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“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30). 

I just returned from vacation. Boy, do I need some rest! Know the feeling? Ever wanted to go back to your job so that you could slow down? I feel that way far too often and it is my fault. Why? Because sometimes I get busy doing a lot of trivial things that have little Kingdom value. Other times I let “life” get in the way. Therefore my tank is empty and I’m in desperate need of both spiritual rest and replenishment. I believe that is what Jesus was implying when He said, “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word;  but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). 

Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 serve as an anchor when my boat is tossed about by the waves of endless busyness (much of which I have created) and earthly burdens. This text reminds me that: 

  • God is in control. He is the Lord of heaven and earth (v. 25). All that we do should be based upon His sovereignty over us (and over all things for that matter). We must choose to manage our lives with His purposes foremost in our priorities knowing that He holds us in the palm of His nail-scarred hand. Nothing can eternally separate us from His love (see Romans 8:30-39). We can slow down, rest, and savor Him because of this truth.
  • We need to keep things simple and get back to basics (v. 25). The Gospel is simple enough to make sense to small children and child-like simplicity is key to a proper relationship with our Father. Many of humanly devised plans, programs, and commitments just get in the way of fellowshipping with our Savior. Paul’s life mission was simple, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • All of our endeavors and activities should be done with pleasing Him in mind (v. 26). Paul says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I particularly note the word all is this verse – God’s pleasure and glory should be paramount in even the most mundane of acts and we should manage our lives with that in mind. Simultaneously we all need to shed those things that hinder us from fully experiencing Him. 
  • The understanding of God, and the things of God, is revealed through Christ and not man-centered exercises (v. 27). The pursuit of God, His Kingdom and His righteousness should be of the highest order in our affairs (Matthew 6:33). All other things should take a back seat to knowing God and doing His will. Time with Jesus is the means and provision for this sense of meaningful purpose. 
  • True rest is found only in the Lord. He beckons us to come and fellowship with Him, to seek the inexhaustible replenishment of His presence, and be at ease in His power and comfort. He is the solution for spiritual fatigue and the rut of purposeless routines that create no lasting value for Him or us (vss. 28-30). Meaningful respite comes from surrendering ourselves, our schedules, and our priorities to Him.

 I pray that God continues, through His Spirit, to remind me that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. I don’t do a good job of this. I need His help in fixing my gaze and therefore my priorities, activities, and schedule on Him. Only then will I find His rest and sustenance. Paul framed it this way, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Father, help me to glorify you by being so heavenly minded that I’m constantly “going to Jesus” in order that I might I rest in the bosom of His power and presence .


“John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ “ Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:23-27). 

John the Baptist is described like an ancient version of Jeremiah Johnson. A rather strange fellow to the folks of that day he came from the wilderness dressed in a camel hair, coat eating locusts and honey, and baptizing converts in the river Jordon (Matthew 3:4). John was a prophet with a simple yet profound message – the Lord is here! With all of his quirks, John had but one mission – “to make straight the way of the Lord. And this Lord was, he said, greater than he and all of the Old Testament prophets combined. John was pointing people to Jesus. 

To better understand John’s message and ministry, let’s look at the passage from Isaiah that he was quoting: 

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever (40:1-8). 

This passage prophetically tells us that when John was pointing to Jesus he was telling the people these things: 

  • A Comforter is coming (v. 1). Jesus claimed in John 14:16 that he was a Comforter and promised to send another (the Holy Spirit). 
  • Forgiveness of sins would come through the Messiah (v. 2). Luke chronicles, “The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49). 
  • The entire creation would be affected by His coming (v. 3-4). Paul explains, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). 
  • All mankind will see the glory of God in Jesus (v. 5). The gospel of John proclaims “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 
  • We are to call upon this Lord in acknowledgement of His might (v. 6-7). Paul tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). 
  • Jesus’ words are eternal life (v. 8). Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

What a message and what a mission did John have! And so do we. But don’t we often, despite the life-giving truth of our calling, feel like John –  as if we are crying out in the midst of a wilderness. We should feel that way because we are! This world is filled with those that are “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Yet we are to go on pointing people to Jesus. It may cost us much (it cost John his head – Matthew 14:10) but we gain so much more. 

