On a cold December night in 1984, a group of six young brethren huddled together in a flat in South London- engaged in deep Bible study, as they regularly did on alternate Fridays. It was me who threw out the following point for discussion: Reading back through the news from ecclesias as recorded in our church magazine, for every three baptisms there is one person who leaves the Faith- and the ratio is worsening. In other words, many who start the race just don't hold on. The parable of the sower says just the same. Noticing the shock among the other five brethren, I recall saying something along these lines: " Of course, that's only an average, it doesn't mean that a third of us here tonight will leave the Faith" . But now, ten years later, there are only two of us left.
This may seem extremely discouraging for those of you recently baptized. But the reason we came to be baptized was because we were realists, we saw the emptiness of this life, we were unafraid to face up to the desperate need we have for salvation. So the fact that the spiritual life is difficult, a wilderness journey, and that many find it too hard, should be something else we are prepared to face up to. I find it significant- if that's the right word- that those who turn away do not usually go to other churches or doctrines, but return to the temporal pleasures of this world. Surely this in itself proves that our beliefs are firmly founded on God's word of Truth.
Yet God is not trying to make the way to the Kingdom impossibly difficult for us; the yoke of Christ is easy, His burden is light. " Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" . The fact God has done so much for us, above all in giving His Son to die for us, is proof enough that He will not make it too hard for us to attain the great salvation which Christ has enabled. And yet in other ways, it is hard. Christ himself often warned of the hardness of the road, telling people to think twice before they decided to follow Him. He speaks of the spiritual life as carrying his cross, day after day. The picture of a man carrying a cross is the picture of a man who finds it hard to carry on, a man who finds endurance increasingly difficult. This means that we must face up to the real need for endurance, " patient continuance" as Paul puts it.
There are a number of passages which powerfully put before us the logic of enduring. In a sense, the greatness of the Kingdom ahead should be our motivator. And yet God has seen fit to reason with us another way: if we seek to please ourselves in this life, we will suffer anyway, just as much as if we chose to suffer for the sake of living a spiritual life. Therefore there is a glaring logic in choosing to suffer for the sake of righteousness rather than for the sake of sin. The implication of this is that the happiness of the sinner is only on the surface, as it appears to men.
So let's review some of the passages which speak of the logic of endurance in this way:
- " They that will be rich...have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:9,10). The Greek translated " pierced themselves through" is related to the verb 'to crucify'. We are asked to crucify ourselves, to give up the brief materialism of this life. Yet if we refuse to do this, we still pierce ourselves through, we crucify ourselves, with the pain which comes from a mind dedicated to materialism and self-fulfilment, a life devoted to reaching the end of a rainbow. So what is the logical thing to do? It's crucifixion either way. The idea of piercing self through with sorrow is actually a direct quote from the LXX of 1 Kings 21:27, where Ahab was pierced with sorrow as a result of his coveting of Naboth’s vineyard. And yet when Naboth was dead, Ahab tore his clothes and put on sackcloth, in sorrow for what he had done (1 Kings 21:16 LXX- omitted in the AV); but these very words are used in describing how when Ahab heard the words of his condemnation, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth (21:27). His sin brought him to tare his clothes, just as he did when his condemnation was pronounced. In his seeking for happiness he pierced himself through with the sorrow of condemnation.
