Far too many Christians live in a state of spiritual terror. They view themselves as being suspended over the pit of hell by a fragile, frayed thread. No available course of action can rescue them from their precarious position. They live in the continuing conviction that the probability of them being lost in hell far exceeds the likelihood of them living in heaven.
Fear is a poor spiritual motivation for Christian conduct. It is a proper, powerful motivation for turning from sin to God. Fear played an essential role in the response of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37) and in Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9). In both instances the fear was produced by the realization that these people had killed God’s Son or His followers.
While fear is one proper motivation for conversion, fear must soon be replaced with love for God after conversion. Fear may turn a person to God, but fear cannot produce a long-tern relationship with God. Just as fear cannot serve as the sound basis for a stable marriage, for a good parent-child relationship, or for an enduring friendship, neither can fear serve as the sound basis of a long-term relationship with God.
Most Christians who live in fear are afraid of one thing: hell. They have no sense of security in Christ. Life is lived in doubt of salvation. After baptism, they begin a lifelong period of probation. They cannot know that salvation is theirs until the judgment day; only when they hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant’ will they know that they are secure. Ironically, though they long to hear those words on the judgment day, never on earth do they feel like a “good and faithful servant.” They constantly feel like spiritual failures whom God tolerates “one more day.” God’s patience may end at any moment. When His patience ends, God will say, “I have had all of your weakness and failure that I can endure. I reject you and condemn you to hell.” Christians living by this fear-filled perspective have no accurate understanding of such passages as Romans 8:31-39, 1 John 1:5-2:6, 1 John 5:13, and Hebrews 10:10-14.
When a Christian holding this perspective is asked, “are you saved?” he will reply, “I don’t know,” or, “I hope so,” or, “I wish I knew.” If he is asked, “Do you have an incorruptible, undefiled, fadeless inheritance reserved in heaven?” (1 Pet. 1:4, 5), he will say, “No—a person’s place in heaven cannot be reserved.” If he is asked, “Is God’s power guarding you through faith for salvation?” (1 Pet. 1:5), he will say, “No, God’s power does not work in that manner.” If he is asked, “Can God preserve your spirit, soul, and body entire and blameless until the coming of Christ? (1 Thess. 5:23, 24), he will say, “Scripture nowhere indicates that God will do that.” If he is asked, “Does God have the power to provide help to you beyond your comprehension and your ability to ask through prayer?” (Eph. 3:20, 21), he will say, “God can do no more for us than we ask of Him, and perhaps not even that much?’
The fundamental question is this: can God help a Christian endure? Does God have the power to help the Christian maintain faith and spiritual stability through life? Or, is the Christian strictly on his own as he seeks to endure for Christ?
God, The Source of Endurance
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a beautiful book with a powerful message. A part of that message is this: salvation in Christ means that the Christian is not alone, is not on his own, and is not dependent on inadequate human strength. To understand God’s power in Christ to help a Christian endure, one needs to look carefully at Romans 7:7-8:30.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 reveal the Jewish Christian’s nervousness about the teaching that a pagan could become a full child of God just by having proper faith in Christ. He argued that if God’s grace through faith was adequate to save a pagan, then the law had been of no advantage to the Jew.
In chapter 6 Paul declared a person died to sin and received newness of life at baptism. Newness of life must result in a new lifestyle which refused to allow lust to rule and sin to use the body. The new lifestyle of obedience to Christ openly declared that the person was no longer the servant of sin.
In 7:1-6 Paul maintained that the Christian’s new grace relationship with God did not constitute unfaithfulness to the Mosaical law. Just as a wife’s marriage covenant with her husband ended when the husband died, the Jew’s covenant relationship with the Mosaical law ended in the sacrificed body of Jesus. Just as that wife would be free to enter a new relationship with another husband, the person who accepted Jesus’ sacrifice was free to enter a new relationship with God.
Beginning in 7:7, Paul said the law had two basic impacts on those under it. (1) It made them aware of sin. The law defined sin and designated sin in a person’s life. (2) The law made it indisputable that all under it were continuously sinful. Though he try with all available human resources, the person under the law never escaped sinfulness. His finest endeavors to be righteous always ended in failure.
One of the New Testament’s most touching passages is Romans 7:14-23. In picturesque, heart-rending language, Paul depicted the horrible, inner agony of one determined to live in perfect compliance to the law. It is easy to identify with the fervent desire of that person to do what he knew to be right, with his ceaseless war between the mind which dearly loved God and the body which yearned to surrender to lusts, and with the contempt he felt for himself because he could not permanently evict sin or perfectly master his rebellious flesh.
The conflict was too great! The struggle was too severe! The situation was hopeless! Human mastery over sin, even sin which was despised, was impossible! The harder he struggled to be righteous through obedience to the law, the more hopeless his situation became. Finally, filled with the full sense of his weakness, his failure, and his doom, he cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of this body of my death?”
In that despair, created by the hopelessness of human weakness, the wretched man was given a hope which was not dependent on human achievement. Verse 25 means that God would deliver that wretched man through Jesus Christ.
How would God use Christ to fashion this wretched man’s deliverance? He would do so by refusing to condemn the one who is in Christ Jesus (8:1). Paul declared in 8:1-11 that Christian existence was made possible by having the mind of the Spirit rather than the mind of the flesh. Possessing the mind of the Spirit enabled the Christian to have and to maintain a relationship with God which was impossible under the law in the mind of the flesh.
In 8:12-17 Paul affirmed that the Spirit, not perfect obedience to the law, verified the person in Christ was a child of God. Being a child of God meant the person was a full heir to God’s inheritance and a co-heir with Christ Himself.
