Understand God’s Purpose

This is lesson five of six in the God’s Not Dead series:

  1. Some people draw nearer to God in times of persecution, crisis, and tragedy, while others blame God for not stopping the hurt, or is not loving enough to intervene. Think about the unreliability of a world where we get a little tickle every time we do something good and a shock every time we do something bad.
  2. I remember Stephen out playing and occasionally he would crash and burn, scraping his knees, and not once did he run to me and say, “It was a bit casual of you to sit back and let me fall, I can tell you are not a father of love by letting me get hurt.” or “What good is a father who can’t or won’t prevent me from getting hurt?” No, he would let me come to him, hold him, remind him that it is going to be OK, and fix his wounds.

Then there is the case of the hot radiator, “Don’t touch it, that is hot and will burn you.” This is what we can call experiential learning.

  1. Do we really have an eternal perspective on life in this fallen world. What would you consider the best of all possible worlds? It comes down to a world that has free will and all people choose not to sin. We might call that heaven, but not all people are this way. THIS world allows free will to self-select those who reject God and his principles that bring life, happiness, and wholeness… so THIS world is the BEST WAY to the best of all possible worlds.

We saw the final classroom scene where Josh and Professor Radisson go head to head about evil and suffering in the world. It’s pretty intense.

Slide4

We cannot deny the existence of pain and suffering. Think about wars, the Holocaust, human trafficking, terrorism, but that is not God’s original intention.

Norman Geisler define evil this way: Some have said that evil is a substance that grabs hold of certain things and makes them bad (like a virus infecting an animal) or that evil is a rival force in the universe (like the dark side of Luke Skywalker’s Force). Think about LOVE (a good thing turned bad becomes lust), SEX (becomes pornography or fornication), ALCOHOL (becomes alcoholism and drunk driving), PLEASURE (becomes hedonism).

Refer to the Geisler information on EVIL. [ Go ]

As mankind grew in number, the evil of mankind has grown. God has given mankind the ability to choose to become evil or not. Many ignore God’s guidelines and act selfishly, unkindly, and unwisely.

Skeptic have claimed that theists have caused as much evil as those without faith, but this fact does not discredit God or Christianity. Jesus himself said that many would call themselves his disciples but will not obey his commends. The crusades and the inquisition were led by lost kings and popes, not the people of faith.

Just because we have police and there is a speed limit, does not mean that I guarantee I’ll keep that law, So, evil does not point to the absence of God from the world, but the absence of God from our lives.

Slide5But we must realize that real standards for morality do exist (look at the atrocities down through history). While people may claim that Christianity has caused more pain and suffering through the ages, that is just not true (think about Stalin and Lenin in the Russian revolution, Hitler and Nazi Germany, Pohl Pot and the Khmer Rouge). This is the embodiment of Darwinian evolution that also teaches survival of the fittest, or natural selection.

Skeptics like Richard Dawkins would say that we can rise above our evolutionary instincts but they have no standard to make such a claim. Author C.S. Lewis writes, “How would I know the line is crooked if I didn’t know what a straight line is?”

Imagine finding a rock on the beach. Since it doesn’t come with an instruction manual; without guidelines, you could only guess about its purpose. On the other hand, if you find a car, you know it was designed by an engineer who has a manual on how to operate the car to its greatest capacity. People can follow the manual or create their own guidelines, but violating the designer’s guidelines will lead to a breakdown and it won’t operate effectively.

Imagine an owner of a watch with no guidelines on how to use it. One might use it to stir your coffee of hammer a nail. Obviously the watch would not by used to its full capacity.

If we don’t understand out purpose, we will spend our lives on meaningless distractions, or make idols out of relationships, our career, or some other temporary item.

Slide6So, the evidence points to the reality of a supreme moral law-giver.

Skeptics who argue that that there can not be any objective moral standards expect others to treat them justly and fairly (human rights, equality for women, equal rights for minorities) but from where do these morals come?

Skeptics say they can still act ethically without religion or belief in God, but they ignore the fact that mankind is created in the image of God. We share his common set of moral standards, regardless of culture of context. Professor Radisson stated, “Does a people need God to be good?” Think about it, if we are just animals with no ultimate purpose, then on what basis do we make moral judgments?

Behaviors like kindness, mercy, equality, and forgiveness are true and good because we were brought up in a culture shaped by Christian values. Civilizations that reject a higher power than themselves inevitably degenerate into authoritarian states with little concern for human rights (think Communists and Nazis).

Slide7They want God to stop the evil in the world but don’t stop the evil in me.

