose in mentioning my past is to encourage all of us to remember that God is in control.  I must remind myself often that God has sustained me before and will do it again.  He may have more challenging trials ahead for me, but I trust that He is able to bring me through them and that they will be for my perfection and for His glory.

We have no need to worry or fret about the wickedness that surrounds us.  God is the source of our needs and He is greater than the powers of this world or this age.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into bans; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit (18 inches) to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or what shall we wear?  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matt. 6:25-34

Most importantly, seek first the kingdom of God.  Turn from sin and seek His righteousness. This should be our focus, and not the barrage of information that slams us daily from the various news sources.  Turn the news stations off and close your computer if they are causing you to worry and fear.  Look to God’s Holy Scriptures to build you up in your faith and strengthen you for the days ahead.

The final victory comes when the end of this age comes and the righteous Judge sets all of this straight:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14: 9-12

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened, and another book was opened which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” Revelations 20: 11-12

“And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelations 20:15

Having this Scriptural view of the evils of this world, in the light of God’s control of our lives and his ultimate judgment of the wicked men of this age, we can be free of all worry and fear, and then be free to make sound judgment about what we need to do, if anything, to prepare ourselves and our families for the future.  We can then be open to the leading of the Spirit, and able to move forward with the necessary plans with confidence.

There is really nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon said many years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes.  Today I see man’s greed as the root of many problems, which he manifests in the government and financial systems of the world, causing great inequality of wealth, which in turn is causing rebellion by many who feel they have been abused.  These wicked, greedy men are bound for judgment, either in this life, or when the Lord returns as Judge.

I leave you all with this interesting prophecy from Habakkuk from the 7th century B.C. with words that could apply to today’s wicked, greedy men (from the Amplified Bible):

“Look at the proud; his soul is not straight or right within him, but the just and the righteous man shall live by his faith and in his faithfulness. Moreover, wine and wealth are treacherous; the proud man is restless and cannot stay at home.  His appetite is large like that of Sheol and [his greed] is like death and cannot be satisfied; he gathers to himself all nations and collects all people as if he owned them. Shall not all these [victims of his greed] take up a taunt against him and in scoffing derision of him say, Woe to him who piles up that which is not his! [How long will he possess it?] And [woe to him] who loads himself with promissory notes for usury! Shall [your debtors] not rise up suddenly who shall bite you, exacting usury of you, and those awake who will vex you [toss you to and fro and make you tremble violently]? Then you will be booty for them.  Because you have plundered many nations, all who are left of the people shall plunder you – because of men’s blood and for the violence done to the earth, to the city and all the people who live in each city.  Woe to him who obtains wicked gain for his house, [who thinks by so doing] to set his nest on high that he may be preserved from calamity and delivered from the power of evil!  You have devised shame to your house by cutting off and putting an end to many people, and you have sinned against and forfeited your own life.  For the stone shall cry out of the wall [built in sin, to accuse you], and the beam out of the woodwork will answer it [agreeing with its charge against you]. Woe to him who builds a town with blood and establishes a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not by appointment of the Lord of hosts that the nations toil only to satisfy the fire [that will consume their work], and the peoples weary themselves only for emptiness, falsity, and futility? But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2: 4-14

Amen.

Progressivism vs. Biblical Christianity

Let me start by saying that this message is intended as a warning to Biblical Christians to not get sucked into the mindset and philosophical world view that is pervasive in our world today.  Don’t be deceived and don’t let your Christian mindset be diluted by the current discussions.  The remedy, of course, is to remain diligent in your reading and studying of God’s word, the Bible, and your prayer/communion with Him.

Please don’t consider this a partisan discussion, as you will see that my view of progressivism is not restricted to the views of any current political party, but in fact, I think that the progressive philosophy is present in both the left and the right, liberal and conservative alike.  I have noticed that the liberal Democratic party seems to want to be identified with some type of new progressive reform movement and many liberals have been calling themselves progressives. We’ll get into this.

First, let’s define the word progressivism.  According to Wikipedia, progressivism is “a philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition.”  The key word in the definition is “vital”, suggesting that there will be little or no improvements without these advancements.  Wikipedia goes on to say that “progressivism became highly significant during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe”.  It was during the Age of Enlightenment that men elevated reason and intellect as a means of determining truth, above the use of faith in the revelation of truth via the Scriptures.  Thus scientific observation and the use of reason as a means of determining truth led to the elevation in importance of the above mentioned items especially science and technology, along with education.

