Practical Christianity: Strangers and Pilgrims on this Earth



Note: On this coming Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case about which I have written extensively at Word Foundations. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Jack Phillips, owner and operator of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in this case. Like the Pilgrims, Jack is risking everything for religious liberty and rights of conscience. The ruling will have profound implications for the First Amendment rights of every American. You can learn more about Jack’s journey and his convictions here and here. Please be in prayer for this case and its outcome. A ruling is expected in the late spring of next year.



The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 2

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:13

 The Pilgrims made up a single local church who, with their pastor, determined to move the church from England to Holland to America. Thus, you could say that America began as a church relocation project.
—D. James Kennedy1

 

Key point: Because they remained true to their God and took necessary steps to honor Him with their resources and their lives, the Pilgrims influenced, and continue to influence, the entire world. Our circumstances aren’t the same as theirs, but like them, we have manifold opportunities to die to self and to use our resources for God’s glory. God can use us, just as He used them!

 

In this two-part series, we’re exploring how the Pilgrims, together, “worked out their salvation with fear and trembling” (see Phil. 2:12) until the time they decided to leave Holland for the New World. This working-out process certainly would continue, and perhaps at some point we can explore how it played out on their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and in North America. For now, there is a great deal to learn from the experiences they shared up until the time they left Holland in 1620.

In part 1 we examined some of the challenges this Separatist congregation faced in Scrooby in England as they sought to live out their faith in a hostile environment. Weary of being harassed and persecuted and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

17th-century houses still standing in Leyden

The Holland Years

In Holland, the little group of believers enjoyed the freedom that had eluded them in their native land. They lived there for over a decade but in the end were compelled to leave. In addition to the increasing possibility that war would erupt between Holland and Spain, two other factors motivated the congregation to take serious steps to depart for North America—

  • the moral well-being of their children and
  • their desire to spread share the good news of Jesus Christ in distant lands.

The Separatists’ concern for their children was related to the economic pressures they faced in their adopted land. In relocating as they had already, they had exhausted their financial resources. Also, typically, immigrants could not find work that paid well, and a family’s poverty invariably put pressures on both parents and children, who essentially had to mature faster than they would under more ideal circumstances. Some children were being heavily influenced by loose moral values in the culture. According to William Bradford, who later would serve as the governor of Plymouth Colony,

[O]f all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonour of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt.2

Bradford continues,

[T]hey [also] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.3

Keep the phrase stepping stones in mind, because we will return to it shortly.


The Christians who had fled England for religious freedom and had spent over a decade in Holland now felt compelled to leave Holland for the New World. Chief among their concerns were the moral well-being of their Children and their desire to take the good news of Jesus Christ to, in William Bradford’s words, “the remote parts of the world.”


A Bittersweet Departure

The painting at the top of this page is titled The Embarkation of the Pilgrims. Created by artist Robert Weir, it was commissioned by the United States Congress in 1837 and placed in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in late 1843. The portrait depicts the Separatist congregation’s last service aboard the Speedwell in Delft Haven, Holland, just before the departure of those who were sailing for the New World. More about the painting is available here, but let’s focus in on one of the painting’s central figures for a moment.

The congregation’s pastor, John Robinson, who would remain in Leyden, is kneeling in the foreground with his face turned heavenward. Here is a record of his farewell address to those of his congregation who were about to leave. Robinson also would write this farewell letter to those departing. He hoped he and other members of the congregation soon would be able to join them in North America.


The Pilgrims weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them.


The point here is that these believers weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them. They also drew strength from one another, but now the realities of life dictated that some of them separate from others in the group. Their good-byes were bittersweet—difficult, yet encouraging for both those leaving and those who felt they needed, at least for now, to remain. We cannot discount the underlying, yet real, influence of the ones remaining on those departing. Because they were a part of this congregation that had endured so much together, the ones staying in Leyden left their mark on the New World as well. God would be with and would guide both groups in the years ahead.

