2 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Is God real? Is the ancient Christian message still relevant and worthy of our attention? Or can we ignore it as many do today? There was a time in the not-too-terribly-distant past when the majority of families migrated to a building of their choice to worship on Sunday; when God was favorably referenced in the media, and Christian values were supported in the print and visual media, schools, and government. Not anymore. Now, few still view Sunday as anything but a day to sleep in and prepare for the new work week. When it does find its way into the media, Christianity is the implied “ignorant man’s choice,” and if there’s a character in a movie or series who is identifiable as such, he or she either did it, or Christ’s message is so altered as to be rendered unrecognizable. The sad truth and new reality is that within our post-Christian society so little of culture acknowledges God anymore, that for someone who hasn’t invested the time and effort to discover for him or herself, Christianity’s relevance can be a legitimate question.

“So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:11-12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

“And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (II Thessalonians‬ ‭2:11-12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

“For this reason God sends them something powerful that leads them away from the truth so they will believe a lie. So all those will be judged guilty who did not believe the truth, but enjoyed doing evil.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:11-12‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

This particular passage in II Thessalonians has been rendered slightly differently in various translations, but the message is clear–because they wanted nothing to do with God, He sends a strong delusion and people fall for the lie. What lie? There may be more to it than just this, but the theory of evolution is almost certainly a part.

Before you write me off as ignorant and uneducated, hear me out: I’m really not, and there are multiple scientists and academics–not only Christian but also secular–who find far too many flaws in the theory to accept it wholesale. Google it. Check out the opposing arguments, because that’s what receiving an education is supposed to do for you–it’s supposed to teach you to objectively evaluate all sides and then make an informed decision, not tell you what to believe. Refusing to even evaluate a premise that is not easily observable, is, in fact, the antithesis of being educated–far worse, it smacks of the highest form of bias and indoctrination–almost, one might say, of being strongly deluded.

Yet this is what we have today. It is almost impossible to be taken seriously in some academic and professional circles if you even question evolution’s validity; in most textbooks it is presented as the prevalent and exclusively legitimate theory of origins. It has become a given, as proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, though it is far from so. It is, in fact, Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes; everyone’s afraid to point out the obvious–that’s it’s not really there, that it has major flaws.

This is not to say bits and pieces might not be verifiable or reproducible, but when we enter the realm of speculation so far back in time that the human mind boggles–we can’t rightly fathom a hundred thousand years, much less billions and billions–that’s entering the realm of irreproducible and unprovable opinion passed off as factual history. And we, like the villagers in The Emperor’s New Clothes, are all pretending to see the legitimacy of what’s not there, because we’re afraid to paint an “ignorant and uneducated” bullseye on our head to point out the obvious.

Let’s take a look at the entire passage today’s verses are found in:

“Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the [future] coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:1-12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

The “great rebellion against God” has already begun, it “is already at work secretly.” “Every kind of evil deception” will “fool those on their way to destruction because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them.” Because they want nothing to do with Him, “God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies.”

God IS real and there have been volumes written proving it. Google it, buy a book, do the homework–the incontrovertible evidence is there, and I can’t do better in a short devotional. The problem, however, is not with the absence of proof or the illegitimacy of faith in Christ–it is with those who refuse Him; they do not want to believe.

In the end, it turns out that rather than Christians having a need to believe, those who reject Jesus have a need to not believe. If God is real, I am accountable to Him, and will someday be judged for my sins, for my rebellion against Him. I must turn away from them; I must come to Him. I cannot allow myself to admit He is real if I want to continue doing something wrong, if I “refuse to love and accept the truth that would save” me–it is inconsistent. Logic demands that I act according to reason: if God exists I must change my life; if He does not, only then can I continue as I desire.

But He does exist; He IS real, and those who “refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” will be “condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.” Do you believe? BELIEVE!

Dear Lord Jesus,

Help me not enjoy evil rather than believing the truth! I believe–help me love and accept the truth that will save me!! Amen.

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Luke 15:21-24

Is it too late for you? Did you set your heart against God–for whatever reason–and ignore the urging of His Holy Spirit? Maybe you knew Him once, but something happened–someone you really wanted in your life left you or died, or you insisted on living in a way you knew God didn’t want for you–and you pushed Jesus away. Is there any way to undo all of the ruined years–for you to come back? Or is it really too late?

