By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”
When the apostle Paul wrote these words around 49 A.D., a controversy was brewing on the matter of faith in Christ alone or faith plus adherence to the Mosaic Law and customs that had been a part of Jewish life ever since Moses came down from Sinai with the words of God carved into stone. As the apostles spread the good news of salvation found in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, they had been taught by Jesus Himself that He was the perfect sacrifice for sin due to the fact that He was God in the flesh. The essence of the gospel was not built upon the continuation of animal sacrifices on the altar, but upon the One who had been prophesied as the sin-bearer for the people (Isaiah 52: 13- 53:12).It destroyed the notion that we can save ourselves and that the performance of “good works” will usher us into eternity with God. Our foolish attempts to rectify our situation is grounded in the notion that we can be righteous without the direct intervention of a holy God. When we read Paul’s assessment of human behavior in Romans 3:10-18, we can see that trying to “clean up our act” is futile and a barrier to the fact that all salvation is of the LORD and we have nothing to do with it.
The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote a book that dealt with a key point that many of us who call ourselves Christians tend to overlook. The book was entitled The Cost of Discipleship, written shortly before his execution in a Nazi concentration camp for denouncing Adolf Hitler and His devilish acts against the Jews and the starting of World War II. The opening words to the book were, “When a man comes to Christ, he bids him to come and die.” This is a sobering statement and is a counterpunch to the notion that if we come to Christ, He will bring us health, wealth, and prosperity and will answer our prayers with just a word, as if our sovereign LORD were nothing more than a butler to pamper our spoiled and lazy selves. This brings me to something that came to my mind recently and I pray will be of benefit to you, the reader. If you recall one of my last columns, I put forth the idea that the Word of God presents the struggle between religion and relationship. For example, let’s go back to the passage of Scripture with which I started this column. Paul was dealing with a problem that had been started by a group of so-called “believers” who insisted that salvation was a combination of faith plus adherence to laws and customs of the Jews, including circumcision and dietary standards. It was a case of man doing what he always seems to want to do, and that is to improve what has been established by the LORD in the matter of salvation. For some reason, we think that we need to add our own concepts and ideas to the free gift of salvation found only by repenting of our sins.
We throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ to free us from the grip of sin and the revival of our dead souls. The apostle was adamant that what these “believers” were presenting was in fact a false gospel that he blatantly condemned (Galatians 1:8-9).Paul argued that anything that denied the exclusivity of Christ being the ONLY way to salvation and peace with God was not what he had risked his life for in preaching and teaching as a “chosen vessel”. He was saved from his self-righteousness on the road to Damascus. Only when he submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and renounced his religiosity did he truly know what it was like to serve and love God. When Paul was transformed, he surrendered everything he was to come under the sovereignty of the LORD. When you read his letters to the churches, we see that he never got over the fact that Jesus Christ had saved and called Him to service, and that enthusiasm had an effect upon his readers, who were instructed and encouraged to keep focused on Jesus and His directions for all their lives. He stressed that we are no longer the master of our life, but that everything and anything we hope to do or be is now under the sovereign rule and will of God. In the overall scope of historical as well as prophetic progress, we see that he uses us to fulfill His will, but he doesn’t need advice or counsel from us. Often we think too highly of ourselves by even suggesting that we can improve or change the direction of what the LORD has in store for not just His people, but for the overall scope of human history.
