“God is good…God’s got this…Don’t worry; God is in control…God will take care of you.” You’ve probably heard these catchy phrases of assurance a thousand times. You’ve probably even heard them enough that the incredible messages they contain seem a bit mundane. Sad.
The fact is, God is all of these things and much, much more. He’s certainly good, He’s forever in control, and He absolutely wants to lead you directly to His very best provisions in your life. God loves all of us in a way that we can’t even begin to comprehend. And, God loves us regardless of our weaknesses and lack of obedience. His love is secure and supreme. We can ask for nothing more. But, how does the truth of God’s love, and His plans for us, relate to these commonly used phrases of assurance in our life when our circumstances bring us to a place of desperate and definitive need of assurance?
You know, there are simply times in our life when we live in direct disobedience to God’s commands. We all know it’s the truth. In the context of our relationship with God, one of the most destructive aspects of our nature is our ability to simply “walk away” from God’s will, at any time, and pursue our own greedy, self-serving interests. It’s much easier to do than I care to admit, but Adam and Eve lowered the bar for human behavior a few years back, and it’s been a momentous struggle ever since.
I think of Adam’s regret as he walked out of the Garden of Eden, knowing he would never again return to this place of perfection and face-to-face personal fellowship with the Lord. He had pitifully failed to follow God’s commands. As he left, he had to be replaying in his mind the things that led up to this disastrous series of events…events that had radical consequences, and consequences that, still today, define mankind’s flawed relationship with Almighty God. He had failed to follow God’s explicit commands, he had failed to lead his wife, and he now realized that, through his profound and intentional disobedience, he would be forced into a life filled with sinful imperfection and toil.
Now, let me take you into a pitifully fictional narrative, but a narrative with some relevance. Indulge me for a moment…
Let’s imagine that “Joe Christian” is standing just outside the entrance of the Garden. Joe sees the dejected faces of Adam and Eve as they walk out. They’re upset, ashamed, and guilty of purposeful disobedience to God. But Joe, being the wonderfully encouraging Christian man that he is, stops them to bring a little pleasantry into their walk of shame out of the Garden of Eden. Joe grabs their hands, smiles at them, and with excitement in his voice, he says, “Don’t worry about this guys! God’s got this! He’s good, and He’s doing this for a reason! God’s ways are higher than our ways! We don’t know why God allowed this, but just have faith! It’s all gonna be alright!” Adam would probably smile at Joe and nod his head in shameful agreement…and then continue his dejected walk into a land of thorns and hardened soil.
Isn’t this what we do when others are struggling? We tell them, “It’s going to be O.K., because God is good!” We try to pump them up with assurances of God’s love and His promises, but is there ever even one question of whether their (or our) obedience to God may be relevant, in even the smallest way, to the current set of God-allowed circumstances?
Here’s a hard fact, one that is not so easy to swallow, for the Christian who is attempting to bring “assuring pleasantry” into the life of the hurting by habitually repeating catchphrases about God’s love. The hard truth is this: Adam wasn’t ejected from the Garden of Eden so that God could bring him into something better. On this side of Heaven, the Garden of Eden was the pinnacle. God threw him out…along with his wife! They were never to return again. Adam was permanently ejected from this place of perfection because Adam was disobedient to God’s explicit commands. Adam’s life wasn’t going to improve…it began to degenerate from the moment of disobedience, and our lives are harder today based on the foundation of sin that Adam willingly allowed. So what am I saying? I’m saying that disobedience has radical, life-altering consequences…consequences that don’t always line up with our assuring phrases.
The assurances of God’s provision in our life should always be vetted against our behavior. God does have tremendous plans for us; this is true! These plans are greater than we could ever comprehend. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11…“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We should look at that verse in the light of those to whom the promise was made (the children of Israel), and how they were behaving (poorly). To really understand God’s love for them, you must understand that the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is made to a group who was behaving miserably toward God…just like we often do. Yet, in His incredible love, God still had great plans for their welfare and future. However, God’s great love for them did not quicken the delivery of His blessings…their behavior delayed the delivery.
God never responds slowly in blessing us because He is busy or inattentive. He’s never taken off guard when we behave as if His commands are negotiable based on our whims and circumstances. I am quite convinced that God responds to us with blessings in direct correlation to our obedience to His commands.
There’s a story in God’s Word, told in 1 Samuel, about the disobedience to an explicit command of a sovereign God. I won’t retell the story here, but you can find it in 1 Samuel, chapter 15. There’s a verse within this passage that says…
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”– 1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)
Our obedience is important to God. Disobedience is a manifestation of our sin nature striving to lead us in a direction of independence from God. Disobedience is an act of rebellion; it is sin, it is a form of idolatry, and it disrespects the commands of Scripture. We may try to cover up our disobedient nature with acts of goodness, more church attendance, greater sacrifice, etc…, and we may often try to find some false and assuring security in bathing the consequences of our disobedience in “feel good” phrases of God’s love. But know this; there are consequences for disobedience to God, and there are even greater consequences to continued disobedience. God loves us unconditionally; consequently, He’s not going to open the floodgates of blessing into the lives of those who are purposefully, and continually, living in disobedience to His commands.