I don’t know what your wilderness is. It may be the spiritual desolation of your co-workers. It may be the dry souls of your family. It may be the barren hopelessness of your neighbors. It may be the cyber jungle of blogging. No matter what your wilderness is, I beg you to keep crying out and pointing people to Jesus. Why? Because, as the John the Baptist explains, Jesus is worthy (John 1:27). For He is our Comforter, the forgiver of our sins, His words are eternal life, and all mankind, including His creation, will eventually acknowledge that He is the Lord of the universe. And the wilderness He has called you to desperately needs Him.

“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” ( Hebrews 10:32-35).

Deliberately reread this passage. Absorb its every fact and inference. What we have just read, and hopefully digested, is radical and its implications are just as radical for the true contemporary follower of Jesus. Does it make you feel a little uneasy? Actually, I pray that it makes us all feel a little queasy.  After all, don’t we all need something to rattle our spiritual cage and thrust us from the routine of what we often call “being a Christian” in America?

Does the title to this blog make you uncomfortable? I hope it does – that is the intention. It makes me feel uneasy, too. Yet, I unequivocally believe that American Christians need to be just that! This passage describes a faith so radical and sacrificial that it stands diametrically opposed to what most Western professors of Christ consider the norm in following Jesus. The American dream for modern confessional Christians doesn’t look vastly different from a self-serving, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and comfort-seeking pagan world. When taken to heart this description of surrender should jolt us out of our lethargy and complacency. This is what it meant to follow Jesus in the early church. And I believe it means the same thing today.

Although we will probably not hear this passage preached from many pulpits (and I dare say not be broached by typical televangelists) it captures the essence of the radical nature of Christ-projecting sacrificial living. What the writer espouses is that those who have received the light of the truth of Jesus are transformed in such a startling way that they are faithful (“stand their ground”) in the battle that ensues while following Jesus. This war includes insult, persecution, and standing with those who are. This battle means that we sympathize with the imprisoned. It may also mean the joyful confiscation of our earthly possessions. Does the American Christian culture get that?  Do you and I get that? The apostles certainly did when we consider that Luke stated, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Why such extreme devotion to the name, kingdom, and cause of their great Savior? Because they saw they saw themselves merely as warrior pilgrims whose true home was in the heavenly realm. I rarely read (or like) bumper stickers but one recently caught my eye. “I AM AN ALIEN” it said (which casued me to peer suspiciously at the driver). But in smaller letters it included, “This world is not my home”. Such an attitude is why Paul rejoices that his life was spent for the cause of Christ – “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 2:17). Again we see that sacrifice for Christ engenders joy.

Granted, American Christians do not typically face the persecution our international brethren often face. But, even though our culture doesn’t yet have such a hostile environment, I’m accosted by the question: when did I ever stand so strongly for the truth and my Lord that I exposed myself to suffering, ridicule, and loss? Or am I just busy being all cozy in my own comfortable church “womb” and tied to the umbilical cord of this world’s stuff – reputation and possessions. Would I be willing, when the situation presents itself, to stand as courageously as those described by the inspired writer of Hebrews? In an even simpler vein, am I really willing, with little chance for truly harsh repercussions (much less taking delight in the plundering of my property), to share my faith with those I know are not believers?

But this passage also encourages us with a promise for those who live a radically sacrificial life that images forth the model of Jesus. It is a guaranteed and greater reward than this world (and its stuff) can ever furnish – Jesus Himself and our ultimate home with Him. The great London preacher of the 19th century poignantly articulated it this way:

“The Christian will be sure to make enemies. It will be one of his objects to make none; but if to do the right, and to believe the true, should cause him to lose every earthly friend, he will count it but a small loss, since his great Friend in heaven will be yet more friendly, and reveal himself to him more graciously than ever” and “You must bear the cross, or you shall never wear the crown; you must wade through the mire, or you shall never walk the golden pavement. Cheer up, then, poor Christian!” – C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:5-8). 