It is also mentioned that the early application of this philosophy of progressivism was to support the advancement of western culture or “civilization” to transform the world from “barbarianism” by “strengthening the basis of empirical knowledge as the foundation of society”.  By empirical knowledge, they mean knowledge that is determined by the use of scientific observation and reason.  For example, during the 1800’s in America as people were moving west, the push to move the Native Americans from “barbaric conditions” to civility was driven by this idea of progressivism.

As a side note, I would like to mention here that it is not unreasonable to question the extent of the “progress” that has been made by the contributions from the scientific, technological, economic, and organizational changes to our western “civilized” culture.  Has all of our material items and technological advances really made us happy?  Have they contributed to our overall well-being and satisfaction? Have they lessened our stress levels?  Most would agree that our “progress” has made us more stressful.  In some ways we are much better off, but in other ways we are worse off.  We must also realize that all advancements have a price to pay.  For example, most would consider the automobile to be an amazing technological advancement and symbol of progress, but we must also consider that 1.3 million people are killed each year in car accidents and many others injured.  Many so-called advancements are motivated by monetary gains and offer conveniences that we often would be better off without or that place us in a dangerous position of dependency that has the potential to cause great harm to us if the “convenient technology” fails.  My point is that the argument is based on a faulty premise that all technological and scientific based “progress” is good and will contribute to the improvement of the human condition.  This is not true in all cases and requires a deeper analysis to get the real picture.

We also need to understand that at the foundation of the progressive thinking is the belief in evolution as the origin and continuance of life, with man being the most “evolved” part of this process and now responsible for its success and advancement.  Progressivism aligns with the idea that we are on an upwards evolutionary trajectory, and that mankind’s use of the “tools” of progressivism are crucial to the proper and speedy evolutionary advancement.  Additionally, the improper use of these would possibly result in the end of our race.

Progressivism does not seem to align with the belief that a Divine Creator is in control of our world.  Creationism and the truths that have been revealed in the Bible suggest that the larger share of responsibility for the future of our world is in God’s hands and not ours, with our place being a tool in His hand for His purposes.  We are responsible to be good stewards of the things that have been given to us or made available to us by our Creator, but we are not in a pivotal position of influence to determine the outcome our our race and our planet.

Be aware also that the humanistic, atheistic, communist teachings of Marx, Engle, Lenin and Stalin had a similar concept of evolutionary progress.  They called it “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” and its explanation in text books became compulsory education within the Soviet Union and China during the communist rule.  At its core was the idea that the conflict of social events, and there solutions, would bring about evolutionary progress.

Historically, in the United States, according to an article from George Washington University, the “Progressive Era” was from 1890 to 1920.  It started as a social movement and then became political. The movement was a response to the social problems that were believed to be the result of the industrial revolution:  poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare.  According to the article, these problems “could be best addressed by providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace.  Progressives lived mainly in the cities, were college educated, and believed that government could be a tool for change.”

Apparently, both the Republican and Democratic parties of the time had groups of progressives in their ranks.  As for their activities, the article says this: “They concentrated on exposing the evils of corporate greed, combating fear of immigrants, and urging Americans to think hard about what democracy meant.”

Fast forward to today and we see a similar thing happening.  It has become obvious to most people in our country that something is wrong, that our government system is failing and that the disparity between the rich and poor is growing much larger than in recent history and much more noticeable.  We see the exact same problems emerging as were present in the Progressive Era and the same solutions being suggested.

Different from 100 years ago, we see today a much more expansive infrastructure to communicate and promote the progressive philosophy, resulting in a much wider and deeper penetration into the mindset of the population.  Think about it, back in the time period of 1890 to 1920 there was no television or radio (let alone the internet), only newspapers and magazines.  Also, the percentage of college educated people was quite low; in fact college graduates were a rarity and most didn’t even have a high school diploma.

