This Week's Teaching: "The Prayer of Nevertheless"
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Jesus taught, "Everything is possible if you believe." But then, when facing the cross, he prayed, "Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And by the third time he prayed that, it had become, "If it's not possible, your will be done."
Hebrews 5:7 tells us that he cried out fervently with tears to the one who could save him from death and "he was heard because of his reverent submission." He was heard! He was! Nevertheless, avoiding the cross was not possible. So he submitted. "Nevertheless."
I'm actually inspired by what I call "the Prayer of Nevertheless." I believe it's the most powerful prayer we can pray. It trusts fully that God is good, loving, and powerful -- so much so that it trusts God's "no" just as much as his "yes."
But it also causes me tension. In my experience, sometimes submission is just me being complacent. Doesn't God call us to be bold and keep on asking?
Watch the above while following along below. I welcome your comments. For the edification of all.
<TRANSCRIPT OF ABOVE VIDEO>
I believe one of the most powerful words you can pray is nevertheless, or yet. Meaning, we can pray, "God, I really want this! Nevertheless, not what I want, but what you want. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. Not my will be done, but your will be done."
Yet. Nevertheless. One of the most powerful words we can pray. It honors God. It recognizes my position as not God and God's position as God. It displays a genuine humility and honor.
In Matthew 6, Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray. And he says, when you pray, pray like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Later at the Garden of Gethsemane, before Jesus was going to the cross and he was grieving it. He was grieving in anticipation of it. He was experiencing all that you would experience in that. And he prayed. He went away by himself and he pleaded with God three times: "Father, if possible, let this cup" â€” this cup of suffering, this cross, the whole thing â€” "if possible, let this cup be taken from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will." He prayed it three times. "Nevertheless, not my will be done, but your will be done."
We're told in Hebrews 5:7 that Jesus "was heard because of his reverent submission." And yet, he had to go through the cross. He had to go through the cross.
Later on in Acts 21, we find Paul on his march toward Jerusalem, and everywhere he goes, the Holy Spirit keeps on giving prophetic witness that he's going toward imprisonment. And at one point Agabus, a prophet, comes and takes Paul's belt off of him. And he wraps his own hands up in it. And he says, "The owner of this belt will be led like this if you go to Jerusalem."
And Luke writes, "We and everyone there pleaded with Paul, 'Please don't go to Jerusalem. Please don't go to Jerusalem.'"
And Paul said, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I'm ready to die for the Lord." And then Luke writes it, "When we saw that he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lords will be done.'"
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul's writing and he talks about how he was given a thorn in the flesh, a tormenting messenger of Satan, so that he wouldn't become puffed up. And, he pleaded with God three times that it would be taken away from him. And the answer that came back to him was, in essence, "No, my grace is sufficient for you."
We read in the book of Galatians that he came to Galatia because of a personal illness that he was experiencing. And he says, you had such great compassion on me, even though my illness was disgusting to you, he says, you loved me so much, you would've taken out your eyes and given them to me if you could. My sense is that he had an eye condition. And some people would say that it goes back to when he was blinded in the flash, seeing Jesus. Some have suggested that there is a medical condition that when your eyes receive something like that, and it crusts over, when the eyelashes grow back in it's like thorns in your eyes. Some would suggest a connection there. I tend to think that there is, but I wouldn't stake anything on it. But it makes sense to me.
Paul pleaded with God three times. How long does it take to plead? Was it just three requests? No. I think that there were three seasons of pleading with God. Lord, please take this thorn from me. And he says, "No. No. I want it to be there. My grace is sufficient for you." And just like Jesus, we can say Paul was heard because of his reverent submission.
Jesus reverently submitted. Paul reverently submitted. "Nevertheless." And we should reverently submit. It should cause us no angst to pray, "Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done."
But here's the tension I have with it: Sometimes submission can just be complacency. How do I know when it is? Like complacency might be out of fear, it might be out of laziness. I might be afraid or a little embarrassed to say, "Lord, I really want this!" And I back off, "Whatever you want, God." Or it might just be laziness. I have no urge to plead. "Lord, please heal so and so... If you want to." And I move on. "Lord, please do this... But if you don't feel like it, that's okay."
How do I know when submission â€” the submission of "nevertheless" â€” is just complacency.
In fact, some people do teach that we need to declare with authority. We need to proclaim and claim with authority. They say that to pray "your will be done" actually lacks faith. Because faith asks, believing with confidence that what we have asked we will receive. And you can't do that while still leaving room for God to give you something different than what you've asked for.
Didn't Jesus also say to keep on praying and never give up. He told parables about it. In Luke 11:5, he said, suppose you have a friend and you go to him at midnight and you say, Hey, someone's coming over to my house and I need bread. Give me some bread. I don't have any. And the guy just won't get up. And you just keep on pounding on the door. Please, please, please. And Jesus says that even if he doesn't open the door just because you are a friend, he will eventually open the door because of your shameless audacity. And he says, "So I say to you, ask or keep on asking, and it will be given to you. Keep on seeking and you will find keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. The one who seeks, finds. And to the one who knocks, the door will be opened to you."
In Luke 18 verse one, it says, "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." And then he tells a story about an unjust judge. A widow goes to an unjust judge and seeks justice and keeps on going to him and finally gets justice. And then he says, "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly."
But It's a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
Jesus did say, pray. Never give up.
Didn't Jesus also say that anything is possible if we believe?
In Mark 9, a father brings his son to Jesus, and the son is possessed by a demon and has been since he was a child. And the man says to Jesus, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." And Jesus snaps back at him and says, "' If you can'?! Everything is possible for one who believes."
And immediately the boy's father says, what you and I have likely said, "I do believe! I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!" Anything, everything is possible for one who believes at least according to Jesus.
In Mark 11, he says, "Have faith in God. Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, go throw yourself into the sea and does not doubt in their heart, but believes that what they say will happen. It will be done for them. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
Jesus said that. Everything is possible if you believe. Everything is a lot of things.
