Our family (Ruth, myself and our four children ages 8 to 15) "smuggled" a suitcase of Bibles into Eastern Europe in 1967. Entering Bulgaria from Turkey, we were sobered by our first sight of the Iron Curtain: the watchtowers at the border, the barbed wire, guns, dogs and grim guards. We had no way to hide the Scriptures and were searched thoroughly a dozen times, even to the lining of Ruth's purse being ripped out. Suitcases were inspected repeatedly as guards meticulously went through the VW bus we were driving. They never opened the suitcase containing the Bibles. I believe in miracles.
The last time Ruth and I breached the Iron Curtain was in 1985, entering Russia from Finland. The guards, who literally took our car apart with screwdrivers and wrenches, found everything (we hadn't tried to hide anything) except one Bible in my hip pocket. A few days before, an American couple coming in from Finland, with only two Russian Bibles, had been arrested and deported. Beside Bibles we had gospel tapes, a combination shortwave radio receiver, tape recorder and duplicator, nearly a dozen heavy fur coats (it was August and we were from California) for the wives of imprisoned pastors, etc. It seemed ludicrous to attempt to pass a Soviet border with such obvious contraband.
I made no "positive confession," but offered a seemingly foolish prayer that today's "faith" teachers would label "negative": "Lord, I'm the worst 'smuggler' in the world. They have everything in their custody, but please take it through, not for our sake, but for the sake of those who desperately need it." Suddenly, without explanation, the guards gave everything back and waved us on!
It is thrilling to read of those "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again..." (Heb:11:33-35). Up to that point, one might imagine that faith always brings escape from adversity. Such false "faith" is taught today and sought by those who think prayer persuades God to do our bidding. But read on.
The recital of the triumph of faith continues: "and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all...obtained a good report through faith..." (vv 35-39).
No distinction is made between those who escaped by faith and those who suffered by faith. There is no suggestion that the latter were "negative" and could have escaped like the others had they only "believed" or made a "positive confession." Clearly, it is terribly wrong to equate faith only with healing, blessing, success, prosperity, deliverance from adversity. Faith does not persuade God to do my will but causes me to bow to His, even to death.
While the Scripture says "the just shall live by faith" (Hab:2:4; Rom:1:17; Gal:3:11; Heb:10:38), that may mean dying for Christ. Many in China and elsewhere are facing that honor once again; and it could come to us here in the United States as well, even before the Rapture if our Lord should tarry much longer. The most important fruit of faith is not the deliverance or blessing one prefers, but the igniting of such love for God that one's greatest joy becomes obedience to His will no matter the consequences. How else could those who were tortured and killed and who suffered hunger and poverty be among the heroes and heroines of faith?
What does the above have to do with being a Berean? Everything! Some readers may weary of our frequent warnings against false teaching and practice so rampant in the church today. "Can't we just live for Christ, love everyone and not be so concerned about doctrine?" is often asked. We live by faith, however, and faith must have an object. What and in Whom one believes determines one's life now and for eternity. No matter how loving and exemplary one's conduct, if it is not founded upon God's truth there is no stability and no reward.
Yes, some are so obsessed with finding error that they criticize almost everyone and are known more for what they are against than what they are for. We must all guard against searching for specks in others' eyes while ignoring the two-by-fours in our own (Mat:7:3-5). One can be as clear as crystal on doctrine––and just as cold and hard. That some, however, unlovingly push doctrinal correctness but fail to live it themselves does not change the fact that sound doctrine is the only basis for true Christian living.
In pointing to himself as an example, Paul told Timothy, "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions..." (2 Tim:3:10-11). Notice how doctrine comes first, and out of that flowed Paul's "manner of life, purpose, faith," etc. We can't escape the necessity of being Bereans, sound in doctrine, by saying we're "just going to live for Christ."
Paul's manner of life was rooted in the doctrine he believed, and thereby grew into that purpose for which Christ had redeemed him. He was not his own but a slave of Christ, purchased by His blood. From that doctrinal root (the truth which had gripped his heart and to which he was totally committed) blossomed a faith so strong that nothing could shake it. Thus he persevered in "longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions...." A life without such a foundation is wasted, purposeless and leads to eventual remorse.
The Jehovah's Witness knocks on doors and tries to live a moral life in order to earn his salvation; a Christian does so out of love and gratitude to the One who paid the infinite price for his salvation and pardoned him freely by His grace. The Catholic goes to Mass because not to do so is a mortal sin that will damn him and because he advances on his way to heaven by eating the literal body and blood of Christ offered anew as a redeeming sacrifice upon the altar; the Christian takes the symbolic bread and cup in grateful remembrance of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice by which he is assured of heaven.
A life that is pleasing to God must be founded upon His truth and lived in obedience thereto. As the psalmist said, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps:119:105). There is a path along which we must follow Christ (Mat:16:24); a path which Satan doesn't know and upon which he cannot touch us (Jb 28:7-8; Isa:35:8-9); a path of God's protection and guidance, a path of obedient, loving service to Christ and to others––where love both lives and speaks the truth (Eph:4:15). How tragic (and unloving) to live an otherwise exemplary life of sacrificial service to others and yet fail to speak God's truth.
