A Believer or a Disciple?

“,,,any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Is there a difference between a believer in Jesus and a disciple of Jesus? If so, are all believers expected to be disciples?

I tackled a similar question years ago on the now defunct blog site Zanga (anyone remember that?), and I received quite a few replies to the effect that all believers in Jesus are expected to be disciples, or that there is no difference between the two.

The answer to this question becomes muddled when we see instances where seemingly ordinary believers are referred to as disciples, as in Acts  19, where Paul encounters some “disciples” in Ephesus who only knew the baptism of John, and were then baptized into Jesus (and received the Holy Spirit) via Paul. If these men were called disciples, then surely all who believe in Jesus must be disciples as well.

Not so fast. Like the term “apostle,” the designation of “disciple” may also have varied meanings, not always true to its original usage by Jesus. For example, Jesus welcomed anyone to come to him and believe in him, yet on several occasions he actually warned followers against becoming disciples. To Jesus, a disciple was one who would leave everything in order to live and travel with him, to learn and imitate his way of life and teaching.

On occasion, someone in the crowd would declare that they wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, and they received an unexpected rebuke, as in Luke 9: 57-62

As they were walking along the road a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

At first, some of these statements by Jesus seem overly harsh, like Jesus is discouraging people from following him. But upon closer examination we see that he is only warning enthusiastic supporters that becoming a disciple entails special hardships and the renouncing of normal family ties and expectations. In other words, it is an all-or-nothing commitment, and no one should embark on it unless they are prepared to pay the cost.

This hints at the distinction between those who would believe in him and those who would become disciples. The distinction is even more clearly stated later on, in Luke chapter 14, where Jesus lays out the requirements for discipleship:

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

To actually be a disciple of Jesus, he says we must renounce our normal family obligations and attachments, and in fact give up “everything” so that we may follow wherever he leads and do the work of the kingdom exclusively, or nearly so. This doesn’t mean we totally abandon our families – we are later told that the brothers of Jesus, and Peter and the other apostles all took believing wives along with them in their ministry travels. But a distinction is made between living an ordinary life with all of the normal family obligations and expectations, and living as a disciple where many of those things are abandoned or minimized in importance.

At the very least, a disciple must be prepared to walk away from “everything he has” if necessary – family, home, job, possessions. This was done by the Twelve, as Peter testified, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mk. 10:28)

In the same Luke 14 passage, Jesus gives two examples that encourage his followers to soberly evaluate their depth of commitment before daring to become disciples. The first is a man who starts to build a tower and then realizes he cannot finish it. The second is a man who might go to war against a superior force. Both men, Jesus says, should carefully examine their situations before deciding to implement their plans, and if they cannot finish what they start, they should make other plans.

In the same way, followers of Jesus who want to be disciples should soberly evaluate their commitment – whether they are willing to forego normal family relationships and obligations, and whether they are willing to renounce everything they have in order to proclaim God’s kingdom. According to Jesus, if we recognize that we are unwilling to give up everything, it’s not shameful, it is wise. It is better to not put our hand to that plow than to do so and later turn back.

The point here is that even in the early church there were many hundreds / thousands who believed the gospel and joined in church fellowship throughout the Mediterranean world of the time, and most of these folks continued living in their homes and working at their jobs and carrying on normal family and social relationships. These were believers and followers of Jesus.

By faith they were now living in obedience to the teachings of Jesus and relying on the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Guide. They were living without fear of death, in the hope of the resurrection, and free from the power of sin to enslave them. It is the same today.

The Apostles, however, were commissioned to go and disciple all nations (make disciples in all nations). These disciples are those who give up everything – just as the Twelve did – to go and proclaim God’s kingdom. It is mainly the disciple who proclaims the kingdom and wins others to Christ, although all believers should be ready to give and answer to anyone who asks about the hope that we have.

But discipleship is an all-or-nothing commitment by Jesus’ own definition. It is not shameful to realize that you do not have “what it takes” to embark on the life of a disciple. It is wise – according to Jesus – to recognize our weaknesses and refrain from a false commitment.  It is no less glorious to live as a faithful believer, shining a light at home, at work, and in the communities where we live. Both paths are pleasing to God, and each will receive its reward.