It sounds as if Jesus is saying, "Don't take no for an answer. Just believe that it will happen and it'll happen."
And doesn't God also call us as ambassadors to do things that he or angels won't?
In Acts 9 when Saul, the apostle Paul, is converted, he's on his way on a mission to persecute the Christians, and suddenly this flash of light blinds him and he falls to the ground. And Jesus says to him, " Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And Saul is left blind. And then he sees the vision, a man coming to lay hands on him and to heal him.
Now, Jesus was already there. Couldn't he have just healed him? I mean, that was sort of his gig. He could have just healed him. And yet he says, I want a man to come do this.
And then in a vision, he goes to a man named Ananias and says, "I need you to go to Saul. I need you to lay hands on him and heal him." And Ananias objects because Saul's a ruthless and dangerous man.
And, Jesus says, "No, I want you to go heal him. I'll show him how much he must suffer for my name. But I want you to go and heal him." And so Ananias goes and lays hands on him and heals him.
I mean, Jesus could have done that. He could have sent an angel to do that. In fact, in Acts 10, the next chapter when Cornelius, a faithful God-fearing Gentile, who prays to God regularly and gives offerings to the poor â€” an angel visits Cornelius and says, "Cornelius, your prayers have come up as a memorial offering before God. He has heard your prayers. Now, send for a man named Peter," â€” tells him where to go and get him â€” "send for a man named Peter. He will tell you how to be saved."
Why didn't the angel just tell him? I mean, he already had his attention. The angel could have just gone and said, Hey, your prayers have come up as a memorial offering before God. I'm here to tell you how to be saved." But no. He says, "I'm here to tell you to send for a man to tell you how to be saved." And so he sends for Peter.
And then Peter, in a vision, is told to go to cornelius and he does. And Peter, the man, goes and explains the gospel to him, and the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and he's saved.
God does call us as ambassadors to do things that he or angels won't.
When Paul's writing 2 Corinthians 5, he says, "We are as God's ambassadors imploring you to be reconciled to God."
There's a certain part of being a faithful follower of Christ that takes action, that acts on faith, that goes as ambassadors.
And so that causes tension for me. If I just submit and say, "Not my will, but yours be done," when does that become complacency? When does that become forsaking my responsibility? Neglecting my call? Shouldn't I be pleading like Jesus told me to? Shouldn't I be believing that I have received it like Jesus said to? Shouldn't I be carrying out the things boldly, not taking no for an answer. Shouldn't I be doing that?
We are to be bold. We are to be bold.
On the other hand, some people are so demanding of God. They have no humility, no shame, no spirit of submission. It's as if God is there to serve them, to make them healthy and wealthy kings and queens in their own kingdom. They stand boldly before God, going toe to toe and nose to nose with the Almighty, trying to get what they want. They're shameless. They don't know their place.
Sometimes submission is just complacency, but sometimes pleading with God, not taking no for an answer and acting on faith boldly is just my attempt to Lord it over God. It's demanding, it's presumptuous. Sometimes pleading and acting on faith is just lording my will over God.
How do we know when it is? How do we know when submission is complacency and when pleading and acting and believing and claiming and declaring is just lording it over God? How do we know when it is?
The answer is it is when it is, and it isn't when it isn't. It is when it is. It isn't, when it isn't.
And so submit to God. But don't be complacent. Plead with God, believing. But don't lord it over him. Act on faith. But don't be presumptuous. Know your place. Trust God, not yourself. Make requests not requirements. Don't confuse faith with certitude.
Faith believes that God can do all and will do all that is in our best interest. Certitude says, I've got all figured out and I go to God with that as if he needs to bend to that.
Faith is trust, not self-confidence, not self assertion. Faith is simply trust. We trust God.
If you can't surrender, "nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done," you are likely trying to Lord it over God. And if you can't plead fervently, you are likely being complacent.
Both are acts of distrust. Both distrust that God is good, loving and powerful. They both do not believe that God is really good and loving and powerful. All good, all loving, all powerful. Always good, always loving, always powerful.
Because if God is really good and loving and powerful, you can act on faith, you can trust him.
And if God is really good and loving and powerful, you can plead earnestly. Fervently. You can plead even believing, because he is good, loving and powerful.
And if God really is good and loving and powerful, you can absolutely pray the most powerful prayer: "Nevertheless, not my will, not what I've asked â€” Lord, I want what you want. If you have a better way, do it, Lord. You do it. Because your way will always be higher than my way â€” nevertheless, not what I've asked, but what you would do, Lord. That is what I'm truly asking."
Reverent submission trusts God. Trust God.
Here's the challenge that I would suggest each of us lean into. What are you more inclined toward? In your relationships, are you more inclined to lord it over others, or to give in to others? I mean, you know. Are you more inclined to give up quickly? "Oh, that's okay. We don't need to fight about it." Or are you more inclined to go toe to toe, nose to nose until you get your way? Which are you more inclined to do?
When a decision in a group needs to be made, does it usually go your way or do you usually go their way? What are you more inclined toward? We Audacity or complacency? What are you more inclined toward?
And in your relationship with God, what are you more inclined toward? Going with bold requests, bold declarations, believing for big things with God, or just leaning back and saying, "God, whatever you'd like to do, I'm good with it." Which are you more inclined toward: audacity or complacency?
Always, whether you are pleading or whether you are acting on faith or whether you are saying "nevertheless," always bow forward. Bow toward God. Know your place. He is God. You're not. Trust him that he has the best in mind.
So be thoughtful in your prayers. Today, tomorrow, this week. Be thoughtful in your prayers. Do you need to plead? Plead? Do you need to act? Act.
These days, I'm pleading with God. I plead with God for my wife's migraines to go away. Please Lord, please. And he hasn't released me from pleading. I plead.