There has to be a moment of clarity for us when we realize that God loves us enough to pursue us through discipline. He loves us enough to withhold His best during the times when we have placed our best on a pedestal of worship in our life. In our disobedience, we are literally running away from God (leaving the garden), and believing Satan’s lie that there exists greener pastures other than those found within God’s will. And, in this disobedience, God is not leading, and we are certainly not headed into something better. Here, in our disobedience, the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.
God’s intention for us is to obey Him! He’s a loving God who understands our sinfully defiant nature. Christ, as well, understood this as He died on the cross to pay the cost for sin’s detrimental impact on our eternity. But, what about today? What about Monday at 6:00 PM, or next month…What are we to do with our disobedient nature right now in the real world?
Here are some thoughts on obedience taken directly out of Scripture. If you’re seeking assurances, you can find them here…although, be warned, they are not always pleasant for the disobedient.
Our obedience to God is a reflection of our love for Him…
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
– John 14:15 ESV
Our obedience to God brings the assurance of blessings…
“But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”
– Luke 11:28 ESV
Obedience to God was never promised to be easy…
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
– Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
God, through Scripture, defines what our obedience should look like, and it is Scripture that will reveal our disobedience…
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
– Hebrews 4:12 ESV
Our “sacrifices, acts of service, and rehearsed religion” do not necessarily translate into obedience in the eyes of God…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
Being disobedient brings bad assurances…
“Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.”
– Deuteronomy 8:20 NIV
“Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.”
– Daniel 9:11 NASB
Being obedient brings good assurances…
“By loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
– Deuteronomy 30:20 NASB
Let’s be clear, God can destroy nations. He has in the past. When a nation fails to obey the commands of God, they can expect assurances from God…assurances of bad things. Just like nations, we can’t seriously claim the blessed assurances of God when we are living a life of deliberate and sinful disobedience to God’s commands. When we are obedient, we can expect God to bless us in the ways of His choosing. He knows what we want, but He also knows what we need. Expect the blessings of God to be in accordance with His perfect will and not our imperfect desires.
Here are the facts…
We should step back and take an honest assessment of our own personal walk with our Lord. Regardless of our sincerity, we are always going to struggle with a sinfully defiant nature, and we will always have times of disobedience. When we are disobedient to God, we must endure the redirecting discipline, brought about by God’s love for us, and repent of our independent nature. When we’re disobedient, we should expect discipline, and we should not be angered or frustrated when it arrives.
Our circumstances are not always caused by our disobedience to God. Sometimes God does, in fact, allow us to undergo trial and persecution. Let’s be sure to not allow these times of testing by God to catalyze disobedience in our life and further complicate our situation. In the middle of a storm that is not the result of disobedience to God, remain obedient!
God loves us! He is good! He has great plans for our today, our tomorrow, and our future! Understanding these truths should compel us to become increasingly more obedient to God daily. But, understanding the depth of God’s great love for us, we must also understand the loving relevance of His disciplining of our disobedient nature. When we behave poorly, and find ourselves in circumstances that are less than desirable, let’s be sure to do more than claim catchy phrases about God’s love…Let’s examine the reasons why we find ourselves in these circumstances.
In my own life, more often than not, I find that I’m in a particularly bad circumstance because I led myself there. I placed my obedience to God on the back burner, and I rallied my life around my own will. I defied God’s plan, and I’m reaping the gifts of defiance. God loves me, and He will deliver me when I’ve endured enough discipline to refresh my mind of His commands.
I thank God that He loves me enough to disciple me through discipline. I thank God that my bad behavior is already forgiven. But, we should all remind ourselves that high degrees of Christian assurance are simply not compatible with low levels of obedience.
In the Defense of Your King
I love the game of chess. The challenge of this great game engages my mind in ways that very few games do. Chess is a game of constant calculation, not just for the sake of offensive victory, but for defense as well. Certainly, every single move is made to advance your offensive position, but, for the studied player, every move must also be evaluated from the condition of your defensive situation as well. If you lose sight of the protection of the king, you’ll quickly lose the battle. Poorly monitored defenses will break down, and you’ll be forced to sacrifice valuable chess pieces unnecessarily in the fight to regain a defensive foothold. Often, by that point, the game is already lost, and you’re simply in a state of retreat.
Throughout history, real kings have always arrived to battle surrounded by a multitude of well-trained and well-equipped soldiers that aid in the assurance of their personal protection. Their status as the sovereign of their land, by definition, dictates that they be protected at all costs, lest their kingdom fall. Any conquering army would place the protection of their own king well above the conquest of the enemies stronghold. It is important for them to protect and preserve the sovereign ruler for which they fight. They carry his standard, they live under the rule of his flag, and he is their identity. If they lose their king in the process of winning the battle, they have ultimately won nothing; they have lost everything.
Christ is our King. He is our Sovereign. He is our identity. He is our past, our present, and our future. It is for His sake that we live, and it is for Him that we are engaged in spiritual warfare. But does Jesus Christ need our protection?
Many people would laugh that question as off as being ludicrous. They would say that “surely, God, or Christ, doesn’t need the protection of man in any way!” They might, with ease, dismiss this notion that Jesus needs our protection, but they would be mistaken.
