The Truth Will Set You Free: The First Steps to Christian Happiness

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There is such a thing as a miserable Christian.

It is an unfortunate reality that many followers of Christ do not live – as the Westminster Confession of Faith would have it – “enjoying God”. For that, according to the Confession, is the chief end of man. He is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Of course, most Christians take seriously the need to glorify God. Our Creator and Sustainer is worthy of praise, respect, reverence, obedience, love and worship. Yet even God-centred worship can become dry and mechanical when performed without a sense of delight in God. Worship can even become a superficial posture wherein we know that it is good to glorify God, but become painfully conscious that there is a very limited amount of passion in what we are doing. A Christian, therefore, cannot properly be said to offer to God a fulsome worship, unless this also includes an enjoyment of God. A man must find God’s company pleasant; he must find his cheer in the presence of Christ; and he must come to discover that holiness is a sweet and lovely thing.

At this juncture, it is important to be careful of legalism. We cannot afford to establish rigid criteria and boundaries that are not biblical. A person, after all, can still be a Christian even if he does not seem to find much delight in his Maker. A man can have salvation with the merest particle of faith in the grace that is in Christ, as evinced by the dying thief on the cross. We are saved by faith, not by joy.

But sadly, for many Christians, life and the devil has worn their faith down to the joints and marrow. Some struggle with their circumstances. Relationships, for instance, are one of the greatest causes of pain to man, and a ceaseless reminder of the selfishness and wickedness that lies within his heart. Relationships between husband and wife; between parents and children; between nations; between employee and employer – these are fraught with breakdown and frequently much pain. One of the clearest evidences that man is sinful is his inability to live in harmony with other men. At other times, Christians can carry great burdens. Worries and fears about the future. Or even existential angst, as if one’s life is passing away and one feels that so little is being achieved. Other Christians live in lands that are not prosperous and safe, and struggle against rulers and principalities and the fear of torture and death.

Never, therefore, should we look upon a weary, sad, miserable, and weathered Christian with jaded eyes, and simply dismiss them if they lack the abundance of joy that Christ has promised. In their case, it is not that Christ has failed them. Rather it is that His people often have yet to learn and discover the way to the joy that He promises to give. So, dear reader, if you lack a steady stream of joy and happiness, then this is not cause for further gloom. Perhaps in God’s sovereignty He has brought you to this blog precisely so that you too may begin to learn about true Christian joy!

Let us first begin with a foundational principle. This principle is contained in two verses that will illumine everything else that will follow in this article. I invite any reader to consider these words with a purity of contemplation. Yes, most certainly, these verses are often wrestled by mystics and charismatics; and misapplied by liberals; and even cited by civil rights activists as if they conferred God’s imprimatur on their protest marches and political campaigns. I have no intention of following such groups in their error. We will, instead, draw one or two undeniable exegetical truths from these words:

So He said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Lord speaks of “being set free”. Setting aside the nature of that freedom (and indeed, the nature of the oppression that makes the offer of freedom necessary), the Lord clearly demonstrates in this passage the avenue by which a man is properly set free.

Man is not set free by swords and spears or money. The Lord did not give His listeners a battle strategy against the Romans or give them all their dreams come true, as He surely had the power to do. Instead, our Lord declares that a man is set free by truth. And therefore, what Christ gave to them was words. Words uttered by humanity are so feeble and transient, but the Lord offered His words – His words, which reliably convey truth. Christ’s words contain true knowledge. They carry true information. These are the very words given to Christ by the Father himself (“These words you hear are not My own, they belong to the Father who sent me“). A man’s freedom, then, is obtained by receiving and continuing in Christ’s true words; by applying and living out the truthful information He has brought to us from heaven.

Of course, not every person who listens to the word of Christ will be set free, because many listen without faith and without any will to apply the words. For some people, His word makes no imprint in their heart whatever. Yet for those who take the Lord at His word, and believe what He says, they will find the power of truth in their life that establishes a glorious freedom. It is this true information that overturns darkness and shadow. It is this true knowledge and this true way of looking at things that liberates a man.

Now, then, what is the nature of the slavery that makes this freedom necessary? Our Lord himself tells us: it is sin. The Lord is adamant on this point – as indeed, is St. Paul when the apostle uses the imagery of slaves being mastered by unrighteousness. Sin, properly understood, exercises an enslaving quality upon every aspect of the human person. Not merely his body, which is only a small component of human sin, but more essentially his mind, heart, emotions, desires, and aspirations. Indeed, every part of the human personality is attacked and affected by sin. From physiology to psychology, all the constituent parts of a human person in his native condition is enslaved to sin and futility.

