From the cradle to the grave, the human experience is one of almost continual suffering. Therefore, it is indispensable that we correctly view suffering. Most of us suffer our suffering and don’t know how to use it for our good and God’s glory. We must have a view of suffering shaped by the Bible rather than a view shaped by personal feelings or, even worse, given to us by the world.
It may not have crossed your mind that the Bible presents a doctrine of suffering, but it does. The statements of Scripture on the topic, when examined separately and then correctly synthesized, produce a comprehensive teaching.
One text of Scripture stands out in this grand doctrine of suffering. It is Psalm 119:71, 75:
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes . . . I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Not only is suffering a huge part of life but it is a great perplexity. Why must we suffer? But even more difficult—why must we suffer by the hand of a good God? We could feel more confident tackling the question why suffering by the hand of a bad devil. But David did not say suffering came to him by way of Satan, but by way of the Lord. In His faithfulness to us, God afflicts us. In other words, in His goodness to us, He makes us suffer.
How do we account that a holy, loving, compassionate, and good God can permit it? The problems this presents are many, and I do not pretend that we can understand all these questions and their complexities. However, I do believe that the Bible can bring clarity to these issues, which will help us to suffer well.
It is a random journaling of his grief after the death of his wife Joy, and in it he spoke of a good God afflicting His children.
The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably [relentlessly] he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
Then Lewis asks—“But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us?” Lewis answers with a profound depth of wisdom.
Take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.
Either way, we’re [in] for it.
Finally, Lewis asks an insightful question that demonstrates our own inconsistency when thinking or talking about the goodness of God,
What do people mean when they say, “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?” Have they never even been to a dentist?
For most people, if it hurts it isn’t good. But the Bible differs with that opinion and shows that one of the most loving acts of God is the introduction of pain into the life of one of His children. But our attitude of entitlement stands in the way of receiving the good delivered to us by the errand boy of pain. The moment bad news comes to us, we immediately question God’s goodness, thinking we surely don’t deserve the ill because we have been good. In our minds, it’s all a matter of rewards and punishment. If I have been a faithful servant of God, then He owes me blessing; if I have performed less than I should or badly, then I deserve suffering. Thankfully, God is not on the quid pro quo system.
It is an evidential fact that although Christians are redeemed they are not yet perfected. Martin Luther, the German reformer, called the believer a simultaneous saint and sinner. I prefer to say that the Christian is a saint who still can sin and unfortunately does. Our depravity remains, although not totally. And it is this remaining corruption that suffering aims at removing, as the furnace removes the dross. The flames cause the impurities of the precious metal to rise to the surface and the gold or silversmith extracts it.
Wouldn’t that solve the problem and eliminate suffering altogether? Wouldn’t that be good? At least it would be easier than the kind of goodness David and C. S. Lewis is talking about.
Well, it might make our philosophical problem with suffering go away but, in the end, it would not help us. Help for us is not making us to have heaven but making us suitable for heaven. In the wisdom of God, it is better to put us through a process of conformity rather than instantaneous conformity to Christ. Certainly, God can do anything within the confines of His character. He could suddenly transform us. But even if He perfected His children in a moment, which He will at the resurrection, perfection in heaven does not mean there is no room for growth. Our perfection doesn’t mean we become deity. We will not know everything there is to know, nor will we be all-powerful. We will forever be depending upon the Almighty.
So the saint’s perfection in heaven will be for the most part—the removal of remaining corruption, both spiritual and physical, and the removal of the ability to sin. This perfection will not eliminate the need for development. Christians will continually be expanding, growing, maturing, and learning in heaven.
Therefore, before glorification, to help us grow in our love of Christ, we need to be better aware of how gracious our Lord is to us. The point of Jesus’ parable to Simon the Pharisee was that the more a person understands his or her sinfulness, the more he or she will love the person who forgave them of their sins. Simon was as evil as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet. The Pharisee just didn’t know it, but the woman knew how much sin was forgiven.
