As I look back in American history, and recently as I’ve done for a number of years, I’ve continued to read some of the best books on World War II, even going back to World War I, and read about the amazing sacrifices that were made by so many Americans to make sure that American freedom was secured for subsequent generations. If you go back in our history all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, all the way back to America establishing its independence 1776, you know for all the years since then America has prided itself on its freedom. And freedom has been precious enough for people to give their lives for all of the decades really since that time fighting for freedom, freedom in many cases that the people who made the sacrifice would never enjoy because they gave up their lives. As we all know, millions of people died in the World Wars.
It’s so interesting to me to think about the fact that there were generations of people in America who would literally sacrifice their lives knowing they were going to go to war, and there was a likely reality that they were going to end up in the grave. They would do that anyway. They would do that with a sense of honor and dignity for the sake of the freedom of people in the future they would never know. Millions of people literally gave their lives to secure freedom for Americans. It’s such a strange paradox to realize that today basically our entire population willingly given up its freedoms. People have told us there is a deadly threat, and people fearing that deadly threat have willingly given up their freedoms in a wholesale way, the likes of which has never been seen.
Now I realize this is a generation that doesn’t have the same altruistic self-sacrificing view of their role in society. This is the “me first” generation. This is the narcissistic generation. This is the generation, if there’s ever been a generation, that not only don’t particularly want to give up their life for somebody else, they don’t even want to get the flu. They don’t want their world interrupted or upside-down. But that’s exactly what has happened, and it strikes a powerful, powerful message, that you don’t have to have an army to conquer a nation. This particular generation is willing to give up its freedoms if the government will protect them, an amazing shift in how people in this country have thought through the years.
But what drives that? Well, what drives that is the fear of death. I think I’ve heard the word “deadly” more times during this coronavirus than I’ve ever heard it from the media in any other period of history that I’ve been around. I’ve been around for a long time. People are afraid of death. And it takes me back to Hebrews chapter 2 where, speaking of Christ, it says, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
Fear of death makes people slaves. People are terrified of death, and rightly so. We live in a society, perhaps, more afraid of death than any previous society in our country. They have been literally the focus of all their education, all their philosophical exposure over the last probably thirty, forty years that life revolves around them, that they’re the most important person in their world, and their truth and their objectives and their goals and their dreams and their wishes are the priority. In fact, you even have a prosperity gospel which basically says, “You just need to tell God what you want and He’ll deliver it.” This is a very indulgent culture. For them, the fear of death seems to be even greater. So you can literally conquer an entire nation if you can make them be afraid of death and promise that you’re going to step in and deliver them from that terrible fate.
I think it’s a positive that this generation is afraid of death because I think they should be, that this is the least Christian generation in the history of our country. This is the most atheistic generation in the history of our country. This is the most hedonistic generation in the history of our country. This is the most irreligious generation. This is the most basically agnostic generation; that means they’re not sure that there’s any such thing as real truth. This generation needs a heavy dose of the fear of death; and this has been that for many, many people. From a Christian standpoint, we get it. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment.”
Can I say the obvious thing? Nobody has died in the coronavirus pandemic that wasn’t going to die anyway, nobody. We’re all going to die. This is the inevitable reality; and the more starkly people face it, the more they are forced to see their mortality, the more fear it generates in their hearts. And then you add to that that they’re housebound, they’re locked up and they can’t easily get to all of their forms of escape.
It was kind of amazing to hear in the last few hours that even drugs aren’t as readily accessible to people in this country as they once were, and some of the cartels in Latin America are trying to find a new pathway to deliver their drugs. Normal forms of entertainment, which are escapes for people, are not available. And television is just a rehearsal of things that happened in the past. Sports, which is an escape for a massive part of our generation, are unavailable. So there’s a kind of starkness in this moment in our history that brings the reality of death home with power.
And again, people realize they’re not in control. There are forces out there that they can’t defend themselves against. They need to think like that. And we as believers need to make sure that we’re available to say, “The Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death,’ and all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; therefore all will die.” The proof of the depravity of man, the depravity of humanity, the proof of the sinfulness of everyone is death. Everyone dies, everyone.
Death is not the end. After this, the judgment; and every soul either goes into heaven or into hell. So I think as Christians, we can see a redemptive opportunity in this coronavirus to speak the realities of the gospel, to declare, to declare that God is the one true, living, sovereign, all-glorious God, the God of Scripture. To declare, secondly, that He a Savior and a Redeemer of sinners. To declare, thirdly, that those who reject Him and reject the gospel of His Son will come into judgment. And, fourthly, that God will send His Son back to establish His kingdom on earth. So we are to declare the glory of God, the salvation of God, the judgment of God, and the coming kingdom of God.