There is a way to stop all the evil in the world… God could kill every person on the planet. Then evil would stop.

God has a plan to remove evil by changing the heart of every person, that way God can extract evil without destroying the person. This removes evil one person at a time. Let’s start with each person sitting here today.

When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit work on reshaping our hearts; driving motivations shift from primarily serving ourselves to serving others. It’s not natural, it is supernatural. Crime could disappear, mercy ministries would flourish, we would treat people with kindness and respect… could this be a revival?

Slide8This should produce a sense of fear of the Lord… People often talk about a good kind of fear, like awe and respect, but Jesus addressed downright FEAR, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). When it comes to judgment, “by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6).

It is the knowledge that we will give an account of our finances that we file our 1040 form; we will give an account to police for our evil actions. Judgment is not contrary to God’s character of mercy and love and compassion. He would be unjust if he allowed evil to go unpunished. Acts 17:31 says that, “… He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

The good news is that he has provided a way of forgiveness. In God’s patience, he delays judgment to people may turn to him. Understanding the nature of judgment helps us understand the work of Jesus on the cross. Judgment is not something like a scale (one’s good deeds compared to one’s evil deeds). In the new creation, there cannot be ANY evil or the corruption cycle begins all over again. So, Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin and defeat its power in our lives. We submit to him in faith and then God’s power begins a transformational process making us like him, sanctification.

The last question in the video clip, Josh says, “How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?”

Skeptics use the existence of evil and suffering as an attack on Christianity, but denying God does not take away the pain. It just takes away their hope. Only the Christian faith offers a true explanation for the cause of suffering in the world. It provides the resources to defeat it personally and socially. It provides hope that God will ultimately remove it.

The existence of evil does not demonstrate God’s absence from the world, but God’s absence from our hearts. God is the one who defines evil and he tells it like it is.

Lacking in Christ’s Afflications

Have you ever thought about BIBLICAL ILLITERACY in our day? People just don’t seem to know their Bible, even people who attend church. There are 98% of people who claim to be Christian, but…

  • 80% believe people are basically good and can become good enough to keep the Law on their own
  • 59% believe that faith in Jesus is not necessary for salvation
  • 40% cannot identify what new birth means on a multiple-choice test (half thought it meant reincarnation)
  • 33% did not affirm the trinity or the deity of Christ
  • 23% do not know that Christianity affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ

Here is why sound doctrine doctrine is important: If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Check out this passage in Colossians 1:24:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

What do you think Paul means here? Could it be that the sufferings of Jesus were not sufficient to reconcile believers to God? Is there something lacking in that which Christ has done for us? That is exactly what false teachers today will proclaim, and often the founder of that group/cult has the divine answer, or is the fulfillment of the mission of Christ (basically Jesus failed in his mission and they are here to set the record straight).

Paul was likely pointing out that Jesus’ sufferings on the cross do not accomplish the salvation of sinners UNLESS they hear and believe the gospel (Colossians 1:25). Paul’s faithfulness to his mission, including his willingness to suffer on his missionary journeys, had to be ADDED to the sufferings of Jesus in order to bring salvation to the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross was all that was necessary for their salvation, but Paul’s sufferings were necessary to proclaim the message of salvation to the lost world.

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Suffering and Glory

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

According to the Bible, suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s good world, and it will have no part in his new universe.

  1. Suffering is often caused due to sin, or the sin of others: children suffer with unloving or irresponsible parents, poor and hungry people suffer from economic injustice, refugees suffer from cruelties of war, people suffer in road casualties cause by alcohol.
  2. Suffering can be a reckless use of our freedom. There is cause and effect but it is much different than Hindu karma. Think about how unreliable the universe would be receiving pain for every wrong step and pleasure for every good step.
  3. Suffering is due to the human sensitivity to pain: but pain is a valuable warning sign that something is wrong (Dr. Paul Brand, leprosy, and feeling pain).
  4. Suffering is due to the kind of environment God has placed us: laws of nature are in effect when the hurricane devastates a coastal town.

Stoics believed that suffering is meaningless, but Jesus spoke of it as revealing God’s glory. What then is the relationship between Christ’s suffering and ours? How does the cross speak to our pain?

Patient Endurance: while suffering is to be recognized as evil therefore resisted, there comes a time when it must be realistically accepted. It is no credit to us if we are beaten for doing wrong, but if we suffer for doing good and endure it, this would be pleasing to God (1 Peter 2:18-23, Hebrews 12:1-3).

