one fancies bitter herbs or medicine. When I was a child, my mother forced me
to take them when I fell sick. Though yucky to me as a child then, the
concoction helped me to quickly recover from illness.
writer of the Gospel of Luke, a physician, prescribed some bitter medicine for
us in chapter 13, which many find harsh and repulsive. But taking this medicine
has tremendous benefits. It is important not for our physical health but eternal
are three points highlighted in Luke
13 which are like bitter medicine to many:
The call to repentance (verses 1-5)
Bear fruit in keeping
Strive to enter through the
narrow door (verses
deal with each section in turn.
crowd mentioned to Jesus that there were certain Galileans whose blood was
mixed with the sacrifices at the altar of the temple (after they were slain by
Pilate’s soldiers), implying that they deserved a horrible death because they
corrected their self-righteous attitude, emphasising that these Galileans were
no greater sinners than them. He warned them, “Unless you repent, you will
likewise perish (Luke 3:3, Luke 3:5).
we will all have to die one day. That is an unchangeable fact. What is more
important is where we land up after death. Where will we be spending eternity?
was telling them that all have sinned and unless
they repent (acknowledge their sins before God, believe in the forgiveness Christ
offers, and turn from their wicked ways), they
will all perish (spend eternity in hell with weeping and gnashing of teeth).
Christ can offer us eternal bliss in heaven after we die. And the only way we
can get to enjoy this privilege in future is that we must repent … while we can,
when we are still alive.
bitter herbs, this is the blunt, harsh truth that many cannot accept: Repent and live.
“Therefore I will
judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the
Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your
ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and
make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of
Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God;
so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
Bear fruits of
if to amplify his teaching on repentance using imagery, Jesus told his disciples the parable
of the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 6-9).
A man who planted a fig tree was disappointed
that it failed to bear fruit even after a period of three years. So he suggested
to the vinedresser, “Cut it down.” But the latter told him to wait; he will give
it second chance by putting manure over it. If it fails to bear fruit after a
year, then it should be cut down.
parable had primary reference to the nation of Israel. For centuries God had
expected His chosen people to bear fruits in keeping with repentance but they
failed to do so. When Christ came, He was rejected by His own people. But God
is long-suffering. He will give more time for His people to repent. If they remain
stubborn, and refuse to turn to Him, they will be cut off.
theme of God’s rejection of Israel is explored further in Romans chapter 11. Because
of Israel’s rejection of Christ, the gospel of the kingdom is extended to the
Gentiles. But God is an impartial God, being equally kind and severe towards both
Jews and Gentiles. Unless Gentiles remain
in His love, they too will be cut off, like the Jews: “Note then the
kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but
God's kindness to you, provided you continue
in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).
In the same
vein, Jesus addressed believers: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the
branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).
same agricultural analogy appears elsewhere in the Gospels. “Bear fruit in
keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). “Even now the axe is laid to the root
of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down
and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
must be evidenced by fruit (changed lifestyle, obedience, manifestation of the
fruit of the Holy Spirit).
enter through the narrow door
day, Jesus was asked: “Lord, will those who are saved be few” (Luke 13: 23)?
did not give a clear cut ‘Yes or No’ answer. How then did He answer? “Strive to
enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and
will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
word ‘strive’ implies effort is required. This does not mean we can save
ourselves by good works. Rather, it means we have to be disciplined in working
out our salvation as God is at work within us through the Holy Spirit (Philippians
2:12-13). Though we are saved by faith, our lives must be characterised by good works, which
God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).
went on to impress upon them the fact that when the door to heaven is shut, it
is final and cannot be revoked. “When once the master of the house has risen
and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door,
saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you
come from’” (Luke 13:25). “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil” (Luke 13:27).
if people were to plead for mercy, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you
taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26), the door might just be shut in their faces.
These pleas for mercy could mean in our modern-day context: “We are church members, we attend
church regularly.” Superficial acquaintance with God, mere usage of spiritual lingo (like Lord, Lord), complacency
and reliance on external symbols of inclusion in God’s kingdom may be dangerous
to one’s soul.
are some reasons for exclusion from heaven? Though people may claim to follow
Christ, they do not cultivate a personal relationship with Him, do not seek to
do His will and do not seek to live a righteous life. They might know a lot about
Him through sermons but, truly, they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).
the door (gate) to heaven is narrow and the route (way) to heaven is difficult.
Yet today’s false gospel of easy believism, hyper-grace and the prosperity
gospel all sing a different tune.
It is truly difficult to inherit eternal life:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads
to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and
the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew
both these passages in Luke 13:24 and Matthew 7:13-14 concur: The way to heaven is difficult and few will get there.
To recapitulate, are we willing to take Dr Luke’s three types of bitter medicine
found in Luke chapter 13?
fruit in keeping with repentance
to enter through the narrow door
Or do we dismiss the above and choose
to go our own merry way, taking the path of least resistance, like the
Psalm 11 sheds light on
the fact that God will not let evil prevail indefinitely. His justice means that,
one day, He will surely intervene and judge evil.
these dark days, when evil abounds, we tend to be overwhelmed by a sense of
despair and hopelessness.
the psalmist, we cry out in dismay, “When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do (Psalm 11: 3)?” If the “limits” and “props” in life
have being removed, and freedom becomes licentiousness, what can the faithful do?
let’s be encouraged by the fact that truth will ultimately triumph over evil. God, who is sovereign, is still in control of everything. He is seated on His heavenly
throne, watching good and evil over all the earth (Psalm 11: 4-5).