My prayer in this situation is that we will have gospel opportunity that we’ve not had before. And then you add the reality that there’s a certain kind of confinement so that you are with the people that you live with in your home. Your small, little group of friends or family is about as far out as you get with any kind of intimacy. But you’re forced into more hours with those people; and this is a great opportunity for you to get beyond a sort of cursory and short or brief presentation of the gospel and declare the truth.
I did a message a week or so ago to the students of The Master’s University and we sent it out. Its title is “A Message from John MacArthur,” not a novel title. And I just sat at a table and I talked to them about the Great Commission. We sent it to our students, but it ended up on YouTube, and the last I saw it’s gone all over the place. If you want to look that up, “A Special Message from John MacArthur,” it’ll give you about forty minutes of a conversation with me and help you think through what your responsibility is in a time like this to declare the glory of God, to declare the salvation of God, to declare the judgment of God, and to declare the coming kingdom of God. He’s in control of all of this. It is His sovereign purpose that this has happened.
QUESTION: Now another question that comes to me all the time is, “Do you think that this is some form of apocalyptic final judgment?”
The simple answer is no. I don’t think this fulfills any prophecy in the Bible. I don’t think it’s a form of final judgment attached to the apocalyptic kind of judgment that comes just prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason I say that is because those judgments are described in detail in the book of Revelation.
Starting in Revelation chapter 6 and all the way through chapter 19, you have all those judgments that come under seals, and then trumpets, and then bowl judgments; and each of the seven is an accelerated form of divine judgement in the world. It’s horrific judgment. The heavenly bodies begin to fall out of the sky. The rivers begin to turn to poison. The seas turn to poison. At one point, a fourth of the population of the world dies; another point, a third of the population of the world dies. You have cataclysmic things that can only be described as supernatural, divine judgments, the likes of which the world has never seen. Those kinds of things are essentially defined in the Bible as the judgments of God coming on the earth prior to the return of Jesus Christ; but those happen in a time called the tribulation, time yet to come.
We’re not in that time because that time starts with the rapture of the church when the Lord takes His church, which is a signless event. He could come at any hour, at any moment, and take His church out, and then the judgments begin to come. We will be as His own church, delivered from that, “kept from the hour of trial,” says the book of Revelation.
So the kinds of things that you read about in the book of Revelation are going to happen after the church is removed from the world. So we can’t look at this as if some apocalyptic judgment of God is falling on us. And let me give you another way to understand that. When God judges, when God brings His final judgment there’s not going to be any vaccine, there’s not going to be any mitigating medication. When God brings final judgment, it is horrific. And if you want a sample of that, go back to Genesis 6 and start reading about the flood where God drowned the entire population of the world, which was in the millions, sparing only eight souls. When God sets out to judge, it’s not going to be by water, but it is going to be by fire, and it will culminate in the entire universe going out of existence, being uncreated. As Peter said, “The elements will melt with fervent heat.” The whole thing will be burned up.
So what we’re seeing is the normal course of life in a corrupt and sinful world. And this isn’t as bad as they said it would be, not at all. In fact, the number of deaths keeps going down and down and down and down and down, and in many of those original projections they had figured in mitigation, but still came up with massive numbers that have not proven to be the case.
Just an interesting footnote about that. Harvard University came out with a report that indicated that the lowest percentage of coronavirus in the world, I think, if it’s not the lowest, it’s near the lowest, is in India. That might be a surprise to you since there are a billion people in India, and since there’s massive poverty in India, and since there’s multigenerational living in which you have generations all living in the same place which theoretically could make the older generation vulnerable to the viruses in the young; and yet India has – this is an amazing statistic – two percent of the number of coronavirus cases that the United States has, two percent. And when you ask, “How does India, which is this mass of people pressed together in poverty, how do they escape this?” one very interesting answer was that for decades the population has been receiving hydroxychloroquine for malaria. And while there have been some journalists who look down on that, you have a pretty interesting evidence of its impact in the billion people of India who have such a miniscule susceptibility to coronavirus.