Today we have a large percentage of the population with some amount of college education, and most having graduated from high school.  We also have information streaming into our lives via the television, radio, and internet.  If you have a question about any topic whatsoever, all you need to do is “Google it” to get the answer.  What a contrast this is to the way it must have been in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Although there is some value in this massive increase in available information, we must realize that there is an increased potential for people to be indoctrinated with the popular philosophies, as well as the potential for the use of propaganda to induce fear and stir up emotions.  Realize too that the underlying ideas that support this progressive philosophy have penetrated all areas of western society and are aggressively promoted by the media and education system.  As a result of the current availability of information in our western society, the progressive philosophy, including the supporting ideas of the theory of evolution and secular humanism, is widely accepted, strongly influencing all voters and political parties.

It would appear that the liberal side of the political world has most closely resembled the traditional progressives from the Progressive Era, but have upped the ante by adding the “emergencies” of global warming, the environment, and a need for alternate energy.  Added to this list of vital needs is the need for a global system for these solutions to work.  Globalization was a major factor in this last election with the platform of Donald Trump opposing it with his nationalization stance reflected in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”, which really meant put the United States first before other countries.

This is where I think that confusion can enter in for the Biblical Christian.  We must be aware that the underlying philosophy of Donald Trump’s solution is still progressive; He is still suggesting the use of government as a tool for changing social organizations and economic development, and for advancing science and technology.  You might say the Trump view and the liberal view are “in the same church, but in different pews”, as the analogy goes.  The extreme emotion and distress that was displayed by the Hillary Clinton supporters after her loss of the election was not because Donald Trump was opposed to progressivism, but rather it was because they disagreed with his means of attaining this progressivism.  Their underlying progressive philosophy are the same, but their methods of implementation are different.

Two of the major differences were as follows:

First, the liberals wanted a global system of free, unrestricted trade that allowed for uncontrolled or unrestricted immigration with a vision of a one world type of economy and also having the US as a leader in this system, maintaining their military control, whereas Trump wants a nationalistic approach with new trade laws that favor the US, possibly with tariffs and a controlled immigration to favor US workers, rejecting the idea of a global system and calling for a reduction in military influence overseas (to save money for spending on the US needs at home).  This was similar to the issue that was at the core of the Brexit decision that occurred earlier in the UK.  We must be clear though that whether trade and immigration are restricted or not, or whether the system of trade is globally based or nationalistic does not change the underlying progressive philosophy that calls for advances in science, technology, economic development and social organization.

Second, the liberals wanted more government with controls and regulations to manage large corporations, Wall Street, and entitlements (like healthcare), with more taxes on the “rich” whereas Trump was pushing to reduce taxes and the role of government, pushing for fewer regulations on businesses and looking at focusing spending on infrastructure improvements to stimulate economic growth, possibly making changes to the financial system.  Again, the underlying progressive philosophy is not changed in either of these approaches, rather, there is just a difference in opinion as to the method of social organization and economic development.

In summary, I believe that we are in a similar situation as was faced by the US back at the turn of the 19th century during the Progressive Era.  Today we have the same social issues of poverty, violence, racism, and class warfare.  People are upset and looking for answers; many looking to the government and political leaders.  The recent election brought this situation to a head, with people looking to either the liberal solutions as represented by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton or the ideas and solutions as proposed by Donald Trump and his supporters, who became the candidate for the Republicans (and eventually President).

My main point is that although there were strong emotional feelings associated with each side of these differences as represented by the political parties, both sides were in alignment with the progressive philosophy with its foundation of evolutionary thinking and a humanistic focus.

As Biblical Christians don’t we see the problems of greed, violence, racism, poverty, and class inequality as being either directly or indirectly related to moral issues, and don’t we see the solution of these moral issues as being a spiritual solution that is offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, allowing for people to be restored in their relationship with their Creator and transformed into new creations causing these problems to disappear?  But this solution is so ridiculous to the current discussion that it is not even given the smallest bit of attention.  It is diametrically opposed to the progressive, evolutionary viewpoint and philosophy, and is therefore seen as at best ridiculous, and at worst evil.

We must be firm and clear in our understanding that the Biblical Christian philosophy and approach is the truth and the progressive philosophy is a lie and an error.  Remember that we have died to this world system and live now with our hope totally on the fact that this world will NEVER progress to a utopia, but will only really improve at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ!