When converted, we think we are terrible sinners. But it isn’t until we have been walking with God for a while do we begin to see how terrible sin is and how deeply it runs through our natures. The more we learn of our utter weakness, the more dependent upon God and His amazing grace we become. In the end, we love more because of the process.
I get concerned when I hear professing believers quip that sometimes they wish they had lived more sinful lives before being saved so that they could appreciate God’s grace more.
Which do you think grieves the Father’s heart more, the sins of a rebel and outcast who hates the King or the rebellion of the King’s child?
“Well,” says one, “can’t God make us know all that the moment we are saved? Isn’t that the whole point of the conviction of sin that we underwent before being saved?” Yes, it is the point of conviction of sin, but to be made to understand and experience grace is not enough to make us absolutely dependent upon grace. When converted, we are saved by grace, but we’re far from living by grace alone.
Which would bring God more glory—saving a sinner and instantaneously perfecting the sinner that he or she will never sin again? Or saving a sinner and allowing him or her to still be able to sin, but with time, change them, so they do not want to sin and instead become more and more like Jesus?
If He saves sinners but leaves their corrupt flesh to remain, then they will, again and again, prove that they did not deserve salvation. The Lord will glorify His grace over and over again that He is a God that mercifully, kindly, tenderly, and patiently forbears with sinners until they enter into a state of perfection.
It is this struggle that reminds us of our sin and teaches our continual need for God’s grace. This is what brings immense glory to the Lord and proves to other sinners that they too could be recipients of such lovingkindness.
Therefore, we too can say with David that it is “good for me that I have been afflicted. . . and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”
It was surreal to think I was in the same area where one of the greatest Old Testament characters was and died. I’ve always wondered about that. Why did God seem so severe with Moses’ indiscretion?
I certainly don’t want to demur the Lord God or insinuate that He has some questions He needs to answer. God doesn’t give an account of Himself to anyone, much less me. But why was Moses not allowed to enter the promise he labored 40 years to achieve? It does make you pause when you think of his illustrious career as a deliverer. He was 80 years old when God called him to redeem the people of God from Egyptian bondage. Moses resisted God’s call as much as he could. He wanted nothing to do with the task. Repeatedly, the people challenged, contested, and rebelled against Moses personally. On a couple of occasions they would have stoned Moses, had not God intervened. Leading hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, stubborn and unbelieving ex-slaves in a barren wasteland called ‘wilderness’ was not the dream job of any Hebrew man. Here was a person that withstood and brought to its knees one of the greatest civilizations of history. In one of Israel’s rebellions, God had told Moses that He would make a great nation from his descendants. But Moses argued against that privilege, and as a faithful mediator interceded for the deliverance of the people’s sins.
It wasn’t that Moses opposed doing what God told him, but in a moment of anger with the people’s unbelief and constant complaining, he forgot the method God had prescribed to fetch water out of the rock.
He was told to speak to the rock, but having done this once before, Moses did as he had done years earlier: he struck the rock. And even though Moses didn’t do it exactly as God prescribed, the Lord did not withhold the blessing. He still gave plenty of water to the nomadic nation as a gushing fountain poured out of the rock.
After all the sacrifice, hardship, and grief, Moses was not allowed into the land flowing with milk and honey. He had not obeyed the specific instruction and thus failed to glorify God before the people. All of this flooded my mind as I stood there that day on the summit of Nebo. Why not let old Moses into the land? Where was the hope of redemption for Moses? Who was there to intercede and mediate for his sin? There seems no deliverance for the great deliverer.
The lawgiver of Israel could not enjoy the thrill of entering the land, for this reason: Moses represented the Law, and by the Law, there is no hope of entering the promise of God’s rest. The Law could not grant access because the Law brings no one salvation, not even Moses. The Law cannot save; only by grace through faith are we delivered. Redemption is not the work of the Law; it is the work of grace.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. –John 1:17
The Bible says if you have kept all the commandments but one, you have violated the entire law. Moses simply did not do what God said and, therefore, he was guilty of breaking all the Law. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).
