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 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

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.


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.


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?


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.


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

Inauguration, identification, and commitment in Jesus’ baptism

INTRODUCTION. An examination of Matthew 3:13-17 with the goal of discovering why Jesus was baptized, then applying those ideas to the life of a believer/disciple.

When He was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Here is the account from the gospel of Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was baptized. All four gospels unambiguously attest to this fact. But the question that must be answered is, “Why was Jesus baptized?”


Let’s explore this question. We can start by saying what is not the reason Jesus was baptized. John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). In Matthew 3:6 we read that John was baptizing people “in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matt. 3:6). But since Jesus was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; etc.), He had no sins to confess, so He was not being baptized for repentance.

So, we are back at square one. “Why was Jesus baptized?”


Jesus’ words in Matthew 3:15 seem to provide some helpful information. First, Jesus commands John to permit His baptism. In the Greek, this is an imperative, meaning Jesus is giving John a command. “Allow My baptism!” With this command, Jesus is telling John, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this, but I know why, and so I am commanding you to baptize Me and to trust Me about this.”

Notice also that John is to permit this baptism “at this time.” This phrase could also be translated from the Greek as “at the current time” or simply “now.” There is something about this particular time that is significant and that makes it “fitting” (or “proper”) for Jesus to be baptized at this specific time. This new information has changed our question to, “Why was Jesus baptized at this specific time?” As we consider the timing of this scene, we see that this is the time Jesus began His earthly ministry. And it is “fitting” (or “proper”) to mark the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry “in this way,” that is, with baptism.  


Putting these pieces together, then, we would say that it was appropriate and fitting to fulfill all righteousness for Jesus to mark the launch of His earthly ministry with baptism. To say this more simply, it was right (or righteous) for Jesus to mark the start of His earthly ministry with baptism. So, the answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?” is that He was baptized to mark the start of His earthly ministry. But that is not the complete reason.

At His baptism, Jesus emerged from complete obscurity and was publicly identified as the Son of God when God the Father declared from heaven, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). Prior to this event, Jesus had been an unknown carpenter in the backwater town of Nazareth, quietly living His days with His mother and brothers. Now, by His baptism, His days of quiet obscurity are forever ended and His anonymity is gone. Through His baptism, He is now identified as the Son of God. Thus, a second reason for His baptism was His identification as the Son of God.

But there was another reason for Jesus to be baptized, for at His baptism, Jesus committed Himself to the cross. After He emerged from the waters of baptism, there was no turning back, there would be no distractions, there was no other possible ending to the story. His baptism was the visual sign that Jesus was committed to His mission all the way to His death. As Jesus went down into the waters of baptism, He was picturing His own physical death on the cross and subsequent burial, and when He was raised up out of the water, He was picturing His own glorious resurrection. His baptism, then, was also about His commitment to be obedient till death (Philippians 2:8).


We have seen that in His baptism, Jesus inaugurated His mission, He identified as the Son of God, and He committed to the cross. But Jesus’ baptism has even more significance than that.

When I was baptized, after my pastor requested from me a verbal testimony of my faith in Jesus Christ, he said these words before he plunged me under the water: “Based on your profession of faith, IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST and in obedience to His divine command (Matthew 28:19), I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (plunge into water), rise again to walk in newness of life (bring up out of the water).”

As believers, we worship a crucified Savior, but we also worship a baptized Savior. Jesus Christ was baptized, and He thus left His disciples an example of what we are to do when we make disciples, according to Matthew 28:19. And as Jesus was baptized as a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment, so the baptism of a disciple is also a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment.

In his public baptism, the disciple publicly inaugurates his discipleship and starts his lifelong walk with Jesus. Baptism is the fitting sign to mark the start of a disciple’s earthly journey with Jesus.

Also, in baptism the disciple publicly declares his faith in Jesus and vows to follow Jesus forever. His baptism publicly identifies him as a follower of Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the baptized disciple is always identified with the crucified and risen Savior.

Finally, in the disciple’s baptism he visually makes a commitment to follow Jesus until death, no matter the cost and no matter the consequences. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), and so as long as he draws breath, the disciple is a committed witness for Jesus Christ.


SDG                 rmb                 6/10/2022                   #542

For the believer, the sources of discouragement are gone

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #528 on May 11, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.