We should also step back and consider the fact that both of these candidates have a questionable moral character, and their lives are far from upholding the standards of the Judeo-Christian ethics. It says something when these two were the best that our society could offer.  It is likely that they were the most disliked candidates in the history of US elections (at least in recent history from my experience).  It was even a joke going around to ask “Who did you vote against?” rather than “Who did you vote for?”.

As Biblical Christians we must be wise and acknowledge that Donald Trump’s approach, although it may possibly be better than Hillary Clinton’s approach, is still based on a flawed, progressive type of philosophy.  It therefore is doomed to fail.

Biblical prophecy and warning of the future clearly paint a picture of a future that will get worse and worse and not better and better.  As the world pressures us into “being optimistic” or “thinking positively”, we need to accept the reality of what we have come to understand by our faith, that this world needs to be completely transformed by an act of God, that is, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” 1 Timothy 4: 1-3

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3: 10-13

Many Americans who have voted for Donald Trump as president have placed their hope in him to resolve the issues that we face as a society today.  I believe their hope will end in disappointment.  I would even go as far as saying that there is a high probability that a major economic collapse, civil unrest, global war, or some other failure of our government will occur during the Trump presidency and he will be blamed for it, although he has inherited the problems from the past few decades of poor decisions by those in power, and he is therefore not responsible. At best, even if he does some good things, he will be presented as a failure by the main stream media and many will most likely agree and look for the next great political hope.

As Biblical Christians we must also recognize fully the current state of spiritual and moral affairs in our country.  Clearly, they are on a decline both in the secular and religious realms.  The reality is that the judgment of God is inevitable and we need to be prepared by removing any and all ungodliness from our  own lives, separating ourselves from any ungodly associations, as well as planning for a means of escape from the inevitable results of this judgment.

It is possible that we are entering the end times with the approach of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ very near.  The Bible predicts a time of tribulation preceding His return.  We must also not lose sight of this potential future situation.

Here are the Biblical truths that we must not lose sight of:

  • Our country is in moral decline and has moved away from the laws and standards of God. This condition has consequences.  God’s judgment is inevitable.  The progressive philosophy ignores this truth
  • The Bible prophecies that in the last days there will be a one world government with a single monetary system (controlled by the mark of the beast), and a single global religion. Globalism and the move towards a global system will happen eventually.  A one world religion will also come about.
  • This world has been cursed and will continue to devolve to a corrupt state or dystopia, not evolve to a utopia as suggested by the progressive philosophy, and eventually will be destroyed and replaced by the kingdom of God at the second coming of Jesus Christ.
  • The source of mankind’s social problems is a moral and spiritual issue that can only be resolved by the embracing of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation and redemption that He has offered.  Social problems have dramatically increased as a result of our disregard of God’s directives regarding the sanctity of marriage and sexual relations and its impact on the family, our disregard for truth and honesty in our dealings, turning to massive lying and fraud in our financial dealing, and our arrogance in our view of ourselves, elevating our own importance and the importance of the creation and creatures above the Creator God who should hold a place of honor and respect in our lives (for the most part, I don’t think that our society is honoring God either individually or as a group).
  • This entire world will be destroyed by fire when the Lord Jesus returns.  He will establish a new heaven and earth based on His government of righteousness.  We should look forward to this day, without putting our  hope in the false promises of today’s leaders.

Regarding progressivism, it is helpful for me to create categories to make these things clearer.  Allow me to give you my brief view of the current situation pertaining to the progressive philosophy.  I see people falling into 3 groups: Progressive Realists, Progressive Idealists, and Progressive Spiritualists.  Here’s the explanation of each:

