TOO HARD! Copyright Š 2006Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Sometimes people say to us, "Your message is too hard." Or they may say, "You are bringing me under condemnation." With your permission I would like to discuss this "too hard," "condemnation" business for a moment.
Sometimes people say to us, "Your message is too hard." Or they may say, "You are bringing me under condemnation." With your permission I would like to discuss this "too hard," "condemnation" business for a moment.
Notice they do not say, "You are not preaching the truth," or, "You are not preaching the Bible." This tells us they are more concerned about their own comfort than what God has said in His Word.
Let me mention the "condemnation" business and then dismiss it.
It is not the preacher's business to bring condemnation on anyone. But it is his business to bring under conviction those who are not taking up their cross and following the Lord. I think everyone would agree with this.
How can you tell condemnation and conviction apart?
If the preacher says the believers who are gossiping and slandering deserve death, according to the Scriptures, and then sends them home, he is bringing them under condemnation.
If the preacher says the believers who are gossiping and slandering deserve death, according to the Scriptures, and then opens the altar and reminds the gossipers that if they will confess their gossiping, God is faithful and righteous to forgive their gossiping and cleanse them from all unrighteousness, then he is doing his job.
The person who leaves the church without confessing and repenting of his gossiping will continue under condemnation.
The worshiper who confesses and repents of his gossiping, receiving forgiveness and cleansing from the Lord, will leave the church a new creation.
Whenever we preach on the sins of the flesh, such as gossiping, we make a practice of telling the people of the provision God has made for their forgiveness and cleansing. Then we open the altar.
If the individual leaves without confessing his gossiping and repenting of it, saying in his heart that "everyone is doing it and it is not such a great sin," not having read or believed what the Bible says of it, he will remain angry declaring, "the preacher brought me under condemnation with his message."
It is up to the preacher to faithfully state what God is stating on the occasion. It is up to the worshiper to obey the Word of God. There is no condemnation resting on those who are following the Spirit of God. There is, however, condemnation abiding on those who hear the Word of God and refuse to repent.
In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4—NIV)
The Christian who cites Romans 8:1 ("Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus") but does not add Romans 8:4 (above) concerning the requirement of living according to the Spirit, is not faithfully adhering to the Word of God.
We have an awful lot of sugarcoated Christianity today. God is not like this nor does He accept silliness on the part of His people, as we will explain in a minute.
Having dispensed with the accusation of bringing unrepentant believers under condemnation, let us get to the subject of the word we preach being "too hard."
We mentioned before that no one says what I am preaching is not scriptural, the complaint is it's too hard.
This fact warns us right away that the individual is not following the Bible but he or she desires to have a soft gospel that is not too demanding.
So the issue is, does the Bible present an easy message or a hard message? What does God demand of people?
The Jews were given many commandments to observe. Some of the commandments were major, having to do with constructing idols or committing adultery. Others were relatively minor, being ceremonial rather than moral concerns, such as the washing of pots.
How did God view the transgressing of any of His statutes? If you broke His law ignorantly provision was made with animal sacrifice to forgive your sin. If you broke His law knowingly you were cut off from Israel.
A man was put to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath.
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." (Numbers 15:32-35—NIV)
Another man was killed for taking God's name in vain.
God dealt graciously with Israel when the people kept His commandments, blessing them with material wealth.
But when Israel rebelled against the Lord He was exceedingly harsh. Every kind of disaster overtook the nation until the people were led away into captivity.
"Ah, but that was the Old Testament. Now we come to the New Testament and we have good ol' Jesus. Now we have grace and mercy and God is ready to take us all up to Heaven so we cannot possibly be harmed by Antichrist or the Great Tribulation."
So we preach and so we believe. But we couldn't be further from the truth if we moved to the remotest galaxy in the starry heavens.
The Christian life has an element of hardness to it. Suffering is a major aspect of redemption.
For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. Hebrews 2:2,3)
The higher the rank in the Kingdom to which you have been elected the more intense will be the fires with which you are baptized; the bitterer will be the cup you are required to drink.
Let us think about Jesus for a moment. Was His stay on earth a pleasant one? Would you say He had led a hard life? I think you would agree the Lord Jesus Christ from the time He was in the wilderness of testing faced hard circumstances. The end was Gethsemane and the crucifixion. All very hard situations.
