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

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

Belief and baptism, but no Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-17)

POST OVERVIEW. Another study from Acts 8 as the gospel spreads to the Samaritans. Here we consider the difficulty of the Samaritans believing in the name of Jesus Christ and not immediately receiving the Holy Spirit.

This post is part of a short series of articles wrestling with the difficulties of the events of Acts 8. Earlier we considered the situation of Simon the magician (post #597, #598) and now we look at the Samaritans who truly believed and were baptized and yet did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:12-17.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON INTERPRETING ACTS

Before we dig into this very interesting episode, we need to remember that we are reading the book of Acts, which is part of the New Testament’s history section. Acts covers a time of rapid change as the work of God on earth transitions from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of the church.

To review our teaching from post #597 (12/7/2022), Jesus was sent from heaven to earth primarily to accomplish the atonement and to ransom His people from sin. In His crucifixion, He finished His work (John 19:30). Then He was resurrected, He commissioned His church to proclaim the gospel to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20) and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8), and He ascended into heaven until the Father’s appointed time for His return. That was Jesus’ ministry.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, the ministry of the church began. The book of Acts describes the initial spread of the church from one hundred twenty timid Jewish disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem with no new-covenant doctrine or practice to many thousands of mostly Gentile believers scattered all over the Mediterranean world with well-established doctrinal teaching and church practice. The result of this massive transition is that, while all the events of Acts certainly occurred and occurred as described, all the events that occurred were not normative for the church age. In other words, the student of Acts must carefully discern if the event under study is merely descriptive (just describing what happened) or if this event is prescriptive (giving a normative practice of the church until Jesus returns). Some of the events that occur in Acts are unique and simply occurred as part of this transition landscape.

How do we discern what is merely descriptive? There are two basic principles to detect these events. The first principle asks, “Is the event unique in the Scriptures?” For example, Acts 2 relates the coming of the Holy Spirit. This event is marked with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting on the disciples (Acts 2:2-3). Do we expect this to occur again? Should this be a regular occurrence in our local church? No, it is not normative. The events of Acts 2 are unique and unrepeated.

But a second principle is to consider whether the events of the scene are consistent with New Testament teaching on this subject. What do the epistles teach about this and did Jesus say anything about this subject during His ministry? For example, in our current study in Acts 8, we see that the Samaritans believe in Jesus and are baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit. Should we in our churches today teach that the Holy Spirit is received some time after we believe by the laying on of someone’s hands? No, we should not teach that, because the epistles contradict that doctrine (e.g. Ephesians 1:13-14).

With these principles, we read in Acts 8:12 that the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the good news about the name of Jesus Christ.” There is no reason to doubt that these Samaritans genuinely believed. Philip had proclaimed Christ to them (8:5), he had performed signs of casting out unclean spirits and of healing the paralyzed and the lame (8:6, 7; see also 8:13). The expected result of preaching Christ and performing attesting miracles is that the people would believe. After they believe, the Samaritans are baptized, exactly according to the pattern at Pentecost.

KEY CONCEPT BASED ON ACTS 1:8

“When the apostles in Jerusalem (8:1) heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John” to Samaria (8:14). Why did they send Peter to Samaria?

These events serve to introduce a KEY CONCEPT for understanding some of the events of Acts. Recall that Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the book of Acts. According to that verse, the gospel of Jesus Christ will spread from Jerusalem to (all Judea and) Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth (to the Gentiles). What we see happening is that, as each new threshold is crossed (the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans in Samaria, and the Gentiles in Caesarea), the apostle Peter is required to confirm that salvation has actually come to each group and so that group may receive the Holy Spirit as a sign of their salvation. Accordingly, Peter is the one who preaches the sermon at Pentecost and declares that all those who repent and believe will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Here in Acts 8, although Philip has faithfully proclaimed the gospel and the Samaritans have genuinely believed, the Holy Spirit is withheld until Peter prays for them and lays his hands upon them (Acts 8:15-17). This is because Peter, as the lead apostle (Matt. 16:18-19; John 21:15-17), must confirm that the Samaritans are indeed included in the gospel before the Holy Spirit can be received. Finally, in Acts 10, when the gospel goes to the Gentiles, to Cornelius and his relatives in Caesarea, Peter is again there to confirm that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44), when “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (10:45). Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48) because they had “received the Holy Spirit” (10:47) just as the Jews in Jerusalem had received Him on Pentecost.