This is why the Lord’s teaching sometimes seems to be so alien to what we would expect and desire. For instance, in the New Testament, people come to Him complaining about an unfair share of an earthly inheritance. He points them to eternal treasure. People come to Him with news of frightful atrocities perpetrated by the Romans. He points them to the spiritual condition of their own hearts and the need to repent. His disciples speak admiringly of the great stones and decorations of the temple. He tells them it will come down to ruins. As our Lord is going to His death, women cry out in mourning for Him. He tells them to weep for themselves for a great tragedy will shortly befall them and their final condition would be both pitiful and lamentable (all the more so because it was entirely avoidable).

Just exactly what manner of Man is this? Our Lord is constantly, relentlessly, persistently, endlessly determined to tear away from our eyes the fluttering cobwebs in which we invest so much effort and energy. The things we instinctively feel hold so much importance.

And the Lord will confer His divine blessing on none of our indulgences. He does not grant us the slightest comfort for our earthly existence, no promises of the “good life” as we so often wish it to be. Our longings for a quiet and uneventful life, with sufficient levels of prosperity, with a semi-functional family, and with regular dollops of colour, friendship and laughter may seem to us to be an entirely reasonable expectation, as if we were equals engaged in a negotiation about our future with the King of kings, and as if we could exchange our worship for a fair package deal for life. Yet, our Lord will have none of it. He speaks very little of this temporal existence, and does not permit us to bargain with Him. Our condition is too hopeless and His salvation too vital for any man to deserve a say at the negotiation table. Rather, Christ engages in unilateral spiritual diplomacy. Christ talks. He pushes the instrument of surrender at us. We accept His terms for peace. End of discussion.

It is hard to escape the Lord’s persistent long-term focus even from the briefest, most cursory reading of the New Testament.  So often we sin-damaged beings can see hardly further than the nose on our face. We are born with spiritual myopia, and the world around us and all that is in it appears to us in burred form and is often difficult to interpret. Worse still, we get so accustomed to things being blurred that we begin to believe that this is normal vision, and that we are therefore interpreting our lives correctly. We peer closely at things, beholding only small areas of their surface at a time, and then think we are geniuses because we manage to figure out what an object exactly is as it looms before us.

The New Testament ceaselessly reminds us that the Lord’s eyes are laser precise. There He stands on the mountain, far above us, gazing with incredible clarity toward the horizon. But we rush to the Lord, tugging at his garments, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? What about now? What about here? What about my happiness?“. The Lord lowers his gaze, almost unwillingly from the glory beyond, and he points us to the horizon.

“Can you see over there?” he seems to say, “Look a little further! There are far greater concerns; richer and more glorious matters! And if you cannot see it, then you must trust Me when I tell you that I can see it, and that I am pointing you always in the right direction.”

The essential point, then, is this. If we are to begin to be happy in Christ and to enjoy God – and we all must begin somewhere and at some point – then surely the first step is to accept these basic biblical principles.

Firstly, that there is such a thing as a joy unspeakable in Christ, for He tells us this is so (John 15:11). He tells us that there is complete joy, and, indeed, that this is part of the very purpose for which Christ has given us His words.

Secondly, we must accept that we are naturally slaves to sin. And, moreover, that we have a native tendency to run back to our first master. Even a Christian sins, sometimes grievously so (e.g. St. Peter and the churches at Corinth), which is why we need an Advocate to plead our cause (1 John 2:1). At the same time, we must embrace the realisation that our psychology, our interpretations of life and our interpretations about what is happening to us, indeed, our entire view of things is wrong, and always tends toward wrongness. Even that which we feel – and too often we think our emotions give us reliable information – is subject to the same contamination. Our hearts – down to a man – are”deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We cannot understand accurately even half of what is going on within us. Our own hearts are an impenetrable mystery much more often than they are understandable. Think how many hours we have each spent in our lifetime trying to decode our own emotional state and to figure out what it is that we feel, and why it is that we feel it! Or trying to force ourselves not to think or feel along certain lines, in order that we may think or feel along others! Given that we struggle with something so central to our being, how much less can we think that we may accurately interpret our own past or discern our own future? It is foolish. It is foolish because we are sick in our native and natural condition. We are spiritually crippled, addicted to the cause of our symptoms; allergic to their cure, and therefore in constant and terrible need of a Great Physician who deals not only with flesh and blood, but also with the spirit, with the mind, and with the heart that lies within us.

