Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
And For the record, the Fight for Joy! Journal is my personal spiritual journal that I don't journal in all that often but when I do it's usually worth sharing. I'm going to start doing that here from time to time. My prayer is God will use it to further sanctify and bless you.
DISCLAIMER: Although I am sharing from my journal I am also adding some textual notes, Greek word studies, and other helps to further magnify and clarify what God's Word says and how we might apply it to our lives in sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus)--see Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [Him]."
From 10/2/2014: God conceived The Law, revealed The Law, interprets The Law, and applies The Law, and through the sacrifice of His Son, ALL the demands of The Law have been met for those who trust in Him.
Paul wrote, "He who did not spare His own Son (same verb used for the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:16) but delivered (gave) Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely (graciously) give us all things" (Romans 8:32). If there is a greatest verse in all the Bible, this is it. There is much to ponder and meditate upon here. There is much to consider. In the Greek there is an intensive particle (ge) which magnifies God's deed of not sparing His own Son but delivering Him over for us ("us," of course being all those who, by God's gracious choice, "are beloved of God, called as saints" (Romans 1:6). They are those who, because they are are "in Christ," are not condemened (Romans 8:1).
So, God has given us the greatest gift of all--His Son, whom He "did not spare, but delivered Him over for us all." Delivered speaks of God's active participation in the judicial condemnation of Christ. Luke writes, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Jesus--the God-Man--was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God."
By delivering His own Son "over for us all," is an example of a Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. Here it is from God to us. The supreme gift of God's Son guarantees the subsequent gift of everything else we need for our full and final glory. Furthermore, the gift of "His own son," according to the late A.T. Robertson, "is the promise and the pledge of the all things for good of verse 28. Christ is all and carries all with Him."
This is heavy, or to put it another way, weighty. It is much to take in, to absorb, to ponder, to meditate upon. "With Christ," and because He has been "delivered over for us all," Paul writes, God will now "also with Him freely give us all things." Paul often uses this phrase (freely give us) to denote forgiveness and may mean that here. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt this is Paul's meaning here, then every sin a believer commits has been forgiven--every single one--past, present, and future.
And it's not just our sins that have been forgiven. We have also been "freely [given] all things." This is similar language to what we find in Ephesians, where Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" (Ephesians 1:3). God has freely given us all things--every spiritual blessing--everything we need for forgiveness of sins, the life He calls us to live here and now, and future grace--all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ from this time forth and forevermore! It is whatever is necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you and me.
APPLICATION: I believe that in order to begin to apply these truths we must think about what God's Word says here. This is called biblical meditaiton. Allow the words of Romans 8:32 (and the supporting passages) to sink into your thinking and into your heart. As you do, sanctification and transformation will occur. Here are some practical suggestions for meditating on this passage. Think about these things:
1. God delivered His own Son over to death for you. He died a judicial death in your place.
2. God has through His act of delivering His own Son over for you, now freely given you all things--every spiritual blessing--everything you need for sanctification and transformation--your so called Christian life. Here's another way of thinking about that: Jesus Christ is your life! (Read the whole book of Colossians for more of God's Word on that!).
3. God has, through His supreme gift, guaranteed the subsequent gift of everything else you need for your full and final glory. In other words, the Gospel will bring you all the way to glory. There is no such thing as a defective salvation. You have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. You've got God's Word on that!
4. Because of the supreme gift of His Son, God is going to provide you with and do everything necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you. So make your life's goals to Treasure Christ, Live the Word, Make Disciples, and Finish Well!
5. Finally, think about this...Because of the pledge of His Son, God promises to fulfill all things for good in your life (Romans 8:28).
What about a dying church says that our God is great and His Gospel is powerful? This question came to Mark Clifton, national director of replanting at the North American Mission Board, as he stood in front of a declining church in Kansas City.
The short answer is nothing about a dying church says our God is great and His Gospel is powerful. Thankfully, there is movement in Southern Baptist circles today to do something about that.
I recently spent two days in Atlanta at the North American Mission Board's first every ReplantLab -- a conference that brought pastors, church planters, Directors of Missions, and other SBC leaders, ministers, and workers to talk about one thing--Replanting dying churches. The following Baptist Press article further explains the Replanting concept:
I am praying about my roll in this whole Replanting movement. I will be transitioning out of the Air Force in the coming months and am eager to see what God has planned for me. I know He is up to something but right now He is more interested in me knowing Him than knowing what's next. So, as I continue to seek Him, I pray He will soon reveal His will to me. Pray with me!
