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Dennis Priebe

Facing an Uncertain Future

In the classic book The Pilgrim’s Progress, there is a section about Christian coming upon the Goodly Palace.  The Goodly Palace is surrounded by great walls, a moat, and a large bronze drawbridge—all of which are seemingly protected by the most fearsome soldiers armed with lances, spears, swords, daggers, maces, clubs, and shields.  There are catapults upon the walls.  There are many battle chariots drawn by matched teams of mighty, black stallions.  On the drawbridge sits a noble man with a ledger and a writer’s inkhorn.

The palace represents heaven, and the mighty army are the forces of hell trying to prevent anyone from entering.  As Christian observes, he notes that there are people standing around, desiring to go in but fearful of such a mighty army blocking the way.  Many are scholars and theologians.  Each is telling the other to enter in, but many make excuses for their cowardice, all lacking the faith to fight their way through.

Then along comes a man named Belief, who signs the ledger and then prepares for battle by putting on the armor.  He singlehandedly takes on this whole mighty army and defeats them as though they were no more than actors in a play.

Christian marvels at what he sees.  He and the Interpreter note two doctors of theology who have just witnessed this defeat.  The story goes on as written by John Bunyan:

So Christian turned to hear two doctors of theology commenting on recent events.  Said the first to his companion with a genteel bow and a gesture toward the drawbridge, “After you, good sir.”

“Oh no,” demurred the second.  “I have been teaching here only a few years.  Common courtesy demands that I give way to seniority, dear doctor.”

“Why do you quake and fear, lad?  Yon brave man hacked his way through easily enough!”

“Aye, but did you see his armor?  I have none such to protect my innards!”

“Well, does it look like I do?’

“Then do we stand here forever, dear colleague?  Ever hoping and desiring to enter in, but never coming to the realization of it?”

“The time is not ripe, that’s all,” the wise one declared sagaciously.  “We must wait for the promise of the latter rain, which will fit us up for the battle.”

“Hmmm, yes.  I believe so too,” said his colleague, with a wistful glance toward the heavens.  “but as yet, I see nary a cloud in the sky.”

“Hmmm.  Nor I,” said the elder, scanning skillfully through a periodical.  “And looking here in the church paper, I see not so much as a forecast of clouds, let alone rain!”

“Hmmm,” puzzled his colleague.  “Strange that this illiterate and gullible underling was able to hack his way through before us.”

“Aye!” added his indignant companion.  “And that without one class in the use of the sharp two-edged sword!”

Whilst we are veritable experts in its use,” grumbled the first.

“Indeed.  In fact, I went to an outside university to obtain my degree in swordsmanship.”

“Eh! Did you now?” said his companion feigning disinterest.  “Well, heh, heh, so did I.  In fact I  am licensed by the state to use my sword.  How this blustering commoner hacked his way through is a complete mystery to me.”

“I wonder if we should turn him in for using his sword without a license?” groused the first.

“Say now! That might not be a bad idea.  Well, whilst we’re waiting for the clouds to form, shall we have a duel?”

“Yes! A splendid idea!” agreed the first eagerly.  “Twill give us something to do and keep our swords sharp besides.”

So they earnestly began their oft-practiced and skillfully choreographed duel.  Then Christian turned to the Interpreter and said, “They are afraid!”

“Aye.”

“But the defenders are not real!”

“To those who will not take God at His word and move forward,” said the Interpreter sadly, “the warriors are more real than you can imagine.”

“’Tis a mystery, this faith business,” said Christian, shaking his head.

This story aptly illustrates what can happen when we hold onto a theory of truth yet do not possess the truth in heart and soul because of a relationship with Christ.  So, are theology and doctrine important? Yes! Without them we have nothing, not even the teachings of Christ.  Yet at the same time, we can possess the truth without possessing Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Or we can get so caught up in studying the deep things that we neglect the practical.  Some people are adamant about their theology yet lack thoughtfulness, kindness, and helpfulness.  We need to keep our feet grounded in the truth and not allow the deeper things to prevent us from doing a work God has called the church to do.