Thirdly, we must come to the realisation that the cure for our complaints lies in possessing true knowledge and true information. Christ’s truth will uplift the heart and ennoble a life. Long-term exposure to His truth will liberate a man from dread and darkness forever. Truth – Christ’s truth – applied to a life will shatter the power of sin over us, which makes men so wretched and miserable. And this will continue until we get to a point where we can sing hymns in the stocks in prison, like Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25); where we can rejoice while the blood is still wet on our backs from a beating like the Apostles (Acts 5:41); where we can encourage other people to rejoice always in the Lord even from a cell (Philippians 4:4). To advance so much in the Spirit and in the Lord’s teaching that we derive the sum of our joy no longer from time and circumstance but instead from Him alone and what he points to over the horizon, and which he ever reassures us is not actually that far off at all. Indeed, the kingdom of God is close at hand.

Imagine what it would be like to be unspeakably happy and joyful; at peace and at rest in YOUR current condition without any external changes, any editing of your circumstances, and additions or deletions! Would that not constitute riches and bring much glory to God? Most assuredly, it would.

Amy Carmichael, who poured her life out in India, wrote: There is nothing dreary or doubtful about [the life]. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength. 

Hudson Taylor once observed: There are three great truths. First, that there is a God; second, that He has spoken to us in the Bible; third, that He means what He says. Oh, the joy of trusting Him!

The beginning of true happiness, therefore, is to renounce our own beliefs about how to obtain it, and to begin to realise that it lies not in what is in front of our nose, but over the horizon to where Christ is always pointing. How, a man may wail, can I stop believing that my happiness is dependent on my circumstances? Well, not with your own wisdom, or your own reasoning, or your own effort, or your own power. It comes from purposeful exposure to the liberating truth of Christ, and we grow into it through purposeful, diligent prayer. And then we advance to the level of our Master, who was never fazed by his circumstances, and was never miserable.

Some of the Lord’s saints have proximated to it closely, like St. Francis of Assisi who, although he had his mystic tendencies, entered a life of joyful poverty and service, and in his poverty, discovered the joy of Christ unspeakable which has eluded kings.

 

 

 

 

Joy, the Characteristic of an Authentic Encounter with Christ

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This morning, the pipes burst from the water mains to my house. A great spray of water was sent across the lawn, and the water pressure in the house dropped to zero.

I went to church glad that it had been spotted early.

This morning I spoke about the believer’s joy, which is fixed by the certainty of our entrance into eternal life and grounded in the love of Christ. This happiness is not tangential to the Christian experience. It is part of the promise; it is part of the proof of being in Christ. For Christ himself said, “I have spoken these words that my joy might be in you, and your joy might be complete“. The devil’s greatest tool to destroy this joy is to rob people of their assurance and confidence that they will enter that sunlit land, and one day inhabit the City of God in fellowship with Christ and his saints forever. This joy exists independent of our momentary troubles and worries.

Truly, even “the desert blooms as paradise when God is with His people there“.

After worship was ended, I was talking to a brother about joy and Christian happiness. We ended up comparing notes about our troubles with our homes. The conversation ran something like this:

Me: “Well, this morning the pipes burst in my house!”
[Insert joyous laughter]
Brother: “Well, my roof is leaking in three places and I don’t have the time to fix it!”
[Insert more joyous laughter]
Me: “Well, this week I received a letter from the people who built my home warning me the roof could cave in!”
[Joyous laughter again]

It would seem madness to the world. Glib; insane; not being a realist. Yet for the Christian who is strengthened by Christ, the difficulties of life are trivia compared with His joy. Our conversation was a small, yet vivid proof of Christian joy that can exist independent of one’s circumstances.

The Miserable Christian

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Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once preached a series of sermons on the topic of “true happiness” – happiness not as the world seeks or receives, but as God alone can give. Abundant happiness in Christ!

Since listening to Lloyd-Jones and reading his book on the subject, the study of Christian happiness has become one of the most important, searching, and confronting in my life.

I have been engaged in this exercise now for several years, increasingly convinced that joy is an essential characteristic of the Spirit-indwelt disciple and one of the chief characteristics of the true Christian. And if one does not have joy, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, one should ask the vital question, “Why am I unhappy?

I have benefited from many Reformed preachers and writers on this subject. Discussion of Christian happiness and joy goes back to the very middle of the Protestant Reformation with great writers like Matthew Henry mentioning it in their commentaries. But, I still remain chiefly indebted to the venerable evangelical Welsh doctor and his 53 year-old sermons preached in the London Tabernacle. (In 1963 they must have been recorded on cutting edge technology for the time period.)

I intend to write more about this at some future point, but Lloyd-Jones diagnoses Christian misery – as opposed to human misery in general – primarily as the result of a lack of assurance in one’s salvation and of one’s adoption by God the Father. This absence of assurance, he says, is the tactic of the devil to keep a man miserable. But, as we know, a miserable Christian does not bring glory to God.