CONCLUSION

The point is that, in this transition period, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is going out first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles, the apostle Peter must confirm that each new group is truly included in the gospel before the Holy spirit is received. Thus, what occurs in Samaria in Acts 8, where there is genuine belief without the receiving of the Holy Spirit, is a one-time, unrepeated event and is not normative for the church age.

What is normative for the church age? Now that Peter has confirmed that the gospel has gone to all groups, whether Jew or Gentile, anyone from any group who has genuinely believed in the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit immediately at salvation (see Romans 8:5, 9, 11, 14; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 13; Eph. 1:13-14; etc.). The teaching of the New Testament is that all believers are sealed and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of initial faith.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/29/2022                 #605

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

He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:8)

POST OVERVIEW. A detailed exegesis of Psalm 130:8 with the objective of discovering the identity of “Israel,” the entity whom the LORD promises to “redeem from all his iniquities.”

Psalm 130 begins with the psalmist in the lowest of the depths, crying to the LORD in his iniquities, but the psalm finishes with the joyous shout of the redeemed. “Israel” hopes in the LORD because of His lovingkindness (Hebrew “hesed”) and His abundant redemption (130:7). The crescendo occurs in the last verse when the LORD’s promise is proclaimed: “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). The LORD has heard the cry of His servant and has granted him redemption from all his iniquities. By His mercy and His lovingkindness, the LORD has pulled His penitent servant “Israel” from the misery of guilt to the joy of full redemption. This is certainly salvation language, and it is certain that the “Israel” of verse 8 is saved.

INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE

As we reflect on this last verse of Psalm 130, we are faced with an interesting interpretive challenge. For while the psalmist begins as one person crying to the LORD for forgiveness (“Out of the depths I have cried,” “hear my voice,” “my supplications,” “I wait,” “I hope”), he concludes the psalm as a member of the group “Israel” exhorting all “Israel” to hope in the LORD and communicating to “Israel” the promise that the LORD “will redeem ‘Israel’ from all his iniquities.”

THE INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE STATED. (Short form) “Who is the ‘Israel’ of verse 8?” (Expanded form) Since it is clear that, in Psalm 130:8, “Israel” is promised redemption from all his iniquities, and by definition, “redemption from all iniquities” means salvation, it is theologically important to clearly identify who this “Israel” is. Who is in this group “Israel” who will be redeemed from all their iniquities?

THREE POSSIBLE IDENTITIES FOR ISRAEL

Beginning our interpretive task, then, I would maintain that, in the Bible, there are three possible identities for “Israel.” First, “Israel” could refer to Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and with man and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). But second, “Israel” could also refer to the nation made up of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, this could be the ethnic group known as the Hebrews, the physical descendants of the patriarch Jacob. The third option would be that this “Israel” refers to all the elect, to all those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5; see also Rom. 8:29-30; 9:8, 23-24).

So first, does this “Israel,” refer to the patriarch Jacob, who was named Israel? No, it does not. The exhortation in verse 7 to “hope in the LORD” makes no sense if it is made to a man who had been dead hundreds of years when this psalm was penned.

Next, could this refer to national Israel, to the ethnic group known as the Hebrews? No, it could not. While it is true that some of the Hebrews in the Bible were redeemed from their iniquities, the biblical record in both Old and New Testaments is very clear that the majority of people in national Israel perished. Just one example among many is in Numbers 14 when, except for Caleb and Joshua, the entire multitude of the sons of Israel coming out of Egypt rebelled against the LORD and therefore died in the wilderness (see also Psalm 95). But in addition to those Hebrews who perished as recorded in the pages of Scripture, virtually all Jewish people (ethnic, national Israel; Jews) who have lived in the last two millennia have not been redeemed but have died in unbelief. In no way, then, can the “Israel” of Psalm 130:8 refer to national, ethnic Israel.

“ISRAEL” IN PSALM 130:8 REFERS TO THE ELECT

Is it possible, then, that the “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect? Yes, I think it is. In fact, I think “Israel” must refer to God’s elect, to those whom God has chosen for redemption (salvation) in eternity past. “Israel” must refer to God’s elect because only these people fit the words of the verse.