Jeff Reich tells a personal story on this point:

We held a Bible symposium at our home one Thanksgiving years ago.  In the evening, a friend sat down next to me and started sharing all his new dual applications to Bible prophecy. I listened carefully as he systematically strayed from historical teachings.  Eventually I said, Wow, you have really done a lot of studying into these Bible prophecies!”  He smiled proudly at me and replied, “Well, yes.  Hours and hours.”  “May I ask you a question?  Has all this studying made you a better man, a better husband, a better father?”  His countenance dropped.  Looking  at the floor, he said shamefully, “I get your point.”  The point was that he was on the edge of a divorce, yet he was spending every free moment immersed in prophecy.  (From Laymen Ministries, Spring 2020)

There will always be those who will want a duel, sharpening their swords to debate interesting and speculative Bible subjects.  But until they possess the actual faith to walk across the drawbridge, put their name down on the ledger with the writer’s inkhorn, and face the real enemy—well, they may never see inside the Goodly Palace.  Knowing how to rightly divide the Word of truth will help us to relate to the person on the street.  Truth must remain practical.

There are a few questions we need to think about very seriously.  Where in our history did we as a church ever corporately and fully accept and apply the counsel of the True Witness in His message to the Laodicean church?  Are we still stuck in the mire of lukewarm religion?  Will lukewarm Christians be saved?  Can and do lukewarm churches evangelize?  Will the Father delay the second coming another 25, 50, or 175 years waiting for His church to repent?

What we need to realize is that a bunch of what we call evangelistic activity does not necessarily equate to a genuine spiritual life.  Who among us, like the apostle Paul at his conversion, is ready to relegate a lifetime of sincere religious activity, and even sacrificial service, to the dung heap in exchange for truly knowing Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death?

TRIBALISM

Let us look at another way of understanding our problems.  Tribalism seems to be on the rise around the world.  How do we live in polarized societies?  Tribalism shows itself as unswerving loyalty to one’s group, usually to the detriment of other persons or groups.  Underground forces of toxic tribalism engender polarization rather than unity.  Tribalism turns toxic when it seeks to eliminate those with divergent views, opinions, or identity.  It thrives on the notion that the other is the enemy.

Unfortunately, even the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with its high moral ideals and divine mandate, is not immune to this tribal mind-set.  An African Adventist relates how, when he asked someone for help during the most recent General Conference Session, he was refused, based on his African attire.  He was told, “You folks voted against the ordination of women into gospel ministry.”

Can Adventists live above tribalism?  Children learn negative attitudes toward those with different identities by observation.  Christ taught principles diametrically opposed to every notion of tribalism.  The central premises of tribalism—superiority, special identity, and pride—are demolished by His teachings and example.  We must step out of the walls of our tribal groups to be in Christ.

We often hear about our mission as the remnant, but we need to remember that we have two missions.  “God’s mission for each one of us, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, is to carry the gospel to the world and to advance God’s kingdom by reflecting Him.”  (Acts of the Apostles, page 9)   Evangelism and developing a Christlike character are our two missions, and the second may be the most important one.

A SAVING RELATIONSHIP

I want to discuss what I consider to be the most crucial component of being a Christian, especially an Adventist Christian.  How can we be sure that we have a saving relationship with Christ?  How can I tell the difference between the true gospel and a deadly false gospel?

This question was recently posed to church leaders.  “Is 1 John 3:9 teaching that before the second coming we are expected to reach a spiritual condition of sinless perfection in which we no longer sin?  The text says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”  The former director of the Biblical Research Institute answered this question in Adventist World, January, 2020.  “Different Bible translations have rendered the verb ‘to sin’ in different ways.  This is because the Greek verb is in the present tense.  So we find, for example, a Christian ‘does not continue to sin’ or ‘does not continually/habitually sin.’  According to these translations John is not saying that believers will not sin, but that they will not be controlled by sin.  This is an attractive interpretation.”  In fact, this is the interpretation commonly taught in our schools and in many of our churches.  The answer continued, “For John, Christian perfection means first that we ‘overcome the world’—that is to say, we are not ‘under the control of the evil one.’  Second, John makes the nature of Christian perfection dependent on constant reliance on Christ’s forgiving grace….There will never be a moment when we would not need His grace.”

In this answer we just read that there will never be a time when we will not need forgiving grace, which means that there will never be a time when we will not be sinning.  This essentially means that there is no real close of probation, and there will never be conclusive proof that God’s grace can give complete victory over sin to people with fallen natures and a history of sinning.

In a recent edition of Adventist Review (July 2020) there was an article by Lee Venden.  Some excerpts from this article are relevant here.

Sometime in my youth I got the idea that one unconfessed sin could keep me out of heaven.  My definition for sin centered on behavior, and my thoughts and actions missed the mark far too frequently….My working definition for sin was extracted from one verse: “Sin is the transgression of the law.”

