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.

 

 

 

 

Transformed!

Note: Scripture quotations in this post are from the New King James Version. An edition of this article that uses the New Living Translation is available here.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good but to make dead people live!
Ravi Zacharias

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
—the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17

“I was a bad lot,” a new believer told a preacher when recounting the place from which Christ had rescued him. “I drank. I pawned the furniture. I knocked my wife about. And now life is real life, and splendidly worthwhile.”

The preacher asked the man about how he was getting along with the men with whom he used to drink and carouse. That very day they had ridiculed him, telling him he surely didn’t believe the story that Jesus had turned water into wine (see John 2:1-11).

Since he was a new Christian, this man apparently hadn’t yet heard the story of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana—but that didn’t stop him from affirming the miracle he knew Christ had performed in his own life. Here’s what he told his friends: “I know nothing about water and wine, but I know this: that in my house Christ has turned beer into furniture; and that is a good enough miracle for me!”

That man and millions of others whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ through the years provide substantive evidence that Jesus was who claimed to be—God in the flesh—and that His death was substitutionary, paying sin’s penalty for everyone who would come to Him in faith. Even more specifically, their transformed lives also testify to the historical reality that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s true that for the inquirer, investigating the events surrounding Jesus’ death and reported resurrection are essential to determining just how likely it is that He returned to life—but other aspects of the resurrection are important as well. Today I want to examine evidence beyond eyewitness accounts associated with the resurrection: the transformed life of one of Jesus’ well-known followers—a fisherman named Peter.

Peter was quite sincere in his devotion to Christ, but he frequently inserted his foot in his mouth. Peter’s impulsiveness and fickleness may actually sometimes remind us of ourselves!

  • In Matthew 14:22-33, while he did have enough faith to venture out from the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus, Peter became afraid and began to sink “when he saw that the wind was boisterous.” Jesus rescued Peter and then gently challenged him with the words “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
  • In Matthew 16:13-23, the Lord asked his closest followers “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” After they reported what the people were saying, Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter rightly answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commended him for his answer, telling him, that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” This was truly awesome, but just a short time later, when the Lord explained how He would be persecuted, killed, and raised to life again, Peter rebuked Him: “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Jesus responded by rebuking Peter and the sinister, evil source from which Peter’s idea had come: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
  • In Matthew 17:1-8, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ “face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and One for Elijah.’”
  • In the upper room, on the occasion of the Passover celebration, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet (see John 13:1-20). When the Lord approached Peter to wash his feet, Peter said,

6 “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

  • In this same upper room on the very same evening, Jesus warned his closest followers they would desert Him (see 26:31-35). Peter denied it outright, saying,

33 “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

34 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And so said all the disciples.

How brash can a man be? Peter would learn the hard way. Jesus was arrested and placed on trial, and Peter followed to see what would happen. Waiting in the high priest’s courtyard, the fisherman was asked three times about having been with Jesus, and he denied it strongly each time, even swearing the second and third times. Then the rooster crowed, and “Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly” (see Matt. 26:57-58,69-75).

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Jesus was right about the other disciples, too. Earlier, at the time of the Lord’s arrest, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (26:56).

Peter, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples as well, were extremely unlikely to become leaders who would change the world. Yet after His resurrection Jesus said to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Just how could Peter, as fickle as he was, along with the other cowardly followers of Christ, boldly witness to the world? We see the twofold answer in (1) the fact that Jesus indicated to His followers they would be his witnesses after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and (2) in the fact that Jesus made this statement after He had been raised from the dead. These two events were transformational.

Significantly, in one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter, the Lord gently challenged him by giving him three opportunities to tell Him that he loved Him. It was the same number of times Peter had denied the Lord. Jesus also directed him three times, “Feed My lambs.…Tend My sheep.…Feed My sheep.” Furthermore, Jesus told him, “Follow Me.”  (see John 21:15-19).

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Despite Peter’s failures, the Lord wasn’t through with this man who by nature was outspoken and impulsive. In fact, God would use him to shake the world. Contrast the old Peter to the new.

  • At Pentecost, a mere fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter preached the sermon that marked the birth of the church. His sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-39. In it, the fisherman-turned-preacher declared,

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  • In Acts 3, Peter and John created a controversy by being used of God to heal a man who never had been able to walk. After the man had been healed, these spokesmen of God used the occasion to credit Jesus publicly for the healing. Peter boldly asserted,

12 “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. 14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. 16 And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

  • The healing and the public preaching greatly displeased the Jewish leaders: “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2). They arrested Peter and John and asked them how they healed the man. Full of the Holy Spirit, Peter proclaimed it should be

10 “known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which as become the chief cornerstone. 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (vv. 10-12).

Significantly, when the Jewish leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13). They warned the apostles not to preach or teach Jesus any more, but they were undeterred. We can summarize their response this way: “We can’t help it! We have to talk about what we have seen and heard!” (see vv. 14-22).

  • In Acts 5:17-32, the apostles were arrested again and imprisoned by the Jewish leaders. An angel freed them and told them to preach the truth of Christ at the temple, and they obeyed. The Jews put them on trial once again. The high priest told them,

28 “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

This doesn’t sound at all like the man who, just a few weeks before, had been too embarrassed to admit he had been with Jesus, does it? Later, in writing to the Corinthian believers, the apostle Paul would explain what had happened to Peter—and to himself as well.

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (1 Cor. 15:3-11, emphasis added).

We see that Peter never got over Jesus’ resurrection. It was years later, near the end of his life, when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter wrote these words (1 Peter 1:17-21) to persecuted believers.

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Indeed, Peter was a different man after Jesus rose from the dead—and the stark difference between the former man and the new man provides strong evidence Jesus really was raised. Having been transformed by Jesus’ return to life, Peter let it be known that he could not take credit for the changes that had taken place. Like a turtle on a fence post, he didn’t get where he was on his own.

Peter is not alone, for countless lives have been transformed by the resurrected Christ. Are you among those Jesus has brought from death to life? If you aren’t yet, you can become such a person today. What more appropriate time could there be than Easter to allow Christ to make you a new person?  If you a believer already, then make sure your life testifies to Christ’s resurrection as a sure fact of history.

After all, if Christ was powerful enough to come back from the dead, then He easily can turn water into wine—and beer into furniture!

 

Copyright © 2016 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.

photo credits: www.lumoproject.com