Redemption is by the blood of another, Jesus Christ. He is our Redeemer. But too many of us are not okay with leaving our reclamation totally to someone else. We want Jesus to save us from sin and self and the world. We want Him to rescue us from our problems—sickness, financial ruin, marital storms, rebellious children, stubborn parents, anxiety, and rejection by others. We cry for His help, but His help must come on our terms. Like Moses, we will seek the miracle from the rock, but we will do it our way. Whatever the dilemma we are in, we are not too eager to simply “trust Jesus.” We want Jesus’ power but our control. Yet, the key to redemption, whether the need is liberation from our sin or suffering, is simple faith in our Redeemer.
Once again, Jesus is our Redeemer, or to put it another way, Jesus is our redemption. It is He, and not we, that has done the work of our deliverance. It is not our faith that redeems us but Christ Jesus Himself that redeems His people. Not until we truly believe this can we enjoy the freedom that is ours.
There is only one Redeemer, and He needs no help from us.
What is the essence of redemption? Is it the forgiveness of sin, or is it the prospect of an eternity free of wrath and torment? Surely, both forgiveness and the escape of eternal punishment is involved in redemption; yet redemption exceeds these and takes us to the very heart of God and His presence with us.
If you were kidnapped and held for ransom, then the person who paid your ransom would be your redeemer. The payment would secure not only your freedom from your captors, but it would restore you to the presence of the redeemer. This is the heart of redemption—restoration to the relationships and residence you enjoyed before your abduction.
Sin ripped man away from relationship with holy God and the residence of His glorious presence. While forgiveness is hugely important, it is not the sum of redemption.
The Redeemer loved you and desired your presence with Him. But something held us in captivity and kept us reserved for everlasting judgment. That something was God Himself. His pure justice demanded our separation from Him. We stood barred from the life of God. His goodness, which ended up saving us, was the gatekeeper that turned us away as the cherubim’s flaming sword kept Adam and Eve from the garden.
Redeemer Jesus paid not a kidnapper’s ransom but a prison warden’s required payment to set us free and restore us to Himself. No one abducted us; we voluntary were co-conspirators in the vilest coup in human history. We willfully rejected our Creator and Father and renounced His sovereign goodness. To His justice, we were in debt. To His righteousness, we were marked as prisoners eternally incarcerated.
From the portals of Heaven’s throne room, the Son of God came, “born of a woman, born under the law.” He sought us and His pursuit is called the demonstration of love. Unlike the story of the prodigal son, we did not come to our senses and return to the Father. The real Elder Brother found us and carried us away and brought us to the very throne He left, where He robed us with His righteousness, sealed us with His Spirit, and seated us on His throne.
What was His currency? What would He give to ransom the elect bride? What medium of exchange would He use to satisfy Heaven’s integrity? It was “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
His life’s blood was traded for our presence with Him, restored in communion and love. We are free to come to Him in full acceptance. We enjoy access to Him; it’s no longer barred or banned. Indeed friendship with Jesus is fellowship divine!
Only God’s grace in the person of our Lord Jesus could lead us out of our bondage and sever the flooded waters that kept us out. He has led us into the paradise of His spiritual presence and will soon bring us over into His physical reality. The redeemed restored to the Redeemer in the land of eternal milk and honey. Oh, what a Savior!
The religious answer is “get baptized,” or “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “join the church,” or “keep the sacraments,” or “be good.” These are all forms of performance indicating a works-gospel.
Jesus actually answered the question different ways.
To the Pharisee who came to Him under the cover of darkness, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” The new birth is not something accomplished by the sinner but something given to him or her. The sinner is passive while God does the work of salvation.
To the rich young ruler, Jesus said to sell all that he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and then tag along with Him. Surely this was something that the young man could do. Jesus called upon activity and not passivity. The question was, would he do it? Would he obey Jesus and give all of his wealth away? Sadly, he didn’t.
