Wednesday, 29 October 2014

TESTED AND TRIUMPHANT

Why do believers need to be overcomers? What will happen if they fail to overcome?


                                                                 
"Who wants to be an overcomer?" Almost everyone in a room filled with believers will probably raise their hands. But we cannot be deemed as overcomers unless there is something or somebody to overcome. Mention the fact that we need to overcome trials and tribulations and many will be just as quick to put down their hands.


                                                                    
James tells us that those who are steadfast in the faith amid trials will receive the crown of life.“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test hewill receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).


                                                                       
Why do you we need to be overcomers in these perilous end times? The reasons are obvious.

Firstly, believers will have to face persecution and deception during the period described as the ‘birth pangs’ or the ‘beginning of the end’ (Matthew 24: 9-13).

Secondly, believers will have to face the wrath of the antichrist in the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24: 15-28). http://goo.gl/kbBbSi

Letters to the Seven Churches

Let's now explore the theme of overcoming in the Letters to the Seven Churches. The theme of overcoming comes alive in the book of Revelation. Christians have to be overcomers in the last days before they can receive heavenly rewards.

Church at Ephesus: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). What did this church have to overcome? They have lost their first love and, therefore, have to repent.

Church at Smyrna: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11). What did this church have to overcome? They will have to be steadfast in faith and overcome the tribulation inflicted upon them by the devil, including imprisonment and even death.

Church at Pergamum: “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). What did this church have to overcome? They will have to repent for embracing the false teachings of Balaam and Nicolaitans.

Church at Thyatira: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:26-28). What did this church have to overcome? They will have to repent for tolerating the false teaching of Jezebel that promotes immorality and idolatry.


                                                                                                                                                  Church at Sardis: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Revelation 3:5). What did this church have to overcome? Though they have a semblance of life, in God’s eyes, they are spiritually dead. They would have to awaken from their spiritual slumber and strengthen what remains. 

Church at Philadelphia: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name” (Revelation 3:10-12).

Notice that this is the ONLY church among the seven singled out for commendation and without any negative comments. (The church at Smyrna also did not receive any negative remarks).

So far they have patiently kept God’s word and not denied his name. They merely needed to hold fast to their position so that they will not lose their crown.

The crux of the matter is this: How can we keep the Word if we do not have a firm grasp of it? If we are not diligently feeding on the Word, it is likely that we will come under the deception of the false teachers, who have made inroads into churches such as those at Pergamum and Thyatiraand many modern-day churches.

In this respect, Paul’s warning becomes relevant: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). The implication from this verse is that failure to hold on to sound doctrine might cause believers to lose their salvation. This prospect of eternal damnation is a most horrifying scenario to contemplate.

Church at Laodicea: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). This lukewarm church has been seduced by the world’s riches. Spiritually blind—thinking they are rich but, in fact, they are poor in God’s eyes—they will have to repent of their love for worldly things.

If it is not important for believers to be OVERCOMERS, why is this theme on overcoming repeatedly mentioned in each and every letter to the churches in Revelation?

By the way, when was the last time we heard a message over the pulpit that we are to be overcomers and the reasons why we need to overcome?

The Tribulation Saints

Believers will have face persecution and suffering during the Great Tribulation according to the following passages in Revelation.

In Revelation 7, we catch a glimpse of the scene in heaven after the rapture. A great multitude of people from every nation are assembled together after having endured the great tribulation. Clearly, they have not been spared from having to go through the great tribulation.

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14).

Notice, in the preceding chapter, the saints who cry out to God for deliverance from persecution are told be patient and endure ‘a little longer’ (Revelation 6:10-11).

The fact that believers will have to go through the great tribulation is further reinforced in the later chapters of Revelation. During the Great Tribulation the wrath of the Antichrist is unleashed upon believers. Only those who refuse to worship him or take the mark of the beast are considered overcomers; these will receive God’s reward. Notice that the cowardly are lumped together with the worse of sinners to be condemned.

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).

“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).

Now what does the preceding passage in Revelation 21:7-8 tell us about the fate of those who fail to overcome? These are the ones who are lumped together with the worst of sinners. Did they merely lose their reward or, much worse, did they lose their salvation? I think it is not difficult to figure that out.

Jesus’ end time warning to endure

Persecutiondeception and falling away from the faith (apostasy) are some of the important signs of the end times Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24: 9-13).