- Thus the cross is described as a skandalon, an offence (Gal. 5:11). Either we stumble (are offended) on it, or we stumble and are offended in the sense of spiritually falling away. Either we share the Lord’s cross, shedding our blood with His “outside the gate” of this world; or we will share the condemnation of those whose blood is to be shed in destruction outside the city (Rev. 14:20). It’s Golgotha now, or later. The cross makes men stumble; either falling on that stone and being broken into humility, or the uncommitted stumbling at the huge demand which the cross implies. Paul had all this in mind when he wrote of the lust / affections of the flesh (Gal. 5:1), using a word elsewhere translated " sufferings" in the context of Christ's cross. The sufferings, the lust, the cross of the flesh... or the cross of the Lord Jesus. We either bear our iniquities and their result (Lev. 19:8), or we bear the cross of the Lord Jesus. It's a burden either way. The Lord played on this fact when He spoke of there being two roads, one which leads to death, and the other to life (Mt. 7;13,14). The Greek word translated 'lead' is in fact part of an idiom: to be led is an idiom for 'to be put to death' (cp. Jn. 18:13; 21:18). Indeed, the very word translated " lead" in Mt. 7:14 is rendered " be put to death" (Acts 12:19). So, we're led out to death either way, as the criminal made his 'last walk' to the cross. We're either led out and put to death for the sake of eternal life, or for eternal death. The logic is glaring. The Hebrew of Ps. 139:24 reveals a telling play on words which makes the same point: " Wicked way" is rendered in the AVmg. as 'way of pain'; the way of wickedness is itself the way of pain.
- Jeremiah used this kind of logic in appealing to Israel to humbly repent: " Say unto the king and to the queen, Humble yourselves: for (i.e. because) your principalities shall come down " , i.e. be humbled (Jer. 13:18). The pride of man will be humbled by Yahweh; if we refuse to humble ourselves, then God's condemnation of us in the day of judgment will humble us. Therefore it is logical to humble ourselves now.
- John the Baptist had a clear perception of this logic: " He (Jesus) shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit (even) with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and...he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mt. 3:11,12). John put a choice before them: fire, or fire. Either we are consumed with the fire of devotion to God, or we face the figurative fire of the judgment.
- The Lord Jesus picked up on the same idea. He spoke of the destruction of the unworthy in Gehenna fire, and went straight on to comment: " For every one shall be salted with (Gk. 'for the') fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted" (Mk. 9:48,49). Unless we become a living sacrifice, wholly consumed by God's fire, laying ourselves down upon the altar, then we will be consumed by the figurative fire of Gehenna at the day of judgment. Again, there's no real choice: it's fire, or fire.
- And it’s bankruptcy, or bankruptcy. Paul spoke of spending and being spent in the Lord’s service, alluding to how the prodigal spent himself in dissipation (Lk. 15:14). That sense of losing all must come- either in sin’s service, or in that of the Lord.
- The tongue / words of both the Lord Jesus and the “strange woman”, an epitome of the devil, are “sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov. 5:4). We must be cut open one way or the other.
- The wicked “coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not / unsparingly exercises pity and compassion” (Prov. 21:26 LXX). The desire to extend oneself, to get much further than where we presently are, is inherent to human nature. We must harness it in a never ending desire to give out, rather than to receive.
- We must have tribulation, either in the condemnation of the judgment (Rom. 2:9), or now, in order that we will enter the Kingdom (Acts 14:22). We must bear the burden either of our sins (Am. 2:13; Is. 58:6; Ps. 38:4) or of the Lord's cross (Gal. 6:4 etc.). We will experience either the spiritual warfare of the striving saint (Rom. 7:15-25), or the lusts of the flesh warring in our members, eating us up with the insatiability of sin (James 4:1; Ez. 16:28,29). Either we will mourn now in repentance (Lk. 6:25; the Greek for " mourn" is often in a repentance context), or we will mourn at the judgment (Mt. 8:12 etc.). Having foretold the inevitable coming of judgment day, Yahweh Himself pleads with Israel: " Therefore also now...turn ye even to me...with weeping, and with mourning" (Joel 2:12).
- The day of the Lord will result in the wicked being " in pain as of a woman that travaileth" (Is. 13:8; 1 Thess. 5:3). The Lord seems to have alluded to this when He spoke of how the faithful just before His coming would be like a woman in travail, with the subsequent joy on delivery matching the elation of acceptance at Christ's return (Jn. 16:21). So, it's travail- or travail, especially in the last days. If we choose the way of the flesh, it will be travail for nothing, bringing forth in vain (this is seen as a characteristic of all worldly life in Is. 65:23). We either cut off the flesh now (in spiritual circumcision), or God will cut us off. This point was made when the rite of circumcision was first given: " The uncircumcised [un-cut off] man...shall be cut off" (Gen. 17:14).