The answer is: becoming a Christian requires something to be done to you—“you must be born again,” but being a Christian requires you to do something—be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said if you are to be a Christian, you must deny yourself, pick up a cross, and follow Him.
But what about Jesus’ answer to the young rich ruler? Did it negate the miracle of regeneration? No, in fact, it did just the opposite. It showed him his need for it. Apart from the new birth, we cannot keep the commandments of God. That was what Jesus was trying to show him. He could not save himself by his works because there was something fundamentally wrong with his heart that would not allow him to trust and obey Christ. Had he believed the Lord’s answer, he would have obeyed.
Thus, to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one must experience the gracious activity of God converting the heart, which is to turn it toward righteousness. But that is not the sum of salvation. After regeneration, the new convert can start being and doing what Christ demands. What does He demand? He demands discipleship.
Discipleship is the heartbeat of Jesus’ Christianity. It does not save the Christian, but it is for those whom God has saved. It is not an option. There is no Christian faith without some form of discipleship. For several decades, the churches in Europe and America have not required discipleship as a condition of being a Christian. No longer does Christianity demand discipleship, but we see people remaining in the church without any signs of progress in it. This is so remote from Jesus’ explanation of being His follower.
With the plethora of information on discipleship, you would think we would not need to discuss the definition. Yet, a great deal of confusion exists about the subject. I do believe we see much improvement with a new enthusiasm for discipleship by certain groups. These ministries are going a long way to make the necessary changes in our discipleship paradigms. But it has yet to gain steam and roll through most of conservative evangelicalism.
To understand the New Testament view of discipleship we need to know how discipleship was done in the first century, since this would have been the context of how Jesus defined it. In our Lord’s era, rabbinical discipleship meant more than academics. It was much more than having weekly Bible studies. A rabbi and his pupils would live together for as long as the rabbi deemed necessary. They would eat together, travel together, and study together. There were structured formal times of study, but for the most part, the discipleship process was very informal, and mostly came by the disciple observing the way the rabbi lived.
The relationship of the student to the teacher was so full of respect that the pupil would even walk behind the master. His entire life was in submission to the discipler. That is why the disciples often called Jesus “Master.” It was the title a disciple maker would receive from students and non-students alike.
Another way you could describe first-century discipleship is much like a father/son relationship. The teacher viewed his disciples as sons and he cared for them, provided for them (usually the education was at the rabbi’s expense), and praised or admonished them as a father would a son.
Three church plants in this region are countering the spiritual decline with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. One Monday, May 15, Brother Mack Tomlinson and I pulled into the driveway of lead pastor and senior church planter, David Storey. David and his gracious wife Lisa welcomed us into their home and hearts. We went to be a blessing to them but ended up the ones greatly blessed by God’s activity in New Brunswick.
Eleven years ago, the Lord brought David and Lisa back to his hometown of Doaktown to plant a church. David burdened for the perishing in the area, would pray and weep over a long list of people he knew. In the ensuing years, God has done a steady work of saving sinners. Although Doaktown has a population of 793, the church runs on average 175, with visitors almost every Sunday.
This fervor for evangelism has spread to many of the converts in the churches and believers are sharing with families and friends the Gospel that can transform them.
Each night, but Thursday, we were in one of the church plants in Doaktown, Fredericton, or Richibucto. In each church, we found vibrant New Testament Christianity. The majority of the folks in the churches range in age from 20s to 40s, and every service has unconverted people attending.
On Sunday morning, I preached at Cornerstone Church of Richibucto, a two-year-old church plant pastored by Brother Chris Sippley. Chris is a young pastor advanced beyond his years. Many unbelievers were in attendance and, as I preached, the Spirit of the Lord pierced many hearts. Many people wept as the word of God was declared. I counseled some after the service who admitted that God had exposed their hearts and they knew they were lost and needed His mercy. Please, join me in praying that the seeds Brother Mack and I planted and watered will germinate and produce much fruit for the Lord.
