Back to where we left off. . .
The third thing we misunderstood is who exactly gets to heaven – not those who simply believe in Jesus Christ but who believe in His work. This I think might be the most shocking for many people who think they have secured a place in heaven. Many people have heard the gospel taught and out of fear of judgment have accepted that they need salvation and Jesus will do. But theirs is a kind of intellectual acceptance of the need for salvation from eternal judgment, not the conviction of the ever-present need to have a Savior who has done a necessary and lasting work, and who demands fruit in us from now on to eternity. Heaven isn’t for those who made one decision about accepting Jesus for salvation, but those who daily (even hourly) believe, boast in and remain anchored in Jesus’ powerful, once-for-all work on the Cross.
Part of this misunderstanding is also in disregarding that heaven is a reward not for those who started the race but for those who finish the race according to the rules! Heaven isn’t like the t-shirt you get at the beginning of a race, it’s the trophy enjoyed by those who finish the race according to the rules. There are those who might think that how we run this race doesn’t matter but it matters a lot! The Kenyan runner Elijah Kemboi got disqualified from a race in which he had a medal standing position because in the middle of the race he slipped and stepped outside the running track. In the end, it didn’t matter that he had run and positioned well, it mattered that he hadn’t run according to the rules! Heaven is therefore for those who persevere in the faith by sticking to the gospel of King Jesus – not simply whatever seems to work to get them to the end. A pragmatic man-made gospel is no gospel at all and it breaks the rules of the race. Be careful you are found clinging to the true gospel, running the race as is laid out in it.
Fourthly, we have misunderstood how we get to heaven. The way this world works tells us that mostly, we get what we earn. Unfortunately, a lot of people bring this understanding to the gospel of King Jesus (and then change it from being good news of grace). Some of us think that Jesus’s work is to cleanse some of my sin and then I work hard to get to heaven. Whereas I am advocating for the perseverance of the saints, this is all meant to be rooted in the work of the Father through the Son. Col. 1:12 goes ahead to tell us that we are to give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] for an inheritance with the saints in light”. We get to the end because of what God the Father has done for us in the work of God the Son. Our endurance is actually to persevere in this knowledge and assurance, being sure to let go and disbelieve any persuasion that says we get to heaven by any other means!
Fifthly, we have misunderstood what heaven actually is. We have too small a view of heaven. Many Christians have fallen for the comic strip depiction of heaven – saints and angels sitting on clouds playing harps. A good number of us see it as the boring end to what could be a fun life. This is why so many Christians have no qualms about the ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO) hashtag. We have spent little to no time getting a clear, Bible-centered view of heaven and therefore it is no surprise that we have not learnt to love, prize and long for heaven. It’s no wonder therefore that we will not work to endure. We only endure and wait with patience for what we believe to be precious and worth the wait.
So, now that we’ve looked at these 5 ways in which we misunderstand what God says about endurance, how can we begin fixing our understanding on endurance? I think we must begin by acknowledging that we lack the proper understanding because we cannot apply a lasting remedy to a problem we refuse to acknowledge. After this, we need to go to God in prayer and ask for His forgiveness of our ignorance and His help in helping us see and rightly understand what He is saying, in this case about endurance. We then go to God’s Word and spend our lives hearing what God is saying clearly and in context and learn from Him what we are to know and think and how we are to live our lives as pleases Him till we get to the end. This is a life-long work of storing up, chewing over, believing and living out the truth of what God says. It’s a work of endurance and steadfastness!
“May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. . .” Col. 1:11 [ESV]
I love how shocking Paul’s prayers can be especially when juxtaposed with our expectations. Having become used to prosperity preaching, we have come to expect prayers that revolve around having things and position – worldly things. So coming to this verse in the 1st chapter of Colossians is very shocking. Paul prays that the Colossian Christians would “be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might”. This is something we are automatically drawn to – I mean, who doesn’t want power?
I recently had Bible study with the women at church on Colossians 1:1-14 and they too responded to the place power has in our thinking and society. They pointed to power being about control and calling all the shots and how it was something to be desired in this capacity. Yet when we come to Paul’s prayer for strengthening with amazing God-strength, its use is not in calling all the shots and being in control, it’s about endurance! Now there’s a word we don’t really want to be associated with.
