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).
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.