Are we unwilling to suffer for the gospel? (Col. 3:3)

POST OVERVIEW. An exhortation for disciples of Jesus to accept suffering and persecution as a necessary price to pay for the privilege of proclaiming Christ.

One of the prominent themes in the New Testament is the suffering of those who follow Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, our Lord made clear that His disciples would be expected to suffer in this world. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). To the faithful church at Smyrna, the risen Jesus Christ commanded that they “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). In writing to the suffering church scattered throughout modern-day Turkey, Peter declared that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). That Jesus’ church would be expected to suffer for His name sake is not surprising since Jesus Himself suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). The faithful prophets of the Old Testament were hunted (consider Elijah), were mocked, imprisoned, and threatened with death (like Jeremiah) as they proclaimed the word of the LORD. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were often under intense pressure to compromise their message and to be silent, yet they preferred to suffer and die rather than shrink back (Hebrews 10:38-39) and compromise. It is plain from virtually every book of the New Testament that the church of the Lord Jesus in the world is expected to suffer and to persevere through suffering to obtain the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

In light of the Bible’s clear message regarding promised suffering and the certainty of persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), it is troubling that the western church, even the true church that has not apostatized, seems to consciously avoid suffering. My view is that the church in America has been lulled into a degree of softness. We are not only unprepared for suffering, but, more than that, we are also unwilling to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). Being unprepared to suffer is perhaps understandable since disciples of Jesus have never really been persecuted in this country. But being unwilling to suffer is an entirely different matter. Believers in America seem to still believe that we can remain true to our crucified Savior and remain true to the gospel of salvation without having to suffer. There seems to be a pervasive attitude that there exists a nuanced way to tell the world that they are perishing and need to repent, and this search for a gentler message is motivated by a fear of suffering for the gospel.

THE DISCIPLE OF JESUS HAS ALREADY DIED

The many references to suffering and to courageous perseverance in the Bible are placed there to stoke the furnace of our courage and to quench the fear of man. One of the most profound thoughts expressed in the Scriptures is stated very simply in Colossians 3:3.

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.Colossians 3:3

Paul states here that the disciple of Jesus “has died.” The apostle is speaking figuratively of the death that you have died in the new birth. “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). But, while Paul is speaking figuratively of the death of our old life and the death of the old man, that death is nonetheless real. The disciple of Jesus is dead to the fear of death because we have already died. And, if the fear of death has died, then how can there still be fear of other suffering that we might endure for the name of Jesus?

Paul can serve as our example here. Paul had no fear of the future or of suffering or of the threats of man because Paul had already died. And how can you threaten a man who has already died? The same is true for us. We have died with Christ and therefore can never die again. To put it in terms of persecution, we are physically vulnerable but spiritually safe. Of course, we are not to welcome or seek out suffering. We are to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because we desire for our ministry for Jesus to last as long as possible, but the length or the comfort or the safety of our gospel ministry is never to restrain our boldness or to constrain our proclamation. We have died and been raised with Christ (Romans 6:4) and can therefore “go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

So then, as those who have already died and as those whose “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3b), as those whose eternity is forever established (see Phil. 3:20 – “our citizenship is in heaven”), let us run the race with joy and abandon as those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/21/2023                   #614

A transaction for eternal life? (Luke 18:18-23)

POST OVERVIEW. An investigation into Luke’s account of the encounter between “rich young ruler” and the Lord Jesus. Why was this man not converted? How does this affect our evangelism?

Each of the synoptic gospels contains this encounter between Jesus and the “rich, young ruler.” Our young friend seems to ask the right question of the right Person and he seems to be genuinely interested in eternal life, yet, in the end, he walks away from Jesus empty-handed. What went wrong? What did he miss?

TWO APPROACHES TO THE ENCOUNTER

I want to take two different approaches to this episode with the rich young ruler. The first post will be the traditional one where we simply examine the text, studying this meeting between a religious young man and the Lord Jesus to see why some people never receive the gospel, even though they appear to have every reason to do so.

But in a second post will focus on Luke 18:22 and consider what we who are disciples of the Lord Jesus can learn about stewarding those things which the Lord has entrusted to us.

CONSIDERING THE ENCOUNTER ITSELF

As mentioned before, the most striking feature of this encounter between Jesus and this “rich young ruler” (RYR) is that this man who seemed so ripe for harvest and so eager “to inherit eternal life” went away from Jesus without it. There must be something here that requires deeper exploration, because for some reason, the Lord of glory did not convert this simple evangelistic opportunity. A closer look at this story reveals that the RYR’s claim to desire eternal life was only a passing whim.  

TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE SAME ENCOUNTER

In this encounter, even though the young ruler and Jesus seem to be talking about the same thing using a common vocabulary, they are, in fact, seeing this encounter and its outcome from two very different perspectives. So, when the RYR expresses a desire for eternal life, instead of quickly answering his question, Jesus presents him with a series of tests to see if his desire is sincere.

So, first, Jesus tests the RYR to see if he understands Jesus’ true identity. Those who receive eternal life confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and they will only do that when they grasp that Jesus is incarnate deity, God in human form, the Word made flesh. The RYR has addressed Jesus as “good Teacher (Luke 18:18),” but does he understand that Jesus is divine? Jesus thus issues him a test, essentially asking the RYR, “Do you understand that I am God?” The man fails the first test and remains willfully ignorant of Jesus’ identity.

But also, it is telling that the RYR comes to Jesus for eternal life, not for an eternal relationship with the living God. It seems that the man expects the good Teacher to give him a short list of required behaviors so that he can check the boxes, nail down this eternal life thing, and get back to his wealth. As Simon the magician (Acts 8:18-19) wanted to obtain the Holy Spirit without saving faith in Christ, so the RYR wants to inherit eternal life without surrendering everything to Jesus. His thoughts are of a commercial transaction, a fair price for a desired good. Perhaps his thinking goes like this: “Good Teacher, I have a lot of money and can afford to give some of it away to gain eternal life. So, go ahead; name Your price and we can do this deal and You can move on and so can I.” The young man is interested in what the good Teacher can provide, not in the good Teacher Himself. But it is precisely an eternal relationship with Himself that Jesus is offering. To the one who declares Jesus as Lord, to the one who will bow before Him and obey His commands, Jesus gives Himself forever and He will never leave him or forsake him. The RYR must realize what we all must realize that Jesus is not selling eternal life, but He is calling people to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus is offering an eternal relationship with the one true and living God to all those who will give away everything and submit to His lordship and follow Him.