Let’s return now to William Bradford’s account. Having stated the primary reasons the group felt they must leave, Bradford went on to add,

These, and some other similar reasons, moved them to resolve upon their removal, which they afterwards prosecuted in the face of great difficulties, as will appear. The place they fixed their thoughts upon was somewhere in those vast and unpeopled countries of America….4

A Working-Out Process

Their difficulties in Leyden and the struggles they would have in preparing for and making their transatlantic journey notwithstanding, the time the Pilgrims spent in Holland would prove to be extremely beneficial for them and for future generations of North Americans. Robert A. Peterson writes,

[P]erhaps… [the] greatest contribution [the Dutch people made] to America was the 11 years of freedom they gave the Pilgrims—crucial years that helped America’s founding fathers work out their philosophy of freedom and prepare for self-government in the New World.

Free men. For the Pilgrims, this was a new idea. Just what did it mean to be free? With the external pressure of persecution lifted, would the Pilgrims remain true to their original calling? Or would they turn liberty into license and lose their distinctive identity? Time would show that the Pilgrims took seriously their responsibilities of self-government. Indeed, the Dutch experience would prove to be an excellent half-way house to the freedom the Pilgrims would find in the New World. For the next 11 years, the Pilgrims took advantage of all the opportunities that Dutch society offered.…

The 11 years the Pilgrims spent in Holland saw them grow in responsibility, adaptability, and self- government. As Bradford Smith put it in his biography of William Bradford, “The libertarian tradition at Plymouth, with its profound influence on American life, is not primarily English. It is Dutch. Simple justice demands that we acknowledge this…. Thus, during their Leyden years, were the Pilgrims perfecting themselves for the undreamed of work of founding a new nation. In religion, they grew milder and more tolerant. In business and craftsmanship they learned a great deal from the thrifty, ambitious and highly capable Hollanders. Too, the Dutch flair for efficient government and record keeping, the spirit of republicanism and civic responsibility were to bear unsuspected fruit in a distant land.”5

Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12) has implications for every area of life. We see this so clearly in the Pilgrims’ journey. Most noteworthy, these believers consistently took the long view, just as did the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. They made the most of their opportunities in the present, even as they were mindful of how they might influence the future for God’s glory. Both of the factors that compelled the Separatist congregation to push forward to travel to the New World were centered, not in the present, but in the future.

Investing in Future Generations—and Eternity

We see the Pilgrims’ passion for evangelism later reflected in the text of the Mayflower Compact, which speaks of the signers’ having come to America “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country….” You can read the entire text of the Mayflower Compact here, and you can read about the document here and here.

Accordingly, Bradford, as we already have noted, wrote that his party wanted to carry the good news of Christ to “the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”6

Lightstock

Our children, it has been said, are our links to the future. Moreover, the spread of the gospel is not primarily about building a better world here and now, even though that is a side benefit. It is about eternity!

The Pilgrims would, in their efforts to secure religious freedom for themselves, to spread the gospel to “remote parts of the world,” and to guide their children to live lives of purity and integrity before God, change the course of history and sew the seeds that eventually would become the United States of America.

Their contributions to the betterment of civilized life continue in America to this day. This isn’t just in the ideals they upheld, but in people. The descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower number in the tens of millions! It’s readily understood that not all of these are Christians; in fact, a great many are not. But others are.

Daniel Brewster and his family

I am honored to have in my circle of friends one Daniel Brewster, a direct, thirteenth-generation descendant of the Plymouth Colony’s Elder William Brewster, through his son Jonathan Brewster. Dan is a devout believer who is active in his church, often operating the sound system for its services and special events. When he lived in Ohio, Dan was involved in vocational ministry through Child Evangelism Fellowship. Currently he works in ministry at the distribution center of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Bible study materials and Christian services.

Do not misunderstand. A believer does not have to be involved in vocational ministry to serve God through his or her work; he or she can honor Him in any reputable job—and reputable jobs are available in all kinds of work. I’m simply relating ways Dan Brewster has served the Lord through his career.

Dan and his wife Tammi have four sons, and they are effectively passing the baton of their Christian faith on to them, just as the Pilgrims sought faithfully to pass along their faith to their own children.

Building a Heritage and Leaving a Legacy

You may not have a Christian family heritage stretching back through the years. If you don’t have such a heritage, start one! The past is the past. It is done—but from this point forward, you can build a Christ-centered legacy to bequeath to future generations. If you already have this kind of heritage, make sure you are faithful to keep it alive and healthy on the watch the Lord has entrusted to you.