“The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’…[But the Father said] ‘My son was dead, but now he is alive again! He was lost, but now he is found!’…” (Luke‬ ‭15:21, 24‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

God loves us–each and every one of us. He is saddened that so many of us are foolish beyond belief and choose to experience a life of rebellion and sin apart from Him rather than walk in the goodness and joy of His presence. Yet such is the deceit of the “wicked three”–the devil, the world, and our own flesh. These conspire to convince us that what we want or feel we must have is so much better than intimacy with God until we fall for it, and push Christ away. Then, what Jesus said happens: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:12‬ ‭NIV‬‬) God does not force Himself on us; when we do not want Him, He lets us pull away, until we no longer feel Him in our lives.

Sin does that. Whenever we say yes to sin, whether we intentionally mean to or not we are simultaneously saying no to God, because He is holy, and as His own we too, must choose to live in His holiness. When we allow our bodies or minds to crave and subsequently choose sin, we separated ourselves from Him: “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.” (Isaiah‬ ‭59:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

But this decision is not irrevocable–as long as God gives you the consciousness of your lost condition and a desire to be pulled out and saved from it, He will take you back. Look at the parable of the prodigal son–how eagerly the father forgave the son’s rebellion and sin, and how quick he was to welcome him back into his family when he asked!

God wants us to come back–in fact, He longs for it! Look at the parable Jesus taught about the lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep but loses one of them. Then he will leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the open field and go out and look for the lost sheep until he finds it. And when he finds it, he happily puts it on his shoulders and goes home. He calls to his friends and neighbors and says, ‘Be happy with me because I found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes his heart and life, than over ninety-nine good people who don’t need to change.” (Luke‬ ‭15:4-7‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Or that of the lost coin:

“Suppose a woman has ten silver coins, but loses one. She will light a lamp, sweep the house, and look carefully for the coin until she finds it. And when she finds it, she will call her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Be happy with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner changes his heart and life.”” (Luke‬ ‭15:8-10‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

So, is it too late for you? Absolutely not! Yet, we should not put God off–we shouldn’t ignore the urging of His Spirit when we feel Him calling–because we don’t know how narrow that window of opportunity to come back to Him might be. Death, or an injury that takes our will and conscious mind away, can come at any moment and He has already been patient with us this long–how much longer can we impose on His goodness to us?

“Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off…” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭6:1-10‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

Father,

I have sinned; please take me back! Amen.

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Mark 14:32-36

Have you ever been faced with something genuinely frightening and overwhelming? That kind of overwhelming that you can’t handle on your own, that needs supernatural help to bring you through it? Jesus has! Of course, we will never fully understand what He went through on our behalf because we are not God made man–we were never gloriously one with the Father in eternity past as He was–and we could never bear up under the condemnation of our own sins, much less those of all humanity. But we do suffer at times–and some are called upon to suffer an unbelievable amount of difficulty and pain; it is at these moments that we can learn from Jesus how to persevere.

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ He said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father,’ He said, ‘everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.'” (Mark‬ ‭14:32-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

The gospel of Luke interestingly adds, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke‬ ‭22:43-44‬ ‭NIV‬‬) And while a footnote to the NIV (other translations do not have such a footnote) says, “Many early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44,” I cannot but imagine that the Father did strengthen Him for the task ahead. But how did Jesus do it–how did He get through the horror of what was before Him?

We learn from Hebrews 5:6-9: “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. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”

And from Hebrew 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Jesus got through the most difficult task anyone could ever have been asked to complete because 1) He knew the truth, 2) He knew the Father, and 3) He fellowshipped intimately with the Him.

First of all, Jesus knew the truth. What do I mean by this? Well, He knew what was on the other side of the suffering. He understood “the joy set before Him;” He comprehended that this world isn’t all there is, He didn’t cling to life at all costs, He knew the joy and glory on the other side of the difficult journey. Yes, He would have to suffer excruciating pain to get there, but the Father was there at the end of the road.

Which brings me to the second point–He knew the Father. I don’t believe any of us can get through anything genuinely difficult without knowing “…You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬), because, “this is eternal life…”

Knowing the heavenly Father and Jesus IS eternal life–it begins in us in this world, and this relationship doesn’t sever at death! That is why we can overcome anything the Father sets before us–because we no longer enslaved by our fear of death: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews‬ ‭2:14-15‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Not only did Jesus know 1) what comes beyond the grave after the suffering and 2) the Father Himself, He also 3) intimately fellowshipped with Him in prayer. He didn’t do this like many of us do–out of duty because we have to, or by uttering rote prayers. He did it because He recognized fellowship with the Father–seeking Him, being one with Him, calling out to Him, praying in the Spirit, remaining in Him–for the source of strength it is: He did it because He wanted to! I believe this unity with the Father is what ultimately got Him through the suffering, and it can get us through, too. So, how should we pray? How should we seek fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ?