"Oh yes, but that was Jesus. He suffered so we do not have to suffer."
I know this is preached today. I wonder sometimes if the preachers know Jesus at all. Have they never walked with the Lord?
Paul says we are to share the sufferings of Christ. Paul did not say that Christ suffered so we do not have to suffer. This doctrine is totally unscriptural.
How about the life of the Apostle Paul? Did he lead an easy life or a hard life? What do you think? According to Paul his life was very hard, ending with imprisonment in a Roman jail (very hard indeed!) and martyrdom.
Tradition says all the Apostles were martyred with the possible exception of John the Revelator.
The record of Church history is one of imprisonment, torture, breaking up of families, life in the catacombs, martyrdom. One could not claim the life of the followers of Christ has been easy.
Of course, we of the twentieth century in America are not experiencing vicious persecution in the present hour. We have been promised an unscriptural "pre-tribulation rapture" that will prevent our suffering. Since such a fantasy will never take place, will we be able to stand during the age of moral horrors on the horizon? Will we be able to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?
But let me tell you why we are accused of being "too hard."
The current Christian gospel is that if we make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ we have our ticket to Paradise where we will live forever in a mansion, having no trouble or problems of any kind. What are we required to do in the meantime? Absolutely nothing. Oh it would be nice if we tried to serve the Lord (not to the point of serious inconvenience of course).
What if we continue to live in the flesh. Not to worry! It's okay with the Lord. His grace is taking care of our behavior.
This is really a wonderful gospel, not true of course, but very pleasant. We have a nice Blondie and Dagwood marriage and all the kids are grouped around us in the evening as we read the Bible and pray. And we all are waiting to go up in the Rapture. Isn't this nice?
Is this the way it is in your family? Most likely not. The chances are your family is dysfunctional and the Great Tribulation will probably not be much worse than what you are experiencing right now. I am speaking of Christian families.
Such is the army of God in America in 1998.
This pastor does not preach the wonderful grace-rapture-Heaven gospel or anything resembling it.
We are preaching that you are not a true Christian until you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Where do you carry your cross? To the place of execution.
We are teaching that God will permit Satan to put you in prison, figuratively or literally. There you will stay until God finds you faithful and grants you the crown of life.
We are teaching that much of the Christian life is hard, sometimes very hard. You have to keep on doing things for which you have no heart. Sometimes you are forced to take steps you do not wish to take but that are necessary for the sake of your family.
We also teach that after you have suffered for a while God will establish, strengthen, and settle you.
We teach that God will accept nothing less than the offering of your body as a sacrifice of worship.
We teach that Jesus must become not only your Savior but your absolute Lord. You must obey Him in all things. He may bring you into much suffering. You are not to complain or become angry with God or people. You are to keep on serving, keep on serving, keep on serving. You are to be the slave of righteousness, according to the sixth chapter of Romans.
God does not exist to serve you and make you happy. You exist to serve God and make Him happy. This is what we teach.
In many instances the believers of today are not able to bear such preaching. They run back to someone who will tell them that Jesus did it all and their part is to wait for the rapture.
However, the above is not the heart of the "too hard" complaint, only some side objections.
The real problem centers on what we have to say concerning the believer who does not do what God says. This is where we become "too hard."
The current teaching presents an unscriptural "state of grace." Unlike the saints of past history, the Christian is enclosed in a bubble that prevents God from seeing his conduct. Although he should try to do good, if he does not the consequences are not really serious. Numerous believers derive their security and joy from this unscriptural teaching.
There is no such thing as a "state of grace." Find it in the Scriptures if you can. It does not exist. It is a delusion.
The goal of God for man never changes, never, never, never! God's goal for man is that he be in the moral image of God and live in the center of God's will. There never has been and never will be any other goal for man. Man has been created to be in the moral image of God and also in God's likeness. This is how Jesus is and we are called to be in Christ's image, first on the inside and later on the outside.
From Adam and Eve to the present hour, God has increased His demands on people and also given the grace (enabling virtue, wisdom and power) to make it possible for people to respond to His demands.