When you read the Bible with a desire to see how God works things out, the thought should occur that those who are called His children should not allow our flesh and mindset to occupy the throne of our lives. When we come to Christ, it is not just to receive salvation, but is a clear call that we now belong to Him and He can do with us however He pleases. When we try to run things, it almost always leads to disaster personally and for the progress of a nation. All we have to do to illustrate this is to go back to Eden and read about what happened when our ancestors were exposed to the devilish idea that they could be like God. We are living out the bitter consequences of self-indulgence and the result of putting ourselves in the position of sovereign. The Scriptures are filled with men and women who were deluded by either the devil or their own selfish pride, whether it be king or commoner. When men decided that they could get along without God, the moral freefall that we now see accelerating did not catch the LORD off guard, but has been recorded in Scripture showing that He brought about dire consequences to individuals and nations, with some peoples being wiped off the map of history for their blatant disobedience and wickedness. The Scriptures show that when God is honored, the people and nation are blessed and protected (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Let’s focus now on how our lives as Christians are shaped by the fact that we are under the sovereign hand of God. The Scriptures tell us that we have been bought with a price. When Jesus went to the cross, it was a deliberate act of love, compassion, and mercy that He willingly took upon Himself to secure a home in heaven for us (John 14:1-3), but also to save us from what should be our just punishment for our rebellion, that is, eternity in hell. Because of our sin nature and desire to live without God, we were, in essence, His enemies.
The blunt fact is that our LORD died for people who hated Him and His demand of submission to His will. Fallen man is deliberately ignorant of the righteousness of God and has no concept of His grandeur and holiness. In our sinful state, we don’t want any part of Him. We choose to follow the words from the ultimate self-centered poem Invictus, which concludes with the arrogant declaration that we are the master of our fate and the captain of our soul. We think that we can do a better job of governing our lives than would the very God who brought us into existence and without whom we couldn’t take our next breath. To find the origin of self-centeredness and rebellion against sovereignty, we don’t need to look any further than what was said by Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-15. This call to rebellion has been on the lips and mind of every dictator and despot who has walked on the stage of history, and is still the rallying cry for our society as a whole today. As the prophetic plan goes forward, we are reminded in the Word that this is the natural consequence of self-rule and submission to our base nature, which is evil and corrupt (2 Timothy 3:1-9; Matthew 24: 7-12; Mark 13:8-13). Instead of submitting to the will of God, the unredeemed man will invent his or her own religion to pacify his need to look good before friends and family without really needing to change his overall nature. His religion doesn’t even need to produce a deity, but can rely on the thought that his reason or intellect will get him through good and bad times. He has produced an idol, maybe not in the sense of a carving or temple, but one that is camping comfortably in the recesses of his mind.
This type of thinking and lifestyle fits perfectly with the fact that, religious or not, we are all depraved sinners, with nothing good about us (Romans 1:18-32; 3:10-18). As we are without Christ, we are spiritually dead and totally unable to revive on our own. In our natural state, we are without hope save for the intervention of our sovereign LORD. The fact is that the LORD is looking for us and not the other way around. Dead people can’t move or turn. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we have no desire to be saved or obey God. Without the LORD bringing our dead soul to life and opening our eyes to the fact that we need Him to rescue us, our natural inclination is to go our own way and end up getting what we deserve eternally (Revelation 20:11-15). We need to wake up to the fact that God really doesn’t owe us anything for our sins and rebellious behavior. He would be perfectly just to let everybody go to hell after what we did in Eden and beyond. As our Creator, He can mold us and shape us into whatever He desires for His glory and pleasure (Luke 12:5; Romans 9:16-23). We need to remember something. God was perfectly satisfied with His existence and the bond between the Trinity. He didn’t have to create anything except that it gave Him glory and honor and showed creation that He was the source of life and that He should be worshipped for giving us life, not out of pettiness, but of awe and majesty for His greatness. It is the blathering of a fool (Psalm14:1) who says otherwise. His work was an act of love that knew no bounds.
Even in its fallen state, our world still draws amazement from people who will take the time to look and marvel and let it be a message that God is there and He is not silent (Romans 1:20). Those of us who have trusted in Him for salvation will be the inheritors of the new Heaven and Earth, with Jesus Christ ruling and reigning for all time (Revelation Chapters 21, 22). In His love, mercy, and grace, God predestined us unto salvation. He chose to save us and knew from the foundation of the world who those people would be (Ephesians 1:3-14). I believe in the doctrine of divine election and I know that some of you who follow me may have a different point of view. Election is not God choosing people who may not want to go with Him and leaving out those who would like to be with Him. God is not being picky, but demonstrates the wonder that He would have chosen anyone at all. As a believer in what is referred to as reformed theology, it is this very idea of God being merciful enough to draw me into His presence and love me when I did not in any way deserve it. That makes me fall to my knees in awe of Him and His glory and repent in sorrow over my sins and ask myself why I should even want to disobey Him when He has been so merciful, loving, and forgiving.
