Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Picture by Sarah Bryant at

In today’s world, prayer is mentioned a lot!  When tragedy comes, friends, family, and acquaintances will often feel compelled to say, “I’ll keep you in my prayers” or that “I’ll pray for you for this or that thing.”

Often, though, prayer is sometimes associated with some form of wish list.  “Gee, I pray that I get that raise.”  Or “I pray that it doesn’t rain tomorrow.  Sure would like to get in 18 holes of golf.”

Are these really the appropriate uses of prayer?  You may ask what’s wrong with saying I’ll pray for someone if they’re in an accident or sick.  There’s nothing wrong with it if you mean it and follow through with it.  But there’s also something else that should be considered.  To whom and in what way will you pray?

With the way the world looks at religion, prayer can be construed differently for every person.  According to Wikipedia, prayer is:

…a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a god or spirit through deliberate practice…Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions…Most major religions involve prayer in one way or another. Some ritualize the act of prayer, requiring a strict sequence of actions or placing a restriction on who is permitted to pray, while others teach that prayer may be practiced spontaneously by anyone at any time…Scientific studies regarding the use of prayer have mostly concentrated on its effect on the healing of sick or injured people. The efficacy of petition in prayer for physical healing to a deity has been evaluated in numerous studies, with contradictory results. There has been some criticism of the way the studies were conducted.

Prayer is often misused or misunderstood.  The problem that the world has with prayer is a complete disregard for the One whom it should be directed.  It also neglects the fact that He has given prayer to us as a means of petitioning and worshiping Him.  Prayer, as noted in the above definition, is often directed inappropriately or inaccurately toward something or someone other than God.  The reason I say this is because there are some that would believe that praying to a past family member or a saint, as determined by some religious doctrine, is one way of offering up our prayers to God.  And, of course, there are others that pray to other “deities,” which can lead to a form of demonic worship.

I understand by saying this that I’m inviting some disagreement.  However, I stand by my convictions that the only communication that matters is to Almighty God, the One who gave us life and breath and sustains us through His Spirit and power.  One argument includes a verse in Revelations where it appears that the elders are bringing our prayers to God.  In this Scriptural reference, it indicates that in Revelations that the twenty-four elders were “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”  To be honest, I don’t fully understand the symbolism behind this verse.  In looking at some commentary, it appears that this is symbolic of incense being offered up to God as a fragrant aroma.  In any case, I do not see this as the Bible endorsing people to pray to the twenty-four elders in order for them to intercede on our behalf to God.

It is not my wish to debate this endlessly.  However, my question to you would be, “Why would you bring your prayers to anyone other than God?”  Is He not the object of our worship?  Our praise?  Our gratitude and thanksgiving?  If God is omniscient and omnipresent, and not limited or contained by time and space, isn’t He more than capable of hearing and responding to every person’s prayers?  All throughout the Bible, God is drawing us to Him for the express purpose of engaging in a relationship with Him.  It seems contradictory that God would point us to Mary, St. Paul, or any other person – past, present, or future for the purpose of prayer.  So ask yourself why would you?  I can’t think of any reason or purpose to go to anyone other than straight to the Source of my hope, future, salvation, peace, comfort, etc.

There is the issue of intercessory prayer though.  Some ask whether or not we intercede for others on their behalf.  Of course we do!  But are these people praying to us and then asking us to pass the prayers on to God?  Of course not!  Intercession is about God bringing His people together for the purpose of prayer.  Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  There is significance when we come together to pray to God as a family of believers.  But nothing is mentioned about offering our prayers to someone else first.  Praying for others is also demonstrated by Paul in Colossians 1:9-10, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

What we need to do is understand what prayer really is for and about.  One website,, has a very good definition of prayer:

Prayer is simply communication with God.  This can be through spoken words, written words, thoughts, meditation, or song.

God desires us to commune with him; prayer is one way of doing so.

Prayer is not principally for us to selfishly ask God for things (as in "give me this"), but to honor and glorify God by spending time with him.

Many people think of prayer as being one-directional -- us talking to God.  Yet prayer can, and should, be bi-directional, with us also listening to what God has to tell us.  God can speak to us through the Bible, through others, through circumstances, but especially through his Holy Spirit, who can put specific words and thoughts in our minds, and even communicate via audible words.  (For some verses on God's audible communication, see 1 Samuel 3:4-14, Psalm 18:13, Luke 3:22, Acts 9:4, 2 Peter 1:18.