Some Christians take offense at this, believing that we all ought to be passionate enough about Jesus to become disciples, and magazines like Discipleship Journal promote the notion that discipleship merely entails faithful, obedient living in our ordinary lives. But what they are really promoting is, in fact, faithful, obedient living – a good thing to be sure, but really no more than is expected from every believer in Jesus. How can one confess Jesus as Lord without faithful obedience?

What such publications do not promote (or rarely) is actual discipleship as defined by Jesus himself, and it’s just as well that they don’t. We should not push or pressure people into making a commitment they cannot keep. Rather, we should warn people of the difficulties – as Jesus did – so that they can soberly evaluate whether they are truly willing to forsake all normal earthly pursuits for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Some will, and that’s great. The world needs more disciples. Some won’t, and that’s OK too. The world needs faithful, ordinary believers.

I long ago evaluated my status (as Jesus encouraged) and came to a wise conclusion. I have a wife and a home and a job and an extended family. I am fairly committed to these things, and am able to live in obedience to Jesus while maintaining these ordinary pursuits and relationships. If some special call of Jesus required that I forsake some or all of these things, I like to think I would obey.

But in the absence of a special calling, by merely evaluating myself – as Jesus encouraged – I know that I am not prepared to walk away from it all in order to proclaim God’s kingdom. Rather than making me feel ashamed, I thank God for the wisdom to know my limitations and the spiritual strength to live faithfully where I am.

Yes, the Scriptures do testify that there is an important distinction between a believer in Jesus and a disciple of Jesus, and understanding that difference is key to being at peace where God has placed you, and valuable in keeping us from making rash commitments we don’t fully understand.

“,,,any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

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Not Voting for Jesus

So I was reading this article that asks the question: Would Bernie Sanders vote for Jesus? The article concludes that, by Bernie’s standards, Jesus could not run for public office due to his (Jesus) insistence that some people will one day be condemned.

The article’s author laments the trend that those who stand for any kind of moral truth or biblical standards are increasingly being marginalized and squeezed out of public service.

The irony of this article – in my opinion – is that Bernie’s attitude isn’t the problem. Jesus’ own standards would prevent him from running for public office in America, or anywhere else.

We live in a sinful world made up of sinful kingdoms, America being one of them. To rule a kingdom in this sinful world requires that governments believe and behave very differently than what Jesus commanded for his disciples. For example, nations must defend themselves with violence, killing their enemies in the name of self-preservation. They must also lay down laws and enforce them with threat of punishment, up to and including death.

In contrast, the commands of Jesus reflect his rule in the kingdom of God, which is currently modeled by the Church. In God’s economy, enemies are loved and obedience to Jesus is a voluntary choice, never coerced. Personal possessions are shared and generosity is shown toward the poor. Citizens of God’s kingdom love one another by virtue of their identity in Christ, and they emulate his example of self-sacrifice. That’s how peace is maintained in the Kingdom.

The royal law of love, detailed in the many teachings of Jesus, can never govern a sinful nation in this present Age, nor was it intended to. As long as Satan holds power over the earth and sin holds power over human hearts, nations must be ruled by an earthly, unspiritual paradigm. Only the Church is capable of governing itself under the Lordship of Jesus, and even the Church falls short in many instances.

So no, Bernie Sanders would not vote for Jesus, because Jesus would never run for office in this present Age. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now, my kingdom is not of this realm.’”

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Today’s Christian Prophets

Many Christians today are unaware that there is a movement within the church – mainly in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles – where prophecies, dreams and visions are commonplace, and that many Christians are listening to these modern-day prophets to understand what’s happening in America and the world.

Some of these prophecies are “generic” affirmations of encouragement for whoever they may apply to, such as anyone facing depression, anxiety, or a financial crisis.

Other prophecies – those I will focus on here – have to do with current events in America and worldwide. Nearly all of the “prophets” I am familiar with agree that the world is in, or is entering, the Last Days before the return of Jesus Christ.

WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?