What I’m about to write hurts my heart, but it needs to be said. As disciples of Christ, we don’t always protect our King. I’m a great enough sinner to fully know and understand just how often I’ve personally thrown Jesus “under the bus” in my own life. In my 43 years on this earth, and my 27 years as a Christian, I have, at times, willingly and purposefully participated in the character assassination of others via gossip. Catalyzed by anger, frustration, and consuming pride, I have spoken of others with harsh criticism, often regarding issues that were far beyond my grasp of knowledge, and I have rendered these arrogant critiques as if I had the sole authority to do so. I have treated others poorly, and I’ve been unrepentantly prideful. I have hated. I have lusted, and I have lied. I’ve done many bad things throughout the course of my life. You see, I’m a sinner…a great big sinner.
If I’m anything, then I would have to say that I am a weak, pitiful, and sinful man who is prone to behave in a manner that is contrary to the instructions that God has left for me in Scripture…behavior that doesn’t reflect my knowledge of Christ’s tremendous sacrifice for me. I would say that I am possibly the worst example of Christlikeness imaginable, and I would caution you to always be better than me…for, in my life, I have done a miserable job of protecting my King, Jesus Christ.
Although I am absolutely everything mentioned previously, in a marvelous and merciful turn of events, I am also redeemed by the blood of an innocent Savior who found worth in me despite my glaring weaknesses. Jesus made a choice, after seeing the extent of my sin, to willingly drape Himself about a rugged cross and allow mankind to nail Him there on my behalf. He suffered the cost of my sin in a manner that is far beyond comprehension, while this cost, this punishment, was mine, and mine alone, to pay. And, even still, given my knowledge of His selfless sacrifice on my behalf, I frequently manage to live my life in a fashion that doesn’t protect my King.
Jesus Christ is my King, and He doesn’t need my physical protection; He can defend Himself. The protection that Christ needs from me is rooted in my words, thoughts, and actions as a manifestation and reflection of His power and Lordship within me. As His child, I am His. On this earth, I am His ambassador. Scripture confirms this…
“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.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV)
This verse makes me cringe a little when I think of how my life, a life that should be a reflection of grace and mercy, is often a reflection of something much different…much uglier. Too often, my life is a reflection of myself, because, too often, I purposefully make myself lord. I know better, but I do it anyway. Frankly, I’m sure that we all make this mistake; however, we can’t allow the shared commonality of this trespass to diminish our recognition of the destructive nature of it’s practice in our life.
If we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, then we are His representatives to others on this earth. We should speak for Him, and as Him, to a world lost in sin. We should carefully mind all aspects of our behavior, as it should be a reflection of the One we serve. Our words and deeds leave a mark on the life of others, and, to them, these words and deeds are often the sole point of impression about the worth of Christ, our Lord. We should keep our minds pure from things that insight a degradation of our witness, and we should guard our heart…
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” – Proverbs 4:23-27 (ESV)
When I act and speak, every word and action should be evaluated for the sole purpose of being Christ to my world…as if “God were making His appeal through me” (2 Corinthians 5:20). I should calculate my every word and action based upon the defense of my personal witness, which is the Lordship of Christ in me, and the defense of my King. Doing anything less is a display of arrogant and ignorant mismanagement, and reckless stewardship of the grace that has been so lovely bestowed upon the very much undeserving nature of my life. I should be the reflection of Jesus. Often, I’m just a reflection of “Keith.” When I’m reflecting “Keith,” I stumble, and in that process, I will most certainly cause others to stumble…breaking my witness in the process, damaging hearts, and inflicting great injury to the “building-up” of the kingdom of God on this earth.
If we are, as Scripture states, the ambassadors of our Savior, then the question should be posed: “How are we doing with that?” Is the life we lead, and the words that we speak, indicative of a people who have genuinely made Jesus Christ Lord? To the misfortune of many without the Lordship of Christ in their life, the answer to that question is probably “no.” It is perfectly fair and reasonable for others to make a determination about the relevance of God in their own life based on the words and actions of those who profess to love Him. Is it not?
If we are hateful, arrogant, judgmental, reactionary ambassadors of Christ, then it should not shock us that the world shows little compulsion to follow Jesus. If we participate in activity that is immoral and openly sinful, then others see the “diminished relevance of Jesus in us,” and they are left unchallenged by the legacy of our alleged “walk with Christ.” If we are unrepentant, greedy, selfish, not quick to forgive…all of these things degrade our witness, give others a skewed impression of Jesus, and they leave our King exposed and undefended.
The world does not look upon the academic theology of the individual Christian life in assessing the worthiness of Christ; instead, the world looks upon the practical implementation of how that theology is lived out by the professing Christian. It is not “what we know that is important,” but “what we say and do” that leaves a relevant mark. We can be experts in the knowledge of knowing what to do; consequently, doing it, and living it out, is another story completely.
The influence of character, trustworthiness, faithfulness, compassion, and love of our Lord is taught to others by the words and actions of our life. These words and actions should tell the great story of Jesus. Too often, they might only tell the sad and pitiful story of the arrogant, prideful, and self-serving nature of sinful man.
What story is your life telling, and how is that story told in the defense of your King?
The Jesus that the world sees manifested in you might be the only Jesus they ever see. The Jesus they see in church, and the Jesus they see beyond the walls of the church, should be the same Christ. We can’t teach and preach a Gospel message that is contrary to the reflection it manifests in our own life…lest we fall into the category of religious hypocrites who only tear down the kingdom of God and leave their King defenseless.
