Faith PrepperPreparing for the Coming Darkness
Once we move past identifying the characters in this teaching (Jesus is the vine, God the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches), we can clearly see the focus is on bearing fruit (more fruit, much fruit, and fruit that remains). But the key to having a relationship with the Lord that allows us to bear the kind of fruit that brings glory to the Father (John 15:8), is being able to “abide” in Him, in the vine. In fact, we find that phrase repeated over and over again in this amazing discourse. Consider the following:
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4)
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6)
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9)
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)
So the concept of abiding is not something to be taken lightly. Obviously, it is a description of the relationship Jesus has with the Father, and the relationship all Three share in the Godhead. And the amazing thing is that He commands us, no, He invites us to abide in Him the way He also abides in His Father. What a wonderful privilege He offers each of us.
But let’s address the elephant in the room, the $64,000,000 question. What does abide in this passage really mean?
For the past two months, our nation has been held in the grips of, as President Trump said, an “invisible enemy.” But this “invisible enemy” is not Covid-19. Nor is it the loss of jobs and the bankruptcy of thousands of small businesses and the inevitable collateral effect that will have on our economy for years, maybe even decades, to come. No, the “invisible enemy” we face is fear. And fear is a result of a lack of faith, and a lack of faith renders even the strongest believer useless as His light-bearer (Matt. 5:14-16).
But we know that. Yet, for some strange reason, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on us. Why?
Because many of us as believers in the West have surrendered our rights and privileges as children of God (Romans 8:16-17), in order to live comfortable lives in this fallen world. We have made ourselves, as James tells us, “an enemy of God” because of our “friendship with the world” (James 4:4). Just spend a few minutes on Facebook and you can see the narcissistic cancer that runs unchecked in our culture today… even in the church.
These are truly desperate times.
But what are we to do? How can we prepare ourselves for what the Lord is allowing to happen? And what lesson is there to be learned from watching Him bring our evil and proud society to its knees by events beyond anyone’s control? What do we need to do?
Simply this: We need to grow in our faith and our relationship with our Lord like never before. Like there is no tomorrow. Because there might not be. We are not guaranteed tomorrow (James 4:13-16). No one is.
Now is the time for serious soul-searching. Now is the time to put Him first in all things and to lay up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” and not spend our lives collecting trinkets and toys on earth (Matt. 6:19-20). And the best way to do this is to truly understand what our life is all about and why God created each of us in the first place.
Welcome to John 15.
As we see the day of His return approaching, we must be more diligent to make sure we don’t fall for the great deception Jesus spoke about (Matt. 24:4) and prepare ourselves for the coming apostasy (2 Thes. 2:3). Why? Because as our Lord warned the deception would be so great even the elect, if possible, would be deceived and fall away (Matt. 24:214).
So what are we to do? How do we become a faith prepper and guard ourselves against such great deception? The answer is simple to understand, yet difficult to do. In Cliff Notes style:
You must personally experience God yourself.
Second-hand faith won’t cut it.
Your faith must be first-person, personal.
You cannot live on the faith of another.
And your encounters with God must be on-going and habitual.
Especially as we see the darkness approaching.
This is what becoming a faith prepper is all about.
In essence, you must know God. Intimately. Personally. And you do that by learning to hear His voice.
“And this is eternal life, that they may know (ginōskō) You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)
The key to not falling for falsehood and deception is an experience with God. After all, a relationship between two people must include talking and listening from both parties. And so it is the same with each of us and the Lord. We talk. We ask. We beg. Sometimes we demand. But does God ever speak personally to us? If so, how? And how often?
One of the questions each of us will have to come to grips with as we see the time of our Lord’s return approaching is this: Do you believe what you say you believe? Or, more pointedly, how does your life reflect what you claim to believe? In other words, do we really believe everything the Scriptures say about God, this world, heaven and hell, our lives, the future, whatever? Or are we somehow hedging our bet in His Word to fit what we feel or think? Consider the following scriptures and ask yourself if you truly believe what they say.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Do you believe this statement to be true of you? If so, make it personal by putting your name in the place of “those”.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for (your name) who love Him.”
Let’s try one more. Do you believe this statement to be true?
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
If you believe God can do more than you can ask or think, then put your name in this verse. Make it first-person, personal.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think, according to the power that works in (me), to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
So why is this important? Because your relationship with God, your intimacy with the Father, will rise and fall on your belief in Him and in His character. Your beliefs always determine your actions. Always. In everything. For example, if you don’t believe God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think,” then you will be overcome by your doubts and fears and feel like a helpless kitten abandoned in the dark. But if you believe God is who He says He is, then you will be invincible in faith before anything that comes your way.