Most of the prophecies coming out today focus on the recent election of Donald J. Trump as America’s 45th President. This election is heralded as the dawn of a new era of Christian dominance in our culture and around the world.

Donald Trump has been prophesied to be God’s “anointed servant” who will accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God, even if he doesn’t realize it yet. His presidency will lead to the breakdown of demonic strongholds and the opening of formerly closed nations to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is one example that accurately illustrates the general tone and content of today’s prophetic outpouring, this one from Stephen Powell of Lion of Light Ministries, as reported on the “prophetic” website Elijah List. I have edited out a few bits due to the length, but please read this through:

I hear the Lord say, “I have chosen you Mr. Trump, and you will be a leader to many, not just of your people, but of the world. You will not just be seen Mr. Trump, but you will be heard, for I have released a sound in you, and that sound shall be heard around the world. It will ring true and loud, and be like a shock-wave in many countries where tyranny has reigned, and they will not be able to keep it out,” says the Lord.

“For I will raise up this sound in others, even as I have raised it up in you. It’s the sound of the Trumpet of the Lord, a sound of victory, a sound of freedom, a sound of faith.

Hearts will rise to meet world problems based on the sound I’ve released,” says the Lord. “Fear will be replaced with faith, doubt with optimism, for tomorrow will be greater than the former days,” says the Lord. “My people will hear the sound and they will believe it.

I see this man’s anointing being sent out like an electrical shock wave which will awaken the heart of freedom in nations that have not beat with it in generations,” says the Lord. “The earth will see, and hear, and seek refuge in Me. This is the hour of My refuge,” says the Lord.

“Stand Tall America, and Honor Israel”

America, America, I have called you in this hour,” says the Lord. “To stand tall, to stand free, to stand independent and sovereign, in the light of My glory. You will lead the world into a new day, My day, My vision, My heart,” says the Lord.

As you honor Israel, I will honor you. As you remember the poor once again I will remember you. As you feed the hungry, I will feed you. And nothing will stop you. You are an unstoppable nation, a moving force for good and greatness, in the sight of the nations,” says the Lord.

I have chosen Donald Trump to forerun a new model of national leader; yea, even a new form of world leader,” says the Lord. “This man will batter through demonic barriers, even on the world stage, which no man or woman in world history, has been able to have the breakthrough in before. But I have anointed him for this time, and his strength is not his own. I have assigned My angels to assist him in the breakthrough, to remove every stumbling block, to extract every demonic levy.

“His sound will be heard and felt, and I will put My fear on entire nations who see, and fear, and do not understand My working in this man,” says the Lord. “For he will demonstrate something that I have chosen him for, a unique office, a unique position, a unique role. And many will follow after him, not just in America, but in the nations,” says the Lord.

“Trump Will Bear My Heart—Fearless in the Face of the Demonic”

He will continue to give much of his fortune, and much of his life, for this cause which I have yoked his heart to. And this cause, which he has not yet fully understood himself, shall continue to take hold of him and consume his heart. I will make him a compassionate leader, a loving leader, but a strong leader, fearless in the face of the demonic,” says the Lord.

Let the spirit of breakthrough flow through this man’s administration, as the breakthrough of Heaven’s armies continue to invade the earth, even Africa, even the Sudan, even the far east, parts of the world broken, uncontended, I will contend for your heart,” says the Lord.

“I will release in the valleys of darkness, in the places of captivity, in the strongholds of religion and men. For it is time for the piercing light of My Word to go deeper and deeper. I will continue to go deeper into India, deeper into the Sudan, deeper into Saudi Arabia, deeper into Iran. I will break apart your foundations, and build new ones in the apostolic, new ones in love, new ones in Me,” says the Lord.

“And My Kingdom will advance, My Kingdom will wage war, for the battle is Mine,” says the Lord!

If you want to read many similar recent prophecies, you can visit the Elijah List for current or archived prophecies / dreams / visions that have been posted there. You will note that it is God speaking through these prophets, or through their dreams and visions.

IS IT ALL TRUE?

Well… Maybe.

Maybe not.