This year I turn 50 (God willing) and will be eligible to become a member of AARP. Please don’t start some morbid celebration because I’m quite sure I won’t join – it seems hypocritical to be a member and not retired and I am not emotionally ready to cope with such a label as “retired” (or even being called a 50 year old – my gracious, that’s half a century). Nevertheless that number – “the big 5 0” – is enough to cause me to pause and ponder the brevity of life and the probability that I’m on the downward side of my stay on this planet. I have no deluded fantasies about riding off into the sunset. That may be because I really can’t ride a horse without expecting injury and major surgery. It also may be that I still believe that I have a legacy to improve upon. Paul finished strong and I want to as well. 

Paul’s encouragement, in his last days, to young Timothy tells me several things that we need to do to be confident that our departure is one of peaceful resignation of a job well done. This reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Oh, how I long to hear those words and enter into His happiness. Can we think of anything greater than that?  But that requires faithfulness. Paul says to Timothy, But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (verse 5). This means clear, biblical thinking, enduring the trials and challenges of serving Christ, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, and being fully committed and devoted to what God has called you to do. Paul rejoices (v. 7) that he has “kept the faith”. 

Finishing strong for Jesus also means self-denying sacrifice. Paul’s life was ‘poured out” (v. 6), spent completely for the cause of Christ. In other words, he was all used up for the glory of God. There was nothing left in the tank that had not already been consumed in Paul’s obsession with serving his Savior. Paul chose to burn out rather than rust out because his Lord was worth the expenditure of Paul’s’ life itself. Leaving a legacy for our Lord includes fighting the good fight until the end (v. 7). Paul was in a war for his King. It was a war that required endurance until the end no matter the pain or consequences. Soldiers do not quit but press on despite the danger and the obstacles knowing that their great leader will captain them to ultimate and eternal victory (1 John 5:4, I Corinthians 15:57). As Paul nears his departure from this earth he knows that He will be rewarded “on that day”.  

Paul’s motive is unquestionable. It was his love for His Lord and desire to be in His presence. He “longed” for Jesus’ appearing. He was compelled to leave a legacy that demonstrated and magnified the One he both lived for and died to gain (“for me to live is Christ and to die is gain – Philippians 1:21). Paul yearned for the presence of his Savior. And a crown awaits all those with the same passion. 

But for me to have this type of confidence as I near my departure and enter into my Jesus’ presence I must be obsessed with “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That was the way Paul was and that was his legacy – faithful to His Jesus, sacrificial in his living, used up for the cause of Christ, and enduring as a warrior until he drew his last breath. Is that my legacy? Is it yours? Will we be able to greet our Savior with such a disposition and resume? In order for me to do so I must finish strong. As I said, I have a legacy to improve upon. I beg that God’s Holy Spirit moves in me in such a profound way that I can complete my race with the same confident attitude as Paul. I pray for the surrender that will allow His power to enable me to finish strong! No matter your age, will you come along with me? For the sake of our Lord and our legacy, will you?

****The following is the January 7th entry from C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. Below the devotional is a piece of the Wiki article on Spurgeon so that we might become better acquainted with this influential figure from church history.