Consider first that Israel, as an entire group, is exhorted to “hope in the LORD” (130:7a). This hope is not the world’s baseless “hope” that somehow, despite all appearances to the contrary, everything will work itself out for my personal happiness. Rather, biblical hope is the conviction that the LORD who loves me will certainly fulfill all His promises to me, and so I can trust in Him as I wait for Him to work out His will. But remember that “God causes all things to work together for good (only) for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Those whom God calls are certainly His elect (Rom. 8:30).

Notice also that the basis of Israel’s hope (130:7a) is the LORD’s lovingkindness (130:7b). Now, the LORD’s lovingkindness is His covenant love given to His chosen people, and this in the sense that these chosen people are forever His. Those who have by faith received the LORD’s lovingkindness have a reason to hope, because all His promises are given for them and they are all “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). But all these terms, of “covenant love” and “promises” and “hope,” are poured out in the hearts of His elect through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

It is also clear that “will redeem” is equivalent to “will save.” The LORD will save (all) Israel from all his iniquities (modified 130:8). It follows that, if Israel is saved from all his iniquities, then Israel is also forgiven of all his iniquities. But consider this, that in the Bible, there is only one group of people in which every member of the group is forgiven of all their iniquities, and that group is the elect. Those whom God has chosen will come to faith in Christ and will be forgiven of all their iniquities.

CONCLUSION. Based on these considerations, our conclusion is that “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect, to those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesian 1:4). In this instance, “Israel” is the name for God’s elect.

PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS OF THIS INTERPRETATION

A moment’s reflection will make clear that there are far-reaching implications and applications from this discovery. That, in at least some instances in the Scriptures, the word “Israel” can refer to the elect of God, to those chosen by God for salvation in eternity past, gives a new dimension especially to prophetic passages in the Old Testament. We will explore some of these ideas and implications in a follow-up post in the near future.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/15/2022                 #600

Lessons and applications from Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. In the last post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage about Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-24. From that study we will observe a couple of lessons and also make a couple of applications.

In the most recent post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage in Acts 8 about the false faith of Simon the magician and his baptism by Philip the evangelist. We saw that, despite his claim of belief in Jesus, Simon never truly believed. We also determined that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was the appropriate thing to do, even though Simon’s profession was false.

In this post, we will extend our study into lessons learned and applications made.

LESSONS FROM SIMON MAGUS

What do we learn from this situation with Simon the magician?

First, this passage makes it unambiguously clear that baptism does not save. The proof is irrefutable: Simon the magician was baptized and yet he was not saved. A review of this passage should serve to silence those who hold to baptism as the means of salvation rather than as a marking of those who have believed and are saved.

Second, we learn that it is possible for a sincere minister of the gospel to baptize an unbeliever unintentionally. The New Testament teaches that a person is baptized upon their profession of faith in Jesus. It is possible, however, that the person’s professed belief is not genuine. Our study passage shows that Philip, already identified as a “man of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), a sincere minister of the gospel who is identified in Scripture as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), baptized Simon the magician based on his profession of belief. The pattern in Acts, and so the practice in the church age, is that a person’s profession of faith, of declaring Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is assumed to be sincere and a person is baptized upon profession of faith.

By the way, it is interesting to note that the apostle Peter does not rebuke or correct Philip for baptizing Simon Magus. If Philip had done something that was wrong, then it is certain that, at this infant stage of the church, the Holy Spirit would have prompted Peter to correct that error so that the error was not repeated throughout the life of the church. The fact that Peter does not correct Philip in any way indicates that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was entirely appropriate. The fault and guilt lay entirely with Simon because he had essentially lied about his belief (see also Acts 5:3, 4).

APPLICATIONS

As we think about this episode with Simon the magician, we need to ask the question, “How does the church today avoid this situation of baptizing unbelievers?” Ultimately, the possibility of baptizing someone based on a false profession of faith cannot be removed. There are no apostles around today who have the gift to discern genuine faith from false. In the absence of this apostolic discernment, however, the church can take steps to try to ensure that a candidate for baptism is a genuine believer. For example, the person’s profession of faith can be examined carefully by wise elders to test the authenticity of their profession. Also, if the person has been a professing believer for some time, the persons interviewing the candidate for baptism can look for “the fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; see also Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2) since their conversion. If after this investigation, the candidate’s profession of faith appears genuine, then baptism is done.