I believe there are two ways we pray: we pray when we have to, and we pray when we want to. The “have to” prayers are “duty prayers,” done out of obligation. I’m not saying God doesn’t hear them, but I believe the ones that are really effective–the ones that He responds to by giving us the strength to bear up under difficult circumstances–are the ones we walk away from having lost track of time, the ones after which our looming problems have inexplicably shrunken to minuscule proportion in light of having spent time in the presence of the glory of the God of all!

Have you ever personally prayed like that? Have you “panted for His presence like a deer pants for water?” Have you recognized that if He takes your hand and leads you forward you can do “all things through Christ who strengthens you?” Have you recognized that if you “gain Christ and are found in Him,” ultimately everything is okay, no matter how “not okay” they otherwise seem to be?

You can do this–whatever it is you are faced with today–but not on your own! We need the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory;” we need to “Remain in [Jesus]…” because “…apart from [Him]…[we] can do nothing.” (John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

My Lord and my God:

Help me seek You and Your presence with my whole heart! Amen.

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Revelation 3:16-17

Have you read the last book of the Bible–what we call Revelation–given by God to John, the Apostle of Jesus? Are you familiar with the passage about the infamous “mark of the beast,” and if you are, have you ever wondered how it’ll actually happen in practice that someone who doesn’t have that mark will not be able to buy or sell?

“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.” (Revelation‬ ‭13:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I never cease to be amazed by the book we call the Holy Bible. Not only has it changed the lives of God’s people everywhere and in every age, it has also withstood the test of time, including genuine hatred, intense persecution and a concerted effort to disprove and eradicate it–only to come out as strong and right and pure as ever! Moreover, in it God has also told us–thousands of years beforehand–what is still going to happen, historically. Yet many of us avoid reading Revelation, primarily because–honestly–it can just seem strange to us today. Yet, we shouldn’t.

It helps to put ourselves within the context of the time period during which it was written. Do a little research on the first century, A.D.–what was it like? What did the daily life and experiences of the people consist of? What “technology” did they regularly interact with? What ideas and words did the Apostle John know and have available to try to describe events so far into the future that no one alive at that time could even remotely begin to grasp? What was his frame of reference?

We are told in I Peter 1:12 of the Old Testament prophets that, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” (1 Peter‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

The Old Testament prophets were writing so many years earlier for the benefit of those who would come to faith in Christ after His resurrection. In the same way, God gave the Apostle John the privilege of recording information for Christ’s people at the very end of the end times–probably in the not-too-distant future–and it is because it was recorded so long ago that the words and images used to convey the message seem to us now, at times, strange.

I am fifty-five years old. When I was in my teens in the 1970’s I attended a church that didn’t shy away from preaching the Word of God–I even saw a very frightening period movie about the rapture that gave me nightmares for years to come. But no one in 1977 or 1978 had any concept what this “mark of the beast” might actually be. Granted, we had little stickers that children would paste on their hands and inked office stamps–but I think most of us had trouble imagining how the absence of a sticker or ink on our forehead or hand could keep us from buying or selling!

Do those of you my age remember where technology was, even that recently? I was excited when I got a portable cassette player that ran on six bulky C batteries, had a “cassette” that turned it into an AM/FM radio, and was the size and weight of a book! In the seventies, there were no home computers of any variety, and no cell phones–we used a rotary phone with a cord that we had to sit next to for the duration of the call; a privileged few had princess phones in their rooms. Certainly there was no iPhone or iPad or iMac, and no internet; someone from today, transported back in time to that era, would feel he or she had entered the technological dark ages!

Yet today, the smartphone and the constant internet access it provides us is ubiquitous; the youngest of children grow up with it in their hands. One of the primary complaints of teachers these days, is, in fact, the challenge of keeping kids off their phones. And who can blame them–how often do YOU put down your phone?

