A good friend of mine recently disputed my contention that we must endure sufferings to enter heaven. Of course, Scripture is replete with proof-texts that we do. Acts 14:21 is but one. It is very easy to object to this notion on two grounds;
First, it directly refutes the false (and, frankly, abhorrent) doctrine of penal substitution (the notion that Jesus death is fully substitutionary, and we don’t have to do anything but accept it).
Second, it just doesn’t sound very pleasant- we just don’t like to suffer.
A third (and most likely strongest) objection is that is just plain defies human logic.
Well, I’m here to tell you that True, Orthodox Christianity is anything but logical. Why, if it weren’t for all those documented miracles and radically transformed lives, there would be little reason to doubt that Christianity was created by completely insane people.
Love your enemies.
When a person hits you on one cheek, offer him the other.
Bless those that curse you
Deny yourself and take up your cross.
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the persecuted
I rejoice in my sufferings
Not exactly in tune with today’s get mine culture, to say the least. The Bible even admits that the whole thing even sounds like foolishness to the wise. There would be no reason to believe it at all except the aforementioned documented miracles and radically transformed lives.
But said miracles and changed lives can hardly be disputed and that, in a nutshell, gives veracity to the message. If you are forced to believe the message, you are forced to believe the very real and sober choice that message points to- that your knee will bend in mercy-receiving Worship or that your knee will bend in terrifying wrath and judgement.
It is a terrible and bloody war, do not be fooled. No sinner’s prayer, altar call, born-again moment is going to stamp your ticket to heaven. That is 16th through 20th century heresy created by sinful men. Grace is received through faith as a gift, to be sure. However, that Grace must be cooperated with and our salvation worked out with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
Tell that sinner’s prayer (found nowhere in Scripture) ideology to the Apostles who all but one (John) died as martyrs. Tell it to the thousands of martyrs through the centuries- burned alive, beheaded, fed to lions…. Tell it to the beheaded believers in the Book of Revelation.
Even in America, the land of the free and the brave, we see that Christians become less free everyday and those supposedly on our side often become less brave.
60 million babies slaughtered under the name of choice
Human trafficking of children and women
Rampant pornography and violent movies and games, dehumanizing people
Avarice and corruption
A massive drug crisis partly caused by the very doctors and institutions charged with saving us
Massive food conglomerates literally poisoning our children with processed garbage.
Psychotically Overmedicated and overstimulated kids with broken homes shooting up schools because fathers are too hard to come by and mass destruction weapons too easy.
People can’t figure out who to marry or what bathroom to use
In the face of all this blight, a Christian grows up in a sewer. Psychologically and physically abused far too often, bombarded with negative and destructive images, nourished with food that rots his body and wreaks havoc with his mind, depressed from the constant violence around him, trying to succeed with a deck stacked against him….
Yea, I get it.
I’ve lived it.
This is a very sick world.
Yet, there is no escaping one very critical fact. It is still the world that Jesus overcame.
That is the reason why you can still overcome it. Not by your own power, mind you, but by His. You are going to have to be willing to suffer though because the Devil is going to fight you every single inch of the way. When I say every single inch, I mean EVERY SINGLE INCH.
That is where I have fallen short so many times. So very many times. God must complete the work He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).
However, get a little to sure of yourself and your clean house and disaster comes upon you quick.
Matthew 12: 43 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."
Oh, Woe is me Lord, I trudge up the mountain,
To bask in the sun and be washed in the fountain,
But I slip from a misstep and fall like a comet and return to the mire
Like a dog to his vomit (2 Peter 2:22)
I have spent most of my life trying to figure out why I do this. I figure I am not alone in this.
The answer is simple but don’t confuse simple with easy. Simple suggests ease of explanation. Easy suggests little effort need in accomplishing it. The first is true. The second, not so much.
Here it is.
Pride goeth before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)
Pride can only be overcome by humility.
Humility can only be gained by humiliation.
Humiliation can only be gained by suffering.
In a nutshell, sometimes the Good Physician has to absolutely break you down into the dust to save you and/or save someone else through you. He does that by making you take up your cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). The rub is that ours is not to decide how heavy a cross we are willing to carry or how far up the mountain we are willing to carry it. That is for Him to decide.
This is God transforming you through your suffering and building up your spiritual muscles to be strong enough to break the chains that bind you. If you don’t complete the work, you never break the chains. It’s that simple.
Remember….simple and easy are two different things.
Many of us (*raising hand*) quit over and over again because it just hurts too much, only to find that that just makes the next cross heavier and needed to be carried further up the mountain.
A wise friend pointed this out to me. She told me that I was quite possibly quitting ten feet from the summit when pressing on will grant me the victory.
Acts 14:21 21 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith: and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.
Only through tribulations can I reach heaven. It is not that God is happy that I am suffering. I am sure He is not. Nevertheless, He knows (and I must trust) that a little suffering now, will save me an eternity of suffering later.