- " Whosoever shall fall on this stone (Christ) shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Mt. 21:44). There is an unmistakable allusion here to the stone destroying the image, the Kingdoms of men, in Dan. 2:44. The choice we have is to fall upon Christ and break our bones, to get up and stumble on with our natural self broken in every bone; or to be ground to powder by the Lord at His return, to share the judgments of this surrounding evil world. Yet strangely (at first sight) the figure of stumbling on the stone of Christ often describes the person who stumbles at His word, who rejects it (Is. 8:14,15; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:7,8). In other words, through our spiritual failures we come to break ourselves, we become a community of broken men and women; broken in that we have broken our inner soul in conformity to God's will. As Simeon cuddled that beautiful, innocent baby Jesus, he foresaw all this: " Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again (resurrection) of many in Israel...that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk. 2:34). If we are to share His resurrection, if we are to experience such newness of life in this life, we must fall upon Him, really feel the cutting edge of His word. We must be broken now; or be broken and ground to powder at the judgment.
- The whole of Romans 6 plays on this idea. We are slaves to sin, and through entering Christ, we become slaves of righteousness. Total freedom to do what we personally want is not possible. We are slaves, we can't serve two masters. So why not serve Christ rather than the Biblical devil? Likewise Moses offered Israel the choice of bondservice to either Yahweh or their enemies (Dt. 28:47,48). And Mic. 2:3 likewise reminds Israel that they will be under the yoke of judgment if they reject Yahweh’s yoke. The Lord spoke of His servants having a light yoke (Mt. 11:30). The Bible minded among His hearers would have thought back to the threatened punishment of an iron yoke for the disobedient (Dt. 28:48). 'It's a yoke either way', they would have concluded. But the Lord's yoke even in this life is light, and has promise of the life which is to come! The logic of taking it, with the restrictions it inevitably implies (for it is a yoke), is simply overpowering.
- We must be living sacrifices, devoted to the Lord (Rom. 12:1); but if we flunk out of this: " His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins" (Prov. 5:22). We're a sacrifice either way, tied up without the freedom of movement as we would wish. There's therefore and thereby an element of sorrow, either way in life: " Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of (i.e. that gift you will really, eternally enjoy): but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Cor. 7:10).
- The land of Israel had to be rested every Sabbath year. God's people thought they could quietly ignore this inconvenient requirement of their God, and get away with it. But God has His way, in everything, all the time. Eventually the whole land had to go through 70 years laying desolate, to compensate for the 70 Sabbaths (over 490 years) which His people had ignored to keep (2 Chron. 36:21).
- The Biblical records of those who took the easy way (as they thought it) often emphasize that they ended up in essence with the same experience of suffering which they would have had if they followed the way of the Kingdom. Those who worshipped idols forsook their own mercy (Jonah 2:8). Rachel demanded children, unless she would die; but she died in child-birth. Israel utterly corrupted themselves in their idolatry (Dt. 31:29); the Hebrew for " corrupt" also means 'to destroy'. They destroyed themselves by their sin. " O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help" (Hos. 13:9), if only they would take it.
- Not only is the logic of choosing God's way so powerful, but the way of the flesh is not satisfying. Sin became a weariness to Israel even before they reaped the punishment for it (Is. 57:10); their mind was alienated from the lovers they chose; they left the one they left the God of Israel for (Ez. 23:17). They always wanted new gods; they were never satisfied with their idols (Jer. 44:3).
- The sacrifices taught Israel that God especially valued the fat- the best parts of their lives were to be freely offered to Him. But the wicked at judgment day will be as the fat of lambs, consumed upon the altar (Ps. 37:20). We either give our best to the Lord’s service now, or He will ultimately take it from us anyway. Cars, houses, flats, valued jewellery, banknotes stashed away, bank accounts, our innermost emotions, jealousy, love...we either give them now, or He will take them from us in the day of judgment.