If you think about it–my iPhone has pretty much become my almost everything. It is my typewriter, my bulletin board, my alarm clock, my camera, my bank, my mailbox, my tv, my movie theater, my radio, my photo album, my book, my calculator, my newspaper, my address book, my compass, my map, my store, and, yes, my actual money. We joke, in fact, of how our phone is glued to our hands. Sometimes I almost wish it were–it would certainly be easier, and I wouldn’t be constantly misplacing it!

The good–and bad–news is that the microchip technology for digital implants is already out there; some people are even experimentally using it. Granted, it’s not like having an iPhone under your skin–these are implants and magnets that can open a door, or pass along a business card with a tap of the hand. But the technology’s here. Another recent development is linking individual vein patterns to a person’s banking information for payment, designed by an engineering student in Sweden and already being used by 1600 active users near Lund University. Give it maybe not even ten years, and I can’t but imagine people will globally be paying by swiping their hand. And it amazes me to no end that I–as opposed to the Apostle John, or even the younger me–can already start to see how this will play out, can begin to observe the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Granted, each piece isn’t there yet, but I can see the outline.

Now, having super-practical surgically implanted technology on our persons, or linking your vein pattern to your banking info, or whatever else they’ll come up with, doesn’t sound inherently evil–it seems amazingly cool! Which is probably why it, too, in time, will become universal, much as our smart phones are now. The problem will arise when cash and other forms of non-digital payment go away, and transactions are exclusively electronic–when transactions are centrally standardized and controlled–AND opting in will somehow be associated with allegiance to the anti-Christ entity identified as the beast.

So, finally, what will that infamous “mark of the beast” actually be? Drumroll, please, and…we still don’t quite know. But we today can envision better than St. John or other first-century Christians a society in which none but those who possess it can buy or sell!

Dear Lord Jesus,

Help us cling to You in faith forever! Amen.

(For Further Study)

JESUS COMES!

“Then I saw the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together.

HE STILL CARES–HE STILL WARNS PEOPLE TO FEAR GOD!

And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”

THE DEMISE

Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.”

WHY WE CANNOT ACCEPT THE MARK

Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.”

OUR RESPONSE

This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.

SPECIAL BLESSING FOR THOSE WHO REMAIN FAITHFUL

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”” (Revelation‬ ‭14:1-2, 6-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

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Joel 2:25

Have locusts eaten your life? I’m not a farmer and I’ve never seen a locust myself, but these highly destructive grasshopper-like insects can supposedly level a field filled with crops to the ground in a matter of minutes, as the swarm passes by devouring everything in its sight. And while most of us will not have experienced a literal blight of locusts, there are some who can relate to the figurative desolation of a life foolishly wasted in rebellion to God.

“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.” (Joel‬ ‭2:25‬ ‭KJV‬‬)

It is God Himself who sends the locusts–did you catch that? This is not a random occurrence of nature; it is a plague God sends to cause His people to turn their hearts back toward Him! Because He loves them; because He cares that they are rebelling against Him–that they have been lured away by every conceivable foolishness and way contrary to Him–He sends something painful, something humiliating, something overwhelming, something degrading, something to cause us to see how much we need Him! God doesn’t just turn His back and go away; He doesn’t allow His people to stay lost–He disciplines us.

“You have forgotten the encouraging words that call you His children: ‘My child, don’t think the Lord’s discipline is worth nothing, and don’t stop trying when he corrects you. The Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as His child.’ So hold on through your sufferings, because they are like a father’s discipline. God is treating you as children. All children are disciplined by their fathers. If you are never disciplined (and every child must be disciplined), you are not true children. We have all had fathers here on earth who disciplined us, and we respected them. So it is even more important that we accept discipline from the Father of our spirits so we will have life. Our fathers on earth disciplined us for a short time in the way they thought was best. But God disciplines us to help us, so we can become holy as He is. We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way.” (Hebrews‬ ‭12:5-11‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

God’s discipline is never pleasant–it’s not meant to be. Otherwise, why would we ever change our ways? It would have no effect! He sends the locusts for a reason. But when discipline has served its intended purpose, it causes us to repent–to recognize we are wrong and God is right, and do a genuine correction in our life in our relationship with Him. That’s what repentance is–at its heart, it’s agreeing with God and lining ourselves up in an orderly fashion under His authority. King David described the attitude of someone who is right with God beautifully when he wrote, “LORD, my heart is not proud; I don’t look down on others. I don’t do great things, and I can’t do miracles. But I am calm and quiet, like a baby with its mother. I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.” (Psalms‬ ‭131:1-2‬ ‭NCV‬‬) After we have been effectively disciplined, “we have peace, because we start living the right way.”