Jesus next tests the young man’s awareness of his own sin and his consciousness of his sin’s consequences (18:20). Does the RYR realize that he is a sinner deserving God’s wrath and full judgment for his rebellion, or does he see himself as a decent chap who is better than most? In the parable that Jesus has just told in Luke 18:9-14, is the RYR the Pharisee or the tax collector? Our young friend’s response (18:21) reveals that he is the Pharisee in the parable. Thus, he fails another test.

A FINAL TEST

At this point in our story, this man wants to obtain eternal life without declaring Jesus as Lord, he wants eternal life apart from loving the One who gives eternal life, and he wants eternal life without confession of sin and repentance from sin. He wants eternal life on his own terms for his own ends. As an act of grace, Jesus gives the man one last opportunity. If our friend passes this last test, he will certainly obtain eternal life.

“Sell all you possess and distribute it to the poor, and come, follow Me (18:22).”

This is a direct command from the Lord of the universe. Like all biblical commands, there are only two possible responses, obedience or disobedience. There are three parts to the Lord’s command and the man must obey all three parts. The RYR’s hardness of heart is starkly revealed in his refusal to obey any of them. Jesus commanded him to sell all he possesses and he flatly refused. Obviously, he had nothing to distribute to the poor. And, most damning of all, when commanded to follow the King of kings, the RYR walks away. He disobeys Jesus and turns his back on Him because he wants to keep his money and his position and his respectability much more than he wants eternal life.

So, what at first appeared to be a man ripe for harvest, a man whom the Father was drawing (John 6:44), turned out to be someone whose heart was still hard and who was only willing to inherit eternal life if it cost him nothing.

APPLICATION TO OUR OWN EVANGELISM

As we reflect on this story and its surprising outcome, it may be instructive to consider how this bears on our own evangelism. Because my own evangelistic opportunities are few, my tendency is to interpret any interest in the gospel as an indicator of saving faith, but this story of Jesus and the RYR says otherwise. Our Lord tested this man’s enthusiastic question (18:18) to see if he understood what eternal life would cost him. Therefore, as we encounter those who appear curious about the gospel or about church or about Jesus, we would be wise to be cautiously optimistic. Does this person understand that Jesus demands everything from those who would be His disciples? Will you bow down to Jesus Christ as Lord and obey His commands? Do you acknowledge your sin and will you repent of it, knowing that Jesus has atoned for the sins of His people? These types of questions can be helpful in determining if this person asking about “eternal life” is also willing to pay the price to obtain it.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/18/2023                   #612

The joys and how-to’s of Scripture memory

POST OVERVIEW. Some quick suggestions for memorizing passages from the Bible.

David asks the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9). The answer is by knowing the word of God. And the best way to have the Word handy so that you can keep your way pure is by memorizing it. “Your word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against You” (119:11).

One of the chief joys of the disciple of Jesus is the joy of reading and meditating on the word of the living God. The Bible is an endless source of enjoyment for those who have been drawn to the Savior. But what happens when you do not have a physical Bible in your hands or it is not convenient to be looking at your phone? What then?

I am glad you asked! Because that is when the benefits of Scripture memory are realized. When you have committed the word of God to memory, you can have a Bible study in your head whenever you choose. The memorized Word is always at the ready to remind you of the devil’s schemes when you are tempted or to allow you to rejoice when you think of salvation. The Word can conquer your fears and can encourage you and can give you boldness in your witness or wisdom in making decisions. All these are reasons to memorize your Bible.

Many people have a general idea of what a given Bible passage says, but there is no power in declaring generally what God has said. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He did not silence the adversary with general words, but with the power of “It is written.” Our Lord crushed the devil with the very word of God. In the same way, the disciple of Jesus can have confidence and speak with authority when he knows he is speaking the Word that he has memorized.

“The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And so it is the word of God we want to memorize.

A PERSONAL STORY: ROMANS 8

When I came to Christ at the age of thirty-one, I developed an immediate hunger for the Word. Later on I would realize that almost all my spiritual gifts were Word-oriented, but early on I just loved reading the Bible. I also dabbled with memorizing some verses and found that to be enjoyable, as well. But one Sunday morning, our pastor was concluding his sermon with words of great encouragement and I was stunned by the power of these words. “. . . convinced that neither death nor life nor angels . . . nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Whoa! Where is THAT passage? Well, I found out that this was the conclusion of Romans 8. So, I grabbed my Bible and I turned to Romans 8 and I read the concluding verses. “Yep, I am going to memorize those.” Then I backed up a few more verses and said, “Wow! Those are pretty good, too.” So, I decided to memorize those as well. Then I backed up a few more verses and . . . You can see where this is going. By the time I got to, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), I resolved to memorize the whole chapter. And the joy of having that entire chapter at the ready, available for meditation at any time, motivated me to memorize other passages. For years, it has been my practice to have many verses that I am actively reviewing and each year I try to add more to my storehouse of Scripture knowledge. This discipline regularly yields fruit in my writing as the Holy Spirit brings related verses to mind when I am creating a blog or a longer essay or article. So, I commend to you the discipline of Scripture memory.

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR MEMORIZING SCRIPTURE

Having hopefully sold you on the joys and benefits of memorizing verses from the Bible, I wanted to share with you some techniques that may make your memory goals more attainable. These are aimed at memorizing chapters, but the ideas should be helpful for smaller memory work, as well.

