PB Gospel Power for Life in the Trenches

*Introduction

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. {Ro 1:16-17}

What is the biblical purpose of the gospel? Is God responsible for gospel’s failure to preserve the moral integrity of our country and its culture? Sin’s corrupting progress in our society was once so slow and subtle that many failed to notice it. Only by intentional blindness can the believing Christian now overlook the lack of moral fiber in our world. It appears in our governmental institutions, in business, in public education, in the alarming breakdown of marriage and the family, and in the sad decline we witness in most conservative religious institutions, regardless of their particular theological persuasion. Paul said the gospel is God’s power to save the believer. Do we believe it? He said the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, that the man of God must walk by the rule of faith. Are we willing to put our life on the line in belief of this truth? Consider Paul’s words to this same group of believers.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. {Ro 12:1}

The word translated present identifies a formal presentation, much like the military command, “Present arms.” It equally applies to the formal presentation made by the Old Testament Jew who “Presented” his sacrifice to the priest, either in symbolic atonement for his sins or in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Are we willing to present our bodies in sacrifice to God with full confidence in his ability and commitment to protect us? Few of God’s children live up to that example, few indeed! Paul continues his pointed instruction.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. {Ro 12:2}

What does it mean to be conformed to this world? When you see the break-neck speed at which our society has plunged itself into immorality, how do you react? Few sincere believers will approve of the course. They will almost to a person complain and hope for a better day. Is that sufficient? Do these words sound familiar to you? “It’s unrealistic to expect the young people nowadays to resist the flow of society. Our values have been defeated. There is nothing we can do about it.” These thoughts represent a disapproving, but passive, conformity to this world! When they intrude into our thoughts, we need a transformation!

Have we forgotten the culture in which Paul wrote these words? The Roman Empire was one of the most immoral societies of all time. Not long ago, a woman in the Los Angeles area was arrested for prostitution because she claimed to be the priestess of an ancient religion that required its worshippers to commit sexual acts with its priests. Such religion was popular and accepted in the First Century Roman Empire. Many pagan religions maintained prominent temples, staffed by large numbers of women who carried on just such sinful acts with those who entered there to worship the gods of carnal flesh. First Century Rome championed the infamous “Double standard.” Women were little more than a man’s property. In contrast, the man was free to follow any course of lifestyle he pleased. He could sin in any way he chose, so long as he didn’t get caught. Who said the Bible is out of step with Twentieth Century problems? It isn’t out of step; it shines the light of God’s contempt on this present evil age!

I have never read a comprehensive history of the Roman Empire that did not describe a typical Roman party. The people at the party would eat and drink in excess, go outside and force themselves to vomit up their excess, only to return to the table for more. First Century Rome regarded homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable lifestyle. They considered it of no more significance than where a person lived or what he wore. You could repeat every one of the above traits of First Century Rome and be as accurate in your description of contemporary society as you are of that ancient civilization. Now I repeat Paul’s urgent command, “Be not conformed to this world.” When a highly contagious disease begins to spread, we fear exposure to it. We take every step possible to avoid being infected. We try to protect those we love from it. We look for medications that offer some promise of immunity. We should do no less in the spiritual than in the natural. The present state of immorality in society represents a highly infectious disease. Those who have the disease tell you there is no hope. Why fight it? “Give up, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

Do we have a choice? The answer is, “Yes!” Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Look back to the God who instituted the gospel that he described as possessing the power to save the believer. Do believers need salvation? They certainly do! They need to be saved from conformity to this world. They need to be saved from their own corrupt tendencies to take the path of least resistance, to follow the crowd. The gospel provides that kind of power for the believer where he lives, in the trenches of life! May God bless our study.

Joseph R. Holder

17262 Cold Spring Circle

Riverside, California 92503

 

Chapter 01 The Theology Of The Gospel, Not The Vehicle Of Eternal Life

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. {Ro 1:16-17}

The belief that man gains eternal life by some active participation in the hearing and obeying of the gospel prevails in our time. Some teach that man must give mere mental acquiescence to the truth of the gospel message; he must accept the message and believe in Christ. Others add one degree of active obedience or another. Some make every command of discipleship in the Bible a condition to eternal life, thereby making the saved Christian a mercenary soldier of Jesus Christ. In support, advocates of these views offer the above verses. Do they teach this doctrine? Do they make belief or obedience a condition of eternal life? I suggest that they do not remotely teach this idea. Let’s take a careful look at the lesson.

The gospel is God’s power only to the believer. If the gospel were God’s power to save the lost, it would necessarily be the power of God to the unbeliever. Through its powerful convincing evidences, it would transform the unbeliever into belief, thus representing God’s power to the unbeliever. But this view directly contradicts the verse which says it is his power to save the believer. What is the spiritual state of the believer? Does he possess eternal life, or does he not possess it? Scripture makes the point quite clear for us.

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. {1Jo 5:1}

Notice the verb tense in this lesson. Believeth, present tense, describes something which occurs in the present, right now. Right now someone believes that Jesus is the Christ. Is born, state of being, describes a state or sphere of existence which began at some time past and continues in that state now. George Ricker Berry in The Interlinear Literal Translation Of The Greek New Testament offers the following translation of these words, “Everyone that believes that Jesus is the Christ, of God has been begotten.” In Word Pictures In The New Testament A. T. Robertson approvingly quotes Law’s words, “The Divine Begetting is the antecedent, not the consequent of the believing.” In simple words Law said that being born again causes belief, not that belief causes the new birth. Jesus confirmed this same truth in Joh 5:24.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Notice the relationship of verb tenses once again. He who hears, present tense, right now, and believes, present tense, right now, has, possessive, already has, everlasting life. Jesus further confirmed this thought. Such a person shall not come into condemnation, final judgment to eternal ruin. This person is passed, already, from death unto life. Knowing the errors of the ages, Jesus contradicted those who would make their personal belief or obedience a cause of their eternal life. With equal force, he refuted the idea of those who allege that man can never actually possess eternal life until after the final resurrection, that we only have the prospect of it now. He said the hearing believer already has passed from death to life!

If, as John and Jesus both clearly taught, the believer is already born again, Paul’s description of the gospel as God’s power to save the believer must necessarily carry a practical lesson of discipleship within the family of God. Sadly, too many sincere people who hold these faulty views cannot understand the need for the disciple’s salvation, his personal immediate deliverance from trial, despair, error, temptation, and unbelief. Nor can they appreciate the power of the gospel to deliver the believer from these spiritual diseases in the trenches of life.

From faith to faith. If the verse taught the popular notion that the gospel saves the lost from eternal ruin, it would have to say that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from non-faith to faith. Some make a case that these words describe progress of faith within the believer, from one degree of faith to a greater degree of faith. Although I do not subscribe to that view, it offers no help for the idea that the gospel saves the lost sinner. He has no degree of faith, 2Th 3:2! I suggest that the lesson teaches that the gospel, a message of faith, preached by a man of faith, reveals the righteousness of God to a believer through faith. Whether we think of the message, the messenger, or the recipient of the message, it is a message from faith to faith.

Occasionally, in support of the doctrine of gospel means some will suggest that Abraham received eternal life when he believed God and God imputed his belief to him for righteousness, as if this were Abraham’s first act of faith. They forget that Abraham exhibited such an exemplary faith that it appeared in Heb 11, some ten to fifteen years before this particular incident! Study the chronology of Heb 11:8, attributing model faith to Abraham’s willingness to leave Ur, an event recorded in the end of Ge 11 and the beginning of Ge 12. Not until several years later, Ge 15:6 do we read the words, “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” If this verse describes the biblical model for eternal salvation by faith, it requires years of exemplary faith before God will take the first step toward saving the sinner! Wrong!

As it is written, The just shall live by faith. Paul quoted these words from Hab 2:4, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” What kind of man lives by his faith? The just man, not the wicked man. This verse describes the guiding light, the beacon in the dark stormy night, which guides the just man, the man who stands presently just before God. By quoting this verse in support of his lesson, Paul established that his intent here was the effective guiding power in the gospel for the believer, the just man.

Chapter 02 The Theology Of The Gospel, Power For The Saved Man

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. {1Co 1:18}

 

What is the Bible description of the man to whom God sends the gospel with power? I draw the distinction between our preaching the gospel on every occasion to any and all who will listen and those to whom God sends the word with his power. We cannot judge a person’s eternal state. Therefore, we are to preach the gospel at every opportunity. However, we should not impute our blindness of a man’s soul to our God, who knows the hearts of all men.

 

No one will question that the gospel does not always affect people the same way. The very same message may cause one person to rejoice and another to fly into a fit of rage. What makes the difference? Our lesson helps us answer this question.

 

The preaching of the cross. Can we doubt the leading theme of the New Testament gospel? In another lesson to this same church Paul said, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake," 2Co 4:5. What a contrast this lesson exhibits to so many leading religious groups. Often, the preacher becomes the figurehead of the whole church’s existence. He preaches himself! When I was a youngster, I remember hearing my father discussing the Bible with a relative of ours who held to the doctrine of salvation by human cooperation with God. This relative calmly offered that a particularly well-known evangelist had unquestionably saved many more people through his ministry than Jesus did in his. Even as a small child, I remember being shocked by such a blasphemous statement. The message of the gospel is Christ crucified and resurrected, altogether, a victorious Savior. {Re 19:11-21} We should not preach ourselves, our church, our programs, our financial appetites, or anything that detracts the mind of the listener from the essential theme of the gospel, the cross of Christ.

 

To them that perish. These people are dead while they live. Their whole course of life can be described in one word, perish. They live a perishing lifestyle, they will die a perishing death, and they will spend eternity in a perishing judgment. How do they react to the gospel? What do they think of it? Does it appeal to their intellect? Does it stir noble kindness within them? Paul answered the question. To such people, the gospel is foolishness! They ridicule it. They think it the most absurd activity in which a man could possibly waste his time. The verses that follow confirm this thought.

 

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. {1Co 1:19-21}

 

Unto us which are saved. What is the spiritual state of these people? They are saved. They do not merely possess the potential to be saved. They are not in the process of being saved. They are saved! The particular salvation in this verse finds its opposite in the word perish. Whatever it means to perish, saved is the opposite. To the man who will not perish, but is saved, the gospel comes with power. God has already saved this person from eternal perishing. Now he sends the gospel with power to assist him in his Christian living.

 

1Co 1:19-21, quoted above, include many of the things from which the power in the gospel delivers the believer. You need only to read the daily newspaper to understand man’s pompus wisdom. He has all the answers. His arrogant heart rejects any thought of God, or absolute truth. He has investigated all the important alternatives, and he has decided what is right. God is not in all his thoughts. This attitude demonstrates the exact opposite of the sweet reasonableness, the submissive recognition of God in everything good, which the believer should practice. Where is the scribe? A scribe was the keeper, and translator, of the scriptures in the Old Testament era. His exceptional knowledge of scripture apparently gave him a typical arrogance toward others. He knew more than they. How could anyone question his knowledge? How dare they! These verses do not describe the ideal disposition of the Christian. They describe the typical characteristics of the enemy to the gospel! Despite this obvious truth, you will often see these attitudes dominating many modern churches. When this occurs, they demonstrate that they have lost the power of the gospel!

 

Unto us which are saved it is the power of God. The saved person needs God’s power to escape the pitfalls of ego, of trust in the wisdom of man, and of arrogant religion. The glory of the gospel appears not in successful programs or in large numbers, but in the effective focus on the cross of Christ as the primary message to tired, hurting sinners who look to Christ and his cross for their help. Showy wisdom, arrogant scribe’s religion, such things do not appeal to the seeking soul who can find solid relief and rest only in the cross of Christ. This power in the gospel lies not in the skill of the orator, the charismatic personality of the preacher, or the beauty of the building. It rests, solid and secure, in the God-approved message of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 03 The Theology Of The Gospel, Power For The Called Man

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. {1Co 1:22-24}

Once again, Paul reinforced the singular message of the gospel, Christ crucified. The two books Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church offer perhaps the most instructive view in the New Testament of the gospel’s power to correct error and “Perfect” those very imperfect saints, Eph 4:12. Although Paul addressed the errors in conduct and theology within the Corinthian Church quite directly, he wrote in love with the crucified Christ at the heart of his message. That Christ crucified stands at the heart of the gospel does not mean that preachers should never preach on any other topic. It means that the crucified Christ should be made the foundational truth for all other teachings in the gospel. Paul’s personal views, his ego, the valued opinion of some particularly influential leader, or the “Way it’s always been done,” (Usually, translated, “The way it’s been done for the last 50 years”), had nothing to do with his teaching to these erring Corinthians. Popularity with them certainly did not enter into the scene, for his rebukes almost certainly would offend them. The truth of Christ, his crucified Christ, stood prominently at the heart of every lesson Paul taught these carnal Christians. I do not advocate careless, unfeeling offense against the saints, even the weakest, most carnal of saints. This same Paul taught us to become all things to all men to thereby gain the more. However, he also taught that the gospel we preach must comply with one rigid test. Is it the truth of the crucified Christ, preached in the same spirit of honest kindness which Christ himself exemplified?