So, have locusts consumed your life? Are you done rebelling? Is your way not working? Have you finally come to a point of recognizing God is right and His way best? Come back to Christ Jesus, the lover of our soul, and be right with Him and at peace!

Dear Lord God,

I’m sorry; You are right and I am wrong, and I’m coming back to You. Please fix my life and restore to me the years the locusts have eaten. Because of Your great mercy to me through Jesus I ask for this. Amen!

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Psalm 68:21

Who are the enemies of God? If you’re anything like me, you may not quite know who those nefarious individuals identified Scripturally as the enemies of God are–the ones whose destiny is eternal punishment–but you’re quite certain it’s not you, because, after all, you’ve accepted Christ. You go to church. You pray. You read the Bible. But…have you–really–accepted Jesus? And what does “accepting Him” (or alternately “being saved”) actually mean, Biblically?

“Surely God will crush the heads of His enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.” (Psalm‬ ‭68:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

The funny thing about us human beings is that we rarely think of ourselves as the wrongdoers–in fact, we almost never do. And that’s understandable. We try our best, so whether or not we give the other guy the benefit of the doubt, we almost certainly always do for ourselves. Yet where our relationship with God–our eternal destiny–is concerned, this isn’t enough; we need to be sure! We need to know we are among those who are saved, who really belong to Jesus–not just assume we are because we were once led in a prayer to “accept” Him.

So, let’s clear our mind of any preconceived notions of what “being saved” means, and instead, let’s look at what the Bible actually says it is.

First, we can see that today’s verse clearly identifies as unsaved--as the enemies of God–those who go on in their sins. It doesn’t say it’s the people who go on in really bad sins–just sins. So, I don’t have to be continuing an extramarital affair to be an enemy of God–I can be habitually disregarding the speed limit when I’m late. And any pattern of rebellion against God–any habitual sin–is continuing in sin.

John wrote the same thing to the New Testament church:

“But you know that He [Jesus] appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” (1 John‬ ‭3:5-9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

So, we see again that continuing in sin–not a one-off mess-up, but again, to borrow the words of Psalm 68:21, “those who go on in their sins”is identified as evidence of someone who is not born of God, who does not know Him.

Of course, all Scripture is God-breathed, but what about Jesus? What did He say?

“You will know these people by what they do. Grapes don’t come from thornbushes, and figs don’t come from thorny weeds. In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. In the same way, you will know these false prophets by what they do. Not all those who say ‘You are our Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what My Father in heaven wants. On the last day many people will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, we spoke for You, and through You we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ Then I will tell them clearly, ‘Get away from Me, you who do evil. I never knew you.’ Everyone who hears My words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. Everyone who hears My words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house, and it fell with a big crash.” (Matthew‬ ‭7:16-27‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

“The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what My Father in heaven wants.” This is not works-based salvation; it is not “I do good works in the hope of getting into heaven.” Rather, trusting God enough to do what He wants, to live our lives His way, is the evidence of genuine belief–of having really accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior!

You know, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.” (Matthew‬ ‭7:13-14‬ ‭NCV‬) I am afraid that there are far too many who feel secure based on a supposed one-time “decision for Christ” who continue in sin, and are therefore, in fact, still very much on the wide road that leads away from Christ to their ultimate destruction.

Believing Jesus was a historical figure isn’t saving faith. Even thinking He really might have been the Son of God who paid for our sins is questionable if we don’t believe enough for our lives to be changed. The letter of James tells us, “You believe there is one God. Good! But the demons believe that, too, and they tremble with fear. You foolish person! Must you be shown that faith that does nothing is worth nothing?” (James‬ ‭2:19-20‬ ‭NCV‬‬) Believing Jesus is the Son of God who paid for our sins, and then trusting Him enough to actually deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him–and say no to ourselves and the sin we so desperately want to justify regardless of cost–that is evidence of salvation at work in us through Christ!

So, who are the enemies of God, and who are those who are being saved? How can I know which I am? Kay Arthur of Precept Upon Precept Ministries says those who persevere to the end are the saved. The Apostle John wrote, “This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God [who has the kind of belief that responds to Christ] so you will know you have eternal life.” (1 John‬ ‭5:11-13‬ ‭NCV‬‬) Jesus Himself said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Do you have Jesus? Do you know the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent? Do you refuse to go on in sin? Will you persevere to the end? These are the questions we should examine ourselves with to see if we are really in the faith!