Pictured L to R: Me, Henry Blackaby and his son, Richard
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11). That is one long passage but, man, does it say a lot. The bottomline is simply this: Paul wants to know Jesus in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Some people drift through life while others make and pursue various goals. What about you? Are you drifting or pursuing? And, if you are pursuing, what is it that you pursue? Some pursue things and riches while other pursue gym bodies and fleeting beauty. The possible pursuits are limitless it seems. For Christians, however, our pursuit is to be singular--to know Jesus and to be found in Him. Paul puts it this way: "...that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."
I must confess I have stumbled into the trap of pursuing worldly things. Thankfully, God has not left me to myself. He always has a way to bring me back to the reality of who I am in Christ. Over the years I have developed some goals for my own life--a mission statement, so to speak. It's what I aim for and although I break it out into four areas or goals, they can ultimately be summed up in the phrase, "So that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him." I aim for these four things: (1) I want to treasure Christ; (2) I want to live the Word (sometimes I refer to this one as proclaim the Word); (3) I want to make disciples (followers of Jesus); (4) I want to finish well.
I made the above image a couple years ago to try and capture these goals. Sometimes I explain the last goal (to finish well) as the strategic focus of my life. If I finish well, then naturally, I will have treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples. At the end of his life Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The ongoing prayer of my heart is that I, too, will be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." By God's grace--and only by His grace--I will finish well.
All this got me to thinking recently what it takes to finish well. I came up with the following list of characteristics of one who fights the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith. It is in no way exhaustive. You may think of additional characteristics. But these are good ones with which to start. And, these all assume one is a believer and surrendered to God and sold out for Jesus. To finish well, therefore, a person must...
1. Be a visionary. The writer of Proverbs wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Vision, especially a vision to finish well, restrains a person in such a way to keep on target.
2. Be willing to suffer. It amazes me the number of so called believers I encounter who think any suffering is a sign of weak faith. The Christian life is not an easy one. If our leader (Christ) suffered, we can expect the same thing. Peter wrote, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier, in 1 Peter 3:17, he indicates suffering is often God's will for the believer. The primary reason for suffering, I believe, is to make us more like Christ. Suffering also serves the same purpose as vision--to keep us on target.
3. Not get bogged down by past successes and failures. Paul said, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). A few verses later he writes, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). It is good to celebrate victories but we should not camp out there. Furthermore, the devil will try to bog us down by pointing out past sins and failures. We must forget those, too. If God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus then we must move on. Otherwise, we'll fail to stay on target.
4. Be patient. In our fast-food world we want what we want and we want it now! James said, "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains" (James 5:7). A farmer doesn't go out and dig up his recently planted crop to see why it's not growing. He continues to "farm" while patiently waiting for the harvest. Likewise, a believer who wants to finish well is going to be patient. Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) is an often slow, tedious, and sometimes painful process. But if we're patient we'll eventually reap the reward of said patience--we'll finish well!
5. Be willing to persevere no matter what. The Bible mentions perseverance or endurance multiple times. In other words, God doesn't want us to give up. Consider Revelation 14:12, which reads, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Finishing well calls for endurance. When you stumble, get back up and keep on persevering. When you fail miserably, get back up and keep pressing on. Run the race set before you until you cross the finish line. And how will you know you've crossed the finish line? You'll see Jesus face-to-face and He'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps you know of more. Feel free to share via the comments section below. Comments will remain open for 60 days following the date of this posting. My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we'd run the race and finish well, having treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples along the way!
“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Whenever we think of Christian persecution our thoughts normally turn to those believers of yesteryear. It seems today’s brand of American Christianity knows little if anything of persecution. But persecution is a reality in many places around the world. For example, on Sunday morning, November 4, 2012, suspected Muslim extremists hurled a grenade onto the roof of a Kenyan church, killing a chaplain and injuring several others. In Tanzania, Christians have lost churches, homes, cars, and livestock in recent attacks. In Iran, the ruling elite continues their crackdown on Christian churches. All around the world many are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Some are threatened, some are beaten, some are imprisoned, and some are slaughtered—all because they dare to name the name of Jesus . Little is reported in the secular media, and little is known, it seems, by the Christian church in America. But the persecution of Christians is a reality and it is a reality that may very well be fast approaching American Christianity—or to put it another way, true Christians in America.
