Living Godly

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” 2 Timothy 3:12

Paul had just listed some of his own experiences that included persecutions and afflictions and then states the principle quoted above. People who have no desire to live a godly life are already serving the god of this world and the spirit of antichrist that emanates from him. As soon as a person has the desire to live godly in Christ Jesus everything and everyone in Satan’s dominion will be in opposition to them because it is opposed to Jesus Christ.

Christians can avoid Satan’s attention by going along with the world in its ungodly way, as Lot did (Genesis 19), but how will they face Jesus without extreme shame? Peter experienced this in part and we can read of his experience of this in Luke 22:54-62 & John 21:15-19.

The world is becoming more bold in its persecution of Christians. Governments and media are unwilling to report persecution and murder of Christians and by their silence they condone and encourage this behaviour. What those who oppose do not realize is that Jesus Christ will have the last say and His judgments are perfect and just. For the unrepentant sinner He is much more to be feared than any man made religion (Luke 12:5).

Paul wrote a principle that is for the Christians of his day and is applicable to all Christians throughout the church age. It will only end when Jesus returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth thus answering a part of the Lord’s model prayer recorded in Matthew 6:10. The manifestation of persecution will vary according to culture, political ideology, the dominant religion and other circumstances, but it will always be present in some form and some degree.

In his letters to Timothy and Titus Paul points his readers to Christ’s appearing five times. This is where our focus of attention should be and it will be supported by sound Biblical teaching which he mentions nine times.

It is tragic that Christians are suffering and will continue to suffer but we must remember that Jesus allows it for His own reasons which can, to some degree at least, be determined from Scripture. One of the things Jesus said while on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen followed this example when he was being stoned; “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). This is the heart attitude that we will also have toward those who persecute desiring that they will also know Christ’s forgiveness and be saved from the wrath to come.

Only One Reason

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” John 3:18

Occasionally we meet or hear of someone who is concerned that they have sinned so greatly that they cannot be forgiven or they have committed some sin that is not covered by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. However, the verse above makes it clear that the only reason a person remains condemned is because he or she has not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to believe in Him? The answer lies in verse sixteen. First we notice God’s love for mankind even though all mankind is born in sin and stands condemned. Verse seventeen says that God did not send His Son to condemn the world. The reason being is that it is already condemned as evidenced by bodily death and the increasing corruption in the world.

We can barely even begin to know the pain and suffering of God by committing His beloved Son to such a horrendous death. It was His love for us that moved Him to do so. “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We see anguish of soul in parents who tragically lose a child through sickness or accident but that pales in comparison to the suffering of the heart of God.

Truly, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved” (v 17). Sometimes we may think like the disciples who wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the ungodly but Jesus corrected their error. God sent Jesus to save mankind from the existing condemnation. An illustration of this is that of a person in difficulty in the surf at risk of drowning. He is moments away from death with no capacity to save himself. Without outside help he is condemned to drown. Then a surf lifesaver arrives, plucking him from death and returning him to shore.

It is God’s love for already condemned men that sent Jesus Christ to save them. To reject that sacrificial love is to show contempt of that love. Since there is no other way to forgiveness of sin (Acts 4:12) that person remains condemned by their own choice. In Jesus Christ God has provided all that is necessary for forgiveness and salvation. What is required on our part is to receive it as a gift (Romans 6:23). That is why the only reason a person remains condemned is because they have not believed in Jesus Christ. There is no sin so great that the blood of Jesus cannot wash us clean. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Worthy to Suffer

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” Acts 16:25

Paul and Silas were not visiting prisoners, they were prisoners. Without any judicial inquiry they had been beaten with rods until their backs were marked with many painful and bloody stripes. To ensure they did not escape they were placed in the inner cells. I remember visiting the high security section of a prison in South Africa. As we left I counted the locked doors, all with guards that we passed through. There were eleven! Paul and Silas may not have had so many but they were well secured. What could have justified such strong action?

Paul had wanted to go to the Roman province of Asia to preach the Gospel of Christ but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. So he tried to go to Bithynia with the same outcome. For a man like Paul this might be a little frustrating but then the Holy Spirit directed him to Philippi where he had opportunity to preach the Gospel and see results. In the process of this a demon possessed woman followed him everywhere and was distracting his hearers from his message. He became so annoyed that, after many days and under Christ’s authority, he cast the demon out of the woman. This was a relatively insignificant distraction but it led to Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned.

We should not be surprised that relatively insignificant distractions may lead to significant service for Jesus Christ. Quite often these are only seen in hindsight.