Mature Holiness (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9, 7:28, James 1:2-4): Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and he was never disobedient. Here are biblical images of suffering and discipline:

  1. A father disciplines his children: this is an expression of love. No discipline means no love.
  2. God as a refiner of gold: heat to purify and remove the dross.
  3. Jesus mentions his allegory of the vine: pruning to bear fruit.

God intends suffering to be a means of grace; it develops humility and deepens insight.

Suffering Service (John 12:23-26, 32-33): death is more than the way to life; it is the secret of fruitfulness. Unless it falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. Paul found meaning in his suffering; the greatest secret of evangelism or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die for the sake of others:

  1. For the sake of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1, 13)
  2. For the sake of the body (Colossians 1:24)
  3. For the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

The Hope of Glory (Hebrews 12:2): suffering should be expected; don’t be surprised by it (Matthew 5:10-12, John 15:18-21, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). It is the hope of glory than makes suffering bearable. What happens to us down here cannot compare to the next life. Suffering is God’s appointed path toward sanctification (mature holiness), multiplication (fruitful service), and glorification (our final destiny).

The Ground of a Reasonable Faith: Job had the attitude of self-pity and self-assertion, while his friends’ attitude may be described as self-accusation. The goal is self-surrender, which Job realizes at the end of the book.

The Pain of God: the cross of Christ is proof of God’s love, that it is personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain. Philip Yancey wrote a book called, “Where is God When it Hurts?” and asked an interesting question, “If God is truly in charge, somehow connected to all the world’s suffering, why is he so capricious, unfair?” Similar to Job 9:23, like God mocking the despair of the innocent. But God is not on a deck chair watching us, he was on the cross, and continues to suffer with us today.

Outside of Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept with those who grieved and snorted with indignation. He wept over Jerusalem, lamenting over their blindness and obstinacy.

Nobel Peace Prize winner (1986) Elie Wiesel wrote about his time in the death camps of Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald and came to this conclusion: he heard over and over the question about “Where is God? Where is he?” and as they were force to watch hangings at the gallows, he heard it again, “Where is God now?” He heard a voice within him answer, “Here he is…he is hanging here on this gallows.” God in Christ suffers with his people still.

Seven Affirmations in the Letter to the Galatians:

  1. The Cross and Salvation (Galatians 1:3-5): an introductory statement that is theologically balance and indicates what the letter is going to be about.
    1. The death of Jesus was voluntary and determined.
    2. The death of Jesus was for our sins.
    3. The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us.
    4. The present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace.
    5. The eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever.
  2. The Cross and Experience (Galatians 2:19-21): in context Paul writes about justification, how a righteous God can declare sinful humans as righteous. Several times he repeats it is not by the law. The death of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of the law.
  3. The Cross and Preaching (Galatians 3:1-3): once you have begun in faith in Christ, why continue in their own achievement?
    1. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually (prographo).
    2. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually as a present reality (to accept or reject).
    3. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross as a visual, present and permanent reality (perfect tense indicates a permanent benefit of the historical action).
    4. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross also as an object of personal faith (we continue in faith and grace, not personal efforts).
  4. The Cross and Substitution (Galatians 3:10-14): here is the meaning and consequence of the faith. Here is Paul’s logic:
    1. All who rely upon the law are under a curse (Galatians 2:16, 3:10, 11, 12, Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4).
    2. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (plain statement of substitution, Galatians 3:13).
    3. Christ did this in order that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, by faith (Galatians 3:14).
  5. The Cross and Persecution (Galatians 5:11, 6:12)
    1. Preaching circumcision is to preach salvation by the law.
    2. Preaching the cross is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone.
  6. The Cross and Holiness (Galatians 5:24): there are acts of the flesh and acts/fruit of the Spirit).
  7. The Cross and Boasting (Galatians 6:14): false teachers where obsessed with the numbers of their converts.
    1. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the way of acceptance with God.
    2. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the pattern of our self-denial.

The Cross in Galatians:

  1. The grounds for our justification (Galatians 1:4, 3:13)
  2. The means of our sanctification (Galatians 2:20, 5:24, 6:14)
  3. The subject of our witness (Galatians 3:1, 5:11, 6:12)
  4. The object of our boasting (Galatians 6:14, 17, Philippians 3:18)

When Life is Unscripted

Paul was steadfast in his goal; he was going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:13) and when he arrived, he met with mixed reviews.

