Jesus warned of counterfeits (Matthew 7:15). He even warned that some counterfeit teachers would come in his name and do wonders. However, he said if we knew the original- the true Son of God, we would be safe from deception. There are many deceived people today because counterfeits of the Gospel in our century stand starkly amiss from what Jesus and the scriptures teach. Biblical stories and teachings have been replaced with teaching whose primary aim is entertainment. Salvation sermons have been replaced with self-improvement sermons. Discipleship has been substituted with lifestyle enhancement and concern for the soul has been outweighed by concern for the physical body and its pleasures. Jesus prophesied about the current counterfeit culture that is paving the way for the uber-mega-super-counterfeit personality, the mother of them all- The Anti-Christ. In scripture we are warned by Jesus that the charm and deception of our generation leading to the Anti-Christ’s rule will be so great that even if it were possible, the elect would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). You don’t have to see the Anti-Christ’s prophecy come to fulfilment to know that today there are counterfeit forms of Christianity.
What then is the genuine Christianity? We could start the gospel story from Genesis up to date, but that would take a whole book and you already have one- it’s called the Bible. Read it. So for this blog, we will point one major counterfeit and place it against the backdrop of the authentic truth of scripture. The counterfeit is this: Salvation will take away all my suffering. Now, before we continue, I must clarify that the pain and suffering here is not as a result of living in sin. 1st Peter 2:19-20a says, “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong…” This is not carnal suffering, Beloved. This is the suffering and persecution brought about despite living a godly life.
There are many false teachings but I think this one about a life devoid of suffering tops them all in our century especially among young people. Christian Danish Philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard once said: “Present-day Christendom really lives as if the situation were as follows: Christ is the great hero and benefactor who has once and for all secured salvation for us; now we must merely be happy and delighted with the innocent goods of earthly life and leave the rest to Him. But Christ is essentially the exemplar, that is we are to resemble Him, not merely profit from Him” Kierkegaard is right. There are many people who look at Christ as a credit card without responsibilities. Christ died and so my part is to live the good life and be as happy as possible. For them, Christ is not beautiful; He is useful. In fact, you will often hear this unbiblical phrase said often among subscribers to this counterfeit, “If you’re happy that is all that matters.” Or “The purpose of life is to be happy.” Beloved, if your faith is characterized by the lie that Jesus’ came to die so that you can live the way you want as long as you are happy, you may need to evaluate if you are really born again (2 Corinthians 13:5). You cannot live in enmity with God and still claim to be his child. People can update on Facebook, “God is good” and “Thank you Jesus” but if they are living in sin and not following him, their souls are in mortal danger. It’s a message our generation does not like hearing. Repentance is God’s plan for salvation and the Holy Spirit’s characteristics (fruit) are proof of salvation. Salvation does not just mean you have a new relationship with God; it also means you have a new relationship with sin- the former united; the latter disjointed.
Now, that very salvation that Jesus brought through the cross has a cost. Jesus assures that the salvation he offers will have trouble (John 16:33). He told the disciples that they would be mocked and persecuted. When Jesus talks to the churches in Revelation 2-3, two consistent things that you will notice are persecution and rewards. Salvation will invite trouble. Your friends will mock you. You will be called names for standing with God’s moral law. You will be considered outdated for calling sin what it is. And if you live in extreme cultures, you will even be killed. If you are genuinely walking with God, you realize that this persecution was not in the fine-print when you accepted Christ. This persecution was the headline of the contract. Now you may say, “Ernest, when I gave my life to Christ nobody told me this.” Well, you Beloved, may just be a victim of a counterfeit gospel message. Perhaps that is why you have a nasty attitude towards pain, Beloved. That’s why you don’t learn from it. That’s why you keep comparing your life to other people and get depressed. That’s why you keep asking “Why are my friends so happy and yet they are not born again?” Perhaps that is why you live as if God owes you, forgetting you are the mortal. Perhaps that’s why you instruct God in your prayers instead of request Him. Beloved, as long as sin is in the world, you will have trouble. As long as you choose to be a child of God, you will be opposed by the Enemy. But there is good news. The pain and suffering is not allowed by a capricious God who plays favourite.