Mother Teresa provides the classic example of compassionate and charitable deeds divorced from truth. She says that her purpose is to bring her patients closer to the "God" in whom they already believe; so that a Hindu becomes a better Hindu, a Buddhist a better Buddhist, etc. (Vatican II says those of all religions are somehow saved through the Church.) She tells how to witness for Jesus:
One day they brought to our home a man with half his body eaten away. Worms crawled all over him, and the stench was so terrible....As I was cleaning him he looked at me and asked, "Why are you bothering?"
"I love you," I said...."For me you are Jesus coming in His distressing disguise."...Then...this Hindu gentleman...said, "Glory be to Jesus Christ." ...He realized that he was someone loved. (New Evangelization 2000, Issue 9, pp 11-12)
Tragically, this "Hindu gentleman," though lovingly cared for physically, was left in his spiritual corruption with all of his superstitions and false beliefs intact. He was left in his sins to die without Christ, a Hindu who was "loved," but not loved enough to be told the truth that would rescue him from hell!
Time magazine asked Mother Teresa a number of questions in November 1989. Her answers were revealing:
Q. Here in Calcutta, have you created a real change?
A. [We've] created a worldwide awareness of the poor.
Q. Beyond showing the poor to the world, have you conveyed any message about how to work with the poor?
A. You must make them feel loved and wanted. They are Jesus for me...in disguise.
Q. What do you think of Hinduism?
A. I love all religions....
How poor must one be in order to become "Jesus in disguise"? And how much money or possessions must one acquire to cease being "Jesus"? This loving woman hides a false gospel under emotional slogans. She launches the ones she loves from a clean bed into a Christless eternity and is praised for doing so! It is wrong to preach about a future life in heaven while neglecting to help those who suffer in this present life. Yet is it not equally wrong to fail to prepare souls for heaven while caring well for their bodies on earth? Pastor John MacArthur visited Mother Teresa in Calcutta in August 1988 and reported the following:
We asked her questions that might reveal her spiritual state. Her answers were troubling: "I love and respect all religions" an unthinkable remark in light of the hellishness of India's dominant religions.
"All my people die beautiful deaths," she told me. I am convinced Mother Teresa is providing false comfort to the dying." (Masterpiece, Winter 1988, p 6)
Yes, we dare not just mouth doctrine, but must live it. Don't forget, however, it is doctrine, God's truth, that we must live. Truth held in the head that is expressed only in words but not in deeds is hypocrisy. On the other hand, love without truth is sentimentality. Parents who fail to discipline their children (a veritable plague these days) do not really love them. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten," Christ says (Rev:3:19). Must we not do the same if His love is in us?
How thrilling to know that God has a purpose for our lives. Yet many Christians sink into discouragement, discontent, depression and despair, feeling that their lives are too difficult, unhappy and meaningless. That should never be the case for any true believer. But what of the elderly, bedridden, or just ordinary Christians with seemingly little influence upon others?
A life which is devoted to loving and praising God (no matter how lonely and hidden from men's eyes) may bring a greater reward in heaven than that of someone who is on radio, television, writes books, and is known worldwide. Be true to God first in all purity of heart devotion to Him, in diligent study of His Word and in prayer "without ceasing" (1 Thes:5:17). Trust Him to be your strength, to live His very life through you in the power of His Holy Spirit. Such a life of faith brings joy beyond expression!
Every life impacts others. It is not enough simply to "live a good life" without standing up for the truth and contending "earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3). Yes, our speech must be "always with grace" but it must also be "seasoned with salt" (Col:4:6). We must be kind, gracious, patient, loving, tender, compassionate. Yes, "love never fails" (1 Cor:13:8). But it would be a failure of love not to correct those who are straying from God's truth.
Neither the world nor the church likes correction. Many Christian parents fail to discipline their children, thinking they are being kind, sympathetic and loving by giving in to their whining demands. Parents thereby train their children to be disobedient, lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent, lacking in concern for others and contemptuous of authority. Paul taught his "son in the faith" to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim:2:3).
Of Christ it was said, "...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Heb:12:2). We can endure the persecution that comes from being true to Christ if we know the joy that awaits us. We can even know that joy now in the midst of trial. Christ's joy was not only in having us in His presence, but even more than that, in having done His Father's will. To know that we have been true to Him, that we have taken this talent of time and being which He has entrusted to us (Mat:25:14-30) and have used it to His glory, brings joy not only in this life but throughout eternity.
God has made us eternal beings. Every person ever born will continue in existence forever either in the ecstatic bliss of God's presence (Ps:16:11) or in the unimaginable horror and remorse of separation from Him forever. The choices we make, the manner of life we live and our attitude toward God, His Word and others carry consequences not only for this life but for eternity. Life on earth is short; eternity never ends. That fact is awesome to contemplate and in itself should cause us to live by faith in Him.
We walk by faith. Faith is not a power to aim at God to get blessings from Him, but faith opens the heart to God's will and brings obedience to His Word. Knowing we are in God's hands and that He loves and cares for us doesn't guarantee that we may not be persecuted and even killed for His sake. But it assures us that He will be with us and will give us the grace to endure in His strength and with joy, whatever trial comes, so that He may be glorified in our bodies, "whether by life or by death" (Philippians:1:20). TBC