So, it is possible for even the most careful pastor to unintentionally baptize a person because the person made profession of a faith they did not possess. But this event is not a cause of undue concern, and that for two reasons.

THE CHURCH’S CLEANSING BY CHURCH DISCIPLINE

First, the church does have a remedy for this situation. It is difficult for the person who is an “unsheep” to remain undetected in the flock forever. This is because every baptized believer is to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus. The Spirit-sealed disciple says no to sin and yes to righteousness. He worships, he witnesses, he grows in his faith. So if, over time, it is discovered that a professing believer is not exhibiting the fruit of repentance, but is instead evidencing the fruit of unrighteousness, the church will respond and confront this problem. If the sinning church member does not change and does not repent of his unrighteousness, eventually the church will exercise discipline and will remove this one from the flock (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5) because the person’s unrepentance is counted as evidence of unbelief.

THE LORD’S PERFECT CLEANSING AT THE AND OF THE AGE

But second, there is an even more compelling reason that the unintentional baptism of an unbeliever is not a problem. The one who makes sure that His true church is composed only of genuine believers is the Lord Himself. If there are “unsheep” in the earthly flock, they are known to the Lord and will be removed by the Lord. The following are Scriptures that attest to this truth.  

The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). No matter how cleverly those who are not true believers disguise themselves, the Lord will find them out because He knows those who are His and those who are not.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me” (John 10:14). Jesus plainly declares that He knows His sheep. Only His true sheep will be saved from the judgment. (Consider John 10:26 – “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”)

In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus teaches that there will be true believers (wheat) and unbelievers (tares) in His visible church until the end of the age. Then, at the end of the age, He will throw the unbelievers into the furnace of fire (13:42). Again we see that those who make false profession on earth do not deceive the Lord of heaven.

The parable of the dragnet is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable (Matt. 13:47-50), Jesus tells us that the dragnet of the gospel brings in both “good fish” (true believers) and “bad fish” (false), but at the end of the age, the Lord will take out the wicked from among the righteous and will throw them into the furnace of fire.

These Scriptures make clear that, even though man or the devil may sow those who are false in the field of the visible church (Matthew 13:38-39), the Lord is the One who reigns over His church and He will ensure that, at the last day, His bride has no wrinkle or spot.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/08/2022                 #598

The case of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Acts 8:9-24 and the episode involving Simon the magician. We consider the implications of Simon’s professed belief and subsequent baptism despite his unbelief.

In Acts 8:5-24, we read how Philip preaches “the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) in Samaria and, as a result, some of the Samaritans believe and are baptized. This is exciting news, indeed, but this event also presents to us a couple of situations which can be misinterpreted and thus cause doctrinal confusion. The first situation involves Simon the magician and his professed belief and baptism and the second situation relates to the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit well after they had believed in Jesus and been saved. We will carefully examine these two situations in an attempt to remove this potential confusion.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON INTERPRETING ACTS

Before we begin looking at Simon the magician, we should note that there are several considerations to keep in mind as we study the book of Acts. First, Acts portrays a time of great transition in redemptive history. At this time, the Jew-Gentile divide is firmly in place; there are still people who have believed in “the baptism of John;” the gospel is spreading first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles; and the apostles are the authority in this new gospel movement. The fact that this is a time of transition constrains our interpretations of the individual episodes in Acts.

Second, because things are in transition, we must repeatedly ask the question, “Is this event merely descriptive or is it also prescriptive?” Luke is an excellent historian and includes many details of these events in Acts. His accounts are very descriptive of what occurred. The bigger question, however, is whether this description is also the way things should occur. That is, is this event a prescription for what should happen in all churches or with all believers throughout the church age till Jesus returns? In other words, is this episode in Acts describing for us what is normal in the church? Carefully answering these questions helps keep our interpretations on solid ground.