Christ defended my eternity as nails were hammered into His innocent and precious body. He was powerful enough to defeat the whole of Satan’s plans by submitting to the will of His Father. It could be accomplished no other way. That act of submission to the divine will of God led to a victory that will be felt for all eternity in the lives of those who have made Him King. And, if He is our King, we should be submissive to His will, and we should live our lives in a manner that brings defense to our claimed identity as “children of the King.” If the manner of our life doesn’t reflect Jesus, we are possibly only playing offense, seeking to advance our own game, while leaving our King undefended.
We defend our King with our life, just as He defended us with His. Are we defending Him, or leaving Him exposed, because we are really on caught up with defending ourselves?
Today, defend Jesus in your life with your thoughts, your words and your actions. There’s much more at stake than we can even imagine…living our life for the defense of our King.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve had five very distinct opportunities to really sit down and share my faith with someone else. It’s an awesome thing to take these opportunities to engage others with the message of Christ. Christ provides them, and we should take them. It’s a tremendous responsibility, a spiritual mandate, and a humbling privilege.
Last night, I had the opportunity to speak to our students at RFBC. One of our young men shared a recent experience where he was challenged to defend his faith to another. I’m not sure that the confrontation was a complete success, but I am sure that he defended his faith with a passionate heart for Jesus. As His walk with Christ deepens, he will be able to more effectively answer Peters call to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15 NIV). I’m proud of this young man for sharing his experience, and I’m proud that he is growing in the grace of God.
Whenever you engage others with the Gospel of Christ, specifically outside of a church setting, you should be prepared for anything. Responses vary. Most people are friendly, and some, well…some are not. It is what it is, and their differing responses should not deter us from pursing the call of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) in our life. As disciples of Christ, we are held personally responsible for our stewardship of the call that God has placed on our life. We can’t determine the outcome of these witnessing encounters, but we do control our personal response to the call of God. Because of this, I want to briefly discuss a topic today that is close to my heart…sharing our faith unfiltered in a world determined to reject it.
Life itself is a great big filter. We all have hopes, dreams, expectations, and preferential destinations. We chart the course to these goals from an early age. We meticulously plan for their birth into the reality of our life, but then…the reality of real life and unexpected circumstances erupt. Like a bomb exploding, our plans are unexpectedly destroyed, or at the very least, they are diverted, and out of the necessity brought about by the new situation, our hopeful dreams and grand expectations are filtered out of the overall equation of our life. As our course changes, we must adapt to a newly imposed normal.
Life has a way of filtering out our desired best. With profound efficiency, it snatches our dreams from the equation, and we’re left living a “filtered-out version” of the desired goal. Does this sound familiar? But, what about our faith? Does faith have a filter?
First, what does unfiltered faith look like?
I would imagine unfiltered faith looks a lot like Joseph in an Egyptian prison trusting his future to Almighty God, or maybe it looks a lot like the reluctant and pursued leader, Moses, standing between the encroaching armies of Pharaoh and the yet to be parted waters of the Red Sea? Possibly, unfiltered faith would take on the appearance of the prisoners, Paul and Silas, praying and singing hymns while bound in chains…uncertain of man’s plans for them, but absolutely certain of God’s faithfulness.
Unfiltered faith looks a whole lot like unreserved, undiminished, and unrelenting trust in the plans and purposes of Almighty God. It takes on the appearance of passion for the things of God in spite of the circumstances involved in our current situation. And, unfiltered faith is the spiritual catalyst for physical action. Just as life has a way of filtering out our hopes and dreams, our faith is also filtered in this world. Sadly, a large portion of our faith is filtered by “religion” itself.
Have you ever heard someone say that they don’t feel “called” to share their faith? Or maybe they say something like this…”I love God, and I’ll serve in other aspects of ministry, but I’m just not comfortable sharing the Gospel with others.” Comments like this are indicative of a faltering faith, possibly a faith "filtered out" by the tenuous relationship between God and this sinful, faith-rejecting world.
"Religion" dictates to us that attending church functions is enough, specifically if you throw a little money toward the cause. Your attendance is really all that is required, because if you challenge people with the real message of the Gospel, they may leave your church. "Religion" is rallying around the worship or the pastor's message, telling them how awesome they are, and then leaving the church for lunch while remaining totally unchanged. "Religion" is so often nominal, habitual, and rehearsed spirituality. It’s cold, calculating, and redundant in nature. "Religion" is, and always has been, the great killer of Jesus. "Religion" is dangerous. Avoid "religion". Seek relationship, instead.
Let’s take a look at an incredible passage of scripture that should help us define our faith and encourage and empower our pursuit of God’s call…
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)
If you’re a college football fan, and your team just won the big game, I guarantee you that you’re not ashamed to scream about their greatness to anyone who will listen. Even if they lost, you will still wear the t-shirts and hats that identify you as a “follower” of that team. (Go Dawgs!) But, what about your relationship with Jesus Christ and the call that He has placed on your life to witness the Gospel to those around you who are lost and dying in sin? Often, we don’t take that call very seriously. We say we do, but we really don’t. Eternal lives are in the balance. We can’t allow the compelling nature of the Gospel to be filtered out of our daily life. There must be evidence of Christ in us, in our actions, in our words, that define our passion for the "evidenced Gospel of Christ" that should be manifested in our lives.