The lessons the Pilgrims offer 21st century believers truly are manifold. Of course, the Pilgrims were imperfect people who did not get everything right. Even so, they got enough right and were willing, with God’s help, to lay everything on the line for treasures of eternal worth.

They even were ready to become “stepping stones” to further God’s work.

May we, relying on divine help as well, also do the same!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image: The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir, 1837

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 588-593). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

3William Bradford, Kindle Locations 593-595.

4William Bradford, Kindle Locations 595-598.

5Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymauth, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951), 78, 93.

6William Bradford, Kindle Locations 594-595.

 

 

Practical Christianity: A Holy Nation

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 1

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9

The Pilgrims comprised one of the most remarkable congregations that has ever existed on the face of this earth.
—D. James Kennedy1

Key point: Members of the Separatist congregation in Scrooby, England in the 1600s — believers who later became known as “Pilgrims” — serve as examples not only of how to “do Christianity,” but also of how to “do church.”

Last time we explored the importance of taking salvation seriously, of “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It’s fascinating to note both individual and corporate manifestations of this process. Not only must individual Christians work out their own salvation, churches and other Christian groups frequently must do the same. In the Pilgrims—believers who fled England for Holland, then Holland for the New World during the early 1600s and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts—we see evidence of the “working out process” at a congregational level. In this two-part series, I’d like to consider how this process was manifested in the Pilgrims’ decisions and actions up until the time they resolved to leave Holland for North America.

The Church in England

King Henry VIII

The Protestant Reformation is considered to have officially begun in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his 95 Theses, a document in which he pointed out and objected to numerous abuses by and within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation soon became a movement that spread throughout Europe, wielding its influence in numerous countries beyond Germany.

King Henry VIII, who ruled in England from 1509 to 1547, officially pulled his country away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In that year he declared himself sovereign over a new national church, which, not surprisingly, he called the Church of England. His actions weren’t theologically motivated, but we can’t fully consider that part of the story at this point. Suffice it to say that the move was a very big deal. King Henry, and eventually his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, instituted a number of changes that made England’s new national church distinct from the Church headquartered in Rome. Even so, some of Henry’s subjects didn’t believe enough had been changed. These Christians wanted to see and experience forms of worship that were simpler and less elaborate. Appealing to the Book of Acts, they called for a return to the worship practices of the early Christians. These men and women became known as Puritans, because they advocated purifying the church in this way.

William Bradford, years after he was involved in the Separatist congregation in Scrooby

Another group of believers went further. Seeing the Church of England as beyond reforming, they sought to break away from the national church and form congregations of their own. In a day when church and state were intertwined, departure from the national church would be deemed treasonous. Thus, these men and women were risking a great deal, both individually and as a group of believers.

William Brewster, an imaginary likeness

In the town of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England, between 1586 and 1605, a Separatist congregation was formed that included William Brewster (1568-1644) and a young man by the name of William Bradford, who had been born around 1590. Brewster previously had served as a diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands. Because of the congregation’s convictions about the need to separate from the national church, the group faced ridicule, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and imprisonment.

Costly Convictions

William Bradford later would describe the situation by saying members of the congregation

were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God’s grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could….2

Weary of the persecution and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

Lessons from Godly Ancestors

The Separatist congregation stayed in Holland for over 10 years. We’ll consider those years next time, but for now, let’s reflect on the Pilgrims’ journey up until the time they made their decision to leave England. Several observations are in order.

First, these believers knew what it was like to face ridicule and persecution because of their faith, yet they refused to compromise. Their consciences were beholden to their God. Today, we need more believers like that. Persecution was just one aspect of the price they paid.


The Pilgrims’ consciences were beholden to their God.


Second, the Pilgrims apparently didn’t expect their Christianity to bring them ease and comfort. I list this as a separate item because the hardships they endured strengthened rather than derailed them. It’s never fun to endure persecution, but when we expect resistance from the world, we do not become disillusioned. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Third, they took their relationship with God so seriously that they even were willing to relocate to another country in order to worship Him as they believed they should. How precious to you is your relationship with the Lord? How important to you is your worship of Him?