“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:19, 24-25). My theological conviction has always been one that avoided any type of ecstatic spiritual experience. The reason for such avoidance has been primarily the temptation faced by many to consider such experiences as authoritative even when such experiences clearly contradict the Word of God. This has been especially true in matters related to so called near-death experiences. The Bible gives us an account of one man who “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:4). Yet today we have people claiming to have died and ascended to heaven only to return and write books and travel the world over telling about their heavenly experiences. I even heard a preacher at a funeral onetime use one of these extra-biblical “accounts” to prove to the grieving family heaven did indeed exist. I can remember walking away from that funeral thinking the Bible says heaven is a real place. Isn’t that enough? I guess my point is true Christian conviction and spirituality is anchored in God’s Word, not emotional or otherwise ecstatic spiritual experiences. Our authority is Jesus and His Word. With this in mind I want to share about a recent experience I had—to delve into matters I’ve always considered best to be avoided— with the hope it will help me to process the experience itself. Just keep in mind my experience is not authoritative in the least. The Bible is—so if I share anything that is remotely unbiblical, go with the Bible!
Earlier this week I was undergoing a routine treatment for a recently diagnosed condition. This would be my fourth treatment. I had not been feeling well in the few days preceding the treatment, so much so, that I considered canceling and rescheduling. But, against my better judgment I went ahead with the appointment. When I arrived in the treatment room I immediately noticed how warm it was. I even commented to the two techs that it felt hot. One responded she thought it was cold, the other that it was comfortable. I guess the patient’s comfort was irrelevant. Everything was pretty much routine except for my unusually high blood pressure. About five minutes into the procedure I told the tech nearest me that the room was starting to spin. I followed that up with an “I’m outta here” and immediately everything went black. But I was still fully aware. In fact, I was more aware than I was before blacking out. I don’t recall seeing anything but I could hear the most beautiful music and singing I have ever heard. I had no recollection of the treatment room, the two techs or having just blacked out. I was just standing there trying to listen to the music and figure out where it was coming from. Just then someone shouted, “Breathe!” Immediately I was surrounded by brightness. Everything was enveloped in this brightness. Whether it was light or something else I do not know. In retrospect, I’m thinking I was back the treatment room only I couldn’t see anyone or anything in the room other than myself. I couldn’t even see the chair I was reclined on but I could see me—my body, sort of at an angle. Again, someone shouted, “Captain, we need you to breathe!” Immediately I was back in my body (assuming that I was actually out) and the person shouting—one of the techs—came slowly into focus followed by everything and everyone else—now about 20 people— in the room, all working on me. When I came to I was completely disoriented. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I remember looking at the tech and saying something to the effect of, “I think I was dreaming.” I followed that with a request for the trashcan. As the reason for my visit slowly returned I began asking anyone who would listen about the music. But they all seemed more interested in making sure I was alright.
I still don’t know what to make of all of this. Maybe I got a glimpse into glory or maybe not. I know I blacked out. I know I stopped breathing. I know my heart did not stop beating so I guess I can’t say I was dead—although the tech later told me they had gotten the defibrillator just in case. But I was definitely somewhere else long enough to hear music and singing and then come back to where my body was waiting and apparently get back in it. The Bible says, “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the heart of man all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). The Bible also says “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). But there was no gain for me that day. Apparently, “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary” (Phil. 1:24) for the sake of others, namely Susanne and Christian. But this much I do know—The Bible is true and I am with perseverance waiting eagerly “for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19)—that day when I see Jesus. And I’d be willing to suggest on that day there will be no coming back, no matter how many times someone shouts, “Breathe!”
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Romans 12:17-21). My sister recently asked my advice on how someone should respond to the unkind words and actions of another. This is an important question, especially if one desires to glorify God above all else. It is natural to want to respond to mistreatment with resentment, anger, and revenge but Jesus calls Christians to a supernatural response. Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But you don’t know what they did to me!” You are right, I don’t. But God does. In fact, He’s taking meticulous notes. Therefore, when dealing with difficult and downright evil people, it is imperative that we allow the Bible to inform our response. We may think that this is impossible or unreasonable. And I suppose apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit it is. But remember, as Christians we have the Holy Spirit of God living on the inside of us. Peter tells us we have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), meaning that as believers, we share in the life of God by means of Christ and the Holy Spirit living in us. Therefore, what is impossible for those outside of Christ is quite possible for us. Not only that, God expects it of us. And if we love God and are concerned with His glory we will submit to that which He expects.