  • Use the same translation for all your memory work. This is helpful because each translation has its own cadence and its own special words. Each has its own “accent.” Using the same translation reduces the variations.
  • Break the chapter down into sections and memorize a section at a time, then stitch the sections together.
  • Pay attention to the start of each verse. Knowing how the verse or line of the passage begins can trigger the rest of the verse. Also, there is a sense of progress when you first knit together the verses of a section, and this is facilitated by knowing how each line starts. It improves the mental flow.
  • Think about patterns, like repeated words, or memory aids, like “these three words are in alphabetical order.”
  • Start at verse 1, then add verses, then review after memorizing each new verse by going back to the beginning. For example, memorize verse 1, then add verse 2 and go back to the beginning to review 1-2. Then add verse 3 and go back to the beginning to review 1-3. Continue until you have the section memorized, then review the section until you know that you truly have the section memorized.
  • As you progress through the chapter, try beginning your review at different verses.
  • Strive for “word-perfect” on the memorization. Have someone else listen to your recitation of the completed passage to make sure it is all precisely done.
  • It can be helpful to imagine teaching through the passage verse by verse and going through the verses word by word as a means of review.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make it easier to treasure the Scripture in your heart. The fact is that Scripture memory is hard, tedious work. It is a discipline and it is not easy for anyone. It just takes time to go over and over the same verses until they lodge in your brain and become accessible as your soul’s food. Recently I have started memorizing John 15. I am using the ideas above, but most of all I am reviewing the words of these verses over and over until I know them like my own name. But once they are in the brain, they are there for good, ready for meditation and worship.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/10/2023                   #610

The obedient disciple: Rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16)

POST OVERVIEW. A series of posts based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 describing how simple obedience to basic commands in Scripture can overcome persistent disobedience. This second post explains how rejoicing can deliver us from temptations to sin. (The previous related post was #608 on 1/6/2023.)

Our aim in this series of posts is to meditate on these verses (1 Thess. 5:16-18) until we have them ready for use, “on the (very) tip of our brain,” so to speak. If we do this well, as soon as we sense our thoughts drifting into temptation territory, we can fix our minds on a replacement verse. The replacement verse we will be considering is “Rejoice always” (5:16).

“REJOICE” IS A COMMAND

So, first, the disciple must recognize that “Rejoice always” is a command from the living God through the apostle Paul. In the original Greek, “rejoice” is a “present imperative” verb. The imperative means it is a command and the present imperative means it is a command we are to obey continually. Thus, the literal translation could be “Keep on rejoice!” Paul then adds, “Always,” just to remove all possible ambiguity. The disciple is commanded to have a rejoicing mindset.

The person receiving any command of Scripture has two choices: OBEDIENCE or DISOBEDIENCE. There simply is no third option. And it is easy to assess a person’s response to this command: “Are you actively REJOICING?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then you are being obedient, but if your answer is, “No,” then you are being disobedient.

The beauty of this particular command is that it is not at all vague or ambiguous. The command is clear and calls for immediate action. If you are not rejoicing now, then you are to BEGIN IMMEDIATELY. If you are rejoicing now, then you are to continue. There is nothing subjective here. The command does not ask how you feel right now; it does not take into account your current circumstances; it ignores all excuses and protests that might be offered to justify disobedience. Through His Holy Spirit-inspired Word, the Lord of the universe has commanded all His people, all His disciples to REJOICE ALWAYS, and the command demands obedience. Are you obeying this command to rejoice? Is your rejoicing evident to others?

THE POWER AND PURPOSE OF REJOICING

Before we go on, we should pause and appreciate the power of rejoicing. Rejoicing is commanded by the Lord because rejoicing expresses the heart set free. There is fullness of joy for the soul who has been forgiven and that joy must be released and expressed. In the physical world, when you expend something, you are left with less of it, but when you rejoice and pour out the joy of the Lord, more joy immediately rushes in to take its place. The more you rejoice, the more joy you have.

The Lord commands us to rejoice because we need to display the joy of the Lord to a dying world. The world is dying in its miserable pursuit of wealth and pleasure and power, and the world’s misery is expressed in their growling like bears and their moaning like doves (Isaiah 59:11). Men of the world stumble at midday and grope along like blind men (59:10), unaware that there is any other way to go through life. When these perishing souls see the overflowing joy of the Lord expressed in a life that manifests rejoicing, some may “see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3). When the world sees a countenance that rejoices in the Lord, some of the dying may wonder why they are “spending their money for what is not bread and their wages for what does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2).

POSSIBLE WRONG RESPONSES TO THIS COMMAND

While the genuine disciple of Jesus would never openly refuse to rejoice, it is still possible for true, redeemed disciples of the Lord to be disobedient to this command. Let’s look at some causes of this disobedience.

“I AM NOT ABLE TO REJOICE RIGHT NOW.”

  • Not true. It is a doctrinal truth that all genuine disciples of Jesus are able at all times to obey the commands of Scripture. “God’s commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). So, the disciple is always able to rejoice. Obedience to God’s commands is never a matter of ability but is always a matter of the will. Therefore, the question is not, “Can I obey?” but, “Will I obey?” Rejoicing is an obedient choice and not rejoicing is defiance and rebellion.
  • The command is to “rejoice ALWAYS.” If I only rejoice sometimes, and the rest of the time I stoically go through the motions or worse, moan and groan, then clearly, I have disobeyed the command and need to repent. To declare, “I am not able to rejoice RIGHT NOW,” is simply to admit my disobedience.

“I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO REJOICE.”

  • In a sense, this response is hard to understand. The disciple’s joy in Jesus cannot be contained but must be expressed. We look forward to Sundays because we can publicly express our joy in worship of our great King. It is almost impossible for the disciple of Jesus NOT to express their joy. Rejoicing is a spontaneous act that simply bursts forth from the redeemed soul. As a fish knows how to swim because of its nature, so the disciple of Jesus knows how to rejoice because of his new nature.
  • But if you sincerely do not know how to rejoice, then learn how! Watch how the people in your church rejoice in worship and rejoice in like manner. You are commanded to rejoice, so you should learn to express outwardly the joy you feel inwardly. Also, the entire Bible is filled with examples of rejoicing. David rejoiced before the LORD, and the psalms are filled with rejoicing. Miriam rejoiced. Jesus rejoiced. Paul rejoiced from prison. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people rejoice. Part of growing in maturity in your walk with the Lord is learning to rejoice more loudly and more often.  