A cabin nestled in a pine forest overlooking the Miramichi River was our backdrop. There were nearly 20 of us there and the Lord blessed us all. Both Mack and I spoke to the pastors, Mack about the theology of pastoring, and I about the importance of personally feeding on Christ so that we, as pastors, can feed Christ to our sheep. The Q &A times were especially rich and valuable. We can only thank the Lord for how He conducted our time with these dear brothers.
What we found in the budding spring of New Brunswick is one of the strongest works of God that I have seen in years. Please lift these churches under David’s leadership in prayer. Pray for pastors David, Chris, and Corey, as well as the other elders who serve the churches. Their hearts burn to see many more churches planted throughout the New Brunswick province.
Mack and I ministered in Redeeming Grace Fellowship Church in Portland, Maine the weekend before our trek north into Canada. While there, Mack performed pastoral visits and counsel to this church plant of Providence Chapel, Denton, Texas, where Mack is an elder. On Sunday, he and I both preached to an eager and hungry fellowship. I preached evangelistically on The Righteousness that Saves, from Romans 10:3-5. Brother Mack preached on the Theology of Singing and encouraged the saints with why God has given us the gift of singing to each other and Him.
This is a wonderful group of saints serving Christ in Portland under the leadership of Jeff Hebert. Please pray for them as they desperately desire to sow and reap the Gospel harvest in New England.
Even though you were not there physically with Mack or me, you were there in spirit by your prayers. I only hope you truly know how much work is done by prayer and not to be credited to our efforts alone. I remind you and my heart of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). To God be the praise for the great things He has done and is doing!
Come on in and experience Christian writing committed to the old paths and ancient ways of apostolic Christianity that still believes Sola Scriptura.
This edition focuses on discipleship. And although you may think you already know all there is to know about it, we invite you to join us as we look at discipleship through the lens of both the discipler and the discipled. I’ll never forget when it dawned on me that what I thought about discipleship was not true and that I actually had no clue about it. I had been pastoring Oak Grove Baptist Church for about seven years when this realization occurred. Then, for the next several months, I studied the life of Jesus in the Gospels and observed how He made disciples. It was revolutionary; a turning point in my ministry.
Frankly, systems of discipleship assume that all persons are the same and will fit the cookie cutter mold. But that is false. All of us are distinct persons, which means each of our personalities, life experiences, environment, and education will resist systems and require individuality. Jesus did not deal with Peter as He dealt with John, and He didn’t disciple John in the same way He did Bartholomew. There were things He did with all the men at the same time, but I’m sure that if we could see His individual time with each of the twelve, it would not have been similar.
In fact, Jesus still doesn’t develop us in the same ways. My experiences with Christ will not be like your experiences with the Master Discipler. He meets us where we are and, more importantly, He meets us as we are. His approach and manner with you would probably not work with another. What an amazing Jesus we have!
We define discipleship, share insights on discipling children—especially teens—and wisdom from modern discipleship pioneers.
Please help us distribute this magazine by encouraging others to download the RTM app. We do not spend money marketing this ministry or magazine; therefore, we need readers like you to tell other potential readers about us. Thank you so much and “go and make disciples.”
This succinctly summarizes the root of all sin. At the bottom of the sewer pit of sin we find the culprit of unbelief and its composition is a lie about God and self. All unbelief in the human heart believes two lies: God is not as good as He says, and I’m better than I am. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul said that mankind’s depravity owes itself to the fact that humanity has “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25).
To believe a lie about God is also believing a lie about one’s self. This is Paul’s assertion. The moment you stop believing something that is true about the Creator, you start believing something that is false about the creation. To worship the creature is to believe that the creation is worthy of such, and that assumes God alone is not worthy. And whatever you worship you will serve.