In 8:18-25 Paul stated when one understood what it meant to be God’s child and heir, he realized that any physical suffering was insignificant in comparison to the inheritance to be received.
The Christian would not despair as he struggled in an evil world (8:26-30). Two things made despair unnecessary: an aid and a promise. The Spirit would provide the aid. When he did not know the words to express his thoughts, feelings, and desires to God, the Spirit in His own words would make it all clearly known to God. God gave the promise. He promised that all things would work together for good to those who loved Him and were called according to His purpose.
Fear is the greatest faith killer on earth. Fear destroys faith by rendering a person incapable of trusting God’s promises. The most destructive earthly foe to one’s faith is the fear that harsh trials and evil afflictions will render God powerless in one’s life. It is the fear that the trials of life will exceed God’s power to help.
The assurance of Romans 8:28 was made in full acknowledgement of every person’s inability to deliver himself from his own internal struggles. In spite of inescapable human weakness, in spite of this world’s powerful opposition, this is God’s assurance: “We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” Regardless of the harshness of the evil opposition, regardless of the severity of personal trials, God promised that He will transform every human experience into a blessing for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. No set of circumstances, no experience of any kind can exceed God’s ability to use the circumstance or the experience to bless the Christian.
This is God’s key promise which assures that every Christian can endure. The Christian who endures “faithful unto death” is the Christian who knows that every circumstance and experience ultimately will work to his benefit. He knows that God unfailingly will transform all of life’s experiences into blessings. It is this confidence in God which enables him to endure anything.
As is always true, this promise is conditional. It is made to the person (1) who loves God and (2) who is called according to God’s purpose. It is not made to those who seek to serve God out of obligation, fear, or resentment. It is not made to those who seek to do as little as possible for God, or those whose hearts are not in their service, or those who regard Christian existence as only a duty. It is made to those people who have agape for God—they seek God’s highest good and best interest in their lives. It is not made to Christians who live for themselves, whose own interests, ambitions, goals, concerns, and earthly objectives are more important than God’s purposes. It is not for those who place God second or lower on theft priority lists. It is for those who commit themselves to the truth that God’s purposes are the primary purposes of life.
This assurance does not declare that everything which happens to a Christian will be good. It is the assurance that the final result of all that occurs will be good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. It was the assurance to first-century Christians that even such occurrences as physical persecution, economic reprisals, or rejection by one’s family or nation which resulted because they believed in Jesus would ultimately bless them. God would transform even physical pain and death into real blessing for the Christian. Nothing could happen that would not result in their good. Since no earthly pain or opposition can of itself destroy one’s salvation, and since heaven is the Christian’s greatest blessing, God will use even the evil a Christian endures to help him gain eternal life.
Jesus, The Example
The last two days of Jesus’ life are a perfect example. Betrayal, denial, unjust trials, mockery, physical abuse, evil humiliation, and painful execution were not good. God did not transform those evil acts into good acts. Yet, God used those painful, evil occurrences to work for Jesus’ highest good. He raised Him from the dead, He made Him Lord and Christ, and He established Him as the eternal Savior of the world. None of Jesus’ experiences in those evil matters were good, but God used them all to accomplish Jesus’ greatest good. One of the reasons Jesus was able to endure all those horrible, ungodly experiences was His unfailing confidence in the fact that God could utilize all those occurrences to accomplish His divine will and Jesus’ greatest good.
A Matter of Faith
The primary key to Christian endurance is one’s confidence in God’s promise to produce good from all his life experiences. When severe trials and harsh opposition create distress in a Christian’s life, he faces a crisis which could separate him from God. If distress becomes an intimidating fear which manipulates his decisions, it will destroy his relationship with God. That person will not endure.
Why will such a Christian not endure? Because his trials were too great? Because the opposition of evil was more powerful than the help of God? Because some forms of trial and opposition exceed God’s ability to help? Though the distressed Christian will often reach such conclusions, those conclusions are erroneous. Primarily, such a Christian fails to endure because he has too little confidence in God’s promises. He does not believe that God can work through horrible circumstances and hurtful experiences to produce good. His primary crisis is a faith crisis.
The faith of righteousness trusts God’s promises even when trust must exist in defiance of circumstances. When all reasoning declares that confidence in God’s promises is foolish and unjustified, the faith of righteousness continues to trust God. In hours of great trial and distress, the Christian endures because he knows that God will use even those experiences to produce good for him.
Chapter Ten Questions
Why do many Christians live in a state of spiritual terror?
Is fear a valid motivation for conversion? Explain your answer.
Is fear a good spiritual motivation for godly living? Explain your answer.
How does the fear of hell affect many Christians’ lives?
How would an understanding of Romans 8:31-39, 1 John 1:5-2:6, 1 John 5:13, and Hebrews 10:10-14 help such Christians?
Discuss how these Christians would commonly answer the question, “Are you saved?” How do the following passages address that question: 1 Peter 1:4, 5; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24; Ephesians 3:20, 21.
In Romans chapters 3-5, what teaching made Jewish Christians nervous?
What did Paul teach about newness of life in Romans 6?
What two basic impacts did the law have on a person (Romans 7:7)?
Discuss the wretched man of Romans 7:14-23.
How would God deliver this wretched man (Romans 8:1)?
For what two reasons should the Christian not despair in his struggle with evil (Romans 8:26-30)?
In detail, discuss and explain the meaning of the promise in Romans 8:28.
a. For whom is this promise?
b. Who will not benefit from this passage?
How do the last two days of Jesus’ life illustrate the genuineness of this promise?
Explain why the Christian who is convinced God cannot help him with his bad life circumstances and experiences is having a faith crisis.
Have the class list some of life’s more difficult experiences. How can Romans 8:28 help the Christian at those times?
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