Now why am I saying that? I’m saying that because when the judgment of God falls, the nations that have rejected God like India aren’t going to have a low rate of infection. It’s not to say we’re better than they are. This nation could fall under the judgment of God. After all, there will be ten million babies aborted – a murderous nation. That’s a far, far greater number, exponentially greater than the amount of people who would die from this.
So we look at this and we say this is life in a fallen world. We’re all subject to death, we’re all going to die, we don’t know when. Lots of different things can get us. But babies, ten million before they even enter into the world. In the time that I’ve been speaking to you, tens of thousands of people have died all over the world. That’s where we’re all headed. This is just normal life.
But people press the issue and say, “Well, aren’t there some indications that we could kind of be getting toward the end and the return of Christ, the rapture of the church?” Sure. Globalism: the push, the constant push for one world sets things up for the world to come under the power of one ruler who is the Antichrist. The idea that they might want to start tracking us with some kind of GPS apparatus if we need to be monitored because we have certain illnesses or certain lack of antibodies. So if they’re going to put little chips in us so they can track our, quote-unquote, “disease,” that would serve the purpose of the Antichrist and the mark of the beast that would label people who are a part of his kingdom.
So the world in general is trending toward globalism, toward high control, and an event like this gives up more control to government power. This entire society rushed away from its freedoms and said, “If you protect us, we’ll give up our freedoms.” That’s how readily freedom can be taken away by the fear of death, even when that fear is not legitimate.
So, yes, the world is trending in the direction of a globalism and a kind of monitoring that fits the picture of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation. But we’re short of that now. We’re still waiting for the Lord to gather His church. So whatever’s going on in the world – and for us, this is unusual, this is an unusual amount of people who are dying, it’s not apocalyptic. And in the state of California, there are about thirty thousand people out of forty million who have this virus diagnosed, and there are about eleven hundred who have died out of forty million: that’s not a wholesale issue. But again, the fear has transcended the reality of this, which gives us opportunity to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and remind people that you may survive this, but ultimately you will die, and after that the judgment; and that’s where we can bring the good news of Jesus Christ. That would be our calling and our opportunity here.
Well, I have some other questions, so let me take a look at them. And thank you for sending them in.
QUESTION: “How should we approach Communion during this pandemic with churches moving to online services?” From Justin. Thank you, Justin.
I know there have been some churches that have online Communion. I’ve read some pretty bizarre examples of that: “Pick your own drink and get some cheese crackers and kind of do what you want to do.” Communion, the gathering around the Lord’s Table, is not as simple as eating a piece of bread and drinking a cup of the beverage of your choice. The Lord’s Table is a collective experience of the church. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, there’s a phrase that appears a number of times: “When you come together. When you meet together.” And Paul says it again and again and then describes the Lord’s Table.
Clearly it is designed for when you come together. It is a time for the collective life of the church. It is a time for mutual accountability. We as individuals need to be always confessing our sins. We always need to be thanking the Lord for the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We always, we always, I hope as daily believers, remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us and the glory of His resurrection; and because we died in Him, we also rise in Him. This is life for us. We are true worshipers. We worship 24/7 in our all conscious moments, we set the Lord always before us, as David said, and we see all of life through Him and His glory; so we worship Him all the time. We are also, 1 John 1:9 says, are the ones confessing our sins, and so we’re the ones that are having their sins forgiven. We are true worshipers, we are true confessors, and we can do that, and we will do that, and we do that regularly, routinely in our lives because that’s what Christians do. Christians continually say, “O wretched man that I am.” At the same time, they celebrate the forgiveness that is theirs in Christ.
But the Communion Table is not that kind of individual experience, the Communion Table is when the church comes together collectively, and everybody in a sense is held to account by everyone else around them. We all gather and we all confess our sins, and we all remember that our sins are not isolated, that we’re in this congregation, this living organism of the church, and our sins don’t just affect us, they affect them as well. And there’s a sense of accountability. There’s a sense that I have to be honest and I have to have integrity and I have to speak the truth in my heart to God about who I really am, because of the expectation and the needs of this congregation.
So I think the Lord’s Table belongs in a congregation. I think it belongs as a collective experience. I’m not saying you can’t do that on your own; the Bible doesn’t forbid that. The Bible doesn’t say a father can’t do that in a home or a family can’t do that in a home. But you have no occasion of that designed or revealed in the New Testament, it was always when they came together. So it’s a collective aspect of worship.
So we feel that we need to wait until the whole congregation comes together. Doesn’t change our love for the Lord, doesn’t change our interest in His cross and resurrection; but that’s for us when we come together, as 1 Corinthians says.
