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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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"
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"