Another website,, also discusses what prayer is.  This is a really good explanation.  Look at what it says:

Have you ever asked yourself what prayer is? Prayer is simply talking to God—and the most important thing I can say about this is that God wants you to talk to Him! He loves us and He has promised to hear us when we pray. How can you learn to pray? First, understand why prayer is possible.

Prayer is possible because Jesus Christ has removed the barrier between us and God—a barrier caused by our sins. You see, sin separates us from God, and because of that we have no right to come before Him. But by His death on the cross, Christ paid the penalty for our sins and removed the barrier. God then gives us the privilege of coming into His presence when we commit our lives to Christ. The Bible says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). If you have never done so, ask Christ to come into your life today.

Then understand that God now welcomes you into His presence and promises to hear you—and He cannot lie. The Bible says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14). Trust His promises and learn to bring every concern to Him in prayer.

I believe what Billy Graham’s website is saying is very important and is worth repeating.  “God then gives us the privilege of coming into His presence when we commit our lives to Christ.”  Some may ask why that is.  Why doesn’t God listen to a person’s prayers before committing their lives to Christ?  1 Peter 3:12 gives us some insight into that question.  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  Proverbs 15:29 says, “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”  And Proverbs 28:9 states, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”

Listen to what these verses are saying.  God chooses not to listen to the prayers of the unrighteous.  Does that mean you have to be good for God to hear you?  What about those who are Christians?  Are they more righteous than others?  No, not even Christians can claim that they were righteous in God’s sight before they committed their lives to Jesus.  Romans 3:9-20 shows us that none of us were righteous before God.  It’s only because we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins are we made right before God.  It is only the Christian who by faith, believes that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose again from the dead, who is able to accept Jesus’ righteousness as his/her own.  The answer to the issue of righteousness lies with Jesus.  Romans 3:22-26 says:

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

So when Christians receive Jesus’ righteousness, God then hears their petitions and requests.  But like Billy Graham’s website was stating, there is one other specific prayer that God hears.  It’s the first and foremost important prayer.  It’s the one that at the moment you confess Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior that God hears your prayer and moves to action.  It’s the prayer of a contrite and broken heart crying out to Him.  If you haven’t yet made that decision, you should consider it today.  Even now.  Only then will God hear your prayers.

One last note on prayer.  And this is really where the text in Romans really applies to the subject at hand.  As I’ve been going through Romans, I’ve been struck by God’s amazing sovereignty over every aspect of our lives.  Even His sovereignty toward the steps that it took for us to come to Him and believe.  If we look at it from beginning to end, God is in control of when we first hear His Word, when His Word takes root and grows in our hearts, to the moment when it comes to fruition and we believe.  He even gives us the faith it takes to believe.  And it’s not like He’s done with us once we accept Jesus into our hearts.  Oh no, He is constantly at work in our hearts and lives till the day we step into eternity to be with Him!

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that in Romans 8:26-27, the Holy Spirit actually helps us when we pray.  Look at this text:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Do you see how God even helps us in our praying by having the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf?  Isn’t that cool?  Earlier, I was contesting the notion that we should pray to other entities other than God so that they could intercede on our behalf.  Can you see how crazy that idea really is now?  The Holy Spirit is much more capable of taking care of our prayers, even interceding for us because we don’t know what we really should be praying for.  That verse in itself should settle that discussion.  God, from beginning to end, knows what we need and even knows what we should be praying for, and then even intercedes on our behalf.  How amazing is our God?  That He has that much control even over prayer, the means by which we’re able to approach Him, communicate with Him, and enter into His presence is astounding.  If you’re not in awe of God now, you should be checking your pulse.  Because that is how much He loves you.  And me.  Praise God!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Suffering and Pregnancy

Picture by Tim Pirfält at

As we have seen in previous posts, suffering is an integral part of our decision to follow Jesus Christ.  In talking about suffering, we’ve noticed what motivates Christians to take this step and subject themselves to persecution and even death.  But there’s a side to this that begs the question…why?

This question goes beyond motivation, because we know that since Jesus was rejected by the world and suffered and died on the cross that the Christian’s motivation is to follow Jesus.  The answer to the why, though, is quite simply because of sin.

In discussing sin and suffering, have you ever considered what our sin has done beyond the obvious?  We know, or should know, that sin caused us to be separated and at enmity with God.  It wasn’t until we accepted what Jesus did on the cross for us were we restored and brought back into a right relationship with God.  But what about the rest of creation?