Persecuted saints almost cannot bear the long wait for
God to intervene, crying out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before
you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth (Revelation
6:10)?” But Christ will return at His appointed time to judge evil, as we read
later in same chapter.
who choose to willfully live in sin
will be judged. “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers
and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will
be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation
False teachers and prophets have a great time now, reaping ample material
rewards and enjoying man's acclaim. But when Christ returns, they will have to face
His judgment. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not
prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty
works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart
from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
The Antichrist will be given a free hand
to wage war against the saints and commit evil deeds during the Great
Tribulation ... until the day Christ returns and destroys him. “And then the
lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of
his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2
Thessalonians 2: 8).
Psalmist ends by stating that God is a God of justice. He will destroy evil
doers and vindicate the righteous:
will rain burning coals and sulfur on the wicked;
scorching wind will be their portion.
the Lord is righteous; He loves righteous deeds.
upright will see His face.
11: 6-7) But
we, as believers, become partners of Christ and receive eternal rewards only if
we persevere and prove to be faithful till the end (Hebrews 3:14, Colossians
is truth? The Bible clearly states it:
word is truth (John 17:17)
is the personification of truth (John 1:14, 17).
believers cruise along in life, happy in the knowledge that they are saved by
grace. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of thinking.
we often fail to see the many obstacles and pitfalls we will inevitably encounter
in our faith journey, which is by no means an effortless cruise because temptation,
deception, spiritual warfare and complacency will inevitably present challenges.
are unaware of these threats to their spiritual well-being. Perhaps they
hold a very positive outlook—that believers saved by grace will serve God free
from various temptations and struggles, ride away into the sunset and thence
into a blissful eternity. Or they may be too naïve or stubborn to heed the many
warnings in scripture about the dangers posed by the world, flesh and the devil.
Probably, they do not study God’s word in depth and, even if they do, they do
not meditate on it and consider some of its serious implications.
are some of these shocking implications
(which we hardly hear over the pulpit as it often dishes out seeker sensitive,
motivational, entertaining or ear-tickling material)?
brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God
has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away” (2 Peter
1:10). And if we don't work hard and do
these things, does this not suggest that we might just fall away?
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). Does
this not suggest that believers who fail to overcome will be blotted out from
the Book of Life?
they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by
all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one
another, and will hate one another. Then
many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will
abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be
saved (Matthew 24:9-13). Does this not
suggest that he who fails to endure amid end-time persecution, lawlessness and
deception will not be saved?
you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now
He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy,
and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—if indeed you continue in the
faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the
gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which
I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:21-23). Does this not suggest that unless believers continue to be steadfast in
the faith, we will not be ushered into God’s presence one day?
do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do
not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,
nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards,
nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians
6:9-10). Does this not suggest we have
to repent and be made righteous first before we can step foot into God’s holy presence
(one-off sinner's prayer won’t avail)?
if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of
judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. For you have
need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive
what is promised. Or, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and
will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks
back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10: 26-27, Hebrews 10: 36-38). Does this not suggest that it is not enough
for believers to start well but finish well, that God will judge His people if
they shrink back and choose to willfully live in sin?
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the
cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the
cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the
same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed
them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not
pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil 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 rose up to play.” We must not indulge in
sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single
day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed
by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the
Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were
written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1
Corinthians 10:1-12). Does this not tell
us one thing—that Paul was using the failure on the part of the wilderness wayfarers
to enter the Promised Land as an object lesson to believers today that if we
practise idolatry and immorality and persist in unbelief, like them, we will
miss out on heaven (even if we are genuine believers)? Notice the last verse: “Therefore
let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that
turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it
is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of
sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first
confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:12-14). Does this not suggest that in order to receive God’s
promise of eternal rest, we need to endure till the end and remain faithful?
The trouble is when we study or read God’s word, we are often in a rush and miss out on these harsh implications. Even if we would for a moment consider them, we will try to explain it away, a process called rationalisation. For example, if you warn someone about the dangers of smoking as it might increase a person’s likelihood of getting heart disease or lung cancer, he might rationalise his behaviour by saying that no one in his family has a history of heart disease or that George Burns puffed away till he was 100. I hope that, as a believer who studies God’s Word, meditates upon it and desires to follow God, you will take some time to consider some of these serious implications. And, as a result, take action. May you draw strength as you pray and rely on the Holy Spirit.
be lulled into a false sense of eternal security by the premise, “Once Saved,
Always Saved”, which tends to promote complacency.
one hand, there are professing believers, who have the form of religion but not
the substance, the reality of God within their souls. The many warnings in scripture
about falling away are not primarily directed at them. You see, you can’t “unsave”
a person who is not saved in the first place.