QUESTION: “Do you believe it’s biblical when some pastors in America are continuing to hold services even though the government instructs them not to?” From Rich.
Yeah, let me make very clear this question because it keeps coming up. If the government told us not to meet because Christianity was against the law, if the government told us not to meet because we would be punished, fined for our religion and our religious convictions, we would have no option but to meet anyway. And that takes you to the fifth chapter of Acts where the leaders of Israel said to the apostles, “Stop preaching.” And Peter’s response was very simple. He said, “You judge whether we obey God or men,” then he went right out and preached.
If the government tells us to stop worshiping, stop preaching, stop communicating the gospel, we don’t stop. We obey God rather than men. We don’t start a revolution about that; the apostles didn’t do that. If they put us in jail, we go to jail and we have a jail ministry. Like the apostle Paul said, “My being in jail has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel.” So we don’t rebel, we don’t protest. You don’t ever see Christians doing that in the book of Acts. If they were persecuted, they were faithful to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ even if it took them to jail; and that’s been the pattern of true Christianity through all the centuries.
But this is not that. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, “Please do this for the protection of this society.” This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, “Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.”
Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s going to be you. But you cannot defy the government. And I don’t think pastors should do this. You cannot defy the government and say, “We’re going to meet anyway because God has commanded us to meet, no matter what damage we do to people’s lives.”
I mean, what should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, “We disregard the public safety issue.” You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.
What helps the gospel cause is to say, “Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply. This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live. We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, “You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.” But Peter adds to that, “You submit yourself to the governor and the king,” whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, “Well, this isn’t constitutional.” That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.
How do we back out of that to communicate the love of Christ? Look, Jesus came and basically banished disease from Israel. He was a healer. The last thing the church of Jesus Christ would want to be is a group of people that lived in defiance and made somebody sick, caused somebody’s death. So you restrain yourself from that.
Again, the issue is so clear that even going back to Richard Baxter back in 1600s, Richard Baxter has a great section in one of his books where he says, “If the magistrate,” as he calls it, “asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway.” I think that’s the dividing line.
QUESTION: “What pastoral advice do you have for couples who are choosing between a private ceremony or postponing their wedding so loved ones can be present?” Anonymous.
Real simple: Get married. Get married, and have a party down the road. It’s hard enough once you’ve made that commitment and once you’ve made that vow. And oh, by the way, you can save a lot of money; it’ll help you get started.
Can I tell you this? I did one of those weddings. This beautiful young couple waiting to get married in six weeks. Everything shuts down, they can’t get married. They said, “Would you just marry us?” Sure. Six weeks ahead of your wedding plan, do you think they liked that? They were ecstatic. They were married. They came, I met with them. They had their license; signed the license, married them. It was done before family and before the Lord.
Yeah, no, the marriage is the issue. You can create another event or you can create as many future events as you want. There’s no reason to put off a marriage, that’s just difficult for the two that are ready to be joined together. So my advice to you is get married and save a lot of money, and everybody will be happy.
QUESTION: “Is there such a thing as a stagnant Christian? Can a Christian profess Christ but show no spiritual growth?” From Robin.
Well, those are two questions, Robin. The first question, “Is there such a thing as a stagnant Christian?” Yes, there are times in our lives as Christians when what you mean by stagnant is there’s no movement: we’re in a flat place, we’re not experiencing growth. It may be a time of testing and trial and trouble. In fact, this very time we’re living in now may have caused some kind of stagnant attitudes in some Christians lives.
Sure, there can be times in any of our lives where we hit a low point, where for some reason the flesh gets the best of us. Maybe we have been exposed to relationships that tore us down and didn’t build us up. Maybe we’ve been disappointed. Maybe we’ve been battling a certain kind of sin and temptation and we’ve fallen victim to that and it’s taken away our joy and we’re living kind of in the doldrums. Sure, that’s spiritual experience. We all have highs and lows; that is the way all of us have to live. We all at times feel triumphant in Christ, and at other times we feel like losers and we disappoint the Lord. And that’s why our lives are constantly bouncing back and forth between praise and confession, praise and confession. That’s why we pray the way Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s a grandiose, glorious, elevated prayer. And oh, by the way, “Forgive us our trespasses.” So we literally run between praise and penance; that’s just the Christian life. So, yeah, there are those places pretty routinely in our lives.