Third, in the early chapters of Acts as the gospel is spreading from Jerusalem to Samaria to the Gentiles (“remotest parts of the earth” in Acts 1:8), each new group of believers must be folded into the church in the same way. The pattern is established at Pentecost (Acts 2), where those who believe are baptized and, upon apostolic confirmation, they receive the Holy Spirit. What happened at Pentecost with the first fruits of the Jews happened again in Samaria (our current study in Acts 8) as the Samaritans, a mixed race of Jew and Gentile, are brought into the fold, and finally this happened (as we will see later on) when the first Gentiles come to saving faith in Christ (Cornelius in Acts 10). This process of apostolic confirmation and incorporation in the Body was unique in redemptive history, but its occurrence can cause confusion for readers of Acts.

With that as background, let’s begin our study of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24).

SIMON HIMSELF BELIEVED AND WAS BAPTIZED

The first situation we will address involves Simon the magician (“Simon Magus”). This Simon is a curious character. Before Philip came to Samaria preaching the gospel, Simon “was astonishing the people of Samaria” with his magical tricks (Acts 8:9). But when Philip performs miraculous signs and preaches the good news, the people give their attention to him, believe in the name of Jesus, and are baptized. The potential difficulty arises when the Scripture says, “Even Simon himself believed” and was baptized (8:13). To this point in Acts, when anyone believed and was baptized, it meant that they had been saved. Belief in the good news followed by baptism was the formula for salvation. But with Simon the magician, it becomes apparent that, despite his professed belief and his subsequent baptism, he is not a genuine believer but is still “in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). How do we explain this?

PROFESSED BELIEF AND BAPTISM

To understand this situation, It is necessary to examine both professed belief and baptism to see what is happening here.

Our doctrine teaches us that water baptism does not save a person. We could say that “Baptism marks a person as saved, but it is not the means by which a person is saved.”

But we must go further. We can say “Baptism marks a person as saved” because their baptism is based on that person’s profession of faith (belief, trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that faith and salvation precede baptism. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). In all examples of baptism in the New Testament, salvation by faith precedes baptism. Therefore, we can conclude that a person is baptized because they have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and are therefore assumed to be saved.

So then, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Philip appropriately baptized the Samaritans based on their profession of belief in the Lord Jesus. He assumed that their profession of faith was genuine, so he baptized them. In the same way, he also baptized Simon the magician based on Simon’s false profession of faith. But Philip was not an apostle, so he did not have the apostolic gift that allowed him to discern a false profession.

APOSTOLIC DISCERNMENT

In Acts and during the apostolic period, one of the gifts of the apostles was the ability to discern genuine faith. When the three thousand believed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostle Peter was there to confirm the faith of those believers. But Peter was not there in Samaria when the gospel was proclaimed by Philip and so he could not confirm that these Samaritans had actually believed in Jesus and should now be included in the church. The Samaritans, including Simon the magician, had professed belief in Jesus, but without apostolic sanction, it was not certain that they possessed belief in Jesus.

Peter went down to Samaria for the purpose of putting his apostolic stamp on this move of the Spirit of God. In this instance, the apostle Peter was able to discern that Simon’s profession of belief was false. The Scripture makes clear that Simon had not truly believed in the Lord Jesus and was not saved, and so Peter exposed his unbelief and did not lay hands on him.

Having looked at Simon’s unbelief and his baptism and having determined what is happening in this passage, we also want to consider what lessons can learn and what applications we can draw from this study. The next post will take that next step.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/07/2022                 #597

When a saint goes home (2 Timothy 4:7)

POST OVERVIEW. Thoughts on the contrast between the death of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the death of one who does not know Christ.

This morning seemed like every other morning. I had early coffee at Starbucks with a friend, then talked to another friend on the phone, and finally had a fairly long phone conversation with my brother. So, the morning was proceeding as Fridays do. But this Friday was different. This Friday, a dear saint, a member of our church went home to be with Jesus. Edye was 93 years old and had been a member of Oakhurst Baptist Church since the 1950’s. She was in church almost every Sunday and it was always encouraging for me to see her singing all the words to every song. I enjoyed being able to hear about her trust in the Lord developed over a lifetime of walking with Him, so I tried to talk to her almost every Sunday. I will miss her and will look forward to seeing her again in heaven.

As I think about life and death and the human condition, I again marvel at the wonder of Christ’s salvation. For the natural man is lost and in darkness and has a natural terror of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). While all of God’s creatures die, man is the only creature who is aware that he will surely die. And why does man die? Man dies because man sins. Ever since Adam sinned in the garden, man has been born guilty and bent toward sin and this sin has two immense consequences.