What does God expect? He expects us to “overcome evil with good.” But how, you ask. We must resolve to “never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” This recalls Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven.” Paul goes on to say, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Sometimes it simply isn’t possible. If the offending party doesn’t want peace then it simply isn’t possible to be at peace. But it is possible to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This does not refer to a fondness or affection for them. It means we are to show them goodwill. We are to refuse to hold any grudges or ill-will against them. Loving your enemies is simply making the godly choice or decision to do good. Furthermore, doing good means we are to "do good to those who hate us" (Luke 6:27). We are not only to have no bitterness towards them but also to make every effort to do them good. Also, we are to do good by speaking well of the very people who speak evil of us. As Jesus put it we are to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28). We are not to defend ourselves from their wicked words. We are not to reciprocate, seek revenge or even be silent. Rather we are to respond to their evil words with kind words and “leave room for the wrath of God.” In so doing,” the Bible says, “you will heap burning coals [upon their head].” This most likely refers to a “burning conviction” that our kindness places on our enemy. All of this is one huge act of faith for the believer. When we do good to our enemies we in essence show them mercy. And believe me, unless they repent and obey the Gospel, it’s all the mercy they’re going to get! Our prayer should be that our showing mercy rather than returning evil for evil will result in our enemies coming under such conviction that they repent and believe the Gospel.
The Bible reminds believers, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is here that believers will be judged for the purpose of rewards. One way to insure rewards it to patiently endure the unkind words and actions of others by doing good to them. Friend, go for rewards! In so doing, you will honor Christ while shaming those who do evil. “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:14, 16).
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified… and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5). Gainesville, Florida pastor Terry Jones has made news recently for his on again off again plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on our country. His plans have created a firestorm of protest worldwide. Political and religious leaders have expressed their concern. Many adherents to Islam the world over have staged protests in response. It was even reported that some churches in the Gainesville, Florida community would read from the Koran as part of their worship services to protest Jones’ plans—a huge mistake if you ask me. But, this article is not about the wisdom of incorporating the Koran into Christian worship services. My question is this: Is it ever right for a Christian—one who names the name of Christ—to burn or otherwise desecrate the sacred texts of other religions even though those religions are nothing more than false religious systems that lead people away from the true Christ of Holy Scripture? I think the answer is definitely no! Destroying the sacred texts of a false religious system serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
When Paul came to Corinth, the Bible tells us he came for one purpose, “to declare the testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1). He could have come with his superior intellect and his God-given ability to reason and debate persuasively. I would imagine he could have even hosted a scroll burning event. After all, the city of Corinth was known for its rampant immorality and paganism. But Paul chose not to waste all his energy by attacking all things Corinthian. He wrote, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The worddetermined, taken from the Greek word κρίνω (krino), here means to resolve. Paul resolved to focus on the gospel—preaching Christ—rather than “persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4). If we are not careful, we can get in the way of the gospel instead of being a servant or minister of the gospel. Any other approach is dangerous indeed. Burning books, especially the sacred texts of false religious systems, obscures Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit anointed preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does just the opposite. It frees God to demonstrate His power to save. When that happens, “Your faith rests not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). No one will ever be persuaded into the Kingdom of God via man’s wisdom. But when the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” is involved, people are saved and lives are changed. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” This is the Word of the Lord!
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was an American Baptist missionary who spent almost 40 years in Burma (today known as Myanmar). He translated the Bible into Burmese. He planted more than 100 churches, and led more than 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. What was his secret? He preached Jesus, not anti-Buddhism. Pastor Jones could learn a lot from the Apostle Paul and from Adoniram Judson. We all can. The answer is never book burning but Holy Spirit anointed, Gospel-centered, repentance filled preaching. May we all resolve to preach Jesus—in word and deed—to all whom the Lord will grant us opportunity. Who knows, maybe long after we’re gone from this world it will be said about us, he (or she) led over 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t waste your energy on desecrating the sacred texts of another. Just preach Jesus and God will take care of the rest. “Jesus answered and said, … And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).
