By Roland W. Keith
Today we begin with a question: If you had to choose would you choose to be condemned by the world, or would you rather be condemned by God? One form of condemnation is temporal and therefore of relatively short duration, the other condemnation is eternal, therefore it is of infinite duration. For the mind given to rational thought the only reasonable answer is to select the path that is most beneficial to our own well-being, even if it means giving up immediate benefits real or perceived to receive those of greater value and duration later on. When it comes to our ultimate fate “a bird in the hand” does not constitute good decision making.
One of the things often left out of our evangelization efforts as Christians is the need to paint a realistic picture of the Christian’s life and responsibilities for those who are considering coming to God. We tell them of the benefits without mentioning the personal costs. Of course, we want to bring all we can to faith in the LORD God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ, but it is important to let them know what it means to follow Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?... So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-28, 33).
Most of us will not be called upon to give up everything for the Lord, but it is something we must be willing to do if it becomes necessary. We can place no person or thing above our love and loyalty to our Creator. So, what do those who would come to Christ need to know? First, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; see also 3:10-12). Second, to come to God we must be righteous, but because of sin we have already fallen short and deserve death (Romans 6:16). Third, there is a way to escape punishment. Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Himself to ransom us from eternal damnation (Romans 3:25; 5:18). By faith in, and obedience to, Him we can be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5, 13; 10:4). Fourth, which is the focus of our lesson, to be a Christian is to be at enmity with the world. While we live in the world and seek the best for it, the world will reject us, hate us, and at times even persecute us.
Jesus taught His followers that the world would hate Him and them without cause, telling them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-25). When one comes to Christ, they should do so with a clear understanding that their life is about to change forever. What they gain as a Christian is infinitely superior to all the world has to offer, but the path they are choosing is one strewn with difficulties, placed there by Satan, and the forces he has at play in the world. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
According to Peter there is no shame in being insulted or suffering for our faith, rather it is a cause to glorify God (I Peter 4:14, 16). In fact, as Paul taught by using Moses as an example, it is better to receive reproach and mistreatment in the name of Christ in the hope of His promises than to enjoy the momentary pleasures of this life (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moreover, as the Psalmist proclaimed, though the world band together to treat us unjustly, or even to put us to death, God is our eternal refuge and the punisher of those who do such evil (Psalm 94:20-23). We do not need to fear the world nor seek our own revenge for we have the promise of heaven before us and a guarantor of justice in the LORD (Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 41: 11-13). As Paul so succinctly put it, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).
It has often been said that our own mistakes and life’s hardships are our best teachers. Though there is something to be said for learning from the mistakes of others, it is an undeniable truth that the lessons we learn in the school of hard knocks tend to stick with us. Paul understood the value of keeping a positive attitude, remaining at peace, and using our difficulties to learn from and to grow stronger in our faith, telling the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:1-5).
Paul once reminded Timothy that all who live a godly life will be persecuted, but by remaining firm in their faith, following the example of godly men, and turning to the Holy Scriptures to complete us we will not only endure but we will succeed in every work that He gives us (II Timothy 3:10-17). It is to be known then that our success will come against opposition. There is no clear path to the goal line. And while we can follow the example of godly men, there is no greater example than the Lord Himself, as Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:19-24).
Christ is the great example for our lives. What He endured for us we can endure for Him because He is with us to strengthen and guide us. When we stand firm for Christ though suffering, when we defend our faith in Him emulating His patience and gentleness in the face of rejection and hatred, when we suffer for the good that we do, when we honor Him in overcoming adversity, we can do so without fear, knowing that He is with us no matter what the world does to us (I Peter 3:14-18). If we have the love of Christ, we can endure all things for His name’s sake (I Corinthians 13:7), and if we are willing to stick it out to the end, we have the promise of salvation (Mark 13:13).
At the beginning I asked a question: Would you rather face the condemnation of the world or of God? Think about the consequences of living for the world as opposed to living for God. Not just in terms of condemnation, but in terms of promises gained as well. What do you stand to gain and what do you lose in both cases? Try to go beyond immediate enticements to see the lasting consequences of your decision. Someone once said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” But, that doesn’t mean that what the heart wants is best for us. Many a person has wanted and pursued the wrong things in life. So, be logical and rational. Add up the pros and cons. What does the world have to offer in comparison to what God offers? Logic leads to only one rational decision. Is it the one you have made, in thoughts and deeds?
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Contentment for the non-Christian and the Christian may be the same in some ways, but in many ways it is different. We may find contentment in life because we are not overly ambitious and are satisfied with our lot in life or because we simply don’t need much to be happy. However, in our society such acceptance of our condition is hard to achieve for many since we are taught to be ambitious and to want more in life. In fact, the striving for worldly gain is an age-old ambition of man. Solomon wrote, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Throughout history the gaining of wealth, power, fame, and prestige have been honored and expected goals. To be satisfied with less or contented with our position in life is frowned upon as lacking ambition or motivation. True, to be the best we can be should be a goal for all of us. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to strive to have all we can have or gain all we can gain. In the Christian sense it means to be the best we can be, the most Christ-like we can be, in every situation. It also means distinguishing between spiritual gain and that which is temporal.