And in my life, it's time to act right now. Wendy and I are getting ready to head out on the road to plant and encourage microchurches. We feel called to do that. It's a bold move on our part. And so we're acting on faith. Not presumptuous. We've thought it through to the nth degree. And we've prayed to God about it and he won't release us from â€” if I can say it that way â€” he won't release us from this, this burden, this call. We have to go do this. There's people who we want to go encourage and strengthen, and so we're getting ready to head out and do that for an extended period of time.
There's things I plead for and there's things that I am acting in faith on.
Do you need to plead? Do you need to act on faith? Do you need to submit? I mean, of course, always, always submit. Always. "Nevertheless" is the most powerful prayer you can pray, because, just like Jesus, we bow forward in reverent submission.
And I believe that it will be said of us what was said of Jesus in Hebrews 5:7, "He was heard because of his reverent submission." Not that he didn't pray. Let me read it.
" During the days of Jesus life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death. And he was heard because of his reverent submission.".
Make sure that that defines you. Pray fervently with tears, crying out to God for the things that he's put on your heart. Be ready to act. Do what he's called you to do.
And in it all, make sure that you are heard, not because you dare to go toe to toe and nose to nose with the Almighty, but because of your reverent submission. In everything, bow forward. Bow forward to God.
One final thought here. I've never moved any mountains. Jesus said if you believe , you can move mountains. I've never moved to any mountains, but one day I had enough faith to just breathe, "Jesus." Like a sigh. "Jesus." And in that moment, he took this mountain of sin â€” this idolatrous, adulterous, powerless life that I had put together, that I was living â€” he took this mountain of sin and he threw it in the sea. Miraculous. That faith as small as a mustard seed threw a mountain into the sea. I didn't throw it there. I believed Jesus, and he threw it there.
And I've pleaded â€” we might say it this way â€” I've pleaded to have this thorny flesh, this flesh that we all live with, like this flesh will always be just as stinking and rotting and corrupt as the day I called out Jesus. It is just what's built into the flesh. We don't try to make the flesh better. We try to submit to the Holy Spirit. We don't live to please the flesh. We live to please the Holy Spirit. But I've pleaded, "Lord, take this thorny flesh from me, these messengers of Satan, whatever you would call that, take it from me."
And he has said, "My grace is sufficient. That's not my plan. I've redeemed you, but you have not received the reward of your new body. And until that day, until this flesh breathes its last, my grace is sufficient for you."
And I've pleaded, like Jesus â€” we might say it this way â€” Jesus said, "Whoever wants to come after me must take up their cross daily and follow me." And I would love it. I would just love it if, if I could live my best life now, if following Jesus was all about getting this and that and that, and yet Jesus keeps on saying, "No. You lay down your life. To follow me is a life of self-sacrifice, self denial. Take up your death instrument, your cross, daily, and follow me."
And I've pleaded, you might say, I've pleaded, "Lord, could this cup be taken from me? Could I receive all the benefits in this world? Could this cup be taken from me?" I've said, "If it's possible, take it from me. And if it's not possible, nevertheless, less not what I will, but what you will. And Lord, since it's impossible for it to be taken from me, because this is how you've designed it, Lord, your will be done. Nevertheless, your will be done."
For Jesus, it was impossible to avoid the cross because it was the only way to demonstrate what we read in Acts 2:24, that "it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." He had to go to the death so that he could demonstrate power over death.
There's things in your life you've got to go through with because it's the only way to demonstrate that God's grace is sufficient. It's the only way to demonstrate the end reward. And I believe that one day the impossible will shift for us, like it did for Jesus. What is impossible to do right now will demonstrate ultimately that it was impossible for that thing to actually have victory over us. One day it will be said of me, it'll be said of you, I believe: " It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him . It was impossible for the flesh to have victory over him. He was heard because of his reverent submission, even while he pleaded."
That's the prayer of nevertheless. Pray that prayer. That's my goal. Nevertheless, not my will be done, but Lord, I trust that you are good, loving and powerful. Do what you would do. And I submit reverently with joy.
That's my goal. May it be your goal too.
This Week's Teaching: "Be Encouraged! Be Refreshed! Make Sure You Know This Gospel!"
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The gospel means good news! Literally. To speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to talk about the goodness, love, and power of God and how, through Jesus, he reached out to us in our need. It's to explain the entirety of his work and ministry that saves us from the corruption in the world, and establishes the Kingdom of God in our lives, and through our lives.
Unfortunately many have presented the gospel as a propositional statement that you have to believe, like a few facts you need to agree with, and if you do that right, you'll go to heaven. But if you do it wrong, you'll spend eternity in hell.
The gospel is so much more powerful than that! God's love is so much more powerful than that!
In our complicated world, and our longing for simplicity, it's tempting to pick a pet verse like John 3:16 and memorize it as the gospel. But there are actually many verses that communicate the good news to us. And if we will just take time to read the scriptures, we will be renewed and refreshed by the fullness of the gospel!
In this week's teaching, I devote time to just reading the scriptures. Meditate on them as you listen.
And then, at the end, I give three statements that help me to summarize the gospel. It's such good news! May it be used for your strength and encouragement.
<TRANSCRIPT OF ABOVE VIDEO>
The gospel is not something so delicate that you have to get it just right or else you'll lose it. The gospel is not just a certain pet verse that you memorize . It's not three details that you have to have understood, or five details that you have to get just right or else it doesn't work for you. It's not something that if you accidentally get it wrong, somehow it fails for you. It's not a set of facts that you agree to. It's not any of that. It's way better than that. The gospel is something that will deliver you. It will redeem you, restore you, reconcile you in all the ways that the bad news has been bad in your life, in all the ways that the darkness has overpowered you, in all the ways that your own decisions have just put you to shame.
The gospel is the best news. The good news is the best news that you could ever encounter and respond to.
At the end of this, I'm going to give three statements that help me to understand it in a succinct way. It's not a replacement of scripture, it's just a way that I understand the gospel.