The goal of the Christian salvation is the same today as in the time of Adam. But the demands are infinitely greater (Adam was never asked to present his body a living sacrifice). The grace is infinitely greater (Adam did not have the blood atonement to forgive his sins; he did not have the body and blood of Christ to give him inward spiritual life; he did not have the Holy Spirit to help and empower him; he did not have the born-again experience, the forming of Christ in him, to change him from a living soul to a life-giving spirit).
The demands on Adam were much less than those applied to us. The Divine grace given to Adam was much less than the Virtue of God given to us. But the goal remains the same.
Not understanding that Divine grace is the means of accomplishing God's goal for our life, we of today view grace as an alternative to the goal. Grace provides perpetual forgiveness so even though we are not transformed into the moral image of God, even though we do not press into rest in His perfect will, we are forgiven through grace and will go to Heaven to live in a mansion forever.
Can you imagine?—can you conjure up?—can you invent?—can you dream up a doctrine more opposed to God's intention than the teaching that Divine grace is an alternative to moral transformation and untroubled rest in God's Person and will?
I will answer for you. "No, you could not possibly come up with a more diabolical, destructive alternative to God's intention than the Christian preaching and teaching of today."
It is no wonder some complain we are "too hard," considering what they are being taught in other places. I would too if I were in their shoes, not knowing (or caring?) what the Scriptures teach.
But back to the central issue. The central issue is what will happen to me if I do not serve God as I should. This is where Satan gets in the act. He has not served God as he should have and so he is pressing for an amnesty. Satan says, "You will not surely die and neither will I!"
Now I am going to get "hard."
If you do not deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus to the place of death to self; if you do not offer your body each day a living sacrifice; if you continue to walk in the lusts and appetites of the flesh rather than in the Spirit of God; if you continue to sow to your flesh instead of to the Spirit of God; you know what? You are going to slay your own resurrection.
First of all, you are not going to attain the first resurrection, the resurrection of the ruling priesthood, the resurrection that will take place when the Lord returns.
Second, when you are raised from the dead at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age you are going to be clothed with corruption. If you are fortunate you will merely receive lashes, have your talent taken from you, and experience the fire of God's anger. You will be saved as by fire.
If you are not fortunate you will be confined in your body in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. In that lake you will experience endless torment. The fire will never be quenched. Eternal worms will eat at your resurrected body.
"God would never do a thing like that to His chosen!"
Won't He? Think about the curses proclaimed from Mount Ebal and then compare them with the Holocaust. Do you think God loves you more than He does the natural children of Abraham, His chosen priesthood?
This is where the "hardness" enters. The American believer wants to know, "even if I do not serve God as I should, will I be punished in the Day of Judgment?" The American loves to deal. He wants to know how much fun he can have in the present world and still go to Heaven when he dies. He has no love for God, he merely wants to perpetuate his comfort. This is why the unscriptural teaching of the so-called "rapture" appeals to him.
He is being told by an ignorant or money-loving ministry that he can have his cake and eat it too. "Go ahead and have fun. God loves you too much to permit you to suffer. You will never hear anything negative at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus did it all for you. Rejoice in His grace and love and don't worry about the future."
Those who teach this are going to appear before Christ with their congregations and explain to Christ why they taught such unscriptural, unhistorical lies. I think they may be sent to the same places of confinement as those who, because of their teaching, failed to serve the Lord.
Paul knew what the Judgment Seat of Christ was going to be like. Paul feared the Lord! Paul spent his life persuading people to live righteously because he knew the fear of the Lord.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope we are made manifest also in your consciences. (II Corinthians 5:10,11—NIV)
"Each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body."
"According to what he has done, whether good or bad."
Paul here is referring to the resurrection. What the believer has practiced in his body he will receive in his body in the Day of Resurrection.
Let me show you a parallel passage.
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (I Corinthians 15:32—NIV)
Notice the above verse carefully. We would not speak this way today because the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead has been lost to us. It is being restored today.
Paul is saying, "Nothing is gained by living as I live, suffering as I suffer, if the dead are not going to be raised. I might as well eat, drink, and be merry for I will die soon enough and that's the end of it."
We of today might say, "I serve Christ because I want to escape Hell and go to Heaven" (we don't even say this today!).
We should be fearing to disobey Christ out of an awareness of having to face the consequences of our actions in the day of resurrection. We would be concerned about our resurrection if our doctrine were correct.