You do know that your sin affects others, don’t you?  You should understand that you’re not an island and are not isolated from the world.  Our sin has consequences that run deep.  Obviously, the one who sins is the offender and the one who will reap what he sows.  Fortunately, the bigger issue of seeking and receiving forgiveness and God’s mercy is already taken care of by Jesus.  However, there are also others who are affected, the offended party (parties.)  The sinner often needs to humble himself and ask for forgiveness from the one he offended.  Or quite possibly, make restoration for any damage or loss that occurred.

Those consequences are significant in their own right.  But how has our sin affected the rest of creation?  What?!? What do I mean by that you ask?  The simplest way to discuss this is to look at two passages in Romans.

14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

It is interesting to note that not only did the rest of creation do nothing to bring about the sin problem, but it was subjected to it unwillingly.  Before the fall of man, creation was in perfect harmony with God.  In fact, God looked at His whole creation at one point and said it was very good (Genesis 1:31). 

So when man sinned, what happened?  The consequences ran deep and started a chain of events that culminated with Jesus dying on the cross to take care of the problem that man created.  It didn’t exactly end there, though, did it?  Otherwise, the world wouldn’t look like it does today.

Now there’s another set of events occurring that one day will restore things back into perfect order.  During this time period known as the “last days,” God is orchestrating those events to bring about His plan of salvation that ultimately will bring Him glory.  This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:18-30

The picture that Paul presents is one of childbirth.  In relating to suffering for Christ, Paul identifies this experience to a woman in pregnancy.  As a woman nears the time of giving birth, she goes through some difficult and painful experiences herself.  But as most mothers know, this experience can be excruciating at times, but when the child finally arrives and is delivered it is also the most rewarding.

So with that in mind, consider what Paul is saying here in this text:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Look at the language Paul uses.  In verse 18, he compares the Christians’ present sufferings like a mother expecting a child.  And like a mother waiting for that amazing day when her baby will be born, Christians also look forward to the glory that will be revealed in them.

Here’s the interesting part.  Creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed too!  Just as much as Christians look forward to the day when God’s glory will be revealed in them, so does creation.  This describes something called glorification, which in the most basic sense is “[the] ultimate and complete conformity to the image of Christ Jesus.”

Think about that.  Creation waits in eager anticipation.  For something that wasn’t even guilty of the sin itself, and being subjected to frustration as verse 20 says, it’s amazing that creation is excited for us.  But it’s also to its benefit because, in verse 21, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.”

For reasons that may go beyond human comprehension, God’s design was to keep creation intricately linked with the human condition.  When sin entered the picture, both man and creation were affected.  In the same way, when glorification is realized, both are brought into freedom.

To reiterate his point, Paul describes the childbirth experience in more detail in the following verses.  He talks about how creation has been groaning.  If you think about it, that actually makes sense.  Look at the world and how it’s going through much pain and anguish.  It’s excruciating.  And Paul also says Christians groan inwardly as we await for our adoption.  If you notice, the process of our adoption is much like the childbirth experience.  This probably speaks to the same suffering we’ve been talking about before.  But could it be something else too?  It’s difficult to explain, but as a Christian, don’t you long for that day to be with the Lord?  Aren’t some days painful, and all you want is for this experience to be over and to be with Jesus?

This long period of time, the days, months, and years leading up to that moment is what Paul is talking about when he says, “For in this hope we were saved.”  A mother hopes when she’s pregnant, doesn’t she?  Sure she does.  But you say that the evidence is right there so it can’t really be hope.  No, not really.  She doesn’t have the baby yet, but she hopes in anticipation for that day when she will hold her child in her arms.

So, too, the Christian hopes.  The Christian looks forward to that day with the same hope that mother had.  With the mother, there’s a clear indication that she’s pregnant, right?  So, too, with the Christian, there’s clear indication of the hope that we have with the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Aren’t you just awestruck at the comparisons?  If a mother is pregnant, her hope surely isn’t in vain.  Obviously, there are complications in the real world sense.  But typically, when a mother is pregnant and her belly is way out there, she doesn’t think, “Oh, I hope there’s a baby in there!”  No!  For her, it’s a certainty.  I think what Paul is saying here is that if you have the Holy Spirit, the Christian should not wonder, “Oh, I hope that I’m really God’s and that I’ll go to be with Him one day.”  No!  Just like the mother, the Christian should look at his hope as a real certainty.