A lack of assurance not only creates misery but also breeds dangerous doctrinal errors. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that a lack of assurance accounted for so much of the doctrinal innovations and corruptions of Roman Catholicism – i.e. the constant resort to priests, human works, the confessional, the saints, to Mary, and so on. A Roman Catholic who actually believes Roman Catholic teaching is bound to be miserable, for he may not have any confidence in his salvation until the hour of his death!

Lloyd-Jones noted that while Protestants may not share the Roman Catholic obsession with human mediators, they can still inflict terrible misery upon themselves by believing that assurance is actually a form of arrogant presumption. To boldly say, “I am headed for glory and heaven!” is too great a boast for many Protestants who would rather be “humble” and live in trepidation and doubt. As if doubt were humble. And as standing confidently on the promises and words of God were arrogance.

It can even get to the bizarre stage, said the good doctor, where people believe that the more miserable they are, the more spiritual they are!

Why Church Discipline Matters

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While vices are always destructive, few people seem to realise that a virtue taken to extremes is equally destructive.

Take, for instance, the man who practices the virtue of charitable giving by handing his entire wage to the homeless while his own children are left to starve. To do such a thing is to twist the intended virtue into something dark and ungodly.

Or, to use another example, the woman who practices the virtue of cleanliness in her home by using such dangerous chemicals and cleansers that her family grows ill. By going to the extreme, she completely defeats the value and goodness of the virtue.

Unfortunately we live in times when virtues are practised in this fashion. The great Christian virtues have become detached from the Faith and the Person of Jesus Christ, and have instead gone wandering through the world on their own, being taken to extremes, and wreaking havoc everywhere. Like black holes, these virtues have acquired their own cloud of satellite ideas that swirl around them. These prove to be ultimately destructive and are never conducive to human flourishing, despite so promising.

Communism, for instance, was predicated on the noble virtues of helping the poor and relieving the oppressed. It morphed into a dreadful and murderous justification for corruption and power. Feminism was built on the virtues of treating women fairly and giving them dignity. It has transformed into the mutant creature of third wave feminism which seems intent on unloosing the anchors of civilisation itself.

Virtues on their own, are not good. Virtues must always live in balance with other virtues. They must be disciplined and guided. There must be careful thought invested into how best to practice them. Virtues must always be lived out in such a way that they hold the integrity of their form, and achieve God’s purposes rather than ours.

In church history, the question of how to balance the virtues of doctrinal purity with mercy has occasionally arisen. It is not an insubstantial issue. If one goes too far in either direction, the virtue collapses into error and irreparable damage, most especially to people’s immortal souls and eternal future.

For instance, the virtue of sound doctrine – taken to extremes – becomes an excuse for inquisitions, interdicts, and mass excommunications. It results in suffocating, merciless dogmas. Nearly every denomination that once took doctrinal purity to an extreme has receded into a cold, empty formalism.

On the other hand, the virtue of mercy and love – taken to extremes – results in the jettisoning of God’s word and a toleration for every aberration and error within the culture around us. For instances of this, one need look no further than various Anglican communions around the world where, under the umbrella of “love” and “mercy”, there is now such a broad latitude in these churches, that they show indifference to the doctrine of their communicants and clergy.

You hardly even need to believe in God to be part of the Anglican communion nowadays, much less be a Christian. There are atheist clergy walking the ecclesiastical ranks. There is toleration and celebration of nearly every trendy left-wing cause, no matter how unbiblical. Practically the only thing that can get you tossed out of an Anglican communion these days is to espouse something politically to the far-right, like fascism. On the other hand, you can be an atheist, a neo-pagan, embrace historic heresies, and deviations and still find comfort, embrace, and inclusion. Because that is “loving”.

On page 10 of the recent edition of the Diocese of Toronto’s Anglican Newspaper, there was a recent article in which an Anglican church there is devising ceremonies and rituals to bless people who undergo gender changes. It is a testament to the speed at which the transgender movement has gained credibility and acceptance within the Diocese of Toronto that their Anglican newspaper does not once question any of the assumptions surrounding the rite and the individual involved. It is taken for granted that the whole matter is entirely consonant with the Holy Scriptures, because it is about “love” and “celebration”, ergo virtuous.

The photograph features two female clerics performing the rite. The church building is adorned with a rainbow flag. The only visible remnants of any link with our ancient Faith are the vestments worn by the two women which constitute merely the sad vestiges of a past era. The fact all of this is contained in a “Christian” church is illustrative of the compounding nature of error. It grows, steadily but surely, until it reaches a point where it chokes everything else and renders its host a corpse.

(As an aside, the presence of traditional vestments always interests me. This is one the most remarkable things about the culture warriors in these churches: though they are willing to jettison nearly every biblical doctrine, create novel new rituals, embrace fashionable causes, and design hideous new churches with “hip” architecture, the one thing they cling to with tenacity are the robes and collars, the titles and insignia of the clergy.

