The Gospel’s Legal Disclaimer

Lately I’ve been talking about self-denial and persecution. These are the “downsides” of Christianity, the stuff Joel Osteen wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. The stuff most pastors of any church that hopes to grow won’t touch.

Self-denial and persecution, when actually mentioned,  get tacked on to the end of the Gospel message as a sort of legal disclaimer. “Adherence to these beliefs may cause certain side effects including loss of self, persecution by former friends, loved ones and people you don’t even know. Other symptoms may include rocks to the head, saws to your neck, flames to your feet and projectile vomiting. Use as directed.”

Unfortunately, most Gospel presentations don’t even include the disclaimer, most just promise you happy, happy, joy, joy. Health and wealth. Power to fulfill your American Dream. Jesus is nothing more than a friend with a big bank account and free meds.

The Church seems content to teach this. It’s what people want to hear and people will pay big money to hear what they want to hear. There’s good money in the happy, happy, joy, joy gospel. Don’t expect it to go away.

Last week we looked at 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” “That will” is a Greek word that means “intend or resolve.” This same Greek word is used in another similar passage when Jesus says:

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?”

The word “intending” is the same word translated “that will” in 2 Timothy 3:12. When a person resolves or intends to do something, they should consider what the cost is in carrying out their resolution.

Christianity is no different from a construction project. Consider what you’re doing. When the Church, the sole possessor of the Gospel, doesn’t tell people the cost, they merely equip people to fail.

He becomes the seed sown in stony ground that fades away when tribulation or persecution come his way. He didn’t count the cost, didn’t even know there was a cost cuz no one told him. Then he gets blown away by tough stuff. He protests, “Hey, I thought you guys said everything was happy, happy, joy, joy?”

We never mention the cost. This is not just an error of Joel Osteen and TV preachers, this is common Christian behavior. “Don’t you know we’re saved by grace? We don’t have to suffer. Why are you telling people that?” Is the response from “good Christians.”

But that’s what the Bible says, so it’s kind of what I have to say.

Justifying Your Non-Persecuted Faith

OK, so 2 Timothy 3:12 is true, now what? What if we examine our life in light of this verse and see that we have no persecution? What do we do? I think you have three big options:

1) Justify your lack of persecution.
This can be done many ways. I mentioned a couple yesterday–You can say this was only true in Paul’s day or you can pretend that people treating you weird is persecution.

Some have even gone so far as to say there are two groups of people Paul is dealing with–the first group is the general mob of Christians and the second group are those who actually want to live godly. In other words, there are average Joe Christians and Superman Christians. Superman Christians can expect some kryptonite whereas average Joe Christians are off the hook. I find this to be ridiculous. All believers will have a desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, it’s kind of one of the main points of being saved.

In the end, you can justify your way out of this one all you want, I just wonder what God will say about your justification on Judgment Day. Whose word judges you: yours or God’s?

2) Go get persecuted.
This option seems logical. If all who live godly in Christ suffer persecution, then if I get persecution, I must be living godly. There are some who read this verse as a reason to go be a dork so that someone will hate them. Once they get their desired hatred, they call it a day, “Yup, I know I’m saved cuz I got persecuted.”

Seeking the end is not what Paul desires. Any old moron can get persecuted for any old reason. Every popular person has critics. Notice Paul never said, “All who are persecuted are living godly in Christ Jesus.”

3) Get a true desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.
The only proper application of this passage is to desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. If you do not currently have this desire, you may need to get saved first. Then you need to focus on Christ–That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.

This is where self-denial enters and the life of Christ takes over. Perhaps there’s some growing you need to do before anyone notices your desire to live godly. Paul doesn’t say “you will suffer persecution every minute of every day.” The persecution might be later, but if you have a desire to live godly, it will show up.

In the end, I really don’t think this is a verse you should freak yourself out about. I think this is a verse of consequences, not a verse of mode of operation.

The context shows this. Paul talks about the persecution he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra and then goes into 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea and all who will live godly. . .”