When I do fall, which is part of my journey of faith, it is a wonderful thing to know that I can go to Him with a broken heart and He will never turn me away (John 10:28-29). I firmly believe that once you are saved by His grace, you will never lose it. If He has done a marvelous work in saving us from hell and misery, don’t you think that He will see to it that what He has promised us will never be taken away? I don’t believe in a God who would let His children be in fear of doing something that would disown us. His love is not fickle or does it change. If I believed I could lose my salvation, I’d live in a state of constant fear and uncertainty. We’re not so powerful or independent that we break free of His loving hand and lose what was a free gift that He doesn’t take back.
I truly believe that what is hampering our growth as children of God is that we think that once we are saved, God expects us to mature in our own strength and call on Him when things get rough. There are a lot of people who have never developed a life of faith and answered prayer because they think that once they got saved, that ended the drama of where to spend eternity. The idea that as long as we’re going to heaven, that’s all we need. That’s not all there is. When we are saved from our sins and surrender to Jesus, He owns us. We are His servants and should begin to develop an attitude and lifestyle that what we do here in this world is for His glory and plan. We are under His exclusive authority to do with us as He wishes, and that is a source of discomfort for those who don’t cater too well to authority, especially when you realize that you don’t have an independent life anymore, but are at the LORD’s beck and call whenever He wants. The thought of going at it alone should be a foreign rebellious idea to be discarded. Your plans may not be what He wants for you, and you need to be mature and prepared enough to tell Him, “Your will be done.”
In reading the gospel of John for example, we find that our Lord Jesus declaring that He does nothing apart from what He sees the Father doing and is totally submitted to His will. This is exemplified when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, agonizing over the horrible events that He would face, yet surrendered to the will of the Father, completing the mission of salvation that began before there was even a concept as time and space. Much can be written here about the sovereignty of God in our lives as a point of theological reference, but I want to conclude this column with a practical application to our growth in the faith.
When we pray for example, we should not be coming to the LORD with a laundry list of requests, but we are to approach Him in a sense of reverence and the faith to know that He will do that which is right and that we will trust in His ability to see that our needs are met. We must also realize is that what He desires to do may not be what we would like, but we need to remember that there is nothing in this universe that has ever caught God off guard. Our prayers should be a constant reminder that He has all things under His control and that there is no need to fret or wonder if He heard you. It is also to be a time where you spend telling Him what’s on your mind, to give you the answers to a problem and to show you the Scriptures where those answers are, and to just enjoy time with Him. Our prayer life should never be in a hurry. He’s not on a schedule or behind on an appointment. We should allow Him to show us through conversation with Him that He is the Holy One who took the time to make us and love us and desires for us to know Him here and in eternity.
It is to our regret that we waste time fretting about, trying to figure things out in our own power, or to do nothing at all. I grieve about the opportunities I had to talk but did nothing. What could I have learned from Him that would have given me the strength to accomplish a difficult task or see an opportunity to share my faith? We can’t redo time, but we can go forward knowing that when we surrender our thoughts and flesh to Him that we find out just what He plans to do with us until that day when He comes in the clouds and takes us to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It comes down to crucifying your flesh, getting rid of ideas and plans that are of your own origin without consulting Him, and truly submitting to His Lordship and allowing Him to work in us and have us open our eyes to a life and ministry that is perfect for us and glorifying to Him. In the Christian life, He runs the show. It’s time to get off the throne and let Him run everything. In the long run, it’s better for you and to know that He does have a plan for your life and has given you opportunities if you will but just let Him take over. Our destiny as members of what I believe is the final generation will be fulfilled by His power and for His glory. Amen.
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.