  • Progressive Realists are those who  are more practical in their approach to a solution to our social problems, you might say using more “common sense” to determine a means of progressing. These solutions will appeal more to the average blue collar workers.  They would promote less government with less regulation, strengthening of local industries and communities, strengthening of local apprenticeship and training, less focus on world wide organizations and controls.
  • Progressive Idealists would be those who support the idealistic solutions for our social ailments, much like those from the earlier progressive era.  Their solutions are more theoretical and idealistic, and will be held and promoted by intellectuals and educators. They would most likely have been college educated where they were indoctrinated with these idealistic viewpoints.  They support advancements in education, science and technology, more global organization and controls, with more use of government as a tool to accomplish this.
  • I did not mention the Progressive Spiritualists previously since they were not a strong group represented in the recent election discussions, but I believe they will be more pronounced in the near future. This group aligns with the evolutionary, progressive thinking, but they include the metaphysical realm as either a source of information or enlightenment, or as a new evolutionary plateau to be realized.  These would include the “New Age” religion, eastern mysticism, and other occult related practitioners who would use occult practices to examine the metaphysical realm.  It should be noted that these practices are forbidden by the Lord (see Deuteronomy 18: 9-22) and they have many times opened the practitioner to demonic spirits and even demonic possession.  This group will most likely play a role in the future one world religion as they merge with the Progressive Idealists and globalism.

All three of these above mentioned Progressive categories have some limited merit or value in the solutions being proposed, but cannot be considered a hope for the future of mankind.  These philosophies are flawed since they are rooted in the humanistic world view that has overtaken our world that is based on the lie of evolutionary theory as opposed to the truth of an all powerful Creator God as apparent in the beautiful design of His creation.  This progressive philosophy also places the full burden and responsibility for the future existence of the human race upon mankind (creation) without any input from the Creator who brought it into existence in the first place.

As Biblical Christians our hope is solely anchored on the promises of God as delivered to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Please keep your heart pure with this focus and remain steadfast in your journey through these days as I believe the last days are upon us.

My prayer for my Biblical Christian brethren is the same as what Paul prayed for the Ephesians:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come, and He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1: 17-23

I need to mention also that in the future, there will most likely be more and more animosity towards the Biblical Christian philosophy since it is so contrary to the popular progressive philosophy and people are so passionate about the elevated importance of this approach as a solution for our social issues and problems, for their future and the future of their offspring. This equates to an increase in persecution, as has been prophesied for the end time.  Be strong in the days ahead!

Remember: Faith, Hope, Love – these Three

“But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” 1 Thes. 5:8

The history behind the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church of the Thessalonians is as follows: Paul had preached the Gospel in Thessalonica a few years prior to this letter and spent some time there to establish a group of believers.  He had become concerned about the well being of this congregation since he was not able to revisit them after his initial visit, so he sent Timothy to check on them.  Upon the return of Timothy, Paul wrote this letter to commend them on their steadfastness and progress, as well as to encourage and exhort them in their Christian walk.

We can learn from this letter if we look at Paul’s approach to encouraging the Thessalonians and his view of their spiritual strengths.

At the beginning of the letter, after his salutation, Paul immediately commends them on three core items: faith, hope and love:

“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. 1:3

It is interesting that Paul gives a similar commendation at the start of his letter to the Colossians:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Col. 1:3-5

…and also at the start of the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians:

“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because you faith is growing in abundance, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.” 2 Thess. 1:3-4

…followed by this:

“And to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,” 2 Thess. 1:7 (relating their steadfastness in affliction to their hope)

Obviously, when Paul examined a group of Christians for spiritual maturity he did so in the perspective of these three Christian attributes: faith, hope and love.  Therefore, it is also important for us to examine ourselves in a similar matter, understanding the true meaning of faith, hope and love, and how they should be manifested in our lives.

Notice that in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses the phrase “work of faith and labor of love” when he commended them.  The Greek word in the original passage that is translated as “work” is “ergon”  and is defined in Strong’s concordance as follows: from a primary (but obsolete) érgō (to work); toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication, an act:—deed, doing, labour, work.  The original Greek word for “labor” is “kopos” and is defined thus in Strong’s: toil (as reducing the strength), literally or figuratively; by implication, pains:—labor, + trouble, weariness.  There also is an implication of “intense labor with trouble and toil.”

Paul’s interest was in the fruit that they showed in their lives, and Timothy must have reported that they were producing “good works” that confirmed their spiritual maturity.  Timothy must have seen sacrifices being made to help the poor and needy, orphans and widows being cared for, and general activity that supported the fact that they loved one another.

The Holy Spirit has taught us though the Scriptures that faith without works is dead, but that our works confirm our faith:

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.” James 2: 21-23

True Christian faith will result in good works and will produce true love in the believer.  Remember that love fulfills the law and does no harm to a neighbor.  Our spiritual maturity should show forth these spiritual fruits of good works and love for others.

