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For I Know whom I have believed
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
(2 Timothy 1:12 NASB)
Confidence is inspiring. Paul, here approaching the end of his life, is writing to Timothy with absolute certainty proclaiming that he had not lived his life in vain. No matter how much the circumstances might seem to indicate the contrary, his was not a wasted life.
Calling upon the character of Christ, Paul proclaims that he is thoroughly convinced that Jesus will safely guard those things he had entrusted to Him until that day. The day here that Paul is speaking of is not readily evident within the immediate context, but within the context of this letter we can know exactly the day of which he speaks.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:7-8 NASB)
Confidence, certainty, assurance; these are important aspects in the daily life of the believer. And yet many dismiss these notions as foolishness even as they profess Christ to be their Savior. It is arrogance in the mind of some to speak confidently of salvation. Any such discussion must be buttressed with phrases like “I hope” so as not offend anyone with our impropriety or lack of humility.
However, it was Paul, guided by the Spirit, who spoke confidently of hope in Romans chapter 5 (Rom. 5:3-5) assuring the saints that hope does not disappoint. It was hope that allowed them to rejoice in their tribulations because tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance proven character. Proven character made their hope certain.
He also speaks confidently of the labors of those in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:58. He assures them that they should be steadfast and immovable knowing that their labors, undertaken in the Lord, were not in vain.
A good deal of the New Testament deals with combating uncertainty. Paul, in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, expresses that this is, in fact, the purpose of the body and the gifts of edification given to us. God did not abandon us to the mercy of the doctrines of men. These doctrines are born out of a spirit of deceit, cunning, and trickery and serve only to unseat the believer from the guarantees he has found in Christ. For this reason, we must conclude that doctrines that place uncertainty where God have given assurance fail in this aspect. To speak plainly:
Any doctrine that places man’s notions of God’s sovereignty above God’s inspired assurances does not offer salvation.
I am referring to the doctrine of complete sovereignty. It wears many names, but at its essence it teaches that God, in his sovereignty, can do anything He wishes including disenfranchise some or all men from the hope of salvation.
From this comes the error of unbiblical predestination. The random choosing and election by God of some, and not others, appointing them to salvation. This teaching is not limited to any one denomination. The problem with such doctrines is that they speak against the assurances God gives. Among other errors they teach that grace cannot be resisted but is limited in scope only to a few, that sin is inherited or exists merely by the corruption of being alive and the preservation of those who are in grace by God against their will so that they cannot fall from it. These go against every reassurance given by the Spirit.
Who I am, and what I do, matter to God. It is the driving thought behind all Scripture. From the first sin in the garden to the resurrection of Jesus to the epistles written in His name, indeed all Scripture points to one thought. God is setting forth the how to and why of his redemptive work.
If grace is against my will and has not appeared to all men, then almost everything that Paul wrote on the subject is in error, but more than that, it contradicts everything that God says about himself. How can He reward them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) if seeking him without His choosing means nothing? Again in the 13th chapter (Heb. 13:5-9) the writer, here quoting the 118th Psalm, assures us that we have no reason to fear anything that man can do to us. And yet without a confident hope in our salvation we have every reason to fear the power of men. If I cannot know of my eternal destiny then the power of men to take life, but not give it again is the greatest reason I have to fear. For by that power I can be condemned to everlasting torment that I can do nothing to escape.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul expressed neither doubt nor uncertainty of his fate. His urging to Timothy is to follow in his footsteps so that he could have the same assurances. He closes the letter with an assurance that this promise was to all who have loved the appearing of Christ. If this isn’t true, if we cannot know, if God would set before some an opportunity for hope that it is false then He is just as false. Our assurance of these things is in the certainty of His character.
Those who hold to such false doctrines often assert that God can do anything he wants because He is sovereign, but it is through His word that we are taught that God never lies. (Titus 1:1-2) Believing that God, in sovereignty, can do anything He desires up to and including setting before us a hope that that cannot be realized does not make me a more spiritually enlightened person, nor does it somehow increase my awe of God’s might and power. Quite the contrary, it makes me the accuser of God.