“The believer did not always live to Christ. He began to do so when God the Holy Spirit convinced him of sin, and when by grace he was brought to see the dying Saviour making a propitiation for his guilt. From the moment of the new and celestial birth the man begins to live to Christ. Jesus is to believers the one pearl of great price, for whom we are willing to part with all that we have. He has so completely won our love, that it beats alone for him; to his glory we would live, and in defence of his gospel we would die; he is the pattern of our life, and the model after which we would sculpture our character. Paul’s words mean more than most men think; they imply that the aim and end of his life was Christ-nay, his life itself was Jesus. In the words of an ancient saint, he did eat, and drink, and sleep eternal life. Jesus was his very breath, the soul of his soul, the heart of his heart, the life of his life. Can you say, as a professing Christian, that you live up to this idea? Can you honestly say that for you to live is Christ? Your business-are you doing it for Christ? Is it not done for self-aggrandizement and for family advantage? Do you ask, “Is that a mean reason?” For the Christian it is. He professes to live for Christ; how can he live for another object without committing a spiritual adultery? Many there are who carry out this principle in some measure; but who is there that dare say that he hath lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet, this alone is the true life of a Christian-its source, its sustenance, its fashion, its end, all gathered up in one word-Christ Jesus. Lord, accept me; I here present myself, praying to live only in thee and to thee. Let me be as the bullock which stands between the plough and the altar, to work or to be sacrificed; and let my motto be, “Ready for either.” 

Charles Haddon (C.H.) Spurgeon (June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher who remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known as the “Prince of Preachers.” In his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, often up to 10 times each week at different places. His sermons have been translated into many languages. Spurgeon was the pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later had to leave that denomination. In 1857, he started a charity organization called Spurgeon’s which now works globally. He also founded Spurgeon’s College, which was named after him posthumously.

Spurgeon was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, a commentary, books on prayer, a devotional, a magazine, poetry, hymnist, and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Arguably, no other author, Christian or otherwise, has more material in print than C.H. Spurgeon.

“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that” (2 Corinthians 11:1). 

Paul had a sense of humor. God’s greatest human theologian and missionary essentially says, “thanks for putting up with me and, by the way, you have already read 10 chapters of this foolishness” (now I know that Paul’s letters weren’t written in chapters but please indulge me). I can laugh along with Paul – you are reading this so I thank you for putting up with me and my blog. I read and write blogs (some would prefer me to focus just on reading them). Many folks call blogging a narcissistic exercise and I heartily agree that it can be (but not so much as the hyper self-absorbed, cyber abyss that is called Twitter). But I guess it is all about motives, attitude, goals, and methods. 

Although many blogs communicate the truth of Jesus other “Christian” blogs have little to do with Christ or His Word. Often they are personal ramblings and man-centered opinions. I pray this is not the case with CaptivatedbyChrist. And this is because, like Paul, I don’t think I, in and of myself, have much to offer. In this same letter to the church at Corinth he humbly states that his speaking abilities are less than stellar (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6) and that he is accused of hiding behind his writing as opposed to a face-to face consultation with the church (2 Corinthians 10:1,10). But he makes it clear that he doesn’t do business like the world (10:2) and his methods are not carnal but spiritual (10:4-5). 

So how does Paul wage this war? With the truth of Christ and His Word. He says, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”  I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way” (11:4-6). These weapons are a constant in Paul’s teaching – the power of the gospel (the Cross) and a distinct yet powerful emphasis on God’s Word and its truth. 

My point is this: if I ever venture too far from Jesus, Him crucified, and the use of scripture (yes, I know that the references can be overdone and make the reading more tedious but…) then stop reading the CaptivatedbyChrist blog. Why? Because that is where the power is (God knows we don’t need any more of man’s philosophy). Any potency in this blog will not be found in me or my opinions but the transforming power (the Greek dunamis, meaning power, is where we get our English term “dynamite”) of the Word (logos – see John 1) and His Word. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

I know my grammar (or is that grammer?  I forget) is poor  and my sentence structure is imprecise and cumbersome (that’s why I have a top-notch and godly editor for my books). Please, overlook all of that. Skip over all the verbiage if you’d like. Just take your Bible and read along with the passages and turn to every scripture reference and let God teach you through the real difference-making medium – His Word as it is enlightened by His Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-14). Saturate yourself in His truth because if I have any truth to share it is Him, about Him and from Him (John 14:6). 