Like Abraham, we all will face situations in our lives that will require us to exercise our faith to “complete” it.  Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and was willing to obey God’s command to put him to death.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your posterity be named.’  He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Heb. 11:17-19

Let’s encourage one another to respond with the same faith that Abraham had when we are faced with similar situations and challenges in our lives, knowing that God is able to do whatever is required.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he had encouraged each one of them to exercise their faith with their actions.  I like how his encouragement was not just words but he had told them to imitate his actions, and he reminded them of his behavior among them:

“For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thess. 2:9-12

Paul also commended them for enduring afflictions and persecution from their own countrymen, similar to what Paul had suffered from the Jews.  We too should be prepared in our hearts, should persecution arise, to endure patiently whatever afflictions come our way.

It is very clear that Paul’s expectation for believers was to walk in love and holiness, and to endure in this way until the Lord returns. Paul first sent Timothy to make sure that they were living appropriately, producing the fruit of spiritual maturity. He then reminded them of how he had trained them in this appropriate behavior and also exemplified this behavior in his life.  He then encouraged them to continue in and even increase the quality of their behavior.  I point this out to emphasize the fact that our behavior and spiritual maturity is extremely important.  Our faith and hope should be producing love as reflected in our good works and holy living.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your consecration: that you abstain from immorality;” 1 Thess. 3:12- 4:3

The original Greek word that is translated as “consecration” in the above verse is hagiasmos, and is defined in Strong’s concordance as: properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; concretely (by Hebraism) a purifier:—holiness, sanctification.  Again, Paul makes it very clear that it is God’s will for us to walk in holiness.

Paul also knows that the key to our spiritual maturity and our ability to walk in holiness and love is to have our faith focused on the hope we have in Christ Jesus and our future with Him in His Kingdom that He will establish upon His return.  Therefore, after exhorting and encouraging them to walk in holiness, Paul reminds them of the soon coming of the Lord, and our part as believers in this event:

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep (dead), 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 the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4:13-18

Paul knew that this hope that we have will comfort us in our afflictions and help us to endure, continuing in holy living.  This is our source of strength that will get us through difficult times and empower us to walk in love and holiness, as we make this assured hope a reality in our lives.

A living faith in our blessed hope we have in what God has promised to us in Christ Jesus, namely a place in heaven for eternity with Him, will produce in us the ability to walk in holiness and love, with the strength to endure until the end.  It is critical that we continue in this way so that we too can be found blameless in holiness when Jesus returns.

I hope that this message has encouraged you in your walk as a believer.  Recognize that all of the things in this life are trivial compared with the glory that awaits us.  Let’s keep our perspective clear and focused on what is really important: eternal life and our future hope.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thess. 5: 23-24

Authentic Christian Conversion

“For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical.  He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28-29

In my last blog post we looked at the importance of hope in the Christian’s life and how our hope is directly related to the focus of our hearts and minds.  We saw how having our hearts and minds set on spiritual things rather than fleshly or worldly things will give us the power to produce spiritual fruit in our lives, rather than having our fruit “choked out” by the cares or worries of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.

In this blog post I want to look closer at this inner change that constitutes a Christian conversion.  This change involves our faith, hope and love, qualities that are critical for our Christian maturity.  I would like to look deeper at what is involved with this inner transformation.  My desire is that we all are correctly aligned with these truths and participating properly so that we can reach full spiritual maturity and produce much spiritual fruit (100 fold).

In the above quoted scripture from the letter of Paul to the Romans, note that when Paul says “a real Jew” he is talking about a real child of God.  The context of the discussion in letter to the Romans was that Paul was dealing with the problem of Jews who were considering themselves true members of God’s family based on them being a biological descendant of Abraham and their physical circumcision.  In other letters from Paul, we see that he had to deal with Jews who were telling the Gentile (or non Jewish) Christians that they needed to be physically circumcised in order to be a true child of God, an idea that Paul vehemently opposed. In other words, Paul’s statement about what makes a “real Jew” in this quote from Romans is directed to all believers who wished to be a part of God’s kingdom and family, not just to the Jews of the time. The term “Christian” most likely had not become a commonly used word at the time of Paul’s writing of Romans, and Paul didn’t use the term much in any of his writings, so we should attempt to understand the meaning of the phrase “real Jew” from Paul’s viewpoint.  A “real Christian” is in fact a “real Jew” in that both are descendants of Abraham, but a Christian is a spiritual descendant rather than physical one, who has the inner circumcision of their heart rather than the external physical circumcision.  My point is that this scripture also applies to Christians. It could also be stated as “he is a real Christian who is one inwardly…..”