TWO CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

First, man’s own sinfulness is registered deep in his soul so that man is aware of his sin and guilt in his subconscious. He may vigorously ignore and deny his sin and declare his innocence with his mouth, but the guilt within remains, like a deep undressed wound, festering and growing more foul. The conscience will continue to convict regardless of how loudly the voice denies. So, the first consequence of sin is that the natural man feels within him a deep sense of guilt and shame.

But while the first consequence of sin is, indeed, miserable, the second is far more serious and threatening. The Bible declares that a man’s sin brings him under God’s wrath and condemnation. The Scripture testifies that God will pour out His wrath on our ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). When Ezekiel declares, “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), the prophet is speaking of eternal death, of a destination in the lake of fire as a result of God’s judgment of our sin. Our sin separates us from God and hides His face from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) so that we forfeit His mercy and receive instead His displeasure and judgment. It is from this second consequence of sin, from God’s wrath and judgment, that we must be saved.

WHY ARE SOME NOT MISERABLE AND AFRAID?

Now we return to the wonder of Christ’s salvation. For while the natural man is miserable because of his deep, subconscious sense of guilt and shame for his sin and is, at the same time, terrified at the thought of his own death because he is subconsciously aware of God’s wrath and judgment, Edye, our recently deceased sister, evidenced neither of these in her life. Instead, she talked easily of her inevitable physical death and had no fear of that event whatsoever. Edye’s health was slowly fading as she journeyed through her low 90’s, but her joy was undiminished and she was optimistic about life and the future. She smiled and laughed easily and enjoyed being around her church family. How do we make sense of this paradox? Why is it that, when Edye was obviously so close to death, she continued to live with joy and not terror?

EDYE’S ANSWER

There is a one-word answer to this question: Jesus. Edye had met the Lord Jesus Christ and had long ago trusted Him for salvation and had walked with Him for more than six decades. When she trusted Christ, He had taken away her sin and had thus taken away her guilt and shame. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Edye’s Savior had given her forgiveness for all her sins and so she had peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1).

Edye believed that Jesus accomplished the work He was given to do (John 17:4), that He had faithfully lived a sinless life and had willingly given up His life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross. When He died, all the work of redemption was fully accomplished. Thus, Jesus could cry out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By faith Edye trusted Christ for her salvation and thus her guilt was taken away.

Edye entered the hospital on Thursday afternoon and by Friday morning she had entered eternity. But for her there was no last minute struggle for a few more heartbeats, a few more breaths. When it was time for her to go to be with her Lord, Edye simply yielded her spirit and died. Why? Because she had accomplished her works the Lord had given her to do (Eph. 2:10) and there was nothing left for her to do. She had fought the good fight and finished the race (2 Tim. 4:7), and now the reward was hers (4:8). Christ had bought her with His blood and she had lived for Him and so now Edye joins the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Yes, Edye will be missed, but we who believe in Jesus will see her again in heaven.

BUT FOR THE UNBELIEVER THERE IS NO PEACE

One final thought should be mentioned. For the believer, for the one who has trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the end of this life presents no terror. It is a known fact that all must face death, but Christ has taken away from His disciples any fear. He has given me works to do and He determines when my work is done. He has risen from the dead and so I know that I will be raised with a glorified body on the last day. I know that the Lord delights in me, so I look forward to seeing Him face to face and receiving my crown of reward from Him. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), so I joyfully anticipate the day of my death. Work done, works accomplished, faith kept, I enter into the joy of my Master. On that day, I will be able to commit my spirit into His hands.

But for the unbeliever, death holds great dread. There is no peace with God, so there is no reason to assume that you are going to “a better place.” Without a God-given purpose for your life, there can be no end to your labors, because you can never know if you have done enough. Since you do not know what awaits beyond the grave, there is a desperate desire for life to continue, even when life has lost all purpose and pleasure. So is the prospect of death for the one without Christ.

But there is still time to embrace Christ. As long as you have breath, you can bow the knee to Jesus and receive His salvation. “Behold, today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). The Lord is mighty to save. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Right now you can do what Edye did sixty years ago. Repent, and believe in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 12/02/2022                 #595