Does that excite you?  If not, it should.  Because what would be better than to go home to be with Jesus!  And in the process receive this wonderful gift of finally being conformed into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ!  But like Paul says, “…if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Of course, let’s wait for it patiently.  But I hope you’re excited about it too.  I am!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Suffering for Jesus

Picture by Travis Silva at

Previously, under the post Heirs of God, I pointed out that there is suffering involved in being co-heirs with Christ.  It sounds like a difficult thing to embrace becoming a Christian, doesn’t it?  I mean, who really looks forward with anticipation to suffering?  But Paul and other early Christians looked at suffering much differently than we do.  I don’t believe for a second it’s something they “enjoyed.”  However, suffering for the name of Jesus motivated them.

Let’s try to put this in perspective.  Think of someone that you love so much that you would lay your life down for them.  Is that your child?  Your spouse?  A parent maybe?  How about a close friend?  Paul put it this way in Romans 5:7:  “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.”  That’s pretty significant, isn’t it?

But how is our love for Jesus?  The same as or slightly better than those close to us?  How about loving Jesus more?  Let’s go a step further.  How about loving Jesus that goes above and beyond anything or anyone here on earth?  How about your own life?  Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  That’s raising the bar pretty high, right?  Jesus also said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

Is Jesus really advocating hating someone?  No, because that’s not consistent with 1 John 2 where John explains that no one can claim to be “in the light” if they hate their brother or sister.  Not only that, but John explains later in the same letter that in 1 John 4 God is the epitome of love.  It would be contrary to His nature to advocate hate toward someone.  1 John 4 also says that, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”

A better explanation, then, of Jesus’ statement in Luke 14 is to understand that He often used hyperbole to emphasize many of His points.  This is similar to Luke 6 where Jesus tells someone to take a plank out of their eye before taking a look at the speck in their brother’s eye.  Do you think someone really has this huge log sticking out of their eye?  No.  Hyperbole is “an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.”  So what Jesus is really saying then is that in comparison to your love for Him, your love for anyone else ought to be so insignificant that it appears to be hate toward those that are close to you.

So when we discuss the disciples’ motivation in the early church to suffer, and even die, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how much do you believe they loved Jesus?  I would wager a guess that not many Christians in this nation understand this concept.  What amount of persecution have you endured by being a follower of Jesus?  To put it more bluntly, how many people know you’re a Christian?  Are you a closet Christian?  Do you only make it known on Sundays in church?  Jesus had something to say about those who are afraid to acknowledge Him:

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (emphasis mine)

Maybe you’re a Christian who is vocal about Jesus.  I would still be surprised, other than a few exceptions, that anyone here in this nation has endured persecution that comes close to other Christians in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia to name a few.  But that may change.  Times are changing.  Our culture is changing.

How do you think homosexuals view Christians these days?  Have you read the news recently?  There’s a clear picture of where our nation is headed by looking at the events surrounding homosexual issues in the U.K.  But what about here in the U.S.?  Not surprisingly, circumstances are changing rapidly here as well.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled many prominent Christian organizations as “hate groups.”  Is this point to criticize homosexuals?  Not so much as to point out the fact that there are indeed different forms of persecution and that Christians in the United States should be prepared for this as well.

This is, however, not to compare the struggle of Christianity here in the U.S. to places like Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan, there is a brother who is enduring the worst conditions of any Christian other than being stoned to death or being decapitated.  One paragraph explains it all:

He was forced to appear before a judge without any legal counsel and without knowledge of the charges against him. “Nobody [wanted to be my] defender before the court. When I said ‘I am a Christian man,’ he [a potential lawyer] immediately spat on me and abused me and mocked me… . I am alone between 400 [people with] terrible values in the jail, like a sheep.” He has been beaten, mocked, and subjected to sleep deprivation and sexual abuse while in prison. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.

Other real stories of persecution are taking place daily.  Such as in Orissa, India.  Hindu extremists are daily attacking Christians, beating them, and even injuring pregnant Christian women along with their children.  Some Christians are fleeing from their homes and villages for refuge fearing larger-scale violence, such as the kind that took place in 2008 that resulted in 100 deaths in the Kandhamal district.

Then there is the issue of the Book of Revelations, or rather The Revelation to John.  And also Daniel.  The end time prophecies, though they’re difficult to understand, definitely point out that things are going to get pretty bad.  In Revelations 2, there’s this angel saying that the Church in Smyrna will suffer persecution, even to the point of death.  The point is is that we can’t expect things to continue as normal.  The problem for most of us is that we have become complacent to the point where we don’t expect the end times to come during our lifetimes.  But what does Scripture say about this state of mind?  1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

We really shouldn’t be so complacent.  We need to be alert and aware of the events taking place in our world today.  In Luke 21, Jesus describes what the signs will look like.  One of the things He says is this, “And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’”  Question.  Are you prepared if that day were to come tomorrow?  How is your faith in Jesus Christ?  If someone were to come into your home tomorrow and say, “Deny Christ or die,” how would you respond?  Are you willing to suffer for the name of Jesus?  Are you willing to confess Him and die for Him?  Or is Jesus someone who just makes you feel good as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you?  Because these events could happen soon.  Maybe in our lifetime.