It is implied by Jesus that if we fail to persevere, if we fall away because of persecution or become victims of deception, we will NOT be saved (Matthew 24:13). A most serious warning indeed. Only overcomers receive the prize.

It isn’t surprising that Jesus sounded the warning in Matthew 24 about standing firm in the faith—that believers have to be overcomers to be saved—reflecting the same overcoming theme in the Letters to the Seven Churches.

Why? This is because it is the same person who walks through Matthew 24 and Revelation. Jesus in Matthew 24 is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah in Revelation 5:5.

Aren't these two passages in Revelation 21:7-8 and Matthew 24: 9-13 referring to the dire consequences of not standing firm—that those who fail to overcome might lose their salvation?


                                                                                                
Necessity for persevering faith

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the theme of overcoming is being reinforced. Believers need to persevere, endure and remain firm in the faith.

Paul puts it succinctly:
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us.
(2 Timothy 2:12)
1 Timothy 6:12

Hebrews highlights the fact that persevering faith is needed to remain saved:

But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
(Hebrews 10:38-39)


Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ 
(Hebrews 3:12-14).

Jude reinforces the truth that persevering faith is needed:
"I wish to remind you, as you all know, that God, when once he had brought the people out from Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5). Instead of taking possession of the Promised Land after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, God’s chosen people fell.

If we still cannot accept the fact that we will be put to the test and that overcoming trials and tribulations are part and parcel of God’s plan for believers, then we just need to take a look at Jesus’ example. 

Before embarking on His ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After having overcome various temptations, He set out to preach, heal the sick and set the captives free (Matthew 4:1-11). http://goo.gl/xHlQbV

Servants are not greater than their master. Even so, believers who are His servants cannot be exempted from trials and testings.

The fact that believers will have to experience tribulation is totally consistent with the teachings of the New Testament:

  • Paul exhorts the disciples to continue in the faith, saying that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).


  • Paul writes that we “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3).


  • “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Luke 21: 12, 17).


There are probably two groups of believers for whom the theme of overcoming seems  irrelevant:

  • Adherents of hyper-grace because they believe that it all depends on God's grace. Once believers are saved their eternal destiny in heaven is forever assured based on the imputed righteousness of Christ.  * *


  • Adherents of pre-tribulation rapture who expect to be airlifted to safety before the Great Tribulation.


But for the rest of believers, this sober message that we have to be overcomers should have greater relevance.


                                                                           
‘Feel good’ teachings—such as hyper-grace and pre-tribulation rapture—paint a rosy picture for believers and that’s why they are popular. But such false teachings not only create a false sense of security but are totally inconsistent with the fact that believers have to be OVERCOMERS, a theme repeatedly stressed in the above passages in Matthew 24 and Revelation chapters 2, 3, 7, 20 and 21.


                                                                        
To be forewarned is to be prepared: We will have to face trials and tribulations. However, a close walk with the Master, empowering of the Spirit and faith in His promises will enable us to be overcomers. 


  • He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). 



  • And when we stand before our persecutors, we need not meditate beforehand how to answer them for the Spirit will give us the wisdom (Luke 21: 12-15).


  • “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Now what is the opposite of overcoming? It is giving up our faith or apostasy.

One of the reasons, I believe, for the great end time falling away is that believers are not prepared for the worst—they do not expect the magnitude and severity of the trials that will befall them. Neither have they been sufficiently enlightened on the need to be overcomers

Coupled with tribulation, persecution and deception, the result is a perfect recipe for the great end time apostasy (Matthew 24: 9-13, 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-11, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Highlighting an end time scenario where many believers fall away on account of tribulation, persecution or deception is highly disturbing. But this is the realistic, biblical view. 

FOOTNOTES
 * *   The camp that overemphasises gracehyper-gracestates (in blue) that:

The truth is you are saved by grace and you are kept by grace. It’s grace from start to finish! Don’t let anyone frighten you into doing dead works, but rest secure in His finished work. Just as you did nothing to earn salvation, there is nothing you can do to lose it.

God has already forgiven all the future sins of believers and, as such, we should put the ‘sin issue’ behind us and banish ‘sin consciousness’ from our lives. So we no longer need to confess our sins. When God looks at us, all He is going to see is Christ’s blood, not our sins whether it is past, present or future. We merely rest in the "imputed righteousness of Christ".

RELATED POSTS


RAPTURE BEFORE TRIBULATION?
Can believers rest in the security that we will be raptured before the Great Tribulation? Let us re-examine first-hand the passages on rapture.