It is an irony, really, that among orthodox clergy, those external trappings of office are often put aside. Former Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Australia) preferred casual clothes or a tidy suit. Most Reformed local churches have done away with vestments entirely. Even Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wore the traditional preaching gown in church, had no interest in collars and robes. Leonard Ravenhill gave those things up and even came to repudiate them as unnecessary innovations. Yet, among liberal, heterodox clergy, those things are always last to die. They seem to exalt in their purples and silk.)

How does a church so spectacularly collapse as these Anglican denominations have done? Precisely because they made a choice in generations past not to try to walk that narrow road in which one rightly balances the affirmation of doctrinal truth with mercy and love.

Neither of these virtue can (or should) undo the other. Both must be present in harmony, the one feeding the other. Pure, sound, biblical doctrine gives rise to a ceaseless flow of love and mercy. And love and mercy to the sinful, broken and the lost reinforces the beauty of orthodoxy; the loveliness of biblical truth; the necessity of God’s holy precepts. Both virtues, properly attached to the True Vine – the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ – are filled, animated, actualised, motivated and energised by Himself. For love is only true love when it is His love. And doctrine is only any good when it is His doctrine.

How does one walk this fine line? By having an apostolic fidelity and allegiance to the Holy Scriptures as the first and final authoritative centre of Christianity.

And the only way to maintain this in any church is with loving, but firm church discipline. Toleration of heresy; the embrace of false creeds and doctrines; the widening of boundaries to the point where there is no longer an identifiable marker between non-believers and believers is a certain recipe for a church’s death. The Anglican communion has now reached a point where its evangelicals and orthodox are evacuating it. This process is very nearly complete. And once finished, there will be nothing left to sustain and maintain these denominations who are already consolidating an ever-shrinking catalogue of churches.

How sad it is and yet how eminently predictable. Church discipline matters because it keeps a church alive for the following generations.

Neglect it, and there is nothing more certain than that the next generation will go into captivity.

The Cult of the Extraordinary

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(The above is a sadly typical image, representative of most of what I found on the internet when doing an image search on this topic. The thirst to be extraordinary, it would seem, has produced reams of images and “inspirational” quotes telling people never to settle for the ordinary and that they not only deserve to be extraordinary but also to be treated in extraordinary ways by others. This thirst for significance is exceeded only by the delusion that fails to recognise that most of us – nearly all – are ordinary people who live ordinary lives.)

A number of articles have appeared lately in newspapers and on blogs regarding what might be called “the cult of the extraordinary”.

One woman wrote that growing up in the 1990’s, she was told that her generation was special. They were the most enlightened and most privileged, and the world was their oyster. They could do whatever they wanted. They were made for extraordinary things.

As it happens, she become a mother and a wife, and now spends her days doing housework and occasionally writing a blog. But, she writes, a voice goes through her head sometimes that what she is doing represents a failure in comparison to what she might have done.

For instance, when she is arguing with her husband, a voice says to her, “You could have been something, but now you’re just a wife”. When she does the dishes, the voice says to her, “You could have really done something, but now you’re just a mother”. When she writes a blog article that nobody reads, “You could have done something, but now you’re just writing a blog everybody ignores”. And on and on.

What is interesting about this experience is that it was echoed in the same week in the Guardian newspaper. There, the writer described the tremendous internal pressure young people – especially those raised in the 1990’s or early 2000’s – feel to be extraordinary. Somehow that particular message has been conveyed to young people, probably through a variety of mediums: schools, entertainment, television shows, video games and so on.

It is a popular message, to be sure. “You can do anything you want to do and your life can be whatever you want to make of it“. But this is a destructive message not only because it is untrue, but also because in trying to make it true (or living as if it were true) places a person in an impossible situation. Nobody can suck the savour out of life at each moment. Nobody is able to live in a constant exhilarating whirlwind of accomplishment.

Something in our culture has transmitted a deep inward pressure within people to have an extraordinary material existence. The serial television show probably plays a role in this. Watching a cast of zany characters doing impossibly exciting things every evening, and then multiplying this by many orders of magnitude (for there are many such shows), might indeed contribute to a warped sense of possibly.

Those warped possibilities really are a parody of reality. For instance, the idea that all relationships and romance should be mind-blowing leads people to conclude that a partner they harmonise with but do not have “chemistry” with must be inadequate and unsatisfactory. The same goes with career. Since one’s career “must” be amazing, filled with every escalating achievement, a person who finds themselves doing a relatively simple job must conclude that it is unsatisfactory. If you’re not a CEO or a lawyer defending high profile clients, or a presidential aide, then something must be wrong!