Fourth, they acted, not individually, but as a church. This not only served to encourage them as individuals and families; it also increased the impact of their strategic actions. In Acts, we do not see an emphasis on accepting Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior to the extent we hear that emphasis today. Certainly accepting Christ into one’s life is legitimate; in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Yet in Acts, there was a corporate element that we seem to have lost.


Believers today need to rediscover the importance of corporate Christianity.


Jesus was and is Lord of the church. This theme permeated Charles Colson’s classic book, The Body. The Body later was revised, updated, and retitled Being the BodyWe need to rediscover and reapply the corporate Christianity the Pilgrims practiced and Colson upheld. This is biblical Christianity. The Pilgrims knew God had called them out as “a holy nation” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They lived out the principle set forth in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Wouldn’t this perspective, if it fully were applied in our churches today, bring God’s people together in ways that profoundly would change both the church and the world? 

The Pilgrims would continue to desperately need their God and one another. Holland would offer them the religious freedom they sought, but also a variety of daunting challenges.

Next time, we’ll explore some of those challenges and how the Pilgrims responded. Their example will inspire and encourage. I promise.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: birthplace of William Bradford in Austerfield, South Yorkshire, England

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 425-432). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

Beyond Conversion: Taking Salvation Seriously

A soft and sheltered Christianity, afraid to be lean and lone, unwilling to face the storms and brave the heights, will end up fat and foul in the cages of conformity.
Vance Havner

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
—Jesus in Luke 9:23-24

 

Key point: The journey to faith in Christ culminates in both an end and a beginning. At conversion, we have arrived at a place where, figuratively speaking, we plant the seed of our faith into the ground of the truth about God, Christ, sin, death, salvation, heaven, and hell. Yet from that point forward, the seed needs to germinate and grow into a sturdy, fruit-producing plant.

 

As I have studied and reflected in recent weeks on Martin Luther’s journey to salvation and on the Reformation as a whole, I have become impressed with the importance of revering God and having a healthy fear of Him, both on individual and corporate (church) levels. We said this in our last post:

While the Church in the 16th century made the mistake of emphasizing God’s wrath over His love (and didn’t really talk about His wrath in full accordance with biblical teaching), the church today is making the opposite mistake. We do need to talk about God’s love, but in the context of a proper emphasis on His justice and wrath.

The point here is the value of a healthy fear of God. As believers, of course, we no longer need to be afraid of God’s judgment, because we know Christ endured God’s judgment and wrath for our sins on the cross. Even so, we still must love, respect, and revere God, being ever thankful for the salvation He has provided for us in Christ.

Salvation Is a Gift

We need to be crystal clear about one thing before moving ahead. We don’t perform good works for salvation, but from salvation. In a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary many years ago, Adrian Rogers put it this way.

You are not saved by keeping the law.

The law says, “Do this, and thou shalt live.”
The gospel says, “live, and thou shalt do.”

The law says, “Pay me what thou owest.”
The gospel says, “I freely forgive all.”

The law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, with all thy heart, with all thy mind” [Matt. 22:37].
The gospel says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10]

The law says, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” [Gal. 3:10].
The gospel says, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” [Ps. 32:1].

The law says, “The wages of sin is death” [Rom. 6:23].
The gospel says, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Rom. 6:23].

The law demands holiness.
The gospel provides holiness.

The law says, “Do!”
The gospel says, “Done!”

The law places the day of rest at the end of the week.
The gospel places the day of rest at the beginning of the week.

The law makes blessing the result of obedience.
The gospel makes obedience the result of blessing.

The law says, “Run!” but it doesn’t give us any legs.
The gospel says, “Fly!” and it give us wings.

Oh, thank God for the gospel! What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, Christ, dying for sinful flesh, brought to us light and life and immortality in the gospel” [Rom. 8:3; 2 Tim. 1:10].

The contrasts between legalism and grace are very similar. All of these remind us that God gives us salvation as a free gift, and nothing we do or ever could do can earn us a place in heaven.

A Tough Journey

Even so, with salvation secured by Christ and with heaven as his or her eternal destiny, every Christian must grapple with, and we even can say struggle with, the implications of having new life in Christ. Accordingly, the apostle Paul wrote the believers in Phillipi, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).


Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
—The apostle Paul to Philippian believers in Philippians 2:12—


How are we to understand this? The context of the verse helps us greatly. Paul wrote what we now know as Philippians 2:12 on the heels of writing his statements in verses 5-11. He told his brothers and sisters in Christ,

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This was a tall order, indeed! It still is! Just as no one can save save himself, no one can acquire the mind of Christ, or adapt the perspective of Christ, without divine assistance. The believer has to cooperate with God, drawing on the supernatural power Christ makes available to all who are His. Such cooperation—dare I say it?—requires work and sacrifice—not to earn salvation, but to live out the realities now in place in the believer’s life.

Paul’s Preaching in Ephesus by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649

This is why Paul began his admonition in verse 12 with the word therefore. It also is why he went on to instruct his readers, including us, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The Christian life is a life of joy and numerous other Christlike qualities, but it also is serious business! Living according the mind of Christ goes against every natural inclination we have. The apostle Paul admitted this was true in his own life in Romans 7:7-24. At the same time, he also pointed to supernatural power in Christ to live a life of victory over sin (see 7:24–8:13). It’s vital for us to realize that as long as we are alive physically, the supernatural strength available to us may enable us to live victoriously, but it won’t eliminate the struggle within us between the flesh and the spirit.

Keeping Philippians 2:12 in mind, let’s make five observations.

First, Paul did not say work for your salvation, but work out your salvation. We do not belong to ourselves, but to Christ, and the implications of this truth are manifold. We need to explore these implications and apply them to our lives. This process is a process of “working out.”

Key Meanings

Second, the Greek term translated work out means to do something that brings about a result. Here are the instances in which the Greek word is represented in our English translations of the New Testament. We might say that working out our salvation means participating in spiritual workouts—exercises and struggles that foster spiritual maturity and that strengthen our spiritual sensitivities.

Third, we are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” indicating a reverence for God, a respect for the things of God, gratitude for the salvation He has provided, and a desire to please Him with our lives because He’s been so good to us.

Biblical Context

Fourth, Philippians 2:12 is just one of many New Testament passages that encourage believers to be attentive to their walks with God and with how they live their lives. The following admonitions and the passages from which they come do not make up an exhaustive list, yet here are some of the postures and actions we take as we “work out” our salvation.

  1. Be wise (see Matt. 10:16).
  2. Be ready (see Matt. 24:44; Luke 12:401 Pet. 3:15).
  3. Present your body as a living sacrifice (see Rom. 12:1).
  4. Don’t be conformed to the world but…
  5. …be transformed (see Rom. 12:2).
  6. Be informed (see Rom. 11:25; 1 Cor. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:13).
  7. Take heed (see 1 Cor. 3:10, context 9-15; 1 Cor. 10:12, context vv. 1-13).
  8. Be faithful (see 1 Cor. 4:2).
  9. Be strong in the Lord (see Eph. 6:10-17).
  10. Be watchful (see Eph.  6:17-18).
  11. Be discerning (see Phil. 1:9).
  12. Focus on the things of Christ (see Col. 3:1-2).
  13. Put to death earthly desires (see Col. 3:5-10).
  14. Be diligent (see 2 Tim. 2:15).
  15. Be careful (see Titus 3:8; context vv. 1-8).
  16. Be serious (see 1 Pet. 4:7, context vv. 7-11).
  17. Be sober and vigilant (see 1 Pet. 5:8).

The Help We Need

Fifth, we have supernatural help in this “working out” process (see Phil. 2:13, context vv. 12-13). On the heels of verse 12, Paul went on to say, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” I love the way the New Living Translation renders this verse: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

The bottom line? The Christian life isn’t a life of coasting, but of meeting challenges in God’s power and cooperating with Him as we grow in service to Him, in Christlike service to others, and in spiritual maturity.


The Christian life isn’t a life of coasting, but of meeting challenges in God’s power and cooperating with Him as we grow in service to Him, in Christlike service to others, and in spiritual maturity.


Godly Examples

Kelvin Cochran

We can see this quest in the lives of believers today, including religious liberty champions like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Steve Tennes, and others.