Sometimes when I speak about the gospel, I find it necessary to open up our view about the gospel because some people think that they've empowered it, that they've made it bold, but they've made it so delicate that you have to get it just right or else you'll lose your salvation. Oftentimes, I feel as if I'm trying to undermine certain aspects, certain core convictions of some people who would declare the gospel as something very defined around their own niche, doctrinal understanding. And that's not to say that I think that they're entirely wrong, it's just to say that the gospel is way more powerful than just a small doctrine that we believe.
Today I wanna read scriptures that excite me about the gospel, and at the end of this, I'm gonna give those three statements. But first I just have to read the scriptures because this is where we get the whole context.
Matthew four. In Matthew four, Jesus is beginning his ministry and it says, " From that time on, Jesus began to preach, 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'"
That is the gospel. Jesus was a preacher and that's what he went around preaching: "Repent for the kingdom of Heaven has come near."
And of course the all familiar John 3:16. Now it's larger than just this verse here. There's a context to it where Jesus is telling Nicodemus, a Pharisee , if you want to enter the kingdom of Heaven, you have to be born, not just physically but spiritually. You have to be reborn. You have to be born again. And he's explaining it to Nicodemus, and we read this: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." He says, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only son. This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light. For fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God."
After Jesus had died and was resurrected, he said this to the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [you heard me teach you,] everything I've commanded you, and surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
At the end of Mark, we read the similar thing. Jesus appeared to them and he said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
And it goes on to say that the disciples did that. They went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
In the end of Luke, the same sort of a message. Jesus tells them, "This is what is written. The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things," Jesus says to his disciples, "I'm going to send you what my father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
At the end of John, Jesus says to them the same sort of thing. He says, "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" Peace be with you.
And so that's what happens. In Acts 2, we read that they're together and the Holy Spirit falls on them and they begin to prophesy and speak in tongues. And then Peter has to explain what's going on. And Peter's explanation is this â€” and listen to the good news. Listen for the good news in this.
He says, "'In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below, And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' He says, ' Fellow Israelites, listen! Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.'" He said, "'This man, Jesus, was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.'" He says, verse 32, "'God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.'"
And it says, when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and they said, "What should we do?" And Peter said, "'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promises for you, [but it's also] for your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God calls.'" And he kept on pleading with them, "'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!'"
In chapter four. Peter again is talking. He says, "'Salvation is found in no one else for, there is no other name under heaven given to mankind, by which we must be saved.'"
Acts 10. Peter is called to Cornelius's house, a Gentile, and he's called to explain the gospel â€” not to a Jew, but to a Gentile. And Peter begins to speak. He says, "'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation, the one who fears him and does what is right. You know, the message God sent to the people of Israel announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened through the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit in power and how we went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen, by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.'" And we're told elsewhere that it was up to 500 people. "'He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'"
Acts 13. Now Paul is speaking. Paul is starting to explain the gospel. And he says this, "'Fellow children of Abraham [Jews] and you God-fearing Gentiles, [non-Jews]. It is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him, they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. And for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news, what God promised our ancestors, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. Therefore my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.'" Everything you've ever done. "'Through him, everyone who believes is set free from every sin. A justification that you weren't able to obtain under the law of Moses."
The gospel, the good news proclaimed by Paul.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:2-8
As we turn to the epistles, we read in first Corinthians 15, where Paul says, "I want to remind you of the gospel that I preached to you, which you received, and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you've just believed in vain. For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (or Peter) and then to the Twelve, and after that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time, and so forth.
2 TIMOTHY 1:7-11
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul writes this. " The spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. Rather join with me in suffering for the gospel. By the power of God, he has saved us and called us to a holy life. Not because of anything we've done, but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our savior, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
In Romans 2, listen to the good news. "God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life... This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ as my gospel declares."
Do you hear the good news? Romans 10:4. "Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes... This is the message concerning faith that we proclaim. If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As scripture says, 'Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.' For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
The best news you can imagine.
2 CORINTHIANS 5:14-21
2 Corinthians 5 verse 14. "Christ's love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone. The new is here. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us this message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." Be reconciled to God. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
2 PETER 1:3-11
2 Peter 1, " His divine power, has given us everything we need for a godly life, through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness, and to goodness, knowledge into knowledge, self-control, into self-control, perseverance into perseverance, godliness, into godliness, mutual affection, and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they've been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters make every effort to confirm your calling and election for if you do these things, you will never stumble and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
I'm almost done with scripture here.
1 JOHN 1:5-9
1 John 1. Ah. "This is the message we have heard from him. And declare to you: God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar. And his word is not in us, but I write this to you so that you will not sin, but if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the father: Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world."
And then finally, Jude. Last two verses. " To the only God our Savior, be glory and majesty and power and authority through Jesus Christ, our Lord, before all ages now and forever more."
We can keep on reading the stories of scripture and what we would come up with is this gospel that can't be just boiled down into one pet verse. If you are a pet verse person, I probably read one of your pet verses and I'm just saying listen to all of it, because it's not just the gospel about how you can get your sins forgiven so you can go to heaven instead of going to hell. This is the gospel of the kingdom, how you can live in right relationship with God, how you can be in the kingdom of God and all that that means.
This is the gospel. The good news.
I said at the top, that I'm gonna give three statements that help me to just kind of keep all of in perspective. The last thing I would want anyone to do is just memorize these three things and say it's the gospel because the gospel is just read the scriptures and let it speak. But for me, when I do that, of course I gotta try and figure out what is it saying? And this calls me to action. It calls me to decision. And I would pray that it does to you too.
As I understand it. Three statements.
God is good, loving, and powerful, and Jesus is the exact representation of his being.
He's all good, always good, all loving, always loving, all powerful, always powerful. God is good, loving and powerful, and Jesus is the exact representation of his being. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. God is good, loving, and powerful, and Jesus is the exact representation of his being.
Second statement: Humanity is idolatrous, adulterous, and powerless, and I am the exact representation of its being. This is on me. I am by nature, idolatrous, adulterous, and powerless. I'm the exact representation of humanity in that sense.