Perpetual dissatisfaction results from the cult of the extraordinary. The dissatisfaction arises, largely, from the belief that there are other options out there which are better, more satisfying, and more remarkable than one’s current circumstances. Sometimes, of course, that may be true. But much of the time it is needless discontent.

The cult of the extraordinary and the attendant belief that our lives should be extraordinary and amazing, can be explained primarily as the result of an absence of a Christian worldview. A perspective grounded in Christ clearly recognises that the only truly extraordinary things are the Lord himself and the works of his hands. We are not therefore summoned to be extraordinary, although it is certainly the case that some people may live exceptional lives. Rather, we are summoned to be filled with, and immersed in, and awed by that which is truly extraordinary: that is, Christ himself. And Christ alone.

It can be a great liberation to be able to say, “I’m ordinary and unimportant and insignificant, but I worship and know a Christ who is extraordinary, truly important, and wholly significant. And that is sufficient adventure and accomplishment to last a lifetime. It is riches beyond comparison. It is more than I could ever deserve apart from God’s amazing grace. To him be glory and praise!

Ordinary People.Extraordinary GOD

9 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Persecution – Are You Ready to Suffer for Christ?

There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on the blogosphere, on evangelical forums, and in sermons preached around the world regarding the coming persecution.

It is clear – at least to growing numbers of us – that persecution in the hitherto Christian-friendly West is not merely a future possibility. It is now inevitable. The question is no longer “if?”, but “when?”.

It is painfully obvious that the culture around us has reached a critical point. There is growing active hostility toward the gospel. This is an important distinction. The hostility is no longer passive, but an active, energetic, determined and confident opposition to all that falls under the banner of Christ.

And this hostility and immorality has fallen upon our culture with amazing speed. Any comparison between a hundred years ago to today reveals the difference that a mere hundred years can make. A mere hundred years. Just one century! Think of it. There are people today that are over a hundred years old. Those people have witnessed during their long life span the catastrophic transition of our society from a predominately Christian one, to a post-Christian, virtually pagan one. And this tidal wave of rebellion and godlessness shows no signs of slowing. It is increasingly expanding around the ever-shrinking moral residue of Christian thought and practice.

The general moral attitude of 1916 is as different from that of 2016 as night is from day. To illustrate this, compare these two covers from the fashion magazine Vogue. Both come from the April issue, but one was published in 1916 and the other 2016:

The cover from 2016 is regarded as modest by community standards today. Yet, in 1916, it would have been considered a scandalous and immoral portrayal of a woman. In fact, it would probably have been deemed pornographic and titillating.

The Atlantic magazine has published a beautiful set of historic photographs of New York City, including several of beaches and public swimming pools. Take a look at them, and consider the attire of people in different contexts. There is an entirely different atmosphere of modesty on display there from what we would expect in 2016.

And it is not just fashion that has experienced a tectonic shift. It would have been unthinkable, a hundred years ago, for there to be any such thing as same-sex marriage. There was even widespread efforts to combat alcohol, much less the constellation of drugs that now plague our cities. Consider that in 1919, prohibition of alcohol in the United States became a constitutional amendment as a consequence of the enormously successful temperance movement. Even in countries outside of the United States, temperance movements were influential and widespread. Below is a picture of temperance pledge signed by a young Australian in 1916.

Note the influence of Methodism, which was once such a force for social improvement. Methodism promoted godly living with unashamed vigour and passion. It makes it all the more remarkable that Methodism – or, at least, what is left of it – has lapsed into liberal theology, homosexual marriage affirmation, and every other contemporary trend. It marks the sad eclipse of its former strength with a melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.

Temperance

In our generation we have to acknowledge that the secular programme is winning. Evidence of this abounds in every direction. For example, the list of unsayable truths grow ever longer. Hate speech codes are refined to punish people for uttering words, which as Orwell told us in 1984, is the ultimate tool to stop the thoughts that give rise to them.

Adjectives like “bigot”, “intolerant” and “[something]-phobic” are now dangerous accusations, and with a little more time, the accusers will be given the legal force to punish those who are so described. Churches that uphold the scriptures and God’s teaching regarding godliness are vilified and increasingly threatened with state censure.

The sexual revolution will result in the dismantling of democracy as we have known it, because it must. In fact, this process is in full swing already as the freedom of speech is gradually eroded to protect the sexual revolution. This is inevitable because sexual passions are enormously strong and always wreak havoc against the weak. They acquire galloping strength and pervasiveness when unrestrained by law, by marriage, and by the unified recognition of a community that sexuality must be practised according to the commandment of our Creator.

Discard God and a pornographic society results. There have been many pornographic societies like this in the past. For example, some of the monuments and works of art uncovered in Pompeii are so indecent that they have been stored out of public view in a chamber in the British Museum ever since.