Unto them which are called. To be called, according to the New Testament, represents a powerful blessing, a unique state of grace. They are called according to God’s purpose, Ro 8:28. Those whom God calls, he will also glorify in the end. {Ro 8:29-30} In this setting, the called is the same class of people who are saved. {1Co 1:18}

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. We all reflect much of the culture in which we were born and raised. The world in which we live rubs off on us much more fully than we often think. The Jews, expecting the Messiah, looked constantly for signs of his coming. The Greeks, expecting to attain the perfect world by their philosophical insight, sought wisdom, deep, philosophical wisdom, in all of their pursuits. The Jews pre-judged the character of their Messiah, quite incorrectly. Consequently, they blinded their minds to the true Messiah when he appeared. The Greeks blurred true wisdom with hedonistic (Self-pleasure) appetites, and became fools.

Since this First Century message to a carnal church, has human nature changed? No, we still see an abundance of sincere, but sign-seeking, Christians who have decided within their own minds what truth is. They look for the real truth everywhere, except in the teachings of the Book where God reveals his truth. When they look into that Book, the Bible, and find something which does not agree with their preformed notions of truth, they stumble at scripture and run blindly on toward their own private version of “Truth.” Social engineers, people who decide that they have the final answers for society’s ills because of their special wisdom, become so narrow minded about having the secret wisdom which will cure the world’s problems, that they reject the only effective remedy available. To them it is foolishness, 1Co 1:23.

Still other sincere souls offer their personal heritage of family traits as defensibly unchangeable. “I come from a long line of red-headed people. Everyone knows how hot-tempered a red-head is.  I can’t help my temper.” “My family has always been stubborn. I come by that trait naturally. I just can’t help it.” “I had an unhappy childhood. I grew up in a dysfunctional home. I can’t help those scars in my personality.”

Are we victims of our genes, environment, and personality? I do not question that we all inherited certain unique personality traits and dispositions at birth. Nor do I deny that we have been influenced by our environment, both within the home and the immediate culture in which many of our attitudes were first formed. I do question—no, I disagree with—the notion that we are helpless victims of those external influences!

Do you see the power of the gospel in this lesson to reform and over-ride the natural tendencies that form so much of our personal emotional structure. Why did Paul mention the natural tendencies of the Jews and the Greeks, only to counter that the power of the gospel to those whom God calls makes a difference in both. The Jew, with his almost superstitious sign-seeking, falls captive to the power of the gospel, loosing his need for a sign as he sees the greatest sign God ever gave unhappy sinners, the crucified Christ. The proud intellectual Greek who believes he can think his way to the ultimate answers, wisdom, for all things, bows in silent humility at the presence of the crucified Christ. Both Jews and Greeks worship at the feet of this Jesus with the sobering confession, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord .”{1Co 1:30-31}

The angry red head, the stubborn non-conformist, the injured soul from that dysfunctional home, all bow in healing submission to the power, the healing power, of the gospel. God intended the gospel to address and heal the many flaws which each of us pick up along life’s pathway. God placed in that marvelous gospel power to reform our lives, to remold our thinking, to overcome our weaknesses, to gain victory over our besetting sins, to calm our doubts and fears. He intended the gospel to proclaim the message of power and victory that intrudes into our carnal dispositions and reform us into the image, the behavioral image, of the crucified Christ. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” {2Co 3:18} Consider the continuing context of this lesson.

Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. {2Co 4:1-2}

Chapter 04 The Theology Of The Gospel, Faith In God, Not Man

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. {1Co 2:1-5}

No one questions that Paul was very well educated. As a Pharisee, he spent much of his life before the Damascus Road experience in verbal debate with those who did not agree with him. Both his writings and his verbal presentations, recorded in Acts, reveal to us a man of exceptional ability. Did he intend by the words in this lesson that he intentionally preached as if he knew nothing at all? Did he suggest that he ignored his training? No, the record of his ministry contradicts that idea. On Mars Hill, among the Greek philosophers, he quoted from one of their philosophers.

What did he mean? “I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” Excellency comes from a Greek word that suggests the idea of speech form over substance. The manner of speaking would be more prominent than what the man said. Without a doubt, based on the record of his messages, written and spoken, Paul knew how to speak well before a crowd, but he did not make his ability to speak appear more impressive and prominent than what he said. As people listened to him, they became enrapt in the greatness of the God he preached. They marveled at his message of a crucified Christ, the exclusive object of his worship. Enticing comes from a word which means to convince by argument, true or false. What does this idea make you think about? Have you ever known anyone who was so silver tongued, they could tell a lie and make you like it better than the truth? Well, that’s the idea Paul wanted the Corinthians to see here. He did not preach to them to gain their admiration of his speaking ability or to see him on a pedestal. He did not use a silver tongue or deceptive arguments to get them to believe what he wanted.

In contrast to these words we think of a sincere, honest, open man. We think of a man who did not try to hide his humanity. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. Too often, influenced by glitzy televangelism, the modern preacher would not dare show his humanity to his audience. He dare not let them know he ever experiences fear, much less the deep, distressing fear that causes a man to tremble. The contrast between these modern charlatans and Paul should instruct us. Accept Paul, and reject them!

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand,” 2Co 1:24. Look at the contrast here, dominion over, helpers of. Paul neither sought nor wanted the position of domineer over their faith. He did not want to make them run to him with every idea. He did not expect them to seek his personal approval of every action they considered. He considered himself a helper of their joy. Notice the reason for his posture toward their faith and joy. For by faith ye stand. Faith stood between the Corinthians and their God. Paul did not consider himself to be their god! He did not seek to establish a one-man religion, a one-man church. He made sure the Corinthians saw him as the messenger, a servant of his Lord who sent the message. He wanted them to think of the message, and the Lord who sent it, as the most important thing in their lives. Combine 2Co 1:24 with our study lesson. By faith you stand, and your faith stands in the power of God, not in the wisdom of men. Paul made certain that his conduct and preaching among the Corinthians established that attitude in them.

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. {1Co 2:6-8}

Yes, Paul preached wisdom, but the wisdom in his preaching did not originate from a particular form of speech or of smooth, convincing arguments. The wisdom of Paul’s preaching originated in the crucified Christ. The wise of this world could not understand that point, according to Paul, for had they known it, they would not have crucified him. Do you understand now why I emphasized the content of Paul’s gospel, Christ crucified?

Where do you find the wisdom of Paul’s preaching?

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. {1Co 2:9-10}

You will notice quickly that Paul did not refer this lesson to the mysterious wonders of what lies in store for us in eternity, for all of that glory has not—cannot—be revealed to mortals. Whatever God has prepared for them that love him in this verse, God has already revealed to us by his Spirit. We already know it. What does he mean? The context of the wisdom and power in his message, especially its origin, continues into these words. Paul took no credit for the wonderful blessing and power of the gospel. He said God revealed it to him by the Spirit. May we conduct our ministry, as preachers or as servants of Christ crucified in any calling, so that those who see us will hold to their Lord more strongly and love him more dearly.

Chapter 05 The Theology Of The Gospel, The Evidence, Not The Cause, Of Election

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. {1Th 1:2-5}

Regardless of the explanation, most sincere Bible students will agree that election, God’s eternal election, stands at the root of man’s eternal salvation. At that point, most will disagree on the interpretation of election. Some will say that God elected those whom he foreknew, in his general prescient (All-knowing) foreknowledge, would embrace him in faith and obey his commandments to a certain undetermined extent, deserving of salvation. They thereby make the sinner’s faith and obedience in time the cause of election before time. To the thinking Bible student, this notion should ring clearly of putting the cart before the horse, the effect before the cause.

What does this lesson from the New Testament teach us on the cause and effect of election? It obviously deals with election. Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. We cannot doubt that the Thessalonian Christians were elected of God. Despite their errors in theology on the second coming of Christ, Paul told them he knew they were elected of God. That their election depended on God, not their personal faith and obedience, Paul made equally clear, “Your election of God.” They did not accomplish their own election. They did not elect themselves. God elected them.

Ask yourself this question. How did Paul know God had elected them? The lesson includes several precise traits Paul identified as evidences of their election.

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

Man’s normal method of communication is through a well-defined vocabulary of spoken or written language, words carefully chosen and put together to communicate the idea from one mind to another. Paul preached the gospel to the Thessalonians in words, clear, understandable words. His point here reached beyond mere words and intellectual ideas, not in word only. When Paul preached the gospel to the Thessalonians, God added three distinct ingredients to his words.

First, he sent the word with power. We’ve seen this word already. God uses the gospel to save the believer, to transform the philosophical Greek and the sign-seeking Jew to the submissive believer. He also uses the gospel to transform our lives, renovating and reforming those areas of our weakness to display his great power. If you have experienced God’s power in the gospel, do not doubt that God also elected you. You are one of his children. He only sends such power to his chosen vessels, his children.

In the Holy Ghost. No simple polished philosophical speech, Paul preached through the power of God and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both in Paul’s preaching and in the Thessalonians’ receiving of the gospel, the Spirit of God was evident. The Holy Spirit does not appear in demonstrative incoherent speech or highly emotional dances and fainting spells. His appearance follows a biblical pattern.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. {Joh 16:13-14}

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. {Ac 1:8}

Study the characteristics of the Holy Spirit in these key verses. He appears as the Spirit of truth, not cheap philosophical truth, but eternal truth. As the Spirit of truth, he appears in person, not just in abstract ideas and thoughts. When he appears, he does not speak of himself. He does not prompt people to tell you they had a real “Holy Ghost” meeting. He prompts people to glorify Christ, to look at the things of Christ. He also conveys power to those who hear and believe the gospel. The power he brings in the gospel is power to witness, to bear personal testimony to the things of Christ, not power to be born again or purchase eternal life. He imparts power for people to present a convincing witness to the reality of Christ and his truth.

Finally, God sent the gospel to the Thessalonians “In much assurance.” He used it to remove their doubts and questions. He sent it to answer their questions and to heal their faltering faith. Do you see this comforting assurance in the pleading father’s response to Christ?

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. {Mr 9:24}

More painfully honest with his spiritual state than most, this father confessed to faith in Christ, and in the same breath cried out for the Lord to help his unbelief! The gospel serves this purpose in the heart of each child of God who hears it with ears opened by the Great Physician. The faltering child confesses his Lord and cries out for assurance. When someone says they don’t need very much preaching, they confess that their unbelief does not especially trouble them. They reveal a state of coldness in the faith that tolerates the doubts of their carnal nature without any deep concern to bring their whole person under subjection to Christ. Are you satisfied with your spiritual state of mind, or do you cry out with this father for the Lord to help your unbelief?

This lesson from I Thessalonians gives us three evidences of a person’s election of God. Evidences come after the fact, not before. They result from God’s election; they do not cause it. If the gospel has touched your life in one or more of these ways, my friend, you have great evidence of a gracious state with God. You have evidence that he has elected you, that you are his child. Rejoice in your heavenly family!

 

Chapter 06 The Stablished Christian

Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. {1Th 3:1-3}

We now move our study of the gospel into the trenches of life, into our everyday experiences and needs. In our mad-pace world where change occurs at break-neck speed, we need few things more than stability. The human race has seen more change in this century than in the last thousand years combined. Inventions, scientific breakthroughs, medical discoveries, space exploration, supersonic travel, and a countless parade of advances confront us on every side. For the most part, these changes represent improvement in our physical comforts. We enjoy more conveniences than anyone who ever lived before us. Along with this rapid pace of invention and change, we have also experienced unbelievable changes in morality and lifestyle.