I don’t know about you, but endurance for me implies that there is going to be hardship or that I am in some way weak (especially if I am to be strengthened with power to endure). Hardship and weakness aren’t words that I want to be used to describe me or the Christian faith. In my mind, the Christian faith is meant to be easy and smooth. In my idealistic mind, I am strong. Yet the more I read the Bible and get to know myself, I realize that my view of the Christian life and myself are polar opposites to what God says. But our denial of our need to be strengthened for endurance doesn’t do us any favors. If anything it puts us at great risk – like failing to take heed of a tsunami warning. But what is it that keeps us from hearing this call to endurance? Fundamentally, it is an issue with poor or erroneous understanding of what God is saying in His Word. There are five ways I think this happens. But we will only look at two today.
Firstly, we have believed the lie that getting to the end (to heaven, as this is the context of Col. 1:11, see v. 12) is obvious. We have taken for granted that we will definitely endure. This I fear has to do with how poorly we were told the gospel message. We were told something like, “All you have to do is accept Jesus into your heart and you will get eternal life.” The problem with this is that it acts like a ‘get out of hell free card’ – having no present application but good to have for when we die. We think that heaven is ours because of a box we once ticked – like getting a vaccination shot that lasts our whole life and all we need is the certificate to prove it. But getting to heaven is not like that. Getting to heaven is a matter of continued faith and not shifting from the hope laid out for us in the gospel (Col. 1:23). This means that there are things that are going to try to move us from having a steady faith and hope in heaven. We need to be aware that getting to heaven is not obvious! It is something that must occupy our minds now, moment by moment.
Secondly, we have disregarded the foundation for this endurance, the gospel. We have believed in ‘other’ gospels that are not in fact the Christ-centered gospel that we believe in and by which we are qualified to get to heaven. There are many ‘Christians’ who have believed this line, “The message of the Cross is good for unbelievers and new believers. But mature believers move on from it to better things.” In seeking maturity, we have missed it because we have removed the very foundation we are to stand on and grow. This means that we have also counted ourselves out of the very end that this foundation promises – heaven. It is only as we stick to the Cross-centered gospel, steadfastly rooted in it, that we can get to enjoy the precious inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Endurance makes sense only when grounded in the Christ-centered gospel, other gospels have no place for it.
to be continued….
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This is a Review by Margaret Achieng. Maggy is on the staff team of iServe Africa working with Gerald Mwangi managing our growing residential discipleship programme for high school leavers (TransformD).
During one of the Ministry Training Course, I decided to sit in in an apologetics session and that was where I began thinking hard about the topic. I honestly do not like reading sophisticated books or engaging in such conversations, probably because I don’t like thinking too hard; it is too much energy which I usually don’t enjoy. This excuse has often made me to avoid certain kind of books/authors/people in the past. After the session, the facilitator proposed that we read Timothy Keller’s book “The Reason for God (Belief in an age of skepticism)” as a way of helping us think more on the topic. I decided to take up the challenge. I read the book during the Christmas holidays thinking it was going to turn out as I had always thought. To my surprise! This was actually the first Apologetic book I read and it turned out to be a very good one for a number of reasons.
First, I liked how Keller uses such simple language to explain this difficult topic that many tend to shy away from including myself. I found myself go from one chapter to another which is unlike me with many books. He uses very simple language that is very easy to understand which makes it a very encouraging read. His vast wealth of experience also helped me to be able to know how to answer some of the hard questions. The book felt like a conversation flowing very well from one argument to another. He uses some of the questions that different people have asked him and answers them in this book.
Secondly, the structure of the book is very clear. He has divided it into two big parts: “the leap of doubt and the reason for faith.” He deals with questions/doubts of faith in the first part and gives the answer/reason for the Christian Faith in the second part. Keller first begins by humbly admitting some of the historical mistakes/injustices that Christians have made. In his chapter “the church is responsible for such injustices”, he says, “Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be addressed and redressed.” He does not defend the church in its wrong-doing but helps the reader understand the right approach to Christianity from the Bible which he does much in the second part where he says: “Christians are people who let the reality of Jesus change everything about who they are, how they see and how they live”. It does not mean that Christians do not do wrong or commit sin but rather that they are called to make every effort to strive to live a holy life that is pleasing to the Lord. In doing so, he was able to battle with some of the big questions about God that some atheists have asked.
The church that Keller leads is in New York, one of biggest cities in the world with diverse people and who are well educated. A common aspect with such a literate society is that people are curious to know it all hence leading to lots of questions. Most of us, especially in our context, may not know how to engage with people when asked questions like “why do you believe in what you believe?” This could be because we think it unspiritual to question the things of God and as we have been brought up to think; questioning authority is rude, what they say is final! Yet David in most of his psalms asked questions when he was devastated and Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 says: “… always be prepared to make defence to anyone who asks of you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”. This is exactly what and how Keller does in his book, with gentleness and respect for other religions. However, Keller challenges his readers not to make others feel more sinful than they are, while they sound self-righteous, insensitive and harsh rather than humble, sensitive, loving and understanding as Christ is.