Yet in our time, the unleashing of sexual forces on a scale unknown even to ancient pagans will prove to be so destructive to families, to children, to stability, to the economy, to politics, and to virtually everything else. In all such societies the greatest victims tend to be women and children. And minorities who speak out against it become targets.

The time will be upon us soon in the West when faithful Christians will be persecuted for the stance we take. The suffering will be real. We shall need to learn to live with less; and we shall need to find greater joy in Christ and the Heavenly Realms. The church will thin out. But it will more brightly illumine this world than it has perhaps for many a decade.

We need to get ready while the sun yet shines. What can we do? Here are seven things that I believe a person can do to get ready for coming persecution:

  1. Develop a soldierly discipline in our spiritual march: get serious about deepening one’s communion with God. Learn to pray as on a battlefield. Learn to pray regardless of cold or heat; summer or winter. Learn to pray in all environments. Listen to Leonard Ravenhill’s teachings on prayer. Read up on the Puritan’s practice of prayer. Imitate the Lord Jesus’ example of prayer.
  2. Intercede for the suffering church: Learn to offer up “spiritual sacrifices” in prayer for the suffering church. Use what wealth one has to support the suffering church (i.e. Voices of the Martyrs). Be active in giving to those who suffer now. It may well be that we shall receive one day our offerings back again from those we have nourished today. Be generous in giving to others. “He who gives to the poor shall lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27). “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord shall repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17).
  3. Learn and memorise the scriptures: The day will come when they may try to take your Bible. But as the persecuted saints of the past have so often reminded us, they cannot take the scriptures that are stored up in one’s mind and one’s heart. Many a saint has languished in a cold, damp, filthy dungeon with no script, but has drawn great comfort from reciting the word of God deeply hidden in their heart. The word of God brought the creation into existence; the word of God will nourish his faithful servants until the final fulfilment of all things.
  4. To the best of your ability, get debt-free as fast as possible: The state will enforce some of its censure of Christians, but part of the new tyranny is that it is predicated on a shared set of beliefs throughout the community, and therefore is self-enforcing by the society around us. Speak up and you may lose your job. Your employer will do the work of threatening you or silencing you. Speak up and you may be taken to court and be fined. The work will be done by someone in the community indignant that you have opposed the darkness, and they will film you and report you to the police.

    Under such conditions, indebtedness becomes a powerful tool the world can use to get our compliance. There is real pressure to compromise or remain silent when we know that we might not be able to make the bills if we hold the line for Christ. While time permits, therefore, get the debt under control (ideally, live debt-free) so that there can be greater liberty in the coming evil days. It may even be better in the circumstances to come to live in a small and simple abode without debt, than to be indebted in a McMansion.

  5. Be prepared: It may sound paranoid – perhaps on the level of the infamous “preppers” – but it is not unwise to have a bag prepared in your house for a speedy flight, whether this is due to terrorism, to government persecution, or just a natural disaster. The bag should contain some emergency food, medical supplies, batteries, torch, candles, matches, perhaps even a sleeping bag and essential documents.

    When the Romans besieged Jerusalem and slaughtered much its population in 70 A.D., Eusebius, an early church father, notes that the Christian church at Jerusalem had evacuated before the outbreak of the war, in obedience to a revelation (Book 3, Chapter 5:3). They were, every one of them, spared. In fact, according to the Eusebius, Jerusalem was treated as if it were utterly destitute of holy men – which of course it was, since its entire population of Christians had left it. He writes “the judgement of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men“.

    What is the point? The point is that the Christians at Jerusalem were prepared to leave the city in accordance with what our Lord prophesied in the scriptures, and perhaps even in response to a supernatural revelation given to that faithful church. They believed the Lord; they stood ready; and they went. Be prepared to flee!

  6. Get a passport: In the Old Testament the saints were not unafraid to relocate even to different countries when it seemed wise to do so. If things get bad in the local region, it is wise to keep a valid passport ready so that one may do precisely that and leave for a city, for a region, or for a country that is somewhat more friendly to the gospel (though they be in short supply even today). “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes“.
  7. Cultivate deep love and fellowship with other believers: You should know enough fellow believers and be on such good terms with them that you could have a clandestine service under a bridge at midnight if you needed to. The days will come when believers will need to depend on each other, and will need to suffer together. Be serious about fellowship. Be serious about friendship with God’s people. Be serious about loving other believers.
  8. Support immigration into our countries from non-secular lands: We can slow the rot by supporting the immigration of non-secularists into our countries. People who believe in God – even if their religion is not true Christianity and therefore false – still possess a sense of moral responsibility that a secular population does not. The more these people are allowed into the community, the harder it will be for secularists to pursue their agenda.