Comforts and physical convenience have not enhanced the moral fiber of mankind. Just the opposite, the more the scientific community floods mankind with new inventions of comfort and convenience, the more man uses his newly found luxury for advances in carnal pleasure. He calmly accepts birth control by abortion on demand. He fears homosexual practices because of AIDS, not because it offends God’s moral law. Our society, and its laws, views marriage as little more than a temporary, and outdated source of momentary companionship. A once predominantly Christian society recoils at the madcap advance of pagan religion. Self-worship has replaced self-respect. Things that once earned an adult rating for a movie now appear on your television screen.

With the flood of ungodliness gaining more acceptance by the moment, the sincere Christian thinks aloud, “It’s hopeless. How long can we expect to resist the onslaught? If we do not change and accept these ideas, we cannot survive!” Is this true? I offer that the greatest threat to the survival of Bible centered Christianity is this very tendency! We will only survive by standing up against the flow of corruption that floods the world around us.

Stablish comes from a word which means to turn resolutely in a certain direction. This word, by its opposite, informs us of the hazard God’s children suffer apart from the stabilizing power of the gospel. Without the stability of the gospel, sincere children of God follow all kinds of deceptive forces, today in one direction, tomorrow in another. They will fall under the mesmerizing spell of any false teacher who makes his bewitching error sound logical. They will submit the teaching they hear to the scrutiny of their own thinking, but not to the acid test of scripture. After establishing the truth of a literal bodily resurrection, Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to “Be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,.”{1Co 15:58} Whether in belief or in walk, the gospel charts a course for the stablished Christian, resolutely in a certain direction, piloted by the Savior over life’s tempestuous seas.

Why did Paul send Timothy to the Thessalonians? To establish you. The corruption of the world around them weakened their convictions of Christ. It threatened their commitment to godliness. They needed someone to stand up and remind them that this social sewer in which they lived did not deserve their respect, or even their passive acceptance. Timothy, a very young man, would serve as a vivid reminder to them that all the young people had not forsaken God’s ways. He would stand before them as a living reminder that godliness could successfully overcome the depraved flow of mankind. The renewed Christian mind, the transformed Christian lifestyle, could overcome this flood of sin. Paul addressed people who lived in a society that said, “If you think it is right, it is right for you. There is no such thing as absolute right or wrong. That idea is an outdated carry over from Puritanism. Don’t let it stand in the way of your pleasure.” Timothy’s job was to establish these people on the solid foundation of God. When Paul wrote the Ephesians of the value in the gospel, he developed this theme.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. {Eph 4:11-14}

Tossed to and fro, carried about by winds of doctrine, controlled by sleight, deceptive craftiness, do you see the need in all these colorful descriptions for the believer in Christ to find stability in the gospel? Do you see the value of an established pattern of thinking and living within the safe borders of God’s truth? To the Roman Christians, living in the national capital of the Roman Empire, Paul wrote similar words.

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. {Ro 16:25-27}

Many years after my mother went home to the Lord, my sister and I found several of her college textbooks. In the front of one of these books she had written these words, “Live for something, have a purpose, and that purpose keep in view. Drifting like a helpless vessel, thou canst never to life be true. Half the wrecks that strew life’s ocean, if some star had been their guide, might have long been gliding safely, but they drifted with the tide.” Set your course by the day star revealed in the gospel, Jesus Christ. God has the ability, the power, to stablish you, and that power appears in the gospel that Paul preached. We cannot improve upon that gospel now. It retains that same power for us! Thank God for the stability he gives us in the gospel!

Chapter 07 The Trusting Christian

That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. {Eph 1:12-14}

What does it take for you to trust someone? You must be well acquainted with that person. You must have experienced their dependability. When the Ephesian Christians heard the gospel, they trusted in Christ. Does this tell you anything about the gospel? Yes, it strongly teaches that the gospel message emphasizes the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We live in a skeptical age where suspicion and distrust run rampant. It’s a good age for the trustworthy message of Jesus. Paul reassured us of this truth in Php 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” The gospel does not require us to take the posture of a total skeptic. Life often accomplishes that result quite effectively! The gospel focuses our trust where it should rest, in God.

Failed relationships with our fellowman cause us to lean toward that skeptical disposition. Through many years of ministry, I have witnessed more casualties to the faith from broken marriages than any other single problem I can recall. Marriage, the most intimate of personal relationships, can build trust and comfort in relationships with others. Failed, it can build fearful distrust just as effectively. Since the Bible uses marriage as a pattern of God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness, marriage partners should work hard at resolving their problems and preserving their marriage. No relationship between imperfect human beings will ever be perfect. Every relationship will experience ragged edges, little annoying flaws where the two personalities don’t quite blend as smoothly as they should. Aggravated, these weak spots can build into festering sores and dissolve the relationship. If our marriages truly reflect the faithfulness of God toward us, we should strive to solve those problems and make our personal marriage a good representation of God’s love toward us.

Beneficial relationships build on trust. You don’t need to keep your trusted friend under a spyglass all the time. Present or absent, you trust that person to respect you and the integrity of your relationship. This idea applies with special value to our relationship with God. Tell a person about the Bible truth of salvation by God’s grace, explicitly presented in Ephesians Chapter One, and what will they say? “That sounds wonderful, too good to be true. However, just in case it isn’t that way, I think I’ll continue to believe in salvation by works.” What do they really tell you? They don’t trust God for salvation as fully as they trust themselves! Perhaps they have heard too much of the wrong gospel, one that fails to show God as a trustworthy Savior.

You can fully trust the Jesus represented in the gospel! He will not forsake you in the trenches of life. You can tell him your deepest secrets, your darkest faults, with full confidence that he will continue to love you. Even knowing all about your faults and weaknesses, he will supply just as much grace, help, tender love, and forgiveness as ever. When you stumble and fall on life’s rocky pathway, he has promised that you will fall into, not out of, his hands, Heb 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This fearful reaction relates to fear of disappointing him, not to fear of loosing your salvation. If it referred to danger of loosing your salvation, the writer would have written of the fear of falling out of his hands, not into them!

Notice the descriptions in our study verse, the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. No deceptive fairy tale, the gospel presents the word of truth. It builds its message on reliable, bedrock truth. Repeatedly, scripture echoes, “God is faithful. He cannot lie.” It tells the tired, mourning sinner about the love of a Savior who succeeded in his work. The gospel of your salvation does not teach that the gospel saves you, but that the gospel explains and tells you about your salvation.

So much of religion builds on guilt and intimidation. It threatens with eternal destruction or with horrible personal tragedy, if you do not live up to some impossible standard. God appears in this teaching as a cold, dreadful beast. A few years ago, I heard a young person who attended a church that believes in salvation by water baptism say that sinners had better get baptized, “Or it’s burn, baby, burn.” This cold arrogance does not come from scriptural example! It does not build on a trustworthy God! It presumes a God who sits back in the shadows, gleefully waiting to find an excuse to jump out in your path and send you away in ruin. Such a message does not truthfully represent God; it represents an abomination!

Your God, the Bible God, always appears trustworthy, kind, and gentle. He always reaches out with a helping hand in your time of need. He always stands down there in life’s trenches by your side to help and support you when the going gets tough. The New Testament gospel does not merely tell you to trust Christ. It tells you, with convincing evidences, that he is trustworthy. It shows him as a reliable friend, as a faithful companion. Does it seem at times that your prayers are empty? Do you wonder if they reach any higher than the ceiling? Don’t worry about it! Even if you couldn’t utter a word, just a pained groan, he translates that groan into a distinct message and presents it at his Father’s throne on your behalf. Don’t worry if your prayer isn’t answered immediately. He may delay for a time. He may answer with something different, but always better, than your request. Don’t fret when life deals a cruel blow to you and the weight oppresses your soul. He will stand with you under that load and help you carry it. Don’t worry that you can’t understand everything that happens. He does, and he will always watch out for you and protect your interests. Trust him! He deserves your trust!

Chapter 08 The Sealed Christian (Continued)

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. {Eph 1:13-14}

It seems difficult for many sincere believers to distinguish between their eternal blessings and the present assurance of those blessings. To some, every commandment in the Bible represents a demand, a condition which the sinner must meet to gain eternal blessings. This theology makes the Christian a self-serving mercenary, working for his personal gain and security. He cannot work in that way and also work unselfishly for the glory of his Lord. The imposition of works, mental or physical, as a condition for eternal life, detracts from the scriptural attitude of discipleship as an act of loving worship, of self-denial.

Our lesson deals with the timely blessings God sends to his children in the gospel. It teaches us that God lays his integrity on the line when he blesses one of his children to receive the gospel. For God to bless one to receive joy and assurance in the gospel, then be denied eternal life, would be equal to a man signing a contract to buy a piece of property, sealed with his earnest deposit, then forsaking the contract. It would attack God’s honor!

In an earlier chapter we studied the trusting Christian. Now we study the sealed Christian. What does it mean to hear and believe the gospel? Regardless of what we infer in the believer, what does it mean to God? Can a person believe in Christ through the gospel, trust in him as Lord and Savior, and still be lost for eternity? According to the New Testament, true belief bears evidence of the new birth. The believer has already been born of God! Consider these two verses.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. {Joh 5:24}

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. {1Jo 5:1}

In both verses belief gives evidence of the new birth, of being born of God. “Hath everlasting life.... is passed from death unto life,” “Is born of God.” Based on these two verses, we may safely conclude that scripture does not support the idea of belief as a condition, or cause, of eternal life. The believer has already passed from death to life, already is born of God.

The significance of our lesson falls then in the sphere of blessings within the family of God and discipleship. It also carries us into the throne room of God where he showers his eternal heirs with assurance that he will protect their inheritance from loss against all foes. A child of God, already born of God, hears the gospel with belief and conviction. The very act of belief affords scriptural assurance that he has already been born of God. As he finds within the gospel an increasing weight of evidence to trust in Christ and rejoice in his certain faithfulness, he experiences the joyful truth of our lesson. The assurance and joy he receives in the gospel represents God’s pledge, the legal contract, to deliver him from all his enemies to the safety of eternal peace. As an earnest deposit on a piece of real estate, God tells us that he has signed the contract for our eternal purchase, that he has made all the arrangements for our redemption, and that he has bestowed on us free and clear title to eternal joys in heaven with him. He will not dishonor himself by canceling the contract. The earnest assures us that his intention toward us is serious, that he intends to carry out the full purchase transaction.

Many scriptures dealing with our eternal security appear in symbols of business transactions. We read of redemption, the payment of a legal debt we could not pay. We read here of God’s earnest, bestowed in full assurance from God of our security “Until the redemption of the purchased possession.” In common real estate transactions an earnest deposit is made in advance of the full purchase price. In this transaction we read that the possession has already been purchased. God has not yet taken full possession, but the price has been paid. Why do we need an earnest deposit then? It represents God’s assurance to us of his legal contract, his covenant, to take full possession of us and of all those for whom he died. Consider further these words of assurance from Paul’s inspired pen.

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. {Ro 8:32-39}

Sincere believer, read here the details of your earnest, the certainty of your Lord’s covenant honor to complete the transaction of your eternal life. Savor the sweetness of your security, founded upon Divine honor to a legal contract. Take comfort in the reality that nothing can separate you from your Lord and the redemption he purchased for you. Rejoice that he gives you sweet assurance that he will not make an earnest deposit, then forsake the possession. When Paul said he was persuaded that nothing could separate us from the love of God in Christ, he used a Greek word that means that he had methodically looked at all options, considered all possibilities, weighed all probabilities, and reached a calculated conclusion that nothing could separate us from the love of God. May we consider our joyful earnest and stand with Paul in this well considered persuasion. The earnest assures us of the full possession!