We all have experienced that. We all are inclined to be idolatrous, to set up other things in the place of God. We are all inclined to be adulterous, to be faithless to God and to go after other lusts. And we are all powerless over these things. We are born with this weakness that is inclined to things that we decide we don't want to do. The things we say we're not gonna do, those are the things we do. And the things that we say we do want to do, those are the things that we can't do. We're powerless. Humanity is idolatrous, adulterous, and powerless, and I am the exact representation of its being. I'm owning that. I would suggest you own it too. Can you say that?
This is the confession of our need, the confession of God: he's good, loving, and powerful, and Jesus is the exact representation of his being. The confession of our need: humanity is idolatrous, adulterous, and powerless, and I am the exact representation of its being.
The good news.
Third statement: the good news is that Jesus redeems, reconciles, and restores all who turn to him and put their confidence in him. I have done that, and I do that. This is the good news. This is the good news.
Have you done that? I have and I do every day. I am right with God. I'm redeemed. I am reconciled. And I am restored. Where I was idolatrous, I have been redeemed. Where I was adulterous, I have been reconciled. Where I was powerless, I have been restored. His divine power works in me. His divine power has given me everything that I need for living a godly life, for participating in the divine nature.
This is the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom. I pray that it encourages you. Come back to this and chew on it. Meditate on it. Be encouraged. Be strengthened to remain faithful to him.
If you have any comments about this or take issue with anything that I've said, go ahead and leave a comment. I'm happy to have that engagement.
If you've never put your faith in Jesus and would like some connection around that, go to my website, rogershenk.com. Connect with me there.
If you don't have a church we have a network of microchurches. We meet together in small groups in homes or wherever , and I believe that that would be a powerful way for you to understand the scriptures better and to learn what it is to be in Christ.
So reach out to me at x242.net. However you reach me is fine. I'm the same person either way, but x242.net and just let me know that you're ready to find a micro church.
These are good times because the good news is greater than the bad news. Be encouraged. Be strengthened.
This week's teaching: "Five reasons to NOT do microchurch"
Click above image to watch
When I was discerning whether to step out of conventional church ministry and focus on microchurches, I read and listened to many people who were already doing it. One piece of advice was jarring: "Don't think it will be easier. It's not easier."
I knew pastoring conventional churches is hard. But it's hard like running a business. Running a business is fine, even fun. But in my experience, the business approach to church often confuses entrepreneurial enthusiasm with evangelical fervor. Love of success replaces love of neighbor. Love for "my church" is confused as love for God. The business approach to being church isn't good. It's hard where it doesn't need to be hard.
In my heart I did want something easier! But not in a lazy way. I just wanted something more reliably effective at doing the things that matter. I just wanted to strip away whatever was too much.
Now that we've done it for close to two years, it's fair to say that microchurch is, in fact, an easier way to do the essential things — simply because we aren't trying to do non-essential things. But I've also noticed that once we take the non-essentials out of being church, non-essential things in other parts of life see their opportunity to become important. They crowd in to fill up the space, and they crowd out the essential things of being church.
It's there that we again discover our original conviction: Our flesh has a bias against the things that matter. "We have met the enemy and he is us."
I think a lot of people are attracted to microchurch for all the same reasons we were. But life keeps crowding out people's best desires to do something that's simply significant. For the same reasons that it's harder to run a conventional church, it's easier to attend a conventional church. Perhaps the only thing easier is not participating in any church.
I think the things that make it harder to belong to a microchurch are exactly the things that make it good. So, in this week's teaching, I decided to name the things that make it hard, so that we could lean into those good, hard things. I pray that it is for your strength and encouragement as you daily decide to spend your life on things that matter. And I pray that others will be drawn from the complacency of busyness to the devotion of simplicity.
For Christ's sake.
<TRANSCRIPT OF ABOVE VIDEO>
We've been doing microchurch for almost two years now, and it's wonderful. But I want to give you five reasons not to do it. Five reasons not to do microchurch instead of what we might say is "real church." And by "real church," I mean conventional church, like you show up on a Sunday morning, you attend a service that's prepared for you and you participate. But someone else is leading the way in the worship service.
Microchurch is different. Acts 2:42. "The believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." It says they continued to meet in the temple courts, yes, but also in each other's homes. They broke bread together. They just loved being together. And that's the core of this microchurch that we do. We meet in homes as compared to conventional church meeting in a church owned or rented space led by a pastor, preacher, song leader, the whole bit.
FIVE REASONS TO NOT DO MICROCHURCH INSTEAD OF "REAL" CHURCH.
1. It takes more effort.
It just does. It's not easy to do microchurch. It's not. it's not as easy as someone else doing all the work where you show up for the show, you show up and someone else has prepared a message, someone else has selected songs. It's not as easy. It takes more effort to do microchurch.
2. There's no show.
There's no show. After 22 years for me being on stage in conventional ministry, after that first time that we actually held church in our home, I was like, man, that was awful. Like, there was no feedback. There was no moment where I just had the crowd in my hands because I wasn't preaching a sermon. There was no moment where, man, that song really landed because we actually didn't even sing a song. There was no show, there was no stage. There was nothing to inspire.
But as I processed it and as I listened, the people who were a part of it said it was better than the show. So, if you like the show, yeah, microchurch has no show. There's no stage. There's no show.
3. You can't get lost in the crowd.
There's no anonymity. I think that's self-explanatory.
4. There's no motivational speaker to get you fired up or to get you beat down.
There's not a motivational speaker. You might be inspired by the presence of other people who have a gift, but there's not a motivational speaker. That's a shift. If you need a motivational speaker to get you fired up, to get you beat down, someone that you just follow and you hang on their every word. Yeah. You don't get that in microchurch. You just get the scriptures.
We open the scriptures, we talk them through. Now in my experience, the scriptures are way more motivating than someone like myself saying, here's something I thought you needed to hear today.
