by Mike Ratliff
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” (Acts 5:19-20 NASB)
It seems that Christian suffering is a very big topic right now. In some cases “teachers” will use Job Chapters 1 &2 in an attempt to make their points. However, the more I listen to men teach on the topic of “Christian suffering” the more I have become convinced that the majority of the teachings on this are actually attempts to manipulate people in one form or another using fear or guilt strategies to try to get people to part with either their service or money or both. If one studies these teachings from a Biblical perspective things get confusing. Why? Not everyone can teach from the same passages from Sacred Scripture and teach such different things. What is going on? The best answer I can give to that is that most of these false teachers are guilty of teaching the evils of out-of-control subjectivism being elevated to the level of truth rather than simply teaching what God’s Word says. My brethren, instead of looking for the truth in that morass of man-centered subjectivism, as believers we should be going to the throne of grace and God’s Word for the truth. When we look for it anywhere else we will never find it.
We are in a period of the Church in which we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ alone for if we look to men we are in danger of being deceived. To counter this, we must become focused where God wants us to be focused, doing as He desires us to be doing.
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 NASB)
When I was a much younger Christian Bible teacher, we would hit this verse and it never failed that I was asked to explain what Paul was talking about here. What does it mean to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”? The Greek word translated here as “work out” is κατεργαζεσθε, which means, in this context, “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” This cannot refer to the Christian’s salvation by works (cf. Romans 3:21-24; Ephesians 2:8,9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 15:58; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 6:7-9; Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 3:1-17; Hebrews 6:10, 11; 12:1, 2; 2 Peter 1:5-11). What about the fear and trembling part? This is the believer’s correct attitude he or she should have as they pursue their sanctification. This means that we should have a healthy fear of offending God and righteous awe and respect for Him (cf. Proverbs 1L7; 9:10; Isaiah 66:1, 2).
Digest that my brethren then understand that we are to do this because it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. What does that mean? God energizes both our desires and actions to obey Him. The Greek word translated in v13 as “to will” is θελειν, indicates not only willing something, but also pressing on to action. God is working in believers with a studied intent to fulfill a planned purpose. Notice also that it is His intent that Christians do what is His “good pleasure,” or what satisfies Him, not the other way around.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. (Philippians 2:14-18 NASB)
This passage describes what we must be about my brethren. Yes, some of those men who profess the right theology may be apostatizing. Yes, apostasy may be creeping into churches all around us. These things are happening, but we must not allow this to stop us from praying and serving and doing what we are called to do. We can still be Christlike in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. In this we shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. Yes, we can do that in the power of the Holy Spirit as God works in us for His good pleasure.
I and many of my friends are called to write the truth even when many in positions in the visible church do not like it. To be honest, when this started, I never in my wildest imagination thought I would end up doing this sort of thing. I thought I would write Christian self-help books and do seminars in Churches all across the country, speaking at conferences, et cetera. Well, what I found was that the visible church has no appetite for books on walking in repentance and living the crucified life. That is, if said books contained no references to certain mystics. I digress. In any case, God had other plans. Instead of becoming a rich Southern Baptist writer/celebrity with my picture all over every Lifeway Book Store, I get nasty emails from people who think it is just darn mean to say anything against someone like Matt Chandler since, after all, he is battling cancer ya know. However, now I have such a crystal clear picture of the developing Truth War. I have friends and friends of friends and through our network of discussion we feed each other information and it is amazing how interconnected some of these men and ministries are that become the focus of our research. It is as if there is one unseen hand behind it all. That should come as no surprise.
My role and the role of my friends to be lights in the world, holding fast to the world of life, is to pursue the truth, God’s truth for there is no other. We must make sure that God’s people know what it is and ferret out that which pretends to be the truth, but is not. We do this all for the glory of God and for the edification of the Saints.
Soli Deo Gloria!