This gets to the heart of all temptation—unbelief. When you pay close attention to Satan’s strategy in the temptation of Eve, you will note the same strategy used against us all. His plan rested on one thing—getting Eve to stop believing the truth about God and believe a lie about her Maker.
Some have conjectured that the devil misquoted God to register in Eve’s mind doubt that God had given a prohibition of eating from the tree of good and evil. But that is not the strategy of the enemy. The Lord told Adam that he could eat from every tree in the garden, except one.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” -Genesis 2:16-17
Satan’s question turns the positive permission of God to eat of every tree into a negative. He insinuates that God is a restrictive killjoy not allowing the first couple to enjoy the excellent fruit of every tree.
Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” -Genesis 3:1
Secondly, the devil lies and contradicts God’s word, “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). Again, he strikes the same note that God cannot be trusted. He then opens Eve’s mind to the possibility that she is suffering the loss of something good because God is unkind, and wants everything for Himself. He lies again, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The whole lie spins around the assertion that God is not good. He doesn’t want you to determine good and evil for yourself because then you will not be dependent upon Him. You will be your own god; you will be like Him.
This is the exchange of the truth of God for the lie. What is the result? The worship and service of self rather than the Lord God.
Thus, it is now evident why idolatry is the constant nemesis of man and God. Wherever unbelief exists, idolatry lives. It is not coincidental that the first two of the 10 Commandments deal with the sin of idolatry. It was the continual sin of Israel that led to its judgment. In the New Testament, the warning against idolatry is repeatedly trumpeted.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites. -1 Corinthians 6:9
And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” -1 Corinthians 10:7
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. -1 Corinthians 10:14
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. -Colossians 3:5
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. -1 John 5:21
The Apostle Paul knew well that if a person ceases to believe the truth about God, he or she is ruled by one or more idols. This is why he said that men “worshiped and served the creature.” Idolatry is more than the bowing down before a crafted statute representing a deity. It is the belief that something or someone can care, help, or provide for you better than the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the fuel of every sin and the lie about God that becomes the foundation of unbelief.
This is manifested not only in the ruthless and horrid crimes plastered on the front pages of newspapers but also in the niceties of religion publicized in the same newspapers and in our own churches.
So much of evangelical Christianity is our idolatrous attempt to serve man-made gods promising a better experience. God is no longer believed to give us what we need. He is no longer worthy of waiting upon until He acts. Instead man acts, man works, man does so that man is praised. Therein, is the idolatry—man demands the glory.
He is the Gospel, the good news, of His Father. There is no Gospel apart from the Lord Jesus, He is the sum of all God has done to redeem sinners. But mankind with supernatural help has reduced the Gospel to a few simple facts about Jesus and mental assent to those facts. I say supernatural because I believe the enemy of our souls, Apollyon, the devil, has his malevolent hand in the corruption of men’s understanding of the Gospel.
The Gospel is larger than the doctrine of justification by faith or how to gain eternal life when you die. It is about possessing eternal life now; it is about entrance into a kingdom, the kingdom of God’s dear Son. When Jesus came on the scene preaching, His message was not a Reader’s Digest condensed version about the forgiveness of sins. It included that but was much more. The Scripture says of our Lord’s first preaching, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
The hors d’oeuvres may be wonderful but they are designed to increase the longing and desire for the meal to come. You don’t make a meal out of spinach dip and crackers. Yet many pastors proclaim a gospel that focuses on what I call the fringe benefits of the Gospel. They are as follows: cancelling our sin debt and getting heaven when we die. Like the appetizers, the benefits of this Gospel are superb, but there is something even better than these. At the heart and soul of the Gospel is reconciliation with God Himself; being united in communion with the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not think in narrow terms of salvation as we do; He saw the good news encompassing a great deal more. It was the announcement of a kingdom come, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35). The Lord said the end would not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
They said their preaching was about God’s kingdom. In Acts 8:12 it said of the ministry of Philip, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Luke describes the preaching of the Apostle Paul as, “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).