A few days ago I posted an article on “discouragement” (see #528 on May 11). In that article, I made the statement that discouragement is the expected state for many people in this world just based on their discouraging state of mind. For example, if you fear the future, and are discontent in the present, and regret the past, you should be discouraged. If you believe your existence is an accident of impersonal random chance in a vast, indifferent universe, you should expect to be discouraged. If you are afraid of death, then expect to be discouraged. If you have no meaningful purpose for your life, you will be discouraged. Sooner or later, even the most optimistic person will be crushed by these ideas and will become discouraged, then depressed, and then probably will feel hopeless. Bottom line is, if this is you, you should expect to be discouraged.

Now, I want to think some more about this phenomenon of a discouraging state of mind. There are two things to observe about the discouraging thoughts that I listed above. First, these thoughts can occur to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, physical health, monetary status, marital status, national origin, or any other natural distinction. Because these are thoughts and concepts in the mind, they can occur to anyone. That’s first.


But second and more profound, these thoughts should not be present to any great measure to the follower of Jesus. Here’s why I say that.

  • Fear of the future. In this life, “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), so there is no need to fear the future in this life. When I die, I will go to heaven (Phil. 1:23) and at the resurrection, I will receive a glorified body and will forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17), so there is no need to fear the future after death. The believer should not fear the future.
  • Discontent in the present. The believer is to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18) and is to be content in whatever circumstances they are (Phil. 4:11-12; Job 1:21; 1 Timothy 6:6-8), so there is no reason to grumble or be discontent.
  • Regret the past. “Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize” (Phil. 3:13-14). The Bible says that the believer can forget what lies behind, so no regret. The “body of sin” from my past is gone (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), so there is no past sin remaining to be regretted. I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as a new creation, I have no past to regret.
  • My existence is an accident of impersonal random chance. One of the great benefits of being an atheist or an evolutionist is that you believe that, in your very essence, you are an accident of impersonal random chance. This points to the fact that your existence (or non-existence, for that matter) cannot be of any significance, because it is impossible for the results of impersonal random events to have any inherent meaning. For the follower of Jesus, however, who knows that he has been formed in His mother’s womb by the living God (Psalm 139:13-14) and has been chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation (Ephesians 1:4) by the maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), his life has immense significance. He will pour out his life to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
  • Afraid of death. The natural man, regardless of his futile attempts to deny it and disguise it, is afraid of death. Death is God’s judgment on sin, and as such, causes fear in the depths of man’s soul. It is fear of death that has motivated man to create his demonic religions, but these will do him no good on the day of judgment. The natural man has no answer for death, and yet death relentlessly approaches with each passing day. But for the follower of Jesus, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:54). For the Christian, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is after death that the believer receives the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26), the one who believes in Him will never die.
  • No meaningful purpose in life. The vast majority of people spend their lives without a mission or a purpose. Even people whom the world evaluates as “successful” are simply better at doing what the world values than other people but ask them to describe to you their mission and they are at a loss. The best most people have is a worldly idea to gather together more stuff. But the follower of Jesus has been given a mission by the Lord Jesus Himself. Part of the birthright of the born-again is the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20). Also, I am to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8). I am to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Confession). Whatever I do in life can be measured against these great mission statements. The Christian should not be discouraged because there are always more opportunities to be a witness for Christ. My purpose and my mission have been given to me by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus Himself has given me personally my mission and my purpose. And so, the believer should not be discouraged because their life is full of purpose. The mission is clear, and it is exciting.

So, brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s shed the grave clothes of discouragement and let’s put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and rejoice!

My next post on this subject will describe why it is so difficult for the discouraged believer to be obedient to the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 5/13/2022                   #530

Eager to obey the voice of the Master

While I was walking in my neighborhood, I passed a man sitting on a bench in his yard. About ten feet away from the man was his dog, a German Shepherd. To the casual observer, the dog appeared to be doing nothing at all, but I sensed that the dog was actually waiting for a command from the man, his master. Although apparently relaxed, the German Shepherd had its ears cocked and tuned to any utterance from its master, ready at any instant to do whatever was commanded. As I thought about that, I realized that the dog is made for no other purpose than to obey a master. This German Shepherd has no goal in life and, by itself, no inherent reason for existence. But when the dog has a master who commands the dog for the master’s pleasure, then the dog has a purpose.


As I contemplated these things, I began to see that the life of every person is similar to life of a dog in this sense, that as the dog seeks a master to give its life meaning, so the human being is adrift in the world until he submits to God to direct his life. We have been created to serve our great God and to obey His commands.


Now, to some, this sounds preposterous and maybe a little insulting. Man is the highest of the creatures on the earth, the only one created in God’s image. Man has intellect and volition and is able to comprehend both the future and the past. Man has been able to accomplish phenomenal things in every conceivable field of endeavor. And all of that is remarkable and certainly sets man apart from the rest of the creation.


