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#19 The Christian Calling

September 10, 2008

(Romans 5:1-8) “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

The subject of suffering is not a popular one but it is one that the Christian should expect to deal with at some time or another. I hope through these messages from the book of Romans to help us to prepare for suffering, for change for the unexpected, for whatever the Lord has in mind for us. The secret things, the secret plans of the Lord are revealed in His time and sometimes they may be unpleasant or unexpected or opposite of what we might have planned.  But God always knows what is best for us and anything that we may have planned pales into insignificance when compared to the decrees of God.

 

The bible teaches us that those the Lord loves, He chastens, disciplines and, though yet, For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11)  Paul tells us in (2Ti 3:12)  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” and so we can look forward to suffering for Jesus in some fashion or another. Indeed we must be prepared to suffer for His Name’s sake! The main reason to prepare for suffering then is because the Bible says we should, and the other is because the modern situation seems to be foreshadowing the possibility of open persecution of Christians again.

 

David Barrett, the missionary scholar who edited the Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia, publishes an update each year on the state of the Christian movement around the world with projections of what things might be like. In 1980 he reported that there were about 270,000 Christian martyrs. In 1992 there were around 308,000 and in the year 2000 the estimates were at about 500,000. These are people who were killed more or less directly because they are Christians.

 

In Somalia tens of thousands of Christians have being intentionally isolated and starved to death by rival factions. The tension between Muslim and Christian populations in Nigeria is dangerously explosive. The millions of Christians in China and many other countries live in constant danger of harassment and imprisonment. The Sudan is a monstrously evil country where it is against the law to be a Christian and the penalty is death!

 

In our own land we are seeing an increased hostility to Christianity! Indeed the bible has been characterized as hate speech by no less a light than Ted Kennedy and I fear the reason for his health trouble today is due to his attack on God’s word. It could be that his case is the same as that of Voltaire and others who died terrifying deaths after they attacked the word of God! The spirit of antichrist is at large and is going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it. The masses who ‘don’t believe in evil or in the devil’ are tools in his evil hands to do his will. Things are happening in our land that were prophesied by the wise and foretold by the old.

Consider this statement by John Piper; “The first amendment has been so twisted in the service of secular antagonists that it would not be unthinkable any longer for some judge to argue that public provision of water and electricity and sewer service to Christian church buildings provides an unconstitutional establishment of religion by government resources and regulations and therefore must be stopped immediately!”

 

Peaceful, pro-life protesters who were simply praying on public property have been violently assaulted by abortion defenders and received no protection from police. In fact instead of protection they were arrested and charged as criminals. The name of Jesus is openly despised and blasphemed by famous entertainers in a manner that would have made them disgusting in the eyes of the public in previous decades; but today such behavior is approved, applauded or ignored! Sounds a lot like what Paul said in (Romans 1:32) “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

 

What all this means to us is this; living for Jesus may cost your life! Let me state it again, those who will boldly take their stand for Jesus may have to pay with their lives. But this is nothing new. Eighteen hundred years ago Tertullian said, “We [Christians] multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.”  200 years later St. Jerome said, “The Church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it” Foxes Book of Martyrs is filled with page after page of men and women who loved not their own lives even to the death. Jesus meant all to them and they feared not those who could only kill the body and after that had nothing more they could do.

 

And we are called to do no less. Indeed, we are called to lay down upon the altar and like those former martyrs love not our lives, even to the death for Jesus sake! We must stand for Christ without compromise! Remember He who gave His all on the Cross as an offering in our place. We must go thou and do likewise. 
 
Martin Luther said, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on the whole of the battlefield is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

 

Jesus said plainly that “They (that is sinners) will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). “If they persecuted me they will persecute you” (John 15:20). Will we obey the Great Commission or will we make excuses as to why we cannot go and witness to our lost family members and friends or even to strangers for that matter.

 

Consider this statement from John Piper concerning the cost of service to Christ and as you read, understand that here in our own town we are missionaries. We have the pure light of the word of God and we are living among people who are walking in darkness. Are we hiding our light under a bushel basket or under a bed? Are we running away like Jonah? Are we making excuses as Moses did? Are we compromising the gospel for the sake of peace in our lives, in our homes, among our friends?