Chapter 09 The Sealed Christian

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. {Eph 1:13-14}

In the chapters on the theology of the gospel we found that the gospel does not accomplish the new birth or cause eternal salvation, but rather presents the good news of salvation accomplished in the work of Christ. In order to gain credibility most errors contain some element of truth. Let’s briefly examine two major ideas on the work of the gospel which seem to fall into this category. First, in those chapters on the theology of the gospel, we examined the idea of gospel means, that the gospel in some way causes the new birth, or is instrumental in accomplishing it. The second popular idea teaches that the believer who climbs high enough on the ladder of faith in the gospel will receive a “Second blessing.” Typically, this view holds that the elite in the faith will speak in tongues, perform miraculous healings, or some other exceptional feat. We need only to study the examples of tongues or other exceptional deeds in the New Testament to see the error of this position. Never did anyone in the whole of the New Testament speak in a language which needed a private interpreter, a mystical heavenly language. The most dramatic New Testament example of legitimate tongue speaking, Ac 2, distinctly mentions some seventeen known dialects, not one mystical heavenly language. The miracle of Pentecost tongues was that the speakers spoke in their native dialect, Galilean, and each man heard in his native dialect. The equivalent would be for me to speak in English, my native tongue, while native Germans in the audience heard in German, Frenchmen heard in French, and Mexicans heard in Spanish, all at the same time. This kind of tongue speaking, New Testament tongue speaking, does not exist today!

Now let’s move to the more central issue of this verse. When a child of God hears and believes the gospel, what happens? I emphasize that the believing hearer is already a child of God. Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise. We may safely conclude that a child of God, who believes the gospel and truly comes to trust in Jesus Christ through the good news of the gospel, will receive a blessing from God which a child of God outside the blessing of the gospel does not enjoy. That issue lies at the core of this verse. When someone who does not understand salvation by the grace of God objects that belief in grace neutralizes any importance in godliness and the gospel, they demonstrate how little they know of the truth portrayed in this lesson. What can we expect from a solid belief in the truth of the gospel?

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. {Ro 15:13}

How important is it to find joy and peace in life? Would life be as fulfilling and meaningful without those blessings? How would you like belief in Christ without any abundance of hope? What did Paul write about hope in Christ for this life only? {1Co 15:19} What did he write about godly living among those who name the name of Christ? {2Ti 2:19} Perhaps we should take a careful look at the verses that follow this lesson in II Timothy. The family of God lives in a “Great house.” What kind of vessels are we making of our lives? Does it matter? Yes! It matters to the honor of our God! It matters to the reputation of our faith in Christ! It matters to every tired pilgrim in need of encouragement who touches our life!

Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise. To seal means to stamp with a signet or private mark for security or preservation. Commonly in the First Century, such seals represented a king or powerful figure. A thief might try to steal a common man’s property, but the presence of a powerful king’s seal on the same property might give him second thoughts. To steal this man’s property would bring tremendous danger upon him. God seals every one of his children with his eternal mark of ownership, 2Ti 2:19. The child of God who believes the gospel and trusts in Christ enjoys the seal of knowledge. He understands the protection of that eternal seal, rests in the safe harbor of God’s faithfulness.

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. {Ps 25:14}

This verse does not say that only those who know of God’s covenant enjoy its eternal benefits. It says that God’s secret, a truth not commonly known by all, resides with those who fear him. What secret does God share with them? The knowledge of his covenant! I have talked with people who gave evidence of God’s grace in their hearts, but they did not understand the fear of God. I find it more than coincidental that many of these people either deny an eternal covenant or laugh at the idea. They do not have the seal of the holy Spirit of promise. They must live without the joy and peace of that truth. The provisions of God’s covenant remain a secret to them!

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) {Joh 7:37-39}

To make this lesson suggest that the Holy Spirit did not exist until after Jesus was glorified borders on heresy and denies the multitude of Old Testament scriptures which witness the work of God’s Spirit in the Old Testament, beginning with God’s creation in Genesis. To make it teach that the new birth did not occur until the New Testament likewise represents a gross misappropriation. When Jesus taught Nicodemus on that subject, {Joh 3:1-10} he responded to this Old Testament scholar’s question with “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” What does the lesson from Joh 7 mean? It speaks of water, cool, soothing, refreshing water. It speaks of spiritual water poured out to thirsty souls in a spiritual desert. It strikes at the heart of truth from our study verse. Most theological systems that build on salvation by works tend to develop self-serving arrogant spirits in their adherents. “My sins are forgiven; yours are not.” It cultivates a selfish attitude. “I’m working to earn more stars in my crown than you will have in yours.” The seal of the Spirit in true believers nurtures exactly the opposite spirit. It turns them into a fountain of vital fresh spiritual water, not a dry sponge that drinks up all it can grab for self. Built upon the security of God’s eternal honor and promise, they can freely spend their life pouring out themselves and their help to others around them, like a fountain of fresh water. May we wisely and freely use that seal of the Spirit to bless those around us.

Chapter 10 The Assured Christian

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. {1Th 1:5-7}

What comes to mind when you think of Christian assurance? Blue skies? Trouble free days? Everything coming up roses? The prosperity of easy times, legal protection of religious exercise, and economic security has turned many believers, true believers, soft. We fear difficulty, for we cannot fully rest on God in adversity. Perhaps he will come through for us; perhaps he won’t. What if he decides not to respond to our beck and call? How can we ever survive without…? We may safely rest our case in the hands and providence of our God. Whether life requires that we walk all day long in the bright comfortable sunlight or that we walk through the lonely valley of the shadow of death, our God is able to accompany us, comfort us, and see us through. We think of assurance in terms that do not allow for difficulty. What about those times in every life when everything caves in on top of us?

In much assurance. Not just a meager portion of assurance, Paul said the gospel brought much assurance to the Thessalonians. Notice the way he ended the sentence, “As ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” What was Paul’s manner of life among these early believers? Study the first ten verses of Ac 17} for a first hand view of Paul’s manner of life in this city. As soon as he arrived, he went straight to the synagogue. However, his message there was not a quiet reading of the prophets. He began to preach convincingly that Jesus, the very Jesus whom the Jews had sought to kill, was the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. In the face of a hostile audience Paul preached the heart of the gospel message. For three weeks they faced him each Sabbath in the synagogue. His persistence was unwavering. His knowledge of scripture was unquestionable. His conviction that Jesus was the Messiah of prophecy was overpowering. Many of them believed his preaching, apparently including some rather influential members of the synagogue and the Greek community. This prompted envy in the leaders of the synagogue who did not believe Paul’s preaching. They engineered a plot to persecute Paul and the believers who followed him. In the face of a community uprising and a mob threat against his life Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the manner of man he was among them. The lesson suggests that the assurance of the gospel in some way related to Paul’s manner of life among them. In the face of fearful adversity Paul trusted in his God and remained faithful. What a contrast this scene sets to the Master’s reminder that, as iniquity abounds, the love of many will wax cold, Mt 24:12.

We live in a time of hostility against the true teaching of the Bible, hostility that has effectively frightened or discouraged many who believe in God and the truth of scripture away from a public commitment to that truth. Paul’s manner of life served as a constant reminder to this infant church that God promised to stand by his children in all circumstances. Even if they had to flee the city in the middle of the night, their God would not forsake them! They received the word in much affliction, but also with much joy in the Holy Spirit. Does this appear as a contradiction to you? It isn’t at all! The more the world afflicts you, the more the Lord will protect you and give you joy. God is not impressed with phony self-pity, but he knows when the world breathes its fire against you. When the world stands up against you, he stands beside you.

And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord. What assurance! The Thessalonians saw Paul persecuted and driven out of town. Did it bother them? Probably, but the presence of his God, and theirs, the conviction and assurance God gave them became more important to them than their standing in a dying culture without regard for God. Perhaps we might gain some insight in the order of the Thessalonian experience. First, they became followers of Paul. His conduct among them was admirable. He commanded their respect and following, not because he was a glory seeker, looking for a front page news story about him. They saw something admirable in him that they likely did not fully understand immediately. This example shows us something important in our public conduct and example. There is nothing wrong with people following us, if we are walking in the right way. The error of following any particular person lies in blindly following in error. Paul led and they followed in a noble pathway. Both their paths led to the Lord. They didn’t conclude their following of Paul with an emotional outrage that Paul had been terribly mistreated. They didn’t make Paul their god. Paul’s pathway led them to the Lord! He was a safe man to follow!

Think back over the last few months to some exceptional problem or disappointment you had to face. How did you deal with it? We can understand and accept a period of discouragement in such times. How did you deal with it afterwards? Did you perpetuate the pity-party? Did you think how unfair it all was to you? Perhaps you suffered a setback in your health. Perhaps you were faced with an untimely death of someone you dearly loved. Perhaps someone you respected deeply said or did something especially hurtful to you. Did you take that matter to the Lord in your prayers? Did you ask for his help in facing it? Did you think as you prayed that he was fully able to overcome the burden or, absent that, to strengthen you to endure it? Did you bother to think that he looks for just such times to prove his love to you? It matters not. Through the problem or by the escape, his love for you and his assurance that he will never forsake you stand out equally either way.

You need not make your conviction of his assurance contingent on a certain blessing or deliverance. It may be that he will permit you to go through the problem, showing his power by accompanying you in it. He did not deliver Daniel from the lions’ den. He permitted him to go into it, but went with him and stopped the lions’ mouths through the night. He did not deliver the three Hebrew children from the furnace, but he accompanied them into the furnace. They walked through the flames, but his presence protected them from the pain and destruction of the fire. He may not give you the deliverance you request and want, but he will nonetheless accompany you through your troubles and see you safely out of them. You may rest assured of his faithful promise to do this! The gospel’s message brings this sweet assurance to the child of God. Your God will stand by you. He will not permit you to face danger or disappointment alone. He may permit you to go into the valley, but he is God of the valley, just as he is God of the hills. Rest in the strong assurance of his grace to stand by you!

Chapter 11 The Repentant Christian

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. {Mt 12:41}

Repentance and preaching, what relationship do they have to each other? If we accept this lesson from Jesus, they share a vital dependence, one on the other. When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign that he was the Messiah, he answered with these words. They wanted a cheap circus exhibition. He agreed to give them a sign, but not the kind they sought! Jonah spent three days and nights in the great fish. Jesus would spend three days and nights in a grave. Based on this lesson, I strongly believe that Jonah died and was resurrected to preach repentance to Nineveh. After dying on the cross and spending three days and nights in the grave, Jesus was resurrected to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to his people. {Lu 24:27}

While the Bible says much about the final judgment at the last trumpet, the grand conclusion of time, it also says much about God’s timely judgments in the here and now. The activities of this lesson, including judgment, took place in the First Century, within that generation. Ninevites repented at Jonah’s preaching. What did the people, especially the scribes and Pharisees, do at the preaching of Christ? They denied his message, and him. They called him a fraud. Consequently, God’s judgment fell upon that generation before the end of the century. In this lesson the cause of judgment correlates exactly with each group’s reaction to a God-sent message. God sent Jonah, the reluctant preacher, to Nineveh with the command to repent. They heard his message and repented. Several centuries later, God sent his own Son to the nation of Israel with the same message-they should repent. Jesus predicted their reaction. They refused to hear the message and repent. Their refusal to repent brought God’s judgment down upon them. It also brought the Ninevites’ judgment down on them.

These words must have stung the pride of the scribes and Pharisees deeply. In the Old Testament pagan Gentiles heard the message of God’s prophet and repented. In their generation scribes and Pharisees would hear the message of God’s Son, the Messiah, and refuse to repent. Gentiles would rise up in judgment against Jews, and condemn them! Consider another lesson on this very important topic.

And they went out, and preached that men should repent. {Mr 6:12}

This brief straightforward verse tells what the seventy Jesus sent out preached. Most New Testament records narrate the manner in which Jesus sent them. This verse tells what they preached. In neither lesson mentioned here do we find a hair-splitting technical discussion. In neither lesson do we read of some sins that are subject to repentance and others which are beyond repentance. Both lessons tell the simple gospel story of a God-sent message that expects and commands people to repent. However convincing the message, a sermon that does not invade the private carnal fortress of the hearer with an urgent message from God to repent is not a complete message! It fails in the very purpose for which God sent the gospel. He did not send the gospel to soothe and pacify us in our carnality. He did not send it to tell us how good we were, so good that we need no repentance. The believer who feels no stinging need for repentance within his personal conduct is more like these scribes and Pharisees than like a believer, a disciple of Jesus.