Are we ashamed of the Gospel?
Really, that’s a serious question? Think about it…
The first chapter of Romans gives us information about the Gospel of Christ. It tells us that it is the power of God, and in it is contained the message of salvation for all men. It tells us that the Gospel reveals the righteous nature of God Himself, from faith and for faith. And then, there’s a challenge for us in our life…that the righteous, those who have made Christ Lord, and those who have been clothed in the righteousness only provided by Christ, will “live by faith.”
Here’s a very pertinent question: Do we live by faith or by circumstance?
Those who are deeply rooted in Christ should live by faith. Circumstances change, but Christ remains the same (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, the source of our faith never changes. Our response to Christ changes, but in Him, our faith is always on firm footing. We are always the variable. Consequently, many times our faith is dictated by the circumstances around us. In essence, it’s filtered out and diminished by life. When things are good, then our faith is strong. If we’re in church, surrounded by other Christians, then it’s easy to bear witness to the greatness of God. But what about the times when life is hard and there’s a little struggle taking place? Our faith doesn't like pressure. Pressure reveals the spiritual weaknesses associated with our humanity. How easy is it to share our faith in the pressured environment of the workplace? How confident is our faith when someone looks at us and tells us that they don’t want to hear about “our God,” and to “keep our religion to ourselves?”
In our nation today, and under the shadow of modern day religion, sharing our faith is politically and spiritually incorrect. Many believe that our faith is something that should be kept to ourselves, it is personal between us and God, and it should be kept private. Sadly, that belief is held, and meticulously practiced, by many Christians, and it is a belief that holds no Scriptural validity. The effects of this can be clearly seen in the apostasy of the church in America and in the condition of our nation and our world as a whole. And, it seems to only be getting worse with each passing year. True, passionate, life-transforming faith is often marginalized or considered extremist. With the weight of faith’s rejection by the world weighing on their mentality, Christians may simply remain silent. They may alter their response to the majesty of Almighty God, bowing instead to the pressures applied by the opinions of sinful man. The danger here is the fact that silent, restrained, and unpracticed faith is a faith that is dying...or possibly, a faith that is already dead.
Scripture is clear on the fact that we are called to share our faith…
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…”
–2 Timothy 1:8 (ESV)
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” –1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)
“And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” –Luke 24:47 (ESV)
“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” –Mark 16:15 (ESV)
Our faith in Almighty God is designed to be shared. Moreover, it is commanded of us to share it. We were created to share it, and we should share it unfiltered. The Gospel of Christ itself cannot be diminished, but the power we allow it to possess in our individual lives can be. It is very easy for us to run and hide our faith behind the weight of burdens, trials, and angry looks from a self-absorbed world that seems to revel in Godlessness. But, our call is to engage that world with the truth of Scripture and to reveal to them the righteousness of God and the offer of redemption through salvation.
Standing in the face of our witness, there will always be passion-draining points of political correctness, established by a secularist society of people, who prefer to live a life without Lordship, accountability and morals. However, standing behind our witness is the power of Almighty God, displayed through the actions of Christ and the commands of Scripture, compelling us to share and live our faith in an “out loud” confidence. Again, we are designed for this! Moreover, the world desperately needs the message! The Christian life and witness is not one of escapism, but, instead, it is one of conquest. We’re not called to hide; we’re called to “go” and share.
Let me encourage you to stand up in the face of societies definitions of political or spiritual correctness, and be Jesus to your world. Doing so will undoubtedly cause a stir, and you will most certainly suffer a little. You may lose some friends, you’ll be talked about behind your back, and some people will make fun of you to your face…but the message of the Gospel in you cannot and should not be hindered. It should arise from deep inside of your growing passion for Christ and render itself to the world unafraid, unashamed, and unfiltered. The cross of Christ demands no less.
A closing thought...if there is really a life-transforming Lordship of Christ in your life, then the Gospel message inside of you cannot be quenched or contained. Do you feel the empowerment of God compelling you to share and live out your faith? Or, has the world filtered your faith down to simple church attendance? Is your personal walk with Christ growing daily based on your own study of Scripture and communication with God, or are you content in having it spoon fed to you by your pastor. I would be fairly certain that your pastor is teaching you the right things, but ultimately, a relationship with God that is only fed by the teachings of another man (a sinful, fallible one at that), and not through your own personal pursuit of Christ, is, at best, a second hand and marginalized relationship with God. Deepen your own relationship with Jesus Christ. The world has enough people who identify themselves as “Christians.” There’s plenty of those. We have enough "disciples of preachers" and "fans of churches" to last us through the rest of eternity. What we need are more “disciples of Christ”…passionate, fearless, and faithful. Is that you?
Our nation is currently undergoing a very peculiar transformation. More so than in any other time in our history, we are now seeing the emergence of a desire in many Americans to become radically dependent on government. In a country that is already divided, strangled with monumental debt, and over-regulated, we now hear candidates running for the top executive position in the land freely using the term “socialism” as a serious policy platform in their stump speeches…as if a socialistic ideology is a positive for our nation? It’s an ideology that we have fought in the past, and it's one we are now trying to embrace.