But the fundamental difference between human beings and the rest of the created order is not man’s intellect but is man’s morality. Man is the only creature that is morally aware, so that man is responsible to God for his moral judgments and his actions. He has been created by a holy God to obey His Creator’s commandments and to live in harmony with his holy God and to enjoy fellowship with Him forever. When a man submits to God as his Master, then that man has peace and purpose.


Now, we know that most human beings do not submit to God as their Master. This is because man is a fallen creature and has rebelled against God. Man is born as a sinner and therefore refuses to submit to God. The natural man rejects God as his Master and instead chooses to do whatever he wants to do. In this sense, then, natural man is similar to the German Shepherd without a master. Both have a life without purpose.


But there is good news! For even though man is born into this world as a sinner and as a rebel against God, he can be born again and can be made into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In the analogy with the German Shepherd, as the dog can find a master and be trained to obey him, so a human being can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and can obey Him as Master. The person who submits to and obeys Jesus Christ is a person who has found meaning and usefulness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

Here are some illustrations of how this analogy might work.

A dog who has submitted to a master and is well-trained does not evaluate the commands of the master. The dog simply obeys the master’s command as issued and leaves the reason for the command up to the master. In other words, the dog does not need to understand the reason for the command to obey it.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus should not evaluate the commands of the Lord or delay obedience until they understand the reasons for the commands. They should be as Abraham when he was told to take Isaac to Moriah to sacrifice him there (Genesis 22:1). Abraham obeyed, even though he could not have understood why the LORD would give him such a command. The disciple of Jesus obeys by faith, even if they don’t understand.

As I have already argued, a dog’s life is relatively useless without a master to give it direction, but with a master who will train the dog, the dog can be very useful.

In the same way, a man is relatively useless until he is called to salvation. In fact, often without the Lord’s call a person’s life is destructive and negative and worse than useless. In Matthew 20:1-15, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard goes repeatedly to the marketplace where the workers are just standing around doing nothing. This is an illustration of our life before we know Jesus as Lord and Savior. No matter our labors before Christ, we are simply standing idle in the marketplace. But once we are figuratively hired and sent out to labor in the vineyard, then our lives are useful as we produce fruit for the Kingdom.

The dog who is properly trained by its master seeks only the approval of its master. It may be friendly to other people, but its primary motivation is to please its master.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus who has submitted to Christ seeks the approval of Christ above all things. His primary aim is to hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

The trained German Shepherd waits for its master’s commands. Remember the dog on the lawn beside its master. Even though apparently at rest, the dog was actually in focused anticipation for any command from its master.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus eagerly reads the word of God so that he may know the commands of the Lord. The trained disciple seeks the Lord’s commands so that he may eagerly obey.

When the trained dog hears the voice of its master, it goes from dead still to obedient action in a moment. Just so, when the trained disciple discerns the voice of the Lord, he moves into action without hesitation.

A dog that has been properly trained will attempt to obey the master’s command, even if that obedience results in the dog’s death. For the dog with a master, obeying its master is more important than life itself.

Likewise, the disciple of Jesus joyfully obeys the Lord regardless of the circumstances. This is captured in the words of the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

SDG                 rmb                 11/19/2021                 #457

An exchange for your soul (Matthew 16:26)

This is another post from the series “A life spent for the King,” based on Matthew 16:24-27. We have already looked at Matthew 16:24 (October 26), where we saw that the disciple who would follow Jesus must submit to Jesus, must willingly take up the cross that Jesus gives him, and must obediently follow Him wherever He leads. In Matthew 16:25 (October 31), we discovered that finding meaning and joy and peace in life depends upon surrendering our lives into Jesus’ hands. Thus, paradoxically, we find our life by losing it for Jesus’ sake.

Today we will examine the next verse in the passage, Matthew 16:26.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Whatever you are pursuing in life should be evaluated in light of these two profound questions.

Consider Jesus’ first question:

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”


Jesus’ question makes clear that everyone has a choice to make. Will you live your life to gain much in this world, or will you live your life to gain the kingdom of heaven? Will you gain the world and forfeit your soul, or will you forfeit the world and gain your soul? There are two, and only two, options. You either gain the world and forfeit your soul, or you forsake the world and follow Jesus Christ. One or the other, and the choice is yours. And you must choose.

Now, some will say, “I don’t know what you are talking about. You say that I must make this choice between ‘the world’ and my soul, but I have never done that.” Oh, but you have made the choice, and you have chosen the world. The default position is to seek to gain much in this world and to be indifferent to the state of your soul. We are all born into this world as natural people with a love for the world and, unless there is a life-altering encounter with Jesus, we continue that way until death. So, for the one who is not aware of making a choice, you are gaining the world and forfeiting your soul. And this is most people. A look at their lives reveals that they are consumed with the pleasures and concerns and activities of this life and are indifferent to their eternal destiny and to the state of their own soul.