5. It's harder to skip.
It does create accountability. You can't just wake up and decide whether you're going to church today. We're planning how many people are showing up for a meal, and the expectation is we all show up. So if you're not going to, we try to communicate ahead of time. It's harder to skip. You can't just attend or not attend . It's a commitment.
Those are five reasons not to do microchurch instead of conventional church.
But I also realize these days many people who are full on believers have left church and they've left fellowship and they experience church by watching a show online with a motivational speaker. They listen to music that's been recorded and made available to them, and they're out of fellowship. And they open their scriptures every morning or whatever. They're in the faith, but they have no fellowship. And yeah, that's easier.
FIVE REASONS TO NOT DO MICROCHURCH INSTEAD OF NO CHURCH.
1. It takes devotion.
It does take devotion to do microchurch. It's a commitment. It'll call your bluff. It does take devotion.
2. It requires input.
It's a conversation. It's not just scrolling and liking and sharing memes and things. And it's not just reading something thoughtful and doing a prayer journal. I think those are beautiful things. But you show up and, not everyone always talks but, it does require input. You are there as one of six or eight or 10 or 12 people and you're supposed to bring something.
3. It creates faith friendships.
It creates faith relationships. Imagine taking the friendships that you have right now that are based in a common interest, and adding faith as not just a common interest, but a common goal and desire. It changes how you do relationship that way. And so, if that's not a good thing, don't do microchurch because it does create faith relationships.
4. It doesn't feel safe.
It's not always safe, it's just not. We do our best to create safe spaces and in my experience, I don't know of time that it hasn't been safe, in a true sense. But it doesn't always feel safe. You might be asked to share something. You might be asked, "What tension does this create for you?" And it might be different than something it creates for someone else. Or you might find yourself in a spot where you have to ask for prayer for something that feels vulnerable to you.
And of course, in our setting, we don't force anything unsafe. Of course not. Like we do it well. We do it wisely. But if you're looking for just the safety of a bubble wrap around you, where you don't get to know people and you have been hurt by fellowship and things like that, yeah, this won't feel safe to you. It is safe, but it doesn't feel safe.
5. It will challenge you.
It'll challenge you.
To open up the scriptures and go through them verse by verse, asking questions of the text, asking questions of the apostles who wrote them , seeking to understand where it even challenges your prior understanding, and to be in conversation with people who are seeking the same thing and doing it in a communal setting. It'll challenge you. All the above. For all the reasons why you shouldn't do microchurch, it will challenge you.
And so actually I would say those are 10 reasons why you should do microchurch. Those are 10 reasons to do microchurch.
I think those are good reasons to do it.
I believe it's better. That's not to say that conventional church is bad. I'm helping a church right now with conventional church, leading worship. And as I say, the heart of the believer wants to be wherever the believers are gathered, and so I don't care where that is. It can be a huge crowd. It can be a small crowd. My heart just wants to gather where believers are gathered.
And so there's nothing wrong with meeting in conventional settings, but I do believe this is better.
In the conventional setting, you go to "real church" and then, if you want, you can supplement that with a small group setting. The way we look at microchurch, that smaller setting is real church. And if you want, you can supplement that with a larger gathering.
So I actually do believe it is better for all the reasons why you shouldn't do it. All the things that make it hard. It is better. Such is the case with so many things in life, that it's the things that are worth it that are actually not always the easiest.
I also believe that we may one day have this as our only option. And if we do face persecution, which Jesus said we would, I believe the microchurch model — the network of microchurches where people are in close relationship with each other, and then with other people from other microchurches — that spread out network of microchurches, I think, will survive whatever the enemy would throw at it. And not just survive, but thrive. I believe it's better.
If you're interested in joining a microchurch, I'd love to talk to you. I'll put a link in the description below. Let's talk. Be encouraged. I believe that if you put yourself into this sort of a setting, you will grow in your faith. If you've found yourself disillusioned with church, this is what you've been looking for. It's what we were looking for.
So reach out, be encouraged. Even if there are 10 reasons why you shouldn't do microchurch, those are 10 reasons why you should do microchurch.
Part of my call is to strengthen and encourage anyone who's interested in this. And so reach out, please, wherever you live, reach out. Oh man, these are exciting times.
This Week's Teaching: "The Forgotten Gospel"
Click image to watch
Sometimes just reading scripture verbatim can challenge our tightly held doctrinal positions. And when it does, there should be joy in it! We shouldn't shrink back from that! The principle of bible study is to let it say what it says, and not make it say what it doesn't say. Even if it challenges long-held beliefs.
I've noticed this with what we think of as "the gospel." As a preacher of the gospel I have often gone to the scriptures to find (yet again) the succinct, once-and-for-all articulation of "the gospel" and, while I do find articulations of it, the apostles never settled on one final "this is how you explain the gospel" way to say it. We have our pet verses like John 3:16, or "the Roman Road," or whatever, but they just kept speaking the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, bringing its light into darkened hearts in whatever context they found themselves.
Five hundred years ago the context was dark, with a polluted gospel that said we could buy God's forgiveness, and various other heresies. The correction of that was a powerful and freeing, boiled-down view that emphasized the verses that say salvation is "by grace through faith."
This was a necessary corrective! But it de-emphasized the verses that say explicitly that God does tie reward to how we live.
We have difficulty holding the two thoughts in tension, especially when theology has run amuck on one of the thoughts. So now, when we read verses like Romans 2:6-8, it almost feels heretical. "God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger."
In our X242 context, as we devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching, reading the scriptures verse by verse, it gives us a wonderful opportunity to open our hearts again to the entire conversation.
That's what I hope to stimulate with this week's teaching. I'm not arguing against the faith-only, or grace-not-works view of the gospel, as much as opening our minds to hear all that the scriptures say about the gospel. In my experience, this conversation feels very threatening to people. But that tells me that we need to have it if we are to be mature in our thinking. We need to let the scriptures speak all that they speak!