Where did the America go that was so optimistically bequeathed to us by the “greatest generation?” Maybe a better question is this…”where are the real thinkers and the genuine students of legitimate history?” Even a superficial examination of real history will reveal the ugly truth behind socialism…over-regulation, rationing, and starvation. What we’re seeing now in America is a carelessness with the stewardship of common sense brought about by an out of control greed, self-serving attitudes, and entitlement mentality. Historically speaking, socialism has been a profound failure by any measure. Yet, it appears that many think socialism and its track record of historic failure, and its total lack of virtue, would be a great thing for the United States…in itself, a country of diminishing virtue.
As I watch all of this unfold, I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture found in Revelation…a warning given to the church in Ephesus:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” – Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV)
Established by Paul on his third missionary journey, the church at Ephesus was successful in many different areas. They had some tremendous men of God fill their pulpit through the years, men like Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John. I won’t go into their history here, but let’s just say that they had above average ministries, they helped people, they were resilient and showed great discernment and patient endurance. However, they were based in a city of some wealth, a city of abundant commerce, and a city rife with sin. The city of Ephesus proudly boasted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Diana. This was a monument to satanic idolatry, sexual perversion, and cultic mysticism the likes of which had few rivals.
Christ’s charge against the church at Ephesus is voiced in Revelation 2:4, which states: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned that love you had at first.” The word “abandoned” here is the Greek word “afihmi” which means “to leave, forsake, or depart.” Many incorrectly describe this church as having “lost” their first love. Consequently, the Greek here is indicative of a church that had not “lost their first love,” but instead, a church that had, in fact, “left their first love.” There’s a profound difference.
In the middle of their good works and prosperity, they began to compromise their love for God and replace it with a love for selfish desires. In an odd contrast, they also had great discernment concerning false teachers, no tolerance for wicked people, and they endured persecution for simply being a church. You wouldn’t think that these two ideologies would mix, but apparently, they combine together with such an ease that it diminished their attentive focus on both. Again, in the middle of doing things that Christ approved of, they still managed to leave their love of Him. Possibly, they loved the ministries more than God. Maybe they loved their knowledge of God’s will more the practical application of it in their own life. Consequently, it appears from Scripture that they were adept at discerning when God’s will wasn’t being played out in the life of others, and they were intolerant of it…judgmental of others, but not of themselves.
America is a lot like the church at Ephesus. We love to call ourselves a Christian nation, and at one time, we were. We pride ourselves in great humanitarian undertakings across the globe. We give more money, material, and manpower to feeding the poor and helping the needy than any other country on the globe, and we revel in proclaiming that to the nations. We police injustice throughout the world, and to some degree, try to impose democracy in place of tyranny. However, today we find ourselves far removed from a country that honors God. We are no longer a Christian nation. We have left our first love, and we have replaced that love (of God) with good works and humanitarianism. And, our “first love” is also being displaced with secularism.
The virtues of our country were established many years ago by a generation of men and women who undoubtedly possessed a much greater character than we as a nation have seen displayed in more recent decades. These men would certainly include the founding fathers of our nation who, by sheer will and determination, broke ties with their homeland, and a power-hungry monarch, to establish a new nation…not a small endeavor by any measure. The resilience and ingenuity of early Americans brought about quick growth, tremendous wealth, and positive change in our developing nation. From the Industrial Revolution to the men and women who successfully defended our freedoms through two world wars, the current American populous is distinctively different from those who preceded us in history. It’s as if we’ve lost our mind.
And so, the United States of America was built on the backs of men and women who were achievers, and men and women who were willing to work hard to build and grow. It was defended by men and women who were willing to sacrifice, even their lives, on the altar of freedom…not just for the day, but for the future…not just for their families, but for the families of others. America, as a nation, was won through diligence, perseverance, and character. It was a nation established by men who feared God and sought freedom and independence from the tyrannies so often associated with the ‘ruling class’ of those who govern. Yet, today, we see a giant step backwards.
Today, we see a culture of materialism and greed fed by an entitlement mentality that is too big to comprehend. The call of America is no longer Kennedy’s “what can you do for you country,” but instead, it is “this is what my country better do for me.” It’s a sad time for the American patriot, because patriotism is on the decline. It’s also a sad time for the American Christian, because the impact and relevance of the truth of Scripture is being diluted in our nation every day. The love of God and country has been diminished down to a socialistic entitlement, love of self and self-indulgence, and a devotion to secularism that leads the charge.
Let’s define the word secularist. I would define it this way…”a person who strongly advocates for the separation of church and religious institutions from the operations and decisions of the state.” It would be profoundly safe to assume that secularists believe that they hold the correct view of where America should be headed as a nation. But then, don’t we all feel like we know the right course? Those with a secularist ideology would advocate that our nation should become a “secular state.” Although the terminology of “secular state” may not sound that bad, we must define it for what it is…secularism is a “God-less state.” Consequently, it’s not completely godless, because the true god of secularism is man, himself, and the true god of a secular state is the government. If the government will promise to feed the entitlement mentality of the followers of socialism, then the god of secularism really becomes self-absorbed entitlement and unaccountable consumption…the battle cry of the socialist.
Secularism and the Framers of Our Constitution
Secular ideology (Secularism) dictates to its followers that religion, or God, was not a decisive factor in the formation of the United States. They espouse the belief that our Constitution was written in such a way as to prohibit the influence of religion, or God, from having any effect on the operations and functions of governance in our land. They believe that religion, or God, should be kept as far away from government as possible…with the rather bold exception that government should be able to influence religion at the sole discretion of the ruling class; however, religion, or God, should never be allowed to influence government at all. It’s certainly an indirectly proportional relationship between God and government…or so thinks the secularist.
