Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 5 of 6)

“What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel?” Listen to what the Word of God says.

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been 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; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'

"Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." ~ Matthew 25:41-46

Listen to what the Word of God says.

“And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” ~ Revelation 20:11-15

So how should we understand judgment as Peter explains it in verse 17? I think John MacArthur sums it up well. “It is infinitely better for people to endure suffering with joy now as believers being purified for effective testimony and eternal glory than to later bear eternal torment as unbelievers.”[1]

In verse 18, to support his point, Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31, as it is translated in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?”

Peter describes unbelievers with two terms: “the godless man” and “the sinner.” “The godless man” refers to those who are ungodly, who have no reverence for God, and who are impious in their attitude and conduct. “The sinner” refers to those who violate “the standard of God’s law as one who is willfully devoted to the practice of evil.”[2]

What Peter is saying is that if the born again follower of Jesus Christ—those who are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, completely separate from their works or own perceived goodness—face fiery trials of persecution because of their faith in Christ, and times of fatherly discipline when they sin and fall short of God’s glory, how much severer will the eternal punishment be for those who have no reverence for God and who willfully break His Law without so much as a second thought?

The writer of the Book of Hebrews agrees:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” ~ Hebrews 10:26-31

Commend Yourself to the Wonderful, Matchless Care of God
So, how should we live when suffering for Christ? We should not be surprised when persecution comes. We should live with an attitude of authentic joy, seeing the suffering as a blessing from God. We should continually practice self-examination to make sure our suffering is a result of right Christian living and not a result of the sin in our lives. And, finally, we should commend ourselves to the wonderful, matchless care of God.

In verse 19, Peter writes: “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

Please listen to what Martin Luther wrote about this verse. It really is beautiful.

“Those to whom God sends suffering that they themselves did not seek nor choose, should commit their souls unto the Creator. Such then fare well, they continue in doing good, turn not astray because of suffering, and commit themselves to their Creator, who is faithful. And this is great consolation to thee. God created thy soul without any care or assistance on thy part, when you did not yet have an existence. Therefore, trust him, yet trust in a way that it be done accompanied by good works, that you become not impatient, sad and angry, and be not provoked to take vengeance on those who cause you the suffering. Also murmur not against God . . . but hold fast on both sides, forgive your enemies and pray for them, and give God the glory that he is merciful, true, faithful, and that he will never forsake thee in thy need, but will graciously help you out of your troubles, although you may at the time feel differently.”[3]

How should we live when we face real persecution and suffering as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ? We should entrust our souls and every aspect of our lives to an infinitely faithful, infinitely powerful, infinitely merciful, infinitely gracious God who is the Creator of all things. And in commending ourselves to God’s matchless care we should commit ourselves to do what is right. James wrote: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

A mark of genuine faith is seen in how a Christian responds to persecution and suffering. In times of plenty or in times of want; in times of relative ease of in times of hardship; in times of acceptance or in times of persecution; in times of happiness or in times of suffering, the authentic follower of Jesus Christ will see their circumstances, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity to praise and glorify God.

A false convert will consistently fall away at the first hint of persecution, because they have never truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Their relationship with Christ is superficial and, ultimately, non-existent. They dress themselves, spiritually speaking, as a Christian, but in reality, their trust is in the world and in themselves. In the end, when push comes to shove, they are more interested in preserving as comfortable an earthly existence as they can, and have no regard for what their lack of faith looks like to the sovereign God of the Universe.

The word “entrust” comes from the Greek word that means “to commit” or “to deposit.” Interestingly, it is a banking term. Peter is telling us that we are to deposit all of our trust, and our very souls, into the care of our faithful Creator. This is how we will live, even in the face of persecution and suffering, if we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will trust the One who is completely trustworthy.

[1] Ibid. p. 256.
[2] Hiebert, D. Edmond: 1 Peter. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1984, 1992, p. 294.
[3] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Peter & Jude. Translated and edited by, John Nichols Lenker. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1990, p. 199.

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