WILL CHRISTIANS GO THROUGH THE GREAT TRIBULATION?
A popular teaching tells us that Christians will not have to go through the Great Tribulation because they will be raptured first. But is such a 'pre-tribulation rapture' view valid? Is it true to say Christians will be airlifted to safety before the Great Tribulation begins?

HANG IN THERE, DON'T GIVE UP
Sometimes, we don’t like to admit that trials are an integral part of the Christian experience as much as blessings and victories. However, the process of growing into maturity involves learning to persevere through trials and arriving at a place of unshakeable faith.

THE GREAT FALLING AWAY
Spiritual decline is characteristic of the end times we are now living in. Will believers be affected by this turning away from the faith?

“FEEL GOOD” TEACHING AND TRIALS
Does “feel good” teaching prepare believers to face trials?

ALL YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT GRACE AND HYPER-GRACE BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK—IT’S ALL HERE FOR YOU IN A NUTSHELL
http://goo.gl/KDNIJ9

MORE THAN UNMERITED FAVOUR
As believers, have we come to a point in our faith walk when we say to ourselves, “Thank you God for taking me as I am,” and then happily go on our way? After all, as some teachers say, believers always enjoy God’s unmerited favour—grace beyond measure—whatever we do or don't do. Does it mean then we don’t need to improve ourselves in areas such as self-discipline and character? Does it mean then that we need not strive for excellence? 

FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
"I am afraid too many today are being lulled into thinking that when things get really bad, we as believers will be suddenly snatched out of it all ("the great snatch," the rapture is sometimes called). This is indeed poor preparation for what is yet to happen—and a serious misreading of the prophetic message." 
http://bit.ly/10hmG3k

APOSTASY IN THE CHURCH
How it is accelerating and how it relates to the return of Jesus.
http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_signs5.php



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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ONCE SAVED, FOREVER SECURE?


Some Christians believe, once they are saved, absolutely nothing can happen to them to alter their destiny. Even though they might live in sin or deny God, they believe that one day they will surely reach their final destination in heaven.

It seems there are many comforting verses that reassure us that once saved, always saved (OSAS) is true:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Nothing will ever separate us from the love of God once we have been saved: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

Election and predestination—that God sovereignly chose believers to be His children and lavished upon them His forgiveness and grace—is a most comforting truth to many because it implies that we cannot add anything more to what God has done (Ephesians 1: 4-7).

Furthermore, believers have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Those of us who have bought a house will be able to identify with this principle that a home purchase is being made secure by payment of a deposit. Once the seller has received the deposit, he is obligated to sell the home to the buyer who has demonstrated his earnestness to purchase the home by paying a deposit.

Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) will bring everything to successful completion for believers. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

When Peter was in danger of being sifted like wheat by satan, Jesus interceded for him that his faith might not fail and when he had made a turnaround, he was to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22: 31-32).

When Jesus was arrested, Peter fell as he denied his master three times. However, he was given a chance to redeem himself. In John 21, in a poignant beach scene, Jesus re-commissioned Peterchallenged him to “feed my sheep”and showed him that he was to die a martyr's death. In other words, He gave him second chance.

Most of us have been given more than 70X7 chances. We cannot deny the fact that even when we are faithless, God has been faithful (2 Tim 2:13). Like Peter’s case, God keeps us from falling headlong and restores us when we fall.

Indeed we are saved by faith. No dispute about that. And continue in this journey of faith because of God’s faithfulness.

However, in spite of all the passages advanced in the foregoing, I believe that there are two sides to a coin. Faith must be matched by personal responsibility.

Look at how Jesus dealt with the woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus dispensed mercy but also required of her that she “go and sin no more”. Our lives must show evidence of change in thought and behaviour after we have experienced God’s love. http://bit.ly/1eKirzG

Having faith does not mean we merely twiddle our thumbs while we await the advent of eternal bliss.

Confusion and muddled thinking result when we lump together two different processes. Justification which is through faith and faith alone. And sanctification which is a life-long process whereby we die to self, submit to God, renew our minds and work out our faith.

No right thinking believer disputes the fact that we are saved by faith. What is crucial is that which follows. What’s next? Genuine faith has to be evidenced by works: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26). Paul echoes this need for personal responsibility—to work out our faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works" (James 2:21-22).

Having passive faith alone is not biblical: 

  • “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).


  • James put it succinctly: Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2: 17, 26).