    Of course, we cannot ever find common cause with non-Christians, but the presence of people who at least have a sense of reverence and fear of God is surely far better than those who have no respect for the Almighty at all.

  9. DO SOMETHING!: Preach the word, in season and out of season. Not everyone may have the courage to do street preaching (and not everyone is called to it), but anyone can give out tracts. Buy a load of them and place them in letterboxes throughout the community. Run a blog. Make gospel videos on Youtube. Write letters to Members of Parliament or Congress imploring them to uphold righteous standards. Write letters to the editor of the local newspapers. Raise godly children. Invest serious time into training and teaching your children the word of the Lord. Be deliberately and consistently joyful in your workplace. Put your talents to good work. Volunteer in the community and perhaps drop a word in season about the Lord. Read your Bible in a public place. Leave a tract in a library book.

    Whatever you do, do something to build the kingdom. Don’t just be a bump on a log trundling off to church and developing nothing more than swollen head full of knowledge that never makes a difference to anyone else. Be salt and light; be kind; be compassionate; be strategic in how you labour for the Lord.

Finding Happiness by Returning to God

unspeakable-joy-christian

According to the Bible, one of the problems with human beings is that we are born with a displaced sense of longing and desire. Instead of seeking for God, sin has thoroughly corrupted our personality such that we look anywhere but to our Creator for fulfilment, purpose, and peace:

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one (Ps 14:2-3)

So, what does the LORD see when observing humanity in their native condition? He sees a race estranged from him; lacking all understanding of the glories of life; and he sees contaminated character. Worse, human beings are completely ignorant of their true condition and cannot even fathom it!

How does this take practical expression?

Primarily in how we choose to live.

Most people are born into the world believing that it is possible to find lasting happinesses here on earth. This is particularly true of young people who, endued with youth and health, often are completely persuaded they know the secret that has evaded their elders. And yet, while generations have come and gone, every generation seems intent on repeating the same error. Every generation believes it has the formula for the “good life”: sexual gratification, power and authority, money, holidays, entertainment, food, friends, family and parties.

It is part of the madness of the human condition that the very things man hangs his hat on for contentment, are the very things that not only deceive him, but often bring him much pain. It is a tragic farce. For either we believe we are not happy because we have not enough of the things in the above list, and therefore only by getting more will we be happy, or, we believe that we are unhappy because we are missing something on the list.

But, always, upon getting these things, we find they do not bring the promised fulfilment. Mortgage payments sour the experience of home-ownership; parties often end in tears or retching over the toilet; family can bring us much grief; sexual gratification is over in a flash leaving bitter remorse and often deep guilt. And on it goes. There is nothing on earth in which we can say, “This is joy, unsullied and perfect”.

The truth is, to find any kind of peace and joy, man must do something which he often only vaguely, dimly grasps: he must search for his life in the last place he expects to find it. He must seek for it in God. In holiness. In righteousness. In Christ. He must submit himself to God – wholly out of obedience to him – and then, in an amazing outpouring of God’s great mercy, he will find discover himself truly happy with a joy that is not only deeply fulfilling, but also pure because it flows straight from the untarnished glory of Christ.

This great truth has been articulated in many ways:

Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee…St. Augustine

 

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.C. S. Lewis

 

To make it quite practical I have a very simple test. After I have explained the way of Christ to somebody I say “Now, are you ready to say that you are a Christian?” And they hesitate. And then I say, “What’s the matter? Why are you hesitating?” And so often people say, “I don’t feel like I’m good enough yet. I don’t think I’m ready to say I’m a Christian now.” And at once I know that I have been wasting my breath. They are still thinking in terms of themselves. They have to do it. It sounds very modest to say, “Well, I don’t think I’m good enough,” but it’s a very denial of the faith. The very essence of the Christian faith is to say that He is good enough and I am in Him. As long as you go on thinking about yourself like that and saying, “I’m not good enough; Oh, I’m not good enough,” you are denying God – you are denying the gospel – you are denying the very essence of the faith and you will never be happy. You think you’re better at times and then again you will find you are not as good at other times than you thought you were. You will be up and down forever. How can I put it plainly? It doesn’t matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell. It does not matter if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin. It does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God at all. You are no more hopeless than the most moral and respectable person in the world.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

And just for good measure:

So who does not want to be happy? We all do, but wanting something is not the same as finding it. We all strive after happiness, but how many people actually find true, lasting happiness? Of course for the Christian, we know this is a foolish quest.

Search for joy and it will elude you. Search for God wholeheartedly and you will be found by him, and happiness will be thrown in as a by-product. – C. S. Lewis.