Among their rationale, secularists tightly grasp onto several historical “facts” that they feel give foundation and credence to their viewpoint of an intentional God-less and secularized government. One of these facts is the absence of the word “God” from the text of the Constitution. Secularists find this extraordinarily significant, and they relish the chance to point out the existence of a “Godless Constitution” that they feel should lead to a nation managed without the oversight of Biblical truth. They view this as proof that the framers of our founding document had very little interest in God or religion having a part in the governance of our country, and so the separation of church and state was their original intent. However, there’s always more than one side to every story, and I feel that another side should be discussed here.
I would argue that the conclusions reached by secularists today go far beyond what the historical evidence will legitimately allow. What was the framers original and hearfelt intent concerning secularism, God and governance? Let’s start with Charles Darwin. Yeah, you didn’t see that coming, did you?
The U.S. Constitution, the Framers and Charles Darwin
The vast majority of Americans would not consider Charles Darwin to be someone of significance in the quest to understand issues regarding our Constitution. I would disagree. He’s as important as any public figure in his day…possibly the most important where this is concerned. If we consider the writings of great patriots like James Madison and John Locke, then we might want to take a moment and consider the eloquent and influential writings of Charles Darwin and the effect that his writings have on our Constitution today.
In 1859, Darwin authored a compelling book entitled “The Origin of Species.” This book had an impact on many, and it certainly had an impact on the current view of the U.S. Constitution. I would call Darwin the “father of secularism” simply because it is his writings that give birth to the mindset of secular government itself. Secularists believe that only scientific evolution is valid. If it can’t be measured or quantified, then it doesn’t exist. It is a philosophy based on the hope of alternative explanations for the existence of mankind and the universe, not as an intelligent and purposed design, but as something else entirely…anything else.
It is Darwin who changed the way that many see the Constitution today. In 2016, our most important founding document is viewed as a “secular document” by many Americans. However, let’s be clear and understand that secularists today are not necessarily atheists. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, but rather, their belief is grounded in the mentality that where issues of government are concerned, it matters not whether God does or does not exist. God is to have no part in governance.
The impact of secularism on the Constitution is revolutionary. Secularists read the Constitution in a way that would be totally foreign to its framers. Again, because of the lack of the word “God” in the document, secularists think that religion was not important to the framers, and they could not be more incorrect.
The U.S. Constitution Pre-Darwin
To the framers of the Constitution, the idea of having a government not based on God would have been ludicrous. Let’s understand the period in which the Constitution was written. At that time, the only possible explanation for the existence of anything, specifically the universe and man, was Almighty God. Therefore, every one of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention were “creationists.” Although there were atheists among the delegation, at that time, most of these men practiced Deism. No one believed that the universe, the earth, and human life was the product of chance from an explosion. There were some who did not believe in the God of the Bible, but they all believed in an intelligent creator. It is for this reason that these framers did not create a truly “secularist document” in the Constitution. Having a “secular state,” one devoid of Godly influence, would have never been in their mind. Never. The modern day concept of secularism didn’t exist in 1787.
Since the framers of our Constitution predated Darwin and the theory of evolution, the desire to have a "secular" state would have made about as much sense to them as the Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is only with the advent of Darwin, and an alternative explanation for the existence of the universe, that a secular state becomes conceivable and desirable. Again, there were atheists in 1787 to be sure, but they lacked a coherent scientific explanation for the existence of the universe. The default was intelligent design by God.
At the same time, the framers of our Constitution did not want America to become a theocracy, or a theocratic state. It was never their intention for clergymen to pick presidents and establish government policy; however, this is not to say that they saw no role for religion in government. In fact, the framers most certainly did believe that religion and religious values should influence the government and the policies it created on behalf of the American people. George Washington’s very first proclamation as president made this point abundantly clear. On the very day that Congress finished its work on the First Amendment, it called upon President George Washington to issue a proclamation to the people of the United States to “thank God for the freedoms we enjoy.” A week and a day later, the president's opening paragraph in his proclamation said:
"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . ."
The words "to obey His will" are decisively fatal to any suggestion that George Washington and the framers of our Constitution believed in "secularism." In America, religious values influence government policy through the vote of the people, although, and quite unfortunately, our vote and our will is not always carried forth in the formation of public policy.
The U.S. Constitution After Darwin
The rise of modern day secularism has made the debate about the word "God" in the Constitution one that is passionate and very heated. It was not until the legal community in the United States adopted secularism that the absence of the word "God" embodied the kind of significance it represents in our country today. It is true that before the rise of modern secularism some Americans objected to the fact that the word "God" was not in the Constitution. There were suggestions to amend the Constitution to add it. For example, there were even efforts to add the words "Almighty God" and "Jesus Christ" to the Preamble. Some members of Congress suggested that "In the Name of God" should be inserted before the Preamble. Again, this took place in a different time on the American political scene…a time of more substantial character and sanity. As early as the time of the Civil War, Americans have been trying to amend the Constitution to add some sort of reference to God; however, these efforts did not get very far with the increasingly secularized public. In all of these early debates about whether the word "God" should be added to the Constitution, the debate was between one group of creationists verses another. Almost no one believed that the United States was a godless country just because the word "God" was not present in the Constitution. Today, this is no longer true. Today the fight continues, but it is between the creationist and the evolutionist. Secularists insist that the absence of the word "God" means that the Constitution created a godless government in America. And so the fight continues…
Where is "God" in the Preamble to the Constitution?
