Consider It Joy To Be Tested!

-Are We Prepared For Persecution?

It seems it’s time to ask ourselves if we’ve prepared our children and our grandchildren for a time when it might be against the law to be a Christian in this country! It doesn’t seem like the church, in general, has done a very good job of that! We have “Americanized” what it means to be a follower of Jesus! Christianity was birthed in a world that crucified its Founder! Jesus said, “If they crucify Me, they will crucify you!” The 1st-century follower of Jesus was considered a revolutionary! Do you know what the Roman government did with revolutionaries? They killed them!

-We’ve Sanitized The Faith!

All but one of Jesus’ disciples were killed or martyred for their faith! American Christianity knows nothing about that kinds of tests and trials. We’ve sanitized the faith! Somehow, we’ve accepted the lie that all you have to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and you’ll never have another problem! Many believers have learned to look down on an individual who struggles in life like they’re just not very spiritual! We’ve accepted the lie that we’re entitled to live in a Christian, God-fearing, Bible-honoring America! But, God never made that promise! Quite the opposite!

-Called To Be Jesus To The World!

God calls us to be revolutionaries; He calls us to be Jesus to the world that crucified Him! He calls us to love them as Jesus loved them; even if it means dying to see them saved! God’s revolutionary looks a whole lot different than the world. Our revolutionary warfare is fought by the Spirit; not like Peter attempted in the Garden. Jesus told him to put away his sword. This war is fought on our knees in prayer! Our sword is the Word of God! He intends we take the Gospel to everyone around us! That’s Christ’s commission! The book of James is a dynamic declaration of what real discipleship looks like; how it’s fleshed out even as we go through testing.

-Responding To Trials & Tests!

You need James’ message because all of us are either coming out of a testing, we’re in the middle of a trial or test right now, or we’re heading into one! No one leaves this world unscathed. So, let me point out how James, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us to respond to the trials & the tests & the disappointments of life! “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:2-4. What? Consider it a joy to be tested by God? That’s what he said!

-Committed To Facing Trials!

We need God’s supernatural help if we’re going to be committed to facing our trials with a joyful heart as James says! We need God’s help because “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). That means that your flesh cannot produce a joyful heart! It’s incapable! Let me add that he’s not talking about “temptations” to sin here. We’re not supposed to be filled with “joy” when we face temptations to sin! We’re supposed to FLEE those kinds of temptations the Apostle Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22-24). James, here, is referring to the trials, tests, and difficulties of life! And, our flesh will never respond with “joy” when those things enter our lives! Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh! A spiritual response is counter-intuitive for us. It’s not natural! It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

Acting Most Like Jesus!

-Responding With Grace & Truth!

When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them grace & truth. We are most like Jesus when we respond with grace & truth toward those caught up in a same-sex relationship or a same-sex attraction; or any kind of sexual sin! Jesus could never be accused of being mean-spirited. He responded, even to the woman caught in the act of adultery, with gentleness and respect; with grace and truth. He acknowledged her sin, but He did not condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more. The Apostle Peter, who sat under Jesus’ teaching for 3 1/2 years, wrote these words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit: “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness & respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

-Defending Truth With Gentleness & Respect!

Part of our “defense” is to respond with gentleness and respect. Last week we began to look at Paul’s warning to the Church of Corinth: “…Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom…” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It’s an important text on the subject of sexual sin, and helps us form a Gospel response toward anyone caught up in sexual sin. For example, this scripture informs us that all forms of sexual sin are condemned by God. Just look back at that text again. How many sins are listed that God says will cause an individual to miss heaven? There is 9 right? 9 sins that will receive God’s eternal judgment; and 3 are sexual. The “sexually immoral”—that’s a broad generalization condemning all sexual sin.  And, then he specifies “adulterers”—that’s sex between a man & a moan outside of marriage. And, then “anyone practicing homosexuality.”

-No Biblical Distinction Between Sexual Sins!

I want you to notice that God makes no distinction here. God lists no hierarchy of sin when it comes to sexual sin. God’s holiness is repulsed by all sexual sin. As far as God is concerned, sexual sin is sexual sin is sexual sin. God doesn’t have a separate list for those living a homosexual lifestyle from those living in heterosexual sin. So, from this text; and the rest of the Word of God, we derive that all sinful lifestyles are equally condemned by God. Perhaps the keyword is that word, “practicing.” What’s condemned here is practicing a lifestyle of sexual sin. And many Bible students believe that the word “practicing” was used to describe all 9 sins listed. So, what God eternally condemns here is NOT a sexually immoral “act”; or anyone that’s ever been guilty of idolatry, adultery, or homosexual “acts.”

-Some Of You Used To Be Like This!

The Apostle Paul is not condemning to hell anyone who’s ever stolen or been greedy or drunk or verbally abusive; or no one could ever be saved, right? Especially when Jesus expanded sexual sin to include adultery of the heart. No! The condemnation is for “practicing” a lifestyle of these sins. It’s when someone snubs their nose at God’s commandments & is determined to live a lifestyle of adultery or sexual immorality or homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or verbal abuse or a swindler. It’s an unwillingness to repent and call it sin! It’s an unwillingness to confess, or agree with God that it’s sin! That’s what is condemned! I love what comes next. Paul writes, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v.11). In other words, all habitual sin can be overcome by God’s Spirit! He can change every heart!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!

How God Uses Prayer!

-To Show His Great Power!

A survey of God’s Word reveals how God uses prayer, in our lives, in a number of ways. In this post I want to ask you to consider how God will often answer your prayers, with a display of power, in order to strengthen your faith! In Acts, chapter 12, we find the Apostle Peter imprisoned by King Herod. So the text says that the church was earnestly praying for his release.  With great power, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, in the prison, where Peter was being held; and, released him from his chains & then escorted him out of the prison, safely passing 2 separate guard posts and out through an iron gate! From there, it says, “When he (Peter) realized this (that the Angel freed him), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.  ‘You’re crazy!’ they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, ‘It’s his angel!’ Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” Acts 12:12-17.

-To Astound You!

They were astounded! I’ve often thought about Herod, and his guards, when reading this text! What a display of power was evidenced to release Peter from his chains and imprisonment! But, the same display of power God used to confront Herod & the Jews, with their helplessness to stop Him when He determines to do something according to His Sovereign plans, is the same power display that God uses to strengthen our faith! The same display of power that buckled & weakened the knees of unbelievers, strengthened the faith of believers! When you study the Gospels, you see that Jesus kept growing the faith of His disciples! For 3 1/2 years He kept convincing them that the work of God can never be done in the power of the flesh; or, by the world’s methods.; but, by the supernatural power of God alone. God wants to engage us in prayer so we see His power.

-To Build Your Faith!

God also intends to build our faith & belief , in Him, as He answers our prayers. Why do we see the supernatural work, of God, in the book of Acts? Chapter 2:42 says the believers, ““…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” The early church was birthed in prayer! It says they DEVOTED themselves to prayer!  James identified that prayer was a problem for some: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires”  (ch. 4:3)  God doesn’t answer selfish prayers! He does, however, answer the prayers of helplessness & utter dependence on His power! Jesus taught His disciples that God answers prayers that are God-centered & God-focused! So, how might your prayers need to change?