One reason for skepticism is that many positive prophetic utterance were previously spoken over other politicians when they seemed to be on the cusp of political victory – former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former Texas governor Rick Perry – to name a few. In most cases, these folks fizzled out without much influence, although some are still active politically.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

Another reason for concern is that all of these prophecies are spoken in the context of the imminent return of Jesus Christ – that is, this great revival of Christian faith and dominance will usher in the Second Coming. We are in the Last Days.

It is certainly possible that there will be a renaissance of faith and morality before Jesus returns, but that is not how my Bible describes the Last Days. In fact, my Bible says there will be “terrible times” in the Last Days, with every sort of wickedness running rampant (2 Tim 3:1-5). There will be a great falling away from the faith, many false prophets will appear, and all nations will hate the followers of Jesus (Mt. 24:7-14). This will be a time of severe suffering and testing for God’s people, and the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the earth (Mt. 24:12-14; see also Jn. 16:2; Rev. 20:4).

When I look at today’s headlines, I see every one of these indicators already in play around the world. We are given this advance warning so we won’t be caught unaware, but will be prepared and found faithful despite the coming tribulations.

BUT IT IS REVIVAL POSSIBLE?

Yes, we could experience a great revival of End Times faith – not mentioned in the Bible – but that revival would only be a temporary reprieve while the gospel gets a final proclamation worldwide, before the trials of the Last Days begin. So yes, maybe these prophets are actually speaking by the Holy Spirit.

WHAT ABOUT THE KINGDOM?

However, there is another odd feature to these prophecies – they seem to equate political favor and cultural dominance with “victory” for the Kingdom of God. In this view, outlawing abortion or gay marriage, increasing Christian rights, teaching the Bible in public schools, appointing conservative judges, all indicate that God’s Kingdom is advancing and experiencing great victory.

But when Jesus was questioned about God’s Kingdom, he indicated that it is not of this world, i.e. not like an earthly kingdom. It does not consist of governmental power or cultural dominance, and so it cannot be seen or observed in the usual way.

Instead, the Kingdom is within us and among us, visible whenever the sick are healed, demons are expelled, or the gospel is preached; visible whenever good deeds are done in the name of Jesus. (Lk. 17:20-21; Jn. 18:36; Mk. 16:17-18; Mt. 5:14-16)

The idea that God’s Kingdom is established or expanded by Christianizing the government or the schools seems to run counter to the plain statements of Jesus. In fact, such an occurrence already took place once before.

It was the early 300’s AD when Christianity – formerly persecuted – enjoyed a remarkable renaissance of political influence and power. Being embraced by Roman emperor Constantine and officially recognized throughout the empire, it wasn’t long before the official Church wielded its newfound power to ruthless effect: imprisoning, torturing, and executing those who dared to disagree with official doctrines and teachings. The Church had become like any earthly kingdom, upheld by force of law, with all the attendant corruption, graft, and carnality that accompanies earthly governments.

Today’s prophets envision a re-making of America, where laws uphold Christian values and the government governs by Christian standards. Even the media /entertainment industry begins producing movies and programs that exhibit Christian teachings and doctrine.

Did Jesus intend for his people to wield political power over others, and to fashion laws that require Christian conduct? Being that God’s Kingdom is Spirit-powered and Spirit-led, can God’s Kingdom ever be yoked with an earthly kingdom like America?

“For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15)

A FINAL DANGER

Lastly, we know that there will come a day when a man will rise to political power who is definitely not “God’s anointed.” This man will exhibit apparent wisdom; he will bring order and peace – even peace to Israel. He will no doubt have the support of many Christians and be looked upon by many in the Church as a champion of good government.

But he will soon be revealed as Satan’s own emissary – Antichrist. In his pride and delusion he will even declare himself to be God and worthy of worship. He will have a False Prophet at his side who will deceive many by performing miracles – amazing, supernatural signs and wonders. He will command armies and wield great authority, and he will severely persecute those who confess Jesus.