The character of this lesson requires that each of us, within the privacy of our individual conscience, examine our conduct. It will not rest with a nice tidy generic confession, “I certainly feel like a sinner, but, at the moment, I can’t think of a single particular sin in my life that especially requires me to repent.” It demands that we tear away the facade of self-justification and pride. It demands that we turn the magnifying glass of Divine truth on our private personal life. It demands that we get specific in identifying areas of our conduct that do not measure up to God’s example. It demands that we bring those sins out in the bright sunlight of God’s truth and confess to him that we have sinned those sins. It also requires that we immediately and decisively repent of those sins!

Study the Sermon On The Mount, a clear call to repentance. The scribes and Pharisees wrote thousands of pages, defining sins and splitting hairs over the exact limits of each commandment God gave them. By carefully following their legal two-step, they could look at God’s law, and say, “These have I kept from my youth.” In the light of Jonah’s message, the message of the seventy, and the prevailing Divine reality of truth, Jesus could reply to that young man, and to us, “One thing thou lackest.” Don’t be afraid to scrutinize your personal conduct and find flaws in it, sins that demand repentance. God knows those areas of your life better than you. Does that knowledge interfere with his love for you? Of course not! Neither the terror of God, nor the threat of eternal doom, sufficiently motivates repentance. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” {Ro 2:4}

Borrowing the famous words of Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” In the quiet privacy of your inner thoughts open up your mind and take a deep look within. Do you see anything there that you would just as soon not see? Can you see the outline of some selfish attitude that interferes with your peace? You may have sheltered a private moral sin deep within. You may have lived above reproach in the eyes of others, avoiding the stumbling blocks of moral offence, but you have cultivated habits and attitudes that make you less than pleased with yourself. Remember, Jesus sent the seventy to preach to religious people with the simple message, “Men should repent.” John the Baptist preached to religious people that they needed to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. Repentance doesn’t stop with external conduct governed by the Ten Commandments. It penetrates into the depth of our innermost thoughts. You need not tell me your sin, but be honest with God about it! Tell him about it. Confess it to him. Agree with him that it is a sin. Ask his forgiveness; he promised to forgive you. Then rise in his strength and determine to change your conduct, to repent of that error and to live more like him. Friend, the gospel Jesus preached tells you to repent with God’s promise of forgiveness, loving, full forgiveness, forgiveness that floods your soul with refreshing, reviving spiritual vigor and health.

Chapter 12 The Kingdom Christian

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. {Mr 1:14-15}

From early Messianic prophecies {Ge 49:10} to church admonitions, {Ro 14:17} scripture repeatedly compares a kingdom form of government with God’s supremacy over his spiritual dominion. True believers understand that God does not run a democratic government. They do not seek their rights and vote in his affairs. They praise his success and supreme governance. Trendy theologians have failed to understand this truth. They think their opinion can alter God’s eternal decrees. Christian fads cannot perceive the unchanging, ruling God.

Pause briefly to reflect on the impact of the kingdom of God in our lives. The kingdom Christian understands fulfilled prophecy. Notice how Jesus introduced this message. The time is fulfilled. Old Testament prophecy did not foretell Twentieth Century conflict between Russia, Israel, the European common market, and the United States. It looked to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {Lu 24:44-47}

Notice how this lesson points Old Testament prophecy to the coming of Christ, not to world governments. Does the Bible ever deal with world powers in prophecy? Yes, but only when it impacts his spiritual kingdom; for example, the prophetic image in Da 2. However, the primary focus of all prophecy centers on the spiritual realities of the kingdom, not on the dynamics of world governments. Take the time to review the four accounts of the death of Christ. Begin at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and trace the activities of that week to his burial and resurrection. Count the times you read of something happening, followed by “That the scripture might be fulfilled.” What forms the central fulfillment of prophecy in these verses from Luke? The death, resurrection, and victory of Jesus Christ take the stage. So it is with almost every prophecy in the Bible. Either the first advent of Christ or the last advent, both events find their central place in Bible prophecy. Both events record the final ultimate success and victory of Christ. Kingdom Christians rejoice in this rich truth.

The kingdom Christian understands the present authenticity of the kingdom of God. Immature Christians think only of the eternal dimension of the kingdom. By no means do I suggest that we should ignore the eternal aspects of the kingdom of God. Such a position would border on heresy and denial of scripture. My point is that some look so intently at the eternal kingdom that they do not recognize any reality whatever to the kingdom of God here and now. The kingdom of God is at hand. To attempt to make the kingdom of God all in time or all in eternity represents two equally foolish errors. One ignores scripture as clearly as the other! How convenient it is to think of the comforts of the eternal victory of God’s kingdom, but to put far away from your mind the responsibilities and activities of vital citizenship in the kingdom of God on the job, in your neighborhood, with your family, or in your private thoughts. Convenient, perhaps, but also very foolish!

The kingdom Christian sees the King on his throne at the office, in the home, in the neighborhood, and, yes, in the church. His allegiance to the King runs so deep that he feels no desire to compete with the King. He feels no desire to supplement the King’s commandments and wishes in his life. Like Mary at the wedding feast, the kingdom Christian joyfully says to self and to others, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” {Joh 2:5} The kingdom Christian understands that the King is present in life’s tough choices, troubled seas, and difficult moments. Even in the jaws of calamity, the kingdom Christian will rise above the struggle with self and with flesh, submitting to the King and his Word. Kingdom Christians are not heard complaining about scriptural worship and godly service. They do not seek to modify the Divine order. They comfortably submit to the will of the King. They also respect the fact that the King has made his will known in all essential matters of life and worship. Kingdom Christians will not charge God with forgetting to tell his New Testament family how to worship him!

The kingdom Christian accepts his personal imperfections without offence to ego. He rejoices at the blessing God extends through repentance and the gospel. To repent requires admission of failure, of mistakes. That stings and threatens the insecure spirit of believers who do not respect the kingdom. The kingdom Christian views repentance as an opportunity to shed the old worn out garments of self-centered religion and to put on the beautiful garments of praise to the Lord in the kingdom. He understands that he cannot wear both sets of clothing. Repent? He will do so with joy for the King and his kingdom! The kingdom Christian seeks the truth of the gospel. He wants to believe the gospel, perceiving it as a message directly from the King to him. The believer who resists the kingdom seeks private opinions and secret interpretations, more akin to carnal philosophy than the message of the King. Believe the gospel? He asks which version of it. He wonders which revelation of it most requires his attention. He sees multitudes of contradictions and flaws in the gospel message, justifying his practice of “Picking and choosing” the portions of the message he wants to obey. The kingdom Christian understands the unfailing, unchanging certainty of the gospel message. The idea of changing the gospel message with each generation or fad disgusts him. It suggests that his God is as fickle and as changing as mankind. Yet he reads that his God does not entertain so much as a shadow of turning. {Jas 1:17}

The kingdom Christian sees the eternal kingdom afar and rejoices at the prospect of eventually entering that land, but he also sees the kingdom within and understands that the kingdom within requires his attention right now. He understands that the kingdom requires godly living in every part of his life. It bestows a sense of peace and joy as it grasps the caring presence of the King in his daily affairs. See Ro 14:17. Most children of God live up to a reasonable portion of righteousness, moral integrity, in their conduct. However, most children of God, not fully living up to the potential of their kingdom heritage, never permit the comforting assurances of the kingdom to infuse peace and joy into their lives. They make many excuses, find many reasons why they cannot enjoy that kingdom peace and joy, but they seldom convince anyone but themselves. One attribute of the kingdom is as important to the loving King as the other. Hold on to your righteousness, but don’t stop your pursuit of the kingdom, or think of yourself as a kingdom Christian, until you have also found kingdom peace and joy! The King sends you a daily salutation with each sunrise, “Grace, joy, and peace be multiplied to you!”

Chapter 13 The Poor Christian

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. {Lu 4:18-21}

To preach the gospel to the poor, what does this mean? Does it refer to economic status? In this verse poor was translated from a Greek word which denotes a pauper, a public, visible indigent. The New Testament uses another Greek word for someone who is poor, but not in such a public way. This trait seems almost exactly opposite to the popular notion of the ideal Christian attitude in current religious circles. Many churches would feel much more comfortable, had Jesus said the Spirit anointed him to preach the gospel to the arrogant! We should all say a prayer of thanksgiving that the Master said exactly what he did. Let’s study the poor Christian. We will quickly discover that this thought deals with the state of the spirit, not the state of the bank account.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Jesus read from Isa 61, a beautiful prophecy of the Messiah. We occasionally find references in scripture, and ancient history, to others who appeared around the time of Christ, claiming to be the Messiah. Typically, they were cruel and self-centered, as well as short-lived. No one can remember their names or their deeds. In contrast, the One who read this prophecy in the temple that day was kind and gentle, especially to the less fortunate. He changed the face of history! Study the characteristics of his scripture reading that day. God anointed him to (1) preach the gospel to the poor, (2) to heal the brokenhearted, (3) to preach deliverance to the captives, (4) recovering of sight to the blind, (5) to set at liberty them that are bruised, and (6) to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. A study of Isaiah’s prophecy will reveal that Jesus stopped the reading before he completed it. Why? He only read the portion of the prophecy that was fulfilled at that time. This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. As the Messiah, he will fulfill all of it, but only the portion he read was fulfilled at the time he read it in the temple.

Do you feel a sense of identity with the conditions described in this prophecy? As you pray or think of God, do you feel penniless and poor? Do life’s experiences often break your heart with grief and disappointment? Do you feel imprisoned in your weak faith and carnal limitations, compared to your deep desire to honor God more perfectly? Do you struggle through trying situations with a sense of inner blindness, only to discover later that the Lord accompanied you each step of the way and gently guided you through treacherous paths? Has the struggle of life often bruised you, inflicting pain to your soul? Then, my dear friend, God sent Jesus to minister to you! To your sense of poverty, he preaches to you with assurances that you are rich, the child of the king. To your broken heart, he applies his personal balm, his tender, loving care. To your sense of imprisonment, he reminds you that he lived in a body of flesh, but overcame it so that you might be delivered from prison. To your sense of blindness, he reminds you that he is your loving Father, concerned more than anything else with your safety and well being. To your hurting bruises, he reminds you that he will “Make the dying bed feel soft as downy pillows.”

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Do not apply this statement in some abstract theological sense. Apply it to your innermost personal need, just as you applied the previous words in the prophecy. You may feel anything but acceptable to God, but he reminds you that the very pain and conflict he described in those earlier words should stand as an evidence to you of his love and deliverance in your life. He has accepted you as his child for all eternity. He accepts you as his child and ward right now!

Scripture repeats this theme again and again. Paul wrote, “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” {2Co 6:10} A disciplined life of training as a strict Pharisee, and son of a Pharisee had not prepared Paul for his work as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Study his personal commentary to the Philippians in the third chapter of that book Php 3. Everything he appeared to gain in prestige before men, he counted loss for Christ. Could we say that he became poor for Christ? Study Romans chapters seven Ro 7 and eight Ro 8. The seventh chapter Ro 7 deals intensely with Paul’s sense of personal conflict, the continuing battle within between his spiritual and carnal sides. Then move to the eighth chapter and see the grand resolution to the conflict, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” While the conflict may rage, the condemnation has ended for the child of God who has seen the beauty of the gospel’s essential message.

I find it discouraging and a bit disgusting that so many who profess faith in Christ measure a preacher’s greatness by his ability to preach “Fire and brimstone” sermons. They should rather measure the success of a minister of Jesus Christ by his ability to duplicate the message of comfort and encouragement Jesus presented in his reading from Isaiah. The Lord did not call preachers to pour salt in the wounds of his children or to display their carnal arrogance. He called them to follow his example! Every sermon in some way should contain part of that Messianic prophecy from Isaiah, as Jesus read it in Lu 4. Every sermon should address the poor, heal broken hearts, remind captives of their deliverance, restore sight to the blind, release those who suffer the pain of a bruised soul, and herald God’s loving acceptance of his family.

Do not think the gospel is void of healing for your personal problems. Don’t think it cannot address your pain with a soothing balm. That, my hurting friend, is the reason God sent you the gospel! Take this message from Jesus to heart. Apply every word to your life, your problems, your pain, and rejoice that he has accepted you. Yes, he knows all your faults, even some you don’t know about. He loves you and accepts you, notwithstanding those faults. You are his!