So what exactly does he address in the first part of the book? He examines the beliefs beneath the doubts/objections that people have in this day and culture concerning the Christian faith for example, ”How can God allow suffering?, “The church is responsible for so much injustice”, “how can a loving God send people to hell?” and the common claim by atheists “ there can’t be just one true religion?” Most of the time we never think about such questions but Keller grapples with them not to make us doubt our faith but rather to help us know the reason for God. This was really a good challenge for me and I think it will be for all Christians to want to get deeper in their faith and to ask ourselves those hard questions. Keller challenges believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections of faith which will help them to hold their faith position with both greater clarity and greater humility. One thing that stood out for me is the fact that most people who doubt God is because of their background or their interaction with Christians. In this first chapter, Keller also talks about other religions and their belief and how Christianity is different from them.
In the second part of the book, he gives reason for the Christian hope. Keller argues for where the Christian understanding comes from, he looks at what is wrong with man and how his wrongness/sinfulness can be fixed. In one of the chapters, he says to those who do not believe in the existence of God that “It is dishonest to live as if he is there and yet fail to acknowledge the one who has given you all these gifts.” That we all want to be acknowledged for what we have done or we acknowledge people when they work well and yet we want to deny God with all the clues we have of His existence.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this book. I highly recommend it to all Christians especially those who struggle with the existence of God hoping that it will shed light to their doubts and give them reason to trust God as the ultimate creator. Though one has be careful when reading this kind of book not to think it is the book/knowledge that will change their hearts hence the need for prayer and studying of God’s word for transformation. Also one has to been keen not to find themselves in unhelpful debate hence we should aim to say the good news of Jesus in clarity and joy trusting the Spirit will convict the hard hearts. It will also be very helpful to Christians who would want to be involved in such apologetic discourse.
When we’re thinking about reformation we can easily focus exclusively on the ministry of the Word and forget the desperate need for prayer – or rather the desperate need for God expressed through prayer. In one of the best books available on the subject of prayer, Don Carson shows us how Word and Prayer go inseparably together. iServe Africa apprentice Ann Mwari reviews this must-read book.
A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his prayers
D.A. Carson writes “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” with the aim of working through several of Paul’s prayers so as to help us hear God speak to us today and find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.
The writer begins by highlighting the urgent need of the Church – the need to have a deeper knowledge of God. He argues that one of the foundational steps in knowing God and one of the basic demonstrations that we know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically-minded prayer. In chapter one, the writer cites some of his Personal Lessons from the School of Prayer. This is followed by The Framework of Prayer in chapter two, focusing on 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12. The writer gives Paul’s framework, majorly thankfulness for signs of grace and confidence in the prospect of vindication. In chapter three he highlights some worthy petitions made by Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-12.
In chapter 4 the writer brings out the aspect of Praying for Others, which is followed by A Passion for People in chapter 5 (1st Thesssalonians 3:9-13). The writer then gives the content of A Challenging Prayer in chapter 6, based on Colossians 1:9-14. In chapter seven and eight he gives some real life Excuses for Not Praying and helps with Overcoming the Hurdles (Phil. 1:9-11) respectively.
Chapter 9 of the book explains the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, highlighting the need to pray to him with the view of His sovereign yet very personal nature. This is extended in Chapter 10 (Praying to a Sovereign God) with much focus on Ephesians 1:15-23. In chapter 11, Carson helps us understand how to Pray for Power based on Ephesians 3:14-21. Surprisingly (compared to what we might think we need power for), this power is meant to help us grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ. Finally, he highlights on how to Pray for Ministry focusing on Romans 15:14-33.
These detailed yet clear explanations of some of Paul’s prayers have been helpful to me on understanding how to pray biblically. Besides explaining how to use the Scriptures to pray, the writer has also highlighted some excuses we use for not praying and given a few remedies for this lethargy. This is very helpful for the Church today, where most of us can talk about prayer and even read books on prayer yet still fail to pray.
This book contributes to meeting the need to grow into a deeper knowledge of God through a Biblical life of prayer. Therefore, I recommend it to every Christian, for growth in the knowledge of God and consequently in prayer.