I’m not saying that Donald Trump is the Antichrist! But whether Trump or some other politician, this great deceiver will be elevated with the initial support of the Church, or a large part of it. It is possible that the Elijah List and her prophets are playing right into this scenario by throwing their support behind any political leader who cozies up to Christians – no matter how prideful, self-indulgent, or morally bankrupt that individual seems to be.

SO STAY ALERT!

Time will tell whether these many predictions are true or not. We will soon see if the gospel of Jesus experiences a revival of power and influence over America and the world.

Yet even if these prophecies prove true in that sense, will we be exchanging the true Kingdom for a false, earthly, unspiritual one? Will Christians be throwing their support behind the very person who will turn on them in the end?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Let me be clear in stating that I don’t know the hearts or motives of every modern-day prophet found on the Elijah List or anywhere else. I’m sure many of them are doing good works and furthering the gospel.

I would only point out that as far as I read in my Bible, the true Kingdom of God will never be embraced by the world or the culture. It will always be attacked, criticized, and persecuted. Until Jesus Christ returns we will be at spiritual war with the principalities and authorities that govern this present world system, and we shall never be yoked with that system

And in the Last Days we will fully understand that “it has been granted [us] on behalf of Jesus Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Php. [1:29)

Stay alert Christians, be aware of what’s happening, and know God’s Word. At some point, “terrible times” will come, and it may be soon.

I would love to hear any thoughts, comments, or personal experiences regarding today’s Christian prophets, so feel free to comment below.

~ Don

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Cultural Engagement

When you hear Christians speak of “cultural engagement” they are speaking about something Jesus never did. Jesus engaged people – particularly sinners. He was a friend to them, he talked with them, he ate dinner in their homes, he healed them, he told them Good News and he invited them to believe. At the same time, Jesus didn’t give a rip what Caesar was up to. Jesus was proclaiming a different kingdom.

Today, “cultural engagement” is code for when Christians try to bend a sinful culture until it conforms to Christian norms, whether they believe the gospel or not. “Cultural engagement” involves passing laws that force sinners to act like Christians. “Cultural engagement” means preserving the Christian façade of America so that we Christians can continue to live comfortably without fear of persecution, so that we can bear the Name of Jesus with little or no personal cost, so that we can pursue the crown without bearing the cross.

Our actual mission – to preach the gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, be a friend to sinners – gets lost as we pursue our cultural agenda. Sinners think we hate them, while we think that America’s fate hinges on electing the right President.

Something’s wrong, folks. “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev. 2:5)

~ Don

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Jesus and the Constitution

I know we all like to say that America was founded on “Christian principles” and that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians, and this gives rise to the faulty notion that America was founded as a “Christian Nation.” But the truth is – now brace yourself – the U.S. Constitution does not specify that those seeking Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness must also agree to abide by Christian morals and norms.

It’s true. Although the Founders didn’t foresee the incredible moral decline of American society, they pretty much enshrined “equal rights” for all people into the Constitution, and when you give unsaved, un-regenerate people the right to “pursue happiness” you open the door for many non-traditional, sinful, or just plain whacky behaviors to be tolerated and protected by law.

As fine a document as it is, the U.S. Constitution does not proclaim or support the Kingdom of God, and it is absolutely powerless to curb our human appetite for sin. Rather it enshrines our right to sin, if sinning makes us happy.

Christians today are putting a lot of misguided faith in the Constitution to set things right in America. “If only the President obeyed the Constitution! If only judges would interpret it correctly! If only we passed amendments banning abortion and gay marriage! Then America would be great again.”

But Jesus doesn’t call us Christians to make America great, but to make His Name great among all people. And we can never accomplish that by passing laws that force unbelievers to act like Christians. There was a time when the Church ruled Europe and people were persecuted, jailed, and tortured for disobeying Church laws. Is that our vision for America? Because that is exactly where a “Christian nation” will lead us.

Unbelievers are incapable of living like believers! If you don’t agree, at least consider God’s Word which declares that “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7,8).

You see, it is impossible to establish a “Christian nation” on earth based on God’s Word and His commandments. Israel is the obvious example of this, who having God’s Law and prophets nevertheless descended into immorality and idolatry.