 

“We must understand that obedience to God in this area has always been costly, and always will be. In the village of Miango, Nigeria, there is a church called Kirk Chapel. Behind the chapel is a cemetery with 56 graves. Thirty-three of them hold the bodies of missionary children. The stones read: “Ethyl Arnold: September 1, 1928–September 2, 1928.” “Barbara J. Swanson: 1946–1952.” “Eileen Louise Whitmoyer: May 6, 1952–July 3, 1955.” This was the cost of taking the gospel of Nigeria for many families in recent years. Charles White told his story about visiting this little graveyard and ended it with a tremendously powerful sentence. He said, “The only way we can understand the graveyard at Miango is to remember that God also buried his Son on the mission field.”2 And when he raised him from the dead, he called the church to follow him into the same dangerous field called “all the world.” But are we willing to follow?

 

What do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12 which reads; “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, Brother Andrew told the story of sitting in Budapest, Hungary, with a dozen pastors of that city teaching them from the Bible. In walked an old friend, a pastor from Romania who had recently been released from prison. Brother Andrew said that he stopped teaching and knew that it was time to listen. After a long pause the Romanian pastor said, “Andrew, are there any pastors in prison in Holland?” “No,” he replied. “Why not?” the pastor asked. Brother Andrew thought for a moment and said, “I think it must be because we do not take advantage of all the opportunities God gives us.” Then came the most difficult question. “Andrew, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12?” Brother Andrew opened his Bible and turned to the text and read aloud, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He closed the Bible slowly and said, “Brother, please forgive me. We do nothing with that verse.”

 

We have compromised the true meaning of the Christian life into such an empty concept of gaining God’s favor through our good deeds; we have filled our churches with the teaching of the ‘rapture’ that will save us from trouble to the point that 2 Timothy 3:12 has become meaningless. I don’t think many Christians are really prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become like the church that existed in China prior to the communist takeover. They basically preached that the rapture was going to take them all away before any bad things happened. And when the communists seized power, they were caught off guard and were stunned. But Jesus told us to be on the alert! We have no excuse for being unaware since we have the word of God Who declares the end from the beginning. There is no place in scripture that I can see where we are told that we are going to get off scot free when men of whom the world was not worthy were sawn in half and stoned and brutalized for their uncompromising stand for Jesus! This is why we are studying the Word of God today; to be prepared for what lies ahead.

 

Perhaps this is not a feel good message but I don’t think I ever preached a feel good message in my life. My tutors have been men of God who have seen the watered down version of Christianity in our land and have found it disgusting. And I am issuing a call to return to the truth and to take our stand for Jesus Christ no matter what! This includes being witnesses of the gospel to the lost who are all around us. If we are hiding the truth of God, if we are quenching the Spirit of God, if we have turned our backs on the lost because it is too inconvenient to share with them the treasure we have found, well then, I’d say we’re a pretty sorry lot. We must count the cost of discipleship and remember that the term disciple means, “one who follows’ or simply, ‘follower.’ Are you following in Christ’s footsteps? Or are you looking for comfort and ease? Remember the case of the Luke 12:16-21; “And He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” You see, this man had a lot of stuff.  He had a great treasure. But he decided to hoard it to himself.

He had forgotten the God who had given all those things to Him;  He had neglected to call to mind that all he had was from the Lord. He is an illustration of those who have neglected to show true love to their neighbor by sharing with them the greatest of gifts, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. How about you? Did you know that there is a purpose for suffering? From the scriptures we can see them. Indeed, it is clearly God’s purpose that we at times suffer for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of the gospel. For example,

1 Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

1 Peter 3:17  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Hebrews 12:4–14 “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

 

The world and some ‘churches’ offer another gospel with ‘benefits’ of service. They see no benefits from suffering. But the word of God declares that there are actual benefits from suffering for Jesus sake. Consider:

 

  1. Perseverance.
  2. Proven Character.
  3. Hope.  

 

In this day of gross immorality, in this day of sloth and ease, we must focus on the purpose of suffering. God ordains that we suffer for the gospel and for the cause of righteousness and declares that there are great moral and spiritual benefits in that suffering. After showing us that we are justified by faith and that we have access through Jesus into grace and that we stand in grace, Paul says in verse 2 that we Christians “exult in hope of the glory of God.” The chief cause of joy in the Christian life is the eager expectation that we will see and share in the glory of God. Like Jesus we are to look through the cross that He has called us to bear, to the joy that has been set before us. That joy is the truth that one day we will be with Him whom our souls love! We will be with Jesus.