(Watch and listen above while reading below.)
If you're in the church, and especially if you're a teacher, there's pressure to teach certain things and to not teach certain things. If you pay attention to what people tell you the Bible says, you will preach one thing. If you simply read the Bible and teach the Bible, willing to simply read for people what the Bible says and explain the applications of that, you'll end up teaching and preaching different things.
One of these things has to do with the gospel itself. And I say this with respect and with gentleness to those who would come against some of the things I say. But today I just want to read for you what I think of as a different gospel, and I'm suggesting it's the complete gospel.
This is a continuation of my thought that I introduced several months ago on disentangling. And it really is what defines my interaction with the text and teaching these days â€” disentangling the faith from a whole bunch of things that we've woven into our understanding of the scriptures, of the faith.
Some of it is very good thought, good thoughts that are speculative and some of those speculations may be spot on. They're speculative, but we've allowed them to nestle in as the only possible reading of a text, or understanding of a theological or doctrinal position. And it's time to disentangle that. It's time to pull out those threads, not because they're always wrong, but just so that we can understand what is the essential meaning of the text and what it essentially means to follow Jesus.
And I suppose you could say whether we should follow Jesus, but I'm way down the path on that one. For me, this is about following Jesus as revealed in the scriptures, and ultimately it lands at a very orthodox understanding of the essentials, and a generous understanding and interaction with the non-essentials â€” which allows us to have conversation about things that are not essential where we disagree, and allows us to have unity about things where we do agree.
Now I cringe a little bit to talk about the forgotten gospel or the other gospel because it reminds me of, "Oh, we found, Peter's gospel," or "We found Philip's gospel," or whatever . And I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the forgotten aspect of what the scriptures describe as the gospel. And by gospel I mean the "euangelion", the good news that has been preached and is still to be preached.
So today, I just want to read other things that the scriptures say that might not line up â€” no, that do not line up with a very narrow understanding of what the gospel means.
Now, when I say narrow understanding, yes, I believe that it's a narrow road. I'm not talking about whether the path is wide to get into the kingdom. I believe it's narrow because that's what scripture says. But I'm talking about a narrow understanding of what the gospel is.
Now, I recently had a conversation â€” what I felt was a challenge â€” but it became this very respectful dialogue. There was a distinction that we made between the gospel of salvation and the gospel of the kingdom. And I would be one who says the gospel of the kingdom. I'm not inclined to put labels on it, but it just is a way to speak of that.
And so the popular gospel that many Christians in the evangelical world, the popular gospel would be that Jesus came to save us, and that it's about getting saved. And many people would say that means going to heaven when you die, escaping God's wrath.
I totally believe those are a thing. Like, I believe that's God's desire to save us from sin. But not just from our sins, but to save us from sin. I believe it's God's desire to bring us into fellowship with Him, to reconcile us to himself. I believe that wrath will be visited by God on everyone who chooses to reject him. I believe that. That's what scripture says.
But the emphasis on simply grace â€” I know that this scares some of you. It doesn't scare me at all, but I know that it scares some of you because you think that I'm saying, oh, we need to work our way into God's favor.
I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that.
God's grace is more than just an easy forgiveness mechanism. God's grace is his favor on us. God's grace is his love toward us. God's grace is his guidance. It's his discipline. It's his wisdom. That's God's grace toward us. His grace is generous toward us.
And so it can't just be boiled down into this concept that we are saved by not having to do anything except simply believe. I don't believe we find that in scripture. We find seeds of it. It's not a totally foreign thought to scripture, but it's incomplete.
And so today what I want to do is simply read scriptures that say more than, and possibly the opposite of what some of us have been taught and continue to argue.
Now my challenge to you is as you read the scriptures, let them say what they say and don't dismiss the things that don't fit in with what you've already decided that the gospel is.
Let them say what they say. And when they say something other than what you — now, this is a how to study the Bible kind of moment — when the scriptures say something other than what you've been taught, ask yourself: Where did I learn what I believe? Who first told me that? How many people have told me that? And there is something to be said totally about learning within the community. So I'm not dismissing that. But ask, Okay, who first taught me this? Where did I first learn this and why did it sound reasonable to me? What other impressions was I under? And I'm talking about when you're reading scripture and it says something other than what you've been taught.
So ask yourself that question. Who first taught me this?
[Then] ask yourself, Where is it written? Where else is what I understand written? And ask yourself, am I perhaps going beyond what is written in my understanding?
And so this is this desire to disentangle the faith and to come back to a simpler understanding of things. That's not simplistic, but simply saying, this is what scripture says, so this is what I believe.
These won't necessarily be in chronological or biblical order. These are [just] what come to me as I study the concept.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, whoever wants to be my disci..." — now just ask yourself, is this a part of the gospel that you have come to believe? "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." They must do it. They must follow him. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the son of man..." — here's verse 27 — "for the son of man is going to come in his father's glory with his angels and [then] he will reward each person according to what they have done."
Now that doesn't fly for some of us who say, "Uhoh! That's works! That's works righteousness!"
Let the scriptures say what they say.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'" — calls out to me, "Lord" — and I'm not gonna read the other things right now that say, "Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." That's part of our understanding. But here, Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven."
Reading on. "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?'" Did we not have the evidence that we were filled with the Holy Spirit, that we were operating in the things of God? Didn't we? And Jesus says, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers."
So start piecing this together. The Lord will reward those, each of us, according to what we have done. Those who do evil: "Away from me. I don't know you," regardless of whether you're operating in miracles and signs and things like that.
Little bit longer, but listen. Jesus is talking again.
"When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my father. Take your inheritance. The kingdom prepared for you. Since the creation of the world for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or imprison and go to visit you?'
"And the king will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and imprison, and you did not look after me.'
"And they also will answer, 'Lord, when do we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or imprisoned and did not help you?'
"And he will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Does it fit your understanding of the gospel?