Jesus, on the other hand, never compelled anyone to obey or believe in Him. He showed love and compassion toward sinners, taught them with gentleness and respect, and invited “whosoever will” to believe and follow Him. This is also our job and pattern for building God’s Kingdom. The U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with our calling in Christ. We are fighting the wrong battle to achieve the wrong result.

The Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is not of this world, and we are citizens of that Kingdom. It is not upheld by the force of human documents or laws, or politicians, but by Jesus Himself. It is manifested wherever the Church lives out the radical Kingdom precepts laid down by Jesus.

We manifest and build God’s Kingdom by consistently eradicating lustful and angry thoughts, turning the other cheek when insulted, faithfully loving our spouses, giving to others without expecting any return, always going the extra mile, showing love toward our enemies, always acting as peacemakers, sharing the gospel of salvation. In short, by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This is what it means to be “salt and light.” Not voting Republican or Democrat. Not passing laws and prohibitions. Not changing our Constitution to better suit our Christian morality. And certainly not picketing, protesting, and insulting the very sinners that Jesus died to save. None of these is able to accomplish what Jesus has commissioned us to do.

So Christians of America, if you really want to transform your nation for Christ, then drop the divisive politics, re-read the beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, and personally start acting like a citizen of God’s Kingdom by obeying the King in every attitude and action. Start fighting the right battle in the right way. Any other approach is not of God and destined to fail.

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I Am Blessed and Not Ashamed

A friend recently shared a post wherein the author adamantly insisted that Christians should immediately stop saying “I am blessed” when asked how we are doing, and we should stop referring to any material possession as a blessing, e.g. “Our new car is such a blessing.” He gave his reasons for making this claim – you can read his article here. I completely disagree with his reasoning and his conclusion. I am blessed, and here is why he is wrong.

First, the author says that calling any material goods a blessing “reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.“ How so? It is a biblical fact that God is among other things, Provider, and that He promises to “add all these things” (food clothing, the stuff of daily life) to those who seek Him first. This doesn’t “reduce” Him to anything, it’s just a part of His nature.

Nor does God stop at the bare necessities of life, as demonstrated by His promise to Israel to “open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store it” (Malachi 3:10) if they would only be faithful in paying their tithes. If the author calls that “positive reinforcement” well, apparently God uses it.

Furthermore, when Paul specifically addressed the matter of giving money for poor believers, he stated that God “who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor 9:10,11). Here is a straight-up statement that God will materially recompense the Corinthians as a result of their generous giving, with the aim that they can be even more generous as time goes by. You can’t spiritualize this, he is talking about money.

But perhaps of more concern is the author’s second reason for insisting that we not say we are blessed: “It can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $1 per day.” In other words, since many Christians worldwide do not have the same level of material wealth that I do, I ought to refrain from giving God any glory for my own “blessings.”

There are several problems with this reasoning, not the least of which is that other cultures and communities measure wealth differently than we do in America. A mud hut with a tin roof and fifteen chickens is considered well-off in some parts of the world. Just because others seem impoverished by our standards doesn’t mean they have not been blessed by God.

Even in the most arduous of circumstances God may still bless with fresh water, a morsel of food, an article of clothing – whatever is available under those conditions. God can materially bless anyone, anywhere, and the degree of that blessing may depend, in part, on the surrounding circumstances and conditions. Does that mean that those who are in a position to receive more ought to not thank God for it? 

This is important to understand: Our blessings from God do not come because of our own worthiness or God’s special favor toward us but not others. God blesses according to His will and purpose. Sometimes He does so in response to prayer or faithfulness. Sometimes He does so in spite of our coldness and faithlessness. And His blessings may be tempered by our earthly circumstances. None of that negates the fact of His blessing.

Regarding Jesus, it is certainly true that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” because the poor tend to be more dependent and trusting of God for their needs, and God wants that from all of us. Still, some poor folks are thieves, cutthroats, and liars. Simply being poor does not, in itself, make one “blessed.”

Jesus also said, “Woe to you who are rich.” Yet some wealthy believers are very generous toward the poor or anyone who is in need. Simply being rich does not consign a person to suffer “woe.”