Paul is not telling us to pursue persecution, he is telling us that this is the inevitable result of doing Christianity right.

Paul’s main point on Christian living is that it’s about the life of Christ, not you. Do this and the results will take care of themselves.

Test Your Faith: Do You Suffer Persecution?

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” is one of the toughest verses to consider when examining to see whether you are in the faith.

The reason why is because of the use of the word ALL along with the harsh word “suffer persecution.” In order to combat the unfortunate conclusions drawn up by the non-sufferer of persecution, two main diversions will be employed:

1) Deny the truth of the verse. This is the most common tactic. People will say, “Well, yeah, in the days of the early church this was true, but it’s not true anymore.” This would be fine if Paul had said “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus in my day shall suffer persecution,” but he did not.

2) Invent persecution. Many will trivialize the notion of persecution and say, “Oh, dude, this one time? I wore this Jesus shirt to the mall? And, like, totally, this clerk would not help me find some jeans. I was like, ‘Dude, do you hate me cuz I love Jesus?’ And they were like, ‘sh-yah.'” And thus goes our persecution.

Again, as I said two days ago, the word means to actually pursue, to hunt down, to press toward. It’s not merely wearing a Jesus shirt into a hell-hole and getting a rise. They aren’t hunting you, you specifically went to them to annoy them.

Furthermore, the word also carries the idea of suffering, not being mildly inconvenienced.

Persecution is one of the greatest evidences of faith God could invent! Sure, Joel Osteen thinks being rich and happy are evidence, but that’s easy. God chooses what is foolish with man to prove things. God says, “Hey, want to know if you’re doing faith right? You’ll be in pain.” This makes total sense coming from the God who died on a cross for the remission of your sins.

Persecution accomplishes four things:

1) It shows the true threat that Jesus and Christianity are to the world system.
2) It proves that true faith leads to suffering, hardship, sacrifice and other tough things.
3) It embraces resurrection and other biblical promises (see Hebrews 11 about better countries to come!)
4) It keeps the riffraff out. Count the cost!

2 Timothy 3:12 says persecution should be expected by the faithful, godly follower of Jesus Christ. Paul is either lying or we got something wrong. As John Wesley said about 2 Timothy 3:12 and the use of the word “all”:

“There is no exception. Either the truth of scripture fails, or those that think they are religious, and are not persecuted, in some shape or other, on that very account, deceive themselves.”

Persecution Comes to All Who Do Christianity Right

American Christians suffer little to no actual persecution. Oh sure, a Ten Commandments monument is toppled here and there, but no Christians were actually hurt in the toppling. And, yes, I equate persecution with physical suffering.

I do so because the word “persecution” in Greek actually has the word “suffer” involved in its meaning.

The best verse in the Bible on persecution is 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

The English words “shall suffer persecution” are all from the one Greek word for “persecution.” It involves actual harm and suffering.

Now, if we examine this verse we see that ALL of a group of people, all is from a Greek word that means “all” by the way, will suffer persecution. ALL with no exceptions.

Who is this group who will ALL suffer persecution? They are “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus.”

Note it isn’t even all who are living godly, but all that will live godly. “That will” carries the idea of resolving, being determined to. Even having the intent of living godly in Christ will lead you to suffer.

Note also it’s not just living godly, but living godly in Christ Jesus. Earlier in 2 Timothy 3 Paul talked about people who had “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” There is an outward show of what people think godliness is, but it lacks any spiritual power.

True godliness is only possible in Christ Jesus. You must be born again and walking in the Spirit, in the newness of life. Living godly truly means living the life of Christ–no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.

As Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:3-4 the person who obeys the words of Jesus Christ is the one who will live according to the doctrine of godliness.

If you have the life of Christ living through you, people will come after you to do you harm. The reason why is because that’s what people did to Jesus, it has to follow logically that it will happen to those whom the life of Christ is lived through.

2 Timothy 3:12 is one of the toughest verses Paul says about practical Christian living or about proof of salvation. It is rarely mentioned. It should be mentioned more.