But Jesus is not speaking primarily to those who are gaining the world and who are indifferent to Him. We remember that Jesus’ first question here is directed at those who wish to come after Him (16:24) and so, Jesus is telling them what it will cost to follow Him.

16:24 – Deny yourself. Take up your cross (Will you suffer for Me?). Follow Me (wherever I lead).

16:25 – Surrender your life (soul) into My hands. Lose your life (soul) for My sake.

Now (16:26) He says that all your priorities must change. Your desires for material gain in this life must be forfeited. “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). Your natural desire to preserve your own physical life must be exchanged for a love for Christ. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). The desire to have material wealth and to accomplish impressive things and to indulge in the world’s pleasures (1 John 2:15-16) will endanger your soul (life). Jesus must reign as unrivaled King of your life so that you willingly forsake this present world. The one who would come after Jesus must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and trust that “all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

So, Jesus’ first question asks, “Does the evidence of your life affirm that you are ‘fixing your eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2), that you are living in this world, but you are not of this world, ‘having confessed that you are strangers and exiles on the earth’ (Hebrews 11:13)?” This is Jesus’ first question.

Now consider Jesus’ second question:

“Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”


The Lord’s second question reveals the spiritual and eternal nature of the choice every person makes with the way we choose to live our lives, and also implies the disastrous consequences of a life without Christ.

As we have already said, the way you choose to live your life is eternally significant. For what are you exchanging your soul? To live your life without Christ as you pursue your own kingdom is to gain nothing and to forfeit your soul. You have exchanged that which is most precious for rubbish that will burn up at the Judgment.


And it is toward the final judgment on the Last Day that Jesus is pointing. Jesus will speak about the Judgment in our next verse in this series, Matthew 16:27. For we must be certain of this: a day is coming when all will stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). Jesus warns about this terrible judgment throughout His earthly ministry, telling us in advance that everyone must be ready because everyone will certainly be judged. Are you living your life in light of “that day,” or are you living your life at the expense of your soul?

SDG                 rmb                 11/5/2021                   #451

Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.


The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427

The American Christian and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12)

The disciple of Jesus in America is at a distinct disadvantage because of their religious context. What I mean is that the American follower of Jesus comes to faith and lives out their faith in circumstances that are not only very different from those of most of the rest of the world, but also in circumstances that are in many ways foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. Although the cultural environment in America is changing with astonishing speed, the basic mindset of virtually all professing believers in this country is that being a Christian is an honorable and respectable thing, and that our freedom to practice our faith in the Lord Jesus without fear is an inalienable right. The American disciple of Jesus assumes that, as long as he is not too vocal about his faith and as long as he remains winsome and respectable in public, he will be able to go peacefully to his pleasant, pretty church building on Sundays and worship the Lord Jesus unhindered.


But it is these basic assumptions which hinder our willingness, and thus hinder our ability, to take risks for our faith. The follower of Jesus described in the pages of the New Testament is one who has already given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; Mark 10:28; Philippians 3:8), so, when they are called to take risks, they have nothing left to lose. The disciple of Jesus has already died: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). For the one who has already died, the risk of death holds but a feeble threat.

But when Jesus personally called the “rich, young ruler” to follow Him, the risk of losing everything was too high (Luke 18:22; etc.). The Son of God in the flesh gave this man a personal invitation to eternal life if he would but give up all his possessions and the man chose the possessions and refused eternal life. The comfort of his possessions and his easy way of life and his prominence in the community and his respectability and his reputation in the synagogue all hindered him from following Jesus. He simply had too much to lose. Eternal life wasn’t worth the risk. Are we any different?

The life of the New Testament disciple of Jesus is a life that takes intentional risks so that his King may be glorified and so that others can enter the Kingdom. The lives of the believers in the New Testament were inherently risky, and the stakes were high. But, generally speaking, our lives as disciples of Jesus in America are intentionally safe. We have been raised in a Christian culture that avoids risks. With very few exceptions, our role models in the American church are not those known for taking risks. Since our role models avoid risks, and since the overall Christian culture prefers prudence to reckless abandon, we play it safe and continue to believe that persecution is something that happens “over there.” We continue to believe that we can live godly in Christ Jesus and not be persecuted.