the other hand, there are countless warnings by Jesus, Paul, Peter and the
writer of Hebrews about the real danger of GENUINE BELIEVERS falling away, which
we easily brush off because we hold the view that genuine believers will
definitely be saved eventually because of the work of the Holy Spirit—a
position which is unrealistic as man is basically evil and has a will (volition)
which he can exercise to willfully sin or deny God, a factor which Calvinism
ignores completely. When we discount man’s corruption and the operation of his
will (volition), we will be led to embrace the lie of “Once Saved, Always Saved”.
only genuine believers may fall away
and lose their salvation but manywill do so in these last days. And this
falling away in scriptures does not refer to professing believers. RELATED POSTS
The book of Ephesians is highly instructive. No other book
in the Bible lays outs so clearly for us the difference and relationship
between these two important elements of the Christian life—position and
life as we know it ends one day, and we meet our Creator, He will ask us one
question: “Do I know you?”
the story goes, there are two groups of believers, those who profess to know God and those who really know and obey Him. Thus we have
professing and true believers.
us turn to two passages in scriptures, both from the book of Matthew.
False prophets who move
in signs and wonders but do not know God:
everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but
the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will
say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons
in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare
to them, ‘I
never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
(careless, complacent believers) who called out in vain, “Lord, Lord” but were
shut out from the marriage feast (heaven) in the Parable of the Ten Virgins:
the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to
meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when
the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took
flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became
drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom!
Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And
the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are
going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for
us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while
they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in
with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other
virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I
say to you, I do
not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the
we see two groups of believers, those who professand possess the real thing (intimate knowledge of
God). What is this knowing or rather intimate knowledge of God?
To find out, let’s now turn to the
passage about believers as sheep and Jesus as the good shepherd:
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,[a] is greater than all, and no one
is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
we can see, true believers have a relationship with God. God knows them and
they, in turn, can hear His voice and follow Him. So we can say, God and true
believers have an intimate relationship.
you are a believer, ask yourself:
Do I seek to know God
better every day?
Do I pray, read and
study His word?
Do I seek to know His
will for my life and then do it?
will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
me and live” (Amos 5:4).
you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will
know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of
the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but
understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for
that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18).
be like the careless and complacent, foolish
virgins or the false prophets
who have all the bells and whistles of God’s approval but do not have a relationship
desperate to enter heaven, will cry out on judgment day, “Lord, Lord, let me
enter” but hear God’s voice of rejection, “I do not know you.”
have the form of religion without the substance, to profess but not possess the
real thing is the greatest tragedy in church today.
to enterthrough the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter
and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate
is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by
it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and
those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
When you greet someone Happy
New Year, what do you really wish for them?
What does Happy New Year mean to you?
“Happy New Year” greeting is usually
associated with health and wealth. We wish others happiness,
health and wealth. How many of us view this greeting as a state of blessedness when we come into a right relationship with God?
gospel and the doctrine of Bill Johnson (pastor of Bethel church, Redding, California)
emphasise a lot the former—that we have the right to be healthy and wealthy as
children of God. Their premise is that if we are living righteously, health and
wealth should also be ours.
in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12), did Jesus mention about health and wealth
as something associated with a state of blessedness in God’s eyes? Answer: No.
contrast, Jesus teaches that blessed are those who are meek, merciful, pure in
heart, poor in spirit, mourn, hunger and thirst for righteousness, make peace and
remain strong amid persecution. Nothing related to health and wealth,
legitimate though these earthly concerns may be.
Happiness, health & wealth are overrated What, then, is that
state of blessedness which we must strive to attain as we enter the New Year?
we must get back to God. We need to confess our sins and repent. For blessed
are they whose sins are forgiven (Psalm 32:1). Unless we repent, we will also
perish like other sinners (Luke 13: 5).
we must live intentionally and seek God to determine what His specific will is
for us (Ephesians 5:15-17). We need to acknowledge that God’s wisdom is far
above our human understanding and commit our ways to Him (Proverbs 3:5-6, James
we must be good servants who look after the master’s household well (Matthew 24:
45-51). We need to emulate the good stewards who utilise and/or invest our God-given
gifts, talents and resources (Matthew 25: 14-30), unlike the one-talent man who
buried his talent.
we need to be watchful (not complacent) and make sure our lamps are filled with
sufficient oil, which a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 25: 1-13). This
means we need to be continually filled with the Spirit and choose to walk in the
Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians
Well, not to sound too preachy and serious at the beginning of the year, I would
hasten to add that there is nothing wrong in greeting one another “Happy New
Year”—even if we mean that we wish them the traditional things like health,
wealth, happiness and success.
After all, we are all part of a community and “Happy New Year” is a socially acceptable
greeting akin to what the apostle John wrote: “Beloved, I pray that in all
respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3
we greet our friends and relatives Happy New Year, we must not
lose our focus concerning that which is of paramount importance: Seek first His
kingdom, seek the things that are above.
first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to
you.” (Matthew 6:33)
if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ
is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on
the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with
Christ in God.”
a Happy and Blessed New Year!
GROWING IN GRACE
Receiving God’s grace is
merely the first step in the life of a believer. The difficult part is to
continue growing, keep ourselves in God’s love and live out our calling.