- Having spoken of the need to take up the cross daily, the Lord Jesus employed this form of logic to encourage people to really take on board what He was suggesting: " Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross...for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, and the gospel's, the same shall find it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own life (AV " soul" )? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mk. 8:34-37). If we follow Christ, we must lose our natural life. If we don't, even if we gain the whole world, we will lose our natural life. I must lose my life, one way or the other. We need to go through life muttering that to ourselves. God asks our life, our all. If we hold it back in this life because we want to keep it for ourselves, He will take it anyway. The cross was a symbol of shame (Heb. 12:2 speaks of the shame of the cross). In this context verse 38 continues: " Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed" at the day of judgment. We either go through the shame of carrying the cross now, especially in our personal witnessing to those around us; or we will suffer the eternal shame of rejection (Dan. 12:2); our shame will then be evident to all (Rev. 16:15).
- The Greek text in Mt. 16:25,26 and Lk. 9:25 can bear a re-translation and re-punctuation which quite alters the sense as found in the English translations. It shows the Lord emphasizing the evident and compelling logic of losing our lives for His sake: " Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For how much a man is profited if he shall gain the whole world (in the Kingdom) and lose his own soul (now, as I asked you to do, to lose your soul for me)!...for the Son of man shall come... and then He shall reward every man according to his works" , i.e. the losing of our soul is through our everyday works. Lk. 9:25 makes the same point: 'How is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world (the Kingdom) and lose himself (now)!: or - be cast away, be condemned at the judgment, because he tried to keep his soul, he didn't see the logic of all this!' .
- We must lose our lives, one way or the other. If we lose them for Christ, we will find eternal life. If we keep them for ourselves, we will lose that eternal life. This teaching is picked up by the Lord in Lk. 21:16-18, in stating that some of His people would be put to death, but actually, not a hair of their heads would perish. Surely He was saying that yes, they would lose their lives, but in reality they would find eternal life. Those men and women who died on crosses, were burnt as human torches, were thrown to the lions...the Lord foresaw them, and implied that their sacrifice was in principle the process that must be gone through by each of us: a losing, a resigning, of our life and all the things that life consists of in everyday experience. Either we die to sin now, living out in practice the theory of baptism, or we will die to sin in rejection at judgment day; sin has it’s end in death (Ez. 21:25; Dan. 9:24), either now, or then. So we may as well die to the things of sin in this life.
- Israel were told to " throw down" , " break in pieces" and " utterly destroy" the idols and altars of Canaan. There were times during their history when they obeyed this command by purging themselves from their apostasy in this. The Hebrew words used scarcely occur elsewhere, except very frequently in the context of how God " broke down" , " threw down" and " destroyed" Israel at the hands of their Babylonian and Assyrian invaders as a result of their not 'breaking down' (etc.) the idols. " Throw down" in Ex. 34:13; Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 is the same word in 2 Chron. 36:19; Jer. 4:26; 31:28; 33:4; 39:8; 52:14; Ez. 16:39; Nah. 1:6. " Cut down" in Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 later occurs in Is. 10:33; Jer. 48;25; Lam. 2:3. So Israel faced the choice: either cut down your idols, or you will be cut down. The stone will either fall on us and destroy us, or we must fall on it and become broken men and women (Mt. 21:44). For the man untouched by the concept of living for God's glory, it's a hard choice. God will conquer sin, ultimately. When a man dies, it isn't just a biological, clockwork process. It is God's victory over sin in that individual. Either we must be slain by God; or with His gracious help, we must put sin to death in our members through association with the only One who really did this- and thereby rise to life eternal. The inevitability of God's conquest of sin is brought out in Ez. 6:4-6: " Your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken...in all your dwelling places, the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease...and your works may be abolished...I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols" . The people of Israel had to be destroyed because their idols had to be destroyed. The inevitability of God's ultimate conquest of sin is evident: and we are asked to side with Him, not against Him. God will have His way. God will achieve His glory is us anyway, either by our destruction or by our salvation; He will have His way. This means we must put to death our sinful works now, not leave it for Him to destroy us so that He might destroy them. The secret sins of every human soul, those things we wrongly allow ourselves, those untackled, unacknowledged habits, will all ultimately be destroyed by the Lord: either through our response to His hand in our lives, or through His destruction of us so that they might be destroyed.