But second question is a more compelling one: “Can a Christian profess Christ but show no spiritual growth?” and the answer is no. If there’s no spiritual growth in your life, there’s no life. If there’s life, there’s growth. If you were to kind of graph it, you would say Christians grow sort of in a trajectory that is upward toward Christlikeness, and it’ll flatten out a little bit, and then it’ll grow a little more, and it’ll flatten out, and it’ll grow a little more, and it might flatten out, it’ll grow a little more.
No growth, no life. But because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re going to go like a rocket on a straight plain right up to Christlikeness, no, it’s going to be a staggered line. But if there is life, there is growth. I mean, that analogy of just human life: if there’s life, there’s growth. If there’s life in a plant, there’s growth. If there’s life in a tree, there’s growth. And where there is spiritual life, there will be spiritual growth. We grow by the means of grace and we grow as a result of the level at which we draw in those means of grace, prayer, and the Word of God, Christian fellowship and those kinds of things. Okay?
QUESTION: “What do you recommend for people to read or start with if they don’t even know where to begin in the Bible?” From Kelsie.
Here’s my suggestion. Start at the beginning. The Bible has been laid out from Genesis on to the book of Revelation. I think you can start at the beginning. But let me qualify that a little bit. Start reading in the book of Genesis and just kind of read along in Genesis at whatever pace you can. But at the same time, start reading the New Testament, okay. Start reading the New Testament. And I don’t want to get complicated, but here’s what I would suggest. Start with Matthew and read the first seven chapters every day for a month, just seven chapters. You can be reading through Genesis just reading along, that’s your Old Testament reading. Start Matthew, read seven chapters every day for a month. The next month read the next seven, from 8 to 14. The next month, read the next seven; and the final month, four months, the last seven. You’ll have that in your mind and you’ll start to connect all the dots in Matthew.
Come to Mark, do the same thing. Break it down into three sections; Luke, down into four sections; John, down into three sections. And just, look, in a year you will have literally absorbed the revelation of Jesus Christ in the four Gospels at a level that will really be a stunning revolution in your life. At the same time, you just keep reading through the Old Testament. You don’t have to read as repetitiously. And then I would just add another component: read a psalm every day.
So that would be your Bible reading. Read seven chapters in the New Testament starting with the Gospels. Read as far as you want, fifteen, twenty minutes or whatever time you have in the Old Testament, follow it along and read a psalm and just keep reading like that. And what happens is the Bible is its own best interpreter. So you will begin to connect the Bible, it will begin to come together and make clear sense to you.
There are people who think the Bible is confusing, but that’s because they don’t know what’s in it; that’s because they don’t read it. But it is alive and powerful. It’s not like any other book. It’s alive. It has the very life of God in it. It is a living organism, and it really comes alive and transforms your life when you read it repetitiously. So you let it sink in deep enough to do its work.
QUESTION: Here’s a question from John: “What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?”
That’s a great follow-up question to the previous one because there are only two possibilities according to the apostle Paul: you walk in the Spirit or you walk in the flesh. To walk in the Spirit, simply walk, it’s just a metaphor for living life one step at a time. So in your life you’re either moving in the Spirit or you’re moving in the flesh, which means you’re either acting and behaving in response to the Spirit, the Spirit of God, or in response to the flesh.
Now if you’re not a believer, if you’re not a Christian, you can only operate in the flesh. You operate out of the lust of the flesh, that’s all you’ve got going, you don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Bible’s very clear: if you don’t have Christ, you don’t have the Spirit; if you don’t have the Spirit, all you have is the flesh. So you operate completely on the flesh, and that breaks out into the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. So you operate out of lust and desire and pride. That’s life. That’s life in a fallen person’s heart. So you have no option, you just – you’re fleshly, you walk in the flesh, you think in the flesh, you function in the flesh: it’s all flesh. And the deeds of the flesh produce sin, compounded sin, finally death.
But when you come to Christ, when you come to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life. And now the Spirit directs you so you can walk in another power, a power you’ve never had before, and that’s the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, and God takes up residence in you, and now you walk in divine power. So for the first time now as a believer you can do the will of the Spirit and not just the will of the flesh. And what is the will of the Spirit? it is all that is good and just and holy and virtuous and righteous.
