23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23–26, NKJV).
Commitment. Jesus had it and was committed to doing the Father’s will to the point of death (“lifted up” John 8:28-29). Early Christians had it, losing their lives rather than denying the Lord (Acts 7:59-60; 26:10). Christians who faced impending suffering were exhorted by Christ to “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). This directive helps us understand what it means to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Even life itself must not be more precious to us than Jesus and doing His will. There is no benefit in gaining the whole world and forfeiting souls. Commitment to Christ eliminates being ashamed of Him and His words. We express faith that overcomes the world by our commitment to Christ (1 John 5:4). Commitment to Christ takes precedence over everyone and everything in the life of a disciple. May it be so with us today and each day that follows.
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, NKJV)
Faith is the victory that defeats the world of evil. A good brother reminded me that the righteous die victoriously (Sword Tips #2226), as assured in Revelation 2-3. Let us briefly note those assurances to “him who overcomes.” 1) Access to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7). Eternal life, forever sustained by God’s provisions. 2) Protection from the second death (Rev. 2:11). The faithful have no part in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8). 3) Identification as God’s chosen (Rev. 2:17). This one is known and kept by God forever (Rev. 14:1; 22:4). 4) Share in the glory of Messiah’s victory over every evil enemy (Rev. 2:26-28). The faithful one will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). 5) Confessed before the Father (Rev. 3:5). The pure life that unashamedly lived for Christ is written forever in the Book of Life (Mk. 8:38; Rev. 20:12). 6) Secure citizenship with God in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 3:12). Forever dwelling with God, serving Him in full fellowship is the reward of those who hold fast (Rev. 3:11; 21:2, 22). 7) Reign with Christ over sin and death (Rev. 3:21). To forever share in His great victory over every enemy of God will be the indescribable reward of the righteous (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5). These are our hopes and expectations in Christ. He will keep His word to us. Let us keep our word to Him and be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).
Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his! (Numbers 23:10, NKJV)
When all is said and done, and they lay our cold, dead body in the grave, will it be said that we died the death of the righteous? Death comes “to the righteous and the wicked,” it is true, but their deaths are different in eternally significant ways. 1) The righteous die in faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). Only when we walk by faith will we die in faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Being faithful to the Lord in life affects how we die (Lk. 12:19-21; 16:19-25). 2) The righteous leave a legacy of good deeds. A display of her charitable kindness attended Dorcas’s death (Acts 9:36-39). “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Tim. 5:24-25). 3) The righteous die after a life of spiritual service despite adversity. “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Rev. 14:13). Come what may in life, our paramount goal is to die in the Lord. 4) The righteous die with God’s blessing. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psa. 116:15). Death is an appointment we will all keep (Heb. 9:27). We choose whether ours will be the death of the righteous by the choices we make in life.
By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11, NKJV)
We observe a vital element of faith in this reminder of Sarah’s conception of Isaac. Faith judges God to be faithful and true to His word. God promised her husband, Abraham that of his seed, all the nations would be blessed. That promise would not come through Ishmael, the handmaid Hagar’s son, but Sarah herself (Gen. 17:15-21). Although now ninety years old (and Abraham was ninety-nine), Sarah judged God to be faithful. Sarah’s conception is a beautiful account of the power of faith in God to do what He said He would (Rom. 4:17-22). In like manner, we judge God to be faithful to His word. Such a judgment is the seed of faith that germinates into trustful obedience. Faith is not a blind leap into the dark. It is a confident step of following His word because He is faithful. We walk by faith because we know whom we have believed. We are sure He will keep what we have committed to Him until the day of eternity (2 Cor. 5:7; 2 Tim. 1:12; 1 Pet. 4:19). The strength of faith comes from trusting the integrity of God to do what He says (Titus 1:2). God will keep His word. Now, let us have faith to keep His (Jas. 1:21-25).
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14, NKJV)
If remembering helps us fortify our resolve in the present, forgetting helps us forge our path to the future. Forgetting is often about not letting past achievements and failures to get in the way of our aspirations and objectives as we move toward our heavenly goal. Paul chose to “forget” his previous advancements in Judaism and the confidence in the flesh they could prompt (Phil. 3:3-8). (These advancements led him to persecute Christians.) By counting them as “rubbish,” he was determined to “gain Christ” (v. 8). Paul also chose to “forget” his progress as a Christian (Phil. 3:9-11). He refused to become apathetic and neglectful in his faith; He had not yet attained “to the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11). His service to Christ was not complete (perfected, v. 12). He would keep moving forward toward the eternal prize while blessed with the “righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9, 12; Gal. 2:20). Like Paul, let us not put our confidence in the flesh and be deterred from “reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (v. 14). May we live for heaven while we live on earth.