The real question is:  How much do you love Jesus?  Are you willing to suffer for His name’s sake?  First, you must ask yourself about being willing and able to do what it takes.  Count the cost for being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said:

27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Again, emphasis mine.)

There are those who do represent Christ and are willing to give up everything, those who suffer and are persecuted for His name’s sake.  These people don’t take the decision to follow Jesus lightly.  Many of these potential believers know that once they decide to follow Jesus, they could lose everything.  Many are even ostracized from their own families.  It would seem like a slap in the face to forsake the religion or traditions of their ancestors.  But many of them do count the cost knowing these things will happen.  In some parts of the world, making the decision to follow Jesus and identify themselves as Christian means death.  With that in mind, they obviously know what’s at stake, but in their hearts they are deeply in love with Jesus and are willing to go the distance.

Organizations like the Voice of the Martyrs, the Spirit of Martyrdom, International Christian Concern, and Gospel for Asia provide much needed assistance to our brothers and sisters who struggle to share their faith in heavily persecuted areas of the world.  Regularly, Christian brothers and sisters are putting their lives on the line by just sharing the Gospel.  Passing out Bibles, having a Bible study, or holding church in the basement of someone’s home is seen as a crime and is often sought out by local authorities to bring them to “justice.”  Read their stories.  Read about their amazing faith in the midst of some of the most difficult of circumstances.  Then ask yourself, “Can I do this?”  Then ask yourself, “How much do I love Jesus?”  One day you just may have to answer that question as an heir of God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heirs of God

by Lenin Rodriquez at

I previously wrote about heirs in a prior post, but I want to discuss the idea of being an heir from a different angle. Hopefully you can see the distinction, as before it was more about heritage, this time I want to approach this from the angle of sonship. I hope you agree.

What do you think about when you hear someone being mentioned as an heir? Do you think about royalty, like the Queen of England? Or maybe you think about someone who is a son or daughter of a very wealthy family.  Paris Hilton anyone?  Heirs in our day have somewhat of a bad reputation for being arrogant, spoiled, and completely unattached to the realities of the world. Without having to work or earn the inheritance, these people are merely born into a life of luxury.

Sadly, and unfortunate for them, they don’t learn to appreciate exactly what it is that they have been given. Many people have varying opinions on how they view heirs. Obviously it’s not the same for everyone. Prince William and Prince Harry have been raised to appreciate the life they have been given from a position of prestige, power, and influence. But unfortunately, there are offspring to wealthy families that do become obnoxious and stains on society. People often view them with a measure of either envy or disdain. Depends on values and perspectives, of course, but generally there’s a sense of envy because of how life and luxury was handed down to them on a silver platter.

Given this background, what would you think about being an heir of God? It may be difficult to imagine because the truth of this seems so distant. It can be hard to put this into perspective, can’t it? But when a person becomes a believer, one who puts his/her faith in God’s Son, Jesus, as the only One who can save them, there’s a transformation that takes place. The transformation is something that goes beyond our imagination. The Bible, God’s Word, says that we become sons of God.

Sons of God. Think about that. Before we were saved, we were considered enemies of God. And now we are sons of God? Is there anything more remarkable than that? Look at this passage:

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

When you read this, is there anything that grabs your attention? For me, it does. In this passage, Paul says that we received “the Spirit of adoption.”  For one thing, we are adopted into God’s family. We even get to call God our Father. Abba Father actually means “daddy” and describes a relationship that is deeply personal. Secondly, through adoption we get to be heirs with Jesus in the kingdom of God! Wow! Does any of this make sense? Not really, but in God’s infinite grace and wisdom, He extends this idea of sonship to people who were once his enemies. We get to enjoy the benefits of calling this awesome and amazing God, Daddy!, and also of belonging to God’s family as if we were born into it.

I don’t know a lot about earthly kingdoms or those of certain family dynasties that pass on their inheritances. However, I would imagine that not many adopt someone from outside their lineage and pass on an inheritance of any significant worth or value, particularly a family heirloom or keepsake. Isn’t God’s Kingdom worth more than these?