Every Christian should live in terms of the Day of Resurrection. There is coming a time when we are going to be raised from the dead. What kind of resurrection we have will depend on how we have served the Lord. There will be a vast difference in the Day of Resurrection between the believer who has obeyed Christ and the believer who has lived in the flesh. Don't let anyone talk you out of it. There is no scriptural evidence whatever that grace and mercy will intervene in the Day of Resurrection. What we have sown we are going to reap.
It may be that Christ will choose to save some who are marginal and cast others into the Lake of Fire. These decisions are up to Jesus Christ. He knows the hearts. But do not let anyone tell you that you are not to fear the Judgment Seat of Christ! That person is in delusion and is destroying the work of God.
If you listen to Paul in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians and attain the first resurrection, the resurrection from the dead, you will not be judged in the Day of Resurrection. Your judgment will already have been accomplished in this life as you have suffered under the hand of God, obeying the Spirit, confessing and repenting of your sins.
If however you do not live with the strictness Paul describes, leaving all to gain Christ, living by the power of Christ's resurrection, sharing His sufferings, then you will be raised at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age. You will stand before the White Throne and be judged according to your behavior. The judgment that will take place after the thousand-year Kingdom Age is the principal administration of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Have you ever sat in court? I have. A jury decided my fate. I was being sued for more than my insurance was able to cover. Let me tell you that this is not pleasant. All you think about is the maximum penalty that can issue from the court.
The maximum penalty that can issue from the White Throne is eternal residence in the Lake of Fire. Imagine how you will feel as you wait for your time to appear, realizing that the maximum penalty is eternal separation from God, from all that is lovely, all that is wonderful, beautiful, desirable, to take your place with Satan, his angels, the demons, and the wicked of mankind.
You will be numb with fear.
This is why the Apostle Paul persuaded men. He knew what it will be like to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Paul stated clearly that Christians who continue to live in the appetites and lusts of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God; also that those who do not put their sins to death through the Spirit will drive out the eternal life they received when they came to the Lord.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13—NIV)
We know we will die physically whether or not we live according to our sinful nature. Obviously Paul was not referring to physical death, in Romans 8:13. Well then, what death was Paul speaking of? He had just got through saying if the Spirit of God is in us, our mortal body will be made alive in the Day of the Lord. Therefore when Paul said if we live according to our sinful nature we will die he meant we will lose the Spirit of God and our body will not be made alive by the Spirit in the Day of the Lord. It will remain dead in sin.
If we do not sow to the Spirit we will not reap eternal life in the Day of the Lord but will reap corruption in our body. As Paul said, at the Judgment Seat we will receive both the good and the bad we have practiced. If the bad outweighs the good we are in serious trouble. We can see from this how far off our preaching is today. It is not at all scriptural!
When we think about the desirability of attaining the resurrection that will bring life and righteousness to our mortal body, we can understand readily why Paul had set attaining the resurrection from the dead as the goal of his Christian life.
The other night in church I asked a young man studying for the ministry if he had ever heard one of his professors teach concerning Paul's desire to attain the resurrection from the dead. He said he had not.
Have you ever heard a sermon on attaining the resurrection from the dead?
Isn't it remarkable that Paul set forth attaining the resurrection from the dead as being the goal toward which he was pressing and yet we have never heard one sermon that emphasized the desirability of attaining the resurrection from the dead! We hear rapture rapture rapture but never attaining the resurrection from the dead. This is weird! To Paul the resurrection from the dead was the prime consideration, his main goal and hope. To us it is unknown. The departure from the Scriptures is truly awesome!
The reason for our ignorance is that the doctrine of the resurrection has been lost to the Christian churches. We think both the doctrine of eternal judgment and the doctrine of the resurrection are being restored in our day. We do not have a new revelation, we are just preaching what the Bible has always said.
The interesting thing is, the writer of Hebrews, in the sixth chapter, describes the doctrines of the resurrection and of eternal judgment as being elementary principles of the Gospel. Can you imagine? We have never heard of these and they are elementary! The writer of Hebrews says let us leave this kindergarten curriculum and talk about Melchisedec. Let us get into some of the meat of the Word.
