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The Persecuted Church


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(pt.2)     I have seen the enemy it is myself

Pride was the downfall of Lucifer, the greatest creature God had made. You can say that pride is the Devils workshop. We all have pride to some degree, and pride keeps us from living in faith. Pride is self-dependence; we think we can accomplish something on our own. Pride means to think more highly of oneself compared to another, it is an overestimation of ones-self. It is thinking we deserve something when in fact we do not. Jesus was our example of humility. He, being God, yet came lowly, in humility to rescue prideful man (Philippians 2:5-8). He had the true power to call on legions of angels and cause what is not to come into existence. But He did not use this power for himself in any way. He did not assert the power or position that was rightfully His. Jesus gained His victory on the cross through humility, not by exerting power.

Martin Luther said the flesh seeks to be glorified not crucified. Our flesh loves to boast, even when we do something right for God, we want the credit. If you want to please the devil be infatuated with yourself, boast, for pride is the devils dragnet and he has caught many a fish in the web of independence.

“A true Christian has been dispossessed of his self-esteem, and self-sufficiency to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin ...Now the preferring [of] self before God is the essential part of the corrupt nature ....Self esteem, self-dependence, self-willedness deny affection and subjection to God.” (Stephen Charnock,1628-1680)

All false teaching comes from pride, because it will not submit to the Word as it is already written. It does not seek the true meaning but looks for a novel interpretation. Why? Self wants the credit we want to be noticed! So the true Word becomes like putty in their hand as they consistently insert their own meaning into the word. We must be humble in order to receive the true Word. James 1:21-22: “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” But to be doers of the Word we must crucify the self first; otherwise we will not have the power to live it. Self must be put down so God can be exalted. Only then can we share in the blessing that he has for us.

If there is no chastening, then God cannot deal with our pride. Paul was buffeted so he would not become prideful because of his many revelations. But many today do not have any chastening in their Christian walk, and actually think that this is the way it is suppose to be. It is a fearful thing to know that God is not chastening a person in order to correct him in his walk. It may mean he is not walking with God.

Job, who went through the greatest and longest human trial recorded in the Bible, had this to say: “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17). Job did not blame his tribulation on Satan, but saw the hand of God in it. Tertullian rightly called the Devil “God’s monkey.” Solomon said, “He who heeds discipline shows the way of life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17). David knew the usefulness of suffering. He reflected on all he had gone through in Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word,” and in verse 75: “In your faithfulness you have afflicted me.” David attributed his affliction to God’s hand, not the Devil’s. We need to understand that if we are afflicted or go through an extremely long trial that, God is not angry with us. Even if it involves chastisement it is done out of love, and His purpose in it is always for our good. Philippians 1:29-30 states, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” Being afflicted does not mean the Lord has ignored or abandoned you or loves you any less. It can actually mean He has turned His favor upon you.

The writer of Hebrews reminds believers, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:5-8) “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

If you find someone teaching that we are not to go through trials, run from their teaching. They are contradicting the most important concept in the Scripture for our sanctification. Everything we have as Christians came through Jesus’ suffering in life and His death on the cross. Jesus explains, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38).

Trials shape our faith to overcome the world. We have faith shaped trials that come from the hand of God. They are custom made for each of us as God deals with us all on a personal basis.

James 1:2-4: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

The Apostle Peter says the very same thing. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). With our patience in trials comes endurance as it trains us to wait at great lengths for God’s deliverance. True faith is forged in the fire of your trial, false faith runs away asking for an escape from God’s process of maturing them.

Rom. 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” How is it from faith to faith? By the trials we go through! God works His nature in us and takes out what is not pleasing to him at the same time. Through al this we learn to trust him as child would its parent.

Unfortunately today the church is rarely told this but instead Jesus becomes a self-esteem booster to grant to us our own dreams and wants. Everything we have as Christians came through much suffering and Christ’s death on the cross. It is all done through His grace. But grace can only be given if we walk according to his ways of humility. This means an emptying of self. “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).

What are we preaching?

Paul says if someone adds to the Gospel even some of the law that was required in the Old Testament, he is accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). Today all kinds of things are added to the gospel to make the Church more appealing. Then there are things that are taken away, changing the Gospel itself. False teachers will mention the Gospel at times; this is what makes them so deceptive. But they will alter portions of the message. If a doctrine is an essential truth, there will be many Scripture verses to back it up. It will not be isolated. If it is a principal teaching, it will be plain and repeated throughout Scripture. False teachers may even teach the correct Gospel at times but bring deception into the discipleship process, as one learns from them things that are not found in the Bible. These teachings can consist of additions like the promise of health and wealth, or subtractions such as saying that following Jesus will never include loss or suffering. This is complete nonsense! The apostles who wrote the Scripture certainly did not have this worldview. All one has do is visit the persecuted Church throughout the world today to get a dose of reality and see real first century Christianity in practice. Hebrews 11 sufficiently proves that living without suffering is not a general promise to the believer, but that those who are faithful will be victorious in their suffering.

