Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: February, 2020

THE SPECTER OF PERSECUTION

 

As Jesus comes to the end of His discourse He has elicited a response of faith from His disciples.  “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God” (John 16:30; NKJV).  But Jesus responded by making a disturbing comment: “Do you now believe?  Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (vv. 31,32).

They had been faithful disciples.  They had known Him, and had grown to love Him.  And they understood what He was saying; they responded in faith.

Or did they?  What does it mean to believe in Christ?  They certainly thought that they believed.  But Jesus predicted, and subsequent events bore out His prediction, that when the hour of trial would come they would desert Him.  Confronted with a contingent of armed guards and soldiers, “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56; cf. Mk. 14:50).  What a sober warning against over-confidence!

But then Jesus added, “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”  There may be times when friends will betray us, when even our best friends will desert us. And yet our hope does not ultimately rest on man, but on God Himself.  The question is, is our faith in God so strong that when everyone else deserts the cause we will remain faithful to Him?

Jesus then goes on to make an observation about His disciples’ position in the world in general: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (v. 33).  “In the world,” He says, “you will have tribulation.”  He was about to be arrested and crucified.  That is what the world thinks about Christ.  And if we remain faithful to Christ, if we try to live lives that are pleasing to Him and be faithful witnesses to His truth, we will “have tribulation.”  Hardship, difficulty and even outright persecution are sure to follow.  Let no one deceive us.  Jesus did not promise His followers lives of ease and comfort.  His path led Him to the cross; and if we follow Him we may find ourselves facing persecutions as well.

But Jesus says, “be of good cheer,” or, as it might be translated, “take courage” (NASV) or “take heart” (NIV, ESV); and then He explains: “I have overcome the world.”  Christ’s death and resurrection was the decisive turning point in history.  The war is still going on.  There are battles yet to be won.  But the final victory is guaranteed.

The opposition we face is very real.  The human heart, in its natural condition, is at enmity with God.  Human society may present an outward appearance of decency and good order.  But underneath is a latent hostility towards God, a refusal to submit to His law, and resentment of His authority.  The Christian gospel, clearly and faithfully proclaimed, exposes all of that; and that is why it meets with natural resistance.   And it often happens, in this normal, ordinary course of things, that people will pressure us to make ethical compromises, often for the sake of corporate profits.  There are short term consequences to pay for remaining faithful to Christ.

But where will it all end?  In the short run human recklessness leads to eventual ruin.  And in the final end we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ in the great and terrible day of reckoning.

In the final analysis we have no choice.  Satan is doomed to destruction.  There is no point in following him no matter what the short-term consequences.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”  One might wonder how we could have peace if what we are to expect in the world is tribulation.  The purpose of the whole discourse was to prepare the disciples for what lie immediately ahead.  And in the discourse Jesus repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping His commandments, of prayer, and of the work of the Holy Spirit.  We can have peace, an inward peace, but only to the extent that we have a meaningful relationship with Christ Himself.  It is peace “in Me.”  It is only as we commune with Him, consciously seek to obey His commandments and are filled with His Spirit that we can experience that inward peace in the midst of outward difficulties.

Difficult days may lie ahead.  The surrounding culture is rapidly changing in a non-Christian and even anti-Christian direction.  It is no longer respectable to be a practicing, Bible-believing Christian with conservative views of morality.  Will we be able to meet the challenge?  Not if we are content with a merely formal, institutionalized form of church life.  We need to develop a deeper relationship with Christ Himself – to love Him, commune with Him and serve Him faithfully.  Then, in Him, we may have peace.

 

SHOULD CHRISTIANS VOTE FOR TRUMP?

 

Review:

God, Trump and the 2020 Election:

Why He Must Win and What’s at Stake for Christians if He Loses

Stephen E. Strang

Front Line, 2020

253 pp., hc.

 

Donald J. Trump may seem like an odd candidate to advance the cause of Evangelical Christianity.  A notorious womanizer, twice divorced and remarried (after he had cheated on his previous wives), with a foul mouth and a desire to punish his enemies, he hardly exemplifies Christian virtue in his personal life.  How, then, could he be God’s chosen instrument to rescue America from self-destruction?  And yet that is exactly what author Stephen E. Strang argues in his newly released book, God, Trump, and the 2020 Election.