These two things — the temporal and the spiritual— are not mutually exclusive, but they are more often than not at odds with one another. It is a difficult balancing act, since in almost every case a person who is drawn toward the one is pulled away from the other. As Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8).
The apostle Paul was born into a prominent family, wealthy and influential enough to have their son seated at the feet of the nation’s foremost teacher and member of the Great Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. He was known by members of that council and trusted enough to receive letters of commission from them to round up Christians, against whom he cast his vote in capital cases when they were put to death. This means he may well have been a member of one of the lesser Sanhedrin’s, a rising star in their political/religious world. When you put all these things together Paul had a lot to lose in becoming a Christian. Yet, he did give everything up, separating himself to such an extent that years later when he himself was brought before the council he did not even recognize the current high priest (Acts 23:2-5).
With regard to what he had given up Paul told the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What would make a young man of prominence turn his back on all that he knew and had? Paul looked forward to the spiritual and heavenly promises of the Lord and traded all he had in the world for those things, telling the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). From the time of his conversion onward in his life Paul found contentment in his service to the Lord, without regard for the worldly comforts he was used to, writing, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
He learned to discipline his mind and body and to accept his circumstances as a temporary condition on his way to a place of love and perfection (I Corinthians 9:25-27; II Corinthians 5:2; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 12:22). In his mind he cultivated the wisdom of Christ, taking his concerns to the LORD in prayer (Philippians 4:4-7), and he passed that wisdom on, writing, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Paul’s words and actions reflected the teachings of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus also taught, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34). God will provide; whether it is feast or famine, God will give us what we need for our spiritual well-being. What He gives you may not be what He gives me because we all have different needs, but He will be there for us if we have faith. However, it is important to understand that our spiritual growth and accomplishments always come before that which is physical, as Paul noted, writing, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Timothy 6:6-7).
Paul had learned to focus on what was important— his spiritual wealth— and to avoid the temptations of the world, particularly the lure of money (I Timothy 6:8-10). He looked ahead to his inheritance as a child of God (Romans 8:16-17), knowing that no matter what his fate was in this life all was according to the will of God and worked in life for his good (Romans 8:27-28). We too can find the contentment Paul had if we trust in the Lord. If we put our faith in Him our sufficiency in life will come from Him (II Corinthians 3:4-5). The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:17-18).
True contentment comes to those who call on the Lord, trust in Him to guide their path in this life, put spiritual health and wealth ahead of the physical world, take responsibility for their own lives, living it according to the Lord’s word, and are willing to set aside worldly treasure hunting for the true treasure that is in Christ Jesus.
By Roland W. Keith
According to the dictionary mind is: “the element or complex elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons.” As a Christian concerned with the existence and effects of good and evil, I am most concerned with the last three elements of this definition. What one thinks. What one wills. And, how one reasons. Is our view of good or evil a construct or concept of our own mind? Do we “will” certain things to be true because of personal feelings on a matter? Or, do we use facts and logic to come to a reasoned understanding (truth)? In some religions and philosophies if you define what is good then evil ceases to exist, or neither exists. There are only shades of behavior— some more beneficial and desirable, some more detrimental and less desirable. In these views good or evil are simply judgments made and are defined only by the one doing the judging. What you may determine to be acceptable behavior, I may judge to be wrong, and vice versa. An example of this sort of reasoning is on full display in our society today in the disagreement on abortion. I say disagreement and not debate because we cannot debate someone who has willfully determined that abortion is acceptable and has thrown scientific fact, spiritual discernment, and reason out the window.
As a Christian I accept what science has actually proven. I do not have to accept scientific speculation as fact or the opinion of someone simply because they are a scientist. Less so am I compelled to conform to social mores that are contrary to God’s word. In fact, all true knowledge, whether it is scientific or not, begins and ends with God. Paul wrote, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” (I Corinthians 2:16). We have much to learn from God, but nothing we can inform Him of. Nor do we have the right to change or override His word or will. Good and evil do exist because God says they do: “Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22. Ultimately, sin is born of pride and self-seeking which drives men to deny or turn their backs on God (Proverbs 8:13; Romans 2:8-9; II Chronicles 29:6; Isaiah 32:6; John 3:18-20). On the one hand we have the will of God and on the other the mind and free will of man.
In Deuteronomy 30:15-18 Moses told the Israelites, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you… But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” Good and evil, spiritual life and death are things we choose for ourselves of our own free will. Jesus asked a group of scribes, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4). They were not born with evil in their hearts— their thoughts were their own. Nor are we born evil. We are born with free will into a world that is drowning in sin— our propensities for good and evil are at war with one another, which of the two we choose is up to us.