Chapter 14 The Exhorted Christian

And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. {Lu 3:18}

We learn from this verse that exhortation made up a large portion of John’s preaching. What does it mean to exhort? We must understand this principle to appreciate gospel power in life’s trenches. Preachers can easily slip into either a condescending “Holier than thou” kind of admonition or a “Preachy” kind of order giving attitude in their preaching. In either case they lose the spirit of exhortation. Perhaps attitude is the key issue in exhortation. Surely attitude often makes the difference between effective instructive preaching and stuffy legalism in the pulpit.

In this verse exhortation comes from a compound Greek word, two words combined, defined as to “Call near, to invite.” Elsewhere in the New Testament the same word was translated as beseech, call for, be of good comfort, desire, entreat, and pray. Do you sense a warm inviting attitude in these words? That is the key to exhortation. The effective biblical preacher does not hide behind his “Right” or “Authority” to issue directives or to meddle in and excessively control people’s lives. Yet by scripture he must teach issues that profoundly impact people’s lives. He does not preach from a harsh, rigid legalistic perspective. Yet by scripture he must present a set form and order of doctrine. Attitude, the difference between intrusion and exhortation, makes the difference. Failure to respect the spirit of exhortation might nurture the “Don’t do what I do; do what I tell you to do” attitude.

To call near, to invite. The exhorting preacher will honestly confess his humanity, along with his recommendation of God’s grace as the remedy to his carnal disposition. He will invite the struggling Christian to stand near him, to work just as he works by God’s grace to overcome the fleshly spirit of rebellion and disobedience within.

Thus far, we have examined exhortation from the preacher’s side of the issue. Now let’s look at it from the pew, from the listening Christian’s view. Insecure, fainthearted believers fear to acknowledge their humanity, frailty, and inherent sinfulness, or at least their inherent sinful tendency. Such people often pretend perfection. They can easily point out the faults of others, but they shrink at the idea that they have similar faults. They gladly accept the idea that they feel like a sinner, but they are incensed at the idea that they really commit any substantial sins. Such a person will not—he cannot—accept exhortation! Likely, when he hears such preaching, he will think how appropriate that message was for someone else in the congregation, rejoicing that he has no need for such demeaning admonition in his life. Sad indeed!

Let’s quickly examine a few of the many New Testament scriptures which reveal gospel exhortation.

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. {Ac 2:40}

This verse summarizes Peter’s conclusion to his Pentecost message. After preaching that Jesus was the Messiah to many of the people who had participated in Jesus’ mock trial and crucifixion, Peter commanded Christ-centered repentance and baptism. This verse indicates that he also called upon his hearers to join him in standing apart from the common hypocritical religion that pretended piety, while demanding the execution of an innocent man with whom they disagreed. In this verse untoward was translated from the root for our English word scoliosis, abnormal curvature of the spine. Peter’s exhortation invited his hearers to save themselves from the moral and spiritual scoliosis of the professional religionists in Jerusalem.

Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. {Ac 11:23}

Adversity in life threatens our conviction, our purpose of heart to serve the Lord. Barnabas understood this and invited these discouraged Christians to remain faithful to their calling. He seemed to say, “I understand your condition. I, too, have faced adversity. I, too, have struggled with difficulty. Stand with me! Keep your faith. Retain your spiritual purpose. Cleave (Hold on to, as with a marriage vow.) to the Lord.”

But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. {Heb 3:13}

Perhaps the greatest single benefit to the church lies in this example. We all need the companionship of those who share the same experience of God as we. We need to know that we do not stand apart as different from other believers who conscientiously serve their God. Without that influence life would imprison us, make us cold and callous of spirit. Soon sin would not appear so sinful. We would experience a hardening, unfeeling acceptance of sin’s deceitful ploy. For another person in the church to speak of his life struggles, his conflicts, and trials, along with the joys of discipleship, encourages us that we truly do have an experience common to the family of God.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. {Heb 10:25}

When a child of God begins to compromise his faith, he will look for excuses not to attend church. That is the very time church is most important to his spiritual health. We need the exhortation of our fellow-believers in church to purge us from those habits that we have grown to accept unwisely.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. {Heb 12:5}

When you recall that Solomon wrote these words in Proverbs, you can appreciate that he wrote from personal experience. He did not look down on his son in unholy hypocrisy. He had experienced the chastening of the Lord. He could tell his son by experience about God’s chastening. He exhorted with love. Having that experience, he could also remind his son that chastening serves to remind us of God’s love, not his hatred. May we prepare our hearts for God’s kind exhortation.

Chapter 15 The Pressing Christian

The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. {Lu 16:16}

This brief simple verse unlocks several key truths from the New Testament. Consider these examples. When precisely did the Law Age end and the New Testament or Gospel Age begin? Is there a present dimension or phase to the kingdom of God? What should be the primary topic of gospel preaching?

When did the change occur from Old Testament to New? The law and the prophets were until John. I would not question that a period of transition occurred from John to the day of Pentecost. However, this verse dates the literal transition at John’s preaching. From John to Pentecost, the New Testament Age was growing and taking root. To suggest that the New Testament Church began at the day of Pentecost contradicts this verse, along with a number of Old Testament prophecies and other New Testament scriptures. Clearly, the New Testament Church was not prepared for its work until after the resurrection of Christ and Pentecost. Yet this verse shows that it existed and people were pressing into it from John’s preaching. With all the confusion and errors in dispensational preaching these days, this verse should clear away much of the problem. With this understanding, many verses that mention “This age and the age to come” take on added clarity and meaning.

Is there a present dimension or phase of the kingdom of God? Once again, unbalanced dispensational preaching suggests that every mention of the kingdom of God in scripture refers to the “Rapture,” the “Millennium,” or some future utopian spiritual age. That the New Testament applies the term “Kingdom of God” on occasion to eternal heaven none should deny. Consider 1Co 15:24. That it also applies the same term to the timely blessings of serving God should stand with equal conviction. To deny any present reality to the kingdom of God makes Satan the ultimate ruler of the world and subjects God to a position of helpless puppet! Recall the words of Christ, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” {Joh 12:31} Does Satan presently rule among the wicked? Yes, he certainly does. Does he cause strife and sin among God’s family? Yes, he most surely does. However, because of what Jesus did, documented by this verse, John could later write, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” {1Jo 4:4}

What should we emphasize in our preaching? Both Jesus and John preached the kingdom of God. We should do the same! Keep our focus on the King of kings, his kingdom, and his governance of the kingdom. When faced with life’s difficulties, put your trust in the King to guide your course and protect you from harm. When you find problems or decisions too complex or painful for you, give them to the King and ask for his help. When no answer comes, use biblical prudence and trust the King for the outcome.

Now let’s consider the pressing Christian. Every man presseth into it. First, observe that the term every, as used in this verse, is not a universal term. It only applies to those who enter the kingdom. Secondly, note that there is only one way to enter this phase of God’s kingdom, by pressing. Those who join the church or take up the cross of discipleship, thinking life will suddenly turn all rose colored, will surely find disappointment. The health and wealth, prosperity gospel which many preach today is heresy! The New Testament teaches rather the opposite. The New Testament clearly teaches that God will stand by his obedient child in difficult times, but it does not teach that he will prevent us from experiencing difficulties in health, wealth, or other areas of life. God allowed Daniel to enter the lion’s den, but stood by him through the long dark night. God allowed the three faithful Hebrews to go into the furnace, but he walked in the fire with them. He allowed Paul and Silas to be sent to prison, but he gave them a song in the night. He also opened the prison doors and delivered them from prison.

What is the kingdom of God? In this context the kingdom of God is not eternal life, but service to God in this life, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” {Ro 14:17} What does it mean to press into the kingdom? It suggests that we cannot stand passively by and enter the kingdom of God. We cannot take a carnal fatalistic attitude and enter into the joys of kingdom service. We must press into it. We must work at the job. When Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” {Lu 9:23} he made it clear that discipleship requires active energetic behavior. To take up one’s cross refers to the Roman practice that the condemned criminal must carry the cross on which he was to be executed to the place of death, just as Jesus did. To politely wear a cross around your neck doesn’t constitute biblical discipleship! It requires active pressing conduct every day you live. It requires waking up each day, taking up that heavy cross and heading directly to the place where self will die!

This all sounds pretty grim. Is that all I can expect in discipleship? No, thank God, the process of pressing leads you into the kingdom of God. Suddenly, your cross becomes your yoke that he steps under and helps you carry. He said his yoke was easy and his burden light. {Mt 11:30} Don’t forget that a yoke is designed for two oxen, not one alone. In true kingdom discipleship your burden becomes his. He steps under the heavy load and helps you carry it. He intercedes in life’s tough times and supports you through them. He steps in when decisions are too complex for you to understand and guides you, often invisibly, to a safe harbor. When difficulty invades your life, he stands by you and helps you through it.

Difficult as it seems to us, we can only live for our King when we die to ourselves.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. {Ga 2:20}

Before Christ truly begins to live in us, we must die to self. This does not suggest suicide, nor does it require senseless self-destructive conduct. It requires the death of a lower lifestyle to make room for a higher one. It requires the death of carnal selfish ways in favor of Christ honoring service to others. The greatest joy you will ever experience is when you sacrifice yourself for someone you love. The greatest misery you will experience is when you sacrifice others for your own selfish motives. Whether by manipulative guilt or by blatant force, God has not called or permitted any of us to impose our control on another. He has called us to serve one another, putting him first and serving the needs of others before our own. In such a pressing activity he has promised to stand beside us, help us carry the burden, and give us great joy and peace in the process. A kingdom Christian is a pressing Christian! Are we pressing into the kingdom?

Chapter 16 The Believing Christian

And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. {Ac 15:7-9}

Controversy often takes on an ugly form among sincere believers. Differences of opinion over insignificant issues become justification for harsh, demeaning words and actions. The New Testament sets a better example than such ungodly conduct. God well knew his children, clothed in carnal flesh, would not always agree. He knew they would need help in areas where they disagreed. He included rich instruction in scripture in this most needful area of family conduct.

The controversy in Ac 15 dealt with circumcision and salvation, not a small problem for the early church. Even in the area where the issue began, Paul and Barnabas were careful to keep the issue at the heart of the dispute. They refused to resort to name calling, declarations of non-fellowship, or personal accusations. They stubbornly stuck with the problem, circumcision and salvation. When they could not settle the issue, they determined to send a representative body of believers to Jerusalem with an appeal for the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to settle the matter. This action shows respect for the views and opinions of others in the faith, even in the heat of controversy. They did not invest so much of personal ego that they could not make such an appeal, nor willingly submit to the general view of those whom they respected. When we become so entrenched in our position that we cannot consider the views of others in the church, we almost certainly are wrong!

As Paul and Barnabas made their way to Jerusalem, how did they conduct themselves? Did they run from church to church on the way, telling all who would listen about the controversy? Did they try to gain a solid following for their position? No, they preached good news. They told others in the churches they visited of God’s mighty work among the Gentiles. They caused joy among the brethren, not division and controversy. What a good example this sets before us!

And when there had been much disputing. Even the apostles and elders at Jerusalem could not immediately agree on this matter. They did not attack each other and start a schism in the church. They disputed the particular issue of circumcision and salvation. They were willing to disagree and talk about their disagreement. They were willing to respectfully consider each other’s viewpoint, searching for a better way to look at the whole issue before them. Often in controversy, people allow themselves to become polarized and refuse to consider any view but their own. Just as often, the truth lies in a third view, not fully agreeable with either of the polarized positions. Should we ignore major differences of interpretation, even in such essential areas as salvation? No, the lesson will not permit such neglect. Neither will it permit us to deflect the area of difference from the issue to personalities and carnal accusations. It sets a good example for the effective resolution of differences through open biblical dialogue.

Consider the common ground they developed.

God chose Peter to open the door of the gospel to the Gentiles.

God used the gospel to lead the Gentiles to belief.

God knows the hearts of all men.

God bare the Gentiles witness of his truth, just as he had done among the Jews.

God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, just as he had to the Jews.

God put no difference between Jews and Gentiles in his use of the gospel; he purified both hearts by faith.