Romans 2:5-10, 16
"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil... but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good..." Jumping to verse 16, "This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ as my gospel declares."
Does this align with your understanding of the gospel where we simply call out to Jesus and he saves us, and after that there's nothing that we have to do, or that how we live after that bears no consequence in whether we are saved?
Now for me to even say that causes me some distress because , like I say, I do believe that God's forgiveness is free. It's total. We call out to Jesus in confession of our sinfulness, in confession of our waywardness, and I'm talking about that core sin in each of our lives. It's the same thing as when Adam and Eve decided for themselves what's right and wrong, that they would be the judge of themselves. They would be the judge of right and wrong, of good and evil. When they decided that they would be the Lord of their own kingdom, it's the same sin that we live with.
It's the same sin that I live with, that desire to decide for myself. I'm talking in the flesh. I've been released from it, but that desire to decide for myself what's right and wrong. " God, I know you said that [but] I'm gonna do it this way. I think I know better." That sin. When we confess that to Jesus and say, "Lord, I'm done living for myself. Lord, I'm sorry." He forgives us. He comes and wraps us up in his arms. He says, "My child, welcome home. I forgive you totally and freely. I paid your debt."
Like, I believe that. But I also believe this, that God will reward each person according to what they have done; to those who by persistence in doing good, seek, honor and glory and immortality he'll give eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking, and who reject the truth and follow evil, eternal punishment, eternal death.
Does it cause you stress? Does it open your eyes to possibly a different way of seeing the gospel of the kingdom to live out the things of God?
2 Corinthians 5:10
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
Does it fit? Does it add to your understanding?
Again, pulling this out of context. You can read it. "The Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do."
And chapter five, verses three and following. "But among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity or of greed because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather there should be thanksgiving. For of this, you can be sure: no immoral, impure, or greedy person — such a person is an idolator — no immoral, impure, or greedy person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words for because of such things, God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."
I'm not saying that the gospel of grace only, or of simple grace — call out "Jesus," say, "Lord, Lord," and he will save you — I'm not saying with finality that those are empty words that deceive. But I do believe that many have been deceived into believing that if you pray a prayer of salvation, everything's done.
And it's because of our fear of setting ourselves back up in the kingdom of self, like we're gonna work our way back to God. And that's not what scripture is talking about. Scripture is saying, live a dependent, a surrendered life to God. And live it out choosing good and rejecting evil. Do that every single day because that actually bears consequence on eternity.
So it's our fear of putting ourselves back on the throne, we might say, that has us saying, but if it's not just grace, if it has to do with how I live, aren't I then earning my way to heaven? No. No. I understand the fear. Don't put yourself back on the throne. Don't think you can be good enough to get to heaven.
But let scripture say what it says: live a good life. Reject evil. Choose good and what's honorable. Reject evil and what's dishonorable. And know that God will reward your decisions in that. That's what scripture says. So stop thinking, "I prayed the prayer. The blood of Jesus covers me and all my sins, even as I continue to keep on doing them." Like, stop doing that to yourself.
Those are empty words that deceive. It matters how you live. It matters the choices you make. If you call out "Jesus" and yet you persist in sin saying, "Well, I know this is wrong, but it's just kind of what I need to do right now." Whether that's debauchery or drunkenness or whatever that is, if you continue to do that, "Do not be deceived. Such a person has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." God will reward each of us according to what we have done. " For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It's shameful even to mention what the disobedient doing secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, and everything that is illuminated becomes a light."
That's for you. That's for you. Have you put your faith in Jesus, live as illuminated. Reject the darkness. Choose the light.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
"Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans who do not know God... The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us" — talking to brothers and sisters in the faith — "God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being, but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit."
If that doesn't fit your understanding of the gospel and you're choosing to live a life that does not reflect the glory of God, the goodness of God, that's not living in the light, you should tremble a bit. It's time to shake.
But listen to this.
1 Thessalonians 5:9
"God did not appoint us to suffer wrath , but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep," like living or dead in the body, "we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
"You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his son from heaven whom he raised from the dead — Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath."
When Jude wrote his book, he started out saying, "I wanted to write to you about one thing, but now that I'm writing, I gotta write about something else. I was hoping to write to you, to encourage you to talk about the mutual faith that we share. But man, I've gotta write this, and it's a hard word."
That's what my heart feels often. If I'm talking to you face to face, I'm going to speak about God's love towards you, and how generous he is towards you in his thoughts and affections, how gracious he is towards you, how he is quick to forgive your sins. He's slow to get angry with you. I'm going to tell you all those things because I totally believe it. And whenever I speak to someone, it's in my heart to go that direction.
But what I see in the church is an entangled understanding of the gospel that doesn't allow the scriptures to fully speak into our lives what they speak. When we read the scriptures, they say it does matter how you live. It does matter how you live. Yes, Jesus took care of everything, but it still matters how you live.
Jesus will one day judge everyone according to what they have done. According to what we have done. He will reward us according to what we have done.
If this is a word of discouragement to you, repent, turn from whatever is not earning a reward that you would want to get.
If it's a word of encouragement to you to keep on fighting the good fight, to keep on choosing well and choosing good, then be encouraged. Be strengthened. There is an eternal reward. There is a heavenly kingdom that awaits all of us who by persistence in doing good, and choosing what's honorable — and who by persistence in loving the people around us as if they are Jesus himself, who by persistence in living a righteous life, choose to honor Jesus — there is a reward for each of us, and we will receive it. We will be part of the eternal kingdom.
But for those who believe that they can pray a prayer and then choose what's evil — choose to live there — I want you to be discouraged from that course of action. You should tremble. Judgment is coming. God's wrath is coming. God's wrath is coming on the wrong doer. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Trust his love. He is good and loving and powerful. Trust him with your life and then live as if you trust him in all things.
Whoever would follow him, must deny themselves. Take up the cross daily. Follow him.
This is the word of the Lord. I welcome your comments below.