“I HAVE NO REASON TO REJOICE.”

  • I shudder even to write these words! The one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9) has every reason to rejoice and to praise the One who has rescued them from God’s terrible wrath. The person who suggests that there is no reason to rejoice should dig deep into the doctrinal teaching of the Bible to understand the glory and the power of our great God and, in so doing, fan their joy into a flame. 

SUMMARY

Remember that our purpose in this post was to understand more about the command to “Rejoice always,” so that we would be ready to rejoice obediently when we found our minds wandering into disobedient waters. So, when I am drifting into depression or discouragement, I will choose to obediently rejoice. When I feel fear, by an act of my will I will shout joyfully to the LORD of all His goodness to me. If anger begins to burn within me, I will quench that anger by rejoicing about the Lord’s power and glory and mercy. When tempted to sin, rejoice instead!

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/9/2023                     #609

The obedient disciple: Rejoice, pray, give thanks (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

POST OVERVIEW. A series of posts based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 describing how simple obedience to basic commands in Scripture can overcome persistent disobedience. This first post gives an overview of the principle of simple obedience.

16 Rejoice always; 

17 pray without ceasing; 

18 in everything give thanks;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How does the disciple of Jesus get into trouble?

The disciple gets into trouble when he is DOING what he is commanded NOT TO DO or he is NOT DOING what he is commanded TO DO.

This includes not only what the disciple is doing in their external behavior, but more importantly includes where he allows his thoughts to roam. The truth is that it is very possible for a disciple’s external obedience to disguise a heart that is contaminated by disobedient thoughts. It is “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) that marks the truly mature disciple.

THE “TROUBLE” STATEMENT CONSIDERED

A moment’s reflection will reveal that the above “trouble” statement is not terribly profound. It is, in fact, pretty obvious, for this is basically the definition of sin. But until the truth of this statement is manifested in a disciple’s life, the disciple will regularly be in a place of disobedience. In my own walk with the Lord, I experienced an immense breakthrough when I decided to conform my thoughts to this message. In other words, I began to be intentionally aware of my thoughts and made an effort to evaluate my thoughts to increase my obedience. And here is the reason we are looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: these three verses are simple and straightforward, so whenever I found myself in places where Scripture commands me not to go, I could quickly turn to 1 Thess. 5:16-18 to get back onto the path of obedience.

SOME EXAMPLES FOR ILLUSTRATION

Let me give a couple of examples to help clarify what I have in mind. I am a person who is prone to judge others. By that I mean that I will quickly assess (“judge”) someone based on the most threadbare of information and mentally place them in a particular box with a nice, neat label. I do this, by the way, because I feel that people are safer when they are in boxes and have been assigned a label. The problem with this behavior is that the Lord Jesus (among others) has expressly condemned this behavior in Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord commands His disciples not to judge in this way. So, what do I do? First, I become aware when I am judging someone, and I am taking something they have done or said as a reason to put them in a particular box with their own label. I realize this judging is sinful (doing what I am commanded not to do) and then consciously decide that I need to discontinue this sinful behavior. But instead of saying to myself, “I will not judge people; I will not judge people,” I say to myself, per 1 Thess. 5:16, “I will begin to rejoice.” So, I was unconsciously doing something that was disobedient, and I replaced that by consciously doing something that is obedient. I realized I was judging others, so I decided to rejoice.

Another example might be when I fret about the things that our government is doing and get concerned that they are intentionally ruining our country. Perhaps this concern is understandable at some level, but it is also explicitly disobedient to the commands of Scripture. Psalm 37 begins with, “Do not fret because of evildoers and be not envious of wrongdoers,” and I am fretting and being “envious.” This disobedience is sin, but to stop this sinful behavior, I decide to consciously turn my mind to 1 Thess. 5:17 (“Pray without ceasing”) and I begin to pray. In a short time, my sinful fretting is turned to prayer.

A third example could be that there are disciples of Jesus who are anxious and fearful about many things, but our anxious and fearful thoughts become a problem when one of the most common commands in the entire Scripture, Old Testament and New, is the command, “Fear not,” and Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave a long teaching about the sin of anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34). Scripture is clear that anxiety and being fearful are disobedient and therefore sinful. What is the anxious disciple to do? First, acknowledge that you are anxious, then confess the anxiety as sin (doing what you are commanded not to do), and then, in obedience, begin to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). The obedient behavior of giving thanks in everything will stop the disobedient behavior of worry and fear.

THE PRINCIPLE STATED

The principle is very simple yet profound: consciously replace disobedient thoughts and behaviors with obedient ones. I have chosen 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 because these three verses are easy to memorize and thus, they are easy to have at the ready when needed. When I find myself involved in some thought pattern that the Bible condemns as sinful, then I immediately reach for one of these three commands and put it into effect. Rejoice or Pray or Give thanks. The Lord has ordained things such that any act of conscious obedience will thwart disobedience. I have found that, if I am at a place where I am being plagued by a particular sin, I can reach for one of these simple verses and see victory.

With that as a background, I want to spend the next several blog posts thinking through these three verses so that the disciple of Jesus can have these cocked and ready when he finds himself wrestling with sin. The next post will be about 1 Thess. 5:16 – “Rejoice always.”

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/6/2024                     #608

Thoughts on my righteousness before and after Christ

OVERVIEW. These thoughts on my righteousness, both absolute and practical, were captured from writing on December 29, 2022. Several terms will be discussed including “wholly unrighteous,” “absolutely righteous,” “practical righteousness,” and, in a subsequent post, “relative righteousness.”