Neither Jews nor Gentiles could live up to the yoke of legalism.

Jews and Gentiles alike shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.

This list reveals two key issues in the resolution of religious controversies. First, find common ground where both sides can agree. Secondly, focus that agreement on what God has done.

God made choice.... that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. God ordained that Jews and Gentiles alike would hear the gospel. He also ordained that they would believe the truth about him through the gospel. Verse 11 tells {Ac 15:11} us what the gospel teaches us to believe, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” God did not intend that his gospel would represent a fickle, convenient fad of human philosophy and contemporary ideas. He intended it to represent him, the eternal, reliable, unchangeable, loving God. Leading theologians cannot change the being of God! Church decrees cannot alter the Divine Nature! Public opinion polls cannot change God’s opinion! We may fail in our grasp of eternal truth, but our failure does not weaken eternal truth! God intended that the gospel would serve to teach his children about his ways. He intended that the information presented with his power in the gospel would lead his children to believe the truth about him. He designed the message of the gospel to free his children from the bondage of legalism, be it in the matter of circumcision and salvation, baptism and salvation, or any other legalistic tendency which substitutes the symbol of truth for the reality of God’s personal work of grace in the heart of his child.

Does it matter what a person believes? Yes! Had this controversy been permitted to spread, the whole of the Gospel Age would have fallen back into the ritualistic form of perverted legalism. God established the Old Testament law. He did not suddenly find fault with it. It did exactly what he intended it to do, lead his Old Testament saints to the appearance of Christ, the Messiah. Once he came, its purpose ended. God had a better way of life and worship for his children after Christ. He sent the gospel to teach them about that better way. He intended that his children would believe that message, finding deliverance and joy in their faithful belief of the gospel message. Does belief in the gospel cause eternal life? No, it causes joy and peace in the child of God who has already been born again!

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. {Ro 15:13}

May our belief in the gospel message instill that same joy and peace in us. May we live up to our example as believing Christians.

Chapter 17 The Separated Christian

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ. {Ro 1:1-6}

Here in Paul’s introduction to the Romans, we learn the primary theme of the gospel, “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” We read that he has given us grace for obedience to the faith. Paul would not tolerate the excuse, “I can’t obey that scripture. It’s just too difficult.” He expected to obey the gospel, and he expected the Romans to do likewise! He also understood that the motive for this obedience lies in the blessings and joys of obedience, not in fear or rigid legalism. New Testament obedience originates in a loving heart for a loving God. Anything less falls short of acceptable obedience! Compare two parental styles. One parent barks at his child, “Do what I told you to do, or I’ll beat the tar out of you!” The child obeys, but finds no joy in obedience. The other parent speaks softly to his child. Over many years, the child has learned that the parent is wise and concerned for his good. This parent says, “Would you please do thus and so?” Immediately, motivated by love for the parent, the child obeys. Which of these two parents more illustrates God’s relationship with his children?

Separated unto the gospel of God. Separated was translated from a Greek word meaning “To set off by boundary.” The verb tense makes it clear that we were the recipient of something from God which separated us to the gospel. We may also conclude that we must become active Christians to enjoy and maintain that practical separation. Throughout the New Testament, we read of God’s intervention to open the hearts of his children to gospel truth. To illustrate these two aspects of separation, God’s, as well as ours, consider these two scriptures.

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. {Ac 13:2}

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. {2Co 6:17}

In the first verse God directed the church to separate Paul and Barnabas for a particular ministry. In the second verse God urged his children to separate themselves from false religion and immorality, to separate themselves to the gospel. We find another very instructive lesson on the separated Christian later in Paul’s Roman letter.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. {Ro 12:2}

The root idea behind the separated Christian appears in the changed nature of the child of God. In the new birth God actually changes the nature within. That change becomes the foundation for every act of Christian obedience, every motion of the soul toward God. Two words in this verse emphasize that point, conformed and transformed.

Be not conformed to this world. Conformed was translated from a word often used in New Testament times for an actor who puts on a mask and costume to play the part of a character in a play. The actor was not that person; he merely played the part. After the new birth, the child of God lives in a world that is not his home. As it were, he belongs to another world. Due to the resident carnal nature within, he possesses tendencies that make him want to fit in with this world. Attitudes, character traits, and a moral posture that find comfort with this world appeal to that carnal spirit within. However, the grace of God within has changed all those things. Sin, once the only source of excitement and pleasure, now holds only momentary pleasure. {Heb 11:25} Once the stage of carnal indulgence held their only joy. Now the child of God must put on a mask and costume that does not belong to him in order to fit that part. Paul urged the Romans to get off the stage, stop playing a part that did not fit their present nature.

Be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Transformed was translated from the root of our English word metamorphosis. It teaches us that we now possess a nature that needs to undergo change, change in appearance, change in conduct. We possess the nature of God. We need to renew our minds, get that old stage character out of our thoughts, and let the real person within, the child of God, show in our lifestyle. To become transformed in this way requires devoted attention, constant effort, and faithful reliance on the God who imbedded that new nature permanently within us. The world around us constantly holds out its appealing theme of self-indulgence and sin-centered pleasure. It takes on the theatrical garb of an interesting, attractive player in the plot. We can, ever so easily, become engrossed in the plot and become sympathetic to that character. The whole play, artificial though it is, slowly blurs into reality in our minds. Do you see the need now for the renewing of your mind?

Moral principles become blurred with political causes. They take on the political garb of the moment, obscuring the moral corruption beneath the surface. The abortion controversy illustrates this point very well. Sin becomes an illness, for example, alcoholism. I do not question that many alcoholics do possess a physiological abnormality that causes their body to react differently to alcohol than most people. Neither do I question the biblical teaching that it also possesses a sinful trait. Once a person learns that his body cannot tolerate alcohol, he should begin a careful adjustment of lifestyle that avoids alcohol at all times. Failure to do so leads to all kinds of sinful fallout. What was an R-rated movie a few years ago, you can now see on your television screen in your home. Movie stars who once carefully hid their sinful lifestyles for fear of public disapproval now flaunt their sin for all to see. As these changes barrage us from all sides, we wonder if we must not simply give up, stop pushing against the tide. The truth is that the separated Christian has pushed against the tide for almost two thousand years. God has not changed his mind about sin. He will have the last word on sin. In the meantime, let’s stand fast with God, not roll with the corrupt tide of sin. Separation to the gospel surely brings a high without a hangover. It produces permanent joy, not joy followed by guilt and remorse. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Separate yourselves from the theatrical, imaginary world of sin. Separate yourselves to the gospel.

Chapter 18 The Begotten Christian

I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. {1Co 4:14-16}

We commonly use the analogy of parents in two ways. We refer to our biological or adopted parents, and we refer to those who have deeply influenced our thinking and lifestyles as our parents. In the latter sense we often refer to our “Mothers and fathers in Israel,” older Christians whose sincere godliness has commanded our loving respect. We cannot doubt that Paul intended the latter of these meanings in this lesson. He certainly was not the biological father of every person in the Corinthian Church.

Many who make belief in our obedience to the gospel a condition of eternal salvation interpret this lesson as if Paul fathered the Corinthians in the new birth. When faced with the embarrassing difficulty of deciding whether God is their father in the new birth, or Paul, they will assert that Paul served as a spiritual midwife, facilitating their new birth. This position does not diminish their difficulty. A midwife has no right to call the child her own child. Had Paul served as midwife in the Corinthians’ new birth, he could not have called himself their father! As the man who first preached the gospel to them and lead them to its truth, Paul could rightly claim to be their teaching father and put himself in no conflict with God as their actual Father in the family of God. In the matter of the new birth God caused the birth directly and immediately, not by use of any means outside his own being. As ambassador for Christ, Paul took these newborn children under his wings and taught them the truth of Christ, becoming their teaching father.

Consider the context. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. Obviously, Paul found fault with the present state of the Corinthian Church. He did not point out their problems with preacher jealousy, immorality, corrupt church practice, and heresy to put them down. He had no interest in asserting his superiority to them. He did not want to gloat over their stumbling. He felt responsible for their conduct, not their eternal life! As my beloved sons, I warn you. A caring father will warn his children when he sees them flirting with danger because he loves them. A teaching father will do no less.

For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers. This church could have heard the same message Paul preached from a countless number of preachers, but it would not have the same impact on them as it did from Paul’s lips. Instructors in Christ, the sphere of activity here is in Christ, not outside him. These people presently enjoyed a personal vital union with Christ. They had already experienced the new birth. The subject was instructors in Christ, not instructors who wanted to get them into Christ.

For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. At the time Paul first preached to the Corinthians, they were already in Christ Jesus. Notice the words in Christ Jesus. This phrase denotes the sphere of existence or activity. Paul did not put them in Christ, he did not beget them into Christ, and he did not serve as their midwife in getting them into Christ. When he began to teach them, they were already in Christ Jesus. As children of God, already born of God, they needed the teaching Paul brought them in the gospel. He preached the truth to them with power and conviction, power from God and conviction from his personal faith in Christ. God used his preaching to purge their minds from the corrupt idolatry in which they had lived. He used Paul’s preaching to show them a better way to live. As they compared their old lifestyle to their liberty in Christ, they turned from their idols to serve the true and living God. In this way Paul was their teaching father.

Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. Children should follow the good example set by their parents. Children of God should follow the advice of God’s loving ambassadors in the gospel. They should follow their teaching fathers, so long as their teaching fathers follow Christ.

What practical value can this lesson offer us? Need we ask? Our human nature rejects the idea that we can be wrong, especially wrong enough to call our error sin. We will admit to making mistakes, to slips in judgment, but we resist the idea that we sin. We freely confess that we feel like sinners, but we strongly resist the idea that we actually are sinners, especially if we must face up to a particular action and confess in that matter that we sinned. This tendency grows in the poisoned soil of our carnal nature, not in the nurturing soil of our higher spiritual life. Paul was not willing to tell the Corinthians to feel like sinners, to confess to some generic state of coldness, or to admit that they had experienced sinful thoughts. As a loving father, he took them by the hand and walked them through the particular activities of their conduct. As he walked them by each specific sin, he stopped and made them look at the damage their sin had caused. He made them look at the model of godliness, compared to the sins they had justified in their activities. Why would he do such a thing? Could it be that he loved them, much like a father loves his children? Could it be that he felt a strong sense of personal responsibility for them because he had first taught them the truth of Christ?

When Paul charged Timothy to maintain his faithful ministry, he included far more than a steady diet of feel good sermonettes.

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. {2Ti 4:1-2}

Reprove, rebuke, exhort. The Bible contains the right way to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Admittedly, most preaching along this theme fails to pass the test, but such failure does not incriminate scripture! It incriminates the poor excuse for a preacher who attempted to rebuke in a non-biblical, “Holier than thou” arrogance. Hungry sheep will immediately sense that spirit and shirk from it, even though they may not fully understand why. When the preacher approaches the matter of rebuke as a caring gentle father, erring sheep will take note and labor to follow that example. May we who minister examine our spirit in issuing rebukes. May we who hear examine our lives and stand in constant willingness to acknowledge specific sins as our teaching fathers instruct us. As obedient children, may we also be willing to repent and pursue the better way our teaching fathers show us, even as they follow Christ.

Chapter 19 The Peaceful Christian

And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! {Ro 10:15}

 

Throughout this work, I have emphasized the biblical subject matter of the gospel several times. A gospel whose theme centers on anything or anyone besides the Lord Jesus Christ and his perfect, successful, finished work is a false gospel! This verse calls us to consider the impact of the gospel on those who hear it with truly hearing hearts. Paul characterized it as the gospel of peace, as glad tidings of good things. We find abundant support for this emphasis in scripture.