The evangel of our preaching is not only the assurance of the kingdom of God when you die but entrance into the kingdom when you believe upon God’s only begotten Son. The Gospel is not about preparing people to die as much as it is preparing them to live, and live now.
The genre of the New Testament doctrine of salvation is entrance into a kingdom now but not yet. In other words, the kingdom of God is current and it is here. It is a spiritual realm we enter presently by faith, but the kingdom it is not yet a physical reality. One day it will manifest itself in the material realm. The good news that Christ and His apostles gladly proclaimed was that the poor and broken could enter into that kingdom now before it has materialized on the earth. This is why Jesus began His great Sermon on the Mount (a sermon about how the subjects of the kingdom live), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It is theirs now; they have entered it, that is, if they believe that Christ has opened the kingdom to them by His redemptive life and death.
Jesus was not preaching that if Nicodemus would believe and be born again that when he died he would see and enter the kingdom. No, Jesus was explaining that it is by the new birth that a man can see and enter now.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” -John 3:3,5
She insisted that she only wanted to play with it and would return it when finished, but with every petition she heard the same answer: “No!”
All parents have witnessed this scene with their children. Even if they have only one child, they’ve seen his or her exercise of dominion. The unwillingness to share is more than the symptom of the fall; it’s also a demonstration of a child’s innate understanding of a kingdom.
This is perhaps the best way for Westerners who know nothing about monarchies to understand what a kingdom is; it is the effective exertion of will. It is the realm in which a person can enforce his or her desire. Geo-politically, a kingdom is the dominion of a monarch’s ability to impose resolve and execute decisions. His territory extends as far as implementation of his will extends.
Therefore, when Tommy exerts his will over his sister’s, it is an example of his kingdom, albeit a small one. That is perhaps why a child’s favorite word is no; we enjoy the wielding of power, even though the power has little consequence. “No” gives the child the sense of control within his juvenile realm.
The extent to which a person can impose his will is to the borders of his empire. Even the poor peasant that was subject to the king had a mini-kingdom where he had limited authority.
When Jesus came on the scene of His generation, the Apostle Matthew says that “Jesus went about all Galilee . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). He was declaring the good news about a kingdom—the kingdom of God.
What is the kingdom of God and what does it mean when the Bible speaks of the Gospel of the kingdom? These are some of the most important questions we can ask.
He said men would be, “unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving.” At Thanksgiving, we pause busy lives and schedules to return thanks to the Almighty God who has lavished His many blessings on us.
Presidents have issued proclamations of thanksgiving starting with our first president, George Washington. We have known as a nation what it means to be grateful to a good God who has and is kind to the undeserving. But what do we know of ingratitude? Are we sure it is as venomous as other sins? Are we convinced that among all that is deemed wrong there is none worse than unthankfulness? Do we fear an ungrateful heart as much as a heart of unbelief? I think not.
Ingratitude is not seen as a major thing except when others display ingratitude towards us. Then we believe it to be a great evil. Why is ingratitude in us not thought to be a serious sin, if not a cardinal sin?
The answer to that is also the answer as to why unthankfulness is so deadly.
If God showers blessings rather than curses we may express a modicum of thankfulness but internally we are most grateful to ourselves. We self-congratulate, “I’m a good person and I live in such a way God can bless me.”
This spirit prompted the disciples to ask our Lord in John 9 about a man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). We’re right where the disciples were—we believe bad and good happens for the most part because people deserve it.
Ingratitude is a by-product of a self-righteousness that believes good, success, and prosperity is earned. And so, instead of being thankful to a merciful God who has blessed me far more than I deserve, I want to take some (if not most) of the credit for my blessings. We become glory-robbers. We steal what does not belong to us—thankfulness.
Wherever the sin of ingratitude lingers, unbelief is present. The Bible says this is so.