WHOLLY UNRIGHTEOUS BEFORE CHRIST

Before salvation, that is, before a person’s initial saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all people are wholly unrighteous. The Bible makes clear that “unrighteous” is the state of all unbelievers without exception. All are born absolutely unrighteous and, in that state, they remain unless they are rescued from that domain of darkness by Christ (Col. 1:13). There is no righteousness in them. All their righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Any efforts at works-righteousness despise the offering of Christ on the cross as the only atonement for sin (Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:7; Mark 10:45), because they substitute man’s sinful efforts for Christ’s perfect sacrifice. The Bible declares that, before my justification, there was no righteousness in me at all. I was a child of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3) and was subject to His full condemnation.

ABSOLUTELY RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH IN CHRIST

But at the moment of my salvation, I was justified. That is, I was declared righteous by the Holy One of Israel because of my faith in Jesus and immediately there was imputed to my account the full righteousness of Christ. In a moment, I moved from wholly unrighteous to fully righteous (John 5:24; Acts 13:48; 16:31). At salvation, I was wrapped in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; confirm 2 Cor. 5:21)) and, from then on, I am viewed by God to possess (by the Lord’s imputation and declaration) the full righteousness of the Lord Jesus Himself. As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I have received an absolute righteousness and I will be fully righteous for all of eternity.

PRACTICAL RIGHTEOUSNESS

This biblical doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness to all who believe in Jesus can, however, cause some confusion, especially among those who have recently come to Christ. The confusion can take one of two forms. The new believer can think, “Well, since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I do not need to be overly concerned about my ongoing sin.” This is a grievous error, because it suggests that the Lord does not make holy those He saves. (See also Matthew 5:6 and Romans 6:1-2; etc.) The other end of the spectrum is the idea that, “Since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I should quickly cease from all sinning.” This latter error reveals a misunderstanding about the process of sanctification and about the disciple’s necessary growth in practical righteousness.

The Bible teaches that there are two types of righteousness that come to the person who trusts Christ as their Lord and Savior. We have already addressed the absolute righteousness of Christ that is imputed to every believer at the moment of salvation. This event is called justification when God declares the sinner righteous. But justification necessarily ushers in the process of sanctification, which is the lifelong journey in which the disciple of Jesus grows in practical righteousness. In the process of sanctification, through the use of the means of grace and by “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), the disciple of Jesus strives to close the gap between Christ’s perfect righteousness, which has been imputed to their account at salvation, and the disciple’s current experience of practical righteousness in their life. Slowly, steadily, “little by little” (Ex. 23:29-30; Deut. 7:22) God the Holy Spirit works together with the disciple as the disciple’s hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied (Matt. 5:6). As practical righteousness grows, the disciple becomes more evidently conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) and brings forth more of the fruit of righteousness (Luke 3:8).

There is another term that I want to consider in this subject of righteousness, and it is the term “relative righteousness.” In his salvation, the believer has received the absolute righteousness of Christ and has embarked on the path of growing practical righteousness. What, then, is this “relative righteousness” of which we speak? Tune in next time!

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/4/2023                     #607

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 3)

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts talking about the advantages of identifying as a “disciple of Jesus” instead of as a “Christian.” This post is about the association of “Christian” with religions.

We have been exploring reasons why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Our first consideration was that it is more strategic and more effective for the believer to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” in the task of evangelism (Post #601, 12/18/2022). The second post (#603, 12/24/2022) looked at how it is more empowering for the believer’s own self-identity and self-concept to see himself as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as the more ambiguous name of “Christian.” Now this third post will show that the identity of “Christian” carries with it religious baggage that clouds the real nature of being a true “disciple of Jesus.”

Before we dig deeper into this subject, I want to again make very clear that I am a Christian. I am a heaven-bound, Bible-believing, born-again, water-baptized, church-going, Holy Spirit-sealed, blood-washed disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, I am a Christian. It is not the word “Christian” that creates obstacles, but it is the use of the word and the ambiguity of the word and the over-familiarity of the world in our culture that causes the problems, and these problems become especially sticky when we consider the “religious use” of “Christian.”

RELIGIOUS USE OF “CHRISTIAN”

What do I mean by the “religious use” of the word “Christian?” First, we need to define a religion. Since mankind has invented many and varied religions, one comprehensive definition of the word is very difficult to establish. Nevertheless, I would suggest that:

RELIGION. A religion is a named set of man-made rituals and practices which are performed from time to time by the adherents of the religion to achieve some subjective “spiritual” benefit. Religious adherents typically hope for 1) some imagined relief from the guilt they experience as a result of their sin; and 2) some hoped for calming of their terror of death. Religions also commonly, but not necessarily, involve trying to appease some deity.

In religion, the emphasis is on the performance of the same rituals and practices over and over again. There is no expectation by the religious adherent that these external rituals will produce any internal or personal change or growth. Again, the emphasis is on the external forms and the performance. If the performance is good enough, then the religionist can hope to have merited some reward.

Some well-known religions are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Sikhism, but there are many other forms of religion that are practiced across the globe.

Having defined what we mean by “religion,” we can say that the “religious use” of the word “Christian” is when the word refers to an adherent of the “Christian religion.” For, unlike religions, Christianity does have a living, life-changing genuine article. The genuine follower of Jesus, the one who has repented of his sin and has trusted Christ for salvation, has been born again (John 3:3, 5) and has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has become a living “Christian.” But the word “Christian” is more commonly used as a religious term to describe one who, to some degree or other, identifies with the Christian religion without any reference to Jesus or the Bible or having been born again. This latter is the “religious use” of “Christian.”

THE BAGGAGE CARRIED BY THE WORD “CHRISTIAN”

After this necessary aside to talk about religions, we remember that the point of this article is to show that “disciple of Jesus” is preferred to the identity “Christian” because of the religious baggage carried by “Christian.” In our American culture, when the word “Christian” comes up in a conversation, either in the public forum or among unbelievers or among “religious Christians,” it is these false “baggage” images that are almost certainly in their mind. Here are some examples of this baggage.

A “religious Christian” is a person who identifies as a Christian but there is nothing distinctly Christian about their words or their behavior that would mark them as followers of Jesus Christ. Their life is no different than a person who does not identify as a “Christian.”