Dear Lord Jesus,

Help me not go on in any sin! Amen.

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2 Timothy 2:19

Do you belong to Christ? Are you really His? I ask this not to frighten you or cause you to doubt your salvation–because Jesus will certainly never lose any of His own–but to urge you to honestly “examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine…” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬), as God Himself urges us to do in His Word.

“But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.'” (2 Timothy‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Heaven seems free these days. For generations now we have had preachers literally begging people on the street corners and in the pulpits to “accept Jesus,” yet our world seems to be becoming more secular, and the distinctions between churched and unchurched lesser–to the degree that in many cases those who claim Christian beliefs poll indistinguishably from those who do not. What is the problem? Why is it that claimed faith in Christ seems to have too little bearing on their everyday life for so many people?

I believe part of the reason is because–in our desire to evangelize and bring into the Kingdom as many as possible–we have emphasized certain doctrinal truths while neglecting others. We have, for example, lauded wonderful verses such as “…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts‬ ‭16:31‬ ‭NIV‬‬), and “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans‬ ‭10:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬), while perhaps failing to explain that the Greek word translated into the English word “believe” implies such a belief as generates genuinely changed behavior. We have, on the other hand, skimmed over less comfortable passages, such as Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, which equate belief with obedience, and unbelief with disobedience.

So does this mean we earn our way into God’s good graces, and ultimately into heaven? No, of course not; salvation is through Jesus Christ’s finished work of salvation on the cross. And it does involve our believing in Him, but the belief God requires of us is of a far deeper and more genuine caliber than most of us imagine.

It is the kind of belief that Jesus Himself referred to when He said, “…Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. 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 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.” (Matthew‬ ‭16:24-27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

These are very uncomfortable words, because if most of us are honest, we must admit that we have become very comfortable with our lives here, and would be hard pressed if we had to genuinely forfeit them–or even any little bit of our comfort or pleasure within them–for Christ. Yet, this is the faith those in nations hostile to the gospel of Christ know, because for them, gaining Christ frequently does involve losing all.

And yet, Jesus gives us multiple opportunities to confess Him or deny Him in our daily lives–opportunities that might cost us if we are bold, if we confess Him openly. Maybe we won’t be stoned or have our property taken away or be imprisoned, but there might be social or professional repercussions. Yet even this is too much for many of us–there are times we aren’t willing to sacrifice even this little for the One we claim to have given up all to follow–for the One who gave up all to gain salvation for us.

All of this should cause us to remember Jesus’ words: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke‬ ‭9:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

We are indistinguishable statistically from the unchurched all too frequently because we fail to correctly understand the path of following Christ as one of self-denial rather than self-indulgence, as one that does lead to glory, but through the doorway of Calvary first.“…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.” (John‬ ‭12:24-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

God gives no suggestions; He gives truth. It is our non-optional game-plan–the only game-plan–for obtaining eternal life. True faith sacrifices all for Christ.

This, in fact, is our biggest mistake: not recognizing that gaining Christ and being found in Him will cost us. Jesus’ parables are full of this truth–He repeated it multiple times in multiple ways. No, we do not earn it–Jesus earned our salvation for us. But it will cost us–why else would He have counseled us to consider how much we will have to sacrifice to follow Him?

“If anyone comes to Me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—or even life—more than Me, he cannot be My follower. Whoever is not willing to carry his cross and follow Me cannot be my follower. If you want to build a tower, you first sit down and decide how much it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don’t, you might lay the foundation, but you would not be able to finish. Then all who would see it would make fun of you, saying, ‘This person began to build but was not able to finish.’ If a king is going to fight another king, first he will sit down and plan. He will decide if he and his ten thousand soldiers can defeat the other king who has twenty thousand soldiers. If he can’t, then while the other king is still far away, he will send some people to speak to him and ask for peace. In the same way, you must give up everything you have to be My follower.” (Luke‬ ‭14:26-33‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

The Old Testament prophets understood this–they were rejected and persecuted. The early Christians understood this–they were lit up as human torches and saw their children killed off in front of them. Christians in other countries understand this–conversion for them typically means loosing family and friends, and even their life. But do we? I suspect once we do, we will no longer be indistinguishable from those who do not know Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus,

Help me be worthy of You! Amen.

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