“…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” -Romans 1:21
Eve was led to believe by the deceiver not to see how good the Lord was to her and her husband, but how He was withholding something good from her. A spirit of ingratitude roused in her. She couldn’t see how gracious her Creator had been. She couldn’t utter thanksgiving for all the fruit trees she could eat from, all she could see was the one withheld from her. Ingratitude.
It works the same way in our hearts. Instead of counting the many acts of God’s kindness to us, all we can count are the things we think we deserve but do not have. Thus, the spirit of ingratitude breeds murmuring and complaining. The heart is choked and the soul withers. Bitterness fills up where thanksgiving ought to exist. All because we believe the lie that we deserve better than we have and that God is not as good as He claims.
Ingratitude played a huge part in the first temptation and first sin, and it plays a no less role in our temptations, and—God forbid—our sins. The sin of unthankfulness is much larger than not saying grace over our food or not singing a hymn of praise; it has much to do with the state of our souls before a holy God.
Where ingratitude reigns, unbelief is allowed to control. The unthankful person will never believe in a good God of grace but will deem Him to be critical, censorious, and condemning. There can be no peace between the ungrateful and God.
But let the joyful sound of the Gospel make melody in a thankless heart and something changes. The person sees how undeserving they truly have been all along. Bitterness for the hard times is replaced by a thankfulness that God was there and didn’t forsake them. And when that person has been brought to faith in God, what is the first thing that comes pouring out of the mouth? Isn’t it thanksgiving? Yes, a grateful heart sings:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.”
“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, how great Thou art!”
“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Where the Gospel light has shone, the result is thanksgiving. To the degree you see how unworthy you are of His matchless grace, you will give thanks. Your thanksgiving is in proportion to your understanding of your undeserving.
We are a saved people, a redeemed people, a people who did not deserve the mighty Prince of heaven to come and ransom us. His mission was not with a sword to slay us but a cross to save us. We have a new name, the redeemed. Our adoption is sealed, His blood has removed the curse, we are loved by the Father, shepherd by the Son, and have communion with the Holy Spirit. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies is ours. The broken have been made complete in Him. Our cups are full, our barns have plenty, and our houses are warm.
We are not alone. We have the God of the Trinity to fellowship with us, and we have His church, joined to a brotherhood that lasts beyond the grave. All of His amazing grace has been given to us for the Bible says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Whenever we think we do not possess but lack, we need only remember that within one of His promises is all the power we should need. He has said, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
And should that not be enough, He has promised an innumerable number of promises for every situation we face, “by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
May we hate the terrible sin of ingratitude and fight its every attempt to steal our joy. From this moment on, do not forget that a small heart praises small, but a heart enlarged with His love and blessings praises large. And should you feel little thankfulness, please beware that the tempter lies close to your door. Give him no lodging or comfort. Remember the Gospel and your rightful place as one who sits at the King’s table unworthily and without merit. Once a rebel but now a friend; once outside but now within the house of your Father. Not a prodigal but a prince or princess ruling in a Kingdom that is eternal and exceeds the heavens.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” -Colossians 3:15
Yesterday, I informed Oak Grove Baptist Church, having pastored them for 23 years, that the Lord was leading me into full-time itinerant ministry. And I want to share this with you as a supporter of Real Truth Matters Ministry.
My last day as senior pastor will be January 29, 2017. After this, I will be available to preach and minister where God leads. For over a year the Lord has increasingly burdened my heart toward an evangelistic and revival ministry.
Below you will find the audio and video of my message to our church. In it, I shared this news with them, and in detail explained the process that led to this decision.
As far as Real Truth Matters, it will not be affected by this change. RTM is built around my preaching and writing ministry. We will continue to give you the same quality you have come to expect. The sermons, videos, and RTM magazine will proceed as if nothing has changed.
I ask that you will pray for both Oak Grove and me during the transition and our new ministry after the transition. I have no idea what the future will hold, but I am convinced in my spirit that the Lord, who is my Shepherd is leading me. With His divine help I cannot fail, without it, I cannot succeed.