 

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. {Eph 2:14-17}

 

Stop for a few moments and consider the repetitive thought of peace in this lesson. He is our peace, he made peace, he destroyed the enmity (both between Jews and Gentiles and between God and his people), and he preached peace. In few categories of this study can we experience the power of the gospel in life’s trenches as with this subject. Most of us hurry from one deadline to another, from one crisis to another, from one worry to another. We sit down in church for a brief time each Sunday where we think heavenly thoughts and experience momentary peace. Then we arise, go back into the trenches and feel every emotion known to man, except for peace! My friend, God intended more than momentary, once-a-week peace in this lesson. Take the gospel with you into the trenches next week. Try to practice it at the very time you struggle most with a difficult situation. Perhaps you work with someone who seems to enjoy giving you a bad time. Perhaps someone in your family decided to promote a conflict with you. Perhaps.... Well, you add the situation from your life that most disturbs your peace. As you face that problem, quietly turn it over to the Lord. Give it to him. Be sure, once you give it to him, not to grab it back into your hands. Leave it with him! Do whatever you can, whatever is really within your ability to do about the matter. Then leave the balance of the matter with him! The problem may not go away, but your reaction to it will change in a wonderful way. You will find peace.

 

Consider these words from Peter.

 

The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. {Ac 10:36-38}

 

Peter not only told us that Jesus preached peace. He told us how Jesus practiced the peace he preached. He did not reserve that peace for a trance-like Sunday morning worship service, only to live in torment through the remainder of the week. He went about doing good and healing those whom Satan oppressed. It is so easy to look at all the corruption in the world around us and become cynical. Did all the people believe him? No, his own countrymen orchestrated his crucifixion. Did all the region profess faith in him? No, his own brothers doubted him. Did he give up? No, he went about doing good! Will we eradicate the corruption and sin in our world by our Christian life? No, but if we dedicate ourselves to helping others, doing good, ministering to those whom Satan has oppressed, we will find great peace. Will our work place suddenly become a heavenly place where no one ever swears or acts improperly? No, but our reaction to the work place will change. While many of those who work with us will not notice what we do, or care, perhaps one little tired pilgrim back in the shadows will see. If we can minister to that one person, we have made his life better, and we will taste of God’s peace.

 

Remember the Lord’s words.

 

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

 

My peace I give unto you. Remember his model from Ac 10. He preached peace, then went about doing good. Most of you are not preachers, at least not pulpit preachers. Did you ever think that, as surely as you profess faith in Christ, you really are a preacher, a foot preacher, a mouth preacher, an attitude preacher? Your lifestyle preaches your faith. Would you like to find more peace in your life? In word, deed, or attitude, preach peace in your work place, your family, and your neighborhood. Then go about doing good. Before you know what happened, you will find a depth of peace that evaded you in times past. Have you noticed someone in need? Reach out to help them. Do it with a smile, with joy, and with no expectation of reward. Just do it! As if your Lord were that person in need, do it with love. This course of action will take the gospel into your life’s trenches like few things you can do.

 

O my soul, with wonder tell,

Jesus has done all things well;

And, through his atoning blood,

I’ve a settled peace with God.

What a solid basis this!

Such a peace can never miss,

But produce a grateful mind,

To a God so vastly kind.

Jesus, mighty Prince of Peace,

Now proclaim a full release;

Set poor captive sinners free;

Give them solid peace in thee.

 

William Gadsby

 

Chapter 20 The Forgiven Christian

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. {Ac 13:38-39}

Many of us struggle with forgiveness. We sense a fine line between forgiveness and approval of the error we need to forgive. We want to forgive, but we do not want to approve or encourage the error. If we try to solve our problem by blanket rules, we will plunge ourselves into cold, unforgiving legalism, much like the Pharisees of the First Century. If we follow only our more tender emotions, we may appear to approve the error, just as wrong as becoming a legalist.

Add to this the problem of personal injury that often accompanies error. Most sins involve another person in some way or another. We injure that person. Aside from the preeminent need to repent and seek God’s forgiveness, we need to seek that person’s forgiveness. Despite knowing that they should forgive, often they have been so hurt that they find forgiveness almost impossible. Half-hearted forgiveness will infect the soul much like a festering sore will infect the body. It hurts the person who cannot forgive far more deeply than the person who caused the hurt. Knowing that we should forgive, but not really feeling the spirit of forgiveness within, we say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” So the festering infection grows.

I add another problem, often more difficult than forgiving a friend who injured you. Do you find it difficult to forgive yourself? The intense pain of self-forgiveness causes many to, politely though wonderfully deceived, deny that they have committed a sin. It’s easier to lie and deny having sinned than it is to confess the sin honestly, repent of it, and seek forgiveness. This tendency just may be one of the blackest sins in the family of God. It justifies dishonesty in the most intimate area of our relationship with God! Are we afraid God will not forgive us? Are we embarrassed to admit the sin? Do we think denial will make it go away? Can we deceive God, as we deceived ourselves? Is pride so important as to justify lying to ourselves?

When I started this series, I named it Gospel Power For Life In The Trenches. Are we in the trenches here? Am I talking about territory where you live much of your time? If so, then go back to scripture. Study every lesson you can find on forgiveness. Meditate on the lesson of the Prodigal Son. Study Jesus’ command to forgive your brother seventy times seven in one day! Consider the Lord’s strong imperative words, “Thou shalt forgive him,” Lu 17:4. Did the Lord know what he was teaching? Did he speak the truth? Did he tell you to do something impossible? Think of all these lessons as a wise never-failing physician telling his sick patient exactly what to do for his disease. He guarantees his prescription to heal the disease! It has never failed! Now apply every one of those lessons to every hurt relationship you’ve ever had, to every offense anyone ever committed against you. Your first reaction will be “I can’t forgive them. It’s impossible.” Now take the problem to the Lord. Ask him to help you. He will give you strength to forgive all those injuries. You will feel better than you ever felt in your life. This action cleansed the festering infection and applied God’s healing balm to your soul!

Wait! We have not yet finished our lesson. You’ve just laid the foundation to apply forgiveness where God really wants you to apply it. Go back over every one of the scripture lessons on forgiveness. Imbed the urgent necessity to forgive on your mind. As you move from lesson to lesson, summarize each lesson and its insightful application to your life. Now, at long last, apply every one of those lessons to yourself! That’s right! Forgive yourself! Let the festering poison of secret unforgiven sins out of your soul. Think about the profound love of a God who knew every secret sin you ever committed, every wicked thought that ever crossed your mind. Think about the power of his love that surrounded you in his eternal purpose, knowing all that about you. Think about the fact that this love sent Jesus to take away the infectious, killing power of every one of those sins. Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. Regardless of whether we think of sins in time or sins in eternity, Jesus Christ is God’s timeless catalyst for sins forgiven. Remove the generic pronouns in this lesson from Acts. Replace them with your name. Be it known unto you, Joe Holder, therefore, that through this man is preached unto Joe Holder the forgiveness of sins: And by him Joe Holder is justified from all things, from which Joe Holder could not be justified by the law of Moses.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. {Eph 4:32}

This verse defines the power of our personal forgiveness. Try to build your forgiveness of others, or yourself, on your own kind disposition, and you will fail! Try to forgive on the basis of self-discipline. You will find no success. The bitter gaul of unforgiven injury will sting unrelentingly. Drop all that and think of how God forgave you. He did not forgive you based on your repentance or your reformed mind. He forgave you for Jesus’ sake! Now transfer this principle to unforgiven sins in your life, your own and others’ sins against you. Forgive them for Jesus’ sake! You need no other reason!

Though justly of wrongs we complain, Or faithfully sinners reprove, Yet still we do all things in vain, Unless we do all things in love.

Tis love makes us humble and meek!

The wounds of ill usage it cures;

It pities the falls of the weak,

The pride of the lofty endures.

Has God a command to fulfil,

Which nature untoward would shun?

Love brings to compliance the will,

And causes the deed to be done.

From Jesus the blessing must flow,
To creatures beneath and above;
May he his good Spirit bestow,
And we shall do all things in love.

Believed to be written by Augustus Toplady

 

Chapter 21 The Christian Witness

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. {Mt 24:14}

Mt 24 has been subjected to much discussion. Many hold widely contradictory views on its interpretation. My purpose here is not to indulge in that dispute, but to observe that the apostles preached the gospel in the First Century as a witness to God’s truth. We should preach it now for the same reason. We need to study two aspects of the Christian witness. First, consider God’s testimony, his witness of truth, to us.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. {Heb 12:1-2}

In this lesson God parades a countless multitude of witnesses before our minds, intent on providing us with unquestionable evidence of his faithfulness. Aside from the personal conviction faith affords us, we have the large array of Old Testament witnesses from Heb 11. This lesson from Heb 12 begins with a backward look to Heb 11, “Wherefore.” The dominant theme of Heb 11 is “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence (Evidence presented by God himself on the witness stand.) of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report (A good witness).” {Heb 11:1-2} Notice the development of the lesson. God gave the Old Testament saints an abundant, faithful witness of himself, including his faithfulness. He has given us the same witness. Since we have the benefit of such a large host of witnesses, we should actively enter our race, our service to God. We should willingly put our faith on the line, because God has repeatedly demonstrated his faithfulness. Did he fail even one of his Old Testament saints? Has he ever failed you? Why then do you worry or falter at standing up for him in life’s trenches? Shed the weights of unbelief, of doubt, of selfish anxiety. Clothed in the assurance of his faithfulness, stand at the starting line, ready to run the race for him. Eliminate the encumbrances that would impede your race. Run for him. Run with your eye on him, looking to him, the Author and Finisher of your faith. Don’t worry about the onlooking crowd. Don’t worry about your fellow runners. Just look to him and run!

Whether he delivers you from your troubles or stands faithfully by you through them, he will stand with you. Look to him. Never doubt that he is near. Often he may be nearest when we think he is far away. Although he gives us conscious assurances of his blessings, he often stands silently by, permitting us to grow and reach out in our service to him. By that very means he nurtures our faith, helps it to grow. He has not promised that we will always feel warm and fuzzy at his nearness. He never told us we would live with constant chills up and down our spine at his intimate, holy sense of feeling nearness. However, he has promised that he will always be near, whether we feel it or not! He has promised to stand by us in every trouble, to guard us in every danger, and to love us in every chastening. Do not be afraid to believe him!

Our lesson from Mt 24 takes this thought to its next logical step. Since God has so wonderfully accompanied us through our lives, delivered us, stood by us, and given us a countless multitude of witnesses to his faithfulness, we should joyfully stand up and be counted for him. We should take our place in the witness of his gospel to others who have not heard it. A witness serves to verify and validate information. That’s our job. Our life should represent a living gospel, the true message about a faithful, loving God, verified and validated by our walk and talk. Not just in church on Sunday morning, but every day we live, in the daily trenches of real life, we should witness to the marvelous reality of our God.

Perhaps we feel a bit timid about witnessing. After all, so many who believe in false versions of the gospel take witnessing to such an unpleasant extreme. Their distasteful conduct deserves rejection! But that does not justify us from failure to tastefully, biblically, witness to the truth among those we know.

We may hesitate in witnessing because we fear the reaction we will receive. When religious people finally understand that we really believe in grace, they offer a predictable reaction. “How can you believe that? How can you reject man’s free will? If I believed that, I’d just go out and take my fill of sin.” Before you permit this predictable reaction to intimidate you, read Ro 9. When Paul taught this powerful lesson on eternal election by a sovereign God, he anticipated this exact reaction, and dealt with it. We do well to follow his pattern of handling the objection. God, compared to man, is like comparing a potter to the clay! Does the clay have a free will? Does the clay have the right, or power, to complain to the potter? Who knows best, the potter or the clay?

With legitimate concern, we should not follow unbiblical models of witnessing that leave a bad taste in the mouths of others. Our style of witness should exemplify God’s tender kindness to us. Show so much love toward them that they will feel and know that love, even if our biblical doctrine bewilders them. In one area we should exercise extreme caution. Don’t try to force your faith down their throat. Don’t try to make them believe every single doctrine we hold in one brief discussion. Focus the discussion and limit the topic to one or two points at a time. Listen to their thoughts and objections. Then, following a spirit of love and kindness, quietly answer their objections in such a way that they can follow and understand what we mean. Try to truly understand their viewpoint. Then try to answer their objections in a way they can understand, whether they agree with you or not. Let the spirit of sweet reasonableness prevail in your witness. Be a good witness for Jesus Christ!

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. {Joh 21:25}

If Jesus did so much is so short a time, the things contained in scripture must carry a powerful reason for their inclusion in the biblical record. They serve as a witness to us! God direct us to learn the lesson of his witness deeply, and to be his witnesses faithfully in the trenches of life.