Persecution of American Christians

Eighty-five people were killed in a church in Pakistan last Sunday. There are stories coming out of more and more countries concerning persecution of Christians.

People act as if this is some new thing, or that it’s never been this bad before. Sure it has. Christians have always been persecuted. Even in America.

Just the other day a Ten Commandments monument was toppled in DC.

Now, let me just say, it irritates me highly when people claim toppling a monument is persecution. It isn’t. It was probably some dumb kids acting like dumb kids.

“But, but, but” well-meaning Christians say, “This is how persecution starts. It starts small and if no one does anything it gets worse.”

Really? How many Ten Commandments monuments were toppled in Pakistan?

Christians very rarely get persecuted in America. One of the main reasons I know this is because we claim monument toppling and the banning of “Christmas trees” as persecution. If that’s the worst ya got, ya aint got persecution.

Eighty-five people bombed in a church, now that qualifies.

Now, is this just my theory or is this legit criticism?

The Greek word for persecution means to pursue, to follow, to press toward. Persecution is not some random monument toppling, it is actually being hunted.

Acts 9 gives the best account of what persecution looks like when Saul

“yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

Saul’s persecution of believers made him actually leave where he was to go get them, to hunt them down. Persecution is when a hostile party is constantly nipping at your heels, trying to do you harm. Think religious leaders against Jesus.

Government bans of Christmas trees in capitol buildings is just silly, it’s not persecution. Frankly, I really don’t care about Christmas tree bans since they have pretty much nothing to do with anything Christian anyway.

American Christians are not persecuted like Saul persecuted or believers in Pakistan are persecuted. We aren’t.

Perhaps we can chalk it up to good luck, God’s hedge of protection or our military’s ability to hold back Muslims. Those would be possible reasons. Perhaps there’s another one.

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus
shall suffer persecution.”

The Misplaced Emphasis of Sola Fide

Because of things like Sola Fide, many believers think faith is the most important thing in the Christian life. That being the case, many believers view their own faith as their biggest concern.

Faith has come to mean a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Individuals then get busy being on an individual level with Jesus, as if no one else really matters. We take our “quiet time” and even teach young believers they will never grow without “quiet time, just time alone with you and God.”

This is the result of Sola Fide thinking. If it’s all by faith, I better get consumed with myself and my faith. It feeds our individualistic, narcissistic nature very well.

Is faith really the most important thing? Is faith really the Sola Sola?

Here’s another verse that really throws people for a loop, or at least would if they considered it for more than 8 seconds at weddings. From 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is charity.”

Perhaps we should say it again to make sure we caught that

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is charity.”

Paul says love is greater than faith. Yet I have never heard anyone talk about Sola Amo.

As we fixate on our sola fide we ignore everyone else. Love is only possible when you begin thinking about someone other than you. Sola Fide can become individualistic and even hostile to others.

Again, the greatest commandment is not “believe the Lord your God” but is “Love the Lord your God.” Without love, faith is just a thing signifying nothing. Faith become cold, hard, stoney logical conclusions with no emotion.

But the Christian life is a life of love, a life of sacrifice and compassion. It is an emotional thing as well as an intellectual thing. Too often people flip from one to the other. But notice how often love and faith are linked together:

Galatians 5:6–faith works by love
Ephesians 1:15–I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,
Ephesians 6:23–Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith
Colossians 1:4–your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints
1 Thessalonians 1:3–your work of faith, and labour of love
1 Thessalonians 3:6–good tidings of your faith and charity
1 Thessalonians 5:8–putting on the breastplate of faith and love
1 Timothy 1:14–exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus
1 Timothy 2:15–continue in faith and charity
2 Timothy 1:13–in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus
Philemon 1:5–Hearing of thy love and faith
Revelation 2:19–I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith
1 John 3:23–this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another

I’ll sum it up with the Beloved Disciple’s take on it all

“the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”

Faith doesn’t fly solo and neither does love. Faith works by love. If we miss this, we miss pretty much the whole point of Christian life.