The bottom line is this: If we are to stop saying “I am blessed” then we must also stop thanking God for anything at all. You see, when we thank God for our food we are acknowledging that He had a hand in providing it. In other words, God blessed us with food.

When we thank God for our job, or our promotion, or our wife / husband, or our children, we are implicitly stating that God has brought those things into our lives, i.e. He blessed us with them.

Giving thanks to God for anything implies that it has come from Him, and therefore He blessed us in the giving of it. And that is the real truth of Scripture, that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (Jas 1:17).

The author is right about one thing: We will be called to account for how we have made use of our blessings. Those who have been blessed with much ought to look after those who have not. That is one reason God blesses anyone at all – to test their faithfulness and give opportunity to show practical love to others. Yes, I am blessed by God, and I am also responsible before God.

So don’t be ashamed to testify when God has blessed you. Give Him the thanks and the glory He deserves, acknowledge His generosity, and always be generous toward others.  

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The Gift of Being Peculiar

What does it mean that Christians are a “peculiar people?” Dictionary.com defines peculiar as: strange, odd, unusual, distinctive in nature, belonging exclusively to some person, group, or thing.  Now, although some believers are no doubt odd, and even though we ought to be unusual – by the world’s standards – in our attitudes and behaviors, our New Testament designation as peculiar (Greek: periousios) actually describes us as belonging exclusively to God as His “prized treasure” or “special possession.”

In other words, God owns all of creation, but believers in Christ are especially precious to Him. We have heard that God is a jealous God, and that the Holy Spirit is grieved when we sin, and both of these statements are better understood when we realize just how much we mean to our heavenly Father. It’s as if your own beloved husband or wife is flirting with someone else, or deliberately doing things to hurt you. You are jealous; you are grieved. So is God.

Being God’s prized possession means that we can always be confident of His love for us, His willingness to forgive, His promise to supply our needs, and His desire to order our steps as we navigate the circumstances of this life.

Yet for all of this, we so often disregard God’s love and the special place we hold in His heart. It’s as if God offers us everything – Himself – and we respond with a ho-hum, uncomprehending attitude, pursuing other interests, money, worries and cares, fumbling our way through life, never drawing near to God or receiving all that He wants to give us. At the same time we manage to indulge our sinful nature in various ways, insulting the Spirit of grace and treating the death of Christ with contempt. Sadly, the Bride of Christ is often a pretty lousy spouse.

Nevertheless, we remain precious to God. His patience and grace toward us are beyond comprehension. He will never stop pursuing us with a jealous love, to rescue us from our own self-destruction. If we require discipline, God will discipline us as a Father disciplines His child, for our own good and salvation. Thank God that He does not “divorce” us in the midst of our unfaithfulness, but tirelessly works to turn us toward Himself.

Some people – mostly theologians – will insist that eternal life cannot be gained and then lost by anyone, but Scripture makes clear that it is possible to be “enlightened” by the gospel, to “taste the heavenly gift,” to “share in the Holy Spirit” and the “goodness of God” and the “powers of the coming Age,” and then to fall away. Likewise, Peter tells us that it is possible to escape the corruption of the world by “knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and then to again become entangled and overcome. Knowing Jesus here implies a very personal relationship beyond mere belief in some facts, and so, yes, any of us can fall away if we persist in disobedience and, eventually, unbelief.  Nevertheless, God will work mightily to prevent such a falling away from happening, because we are – each one of us – His “prized treasure” purchased by the blood of His own Son.

How can you make your calling and election sure? For starters, wake up from your slumber! Recognize God’s great love for you as His “peculiar” son or daughter. Place a high value on your status as God’s “prized treasure” by pursuing love, righteousness, and obedience to His life-giving Word. Flee from sexual immorality, lust, greed, hatred, drunkenness, and every earthly pursuit that draws you away from God. Show God that He is your beloved, your “treasure of great value” and that when it comes to making time for prayer and fellowship with Him, everything else can wait. After all, being “peculiar” is a wonderful gift!

Ref: Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 10:26-31; Hebrews 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 2 Peter 1:3-11

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