- There is reason to think that a latter day tribulation is to come upon us, which will really test our appreciation of this principle which is so embedded throughout God's revelation. Those who will refuse to worship the beast will be killed (Rev. 13:15); but those (responsible) who try to avoid this death will themselves be tortured to death by the Lamb, because they worshipped the beast (14:9-11; 16:2).
- The breaking of bread is intended to bring the logic of all this powerfully before us. The cup of the Lord is a symbol both of His condemnation, and also of His blessing and forgiveness. We take it, week by week, either to our condemnation, or to our salvation. There is no third way. We may as well realize this. The Lord Jesus hates the fact that some think there is a third road; He would that we recognized, as He does, that there is really no 'lukewarm' position- only hot or cold. He seems to ask us to realize this: " Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt" (Mt. 12:33).
The endless lack of fulfilment and constant lusting for something else was recognized by Freud in his theory of sublimation. His idea was that desire has its limitations, and because we don’t get what we desire, we escape the problem by setting our desire upon something greater. Examples of this sublimation of desire are all around us. Like it or not, Freud’s observation of human thought and life were correct on this point. But the call of Christ cuts through all that. We’re called to a life set upon different aims, knowing that the path of indulging the flesh is insatiable, and leads only to more and more desire. Seeing this is indeed the way of the flesh- that it is insatiable and unfulfillable- the logic of going God's way is indeed compelling.
I don't think any of us would seriously argue with any of this. To give our lives to God, because we know if we don't, they will be taken from us; to bear the shame which comes from preaching, from publicly living a Christ-like life, because we know that if we don't, we will be even more ashamed at the judgment; to recognize we are slaves, to accept our lack of ultimate freedom; to break and humble ourselves now, knowing that this is our ultimate end anyway- the logic of all this is glaring indeed.
Indeed, the whole argument is even rather human: we've got to suffer anyway, so why not suffer for the sake of the Kingdom rather than the brief emptiness of the flesh? There are times when the Spirit uses this kind of human logic- Paul spoke " after the manner of men" (Rom. 6:19). " He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul...he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul...whoso provoketh to anger sinneth against his own soul...the merciful man doeth good to his own soul; but he that is cruel troubleth his own soul...wherefore commit ye this great evil against your own souls?" (Prov. 19:8,16; 20:2; 11:17; Jer. 44:7). Israel made idols " against herself" Ez. 22:3). It's in our own interest to be spiritual and reject the flesh- that's the simple message. And yet by nature we are so obtuse when it comes to spiritual things. We desperately cling on to the satisfaction of the moment, at whatever cost. Yet by the very fact that we are baptized, I am confident that each of us sees the foolishness of this; we see the logic of endurance. Sometimes the obviousness of it all comes rolling home to us, like a huge wave breaking in on a quiet beach! We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us, God is beseeching men to see the obvious logic of responding to His word (2 Cor. 5:20), pleading with us to see the greatness, the magnificence of His love towards us in Christ (Is. 1:18), begging us to realize that if He gave up His Son for us while we were yet sinners, how much more will He give us all things now that we are reconciled to Him through baptism (Rom. 5:6-10)! This is more than logic, way beyond the limits of linguistic reasoning. This is the pure " grace of God which bringeth salvation" . Let it convict you, let the love of Christ in itself " constrain" you to hold on, to " hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" .