A “religious Christian” (RC) typically has vague ideas about the basic tenets of biblical Christianity, like beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the local church, salvation, sin, or the condemnation that abides on the sinner, to name a few. There are no convictions.

For the RC, “Christian” is just one of the roles he plays in life. He may occasionally go to church on Sunday (or he may not), but “Christian” is just a Sunday role for him.

For the RC, “Christian” is his religious label, like Buddhist or Muslim. He received the label at some point in the past (at birth or at his baptism or at confirmation or at a revival event), but there is no current, living experience with God or evidence of a vital, living faith.

A RELIGIOUS LABEL CONVEYS A FIXED STATE OF BEING

When an RC uses “Christian” as a religious label, he is conveying a fixed state of being. This is because the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious positions intentionally give this impression. Religion is presented as a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. In fact,

Whether it is “Catholic” or “Hindu” or “Muslim” or “Christian,” the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious labels intentionally communicate a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. This is as true of the label “Christian” as it is of any other religion. Thus, when a genuine follower of Jesus declares he is a Christian, it is very likely that his hearers assume this is a religious label.

RELIGION IS DEAD BUT “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IS ALIVE

One other comment should be made about religions. In religion, there is no growth because lifeless things do not grow. Religion is dead and cannot offer growth. That means that, when used as a religious term, a “Christian” is also not growing.

All of this baggage is possible when a follower of the Lord Jesus identifies themselves as a “Christian.” But now consider what happens if instead the follower of Jesus identifies themselves as a “disciple of Jesus.” As we have said before in these posts, the environment is materially changed. A disciple is a learner which conveys the idea of growth. A disciple is learning about the Bible and about how to pray and learning how to share their faith. One who is a disciple has begun a journey and he is moving toward a destination. There is motion and growth and life.

And he is a disciple of Jesus. Whether you love Him or hate Him, Jesus is the most interesting, compelling, controversial, fascinating person who has ever walked this planet. No dusty, dull religion here when we are walking with Jesus! The disciple of Jesus has a personal relationship with the great one, the Lord Jesus, so the disciple has a living relationship, not a dead religion.

For these reasons, a “disciple of Jesus” is a more powerful identity than “Christian” with none of the religious baggage.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/30/2022                 #606

Caleb followed the LORD his God fully (Joshua 14)

POST OVERVIEW. A look at the life of Caleb, a biblical hero who followed the LORD his God fully. Caleb was a man whose faith was constantly on display in his actions.

Caleb is a Bible hero. He appears in only three scenes in the Scriptures, but his force of character and his evident faith cause him to stand out as a man of God and as a strong role model for us. His faith in the LORD and his trust in the word of the LORD was constantly on bold display.

CALEB AT KADESH

Caleb is one of the twelve spies sent by Moses to report on the land of Canaan. As they travel through the land, all twelve spies saw the descendants of Anak (giants) living in Hebron and all twelve spies saw that many of the cities of the land were fortified with high walls. When the spies return to Moses, ten of them are terrified of the descendants of Anak they saw in the land and they instill fear in all the people by telling of the power of the Anakim. The ten fearful spies also warn of the Amalekites and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Canaanites living in the land. Their conclusion? “They are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31). The spies and all the people overtly doubt the truth of God’s word and they question His ability to carry out what He has declared He will do. Their words and their actions reveal that they have no faith in the LORD.

We must recall that those who walk by sight and who live by what makes sense to their fallen reasoning always have a ready excuse for not trusting the LORD. There is always a “but” or a “however” or a “nevertheless” that justifies why they should not move ahead or should avoid the risk. Their god is small and the threats are big. “Never mind that God is with us and that He has promised to bless those who trust in Him. He can’t help us out against this obstacle.”

But Caleb was a man of an entirely different character. Six times the Bible declares that Caleb “followed the LORD his God fully” (Num. 14:24; 32:12; Deut. 1:36; Joshua 14:8, 9, 14). This means that if the LORD said it, Caleb obeyed it without question. He accepted the LORD’s word as true and reliable. Thus, his faith in the LORD was constantly on bold display. No matter what men said, no matter what his eyes told him, no matter what his reasoning or his experience suggested, he followed the LORD fully. The LORD’s word was his trusted guide. If the LORD had spoken about a subject, that immediately became Caleb’s truth. The LORD’s word was not to be questioned but was to be fully accepted.

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” – Psalm 119:89

Caleb walked by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Yes, Caleb saw the sons of Anak in Hebron and he knew that there were risks in going against them, but he was eager to move ahead nevertheless. “Yes, there are dangers and obstacles but our God answers prayer and our God is with us and our God reigns. Let’s move forward!”

Everything about Caleb’s words and actions manifest his strong trust in the LORD. “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Num. 13:30). Caleb was confident because he was sure of what God could do and he trusted that God would do what He had promised.

“If the LORD is pleased with us then He will bring us into this land and give it to us” (Num. 14:8). “Only do not rebel against the LORD, and do not fear the people of the land. The LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:9). Caleb was assured that the LORD was faithful and the LORD could be trusted. So Caleb followed the LORD his God fully. And so Caleb is commended by the LORD for his steadfast trust in Him.

CALEB ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB

Caleb is mentioned very briefly in Numbers 34 as Israel is on the plains of Moab preparing to invade the land of Canaan. Though only a brief mention, this mention is significant.

Recall that, forty years before, when Israel was at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, the LORD had told Moses to send out as spies “a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them” (Num. 13:2). Caleb of the tribe of Judah had been one of those leaders (Num. 13:6). When Israel gathers on the plains of Moab, forty years have passed and the entire unbelieving generation that came out of Egypt has died in the wilderness for their unbelief (Num. 14:28-35; confirm Hebrews 3:7-4:11). Again the LORD commands Moses to “take one leader of every tribe to apportion the land” (Num. 34:18). The first leader He mentions is “of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh” (34:19).

That’s right. The same Caleb who was the chosen leader of Judah as Israel came out of Egypt is still the leader of Judah forty years later as Israel prepares to enter Canaan. Caleb was a leader of men and the LORD twice appointed him to a role of leadership.