1 Cor. 15:12-14: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” If the death and resurrection are not preached consistently in the Church how will people believe? Remember Paul said this was the gospel that was the power of God. If Christ is preached apart from this and people come to him what are they coming to? His death proves we are sinners and this was the only way to be brought to God. The resurrection proves his claim of who he said he is, the Lord God. The death and resurrection was the centerpiece of the apostles' preaching. They did not attract people by their ability to produce displays of power. Today we are confronted with a new type of Gospel, one that emphasizes experiencing the supernatural. We now practice a cross less Christianity, which turns into a Christ less Christianity. Today in many churches miracles are preached for salvation, not Christ crucified. Paul preached the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor.1:18). The Bible states it is the “preaching of the cross” that contains “the power of God” unto salvation. Are we preaching Christ crucified, or have we made revisions in the ancient story to fit it into our contemporary culture? It has become very popular to preach Christ without the discomfort of the cross. Can we expect to see great numbers gathered in when we throw out the net if our net has such huge holes in it?

Jesus asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his own soul?”(Mk.8:36-37) If someone is won to Christ by being offered success and riches then they were not won to Christ but to the world. If the cross is not the center of their preaching and life than whom are they lifting up? Jesus said if I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me. That’s whom we bring them to, Jesus, not the Church, not our pet doctrines.

We exchange what the world offers for a chance to carry the cross, its only temporary buts its rewards last through eternity. The cross-dealt the death blow to sin and the triumph of the old nature. The cross speaks of the deficiency of man and the ability of God. It speaks of our utter dependence on our maker. It takes us away from being self focused to Christ centered. The cross gets rid of the old nature by putting it to death so we can be witnesses of Christ to the others. If you are not prepared to face death than you are not able to live life in the fullest in Christ.

Churches pursue growth by any means today; a larger Church is often interpreted as meaning it has received greater blessings from God. However, if the people have been won to Christ by the offer of success, riches, and a easier life, then they have not been won to the Christ of the Bible but to the Christ of the world system. This Jesus all the world accepts because He is harmless and tolerant of their way of life. Jesus was not accepted or known as someone who was always happy but as a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). The ear ticklers will always expand the cross’ promises to offer what people want, beyond what Scripture says. The Bible records, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). They will never say that you will have to give up things; instead, Jesus will add all the things you want in life. Nowhere in the Bible does it teach we are to always feel good, or be loved by all. The writers of the Scripture, the apostles of Christ, were honest about their state: “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands” (1 Corinthians 4:11-12). Yes, they gave up much to follow the Jesus who saved them from their sins. They did not preach a life of ease and blessing and success awaiting those who receive Christ. In fact it was the very opposite; trials await the faithful.

Without the cross, the Church becomes just another religion with wonderful teachings about a man named Jesus. When Jesus said He is the way he meant through the cross, by His sacrifice on it. When He said He was the truth He meant not only the words He said: but that He came to die for us because we are sinners. Again, this speaks of the cross. When He said He was the life, he meant apart from Him and what He accomplished on the cross and by the resurrection we have no hope. He taught that “no man comes to the Father except through Him,” but it is by a certain way, through the cross. Jesus declared to us, “unless you pick up the cross you cannot follow me, nor are you worthy of Me.” Not that we literally carry a cross; rather, we live a lifestyle of selflessness and self-denial so that God’s will can be accomplished in our lives.

Without applying the cross daily and denying ourselves we have our old nature revived and alive as if we do not know Christ. This becomes the spiritual battleground for our discipleship and growth. A cross-less Christian life means we are not conducting our spirituality from “The Word” but from another’s word and way. It may be our own, it may be someone else’s, but for certain it can’t be Christ’s. It is Christ’s words ALONE that are life, but to receive them and grow self must be denied. Jesus said, “My words are life and they are spirit,” if they are to be life, self must diminish.

The apostles through the entire New Testament wrote down these words; they are not just the words written in red ink. They wrote them all with the same ink, as Paul stated, “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God”(2 Tim.3:16-17), there are not less inspired portions. Without the cross and denying self we have our old nature revived and alive as if we do not know Christ. This becomes the battleground for our discipleship and growth.

Mark 8:34-36 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.” Look at what Jesus stated and consider what is being said today. We lose our life for his sake and the Gospels. And right afterwards He warns about gaining the things of the world. Yet we hear today to become a Christian means we deserve all these things, it is our spiritual right of gaining them because we are followers of Jesus. I need not mention any names. You can hear this rhetoric from the majority of TV preachers the list is quite long.

Jesus said, “Unless you pick up the cross you cannot follow me nor are your worthy of me.” We are to lose our life and live his by having a mission, God’s calling. If someone is not pursing God’s call in their life have they really come to the point of denying self? As Jesus put it, we can gain everything in the world and lose our soul. Or gain our souls by not pursuing what is in the world and pursue God. It’s not both; one cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time.

This means we must hate the things Jesus does and love the things Jesus does. Jesus was not unbalanced in his life and teaching. He made it clear what was opposing God and what was for God. It is us who need to make a decision.