Paul and Silas could have been filled with self pity or questioned whether or not they were in the will of God. Some may have thought they had been disobedient to God. Others may have asked what terrible thing they had done or maybe they just assumed Paul and Silas were workers of much evil. Instead, they were praying and singing hymns “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (cf. Acts 5:41). This is where many of Christ’s followers fall short. We are not all willing to suffer for His name. Instead we are inclined to seek the pleasures and enjoy the comforts of this world. In so doing we forsake Christ. Unlike Paul and Silas we are more likely to be concerned about our position rather than the condition of others. That they were singing hymns tells us that they were definitely not sulking or wallowing in self pity. Though beaten and imprisoned unjustly they were singing praise to God from their hearts with thanksgiving.

We ought not to be surprised that the Lord then gave these men the opportunity to lead many to Christ. There is a link between being willing to suffer for His name with leading others to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Greatest Miracle

“For we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves” Isaiah 28:15

Isaiah had been observing his own nation, Israel, and was writing concerning their situation in his day. As we consider this verse we can’t help but believe that he is observing and writing concerning our own nation as it is today. He is not describing every individual in Israel because we know that God always maintains a believing remnant. We would not apply these words to every individual in our nation either because there are those who are faithful to the Lord and His word. But nationally they suit all too well.

Jesus called Satan a liar (John 8:44) and Peter discerned that Satan had moved Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3). Paul recognised that people had “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (Romans 1:25). He also wrote that because people choose to turn away from God, God will allow them to be deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Isaiah is saying what we know to be true. People believe the lie about Jesus Christ because it comforts them in their sin. Hence, lies become our refuge, our place of safety and comfort – but only in the short-term. It is easier for a sinner to believe the lie that God does not exist and that they will not have to give account for their lives than to deal with the truth. So they take “refuge” in the lie.

Secondly we hide from the truth by peddling things that are obviously lies. This is why people believe in evolution. It gives them, in their minds, a place to resist the truth and hide from it. Anyone who does some research desiring to know the truth will discover the great falsehood of the Theory of Evolution but it is a convenient hiding place for people who do not want to face the truth.

Psalm ten reveals the three presumptuous thoughts of the person who wants to conceal in their minds the truth by embracing a lie.

  1. I am okay, I am invincible (v 6)
  2. God is not interested or is dead (v 11)
  3. I will not be held accountable to anyone for my life (v 13)

These are all lies of Satan that people all too readily embrace because they love sin and do not want to face reality. Considering the long-term consequences it is staggering that anyone would choose to take refuge in lies and present falsehoods to their own mind and soul to escape thinking about the truth but such is that nature of sin.

Those who do want to face reality will face the Lord Jesus Christ and discover that He has borne their sin on the cross and is able, therefore, to forgive all their sin and, much more, cleanse them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The greatest miracle of all is that God is able to bring any sinner to repentance, most of all me, but He does and still is. Hallelujah!

The Right Place

“I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” 1 Kings 17:4

Had Elijah gone anywhere else the ravens would not have found him but King Ahab’s men might have. The Lord could have protected Elijah even in Ahab’s palace had He chosen to do so but Elijah’s absence would give Ahab opportunity to consider his position before God without Elijah being in his face.

It is good for us to consider, from time to time, whether we are where the Lord wants us to be or whether He may be directing us elsewhere. Quite likely we will discover that we are where He wants us to be but even if that is so we won’t have that assurance unless we ask. The reason we do not ask may be because we are comfortable where we are or that it just does not cross our minds to check?

Elijah was faced with possible death from Ahab if he did not move away so he was well motivated to hear where the Lord would have him go. We shouldn’t need to wait until we feel threatened before we seek the Lord’s counsel or confirmation. Such threats might be loss of employment, unmet needs, difficult neighbours or schooling for children.

In Acts 8 we read how the Lord took Philip away from a thriving evangelistic ministry in Samaria to the desert to meet one man. Philip might have argued with the Lord about the wisdom of such a move and his friends might also have discouraged him but he obeyed the Lord.

Rather than remain in doubt, we can, from time to time, ask the Lord if we are where He wants us to be and doing what He wants us to do. Of course we will only do this if He is indeed Lord in our hearts and we are willing to do whatever He asks. There is always joy and peace in knowing that we are where the Lord wants us to be. When we are he will provide all we need.