CALEB IN CANAAN

Finally, we see Caleb after the conquest of the land of Canaan, after his fellow spy Joshua has defeated thirty-one kings (Joshua 12:24). Caleb speaks to Joshua and reminds him of the LORD’s word concerning the inheritance that will go to Caleb, namely, Hebron. Caleb demands his reward, the inheritance that the LORD has promised to him forty-five years before. “Give me Hebron.”

Of course, Caleb wants Hebron. Forty-five years before, when the twelve spies first traveled into Canaan, even then Caleb had seen Hebron and wanted it for his own (Num. 13:22). Note that Hebron is the only place where the spies had seen the descendants of the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, but for the ten faithless spies, these giants grew in size and strength as their fears grew. But for Caleb, these giants were never a threat, because the LORD was with him and the LORD would vanquish them. The most fearsome of the Anakim is nothing before the LORD. And now Caleb was claiming his reward. For forty-five years he had waited to take Hebron away from the Anakim and now, at eighty-five years of age, Caleb is ready to move in.

The faithless spies would not even enter the land because of their fear of the sons of Anak in Hebron, but Caleb dreamed of Hebron for forty-five years because of his desire to destroy the sons of Anak in Hebron.

Caleb is a hero because his faith in the LORD was constantly on display. He regarded the foolish fears of faithless men as so much noise to be ignored. The LORD had commanded him to go up and take Hebron. Caleb was not going to disobey and forfeit the blessing the LORD had promised him.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/26/2022                 #604

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 2)

POST OVERVIEW. The second article about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Post #601 (12/18/2022) had discussed the strategic advantages of “disciple of Jesus” in evangelism. This post talks about its advantages in self-concept or self-identity.

In my previous post on this topic (Post #601 on 12/18/2022), I had argued that, for the follower of Jesus Christ, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to the more common identity of “Christian” for the reason that “disciple of Jesus” has greater strategic value in evangelism. (See Post #601 for those comments.) In this post, I will consider how “disciple of Jesus” is preferable for strengthening the believer’s own self-concept and self-identity.

A DISCIPLE IS A STRONGER IDENTITY

There was a time in this country when identifying as a Christian carried weight. The Christian was a person of the Bible. He carried a Bible and he believed what it said. He went to church and he prayed. He lived a simple life and he had principles and strict moral guidelines in his life, and he did not mind if that drew ridicule or if that made him seem odd to others. “Christian” meant that this man was a follower of Jesus and he was serious about it. When someone was declared to be a “Christian,” there was a cultural understanding of what that meant. The word “Christian” had substance.

“CHRISTIAN” HAS BECOME VAGUE AND UNDEFINED

Needless to say, those days are no more. The identity of “Christian” has gradually lost its definition and the idea of a “Christian” in America has come to have a very broad range of meanings. More than that, the confusion of what is a “Christian” exists for those who hear the word and for those who use the word to describe themselves. The word carries ambiguity and subjectivity and finding a working definition for a “Christian” is hard to do.

This subjectivity and ambiguity creates an identity crisis for the follower of Jesus Christ, and can especially be a problem for the new believer. For example, when the new believer excitedly tells his parents or his fraternity buddies or a friend at the gym that he has become a Christian, he is likely to get a puzzled response or a response that reveals that the hearer is between unimpressed and bored with this news. The new believer has passed from death to life and has experienced the most profound change of life that is possible for a human being, but, because he uses the word “Christian,” his hearers are blasé. They have known others who claimed to be “Christians” and there was nothing different about their lives. “Oh, here we go again! Another phase or fad.” What is the one who has recently come to Christ to do? His life has been radically altered and he knows that he has been born again and has become a “Christian.” At least, that’s the word everyone at the church uses. “Praise God! I am now a Christian!” But no one else seems to be nearly as excited as he is.

Now, I am not going to suggest that simply changing a believer’s self-identity from “Christian” to “disciple of Jesus” is going to immediately remove all confusion and is going to force everyone else to see that a profound change has taken place, but it can be very helpful for the believer himself. If I think of myself as a “Christian,” then I have to explain to myself how I am different from those other “Christians” who are ignorant of the Scriptures and who openly question its truths, whose lives bear no fruit of repentance, who do not believe in the virgin birth or in the resurrection of Christ, who infrequently attend a dead, apostate church, and who have never told a single soul about their alleged faith in Jesus and about the coming judgment. Perhaps the truly born-again Christian can add adjectives to his identity, like a real “Christian” or a true “Christian” or a really true, sincere, born-again “Christian” to make a distinction between a genuine follower of Jesus and one of the counterfeits, but another solution might be to see yourself as a “disciple of Jesus.”

SELF-IDENTITY AS “DISCIPLE OF JESUS”

There are definite advantages to this identity of “disciple of Jesus” which help remove much of the ambiguity and subjectivity created by the identity of “Christian.”

First, there is the word “disciple” itself. The Greek word translated “disciple” means a learner who follows a particular teacher. Further, the life of a disciple is a life of discipline, an intentional way of behaving that learns from and imitates the master. The disciple is devoted to imitating the master to become like the master. This concept of disciple fits very well with the concept of a New Testament follower of Jesus.

THE DISCIPLE IN THE GREAT COMMISSION

Observe also that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) calls upon the church to “make disciples” of all nations. The one who identifies as a “disciple of Jesus” can immediately see themselves as a fulfillment of the Great Commission of our Lord. According to these two crucial verses, the church “makes disciples” (evangelism), the church baptizes disciples, and then the church teaches disciples to observe His commands, and the church does this until the end of the age. The follower of Jesus can see that the “disciple of Jesus” is the central player in the kingdom of God on earth. With this identity, ambiguity and subjectivity are removed.

We had mentioned before that any disciple is associated with a specific teacher or master. Thus, the key question for one who claims to be a disciple becomes, “Who is the master you are following and imitating?” The believer whose identity is “disciple of Jesus” directly associates himself with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is none other than the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I am a disciple of Him who came from heaven to earth to be God in human flesh. I am a chosen and beloved disciple of the Prince of peace.