Friends, the passages in scripture that speak to the assurances that are to be found by those who come in belief and obedience to the truth are too numerous to mention. Our hope should never be unseated by a false notion of God created in the deceits of men to unsettle our conviction in these sure things.
We know whom we have believed.
One Man’s Opinion
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain (allegedly)
First it was divorce. Next, they insisted that we were out of touch on issues of morality. Then came the accusation that we were out of step with modern thought and scientific “evidence.” Lately, they’ve touted our strict adherence to biblical teaching in the face of changing cultural norms concerning the roles of women and the acceptance of homosexuality.
In just the time I’ve been preaching, each of these, at one point or another, was supposed to represent the death-knell of the Church. Each brought with it the desperate appeal from the far flung corners demanding that we keep pace with society's norms. “The church will die (usually within one generation) if it doesn’t change,” and yet here we are. The reports of the death of Christ’s Church are once again greatly exaggerated, and rest assured that they will be again.
The Church Isn’t Dying—Stop Putting Your Faith in Numbers
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”
(John 15:1-2 NASB)
The church doesn’t thrive based on the number of people that attend, but upon the stability of the members of her body, and their faith in Jesus Christ. Society sees the church as an institution an organization whose sole purpose is bound up in collecting others that look and think like them. Because of this, they have mistakenly come to the conclusion that for a church to survive it must look more like those it wants to attract.
The purpose of the church is to serve as the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-16) It is neither a building nor an organization dependent on numbers, but rather it is believers who are strengthening and drawing strength from each other in their daily walk with the Lord. Our confidence is not bound in totals, and our purpose is not bound up in full pews but in the hearts of people that are taught to love the truth. (1 Timothy 1:3-5)
It may be that there are fewer attending today, and fewer converting to the truth, but that does not mean that we are dying. Instead, it means that we are being pruned. Those that abide in Him, and are bearing fruit, continue to remain. Those who do not are cut away. It’s sad when someone “leaves the Lord”, as we so often say, but in my experience when someone no longer attends worship regularly it is not because they suddenly experienced spiritual death. It is more often the case that they died long before, and no one noticed. More often than not, it is the case that they came to the point where it was no longer worth it to keep up the appearance.
The Church May Not Be Dying, But Individual Results May Vary
We tend to see the strength of the church as a whole through the prism of our local congregation. Because of this, our perception of what’s troubling the church and how it should be addressed says more about things we should be doing locally than any portent of the fate of the body. For instance, when we see attendance dropping, do we assume it is because we are losing people to the pressures of the world or do we take responsibility and admit that perhaps we have not done the work of restoring and strengthening our brethren (Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:14-20)?
When we see young people, who grew up attending services, do not later become adults who serve God, do we assume that they were led astray by the world or do we look to the emphasis that we place on their spiritual development both as a congregation and within the family at home? Society says the answer is more entertainment, more social engagement, and greater freedom. The scripture says the answer is to bring them up in the nurture and the instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
These are sobering questions. We would do well to consider how the Lord addressed the church at Ephesus as recorded in Revelation 2. He commended them for their stand for the truth. They had resisted the false apostles, but they had also left their first love. In other words, it is possible for a congregation to lose its way and still profess all the right things.
Why Are We Here?
Brothers and sisters, the church is not a political action committee, entertainment venue, or a social club. We do not exist to solve the evils of society. Our mission is not defined by the changes in culture even so much as we stand against them. Our purpose is to stand for the truth. In respect to that we love our brethren as Christ loved us John 13:34. This was His commandment, and it has been this lack of concern for this most fundamental function of the body that has brought the end of many a body of the Lord’s people.
Furthermore, when the disciples scattered in Acts 8 after the stoning of Stephen in the previous chapter, it says that they went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:1-4) If ever the church faced a pressure from society that should have spelled its doom, it was then.
They were a fledgling body of a few thousand believers that had been scattered and stood in the face of great opposition. Teachers would come in later proclaiming that doctrines needed to change for the church to survive, but the church thrived in opposition because the message was important to the people. They would not be silent in the face of pressure. Their aim wasn’t to heal some cultural ill, it was to teach any who would hear about Jesus.
Might I suggest that the same answer applies today? Are we bearing real fruit, or are we destined for the fire?
Proverbs exalting righteous living