Here is the good news. For a genuine follower of Christ, pain and suffering is a fire that paradoxically strengthens him/her. Despite the pain of brutal death, the soul of the follower of Jesus has a God-built will that remembers its true mission of eternity during persecution. The regenerate soul remembers that Jesus said we would have trouble but to take heart for he has overcome the world. John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The regenerate soul remembers Jesus’ words, that physical death is nothing compared to eternal death. Matthew 10:28 NKJV “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The regenerate soul understands that your life in eternity is more important and infinitely longer than your death in the physical. In short, using the words of singer Natalie Grant, “We win in the end!” Now the bigger paradox of all this is that scripture tells us to rejoice in these troubles. James 1:2 says “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.” Romans 5:3 says that we rejoice in our sufferings. You read that and you say, “WHAT! How can I just pretend and put a plastic face when I am hurting? How can we just pretend we are okay and we are in pain? That is the problem I have with you Christians,” you may say. Well, you can calm down now and listen if you want to be wise. Imagine I gave you the task of chopping down a tree and it was not compulsory. You’d probably reject the hard task. But what if I told you that I would pay you 50,000 Kenya shillings for cutting the tree and that the wood would be used to help build an orphanage, now would you do it? I bet you would! The pain and suffering of cutting that tree is nothing compared to the joy and reward of seeing an orphanage built and being paid a cool 50K respectively! Similarly, when you know the fruitful end of Christian persecution, your pain and suffering is worth it. And God is not like that bad boss who will not keep his word. “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”(Numbers 23:19 NIV) Do you see the final goal of your pain? In the passages we just read in James 1 and Romans 5, if you keep reading beyond those verses you read that one of the ultimate goals of pain and suffering is character formation. And in Both James 1 and Romans 5, the foundation of character formation is patience. Please read those two chapters. Some versions say perseverance instead of patience. Therefore, if one of the final outcomes is character formation and the first step towards that character formation is patience, then we are left with only one logical conclusion. That logical conclusion is this:impatience is the bona fide mark of poor character. If you are not patient in your pain and suffering you will never learn. In fact a man called Asaph in Psalm 73 went through a similar experience. He was hurting while evil people were prospering and he was impatient. He began to complain to God as many Christians do. Read the chapter below and listen to his rant. Maybe you can identify with Asaph.
Psalms 73:1-28 (NLT)
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. 2 But as for me, I came so close to the edge of the cliff! My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. 3 For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. 4 They seem to live such a painless life; their bodies are so healthy and strong. 5 They aren’t troubled like other people or plagued with problems like everyone else. 6 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace, and their clothing is woven of cruelty. 7 These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! 8 They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. 9 They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. 10 And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words. 11 “Does God realize what is going on?” they ask. “Is the Most High even aware of what is happening?” 12 Look at these arrogant people — enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. 13 Was it for nothing that I kept my heart pure and kept myself from doing wrong?14 All I get is trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain. 15 If I had really spoken this way, I would have been a traitor to your people. 16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! 17 Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked. 18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. 19 In an instant they are destroyed, swept away by terrors.20 Their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake. When you arise, O Lord, you will make them vanish from this life. 21 Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant — I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. 23 Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. 24 You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. 25Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. 27But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.
Asaph rants and complains at how living for God has seemed futile and the how the wicked and disobedient have had it going well for them. In Verse 16 he even says his brain cannot make logical sense of it. But the turning point is verse 17 Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked. Asaph finally realizes the truth. The truth is that every man will experience a heaven and a hell. He realizes that he may be suffering but this is as hell as it gets for him. The wicked may be disobeying the Lord but this is as heaven as it gets for them. “But Ernest, that just sounds like a copout to me!” you may say. I’ll tell you this, Beloved: The scriptures are either true or they are not. There is no middle ground. Jesus is either God or he is a lunatic. This world will feel the reality of eternity when time fades, Beloved, and the real copout will be rejecting God while he was patient with us. If you truly see that 70 years on earth will look like a dream when you clock 7000 years on eternity, you actually realize that the wicked aren’t to be envied, they are to be pitied. Even Asaph admitted it in verse 20: 20 Their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake. You see, Beloved, the unregenerate soul seeks to make the present life comfortable even at the expense of their eternity. In short, Beloved, even after hearing the true benefit of Christ eternally, there are people who prefer to rule in hell than serve in heaven. If you keep living your life comparing it with the “prosperity” and “success” of people who live in sin, all you will be is bitter, foolish and ignorant of what God is doing. Those are not my words. They are the scriptures’. Look at what verses 21-22 say: “21Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant — I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Ouch, right? In fact, you may find a Christian who may inwardly wish that the unbeliever suffers. But the Bible says in Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (NIV).
What Asaph didn’t know but came to realize later was that he had so much already. He realized in verses 23-26: 23 Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. 24 You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. 25Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Do you realize that you have that too and much more? But if all you do is preoccupy yourself with your pain, you will become self-absorbed and you will not see the blessings you have. Beloved, one of the biggest tests of pain is selflessness. Believers who complain to God that he is unfair to allow pain in their lives often have forgotten the crux of their salvation. Christ took the ultimate physical pain on your behalf on that Roman cross. He took the ultimate emotional pain by being abandoned for sins he hadn’t committed. He took the ultimate spiritual pain by being neglected by the Heavenly Father he loved so dearly. He experienced hell in every way possible and even beyond our comprehension yet he managed to keep you in mind and not let his pain get in the way. Unlike you reading this, all this pain for Christ happened all at once yet he refused to consider his suffering something to esteem in comparison to what he was saving-you. He became selfless in his pain so that you would live better and experience less pain. A believer with the spirit of Christ ought to draw selflessness during pain and place their focus on the saviour just like He did for them on that cross. Pain in the life of a believer is purifying fire; you come out better. Christ never promised a painless walk but he promised victory despite the pain. In a fallen world, pain is inevitable but victory is sure through Christ. When we fail to overcome pain, we have to face the test of selflessness. Take the focus from you and look to the healer that bore your greatest pain.