It is important to note here that nine times Ellen White said that this is the only definition of sin.

Jesus summarized the law as loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.  Likewise Paul wrote: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  John’s definition for God is “love.”

I find in Scripture that loving God with all our hearts always results in obedience, not disobedience.

God and His law are equal.  In fact, the law is simply a transcript of God’s character.  Therefore, breaking the law (lawlessness) is actually the same as separating from God (godlessness).  At its heart sin is not primarily a broken rule: it’s a broken relationship.

Right here is where the false conclusion is drawn.  When we break God’s written or spoken commandments (sin), we break our relationship with God.  Sin is both a broken rule and a broken relationship at the same time.

Let’s look again at 1 John 3:4—this time in context.  “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”  Note the sequence: whoever commits sin (they’ve already committed sin) transgresses the law as well.  So committing sin precedes, and results in, transgressing the law.  Transgressing the law was not the sin—it was the result of sin.

This is simply rewriting Scripture.  There is no evidence that committing sin precedes breaking the law.  Committing sin is the same as transgressing the law.

My preacher father asked biblical language experts at several universities for their scholarly rendering of 1 John 3:4.  They said that properly understood, the passage reads: “Whosoever commits sin (lives life apart from Jesus) transgresses also the law: for sin (living apart from Jesus) results in the transgression of the law.”

Here we have scholars rewriting Scripture, using a different definition of sin.

If the core issue in sin is behavioral (breaking a rule), then a literal reading of Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death,” would read, “Break the rules and God will kill you.”  Hardly an endearing picture of God….The core issue in sin is not about breaking rules, but a broken relationship.

No, the text says, “Break the rules and you will kill yourself.”  We need to remember Isaiah 590:2: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”  When we sin we separate ourselves from God.  Both sin and separation (breaking a relationship, living apart from Jesus) happen at the same time.  Sinning is the same as separating.

Can we know whether we are saved?  YES!  What are the conditions?  Having (think relationship) the Son.

Now we must look closely at some easy to understand inspired statements, which do not have the language barrier of interpreting another language.  “In order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience.” (1 SM 366)   A relationship (justification) and obedience are exactly the same.

“He (Adam) did not set his mind in defiance against God nor did he in any way speak against God; he simply went directly contrary to His express command….It is not the greatness of the act that constitutes sin, but the fact of variance from God’s expressed will in the least particular, for this is a virtual denial of God, a rebellion against the laws of His government.”  (ST April 10, 1893)   Violating God’s commands (His will) is a denial of God and rebellion.  Clearly, disobedience to God means that, at that moment, we have broken our relationship with God, which can only be restored by repentance and forgiveness.

When we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, our name is written in the Lamb’s book  and we become legal owners of eternal life….Hang on to Jesus, hang on to eternal life.  Break up with Jesus (permanently), lose eternal life.

Again we must look at very clear inspired statements.  “The willful commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit, and separates the soul from God.  Whatever may be the ecstasies of religious feeling, Jesus cannot abide in the heart that disregards the divine law….We cannot for one moment separate ourselves from Christ with safety.  We may have His presence to attend us at every step, but only by observing the conditions which He has Himself laid down.”  (MYP 114-115)

“If he lets go his hold for a moment, he imperils his own soul and the souls of others….But the commission of any known sin, the neglect of known duties, at home or abroad, will destroy faith, and disconnect the soul from God.”  (FLB 138)   “Any sin in them separates them from God.”  (5T 661)  The Review article said that we lose eternal life (a relationship with Jesus) only when we permanently break up with Jesus.  Inspiration tells us that we disconnect from God (eternal life) when we commit any sin.  We can only thank God that because of His grace, the remedy is easy to find—repentance and forgiveness.  But the bottom line is, we cannot be in a saving relationship with Christ when we are committing sin.

When we enter the “relationship elevator” with Jesus, He presses the button for the top floor.  We may stumble in the elevator,…but if we fall in an elevator we don’t stop going up.

We have just read the classic illustration of a false gospel, which says that we can be saved while sinning as long as we have a “relationship with Jesus.”

Jesus Christ “guarantees right up to the end that you will be counted free from all sin and guilt on that day when he returns.” (1 Cor. 1:8, The Living Bible)….If Jesus is ours, we can have blessed assurance!

Now let us look at this text from the KJV.  “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  As usual, a false gospel based on a faulty translation of the Bible.