Therefore we should not be looking to outward qualities for determining the validity of Christians, but rather to inward qualities.  Yet we seem to look outwardly when we ask, “What church do you go to?” and then maybe say, “Oh, that’s a good church, they must be a good Christian.”  Or we hear them speak thus, “Praise the Lord, Brother….” and conclude that they are Christian.  It seems as if anyone, especially a celebrity or politician, who claims to be born again or a Christian is immediately embraced by the Christian community without looking for the proof of inward conversion.

Today’s Christian’s also seem to focus on the time of the recital of the “sinner’s prayer” as the point of conversion, similar to the act of physical circumcision that the Jews were looking to as the entry point into the family of God. We seem to need something tangible to support our conversion, but in reality it is the inward, intangible change that is the true representation of our conversion.  If anything, we should be looking to the act of baptism as a tangible representation of our internal change.  I’ll explain more about baptism later.

My goal here is to look closer at the inward change that is mentioned in Romans 2:29.  Let’s review what we have learned so far from this verse.  A person is a real Christian as the result of a change that occurred inwardly, not outwardly, and so it is this internal change that we must look deeper at to understand an authentic Christian conversion.  What is this inward change?  We see from this verse that the change is represented by real circumcision, which is also internal.  The verse says that it is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal (or physical).  Therefore, we need to look closer at circumcision to understand this internal change.

The Lord introduced circumcision to Abraham.  Paul explains the significance of Abraham’s circumcision in Roman’s chapter 4:

“He (Abraham) received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4: 11-12

In the above verse, Paul establishes that the underlying real inner change that circumcision represents is the faith of Abraham by which he was reckoned (or accounted) as righteous.  It is critical that we understand the faith of Abraham, for this is the internal change that is the core representation of our conversion as Christians.

Paul confirms in subsequent verses, also inspired by the Holy Spirit, that those who share this same faith as Abraham will be guaranteed the promises of God.

“The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13

“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants – not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’ – in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.“ Romans 4: 16-17

In the next few verses we see more of the characteristics of Abraham’s faith (emphasis added by me):

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’ “ Romans 4:18-22

In my words, here’s a simplified version of what happened:

  • God made a promise to Abraham.
  • Abraham believed the promise, even though it looked impossible to his natural mind; he believed it based on the character of God and power of God.
  • Abraham did not waiver but remained steady and got even stronger, convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. He steadfastly and patiently endured in his faith.
  • God accepted Abraham as righteous based on this faith.

The last few verses in Romans 4 make it clear that we are expected to have this same faith:

“But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4: 23-25

And here is the simple version for us:

  • God has made a much greater promise to us than He made to Abraham, that is, eternal life based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He guaranteed us a resurrected, immortal body, and a place in His Kingdom as His children with an inheritance
  • We must believe and accept this promise by faith in God’s power and divine character.
  • We must remain steadfast in our conviction that God will fulfill His promise to us, patiently enduring until He comes for us
  • We will be accepted by God as righteous based on this faith.

Abraham’s faith is further defined in the book of Hebrews chapter 11.  I would like to look at a few verses that I feel are important to this discussion:

“By faith he (Abraham) sojourned (or lived as a temporary resident) in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Heb. 11: 9-10

We see from these verses that the focus of Abraham’s faith was on God’s promise of eternal life in heaven.  The Lord had made it clear to Abraham that the ultimate, eternal “promised land” was heaven and therefore Abraham lived like a temporary resident on earth.  This he accomplished by his faith.

Placing our faith in God’s promise of heaven requires that we shift our hope from the promises of this world to the promise of heaven.  Abraham no longer had his hopes set on the things of this world.  He had left his relatives in the land of Ur, relinquishing any inheritance or benefit that he had from there.  He also lived as a temporary resident in the new land that he journeyed to, awaiting heaven as his final destination.