“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23). Sanctification is one of those big theological words often misunderstood by new and old believers alike. It is the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning holiness. It is understood to include past, present, and future holiness. In reference to past holiness, it speaks of position. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “You were sanctified” (1 Cor. 6:11). In a sense, it is a position without reference to sin. In other words, as a believer I may sin from time to time but that does not change my position of holiness before the Lord. In reference to future holiness, it speaks to that time when Christ returns and I see Him face to face. This is often referred to as glorification. Romans 8:30 describes in past tense this future event wherein all believers will be glorified. This event will occur at the Rapture of the Church and will be an instantaneous conformity to the image of Christ—“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Finally, there is present holiness. This is the moment-by-moment, day-by-day process of sanctification whereby I choose obedience to God over the sinful desires of the flesh. It is made possible only by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and my choice to submit to Him. This is not always an easy choice and is yet another reason Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:12).
I think Paul has present sanctification in mind in Romans 6:22. It is a present “sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). This is a pretty strong assertion but it is the gospel truth! Basically, this means one who is truly saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8) will give evidence that he or she truly belongs to Christ. In other words, they will give evidence of a changed life. Matthew wrote, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Obviously, the Bible isn’t referring to sinless perfection but it is referring to less sinning and greater holiness! This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Pursue sanctification” (Heb 12:14), and Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). In other words, I can’t walk the aisle of my church, pray the “sinner’s prayer,” follow that with baptism, then go out and live like the world only to fall back on “once saved always saved.” My life must give clear evidence of a change. This change is known as sanctification or holiness. Such moment-by-moment, day-by-day holiness is possible because I have “been freed from sin and enslaved to God.” The “benefit” of this freedom from sin and enslavement to God is present sanctification. And the outcome of present sanctification is eternal life! John describes this process of present sanctification as overcoming—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). How can you know if your faith is real, that you’ve truly been saved by grace through faith, that you’ve been sanctified and will be sanctified? Ask yourself these questions: Are you fighting the good fight of faith? Are you pursuing sanctification? Paul wrote, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live eternally with Christ! Therefore, I’m fighting the good fight and pursuing present sanctification right now.
When I was growing up we attended Silver City Baptist Church. Every so often we would have Sunday evening hymn sings where the congregation chose the songs. Without fail, Mama Nick always requested “Victory in Jesus,” only she called it “Victory of Jesus!” Because of the victory of Jesus, we can experience victory in Jesus. It troubles me deeply when I see folks who claim to belong to Christ but whose lives are anything but victorious. I’m not suggesting believers don’t struggle with temptation and sin. I know I do! But when someone continually chooses willful disobedience and sin as a lifestyle over what they know to be right, then it calls into question whether or not their faith is real. Real faith works itself out in present sanctification. This will always be the case because real faith overcomes the world! Is your faith real? Are you an overcomer? Are you experiencing present sanctification? “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8). I cannot recount the number of messages and Bible studies I have heard regarding Christian stewardship. As far as I can remember, each of these messages and studies centered on the so-called principle of tithing—giving at least ten percent to the work of the Lord through the local church. However, as one studies the New Testament, one quickly discovers no required amount or percentage for giving to the Lord‟s work is specified. I‟m sure at this point many of my fellow chaplains and ministers are shouting heresy! But, an honest look at Scripture will reveal that I am no heretic. Furthermore, understanding what the Bible really teaches concerning stewardship is both God-honoring and liberating!
The Old Testament principle of tithing is one of the most misunderstood teachings in Scripture. We have read and heard “ten percent” for so long that we have concluded this is what the Bible teaches. Many are surprised to learn the Old Testament required giving of three tithes which totaled about 23 percent annually. So, instead of ten cents out of every dollar, now you owe twenty-three! This system is similar to many modern taxation systems throughout the world today. These tithes were used to fund the national government of Israel, public festivals, and welfare. Giving to the work of the Lord, on the other hand, was not regulated as to amount. The Bible says, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, „Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution‟” (Ex. 25:1-2; see also 35:21; 36:6; Prov. 3:9-10; 11:24). This same principle of free will giving is evident in the New Testament. In his second letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul writes, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). In other words, our giving is to be planned and done cheerfully. Anything less is considered “grudgingly or under compulsion.” Elsewhere, the Bible says our giving is to be, “as he may prosper,” indicating no required amount or percentage but that all giving to the Lord is to be free will and completely discretionary (See 1 Cor. 16:2). These passages, taken in light of other passages such as Luke 6:38, Acts 4:32-37, and 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, clearly teach we are to give proportionately and sacrificially. This means we are to give both “according to [our] own ability,” and “beyond [our] ability and of [our] own accord” (see 2 Cor. 8:3). We are to give according to what we have, yet sacrificially. Finally, we are to give voluntarily. This is important as I believe much of what we hear today concerning stewardship lends itself to giving by compulsion, manipulation, and intimidation. Free will giving, on the other hand, has always been God‟s plan and should not be confused with Old Testament tithing.