As I have found over and over in past years, a false gospel is always based on a false definition of sin.  But the most tragic thing is that this gospel, offering a false assurance of salvation, was printed in the Adventist Review.  How many trusting Adventists could be lost because of its influence?

Some believe that we should not address errors or false teachings directly; that we should just teach the truth.  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the example of Jesus.  Certainly He did not thrive on conflict.  It was never His focus, but He never compromised on crucial issues.  He told the man He healed to defy false teaching by carrying his bed through the city on the Sabbath.  He directly addressed the Pharisees as whited sepulchers, making their converts two times a candidate for hell as they were.  He urged people not to do as the Pharisees do.

I am afraid that very often we have a misplaced sympathy for those in error because they are nice people or are captivating speakers.  I want to encourage those who stand for truth openly and are attacked for being critical and unchristlike.  Remember that Jesus and Elijah and Jeremiah and John the Baptist and Huss and Luther have all walked this path before you.  They and you will have your reward in heaven.

LIVING THE TRUE GOSPEL

Now I want to turn our attention to how the true gospel, the gospel of Jesus and Paul, can be experienced in our daily lives, in the practical reality of living in a sinful world with a sinful nature.  An excellent study was printed in the Adventist Review (April 2020).

We all have it—sin—in our own familiar and hereditary forms, or fresh faults we personally import from new and contemporary sources.  There may be sins that we, our kids, and our parents have the same tendency to struggle with the most: self-sufficiency, the self-righteous assurance;…or its opposite, an insecurity in constant dread of God, and ready to detect that someone or other wants to insult us.  Then there’s quick temper, or, conversely, apathy and passivity about principle; the love of pleasure, or contempt for the hedonists; lust, greed, and ambition, or, at some other extreme, epic satisfaction with slackness, laziness, and mediocrity.  Or, it’s more respectable sin, such as gluttony.  There’s pornography, entertainment addiction—endless, mind-enfeebling hours before a screen, or the sustained search for fatuous trivia to laugh about....There’s the insatiable craving for recognition, for the praise and adoration of humans….Whatever the case, we all have a sin problem.

The question is “How?”  How do we get rid of the sin in our lives?  Perhaps we try—valiantly, even—but somehow never seem to overcome.  The addiction grabs us harder, our temper flares even hotter, and our craving for pleasure grows stronger.  So we try willpower.  Maybe we’ve started adding a little bit of devotional time in our day.  Perhaps we have begun to pray more for God’s help to get rid of our fault once and for all.  But somehow we still cannot overcome.  Why?  What are we doing wrong?  Everything, perhaps.  It bears repeating, and repeating again, that the issue is often enough that we believe in quick fixes.  Progress in our world is equivalent to quicker and quicker fixes….We are less prepared for the long struggle.  But getting rid of well-rooted sin involves long struggle; conversion means a complete mind change, and growing in godliness and holiness—sanctification—is a lifelong effort.

Let us check some biblical principles.  “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)  We must decide to abandon all of Satan’s inroads into our minds and focus completely on God’s will and directions for our lives.  “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:2)  “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24)  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom. 12:2)

We come to understand that sanctification is one word meaning the same as the two-word phrase, continuous conversion; that salvation is a thoroughgoing and endless process.  As eternity discloses to us more and ever more of our God, we turn evermore into the likeness of Him in whose likeness we were always meant to be.  God the Spirit gives us single-mindedness for our double-mindedness, and there’s no more picking and choosing about what we’ll give up for Jesus.  When His love comes home to our heads and hearts, we are glad to give Him everything.

The key word in all of this is the surrender of everything we have and are, and asking for the greatest miracle of all, a transformed mind and life.  There is one major component of a transformed mind, by which we can tell if the transformation is really working.  Compassion was a motive force impelling all areas of Jesus’ ministry.  He taught the multitudes many things because compassion moved Him, compassion that transcended His physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and His need for rest.  He had come to earth to teach the truth about compassion, about the God who long ago had promised that humanity’s faithlessness would never exhaust His compassion.  And so it was that He, “being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not.” (Ps. 78:38)   Peter urges us, “Finally, all of you,…be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

Another very helpful article was printed in the Adventist Review (May 2020).

After celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus finds Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane….He utters this astounding request to His three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John: “Stay here,” He says to them, “and watch with me.”…What Jesus basically craves at this moment, when the weight of the whole universe is bearing down upon Him with all its crushing fury, is emotional support….In The Desire of Ages (687, 688), “The human heart longs for sympathy in suffering,” she writes.  “This longing Christ felt to the very depths of His being.  In the supreme agony of His soul He came to His disciples with a yearning desire to hear some words of comfort from those whom He had so often blessed and comforted, and shielded in sorrow and distress.  The One who had always had words of sympathy for them was now suffering superhuman agony, and He longed to know that they were praying for Him and for themselves.”…What He longs for “to the very depths of His being” is someone to lean on; someone who can offer Him “some words of comfort,” some caring action that will tide Him across the abyss of hell He must negotiate….

At the end of the day, what people both want and need most is to love and be loved; to be understood, accepted, and valued….Paul…sums up the whole law by saying that “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10)…In short, sanctification is learning to love others well….

In Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (134, 135), Ellen White lays out this same vision for Christian growth and sanctification:…”In your association with others, put yourself in their place.  Enter into their feelings, their difficulties, their disappointments, their joys, and their sorrows.  Identify yourself with them, and then do to them as, were you to exchange places with them, you would wish them to deal with you.”…She states in sum, “It is a principle of heaven, and will be developed in all who are fitted for its holy companionship.”  She later adds this categorical statement: “No man who has the true ideal of what constitutes a perfect character will fail to manifest the sympathy and tenderness of Christ.  The influence of grace is to soften the heart, to refine and purify the feelings.”

THE ULTIMATE GOAL

As the Holy Spirit grows compassion in our spirit, He will take us to the next steps.  “Before the world, God is developing us as living witnesses to what men and women may become through the grace of Christ.  We are enjoined to strive for perfection of character….Would Christ tantalize us by requiring of us an impossibility?  Never, never!  What an honor He confers upon us in urging us to be holy in our sphere, as the Father is holy in His sphere!  He can enable us to do this, for He declares, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.’  This unlimited power it is our privilege to claim….God gives the invitation, ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’  By conversion and transformation, men are to receive the mind of Christ.” (ST Sept. 3, 1902)

Only by Christ’s grace are we saved and grow in submission to Him, thus becoming more like Him all through His power.  He wants us to become like Him through His power.  It cannot be overemphasized that this whole process is by His grace and only through His power.

“As the sacrifice in our behalf was complete, so our restoration from the defilement of sin is to be complete….The ethics of the gospel acknowledge no standard but the perfection of the divine character….[Christ’s] life is our example of obedience and service.  God alone can renew the heart.” (MH 451, 452)

This process is described best in Ezekiel 36:26,27: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”  This is the key to receiving the mind of Christ.  Obedience will flow naturally when God puts a new spirit in our minds.

There is one long-held belief of Adventists that is in extreme danger right now of being openly rejected or de facto ignored.  It is described most clearly in PP 201-203:

When Christ shall cease His work as mediator in man’s behalf, then this time of trouble will begin.  Then the case of every soul will have been decided, and there will be no atoning blood to cleanse from sin.  When Jesus leaves His position as man’s intercessor before God, the solemn announcement is made, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Rev. 22:11)   Then the restraining Spirit of God is withdrawn from the earth.

Then Ellen White points us to the experience of Jacob’s night of wrestling.

Such will be the experience of God’s people in their final struggle with the powers of evil.  God will test their faith, their perseverance, their confidence in His power to deliver them….They will have a deep sense of their shortcomings, and as they review their lives their hopes will sink.  But remembering the greatness of God’s mercy, and their own sincere repentance, they will plead His promises made through Christ to helpless, repenting sinners….They will lay hold of the strength of God, as Jacob laid hold of the Angel, and the language of their souls will be, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”

Had not Jacob previously repented of his sin in obtaining the birthright by fraud, God could not have heard his prayer and mercifully preserved his life.  So in the time of trouble, if the people of God had unconfessed sins to appear before them while tortured with fear and anguish, they would be overwhelmed; despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have confidence to plead with God for deliverance.  But while they have a deep sense of their unworthiness, they  will have no concealed wrongs to reveal.  Their sins will have been blotted out by the atoning blood of Christ, and they cannot bring them to remembrance….

All who endeavor to excuse or conceal their sins, and permit them to remain upon the books of heaven, unconfessed and unforgiven, will be overcome by Satan….Yet Jacob’s history is an assurance that God will not cast off those who have been betrayed into sin, but who have returned unto Him with true repentance.  It was by self-surrender and confiding faith that Jacob gained what he had failed to gain by conflict in his own strength.  God thus taught His servant that divine power and grace alone could give him the blessing he craved.