So that is the new direction of your life, and the Spirit is there to empower you to do that. But as a believer, it’s also true that the flesh is still hanging on. The way to understand it is this: you’re a new creation, the Spirit of God now lives in you. You have the power to walk in the Spirit, but that new person empowered by the Spirit is still incarcerated in unredeemed humanness. You’ve still got this humanness, you haven’t gotten rid of it. That’s why Paul in Romans 8 says, “We’re waiting for the redemption of the body when we get rid of this flesh that’s still hanging on.” Paul calls it in Romans 7 a body of death.
In ancient times one of the ways that people who killed somebody were punished was to have the corpse of the person they killed strapped to the murderer, and he would have to carry around that corpse. And, of course, the decay of the corpse would pass to the killer and be a horrendous death. Paul actually uses that as a picture of his own experience. He says, “I feel like I still have the body of death connected to me, because in my mind I love the law of God, I want to obey the law of God, I want to do what God’s will is, I want to walk in the Spirit. But I see another principle warring in my flesh.”
So when you obey the Word of God, when you do those things that honor God, you do them in the power of the Spirit. When you fall back into fleshly impulses, obviously you’re walking in the flesh. That’s why Paul says, “Don’t walk in the flesh, walk in the Spirit.” And you make that choice when you choose what you’re going to fill your mind with, right? “As a man thinks, so he is.” So if you fill your mind with the things that stimulate the flesh, don’t expect to walk in the Spirit. If you fill your mind with the things of the Spirit, you can expect to walk in the Spirit.
QUESTION: Josiah, age eight, says, “How and when were you saved, and how are you sure that you were saved?”
Well, Josiah, that is a really good question. And I understand as an eight-year-old that you probably, probably have asked the Lord Jesus to come into your heart, but you may doubt that and you may wonder if it was really real. That was certainly my experience.
You know, it was a time when I was I think maybe twelve. My dad was a preacher and so I was in church all the time and I was in Sunday School class. And I always believed in the Bible, I always believed in Jesus, I believed that He died for me, rose again. I loved my mom and dad. I didn’t rebel against the Bible. I got in a lot of mischief, but I didn’t rebel against the Bible or against the Lord.
But I didn’t really know the Lord until one day I went on a trip with my dad; and he was preaching in a church in Kansas, and he took me along. And I think I was eleven or twelve – just to be with my dad. And we were staying in a home, and there were some boys there that were pretty bad boys, and I didn’t know that. But I got caught up with them while I was just kind of being there for a few days with my dad. And they went out and did some damage to some other people’s property and I was with them when it happened, and I really didn’t stop them. And I remember coming back and feeling so bad that I had done what I had done, especially since I was the preacher’s kid and I was a guest in someone’s home and we did damage to some other place; and I was so heartbroken. I can remember in my mind sitting on the steps of that church where my dad was preaching and telling my dad that I needed forgiveness of sin.
I think I came to see the reality of my own sinfulness and it was enough of a shock to me that I had that conversation with my dad at about the age of maybe eleven or so, and gave my heart to Christ. And ever since then, my assurance of that salvation has grown. And your assurance will grow. You have to trust the Lord that if you come to Him, He’ll receive you; if you ask Him to be your Lord and savior and forgive your sins, He’ll hear that prayer; He promises that. So you have to believe Him, believe Him that He will save you if you ask Him, because you can trust His Word. He promised to do that, and He will. But as time goes on, you will be assured of your salvation, not because of that prayer you prayed, but because of what you see the Lord doing in your life.
So many years later, now my assurance is just drawn from looking back over all these years when I’ve seen the work of the Lord in my life. At eight years old you’re just beginning to see the work of the Lord. But everything that you desire that is good and honorable, every time you express love toward the Lord, every time you desire to do what’s right when your mom and dad tell you to do something, every time you do what honors your teacher and your leaders, every time you’re kind and merciful and forgiving to someone, every time you’re unselfish you’re seeing the evidence that the Lord has changed your heart; and that’ll continue through your whole life.
QUESTION: Here’s a question from Jacob: “I was hoping you could talk about your personal prayer life. Do you pray for extended periods every day or is it more as you go, pray without ceasing?”
Well, life is basically go for me. Pray without ceasing: I think obviously there was a group of Pharisees that got the name sometime in the ancient past, they were called the bruised and bleeding Pharisees because they prayed a lot with their eyes closed and they kept running into things, and that’s how they got the name the bruised and bleeding Pharisees. So when we read in the Bible, “Pray without ceasing,” obviously it doesn’t mean close your eyes and run into things all the time. It is a God consciousness. It is exactly what I said a little earlier that David expressed when he said, “I set the Lord always before me. I set the Lord always before me.”