We see it as well in believers’ lives throughout history. John Huss (pictured above in this painting) and Martin Luther, both of whom we’ve recently considered, are powerful examples.

The quest also is evident in the lives of the Pilgrims, Christians who came to North America in 1620.

We’ll examine a portion of their experience next time.

 

The Mayflower, by William Halsall, 1882

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Adrian Rogers’s quote was loosely based on the King James Version.

 

 

 

 

Painting a Clear Picture of God: Lessons from the Protestant Reformation

Modern man does not like to think of God in terms of wrath, anger and judgment. He likes to make God according to his own ideas and give God the characteristics he wants Him to possess. Man tries to remake God to conform to his own wishful thinking, so that he can make himself comfortable in his sins.
Billy Graham

Key point: Fearing God is a first step toward being made right with Him.

The Protestant Reformation, which we have discussed in recent posts, has countless lessons for believers today. In this article, I’d like to hone in on five, all of which are related.

With a retelling of Martin Luther’s conversion story as a backdrop, we’ll make some fresh observations. You can access a brief account of Luther’s spiritual journey here.

Against the historical historical and biographical backdrop of Martin Luther’s journey to peace with God, I’d like to highlight five principles that ring true down through the centuries to our day.

A Diligent Search and a Priceless Discovery

First, Martin Luther’s salvation experience is a testimony to the principle we see so clearly in Jeremiah 29:13. God declared to his people, You “will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”


And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
—the Lord to His people in Jeremiah 29:13—


Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem by Horace Vernet, 1844

We should understand that this verse is part of a message God sent through Jeremiah to “the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jer. 29:1). Even so, it is not an unreasonable stretch to see in verse 13 an application with regard to salvation and forgiveness of sins. Similarly, Isaiah 55:6-7 states,

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Fearing God Is a Key Step to Finding Him

Saint Paul, by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1481

Second—and we must not miss this point—Martin Luther sought peace with God because he was afraid of Him. He knew he was a sinner destined for hell and was compelled to search desperately for divine forgiveness and peace. Luther’s good and noble works didn’t resolve his situation one bit; but all the confessions, prayers, acts of penitence, occasions of fasting, and other disciplines indicated just how earnest he was. Honoring Luther’s search, God, in His grace and mercy, brought Martin to a clear understanding of the liberating truth about salvation. No one can earn it. Rather, it is a free gift received by relying on Christ and the sufficiency of His substitutionary death to pay the penalty for one’s sins. The key verse for Luther in this revelation, as we have seen, was Romans 1:17. In this verse, Paul quoted from Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by his faith.”

Third, the American evangelical church today, as we indicated in items 6, 7, and 86 of our 95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century, tends to present a lopsided view of God.

  • The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting his holiness and wrath.
  • The church says very little about hell, yet hell is very real.
  • The church, through a variety of actions and inactions, promotes the idea that God can be approached in a thoroughly casual fashion. Note that this failure is not tied exclusively to music styles or lyrics.

In using the word casual in this last point, I am not at all arguing against the principle that sinners must come as they are to God, with all of their sin, and rely fully on Jesus’ death and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit for cleansing. I am saying we must never take God’s grace for granted (see Isa. 1:18; John 3:5-8; 1 Tim. 2:5; Rom. 2:4; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Many people say, “God is a God of love who never would send anyone to hell.” Where have they gotten this idea? Ultimately, it is a lie from Satan, but regardless of the avenues through which Satan propagates this distortion, the church seems to make little or no effort to correct it, even among its own people. Yes, God is a God of love, but He also is a holy and just God who must punish sin (go here and here).

Bad News; Good News

Scene from The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Believers, both individually and corporately, need to present the truth about God’s love and holiness. Yet—and this is our fourth point—we seem to have failed to understand that the good news of the gospel can be seen for how wonderful it is only against the backdrop of its bad news about sin, accountability to a holy God, and certain judgment. Again, God is holy and perfect, and He must judge sin. As we say in our presentation of how to become a Christian, “While we might not think of our violations as being all that extreme, even the smallest infraction in our eyes is enough to make us guilty before God. The penalty for sin is death—and not just physical death, but spiritual death, eternal separation from God forever (see Matt. 7:23; 25:41,46; see these verses in context here; also see Rom. 6:23).”

