Serving Christ gets hard. Harder than we expected. Harder than we can endure, even for one more day. We are tempted to think, “No way can this turn out well. My life – the only one I have – is going to end up on the junk pile. I must be crazy to be out here doing this, taking these risks, getting hammered with this criticism, paying this price. The body count in ministry is high, and I’m the next casualty. How on earth did I ever get here?”
Inevitably, serving the Lord, obeying the Lord, putting him first, we experience this. It’s not because we’ve forsaken the Lord, but the opposite. It’s the path of obedience that leads us into deep trouble. And then our critics, and especially our betrayers, to justify themselves, tell us that it’s all our own fault. Sometimes we believe them.
Sure, we can learn and improve and avoid some land mines. But here is the foundational truth of your life, faithful Christian. You are retelling the story of Jesus in his death and resurrection. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). He died, and now he lives. He endured, and now he reigns. He wasn’t crazy. And however this turns out short-term for you, whatever people may say or do, God will keep your life deeply enfolded in union with Christ crucified and risen again, and your ministry will bear eternal fruit.
Remind yourself of this every day: You’re not crazy. Whatever obedience costs you, you will rise again. Christ will see to that.
“A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. . . . and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” Romans 7:2-4
We were married to Mr. Law. He was a good man, in his way, but he did not understand our weakness. He came home every evening and asked, “So, how was your day? Did you do what I told you to? Did you make the kids behave? Did you waste any time? Did you complete everything I put on your To Do list?” So many demands and expectations. And hard as we tried, we couldn’t be perfect. We could never satisfy him. We forgot things that were important to him. We let the children misbehave. We failed in other ways. It was a miserable marriage, because Mr. Law always pointed out our failings. And the worst of it was, he was always right! But his remedy was always the same: Do better tomorrow. We didn’t, because we couldn’t.
Then Mr. Law died. And we remarried, this time to Mr. Grace. Our new husband, Jesus, comes home every evening and the house is a mess, the children are being naughty, dinner is burning on the stove, and we have even had other men in the house during the day. Still, he sweeps us into his arms and says, “I love you, I chose you, I died for you, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And our hearts melt. We don’t understand such love. We expect him to despise us and reject us and humiliate us, but he treats us so well. We are so glad to belong to him now and forever, and we long to be “fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:10)!
Being married to Mr. Law never changed us. But being married to Mr. Grace is changing us deep within, and it shows.
“The cross is practical, it is God moving in love to meet violent men and women, facing violence and suffering for us. Your faith was born in violence. The Christian is not scared when the whole world is shaking. Your faith was born on Calvary. It can stand anything. It is an all-weather faith.
Don’t imagine you can only be a Christian when everything is smooth. Christians shine better when everything is just the opposite. Your faith was born in blood and sweat in the loneliness of Calvary. You can stand any test.”
Bishop Festo Kivengere, When God Moves in Revival (Wheaton, 1973), page 16.
“How great an honor will it be to a person to have God at the day of judgment owning a person, declaring before all men, angels and devils that that person is before his all-seeing eyes and that he stands innocent and perfect in his sight, clothed with perfect righteousness and entitled to everlasting glory and blessedness. How honorable will this render them in the eyes of all that vast assembly that will be together at the day of judgment. That will be an infinitely greater honor than any man or any angel declaring that they judge him upright and sincere and that eternal life belongs to him. What can be a greater honor than this — to be owned by the great King and Lord of all things?”
Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God (Nashville, 2004), edited by Michael D. McMullen, page 61.
The gospel re-dignifies romance in our romance-debunking age. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe in the early 90s. But romantic music died, because something deeper inside us had died. The romantic ideal had been so betrayed and so sinned against that it lost credibility and became the object of nihilistic mockery.
But the gospel is a love story. The Son of God is seeking his bride – and from the wrong side of town. He will present her to himself in splendor on that great and final day. This is not a biblical sidebar. It is the story. Romance is why the universe is here. Romance is why history is moving forward. The nihilists are wrong. The gospel romantics are right, and they always will be.
We married people have the privilege of displaying The Romance imperfectly but visibly in our own marriages. How astonishing that God allows us to demonstrate the gospel in such a human way. May we do so with beauty, for his greater glory in this generation.
Whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37
“But I am a great sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am an old sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am a hard-hearted sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am a backsliding sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have served Satan all my days, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against light, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against mercy, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have nothing good to bring with me, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ.”
John Bunyan, Works (London, 1861), I:279-280. Style updated.
HT: Dane Ortlund
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Luke 10:19
In Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace proposes that one of the “primary elements of continuous renewal” in a church is “authority in spiritual conflict,” pages 133-144. We are not on the defensive. We have authority from Christ himself. The blows we do receive from Satan “come from a retreating enemy,” as Lovelace says, because of the decisive victory of Jesus on our behalf.
Lovelace draws from Scripture five fall-back strategies of Satan:
“The enemy strategy here is either to disfigure a Christian’s witness through public scandal, to gain some evidence through which his or her conscience can be accused and discouraged, or to weaken faith in the possibility of sanctification in some contested area.”
“Negatively, demonic agents induce a strong conscious aversion to biblical truth, an inability to comprehend it and a distaste for what little can be understood. . . . Positively, the forces of darkness inspire and empower antichristian religious counterfeits . . . . The deceiving work of Satan can even be done in and through Christian believers, as Christ’s famous rebuke of Peter shows.”
“Demonic agents italicize the defects of Christians and the churches in the minds of unbelievers and cause true Christianity to be branded with the image of its own worst exemplars . . . . They are also particularly active in dividing Christians from one another into parties . . . . Finally, satanic forces attack Christians directly in their own minds with disturbingly accurate accounts of their faults, seeking to discourage those who are most eager and able to work for the kingdom.”
“The Gospels plainly describe a condition in which human victims come almost helplessly under control of alien personalities.”
5. Physical attack
“From data in the Gospels it appears that demonic agents can occasionally cause illness, at least psychological and neurological ailments like dumbness and epilepsy.”
More should be said about all this, and Lovelace does say more. But he wisely affirms, “The battles we fight against [demonic powers] should not be occasions of anxiety. They force us back to reliance on Christ’s redemptive work and enhance our dignity and authority as redeemed saints who have the power to judge angels.”