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NKJV)
Paul was about to charge Timothy before God and Christ to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1). He needed to know that difficult, stressful times were ahead (2 Tim. 4:5). He would have to recognize those who were dangerous and “turn away” from them (v. 5). So do we. These perils present us with decision points when we must choose to be faithful to Jesus and accept suffering for the sake of righteousness instead of yielding to the protection of compromise with error and evil. We should observe that Christians who maintain their faith in the Lord, their love for His truth, and their devotion to Christ above all are not the culprits. They are not responsible for the times of peril. Those who love themselves, money, and sinful pleasures apply and pressure Christians to deny their faith. They are proud and boastful, disrespectful to authority, unthankful, unholy, lacking the love and self-control to be kind and forgiving toward others. They are brutal and arrogant. Some even appear to be pious as they defame and blasphemy (v. 5). They are not. We live in difficult times, too. Abhor evil and love good even when peril comes (Rom. 12:9). Take heart and overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). We are more than conquerors in Christ (Rom. 8:37).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5, NKJV)
Christians have a living hope because Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. His life beyond the grave is God’s proof that we will be raised to receive a heavenly inheritance. When we lived in sin, we had “no hope” and were “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Now, through faith, God keeps (guards) Christians, and we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (v. 5; Rom. 5:2). Even though living by faith brings tribulations, we do not lose hope. Our confident, lively hope is anchored in God’s mercy, love, and promise of a heavenly inheritance (v, 3; Rom. 5:3-5). We believe God. Our faith assures our hope (Heb. 11:1, 6). Conversely, secularism breeds despair (Rom. 1:18-32). Its atheistic skepticism and reliance on human wisdom fail to nourish the soul with hope beyond death. Faithlessness gives no enduring reason to deny ourselves and follow the Lord’s will with perseverance (Rom. 5:3; Lk. 9:23). Faith overcomes the world’s sin, skepticism, and selfishness (1 Jno. 5:4). Eternal salvation is prepared and will be revealed. Choose to live by faith and live in hope.
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3, NKJV)
The foundations of our society are cracked. Decades of denying the existence of God and His truth, of sanctioning the killing innocent, unborn life, of oppression of our neighbors to get ahead, and of rejecting the fundamental truths of morality and marriage – all these and more can tempt us to despair of hope and remedy. Through David, God gives us answers that look above the moment and beyond the horizon of hurt and horror. When the foundations are destroyed, the righteous can 1) Keep their trust in the Lord God (Psa. 11:1-2). Corrective truth comes from God, not humans (Jer. 10:23). He protects us from an eternal perspective that we must foster that grounds us in times of trouble. 2) Remember God has not moved (Psa. 11:4). He remains enthroned in heaven; His sovereignty secures our faith and assures us His purposes prevail. 3) Know God sees and investigates every person and judges between the good and the evil (Psa. 11:4-6). The wicked do not escape His gaze and cannot hide from His justice (Rev. 6:12-17). 4) Know God is righteous, and He loves righteousness (Psa. 11:7). He beholds and rewards those who seek peace and pursue righteousness (Matt. 6:33). The righteous remain steadfast when foundations are shaken because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. God is a consuming fire upon evil and the sustaining hope of all who serve Him “acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:27-29). These are the things the righteous can do.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8–10, NKJV)
Do you ever feel like you are beyond saving? Like your sins are so many, so frequent, so powerful over you that you say to yourself, “God could never forgive me!” If so, then listen to the parable of the lost coin very carefully. You are valuable to God! He is looking for you! He wants to find you! He is willing and able to forgive you from the storehouse of His mercy and compassion (see Lk. 15:1-7; Eph. 2:1-10). Image if you lost one-tenth of your money. Wouldn’t you look for it diligently and rejoice when you found it? God is like that. He values every sinner. He does not look for sinners so He can condemn us, but so He can save us. The real question is not whether God can save you; it is, “Do I want to be saved?” “Do I want to live differently?” “Do I want to have the sure hope of eternal life?” Earnest faith, repentance toward God from a contrite heart, baptism into the death of His Son, and a life devoted to following Jesus are what God wants from every sinner (Jno. 8:23-24; Acts 17:30; Rom. 6:3-4; Jno. 8:12). You are valuable to God. Value yourself, put your faith in Jesus Christ, and follow Him. He will save you.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, NKJV)
God deplored the insincere faith of Ephraim and Judah: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). He still does. In defense of His interaction “with tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus explained that He came to call sinners to repentance – those who need spiritual healing (Matt. 9:11, 13). He applied Hosea to His critics, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:12). Accurate knowledge of God compels mercy toward sinners without forgetting one’s dutiful offerings to God (Matt. 23:23; Psa. 85:10-13). We have received His mercy and are to be merciful as we serve God (Matt. 18:33). Yet, being a Christian is often reduced to rituals and formalities in not a few churches. Sinful conduct of members is winked at and ignored because they are large donors, prominent in the community, in regular attendance at worship services, or otherwise highly regarded (1 Cor. 5:1-2). They may “fast twice a week” and “give tithes of all” they possess, but such things are meaningless to the Lord when hearts are far from Him (Lk. 18:10-14). God foretold and executed judgment upon Ephraim and Judah for their insincere, disobedient faith (Hosea 6:5). Let us learn from their failures and not repeat their sins (1 Cor. 10:5-13). Genuine and enduring faith must be driven by mercy toward others as we keep the commands of God.