Stephen Strang is a journalist by training and the founder and CEO of Charisma Media, publisher of Charisma magazine, a well-known Pentecostal / Charismatic publication, as well as a large array of books.  In the back of his book Strang acknowledges a large number of influential Charismatic and Evangelical leaders, some of whom have had personal dealings with Mr. Trump.  Chief among them would be Paula White Cain, whom Mr. Trump considers to be his spiritual advisor.

On the surfaced the argument is very simple and straightforward.  During his presidency Donald Trump has advanced a number of causes that are especially dear to Evangelical Christians: conservative Supreme Court picks, freedom of religion, etc.  The Democrats, on the other hand, should they win in the fall election, are liable to pursue a number of causes inimical to Evangelical interests – LGBTQ rights, etc.  The choice, then, would seem obvious: Christians should get out and vote for Donald Trump.

Appendix B in the book does, in fact, contain the text of an address which President Trump delivered to the United Nations General Assembly in 2019; and it is fairly eloquent statement of the policies and principles that have guided the Trump administration (one might see the hand of a professional speech writer in it).  Its main theme is the need to preserve national sovereignty.  “Like my beloved country, each nation represented in the hall has a cherished history, culture, and heritage that is worth defending and celebrating, and which gives us our singular potential and strength.  The free world must embrace its national foundations.  It must not attempt to erase them or replace them” (p. 209).  That means that the U.S. Government should pursue a vibrant economy, a strong defense and secure borders.  “Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secured, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realized, by the will and devotion of patriots.  In their spirit is found the strength to resist oppression, the inspiration to forge legacy, the goodwill to seek friendship, and the bravery to reach for peace.  Love of our nations makes the world better for all nations” (p. 217).

But do the ends justify the means?  Mr. Strang scarcely touches on Mr. Trump’s personal character or the inner workings of the White House.  Strang does concede, “When it comes to Twitter, I’m certainly not going to say that Trump never puts his foot in his mouth” (p. 38).  But he quotes Paula White Cain as saying that Trump is a devoted father and is courteous and sympathetic towards others.  According to her, Trump pays attention to detail, is a visionary, a man of integrity and of principle.  But, she conceded, Trump is a fighter.  “He doesn’t start a fight.  But he will certainly finish one off” (p. 119).  And David Barton is quoted as saying that Trump’s Tweets are a part of an attempt to control the mainstream news cycle and throw the other side off balance.  Strang also notes that Trump has been under relentless attack from Democrats, the press, and “the Deep State.”

Strang’s book came out just as the impeachment process was getting underway, and Strang questioned the intention behind it.  “The attacks are, in my opinion, from the pit of hell.   As a Christian I believe that Satan is behind this.  He is trying to steal, kill and destroy.  And Donald Trump has been raised up by God to stop our nation’s headlong plunge into total depravity.  Trump’s presidency is God’s mercy to America since we deserve punishment” (p. 201).

The impeachment process is now over.  And although President Trump was acquitted by the Senate, it can be argued that had the impeachment process been conducted properly, John Bolton and perhaps others would have been called to testify, and it would have been established that there was indeed a “quid pro quo” in the President’s dealings with Ukraine.  By all rights Mr. Trump should have been removed from office and Mike Pence made President instead.

But he was not, and that poses a dilemma for Christian voters.  Strang believes that Donald Trump is God’s man to save America from self-destruction, and he quotes a number of Pentecostal prophets who claim to have discerned God’s intentions in the matter.  But this may be a misreading of God’s mind.  Strang seems to be equating America with the kingdom of Christ, and then concludes that as Christians we must do everything within our power to save America from self-destruction.  But Biblically America, like every other nation, is a part of the “world,” which is seen in Scripture as fallen, sinful, and under God’s judgment.  As Christians “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20; NKJV) and we are “strangers and pilgrims” here on earth (Heb. 11:13-16; I Pet. 2:11); and therefore we are exhorted to “keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27), “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Pet. 2:12).

The church’s primary task, and the world’s best hope, is the proclamation of the gospel.  But by closely identifying ourselves with a politician whose personal behavior is ungodly we undermine our credibility – in the eyes of we say one thing and do another.  Thus for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel, it might be better not to support either major party candidate.  In the short run it may cost us our political freedom.  But in the long run it might hasten the triumph of the gospel.

Stephen Strang’s argument is well presented, and on the surface looks invincible.  But Christians will do well to exercise caution before jumping on the band wagon.