Therefore, the question is, if free will giving is God‟s plan then why is so little said about it from pulpits and in Bible studies? I believe there are several reasons. First of all, I believe many are simply ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. Secondly, many preachers and Bible teachers believe that unless we guilt believers into giving at least ten percent of their income to the Church, God‟s work will simply go unfunded. Finally, and perhaps even more telling, we simply don‟t believe God who said He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8). If we understand and apply this principle, our giving will be with such joy and enthusiasm that we would eventually have to be restrained from bringing more gifts! So, give. Give cheerfully. Give in proportion to how God has blessed you, yet sacrificially. Such giving is pleasing to God. It demonstrates whether or not I believe Him. And ultimately, it honors Him! “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).
"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these" (2 Timothy 3:1-5). The world was stunned last week at the news out of Ft. Hood that a lone gunman fired several rounds, killing at least 13, and wounding many more. The very next day, a similar news story was reported out of Orlando when a gunman entered his former workplace, firing several rounds, killing one and wounding several others. Add these two events to past events of a similar nature and a clear message begins to emerge. We are living in the last days—the very last of the last days—just prior to the return of Christ for His Church.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come." Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the Apostle to write these words? I’m sure the days in which Paul and Timothy lived could be described as difficult. After all, many were being persecuted and martyred for their faith. So what sets today’s "difficult times" apart from those of the first century? For the answer to that question, we need only look to the Greek word behind the English word, difficult. It is the Greek word, chalepos, meaning hard to bear, troublesome, dangerous, harsh, fierce, and savage. It occurs only one other time in the New Testament. "When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way" (Matt. 8:28). The words translated "so extremely violent" is the same Greek word, chalepos, used in 2 Timothy 3:1. But Paul doesn’t have bad times in view here so much as he has evil people. In other words, he has the wicked, evil, and depraved ways of men in mind. And it all ties into men being "lovers of self." All the other sins he lists in this passage grow out of the sin of misplaced self-love. Furthermore, such savage, dangerous and evil men will increase in frequency and severity as the return of Christ draws near. Amazingly, many of these people will hold "to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power." In other words, many of them will be religious, as was the case with the Ft. Hood shooter. A few verses later he writes they are, "Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul uses this same phrase to describe those who are being saved (see 1 Tim. 2:4). Paul’s message is clear—these difficult times will only grow worse. But it’s not the times so much as it is the people—evil people growing more evil by the day!
Our confused brethren who believe things are simply going to get better and better prior to Christ’s return would do well to read and believe these verses. Clearly, it’s only going to get worse. The rest of Paul’s second letter to Timothy underscores the fact that faithful believers will increasingly become targets of persecution and suffering at the hands of evil persons and a Christ-rejecting world (see 2 Tim. 3:12). All of this Paul indicates will increase until Jesus returns. Therefore, it is extremely crucial that as believers, we understand and embrace our hope—our future hope. Paul writes, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim. 4:18). Regardless of what happens. Regardless of the ever increasing evil and wicked days in which we live. Regardless of the very evil people who will only grow more evil. God’s Word promises us that God will bring each of us who believes "safely to His heavenly kingdom." In other words, we are eternally secure in Him no matter what! Evil men may grow more evil. They may even succeed in persecuting and ultimately killing those of us who believe. But God will "bring [us] safely to His heavenly kingdom." In Luke 12:4, Jesus says, "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do." If evil men succeed in killing me, that’s really all they can do. They cannot kill my soul as it belongs to the Lord and He has promised to bring me "safely to His heavenly kingdom." Therefore we need not fear! God is in control despite the ever increasing "difficult times" in which we live. And when necessary, the Holy Spirit will help you die. So keep on believing and praying for the soon return of Jesus Christ for His Church! "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:14).
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