Have you ever had friend tell you about a new restaurant in town that you absolutely need to try out? And maybe the first time they told you about it, you listened as they raved about it and thought “OK, that’s nice. I’ll have to try it sometime.” A month later your friend asks you, “Did you try out that new restaurant I told you about?” You say, “No, I haven’t been able to get there yet.” And they urge you one more time, “you just have to check it out – trust me you won’t be disappointed.”
So you finally get there after your friend has told you how wonderful and great the food is. You buy the food, you eat it and you love it! You regret taking so long in listening to your friend’s recommendation. Because you didn’t get after it, you’ve lived an additional 6 weeks without this restaurant in your life. But now that you’ve tried it and love it, what happens? You go out of your way to go eat there.
How do you know if you've really encountered God? You go out of your way you get more of Him. You go out of your way to serve him. You go out of your way to please him. You schedule around him rather than schedule him around other things. You budget around him rather than trying to fit him into your budget. These are signs you've really encountered God.
On Sunday, we wrapped up a sermon series answering a handful of questions submitted by the inquisitive folks of Alliance Bible Church. I've been working on addressing more of them here. One question asked is one I've heard a number of times: "How were Old Testament believers saved?" Mark Dever answers this question succinctly.
To expound this a bit further, In Romans 4, Paul argues Christians are saved by grace not works. He quotes Genesis 15:6, "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." What did Abraham do to receive this gift of righteousness? He believed God. But what did he believe?
In Galatians 3, we're told God "preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham..." Throughout his life, Abraham was shown the gospel. He was promised his descendants would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore. He was promised that through his family line all nations would be blessed. He was shown God's salvation through a sacrificial substitute through the testing of his faith with Isaac. Abraham entered into a "right" relationship with God by faith in God's promises in general and climactically in the gift of a Savior.
What we Christians have been given that Old Testament believers did not have are specifics and details about the Savior. This is both a gracious gift and daunting. As there is a "ratcheting up" of God's revelation to us, there is a "ratcheting up" of accountability to it. As there is a "ratcheting up" of God's specific gift of grace in Jesus Christ, there is a "ratcheting up" of culpability to do something with it.
At Alliance Bible Church, we’ve been in a sermon series this summer called “You Asked for it.” We’ve been answering questions submitted by our wonderful people. Not all can be addressed in a sermon, so I’m taking on a few more here. And this question is an interesting one: Does suffering mean God is angry with me?
As you could probably predict, the Bible is very nuanced in its treatment of suffering. For example, in John 5, Jesus heals a paralytic and after healing him says to him:
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” - John 5:14
The reason this man is paralyzed is tied directly to his sin. In this case, "you reap what you sow” is true.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth he tells them flat out that the reason some of them have become ill and even died is that they were participating in the Lord’s Supper in a dishonorable way.
"So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died." - 1 Corinthians 11:27-30
You reap what you sow. This is true, but it’s not the only reason for suffering.
For example, "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned' said Jesus…" John 9:1-3a
The blind man’s suffering was not caused by his sin. You reap what you sow doesn’t hold true in his case.
Sometimes our suffering is directly tied to sin. Sometimes it’s not. But if it is tied directly to sin, does that mean God is angry with us? Hebrews 12 offers comfort for believers…
"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." - Hebrews 12:7-11
Believers should see suffering as our heavenly Father exercising his loving discipline. We can find hope here. God is treating us as his legitimate children; true sons and daughters. His discipline isn’t for our destruction. It’s for our good; for our holiness. In the gospel, we know all of God’s wrath against our sin fell on Jesus (Rom. 3:25). Suffering isn't God's wrath against our sin. It's our heavenly Father exercising his loving discipline in our lives to bring about holiness. This is good news!
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 8:1).