THE SORROW AND THE JOY

 

Jesus now comes to the end of His discussions with His disciples.  Through it all He has been preparing them for what was about to happen – the horrible ordeal through which He was about to pass.  The disciples struggled to comprehend what Jesus was saying to them.  At this point, however, time was running out.  It was only a matter of hours, perhaps even minutes, before Jesus would be arrested and eventually meet His death on the cross.  He moves to bring the discussion to a close.

In summing up what He has said so far Jesus brings up one additional factory that He had not quite mentioned before.  “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16; NKJV).  He had, of course, told them that He was about to depart from them, and there was at least a hint at some post-resurrection appearances.  But here He puts a little more emphasis on it: “and again a little while, and you will see Me.”  And then, a little later, He goes on to explain: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (v. 20).  He then uses the analogy of a woman giving birth: “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (v. 21).   And so it would be with the disciples: they would see Jesus hanging on the cross, and their hearts would be full of sorrow.  But a little later, once they realized that He had been raised from the dead, they would be filled with joy, “and your joy no one will take from you” (v. 22).

Up until this point the disciples had been having a hard time fitting all of this together, but now the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together.  Jesus states quite plainly, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.  Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (v. 28), and this drew from the disciples the response, “By this we believe that You came forth from God” (. 30).

It should be kept in mind that the apostle John had an apologetic purpose in writing all of this down.  He was especially concerned about an early form of Gnosticism that had crept into the churches.  This was based on the view that there was a sharp dichotomy between physical matter and spirit.  Therefore, it was held by some, that there was a difference between the divine Christ and the human Jesus.  The divine Christ supposedly descended upon the human Jesus at His baptism, but then was taken back up into heaven before Jesus died on the cross.  Thus, so it was held, the divine Christ never suffered on the cross.

All of this was complete and utter nonsense, as far as John was concerned.  He had known Jesus personally.  He had heard Jesus teach and had watched Him perform miracles.  He had watched Jesus die on the cross and later saw Him risen from the dead.  And he knew that Jesus Himself had come from the Father and that He was returning again to Him.  Jesus was the eternal Son of God who had come in the flesh, had suffered on the cross and returned to heaven again.  The divine Christ and the human Jesus were one and the same Person.

There is something truly extraordinary, though, about the eternal Son of God dying on a Roman cross.  And it was certainly not what many Jews of the time expected of the Messiah.  And yet such was the deep love and compassion that God had for His lost and fallen creatures that He sent His only-begotten Son into this sin-cursed world to die on the cross for our sins.  It is an amazing story indeed!

And there is a sober lesson here for us as well.  We must still live in this sin-cursed world, and we must still fell its pain and suffering, its hardships and distress.  As we shall see when we come to the last verses of the chapter, that can even include outright persecution from time to time.  And that is exactly what Jesus Himself experienced on our behalf; and if we follow Him we will also experience it in some measure as well.  The promise is not that we will never experience pain and suffering in this life, but that we will have eternal peace and joy in the life to come.  We may be suffering outwardly, but we have the joy of the Holy Spirit inwardly, “and your joy no one will take from you.”

“When thru the deep waters I call thee to go,

The rivers of sorrow will not overflow;

For I will be with thee, they troubles to bless,

And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

18th Century hymn.

THE NAKED GOSPEL?

 

Review:

The Naked Gospel

Andrew Farley

Zondervan, 2009

237 pp., p.b.

 

We live in a stressful world, and there are many books on the market today that attempt to address the anxieties and fears of believers.  Unfortunately not all of them are biblically sound.  The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley, is a case in point.

Dr. Farley is a pastor and best-selling author, as well as tenured professor of linguistics at Texas Tech University.  In spite of such credentials, however, his book The Naked Gospel, has some serious deficiencies.

The book arose out of his personal experience.  In Chapter 1 he tells of how he struggled with a sense of spiritual inferiority in spite of evangelizing compulsively.  His depression grew worse, he dropped out of college and sought help from a variety of Christian therapists.  It was later able to return to school, but it was some time after that that he decided that the root of his problem was a misunderstanding of the gospel.  The true gospel, he concluded, was designed to set one free from what he calls a false religiosity.

At one point in the book he lays out four basic propositions that form the core of his argument:

  • “Your relationship to the law is now all gone.”
  • “Your old self is now all gone.
  • “Your sins are now all gone.
  • “All obstacles preventing closeness are now all gone.