Secularists have always been quick to point out that the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. They claim that this is highly significant, and it proves that the United States should not be a country 'under God.’ Of course, they are correct in one point. The word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution or anywhere else; however, it is doubtful that this fact has the kind of significance they claim it holds.
Generally, the word "God" will appear in two places in most constitutions. The first place is in the preamble to the constitution. The second place is in the religion clauses in the bill of rights. For example, the word "God" appears in the preamble in eight state constitutions. In four states, the "Supreme Ruler of the Universe" is used instead. By far, the most popular divine reference in a preamble is "Almighty God." This appears in the preamble of 30 state constitutions. In some states, the state constitution does not have a preamble; however, a divine reference can be found in the religion clauses in the bill of rights in each instance. There is only one state constitution which has a preamble that does not have a divine reference of any kind…this is the Constitution of the state of Oregon. But here the words "Almighty God" appear in the state religion clauses. In the case of the U.S. Constitution, however, no divine reference appears in either the Preamble or in the religion clauses in the First Amendment.
Why is this true?
This might get a little dry, but hang with me… The most likely reason why the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is textual. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is modeled after the Preamble in the Articles of Confederation. Since the Articles of Confederation did not use the word "God" in the Preamble, this is the most likely reason it does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The Preamble in the Articles of Confederation began by listing all 13 states. It began as follows: "Articles of Confederation and perpetual union between New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, etc. . . . and Georgia." When the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution was first drafted, this was the model that was used. Later, as the Constitutional Convention was coming to a close, a short form was agreed to. The 13 states were dropped in favor of the much simpler form “We the People.” Thus, rather than trying to establish a radical godless state, the most likely reason the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble was because the Articles of Confederation did not have it. It is doubtful that anyone in 1787 could have foreseen the development of radical secularist groups like the ACLU and their "spin" on the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Where is "God" in the First Amendment?
The most likely reason why the word "God" does not appear in the First Amendment is textual as well. Here, however, the textual reason is due to the subject matter of the First Amendment. The religion clauses in the First Amendment are very different from the religion clauses in most state constitutions. The subject of the religion clauses in the First Amendment is the “government” or "Congress." This is not the case with most state constitutions. In most state constitutions the subject is the “individual.” This difference in the subject matter is the reason the word "God" does not appear in the First Amendment's religion clauses.
Where is "God" in the Constitution?
The mistake modern secularists make is painfully obvious…period context. They take a twentieth century concept like "secularism" and read it backwards into the Constitution. They take a concept that didn't even exist in the eighteenth century and attribute it to the framers of the Constitution. Unfortunately, this is a very common mistake. The fact that the word "God" does not appear in the Constitution means little. It is actually a rather shallow observation touted for the speculative enjoyment of the small minded. The reality is "God" is in every word of the Constitution, including the punctuation. Below the surface of the words in the Constitution, there are a mountain of ideas that made its formation possible. The belief that God exists and that all nations of the world are subject to Him sits on the summit of that mountain.
As the Supreme Court of Florida said in 1950:
"Different species of democracy have existed for more than 2,000 years, but democracy as we know it has never existed among the unchurched. A people unschooled about the sovereignty of God, the ten commandments and the ethics of Jesus, could never have evolved the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is not one solitary fundamental principle of our democratic policy that did not stem directly from the basic moral concepts as embodied in the Decalog and the ethics of Jesus . . . No one knew this better than the Founding Fathers."
Consequently, even if the word "God" was in the Constitution it would probably make little, if any, difference to the secularist. Secularist groups like the ACLU would probably dismiss it as a mere formality. There are 50 reasons to believe that this is true. Since secularists dismiss all references to God in the state constitutions, there is no reason to believe that they would behave any differently with the federal Constitution. Their commitment to secularism will not allow for the possibility that they might be wrong. Interestingly, in 1915, there was one state supreme court which said that the reference to "in the year of our Lord" in the U.S. Constitution was a reference to Jesus Christ!
I’m quite positive that all of the above has birthed some boredom into your online life, but it’s all well worth understanding. Secularism attempts to diminish the influence of God in our government. Socialism attempts to catalyze a thought process that the government should become the god, the great provider for its people. Lost in the middle of these two ideologies is the distinctive significance of God’s role in government, the relevant role Scripture should play in the life of every American, and the common sense that should be passed down to every citizen based on the context of history.
As a nation, we are stepping away from God on purpose, making a deliberate choice to leave the “first love” that established the character of early America, and recreating a fictional intent of our founding fathers that makes us feel good about our selfish, greedy and entitled nature. There will be a day when we look around and do not recognize the America we are living in. For me, that day has already arrived. As sad as it is, all of this must come to pass as our nation and our world speed toward the events of Revelation. To the careful and observant student of Scripture, it’s not all falling apart; instead, it is all, very much, falling into place. Be prepared…Jesus is coming!
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!