So there it is – my foolishness for this blog. By the way, thanks for putting up with it – you have already read 650 words! I hope that you had your Bible with you on this little journey and that you turned to and digested every passage and reference. For I know this for certain: its power far exceeds any frail attempt of mine to demonstrate the wisdom of God. For it truly is His Word!

****This is an excerpt form “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him” published in 2008.

Some folks use the existence of suffering to rationalize their disbelief in God. I, however, consider the existence of suffering to be one of the primary reasons that I do believe in Him. Why? Well, suffering is a fundamental part of the gospel that we believe and the life we live in following Jesus.  Suffering exists and has a redemptive purpose in Christ.

James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This verse presents an unpopular thought that is critical to developing a Christian perspective on suffering: we are called to relish suffering, not run from it. In doing so, we grow into spiritual maturity and wholeness. In a culture driven by comfort and ease this concept is counterintuitive. However, if God’s Word is true then it is suffering—not the lack of it—that develops perseverance, maturity, and wholeness, traits for which we should all long. Even though the thought of suffering runs against the grain of our sin-stained hearts, suffering is the vehicle that often accomplishes spiritual good.

Let’s saturate ourselves in the words of Peter, a man who claimed to follow Christ until the going got tough and he denied Him. Soon after Jesus lovingly reinstated Peter, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit gave the disciple a new understanding of suffering’s purpose. Listen to the positive and encouraging words that he uses concerning suffering. Give particular note to the words “greatly rejoice”:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade―kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith―of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire―may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Peter realized that suffering points us to our ultimate glorification.  It is evidence of our faith and a refining force in God’s plan.  In that, suffering is cause for praise and rejoicing and prompts us to trust in our future hope in Christ.  As we grow more Christ-like tribulations remind us of the guarantee of our divine inheritance.

So why do so many fervently seek to avoid suffering at all costs? I believe it’s because they don’t see the redeeming significance of it. But if a professing Christian can separate God from suffering he or she doesn’t really understand the gospel at all. Without God-ordained suffering there is no Calvary and therefore no salvation. Without suffering there is no good news. Paradoxically, suffering is the good news! Christ suffered and died under the weight of our sins so that we wouldn’t have to. His pain paved the road to our access to a holy God.

It makes perfect sense, then, that Christ followers should suffer sometimes as well.  Despite our aversion to it our suffering reflects the model of our loving Savior.  As we faithfully endure life’s tribulations we point to and give glory to the One who suffered for us.  A lost world then sees our perseverance in faith and is pointed to Calvary. Be reminded that the Apostles rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Are Christianity and suffering compatible? Oh yes, they are actually inseparable. Without suffering there is no hope, no forgiveness of sins, and no eternal fellowship with a transcendent God. God ordained the suffering of His only Son to provide us those divine gifts. And it’s quite possible that without our human suffering we would never recognize the glorious gift Christ gave us when He died.

I pray that we dash to the cross and behold Christ’s suffering—the suffering that has saved our souls. Then we will better grasp the reality of who Jesus is and will see His majesty. Then and then only can we embrace our own purifying suffering in Him and with Him as the experience that makes us most like Jesus. After all, emulating Christ is the goal for which we should most long. The question is, do we, like Paul, love Him so much that we desire “to know him … and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10)?

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). 

As a follower of Christ I am so often weak and faithless. Do you know the feeling? Despite the indwelling power of God’s Spirit I am constantly reminded of my flesh, the tug of this world, and the temptation of the Adversary. I sometimes sense a cycle of rebellion (which apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness are), repentance, and then gracious restoration. Despite the war that is waged in my soul and the defeats that are all too common, He always calls me back home to Himself and His ways. And in doing so God reveals my unworthiness afresh and simultaneously deepens my understanding of how desperately I need Him as my Savior and Lord. 