 

This is why Paul says in Romans 5:3–4, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We will also exult in the things that make our hope increase. The point is: if we exult in hope, we will exult in Him Who brings about that hope. The reason we exult in tribulations is not because we like pain or misery or discomfort or trouble. Christians are not masochists. We are willing to endure tribulations because of what they produce, the ability to persevere in the face of tribulation, proven character, that is character that has been tried in the fires of tribulation and has been purged of the dross of sin and in a stronger and stronger sense of hope as we see the day approaching in which we will be finally delivered from the body of this death. This is what James was talking about in James 1:2 when he said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. When we are immersed in the Spirit and when we are about our Father’s business, then we are walking in the manner that Jesus walked. And isn’t that the whole point? The whole goal of the Christian isn’t to get fame or stuff. It is to become like Jesus.

 

When Jesus spoke of carrying our crosses, He wasn’t talking about a Posture-pedic cross with springs and cushions. He wasn’t speaking of life without troubles. Indeed He told His disciples on the night He was arrested that we will have tribulation in this world. It’s going to happen. Paul reiterated this when he said that all who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Paul spoke of being crucified with Christ and he laid it all out on the line. Paul was dead and Christ was living through him. So Jesus was talking about dying to ourselves.

 

I have heard so many ‘Christian leaders’ say that Christians are to have it all! We are to be walking in health and wealth and all the stuff of the world only in a sanctified manner of course. But Jesus said exactly the opposite. If you are looking for comfort here on earth, if what this world has to offer is your treasure, then you may find it BUT YOU WILL LOSE YOUR SOUL! Comfort for an earthly lifetime and then agony for eternity; I just don’t see the tradeoff here.

 

We are called to live for Jesus uncompromisingly and to bear witness to the truth! So what’s going on in your head right now? I hope there are questions concerning where Jesus wants you to go and what He wants you to do! I hope right now there is growing in your heart the desire to get alone with God to pray for direction and wisdom and zeal and courage to do what He has called you to. Our mission field is right outside that door! We know people who need to know Jesus. We need to pray for their souls because only God can forgive sins. And we need to pray for opportunities to speak to them about their souls. In other words, we must be about our Fathers business.

 

We have the answer to the greatest need of the world. Sin reigns on this fallen planet and there is only one place to go to find forgiveness and deliverance from the wrath to come. It may cost you something to declare the truth. But what cost can replace the joy of seeing one sinner who repents! The salvation of one soul will more than compensate for the momentary discomfort or fear we may experience. How important are souls to you? I understand completely that we cannot save anyone. But I know the One who can and does save sinners every day. I know the One Who adds to the Church daily those who are being saved! So do you!

 

The days are growing darker and many things are happening that were foretold of in the scriptures as being precursors to Christ’s return. I am not naming the day or hour! I am merely stating the facts. Jesus is coming soon. He is coming to call you home as your appointed time approaches, and He is coming at the appointed time to consummate the age. I ask you, do you want to see your lost family members and friends standing with the goats? Do you want your lost family members or your lost friends to spend eternity in hell? I think I know the answer to this! Which leads to my next question; are you willing to count the cost of discipleship? Are you willing to suffer for His Names sake? Is it important to you to live in such a way that God will be glorified? To us has been given the ministry of reconciliation. We know the injured party! We are hopefully intimate with Him having met Him and been transformed by that meeting. And we MUST shine before sin darkened men and women as beacons of hope, to point them to Jesus. As we stand forth as examples of holiness we will be ridiculed. We will be despised and forsaken. But I think we are in good company. They hated Jesus first so it only stands to reason that they will hate us.

 

Should that deter us? No! If God wills, we will be instruments in His hand to rescue a multitude of souls from the fire. I leave you with the words of Jude beginning at verse 17 “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Here is our call, our commission and our hope!

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