My whole life is lived in the conscious presence of the Lord. If it’s a petition, “Lord, I’m in the midst of this. Please hear this prayer for this dying person. Lord, please save this person. Lord, please deliver that person from this sin.” Or, “Lord, thank You for this,” or “thank You for that. Thank You for what You’ve done for this person,” it is just a constant God consciousness.
But I would say this. The most rich expressions of prayer in a more concentrated time are when I’m studying the Word of God, when I am alone. And through the years, obviously I spend a tremendous amount of time alone in my study with the Word of God preparing messages and talks and writing books and all of that, and interacting with the Lord in His Word. You know, for me, sermon preparation is all about digging into the Word of God. Everything comes from here. If you know anything about Grace to You, we have a little motto: “Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time.” And that’s how I live my life, one verse at a time.
So communion with God for me is most rich when I’m in His Word. If you hear me on Sunday, for example, you get an illustration of this. When I pray the pastoral prayer you will notice that I read the Scripture. And then I go back and sort of pray my way through that Scripture. That’s a reflection of how I study the Bible. It’s a conversation with the Lord where you see a truth and you say, “Lord, help me to live that truth.” Or you see an issue and you say, “Lord, help me to understand clearly what You mean by this.”
So Bible study in its purest form is a conversation with the Lord that yields something that you can give to others. So I would say that those are the most sort of regular intense times of prayer. And then on top of that, there are those times of prayer where literally the world stops and you’re praying because this has completely taken over everything. And those are times when you may even find in your life that you fast because nothing appeals to you and you are completely consumed with prayer. But I think the pattern of life is to have an openness to God so you see everything with a conscious view of His perspective on all of it, and you include Him in your thoughts and your desires.
QUESTION: “When we pray for someone to be healed will our prayers ever change God’s mind?” Christy.
That’s a good question because there are some occasions in the Old Testament where it looks like God changed His mind. People prayed and prayed, and enough people finally prayed, and God said, “Okay, I’m going to hold back judgment.” Does that mean that God can change His mind? I think from a human perspective it does. I think from a human perspective it’s our prayers – and let me explain what I mean by that – it’s our prayers that move God. Let me explain that this way.
We believe the Bible teaches that salvation is a work of God. It is a solitary work of God. God saves sinners apart from our works, okay. So salvation is unilateral: God saves. But He doesn’t save apart from faith. So faith is the means by which God saves. We also believe that God sanctifies a believer, that God conforms a believer to Christ, but He doesn’t do it apart from obedience. God through the means of obedience sanctifies us.
Well, the same can be said for prayer. God has purposes and His will is established, but the means by which He does that will is through our prayers. That is why James says at the end of his epistle, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.”
I think sometimes because we believe strong in the sovereignty of God we think our prayers are sort of just an exercise in worship and they don’t really play a role in what God does. That is not true. Jesus said in the upper room with the disciples, He said, “Whatever you ask in My name, I’ll do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So He literally empowered His disciples to be part of the fulfillment of the will of God because their prayers would be a means by which God did His work.
God will do what He wills, but He wills to do it through our prayers. You can not pray, don’t pray, and you will not be a participant in the unfolding of God’s will. Or on the other hand, you can pray and your prayers can be a part of those prayers that are the means by which God perfects His will. How wonderful that God would use us in that way.
QUESTION: “Why did Jesus pray and plead to the Father, ‘Let this cup pass from Me,’ in Gethsemane?” From Indira.
Yeah, people ask that question because they say, “Well, is Jesus trying to avoid the cross? Is He trying to get out of dying?” No. That statement of Jesus, “Father, let this cup pass from Me,” is followed immediately by this statement: “Nevertheless, Your will be done.”
So the way to understand it is this: He is the Son of God. He is the eternal Son of God. He is the eternal God, the second member of the Trinity. He’s eternally holy. He’s eternally perfect. He’s eternally righteous. He’s eternally pure. He’s eternally in perfect loving union with the Father and the Spirit. He’s never known sin ever. And now He stands on the brink of bearing the fury of His Father and the alienation of His Father while being punished for all the sins of all the people who will ever believe through all of human history. He is about to experience something that is totally alien to His eternal nature.
When He says, “Father, let this cup pass from Me,” He is affirming that this is an alien experience. This is His own declaration of His absolute perfection, holy, pure righteousness. We should be shocked if He didn’t say that, because how could the perfect, holy, righteous Son of God just blithefully walk into sin-bearing without some level of protest. The protest is the evidence of how alien this experience was to Him.