The background of the American disciple of Christ almost prevents the acceptance of the biblical facts of persecution. The biblical fact is that Jesus calls all His followers to forsake everything for His name and for the sake of His kingdom, but the American disciple, without even thinking about it, translates that into something like, “Jesus wants me to read my Bible, go to church, and be faithful in my giving.” The biblical fact is that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12), but the American Christian immediately interprets persecution as something like the people in your office thinking you are weird because of what you do on Sundays and because they have heard you mention the word “God” in conversations. The idea that simply telling your parents that you have become a follower of Jesus could result in them beating you, calling you a traitor, an infidel, and the scum of the earth, and possibly even killing you, is outside the American believer’s imagination. Most American pastors would consider it absurd if someone suggested they could go to jail simply for preaching the gospel in their church. This is not because their faith is small or because they are not true believers or because we are unaware of the experience of many suffering believers in the world. We have this mindset in America because believers here have been protected, and even lauded, by a constitution that has been upheld ever since this country was founded. Not only that, but Christianity has been and still is the dominant religious expression in the country. Many of those expressions are stagnant, apostate, or even heretical, but in this country, a “religion” that is somehow associated with Jesus is still viewed as generally virtuous.


One of the reasons why professing American followers of Jesus have this unbiblical view of persecution and of the cost of following Jesus is that many professing believers are unfamiliar with their Bibles. In churches where the sermons are shallow and are not founded on the biblical text, and where Bible reading is not an expected part of Christian growth, the congregation will be ignorant of the prominence of persecution that is implicit and explicit throughout the New Testament. An ignorant congregation cannot be an obedient congregation, for you cannot obey what you do not know to be a command or an expectation. This woeful situation of biblical ignorance explains much of the worldly mindset that exists in American Christianity.

The solution for this problem is obvious. A church that claims to be Christian is a church that must preach the whole counsel of God so that the congregation hears the word of God properly taught from the pulpit. Churches that do not do this should repent and begin to be Bible-based churches. But also, the professing disciple of Jesus must hear from his church leadership that Bible reading is an expectation of every Christian, and then must begin to include serious Bible reading into their Christian discipleship. There is no discipleship without active, regular Bible reading. Without the regular intake of the Word, you will not grow.


For those disciples of Jesus who do read their Bible, there can be another obstacle, and that obstacle is the way most American Christians read their Bibles. It is hard to put this into words, but it is the tendency to read without feeling the full impact of the passage. It is reading how the apostle Paul was stoned by the people of Lystra (Acts 14:19-20) and they “dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (because he probably was dead!), and then not grasping the fact that the greatest Christian missionary was nearly killed many times and was eventually executed for the crime of preaching Jesus. It is reading how the apostles rejoiced because they were “considered worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name” (Acts 5:41), and then refusing to tell your friend that you have become a Christian even when he asks you repeatedly “What’s new?” It is reading Paul’s great declaration, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), and then hesitating to go on a mission trip because of the possibility of contracting a disease.

We read our Bibles in a detached way, believing that these events in the Bible really happened as they are described, but not identifying them as anything that would ever happen to me. I see the suffering and the sacrifice of my heroes, and I see the world’s hostility against those that I admire for their personal holiness and commitment to Christ, and yet there seems to be a disconnect in my ability to see myself at the end of that spear. “Oh, I could never see myself doing that, but I admire these brothers that have this level of commitment.”

I don’t think that I hesitate overly long over these types of adventures because I am a spoiled coward, at least I hope that is not the reason. I think, I hope it is mostly the collective expectations of decades of “safe” evangelicalism that has rendered me a seeker of safety instead of one who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS: The solution to this problem is anything but simple and obvious. I think the solution will involve diligent searching for a strategy followed by lots of hard work at carrying out the plan. The first step to solving any problem, though, is identifying the problem, and then admitting that it is, in fact, a problem. Hopefully, this article has taken a step in the direction of identifying the problem for the American Christian.

The next step I would propose would be making a conscious effort to say “yes” to risky ventures for the kingdom of God before you fully consider the risk.

Another thought would be to say “yes” to any and all assignments you sense you are called to do without any consideration of the risk. That is, the only question you are seeking to answer is, “Has the Lord called me to this assignment?” Any risk is the Lord’s area of responsibility. Obedience to His call is my area of responsibility.

Another strategy is that of over-commitment. Make commitments that exceed your capacity and then trust that the Lord will expand your capacity.

Another thought is to explore areas of ministry that create fear and stress in your gut.

And I am sure that others can conceive of other ways to turn the average “play it safe” American disciple of Christ into a fire breather who would never shrink back.

“Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” C. T. Studd

SDG                 rmb                 6/24/2021                   #417