(p. 216)

On the first point he makes some radical assertions.   He claims that “the law,” as he calls it, is only for unbelievers and that “Now we don’t have to fulfill any of the law” (p. 57).  “Principles, rules and standards – no matter how ‘Christian’ we believe they are – are poor substitutes for a live animated by God himself” (p. 58).  At one point he even goes so far as to say that “Christians are even free from the Ten Commandments” (p. 57), and suggests that the Sermon on the Mount was not intended for Christians (Chapter 12).  He quotes numerous passages from Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews to support his contentions.

But when Paul uses the word “law” in a negative sense, his readers with Jewish backgrounds would have understood the Torah, the law of Moses, a conditional covenant with a host of minute ceremonial regulations.  But Farley wants to extend the term to mean written laws and commandments in general.  “But this is what Christian maturity is,” he says, “since we’re in Christ and he’s in us, we don’t look to external rules to determine our every move; instead, we’re urged to move away from religious bondage and to a journey toward a beautiful freedom, never looking back . . .” (pp. 92-93).

The passages cited make it clear that we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant.  But it does not logically follow from this that there is no universally binding moral law which all of us, as human beings, are bound to observe.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?”

(Micah 6:8; NKJV)

Farley’s next two points are that “your old self is now all gone,” and “your sins are now all gone,” again quoting passages from the epistles.  The second of these two points is especially problematical.  The problem here is that Farley does not distinguish between the imputed righteousness we receive in justification and the infused righteousness we receive in sanctification.  Thus he tries to argue that at the point of conversion one becomes perfectly righteous in actual practice.  “. . .God calls us righteous because we actually are righteous” (p. 105, emphasis his).  If we ask the question, then, why do Christians still sin, he replies that it is not the Christian who is sinning, but a “sin principle within the physical body” (p 119).  “Sin is in us, but it is not us” (p. 119, emphasis his).  And since all of our sin has been forgiven at Calvary, Farley argues that it is not necessary to confess our ongoing sins to God.  “. . .no amount of dialoguing with God about our sins will bring us more forgiveness.  No amount of asking God to forgive us will initiate his cleansing in our lives” (p. 135).  I John 1:9, he says, applies only to unbelievers.

Moreover Farley denies that there are any special rewards in heaven for Christians who are especially godly and faithful in their present lives.  “At no time are we told to live an upright life in order to garner a more righteous standing or to collect prizes in heaven” (p. 182).

How, then, do we live the Christian life?  According to Farley it is a matter of “having Christ’s life naturally flow from your personality” (p. 191).  He even goes so far as to say that it is pointless to seek God’s will in our decision making process. “God is not interested in controlling our every move” (p. 210, emphasis his).  “We are free to live from our wants, since we, together with our hearts, minds, hobbies and interests, are now set apart in everything we do” (p. 212).

Farley concludes by saying, “. . .if others have already come to know a life of dependency on the risen Christ but still get tripped up by how much they’re not doing or not giving, we can rescue them from measuring themselves through a reminder of our freedom from a law system” (p. 218).

There is an element of truth to much of what Farley has to say.  His is right to remind us of the finished work of Christ on the cross, the reality of the new birth and the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer making him a new creature in Christ Jesus.  But the fact of the matter is that the New Testament is filled with written commands and exhortations that we are expected to obey.  Most of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and when a believer commits a sin it involves a more or less conscious decision on his part for which he is personally responsible.

We are to strive to please God in all that we do (I Thess. 4:1), exercising spiritual discernment to determine what is in accordance with God’s will (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:10, 15-17; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9,10).  If we keep Christ’s commandments we abide in Him (I John 3:24) and He promises to answer our prayers (I John 3:18-22).  But if we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).  The argument throughout the epistles is that we should walk in a manner that is consistent with our standing before God.

Ultimately we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:9,10) where our works here on earth will be tried (I Cor. 3:10-15).  So we should run to win the prize (I Cor. 9:24-27), have confidence at Christ’s coming (parresia at the parousia – I John 2:28; 4:17) and receive an unfading crown of glory (I Pet. 5:4).

In the end Farley’s book comes across as a bit of clever sophistry, an attempt to rationalize not taking responsibility for our own actions; and, we are afraid, will have the effect of leading unsuspecting believers astray.  It is, therefore, a book that we would not recommend to others.