THE “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” HAS A PURPOSE AND A PATH

Finally, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” gives the follower of Christ a purpose for their life and a path to walk through life all the way to the end.

For the disciple of Jesus, every promise of God is Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). His purpose is to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). For the disciple of Jesus, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). The disciple takes up his cross daily and follows Jesus (Luke 9:23).

His path is to intentionally grow in holiness, in obedience, and in usefulness as long as the Lord gives him breath; to fight the good fight, to finish the course, to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7); to press toward the goal for the prize (Phil. 3:14).

These are the joys of the one who identifies as a disciple of Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/24/2022                 #603

How to vanquish fear of man in evangelism

POST OVERVIEW. Consistently listed among the obstacles to evangelism and the hindrances to speaking about the Lord Jesus in the world is the fear of man. This article argues that the way to vanquish the “fear of man” is by developing a fiery zeal for Christ.

A RECURRING OBSTACLE TO EVANGELISM

Often when a church conducts training on evangelism to consider how the church can be more effective in the tasks of proclaiming the gospel and of being witnesses for Jesus, the subject “fear of man” comes up. The trainer asks the question, “What are some reasons that we fail to evangelize?” and usually the first or second response from the class is, “Fear of man.” There is then an acknowledgement from class and trainer alike that “fear of man” is indeed a problem and the class moves on. But here I want to address this fear so that we can defeat it.

DEFEATING THE FEAR OF MAN

What we are discussing in this post is this idea of “the fear of man” in evangelism and how we can overcome this obstacle so that the name of Jesus comes up easily in our talks with unbelievers and “many will see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).

To do that, I will follow four steps:

  1. Define the “fear of man”
  2. Acknowledging the sin and repenting of the sin
  3. Paul as our role model for zeal
  4. Exhortation to be bold

DEFINING “FEAR OF MAN”

We begin, then, by defining “fear of man.” [NOTE: I will abbreviate this FoM.] FoM is a feeling that manifests itself in timid actions. FoM is that tension that seems to rise up in our throat and suddenly choke off bold words about the sin of man and the glory of our Savior. FoM is also responsible when we decide the other person is “not ready” for the gospel or to hear about Jesus. When we are face to face with someone who is on our prayer list and we continue to talk about the trivial rather than the eternal, FoM may be to blame. There are many other examples of ways that FoM can thwart our evangelism, but basically, FoM has won the day anytime you and I are convicted by the Holy Spirit that we have not been faithful to use a gospel opportunity.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE SIN AND REPENTING OF THE SIN

We must acknowledge that fear of man is a sin, and therefore is an offense against our holy God. FoM effectively exalts frail, mortal sinners above the Lord Jesus, because we fear man’s rejection or ridicule more than we love the Lord and obey His commands (John 14:21). We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. If we don’t because we are fearful of what men might say or think, then we have elevated man above God. We should, therefore, repent from this sin of fearing man.

I have found that a helpful pattern of repentance is recognize, confess, and repent. Recognize that you were silent about the gospel or about Jesus when you know that the Holy Spirit was prompting you to speak. Recognition leads to confession of the sin. You agree with the Lord that you have willfully disobeyed and have been silent when you know that you were to speak. Having confessed the sin, you express the desire to change and to live a more obedient life. You repent of your silence or your cowardice, or you repent because you were unprepared when the Lord presented you with a gospel opportunity. In repentance, you turn away from the sin and you turn toward the obedient behavior. You pray for boldness and courage and confident obedience (Eph. 6:19-20; Acts 5:41; Col. 4:5-6; Rev. 2:10) and continue to press toward the prize with renewed vigor.

The point is that FoM that silences or softens my witness is sin and so should be treated as any other sin. We should quickly establish a plan of repentance from that sin so that it does not occur again. Put to death (Col. 3:5) the “fear of man” in any and every way that you can.

PAUL AS OUR EXAMPLE FOR ZEAL

When it comes to zealously proclaiming the gospel, Paul is our example. There was nothing that could prevent Paul from gospel proclamation. In his ministry, he had every opportunity to shrink back from telling about Jesus and he never did. (Acts 9 in Damascus – brand-new convert threatened with death; Acts 14 in Derbe and Lystra – stoned for preaching the gospel; Acts 17 in Athens – philosophers to impress; Acts 24 before Felix – preached righteousness and the coming judgment to the man who could set him free; Acts 26 before Agrippa and Festus – preached Christ before the king and the governor)

Consider this verse: “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Here is a classic Pauline statement that speaks directly into our current discussion. Paul was motivated by his fear of the Lord, and this compelled him to persuade men to believe the gospel. In other words, the apostle did not have a fear OF men, as though men were a threat to him, but Paul had a fear FOR men, that they would spend eternity in hell. Because Paul was zealous in his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, FoM had no opportunity for a foothold. Rather, when the glory of Christ and the fear of the Lord are the blaring twin trumpets in our ears, the FoM fades into the background as so much white noise.

This focus on the fear of the Lord gave Paul a zeal for the gospel. Like Paul, we should develop a zeal for Christ that cannot be silenced even by threats of death. Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). For Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We also read that the apostle had as his controlling ambition to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). His fear of the Lord, his desire to please the Lord, and his love for the Lord worked together to create a fiery zeal for the gospel that could not be quenched. Thus, Paul provides for us an example to follow.

EXHORTATIONS TO PROCLAIM JESUS AND HIS GOSPEL

The Scriptures give us many exhortations to proclaim the gospel. The disciple of Jesus is to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), a sower of the Word (Matt. 13:3-8), and a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8) to the remotest part of the earth. We are to “Tell of His glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3), “Make known His deeds among the peoples” (Isaiah 12:4), and “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Ps. 96:2). The disciple of Jesus is to compel, to beg, to persuade, to exhort, to urge, to reason with, and to testify to unbelievers to believe in Christ and to receive the salvation that He offers to sinners.

As those who “have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), we put to death the sin of the fear of man as we simultaneously fan into flame our passion for the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria            rmb                 12/21/2022                 #602