Oh, we don’t like this! Christian apologist Greg Koukl explains,

It is hard to imagine anything in religion more repugnant to people than the wrath of God, and it is easy to see why.…

[For one thing, t]he notion of a “vengeful” God strikes us as inconsistent with a God of love. This seems right at first, but the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. God’s love is not a thing in itself, so to speak, but is tied, like all of his attributes, to his goodness, the very goodness we are inclined to question when evil runs rampant. “Why doesn’t God do something?” we wonder. Yet we cry foul when we learn God will do something decisive about evil and we are the evildoers.”1

Later in his book, Koukl shows how God’s love, God’s wrath, and Jesus’ death are intertwined.

Jesus came to earth to save sinners. The statement is so common to our ears, it is easy to miss its significance. Save means to “rescue from imminent danger.” Jesus came to rescue us because we were in danger. What was the danger? What was Jesus rescuing from? Here is the answer. Jesus did not come to rescue us from our ignorance or our poverty or our oppressors or even from ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from the Father.2

Remember, the King is angry. He is the one who is offended. He is the one who is owed. He is the Sovereign we have rebelled against, the father we have disobeyed, the friend we have betrayed. And that is a dangerous place for us to be. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Later in the Story we learn, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”3

But we’d much rather talk about God’s love—and that’s what we do! While the Church in the 16th century made the mistake of emphasizing God’s wrath over His love (and didn’t really talk about His wrath in full accordance with biblical teaching), the church today is making the opposite mistake. We do need to talk about God’s love, but in the context of a proper emphasis on His justice and wrath.

Let’s learn a lesson from history. Despite all the distortions of biblical truths about God for which the Church in Martin Luther’s day was responsible, Luther was right to fear Him. In the end, he benefited from this fear because God used it to help him discover the truth that ultimately set him free.

Lightstock

Advocating a Healthy Fear of God

Let me be clear. I am not advocating or affirming the view of God that prevailed in 16th-century Europe. I am saying the church needs to rediscover a healthy fear of God. This is our fifth point.

“But God’s kindness leads us to repentance!” someone might say, citing Romans 2:4—and he or she would be right. Even so, the context for this verse conveys in unambiguous terms that God is holy and divine judgment is certain.

That isn’t all. Read these verses carefully.

  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10).
  • The fear of the LORD isthe beginning of knowledge,
    But fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).
  • The fear of the LORD isthe beginning of wisdom,
    And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Prov. 9:10).

In each of these verses, the same Hebrew word is used for the English word fear.

May the church rediscover, preach, and proclaim a healthy fear of Almighty God!

 

A quick review:

  1. Martin Luther’s salvation experience is a testimony to the principle we see so clearly in Jeremiah 29:13. God declared to his people, You “will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
  2. Martin Luther sought peace with God because he was afraid of Him.
  3. The American evangelical church today tends to present a lopsided view of God. Its emphasis on God’s love overshadows any affirmation of His holiness and wrath.
  4. The church apparently has failed to understand that the good news of the gospel can be seen for how wonderful it is only against the backdrop of its bad news about sin, accountability to a holy God, and certain judgment.
  5. The church the church needs to rediscover and preach a healthy fear of God.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 97.

2At this point, Koukl provides this clarification in a footnote: “Jesus saves us from the Father, but His intention is not at odds with the Father since it was the Father who out of love, sent Jesus to rescue the world in the first place.”

3Koukl, 117. Scripture quotations are from Matthew 10:28 and Hebrews 10:31, respectively, New American Standard Bible.

image credit: top image: www.lightstock.com

Echoes of the Reformation

We must realize that the Reformation world view leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist world view with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.
Francis Schaeffer

Key point: As in Martin Luther’s day, if one’s conscience is held captive to God’s Word, then to go against it is neither right nor safe.

 

Martin Luther is believed by many to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Even if he didn’t nail them there, his list of concerns about Catholic Church practices originally was written in Latin, but it was translated into German and disseminated throughout Luther’s home country within a scant two weeks. The printing press, which had been invented less than 100 years earlier, made this possible. By the end of 1517, all of Europe had access to the 95 Theses in pamphlet form.