Had Elijah thought he knew a better place there could have been quite a different outcome. Elijah was a man not a superhero. God did great things through Elijah, not because he was greater than other men, but because he took the word of the Lord literally and went to the place and did what he was asked by the Lord.

In the context of the evangelist Philip (Acts 8), but equally applying to Elijah and us, Vance Havner writes, “Philip ‘arose and went … and behold.’ He who said, ‘Go ye therefore …’ has said ‘Lo, I am with you.’ As you obey, you may not see the why of it, but you shall see the who. He who says ‘Go’ goes along.”

Where the Lord sends us He goes with us and will provide for us there. Elijah knew this theoretically at first but because he acted upon it he experienced it first hand and his faith in the Lord grew and was proven.

No Subtractions

“The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” Acts 2:47

In our western societies we are seeing the loss of Christian values in all areas of leadership at an alarming rate. This is a reflection of a similar loss in the general society. As a society we have made ourselves judges of God’s word instead of allowing God’s word to judge us and we have deemed His word as unworthy of our acceptance.

Some conclude that it is only a matter of time before the church ceases to exist because it is irrelevant in modern society. As a percentage of our population the number of true Christians may be decreasing in some regions. It may even be that the total number of true Christians is dwindling in some regions. However, even if this was so, true Christians are still being added to the church of Jesus Christ daily with no subtractions.

In many countries there are few Christians due to persecution that has caused emigration or even death. This has meant that there is a lesser witness but there have been no subtractions from the church, the body of Christ. Paul wrote, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (i.e. more of Christ; Philippians 1:21).

Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). He also said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). There will be no subtractions from Christ’s church. This led Paul to write, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

God has been pleased to maintain a faithful witness throughout the ages and He will do so until the consummation. In the meanwhile the number of true Christians alive on the earth at any given time may rise or fall but the number in His church is always increasing, never decreasing.

In countries that are most hostile toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ people are being added to His church, none are subtracted. Every person who puts their trust in Jesus Christ is a reverberation of the victory won at Calvary and a testimony that Jesus Christ is still building His church.

Those who oppose and persecute Christ and His church cannot see the millions who have already entered His church and who are forever sealed. None will ever be subtracted.

The day is approaching when Jesus will call His church home. It will be at the right time and on time. Whenever that day is Paul wrote, “for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11) and exhorted us to live in the light of our imminent departure to first meet Him but also to meet all others who are members of His church. What a glorious day when we all meet together and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. None will be missing!

Seeking F.A.T. Christians

“… because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words …” 2 Chronicles 34:27

In our part of the world many people have become fat from the pleasures of this world. For the Christian, to be spiritually fat can be a good thing if we utilise the following acronym: F.A.T. God is seeking F.A.T. Christians: Christians who are Faithful, Available and Teachable.

 

Faithful: A key aspect of the Divine Nature is faithfulness. If God is not faithful to His word then we have nothing in which to trust. Those who are His people will also be faithful. Paul writes, “It is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Jesus spoke a lot about faithfulness of His people in Matthew 24 and 25. Instructing Timothy in regard to the fulfilment of the Great Commission Paul writes, “The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

A faithful person is one who knows the truth from God’s word and then lives it out and passes it on. To know the truth is not enough as we see in the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. The reward for faithfulness is to be given more responsibility. Jesus said, “Well done good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).

 

Available: To be available to Jesus means that He is the priority over everything in our lives. In Luke 9:59-62 we read that a man wanted to take care of his father until he died before following Jesus. Another wanted to delay by returning to his family. In both these cases the men had a priority over following Jesus. There delaying tactics may have resulted in them never following Jesus.

Jesus does not need advisors but much of our prayer would seem to be along that line. We ask that He physically heal this person, provide funds for another and relational healing for yet another. While we do pose these as requests outwardly, it is possible that inwardly we are actually advising Him how to run His church. It may be that many of us are available to Jesus but only in an advisory capacity. To be available to Jesus means that when He calls we come, when He sends, we go (James 2:20).

 

Teachable: A person who is teachable is always a humble person. Only the proud are unteachable. To be teachable does not mean that one should be gullible or without discernment. Quite the contrary (Acts 17:11).

Jesus (Matthew 28:20) and Paul (2 Timothy 2:2) both exhort those who are teachers to seek out people who are teachable. The reason is that they will then pass it on to future generations. It is a waste of time and effort to try and teach and disciple a person who is neither humble nor teachable.

A teachable person is also responsive to the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26). The Holy Spirit resists the proud and unteachable (James 4:6). Let us be humble and teachable students of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful, available and teachable.