His death our life, our death His life

John 12:23-26 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Jesus is saying that He died to produce life as his seed can be born into man. Again he repeats the concept of us losing our life for his sake. And to follow him we must do so by servanthood not by assertiveness, aggressiveness or authority. Jesus is asking us to die to ourselves so we can live for God. The people that completely devote themselves to protecting their own life will miss the life of Christ that is eternal. Our devotion to Christ is to be pure; if we are willing to lose our life we will gain true eternal life. In our loss of self there is great gain, in our gain of self there will be great loss. The modern Church stands at the crossroads of which road they will travel on.

Both the thieves were crucified with Christ; they were right next to him dying. Only one of the thieves embraced the cross the other rejected it. One had to admit his guilt in front of the sacrificial of the lamb to be admitted into His kingdom. Our old life ends at the cross and the new life begins there. For in His death there is life. Matt 27:42-43: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'“ Mark 15:30: “save yourself, and come down from the cross!” Many today think we too can save ourselves without the cross. God’s way was for us to look at the cross see the sacrifice and believe. Mans way is to take him down and ignore it. To be on the cross, the victim’s hands had nails through to keep him there. Many of us want to take ourselves away from our cross and walk with Christ without it. But this is impossible. We need to stick to the cross less we wander off to an easier road.

Many today want to rid Christ of the cross. To put aside the cross so it will be less offensive to preach with and to live by. But to do this is to reject His Lordship over your life.

The Offense of the Cross

The cross has become the universal emblem of Christianity. Yet those who hate Christ the most are able to wear it as jewelry with no conviction, mocking the very event that can save them. The cross does not offend them, because they do not understand what transpired on it. Unfortunately it can be the same in the Church.

2 Cor. 4:11-12 “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. We consider ourselves dead so that Christ s’ life can be manifested to those around us. We consider ourselves dead so that Christ s’ life can be manifested to those around us. As we die to our desires and people see our lives it can bring life to others for they will see Christ, but the condition is death to self. Maybe we have tried to make it too easy for people to accept Christ. The fact is- it is hard. As Jesus said, strive to enter the narrow gate. The road is narrow. Even after we are saved we are to walk this narrow road, lest we drift from Him and lose our fellowship.

Gal. 5:5-11: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” And this is where he puts his finger on the critical issue. IT WAS THE CROSS! The word “offense” is “scandalon,” meaning “a stumbling block.” What the apostles found in their day is still true today: THE CROSS OFFENDS MEN WHEREVER IT IS PREACHED AS GOD'S ONLY SAVING MEANS FOR OUR SINFUL, DEPRAVED CONDITION. In our presentation of the Gospel the cross of Jesus must never be viewed as anything other than central to it. The question is, “why is the cross so offensive?”

The cross of Jesus never compromises, never spares the victim. He's alive going to the cross -- and dead when taken down! The cross represents death to the old nature and a new life to live, this comes through sacrifice, selflessness, commitment, holiness and separation, and humility -- it is all about death to self (Mk. 10:21). No one can tell me that’s not hard, especially in the times we live in. We need to realize the times we live in are not the same as those of the apostles. As we draw nearer to the coming of the Lord, all Hell will break loose on earth in order to vanquish any and every saint of God. We have need of endurance through a genuine faith that will stand and bring us through the valley of death. Not the whipped cream with the desert from the health and wealth mentality.

The power of God is in the cross, the cross we carry is a crucified life, we are to be active not still. Spectator Christianity is not living the Christian life. It is not possible as James says I will show you my faith by my works. To walk in death brings life. It preserves us in our and helps us have the effectiveness of sanctification.

No one who walks with the cross can walk in self with any confidence. You must let go of one to carry the other. We need to make up our minds on being self-reliant or Jesus reliant through the Holy Spirit. A person who is wholly dedicated and consecrated his life to Christ’s work will find the power manifested because he reckoned himself (and continues) dead. God's power works according to the Gospel and the subject of that message is Jesus Christ. God's power always works in and through His Word of truth. It is true in our salvation, it is true in sanctification, and it certainly will be true in our glorification.

We were bought with a price (on the cross) we are not our own. Gal. 6:14-15: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. The cross was inclusive in that when Christ died all those who would accept him died with him. He took away the first Adam's nature where nothing of the first Adam could pass through the cross and rule over us. The resurrection becomes the starting point of our new life. When we understand that Christ died for us, our eyes are open to see that what we have from Adam has died with Christ. Only that which dies can be a candidate for a resurrection. Paul said if we died with Him we would live with Him. Rom 6:5-8: “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”

We are to hate the things Jesus hated and love the things Jesus loved. That means conviction and commitment. We need to allow his word to work in us by our obedience and experience true growth by the Holy Spirit. Then we will have joy unspeakable.

The times we live in are probably the most challenging since the first-century church. Many believe the Church has never been as powerful as it is today. We have false gospels and a famine of the Word from the pulpits. People are running to and fro looking for OTHER solutions to their failed spiritual condition, a condition that is really caused by a lack of attention to God’s Word.

(excerpts from the first chapter of the  book called The Empty Pulpit)

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