But the immediately subsequent sentence, “Nevertheless, Your will be done,” shows that He was willing to do it. Why? Writer of Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before Him.” Joy in obeying the Father’s will no matter what the cost, and joy in paying the price for His redeemed bride. We would be shocked if an infinitely Holy One didn’t say, “Do I really have to do this?”
QUESTION: “What happens to those who die that are too young to understand the gospel?” From Allie.
Well, I wrote a book on that some years ago called Safe in the Arms of God, and I am convinced that the Bible very clearly teaches that children who die before they reach an age where they can believe or reject the gospel are basically taken to glory with the Lord. There are a number of reasons for that. In an Old Testament passages there’s an occasion where you remember the story of David and Bathsheba. And, of course, David had a son by that union, and that baby died. And David said, “I will go to him.” David said, “He cannot come to me,” – this is an infant son that died – “I will go to him.”
This is David’s confidence that that child is with the Lord because David knew where he was going. He knew that he would awake in the presence of God when he died. So David confidently said, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” And he washed his face and cleaned up, and the sorrow ended because he knew he would see that little one again.
Contrast that with his son Absalom: a full adult son who rebelled against his father – wicked, evil son who was killed. And David couldn’t be consoled, he couldn’t be comforted, and he mourned and wept and cried inconsolably, and wouldn’t stop, and wouldn’t stop, and wouldn’t stop, and wouldn’t stop. Why? You don’t hear him say, “It’s okay. He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” David never said that. That adult son passed out of David’s life eternally because he went into perdition away from God. The little one he would see again.
Jesus said something that fills that in as well when Jesus said, “Permit the little children to come to Me,” – in the gospel of Mark – “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is about little children? Right. I believe that when little children die before they can choose to believe or reject, the Lord gathers them to Himself. But there’s a lot more about that in the book, if you’re interested in it, called Safe in the Arms of God. That’s available, by the way, from Grace Books or Grace to You.
QUESTION: “Will we recognize each other in heaven?” From Devin E. Neednoggle.
Yes, my dear, we will. We’ll recognize each other. We’ll know as we are known. That’s the line you want to remember. We’ll know as we are known. There’s no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven, but we’ll know everybody, and everybody will know us, and there will be perfect and complete knowledge, and perfect and complete fulfillment, satisfaction, perfect in complete love and fellowship – all the very best of everything.
Well, we probably only have about 800 questions that we didn’t answer tonight. But let me give you one more.
QUESTION: “Last Thanksgiving I watched my granny die. She accepted Christ but she continued to say the Rosary. Is there hope I will see her in heaven?” From Hannah, age 14.
Hannah, she accepted Christ, you’re going to see her in heaven. I imagine your granny had said the Rosary for many, many years. Sometimes those well-intentioned kind of religious habits are hard to break.
You know, when Paul preached the gospel in Corinth, many people believed, many people came to faith in Christ, but they had a hard time breaking some of their pagan habits. And Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and says, “Look, you can’t come to the Lord’s Table and then go to some idol temple. You can’t do that anymore.” But it took some time because those were habits that people had cultivated, they were family habits that gave honor and respect to the society and the family. And I would guess that your granny’s parents probably were Catholic, and she may have been taught the Rosary while she was growing up. And if she received Christ as her Lord and Savior and then soon after that went to heaven, we can say that there wasn’t enough time maybe in there for her to set aside some of those old habits. But if her faith is in Christ, you’ll see her again.
That would be like the thief on the cross, right? Jesus said, “Today, you’ll be with Me in paradise.” He didn’t have any time to break his old habits because he’d be with the Lord that very day. So trust that you’ll have a reunion with your granny when the Lord takes you to be with Him.
Well, thank you all for being with us tonight. Michael has asked me if we can do this again, and I’m more than happy to do that. As long as we’re helping folks it’s a real joy for me. Let me have a word of prayer with all of you.
Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for giving us light in the midst of darkness. Thank You for answering the questions of every heart in the text of Your Word, Your precious Scripture. May we be people of the Book. May we know the Bible so well that we can give answers to those questions that are on the hearts of folks. Thank You for the confidence that we have in Your Word to know that the answers are not only there, but they’re right, and they’re divine, and they’re Your answers. We thank You for that. We give You all the praise. May we faithfully live out Your truth for Your glory, in Christ’s name. Amen.
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