Yet Paul’s warnings to Timothy are worth heeding. Endurance and the continued embrace of the Gospel to the end are marks of those that “have died with Christ”. There is no such thing as being “in Christ” and yet utterly falling away and rejecting the hope found in Christ alone. John speaks to this when he says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). So, this passage tells us that those who are in Him – we who have died to ourselves and surrendered to Him – have the assurance of eternal life (how can we call it eternal life if we can lose it?). Paul tells us that our salvation necessitates that we will endure to the end and will not disown Him. For those who have truly tasted the sweetness of Jesus never desire to return to the sinful ugliness that has been left behind. Nor do they finally disown Him because they understanding the consequences of their final rejection (they are disowned by God – v.12). But what reasons does this passage give us for this promise? 

First, we are His. He has called and claimed us. Hence the promise that we will live with Him in verse 11. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome puts it this way, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). And, secondly, because we, by grace through faith, are a part of Him (as in the body of Christ analogy) and he can not disown Himself. That’s why verse 12 says that even in our unfaithfulness He is faithful for us. He must be because He can’t reject a part of Himself. How comforting and glorious is that? He is always faithful to Himself and therefore to us.  Amazing!  Notice the similar context in Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. In other words, Jesus initiates our redemption and guarantees the eternality of it. So we will live with Him, endure, reign and never disown Him in, by, and through His power to uphold us.

But our war for righteousness wages on. In the power of His Spirit we can have victory in our daily living for Him but, as fallen and not fully sanctified children, we will, against our strongest desires, stumble and fall. Paul understood this struggle and the experience of both defeat and victory that we encounter in our human bodies –  we yearn Christ’s righteousness and for His glory while still dealing with our maddening humanity. He also understood that our ultimate victory is to be found the never-ending faithfulness of God to Himself: 

“For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19-25).

I am so thankful – actually overwhelmed – that in my weakest of moments He is faithful for me. He faithfully went to Calvary to purchase my forgiveness for all of eternity. He also faithfully intercedes for me in my failings so that I will not ultimately and utterly fall away. How then could I ever contemplate totally rejecting this Savior and not enduring to the end? How could I dare to turn His grace into license? How could I not love Him so much that I, like Paul, agonize over my inability to perfectly model my ever-faithful Lord? 

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14). 

What I’m about to write will not be well received (some will call it satirical but I’m sadly serious). But, glory to God, so be it! I write this with a broken heart – the writer of Hebrews is speaking to us. The contemporary American evangelical church (and that most certainly includes the home church movement) has forsaken its calling to teach doctrine. Instead we have chosen to leave our people in spiritual infancy. We have misguidedly (and I pray not intentionally and deliberately) chosen to grow churches rather than people. We have deserted our commission to be doctrinally objective and embraced the experiential, emotional, and practical (including that deceptive thing called “cultural relevancy”) while becoming meaninglessly subjective. We have become a religious version of Postmodernism.

So what do we have?  Ignorant and immature church “members” that teeter on the edge of apostasy. And who is primarily to blame? Preachers, teachers, and authors (and I have been all three, by the way). We may claim to be “conservative”, or “biblical inerrantists”, or even “orthodox” but we have modeled our ministries, preaching, and teaching on a 3rd grade reading level (when an analysis of The Andy Griffith Show, Wild at Heart, and The Shack become the basis for our teaching curriculum I’m genuinely concerned). We have “worn out” many beautiful Biblical truths (like John 3:16) while leaving many believers undiscipled and scripturally unlearned by shunning the riches of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). I’m afraid that we have become more interested in our budgets, building programs, and baptismal statistics. As one preacher said, “Just get ‘em baptized and tithing. The rest isn’t really all that important”. It seems as if the “ignorance is bliss’ church growth methodology is rampant. Plus, after all, it is a lot easier to lead people where you want them to go when the clergy/laity dichotomy is more pronounced. Just ask the Roman Catholic Church. 

