The sword and the soul
There are many wonderful promises in Scripture about God’s deliverance of his people — Israel escaping through the parted sea, Daniel being spared from the lions, the three Hebrew children delivered from the fiery furnace.
These are wonderful accounts, but it is also here where we sometimes encounter a problem, a problem that gnaws away at our faith if we allow it.
The fact is that sometimes God’s intervention may deliver us from the perils we face here on earth. At such times we rejoice. Other times that intervention may deliver us from the perils we face by delivering us into his presence.
Unfortunately too few of us see that as intervention. The reality is it is the best intervention because at that time no other peril or trial or heartache or pain can touch us. Yet for many, this latter statement will be construed as a lack of faith on my part.
There are many today who are glibly proclaiming a message that is supported neither by scripture nor by experience.
They claim that if we will simply have enough faith (and many of them want you to show your faith by giving them large amounts of money), God is going to give you everything your little heart desires this side of eternity.
I heard one such preacher proclaim, “I’m tired of waiting. I want my blessings now.”
Alas, I fear he may get what he wants. Jesus warned the Pharisees of his day, men who wanted the recognition and approval of men that they would get it, but that would be all they got (See Matthew 6:2).
In my years of ministry, I have come across many people who were once active in the church but who are now inac- tive, discouraged and some even angry to the point that they now oppose the faith they once professed.
In every case the cause is the same: they believed an illusion about what God promised or about the Christian faith, and when their bubble burst, they became disillusioned. It will happen every time.
Perhaps the predominate reason that people become disillusioned with Christ and Christianity is because of the behavior of some of those who profess Christ, yet live like the devil.
More damage is done to the Christian cause by those who claim the family name and then live unworthy of it than by all the atheists and skeptics in the world. I believe it was the German Philosopher Friedrick Nietzshce ( 1844- 1900) who first said, “I will not believe in the redeemer of mankind until those who claim to be redeemed start living like they are redeemed.”
Within the faith however, I think the most predominate reason why some become disillusioned drop-outs is because they have misunderstood or misapplied what the Bible teaches. Their illusions of Christianity have caused them to become disillusioned. Getting their theology from feelings or experiences they have become discouraged. They expected a life of ease after they said yes to Christ and instead they discovered hardship and suffering.
Added to the pain they already feel, they were scolded by spiritual sounding arguments that tell them “if only they had enough faith they wouldn’t be suffering,” or worse, “that there must be some hidden sin in their life and that’s why God is not blessing them.”
Perhaps a lesson from the Apostle Paul would help put some of this into perspective. Paul, facing the executioner’s sword, wrote, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him, be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18, NIV). And that is exactly what God did.
Most of us would look at that statement and Paul’s circumstances and say, “Poor Paul. He missed that one. He expected to be delivered from Nero’s hand, to be kept from evil, but, alas, God didn’t do that. Our beloved Paul died at the chopping block.”
But is that what Paul said? Did he expect to be delivered? Well, yes and no.
Look at that 2 Timothy passage again. What is he saying with, “The Lord will rescue me (by) bringing me safely to his heavenly kingdom”?
The sword could remove his head from his earthly body, but the sword couldn’t touch his soul. His illustrious career of suffering was about to be over.
He who said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21, NIV) was about to experience that gain.
The sword for Paul was not a defeat but a victory. We, who profess the name of Christ, need to stop looking at death as the final defeat and begin to realize that it is just the beginning. We have Jesus’ promise on that (See John 14:1-2).
The big question today is, do you know for sure that God is on your side? Have you committed yourself to him, so that when the perils come (and come they will) you, like Paul can declare, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NIV).
That is faith. That is victory.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.