First they met acceptance (Acts 21:17): the brothers welcomed Paul and his companions warmly. Don’t miss Luke’s terminology, he said when “we” arrived. We might not have faulted his friends if they did not go to Jerusalem with Paul.  He was intent on going to Jerusalem, but his companions could have told him to go on ahead if you want to, but we’re not going! You can throw a rock at that hornets’ nest but I’m not going to stand around here while you do it. But they went with him. It’s almost like Thomas when he said, “Let us go on to Jerusalem that we may die with him” (John 11:16). They knew trouble awaited Jesus and they went anyway, same here with Paul.

When he got there, they might have talked a long time since Paul reported in detail all that God had done (Acts 21:19). Their reaction was to praise God, notice they did not praise Paul (Acts 21:20). Have you been warmed and rejuvenated with passion after hearing stories from the mission field?

Next, they met apprehension; they had a little good news, bad news scenario. First the good news, many Jews had believed (Acts 21:20). The bad news was that they were zealous for the Law and believed that Paul taught people they should not live according to Jewish customs (Acts 21:21). So in this situation, they’re saved, but they’re also mad. James must have been in a tough spot caught in the middle. How many times have you been stuck in the middle with believers you love on both sides of an issue?

In this situation, what they were saying was not even true. If people wanted circumcision, they could practice it, but Paul said it had nothing to do with salvation. We might expect unbelievers to misunderstand our theology, but believers can also be fairly cruel. Remember things like the inquisition? Like Paul, we must also seek common ground between differing parties, and we need to remove any barriers or obstacles to people finding faith in Christ. Let’s build witnessing relationships but still maintain our biblical standards.

Paul also met accusation (Acts 21:27) when the troublemaker Jews from Ephesus arrived; remember the guys who started the riot (Acts 19:8-9)? The entire city is in an uproar and they wanted to beat him to death (Acts 21:30, 31). What’s interesting, is that God used Roman unbelievers to rescue people, and they saved his life!

Application: Life can often send things our way that are not on the scheduled itinerary; I call this life unscripted. It just might come down to faith in the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We want things to go smoothly with no pain, suffering or hardship, but that is not what is promised. God promises to go through life with us, not necessarily to deliver us from the suffering. Paul even prayed that he would not only know Christ, but to also share in the fellowship in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Are you at the point where you can accept whatever life or the world throws at you? Can you praise God in the midst of suffering? Can you praise him in the storm? Are you willing to worship God because it is the right thing to do and he deserve it, or do you follow him because of what you get out of it (primarily heaven at the end of this life)? Are there people in your life who will stand by you in the midst of suffering and pain rather than run from it in self-preservation?

Life Can Be Hard

After Paul had his near death experience (the stoning at Lystra – Acts 14:8, 19), the group packed up and headed to Derbe (Acts 14:20). They preached the gospel faithfully and then went back through the previous cities to strengthen the believers by telling them that “we must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22). The converts needed to be reminded to stay true to the faith.

What did Paul mean using the word, “must?” He meant that it was inevitable in the nature of things. Hardship has a place in the life of a believer, check out 2 Corinthians 4:17, mentioning “our light and momentary troubles achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all.” Perspective helps us to see that what happens on earth is temporary but our eternity is worth it. Our struggle is not against fresh and blood but against spiritual forces that would have us fail (Ephesians 6:12). A great reminder comes from 1 John 4:4, that God is greater than our common enemy who wants us to fall.

At first we may not think a message of unavoidable troubles very appealing, but check this out:

Recognizing inevitable hardships can motivate us to redirect our energies; fear of the trial can consume more energy than just facing the trial. In redirection, we change our focus from fear to faith. I’m not talking about a prosperity gospel that says if one has enough faith these hardships won’t defeat us, but to stand on what Peter says that hardships will prove that our faith is genuine (1 Peter 1:7).

Believing a heretical prosperity gospel can leave us disappointed, broken, wounded and discouraged. A friend once told me “the only people who believe such a gospel are baby Christians in America.” I tend to agree. I have seen great faith of believers in Africa, who regularly suffer greatly. I see their faith to be genuine, not a result of what they get out of a relationship with God. It is such an insult to their faith to say that if they only had enough faith they would not have children die of worms or malaria, or they would have plenty of food on the table.

We also know unbelievers who may suffer as terribly as believers, but the difference is that our suffering is never in vain; Paul says that we will enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

Application: Do you ever feel that God is against you when your life seems to be falling apart? Take courage in the fact that you and the apostles and early believers are in good company. They did not escape the hardships of life, so why should we be immune to them? See life from God’s perspective, he walks through life with us. We may not experience his deliverance as we would like, but we always have His presence. Paul encouraged Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:20). Sounds like a certainty to me. Keep the faith.