No, I am not really "hard" in saying if you do not serve Christ you are going to suffer a terrifying Day of Resurrection. Rather I am scriptural. The American believers need to hear the truth. The gate to eternal life is small and the way is narrow and pressured. It is a rugged path. The righteous are saved with difficulty.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38—NIV)
"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection." That they might gain a better resurrection! Are we seeking to gain a "better resurrection"?
Tradition says it was Isaiah who was sawed in two.
The perseverance and courage of the Old Testament saints make us of today look like babies with our talk about a "rapture" to deliver us from trouble. Why do we think God loves us so much more than those saints, and the saints of today who are being tortured and killed in various countries of the world? Has God become a respecter of persons?
Am I too hard or are we too soft?
God wants us to return to the original Gospel of the Kingdom. Those who have gone before us have left bloody footprints in the snow.
Israel of the Old Testament displeased God and He sent them back into the wilderness. They had to wander one year for each day the spies searched the land. Then they had to be armed for war and invade the land of Canaan. God did not make it easy for them but He helped them whenever they did what He commanded.
The Hebrew prophets suffered hardness. Jeremiah was so miserable he complained of having been born. The prophets were rejected and renounced. Many of them were slain.
John the Baptist lived no easy life and finally was beheaded.
The Lord Jesus and His Apostles suffered much rejection, much humiliation, numerous hardships of all kinds.
The early Christians were persecuted viciously. So were other Christians throughout the ages.
Statisticians tell us more Christians have been martyred in the twentieth century than in any other. Today as I am writing a thousand or more Christians will be tortured or killed in different countries of the world.
And then the pampered Christians of America say I am being too hard! What will they do in future when no rapture takes place and they are being governed by the United Nations, their values being scorned and trampled under foot?
When He whose eyes are as fires appears and they realize He is not pleased with their lukewarmness, that He is not going to treat them as favorites, when they will have to suffer as Christians have suffered throughout the centuries, will they turn against Christ? Will they curse Him because of their pain?
It is not that the Gospel is too hard, it is that American Christians are too soft.
The believers of today are spoiled. Spoiled children become tyrants.
The New Testament means what is says. The Christian salvation is not an easy alternative to transformation into the image of Christ and untroubled rest in the Father. Rather it is the only way to such glory. Because true salvation requires the overhaul of our personality, as our worldliness, lust, and self-will give way before the forming of Christ in us, we suffer a considerable amount of denial of our desires. There is no other road to eternal life. Change is painful.
The alternative is to drift along in a casual manner, counting on our taking of the "four steps of salvation" to be our ticket to a mansion in Heaven, trusting that the Jews will have to face Antichrist without the Holy Spirit. We hope to slide along in our spiritually lazy manner until the Day of Resurrection arrives.
But we will be awakened from the dead to await the decision of the White Throne, numb with apprehension, realizing the Bible was true and we permitted ourselves to be lulled to sleep by an ignorant or self-serving ministry.
However, if we seek Christ with all our strength, living each day in intense interaction with Jesus, counting ourselves crucified with Christ and risen with Him to the right hand of God, confessing our sins and turning away from them as we are made aware of them, praying much, reading our Bible, assembling with the saints, ministering and being ministered to, giving, serving as we have opportunity, counting every aspect of our life not found in Christ as garbage, then we will hear His voice when He returns.
We will find ourselves standing on the ground surrounded by others who, like ourselves, are shining as the sun. Before we know it we will notice we are ascending to the clouds, there to be guided to our place in the army that is about to invade the earth.
We have attained the first resurrection, the resurrection from the dead. We are alive forevermore with Christ.
When Christ goes to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and is seated on the throne of David we will be part of the great throng that hails the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
You will want to be there on the great coronation day when the only rightful King of the world is crowned.
This is why Paul was laying aside all that he might attain the first resurrection. He invites you to follow in his steps that you might rejoice with him in the day both of you enter the joy of your Lord.
Major accomplishments in life, whether becoming a champion swimmer or an accomplished pianist, require years of the most diligent effort. But the athlete or musician accepts the painful discipline and denial because of the goal, held in the imagination, of what success will mean.
So it is with the Day of Resurrection. Set the joy before you, in your imagination, of what it will mean to be raised when the Lord appears.
Set joy before you. Then you will be able to endure the hardness of the cross. This is what your Lord did!