God, however, is not anything like the world. He has specific purposes in what He does, and in adopting outsiders as His sons, He not only gives us certain rights and privileges, but gives us the title of co-heir with His true Son, Jesus!
Paul, in letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, gives a little more clarity on this subject:

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul notes the reason behind such an honor to be adopted into God’s family: it’s to the praise of His glorious grace! In other words, it’s about God receiving glory. Do you know that’s why you were created? In this passage in Ephesians, Paul says that “He predestined us for adoption…to the praise of His glorious grace.” God already had this all planned out, that when He would send His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and through that sacrifice redeem us from the dead, He would ultimately give us the privilege of being adopted into His family for the ultimate goal of bringing glory to Himself. I think we all ought to be stunned and in awe of such an amazing God and an amazing gift that He has given us.

Now, before anyone begins to gloat and somehow thinks that any one of us is deserving of this privilege, let’s stop right here and think again. God makes it abundantly clear that none of us are worthy. God says that there is no one righteous and no one who does good. We are all deserving of His wrath and destruction because of our sin and rebellious nature. It is only because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and covered us by His righteousness that God even looks in our direction and shows grace toward us.

Consider what Paul said in the passage to the Galatians. Paul said that we were slaves. Slaves to what? Slavesslaves to lawlessness, slaves to death itself. We were destined for destruction if it were not for Jesus. Like Paul said, “…we were under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.” The amazing thing is that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to be born under the law to redeem us, slaves who were already under the law, so that we might be freed and adopted into His family. to sin,

So, unlike how the world responds to being an heir, as Christians we should view this position in God’s family soberly. Should we act like spoiled brats, somehow thinking we are more deserving? Do we look at others who come to church unkempt as unworthy? Do we tarnish God’s image by continually engaging in behavior that is unbecoming as followers of Christ? How do you respond to someone who cuts you off in traffic? How do you react to your boss who criticizes your performance? Are you forgiving toward your spouse and kids? To your neighbor? How about your enemies? Do you show mercy as God has shown you mercy? These are only a few examples, but you get the point.

Being an heir of God should have far greater significance than anything in this world. If people envy heirs of this world, how much more attractive should it be to be a part of the family of God? In truth, everyone should have the desire to know God as Abba Father and want this deep, personal relationship with Him. So, for those of us that do have this privilege, we should honor Him and share the Good News about Him so that others will have the same opportunity as we do.

This brings me to a couple of final points. One, sonship (this term is in the general sense, meaning both men and women) doesn’t just happen without something to do on your part. Does that mean that you have to earn your way to heaven? No, what it does mean, though, is that you have to receive His gift under His terms. That means you have to see sin the way He does. You have to acknowledge your sin and ask for forgiveness and repent from it. It also means you have to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the only propitiation for your sins. Scripture actually says that you have to believe and have faith in Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of God, and confess Him as your Lord and Savior. You have to believe in His life, death, and resurrection! One recommendation I have is to read my posts on the Bad News and the Good News for more on this. Or, much simpler, talk to a Christian friend, neighbor, or pastor. Any Christian would LOVE to spend the time with you to share the Gospel message, which Paul says “…is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

The second point, which I do not mean to gloss over, is in the passage itself. Do you remember in Romans 8:17 where Paul says we are “…heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together?” The Christian faith is not a feel-good religion. I hesitate to use the word religion because it can be taken out of context, but it’s important to understand what Paul is saying here. By becoming a Christian, there’s an understanding that there will be suffering involved. Why? For one, Paul says it develops our character and gives us hope. But more than that, he says that it should be expected that we suffer for Christ for the Gospel’s sake. If Christ suffered and was rejected by the world, why should we expect anything less when we believe upon His Name for our salvation?

Perhaps suffering is a good thing. Unlike the heirs mentioned at the beginning of this post, Christians should be less likely to be the spoiled, self-centered type knowing that following Christ is not the life of luxury. But don’t misunderstand this. It may not be the lap of luxury, but it is a privilege. To be adopted into God’s family is the best thing that could ever happen to you. Also, to follow in Christ’s footsteps was actually an honor, and his first disciples understood this to the point of being martyrs themselves!

This is what Jesus said:

15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Being an heir of God. It’s something to think about. It’s nothing like the world knows or understands. It’s far greater. But it’s also a challenge, isn’t it? To become a Christian means you must love Jesus more than anything or anyone else. You must be willing to suffer. In other words, you need to count the cost. Are you up to the challenge?