The writer of Hebrews mentions Abraham’s hope earlier in chapter 6:

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.” Heb. 6:11-15

And a few verses later we hear more of this same hope in the promises of God:

“….we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain….” Heb. 6:18-19

The circumcision of our heart suggests that we cut away the “fleshy” or worldly part of our hearts, just like the physical cutting away of flesh.

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts….” Jeremiah 4:4

We can see from the example of Abraham’s faith that this involves shifting our hearts away from the promises and hopes that this world offers to focusing on the promises of God, specifically, His promise of eternal life in Christ.  This results, again like Abraham, in our becoming pilgrim or temporary residents here on earth with our hearts set on the promise of eternal life in heaven.

Consider this verse from the book of Colossians concerning circumcision:

“In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Col. 2:11-12

The Amplified Bible makes a strong connection in this verse between circumcision and baptism based on the tense of the verb used (see the footnote for verse 12).  It translates verse 12 as follows:

“[Thus you were circumcised when] you were buried with Him in [your] baptism, in which you were also raised with Him [to new life] through [your] faith in the working of God [as displayed] when He raised Him up from the dead.” Col. 2: 12 Amplified Bible

In other words, in the same way that the physical removal of the foreskin represents the internal change that occurs within the true child of God as a result of exercising faith in the promise of God, as Abraham did, baptism too is an external representation of the internal change that results from a Christian exercising their faith in the promise of God as presented in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  More specifically, the immersion of baptism represents burial with Christ where we share in His death to this world and consider ourselves having died to this world.  The coming up out of the water represents our new position of being raised with Christ, citizens of heaven, and waiting for His return with our hope set on heaven, and our hearts treasuring the same. This internal mindset of considering ourselves raised with Christ and awaiting His return when we will be literally transformed into immortal beings is what the scriptures refer to as being “in Christ”.

True Christians have died with Christ internally, meaning that we no longer live for the things that this world has to offer them, but we consider ourselves dead to this world. We no longer treasure the things of this world, but instead treasure the spiritual things of heaven.  We recognize that this world is cursed and that mankind apart from God is under God’s judgment and awaiting His punishment at the end of the age.  We as Christians have embraced and accepted God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ that includes His promise of eternal life with a resurrected body, accompanying Him in heaven as a citizen of His kingdom.  We have placed our hope totally in God’s promises.  This is what is required according to the scriptures for a deep, authentic Christian conversion.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His Death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Romans 6:3-5

I want to draw your attention to some examples of new conversions that were recorded in the book of Acts.  I find it interesting that baptism is included in these examples, which I believe supports my tenets presented above regarding the importance of new converts understanding the need for the inward transformation that is outwardly represented by baptism.

The first is a record of Philip the evangelist when he traveled to Samaria preaching Christ to the multitudes there:

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.  Then Simon (a local sorcerer) himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.”Acts 8: 12-13

Then there was Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch:

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture (a verse in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading but didn’t understand), preached Jesus to him.  Now as they went down the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water.  What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still.  And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him.” Acts 8:35-38

Another example is Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer:

“And he (the jailer) brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes.  And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Acts 16:30-33

We can logically conclude that the preaching of the Gospel to these new converts included the information that would lead to them being baptized.  We know that the physical act of baptism is not a ritualistic practice and the outward act of Baptism has no real spiritual value.  On the contrary, Philip, Paul and Silas knew that the spiritual value was from the internal change in thinking and focus that the external action of baptism represented.

Baptism does have value in that it is a public declaration by the believer of the internal step of faith that has occurred. It is a physical, tangible, point in time that the believer can look back to as a statement of being dead to this world and living now in Christ.  All new converts should be encouraged to be baptized, but the act should not be taken lightly.  A full explanation of its meaning should be made clear to the person being baptized.

New Christians need to have this inner change/conversion.  It is the start of their walk of faith, and their walk in the spirit.  Modern, western Christian churches need to place new converts on this path in order for them to reach full spiritual maturity.  I am praying that more and more Christians become aware of this need so that more and more new believers can experience this deep inner conversion.