Paul, who was well acquainted with the will of man, wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). There is an old Cherokee parable about a man teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
When we seek the good, we bring forth what is good and when we seek evil, we produce evil (Matthew 12:35). Whether we are talking about an individual or an entire society we become what we seek. And, for those who know to do good and do not do it, or who allow evil to go unchallenged, it is sin (James 4:17). If we do not seek the Lord, or convince ourselves that the ways of the world are not so bad then gradually we will become one with the world and our thoughts and actions will reflect that (II Chronicles 12:14; Genesis 6:5; Romans 1:30; Mark 7:21, 23). If we want to overcome or change the world, we must do good (Romans 12:9, 21; Deuteronomy 12:28). As Paul attested it is not always easy, but if we are diligent seekers of truth and focus on the Lord’s guidance we will succeed. Solomon once wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life… Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:23, 26-27).
All most every generation has bemoaned the perils of the times. This is because Satan and sin are ever present in the world. The devil is tirelessly seeking to deceive the world, including God’s elect (II Corinthians 11:4). As Paul noted the world has been blinded to the truth (II Corinthians 4:3, 4), and the people have become “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Those whose minds are still open to the truth and have had their spirits renewed by the secret wisdom of God are the fortunate ones (Ephesians 4:17-24; I Corinthians 2:6-7, 13). Such were each of us who bear the name of Christ. As such we should come together in prayer and fellowship to achieve greater wisdom for ourselves and one another; with due concern for our Christian growth, we should be actively safeguarding our salvation with all vigilance (James 1:5; Ephesians 1:16-17; Philippians 2:12; Colossians 2:2-3).
When our minds are centered on Christ and we remain bound together Satan cannot defeat us. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:1-4). If we refuse to be conformed to the world and seek God’s council, He will guard our hearts and minds and together we can and will overcome the world (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:22-25; Philippians 4:5-7). Chances are, if you have been a member of the church for very long, you have heard someone proclaim that we are not citizens of this world, merely sojourners passing through. There is much to be said for that mindset. It helps us to put our fleshly existence into perspective with our spiritual nature. Paul wrote, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:5-9).
Those who belong to the Lord do not live outside the world, so long as we are in the flesh, we just don’t live for worldly things (Matthew 6:21). We look outside ourselves for the true treasure of life and in so doing find ourselves concerned with the spiritual welfare of others as well (Philippians 2:4). Since we cannot conform to the world and the world hates those who refuse to submit to it, we find ourselves at war with its god. As soon as our mind grasps the possibilities the gospel offers us, we find it in peril. The world will entice us, berate us, threaten us, condemn us, even seek to destroy us if we take a stand for Christ. Even as sin wages a war for our minds (Romans 7:23), Satan, through the world, devises plans to devour our very souls (I Peter 5:8). Nonetheless, so long as we trust in the Lord Satan’s efforts are in vain. We have all the necessary tools and weapons that we need to defeat him.
Paul encouraged the Ephesians with these words: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). We too can stand firm against the perils that confront our minds, bodies, and souls. We can do so by our faith in Jesus Christ. In him we are more than a match for Satan and the world. For those who remain true to Christ and do God’s will Christ says, “come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
By Roland W. Keith
The gospel is called the word of life for at least two reasons— (1) It contains all we need to know to be granted eternal life in heaven (Ephesians 1:13), and (2) It is the springboard into the further teachings of Jesus Christ, the giver of that life.
Our Savior said, “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 28:18-20). In Mark, Jesus’ command was recorded as, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:15-16).
Jesus’ commanded His followers to spread the word. They were to proclaim the gospel, but more than that, they were instructed to teach all that He had commanded them, which would also include all that He would impart to them through the Holy Spirit after His ascension.
After an angel of the Lord freed them from prison, the apostles were instructed to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). They were being directed to fulfill the mandate given to them by the Lord, even in adversity. Years later Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). He would also tell the Romans, “For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:13-14, 17).
The word of life will enable those who hear, believe, and act on the word to walk on a new path in life, one with promises for the here and now, and beyond into eternity (Romans 6:3-4; 1:17; I Timothy 4:6-8). Jesus likened the person who accepts and obeys His word to a wise man, and the one who rejected His word to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-29). It has been said that if there is no God the man who believes and obeys the word of God has still made his life better for his faith, and in the end loses nothing; but, if there is a God the one who rejects His word loses everything. That would be foolish and sad indeed.
For those of us who do believe we are to stand up for the “faith of the gospel” “in one spirit, with one mind” (Philippians 1:27). We have a responsibility to uphold the word, not only in our hearts, but in our actions (Matthew 5:14-16). Paul was astonished to hear that the Galatians were being so easily led away from the truth and exhorted them to hold to the faith (Galatians 1:6-9; Ch.s 3-5). The necessity of holding to the word was also made clear to the Corinthians when Paul wrote, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
Such exhortation comes with the knowledge that we will be persecuted for our faith (II Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-20). When it happens, we must hold our heads up and demonstrate our faith and pride in our Lord (Mark 8:34, 38; Acts 5:41). Moreover, we must be willing to expose works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), remembering that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
At one point in our lives we all walked according to the world in varying degrees (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have all walked contrary to God’s will, at times perhaps even after we have put on the name of Christ, yet God has determined to save us if we will walk with His Son (John 3:16; Romans 3:23-26; James 1:18). We can be saved if we live by the word of life. We can be born again, as Peter wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:22-25).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.