Having said all that, I think it is important for you, Beloved, to understand one important principle. That principle is found in Romans 8:28. It says: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Everything means even the bad things. God makes things eventually work for your good even in pain. You may not see it now, but you need to think beyond your nose, Beloved. He is not enjoying seeing you roast. And part of understanding that involves understanding the different kinds of fiery trials you will undergo. Here they are as I conclude:
- Fireless living
- Fireproof living
- Fired-up living
Fireless living means that you are exempted from some fiery trials. When this happens, often God is preserving you good reason. Jesus was protected from arrest and lynching quite a number of times in his life. If you read the reason why, it frequently says, “His time had not yet come.” Even when the Roman soldiers went to arrest him as he taught, they were awestruck at his authority and dared not touch him. They said, “No man has ever spoken like this” (John 7:46). The Pharisees were mad that Jesus was unharmed but what they didn’t know that his time for the fire was not yet due.
Fireproof living basically means that when you go through the chaos and troubles, God will protect you so that you are not harmed. God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from literal fire. They were not burned. However, it is important to note the response of the three Hebrew boys before they were thrown into the flames. Daniel 3:16-18 says: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.””Persecution did not waiver their faith and their moral stand. God did protect them from the fire, but you must note that they were ready for the fire. Each time God saves you from fiery trials, it is a good habit to ask yourself, “Had God allowed the fire, would I still stand by his Word?”
Fired-up living means the fire will come and it will hurt, but it will achieve great results in your character and in your eternal state. Beloved, at times, God calms the storm (fireless); at times he calms the sailor (fireproof); at times he makes the sailor swim (fired-up). Jesus said in this world we would have trouble. The men and women of God who lived centuries before us died in horrible ways. See what Hebrews 11:35-40 says about them: “…Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
The Early Church was not exempt from it either.
Matthew. Suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, Killed by a sword wound.
Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by Horses through the streets until he was dead.
Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous Preaching to the lost.
John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution In Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison Island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to serve As Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully
Peter was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. According to church tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
James the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
James the Son of Zebedee was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. History says that the Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and Knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed for our Lord in present day Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: ‘I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.’ He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he expired.
Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Sub- continent.
Jude was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
Matthias the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational Doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament.
I can tell you this for free- you don’t accept torture and refuse release and experience all that suffering for a counterfeit God. You only go such lengths for a genuine. These people tasted a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. The world was not worthy of them. And in their fired-up living, their focus was eternity even when they did not receive the benefits of earthly comfort. And they did this because Christ was the exemplar. Hebrews 12:2 asks us to fix our eyes on him if we want to be fired-up successfully “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The joy set before Jesus was you, Beloved. He went to the cross and endured fired-up living for you. There is a greater reward for fired-up living than any kind of living. For Christ, it made him Lord over all (Philippians 2:8-9). For you, a refinement of character, an acknowledgement before the father, a reward of crowns, a rule over the nations and a gift that is imperishable kept in heaven for you. Sounds too good to be true! The world is probably even laughing at you for believing it. But we know that we have this hope as an anchor for our souls and that our God will never fail us. And if you are born-again and think you can’t make it, see what Hebrews 12:3-4 says: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” As you read the rest of Hebrews 12, you will discover that children of God grow through discipline.
You must see, Beloved, that the ambition of a genuine follower of Jesus is the pursuit of holiness over the pursuit of happiness. The Christian’s will to act in obedience to Jesus’ teachings is not out of self moral effort and discipline. It is out of the Spirit of God in him. On our own, without Christ, we can do nothing. But the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts as a deposit until he returns, enables us to love righteousness and loathe wickedness. And upon that premise is our obedience made possible and full of joy. Outside it, it is but a burden that wearies and steals joy because of forceful living that one does not desire. Commit consciously to Christ today because we live in perilous times. The time is coming when Christians in the 21st century all around the world will face similar extreme persecution. So commit authentically to Jesus because anything but a conscious commitment to the things that matter is an unintentional commitment to things that don’t matter.
NB: If you are not born again and don’t know what that means, you can click here and follow the simple instructions to review your life. At least you now know the package comes with suffering.