A world of difference exists between ‘work for’ and ‘work out’. Author J. Oswald Sanders draws an analogy between salvation and an estate. We do not have to feverishly work for an estate. We have already been given an estate. But we have to work it out—develop the estate’s hidden resources.

What makes us think everything is plain sailing once we receive Christ? What makes us think we don’t need regular “servicing and maintenance” just like the way our cars need to be treated? By “servicing and maintenance”, I mean that if we sin—and I’m sure all of us do—we need to confess our sins, repent and get back on the right track again. http://goo.gl/AH9dkr

Hebrews chapter 10 highlights the fact that persevering faith is needed to remain saved:
But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
(Hebrews 10:38-39).

Jude reinforces the truth that persevering faith is needed:
“I wish to remind you, as you all know, that God, when once he had brought the people out from Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5). Instead of taking possession of the Promised Land after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, God’s chosen people fell.

Paul follows up on Jude’s theme, outlining, in greater detail, the events leading to their fall from God’s favour:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
“Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).

Peter issues a solemn warning to believers who willfully choose to live in sin:
“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21). This passage on apostasy refutes the premise that those who indulge in wanton living were never really converted in the first place. http://bit.ly/1q07txC

If we believe that we do not have to work out our faith, then we will have to cut off the following verses from our Bible:

  • Work out your faith with fear and trembling: Philippians 2:12-13


  • Keep striving: Philippians 3:12-14


  • Run the race with discipline so we won’t be disqualified: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27


  • Bear fruits that befit repentance and don’t rest on your spiritual laurels: Luke 3:8


  • Narrow and hard is the way to life: Matthew 7: 13-14


  • Holiness requires effort; confirm your election: 2 Peter 1: 5-8, 10


 Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile the OSAS premise with the above verses.

Let us look into the last point in greater detail. Peter exhorts believers to be all the more diligent to confirm our calling and election for if we practice ‘these qualities’ we will never fall (2 Peter 1:10).

And what are ‘these qualities’? They are spelled out in the preceding verses: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

If you believe in eternal security (OSAS) and live accordingly and then subsequently you find out in the hereafter that you are mistaken, you may be lost forever and live with eternal regret. The consequences for embracing wrong beliefs may be disastrous; yet it is irrevocable.

But if you believe you need to work out your faith, if you don’t believe in eternal security (OSAS), the likelihood is that you are none the worse for it—even if you are mistaken—when you meet your creator.

That, of course, also depends on the fact whether you have been vigilant, lived circumspectly and worked out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

So, to recap, there are two contending truths and we can argue till the cows come home and be none the wiser for it:

  • Those who are saved will finally make it to heaven because God who is faithful will keep us. Nothing can ever go wrong.


  • Those who are saved must keep on believing and working out their faith till the end in order to make it to heaven.


If we choose the formerand we are proven wrong in eternity— the consequences for embracing wrong beliefs may be disastrous and, sadly, irrevocable.

However, if we choose the latter— even if we are proven wrong in eternity—the likely consequences, if any, are minimal. We are none the worse for it.

So, in my humble opinion, it is wiser to err on the side of caution and reject the ‘feel good’ teaching that once saved, we will always be saved (OSAS).

                                                                           

By the way, I am fully convinced that OSAS is false and untenable in light of the whole counsel of God’s word. Anything which suggests anything to the effect that ‘once you are saved, you can rest easy’ is preposterous and too good to be true. http://bit.ly/Xadrki

                                                                   
And if you are still unconvinced that OSAS is false, you are invited to explore the following posts for enlightenment—and, of course, for the sake of your eternal security.

                                                                     
RELATED POSTS

SAVED AND SECURE?
Is there eternal security for believers if they deny God or continue living in sin?

SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT
Five ways believers could possibly jeopardise their eternal destiny

CAN TRUE BELIEVERS DENY THEIR MASTER?


In light of the pressure faced by persecuted Christians in the Middle East, this is an important question that needs to be asked.

WHY PERSEVERANCE IS NEEDED
Why we have to be steadfast in our journey of faith. What are the possible consequences if we fail to persevere?

REPETITIVE SINNING
What fate awaits those who sin repeatedly?

BACK FROM HEAVEN AND HELL
Two men share about their supernatural experiences in heaven and hell.

ETERNAL OR CONDITIONAL SECURITY? 
One of the best links to the perplexing issue of once saved, always saved (OSAS).
http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org/eternal-security.htm


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