The disenchantment and frustration with the church over its abuses grew even more intense as a growing number of people learned of Dr. Luther’s objections. Within a few years, the Protestant Reformation had become a widespread movement.

Frederick the Wise of Saxony

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, or edict, refuting Luther’s teachings and demanding that he renounce them. The Wittenberg professor refused, and a few months later, on December 10, publicly burned a copy of the Pope’s declaration. On January 3, 1521, Luther was excommunicated in Rome.

Luther had a ally in his powerful sovereign, Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise. Frederick demanded a hearing for Luther. An assembly, called a “Diet,” was scheduled for April 17  in the town of Worms (pronounced “Verms”), Germany.

Two Searing Questions

Martin Luther was a controversial figure—loved my many, yet hated by many others. On the first day of the Diet, Luther was asked two questions.

  • Were the books and other writings on display before the assembly his? He admitted they were.
  • Would he or would he not recant? The renegade professor asked for a day to consider the matter, and his request was granted.
John Huss at the Council of Constance

Luther knew his life was at stake in these proceedings, even though he had been granted safe passage (transport) by Emperor Charles V. One hundred years before, John Huss had attempted to address similar concerns in the church and had been burned at the stake. What would happen to Luther if he, like Huss, were to refuse to renounce his views? Huss, too, had been guaranteed safe passage to the Council of Constance, where he was tried, found to be a heretic, and condemned to die. Obviously, Huss’s guarantee of safety was withdrawn.

Emperor Charles V

The next day Luther again stood before Charles V. Would he now recant? Luther explained that his books and other writings could not be placed in a single category. Even his critics, Luther said, welcomed some of them, and he would not retract what he’d said in those. A second category of works addressed abuses that were occurring within the Church. Luther contended he could not change his mind about these without risking a continuation of the very abuses he had opposed. Finally, other writings, he said, were about certain people. Although he expressed regret for the harsh tone of some of these, he did not retract any of the teachings they contained.

Here I Stand

Challenged at this point to give a direct positive or negative answer to the question of whether or not he would recant, Luther is said to have declared,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

Even if Martin Luther didn’t utter these words exactly, they represent the substance of his response. Disorder erupted, and the Emperor brought the Diet’s proceedings for that day to an end. Officials were divided about what steps to take next, but on May 26, they issued an edict that branded Luther a heretic and banned his writings. Now he was an outlaw, and it generally was understood that he soon would be arrested and punished. Execution, of course, was a real possibility.

Luther, however, had gone into hiding before the Edict of Worms could be drawn up and published. Frederick the Wise of Saxony had arranged for the Wittenberg professor to be “kidnapped” and hidden at Wartburg Castle. It was there that Luther began translating the Greek New Testament into German. This volume would fan the flames of the Reformation as would no other book.

Luther’s Bible, 1534

Our Consciences Are Captive to God’s Word

The entire story is fascinating, and I urge you to learn more about the Protestant Reformation. For now, let’s reflect on Martin Luther’s refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. Read again his declaration.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

This is the kind of conviction we need to see in 21st America today. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, said as much on the morning of October 8, 2017 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, in this presentation. Here is an audio clip of his words.

I have good news for Dr. Lutzer, although I must hasten to qualify it.

  • The qualifier, of course, is that we do not have enough people like these! We need many more—and we need many more Christians who comprehend and appreciate the stands these Christian statesmen are taking. Also, we need many more who will stand with them.

Just as the Word of God guided Martin Luther to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so too has Scripture guided these men and women to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to, among other things, the true meaning of marriage. You see, marriage is all about the gospel!

“But wait!” someone will object. These people and their convictions are controversial! Yes, they are. Martin Luther was controversial too, and so was Jesus!

Controversy is not the issue, but adherence to the truth of God’s Word.


I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
—Martin Luther—


Remember—especially if it is held captive by the Bible, it is neither right nor safe to go against one’s conscience.

If we as believers will stand together on the Word of God, speaking the truth lovingly and with conviction but refusing to renounce any of our core beliefs, we just might have another Reformation on our hands!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.