Thus it will be with those who live in the last days.  As dangers surround them, and despair seizes upon the soul, they must depend solely upon the merits of the atonement.  We can do nothing of ourselves. In all our helpless unworthiness we must trust in the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour.

In this passage we learn two things.  First, a time is coming when no more forgiveness of sin will be available, which means that all sins must be confessed before the close of probation.  Second, our assurance is all based on the atonement of Christ and His grace.

It is true that the close of probation can create fear in us.  We are afraid that we are not ready; that not every sin has been confessed.  There is one moment in the life of Jesus that is filled with fear.  That moment is Gethsemane.  Matthew describes Jesus as “deeply distressed.”  He confides to the three disciples, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:37,38)   He pleads with His Father, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” (vs. 39)  By the time He returns to the disciples, they  barely recognize Him, for His face is so changed by anguish.  Three times Jesus prays the same prayer.  Is there another way of saving this planet in rebellion that does not involve separation from the Father?  “The humanity of the Son of God trembled in that trying hour….The awful moment had come—that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world.  The fate of humanity trembled in the balance.” (DA 690)   Jesus is afraid—of separation from the Father.

Our only real fear should be of separation from our Creator and Provider, and our answer comes only from God’s Word.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)   “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” (Ps. 46:1,2)  These fears will be literally fulfilled, but as long as He is the strength of my life, I need not be afraid.

The following piece of history is what very likely will occur in our near future, but using modern methods of execution.

It seemed as if everything changed overnight.  What had been safe was no longer safe.  Friends once trusted now became betrayers.  Beliefs held dear were either renounced or a horrific death would surely follow.  That’s what happened to Thomas Hawkes.  Hawkes, a keen Bible student, was fortunate to live when it was possible to read the Bible in his mother tongue—English.  Just a few decades earlier the great English scholar and reformer William Tyndale had translated much of the Bible into the English language, opening a pathway for Bible truth to reach more people than ever before.  With this enlightenment came reformation—the Protestant Reformation—to the British Isles.

But times were uncertain in mid-sixteenth century England, and once Bloody Mary came to the throne, many who refused to give up their Protestant faith were martyred.  During this troubled time, Hawkes did not revert to the state-imposed religion of Roman Catholicism, but instead declined to attend Mass and spoke out against the religious regime.  With the birth of his son, Hawkes refused to allow the infant to be baptized into the Catholic faith.  This faithful man was summoned numerous times to answer for his biblical beliefs before the bishop of London.

After suffering in a cold, dank prison for months, Hawkes was given one last chance to recant.  Instead, he replied to the bishop, “No, my lord, that I will not; for if I had a hundred bodies, I would suffer them all to be torn in pieces, rather than…recant.”

Doomed to die at the fiery stake, Thomas Hawkes spent his final days in prison receiving friends and family, many of whom would meet a similar fate.  They asked if he would, as the flames leaped around him, give an indication “if the Christian faith and hope were stronger than the raging, consuming fire.”  Thomas agreed to give a signal if this was the case.

Soon the day arrived.  Thomas was calm as he was led through the taunting, jeering crowd who came to see this heretic burn.  He was tied to the stake by a strong chain about his middle, and after speaking to those gathered and pouring out his heart to God, the fire was kindled.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs describes the scene: “When he had continued on in it [the fire], and his speech was taken away by violence of the flame, his skin drawn together, and his fingers consumed…so that it was thought that he was gone, suddenly and contrary to all expectation, this good man being mindful of his promise, reached up his hands burning in flames over his head to the living God, and with great rejoicings as it seemed,…clapped them three times together.  A great shout followed this wonderful circumstance, and then this blessed martyr of Christ, sinking down in the fire, gave up his spirit.”

How was it that Hawkes, and millions more like him, were able to face the most fearsome circumstances with peace and resolve?  And how can we today approach the unknown future with hope, confidence, and perfect peace?

During the past several months we have seen swift and massive changes throughout the world.  People are afraid.  No one knows exactly what the future holds, yet prophecy predicts that things will get worse before they get better.

Jesus assures us that He will be with us through the fire, through the storm, through whatever we may face, so that we can say with confidence.  “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.  In God I will praise his word, in God have I put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” (Ps. 56:3,4)

In a time of fear and uncertainty, facing the imminent close of human probation, our only fear should be the possibility of separation from God because of choosing self over God.  As long as we hold onto God’s hand and surrender completely to  Him, perfect love will cast out all fear.

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