When we have the discernment that Jesus spoke about to know the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3), it becomes clear we are living in the last days. In fact, there are several key signs that bring us to this conclusion.
- The regathering of Israel into their own land
- The surging apostasy
- The coming Middle East peace
- The reuniting of the Roman Empire (East, West, both?)
For the church today, the most important of these prophetic signs is the rising tide of apostasy or defection from God and the Christian faith. We see this happening almost daily within the ranks of the church. As we have already discussed, apostasy means to “depart, revolt, or forsake. It is a deliberate defection from a formerly held religious position.” Apostasy doesn’t necessarily mean a total rejection of God or the authority of His Scripture. Apostasy can come in stages. It usually begins with a defection from a section of Scripture or a specific teaching that is incompatible with the current cultural church mood. Some examples are the issue of homosexuality, divorce, women pastors, abortion, or a myriad of other issues that divide the Body today. And once a small defection takes place, full-blown apostasy is not far behind.
But this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 24 the greatest sign of His return was deception. And He warned His disciples about that deception four times (Matt. 24:4, 5,11, 24). He even went so far as to say the deception at the end would be so great that, if it was possible, even the elect would be deceived (Matt. 24:24). And the elect includes Peter, Paul, James and John, Martin Luther, D.L. Moody, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, and you and me. That’s a sobering thought that should not be taken lightly.
So what can we do to prepare for the coming apostasy?
Jesus chastised the religious elite of His day for their confidence in predicting things like the weather, but not being able to discern the signs of the times. In fact, He called them hypocrites. Remember? “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” – Matthew 16:2-3. I wonder if He would say the same about His church today? After all, it appears we all seem to know everything about everything. Just ask us.
It seems we resemble those that Isaiah was called to address.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight – Isaiah 5:20-21.
But there is one prophetic statement of Jesus regarding the times before us that is hard for many, including me, to understand. That is until today. Jesus said “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Got that. He also promised that “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How is that possible? How can our love for our spouse or children grow so cold we will treat them as enemies to the extent of hatred and betrayal? (Matt. 24:10). How can that be true? What sort of perverted human would turn on his own family for the sake of himself? What kind of depraved mind or personality disorder would produce sociopaths with a love this cold?
In a word, it’s called narcissism. And it is the ultimate end-time personality disorder.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom. When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 8:11). Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables. And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).
Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like. He said it was like a “man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24). Or, it was like a “mustard seed” which, being small, grew into a tree “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31). Jesus likened His Kingdom to “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33). And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) or a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.
Jesus then asked His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord” (Matt. 13:51).
I wonder what our answer would be today? Do we understand His Kingdom? Do we fully know what it means to follow Him? Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?
I’m not so sure. And maybe you aren’t either.
When Jesus instructed His disciples, and the others, about what it meant to follow Him in Matthew 16:24-25, He spoke of “desire to come after me” and then “let him deny himself.” We looked at desire in our last message, and now we will turn our focus to what He meant by “deny himself.” Note the requirement and sequence in the verse below. First, there must be desire (“if anyone desires to come after Me”). Then, a denial and the corresponding action showing the commitment to deny himself (“take up his cross”). And finally, the invitation to “follow Me.” Jesus shows surrendering to Him must follow in this order. In essence, first meet the conditions, and then come “follow Me.”
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” – Matthew 16:24-25.
The word deny (aparnéomai) when followed by the pronoun heautón (oneself, himself) means “to deny oneself, or to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, benefits, and enjoyments to another.” The word is also translated “to speak against, contradict, to avoid, reject, nullify, to stand firm against, resist, oppose.”
When Jesus said we must “deny” ourselves, the impact of our denial affects all areas of our life.
On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands. But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably. Maybe even to none. Why? Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus. Think about it for a moment. Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can. But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Note the components of His invitation. First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement. “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.” Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.” And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.” And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.” First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”
We have looked at what it takes to become a Faith Prepper over the last few weeks. We did this by learning to pray at all times by letting the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, direct your prayers. And we also spent some time learning how to trust at all times by allowing your faith to grow by having it exercised in often unpleasant situations. But even with all of this, we still are plagued with a few questions.
How do we go from talking about faith to living by faith?
How do we learn to trust the Lord in all things?
How do we know and understand His will?
What are the practical steps we need to take to surrender our all to Him?
And how can we go about doing just that?
The answer, according to Scripture, is found in the single word, surrender. It means “to yield, give up or over, submit, abandon, relinquish, cede, waive, or capitulate. From the Christian perspective, it means to relinquish ownership of what we consider ours: our property, rights, time, decisions, future, independence, basically our life.
Surrender, like most things, is a choice.
The classic passage on total surrender is found in Galatians 2:20. It reads: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
But there is so much more.