And this is the exact reason that the Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe (and when have you last heard them mentioned or discussed in your church?) faced martyrdom to get the Word of God into the common language. They wanted all of God’s chosen to know and understand the deep truths of God’s word and not just “indoctrinated” by the salesmanship of institutional church “CEO types”. They believed that all followers of Christ should be theologically educated and mature in the faith. I ask you, when was the last time you heard a sermon on doctrines such as justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, original sin, the priesthood of the believer, the wrath of God, and sovereign grace that these protestant forefathers we willing to (and, in some cases, did) die for? 

Digest these scriptural admonitions: 

  • “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
  •  “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). 
  • “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). 

But we haven’t followed these commands so Paul’s prophecy has come true – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). 

I pray with all that I am that our leaders – preachers, teachers, and authors – will return to the true proclamation of God’s Word and sound doctrine. This is our calling and our ministry. Jesus’ last words were a command to make disciples and teach them “to observe all things” . (Matthew 28:19). I pray that we are committed to boldly proclaiming the powerful, profound, stabilizing, and transforming doctrines of His word for the glory of Christ and the sake of His Kingdom, His church, and His people. Why? So that we may all “grow up into Him”. Absorb Paul’s compelling synopsis of these thoughts: 

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-15).

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:10-14).

The Bible is filled with blessings. We like to focus on these positive affirmations of God’s goodness towards His children. The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12) come quickly to mind as an example of God’s graciousness towards His people. But the Bible is also filled with curses and there is a curse motif that threads its way through God’s word. Although we prefer to think of God as totally beneficent we must know that He is as fully capable of cursing people as He is blessing them. The Old Testament prophets (and Jesus as well) remind us of this fact. We do well to understand this because, in the end, it is a propitiational curse from God that most blesses us.

We see God’s curse on sinful man early on in history. After Adam’s fall God pronounces curses on the Serpent, the earth itself, and God’s anathema included pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:14-18). The most significant consequence of man’s fall was his banishment from the garden and God’s presence. Later He struck a covenant with man that qualified his relationship with God. It was based upon obedience to the law of the Old Covenant. When man obeyed the law (covenant) he was blessed in every aspect of his life (see Deuteronomy 28:1-6). When he disobeyed he was cursed in a similar manner (see Deuteronomy 28:15-19). Hence the law, and man’s inability to keep it, became his greatest curse. A holy God demanded perfect obedience to His covenant we are incapable of such perfection.

In other words, the keeping of the law is only satisfactory to God if it is kept completely (James 2:10) and continually. That is why Paul says we are cursed by attempting to satisfy God’s righteous demands by obeying the law (v. 10) because such a pursuit will result only in failure (see Romans 3:9-20). We are only justified by faith and a life that is based upon faith. But faith in what? Christ’s redemption from the curse by His substitutionary atonement for our sin (our inability to keep all of the law all of the time). And He did this by becoming a curse and by absorbing our curse – the judgment and wrath of a holy God against sin and sinners. In this sense Jesus satisfied His Father’s demands. Paul sums it up this way: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3-4).

How did he do this? By hanging on the cursed tree – the cross of Calvary. Therein lays the blessing! Jesus became the curse for us as He absorbed the rightful judgment, wrath, and curse of God against sin. This is why Isaiah 53 says He was “stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted” (v. 4).and that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering (v. 10). Christ’s experience of being forsaken by His Father while He hung upon the cross reminds us of His being the object of God’s anger and taking on the curse of God against sin (see Matthew 27:46).

In other words, as strange and incomprehensible as it may seem to us, it pleased God to bruise His son for those whose righteousness would be by faith in Jesus alone (v. 11). It was the plan and purpose of God to pour out His wrath upon the spotless (completely righteous) Lamb of God, Jesus, so that His chosen would experience redemption from the curse of their sin, the curse of the law. So Jesus became cursed so that we might be infinitely blessed. This is the grace that is imparted and imputed to His children and His children alone through faith. All others remain under the curse and condemnation of the law. That is why Paul boldly proclaims that he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). And that is why we should join in the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12).


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