Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 13, 2016
Hope for Christians
I often tell people that I am an optimistic pessimist. I am thoroughly pessimistic when it comes to the things of man because man is limited and all of mankind has an innate sin nature which affects all that he does. Even when man makes a good effort with good motivations, his limited knowledge, insight and capabilities cause him to fall short. That is why there have been so many programs, both government and private, that despite their good intentions have actually made the problems worse. Add to this the bent to sin which easily blinds a person to what is actually morally right or wrong, and we can easily understand why people that believe they are well intentioned are actually pursuing what God declares to be evil. In our day and time it is common for people to call good what God says is evil, and to call evil what God says is good. When it comes to man, I am a pessimist.
However, my pessimism is greatly outweighed by my optimism in the greatness of God who works all things together for His own glory. This is not just true of all of creation, but also in the affairs of man. The God I serve is able to change man and empower those who will believe and follow Him to live in a radically different manner than other people. He makes sinners into saints, and He enables saints to live righteously in peace and contentment in any circumstance of life. God has given Christians a hope for eternity that transcends anything that happens in the present. The God of the Bible that we serve is sovereign and He works all things according to the counsel of His own will. He knows the end from the beginning, and all that He has declared will come to pass.
It is for those reasons that I am an optimistic pessimist. I do not trust man, but I do trust that my God will succeed in all His plans ranging from His grand design for the universe to His desires for me personally despite anything man may strive to do.
I have found these great truths are very important to remember when it comes to the political cycles of our nation whether the candidate I prefer wins or loses. My idealism as a youth was quickly shattered the very first time I was able to vote. I quickly realized that the majority of Americans do not pay much attention to what is going on so that they are easily swayed by politicians who are very adept at lying and telling the people what they want to hear. As the decades have rolled on, this has been made worse by changes in society in which what God declares to be evil has not only been tolerated, but accepted and even celebrated. The foundations for godly wisdom have steadily eroded so that the people are not just sheep in danger of wolves, but have become sheep that foolishly join with the wolves to attack the shepherd. I can still remember my shock the first time I heard a politician advocating abortion as a positive reason to vote for him and finding that people were cheering it. I did not even believe what I heard at first, but the candidate repeated it over and over again, and tragically, he won his race.
I also recall the disillusionment I felt when the candidate that I supported won by huge margins multiple times, but was still not able to stem the tide of evil sweeping across the nation. Though he was able to hold the line on many issues and slowed the pace of moral decline, society nonetheless continued to degenerate during his years in office.
These were important lessons to learn about where hope should be placed. Though I can wish for many things and even work hard to see those desires fulfilled, I cannot have confident assurance – hope – in anything of man. I can only have that in God.
If you are elated – that is, you are happy with high spirits and optimism – by the elections this past week, then beware of what is coming in the future. Politicians promise much, but often are found to either not follow through on those promises or find themselves incapable of fulfilling them. We have elected humans to the various government offices, and humans are limited by multiple factors. You will be disappointed at some point. In addition, I can point to many things in the last election that should be very sobering about what they reveal about the direction of this society and nation. It is not just that so many of the candidates that were chosen to run for office were of such low integrity, but many of them won. Then there are also the other ballot initiatives that have passed. Twenty five states now allow use of medical marijuana, and three more states (California, Massachusetts and Nevada) approved legalization of recreational use of marijuana making the total now 8. Learn to be a much more alert and defensive driver. Colorado passed its euthanasia law making a total of 6 states that now allow assisted suicide.
For those who are saddened by the elections this week, beware of falling into despair due to believing the political rhetoric we have all had to endure this election cycle. Part of modern politics is to create fear about the opposing candidate as a means of motivating you to vote for their candidate. It ranges from drawing exaggerated conclusions from the policies advocated by an opponent to the politics of personal destruction in which lies and slander are designed to destroy the name and reputation of the opposing candidate. Things are never as bad as the chicken littles of the world claim. The sky is not falling. The only conspiracy actually at work is that of Satan who uses fear among his many schemes and devices in his effort to turn people away from God and the truth. The scriptures are clear that there are some very nasty things coming in the future, but all of them are according to His plan in bringing about His judgment of rebellious mankind.
My point is simple. God is sovereign, and man is not. Man boasts and claims autonomy, but he can only go as far as the longsuffering and patient tolerance of God will allow. Perhaps this last election is simply a good example of that in action. Among Mrs. Clinton’s many negative characteristics has been her boastful arrogance. All the experts were sure she would win this election with many even predicting a landslide. Hopefully she will learn the lesson Nebuchadnezzar learned that is recorded in Daniel 4. The dominion of the Most High God is eternal and He does according to His own will. He rules the kingdom of man and sets over it whom He will. He is able to humble all those that walk in pride. Mr. Trump – as well as all others who have won their respective races – should take heed, for they serve at God’s pleasure and will give an account to Him. God can humble them too.
The Eternal Perspective
At the end of last year I gave a sermon I entitled “How to Live and Thrive in a Mad World.” My conclusion in that sermon was that we must keep the eternal perspective as we live our life in the present. We should not be surprised at the condition and direction of the world since scripture specifically warns us to expect these things in the last days. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4 describe the apostasy that would occur and which we see all around us. People will not endure sound doctrine but will instead gather for themselves teachers who will tickle their ears with what they want to hear. They will pay attention to the doctrine of demons seeking to be righteous by their own works instead of by the grace of God alone through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
Paul gives quite a description of what people will be like during the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1–9. It is an accurate description of a large part of our society. 1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
2 Peter 3:3-7 warns about the willing ignorance of the elite of society. 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
They willingly ignore and reject the overwhelming evidence of God’s past judgment of mankind because they do not want to acknowledge their accountability to God in a future judgment. The tentacles of the foolish philosophy of evolution entwine our society with severe detrimental effects not only in science, but also education, government, environmentalism, social services, law and religion. We should not be surprised at the deteriorating condition of society.
There are many scriptures that speak about the future wrath of God that will be poured out on the earth in judgment due to the wickedness of mankind. That is a reoccurring theme among the Old Testament prophets that is repeated in the New Testament in passages such as Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 1 and Revelation 6-18. They are passages of warning to the wicked that usually include a call for them to repent from their evil and turn to God to walk with Him in righteousness. God consistently offers hope in the midst of judgment.
At the same time, the Scriptures also record God’s great promises that give the righteous assurance of the blessings they will receive in the future. For example, Jesus contrasts the righteous and the wicked in Matthew 25. The righteous are told, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (vs. 34). The wicked are told, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (vs. 41). The wicked are sent away to eternal punishment while the righteous are given eternal life (vs. 46). It is because of such promises that the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ do not fear death and eternity. That is why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that though he was facing the possibility of death, he was of good courage and even preferred to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Keeping an eternal perspective makes a difference in living life in the present, and several passages call on believers to do just that. Perhaps it is easier to do that when circumstances are bad because the longing to be in heaven increases in parallel with the pain of living in the present. That is a theme that runs through 1 Peter as he seeks to encourage Christians that were being persecuted to keep a proper focus on living for Christ in the present in view of what would come in eternity. For example, he states in 1 Peter 1:6-9, 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. A focus on the eternal makes the purpose of the present more understandable and therefore not just tolerable, but also joyful even in the midst of trials and distress.
When circumstances are good, the longing for heaven decreases because the present is enjoyable and you do not wish to leave it. Even so, a focus on eternity puts even good times back into proper perspective. For example, in 2 Peter 3 the apostle presents a grand sweep of what will occur in the future jumping to the very end when the present heavens and earth and its works will be destroyed by fire so that the very elements will melt, then a new heaven and earth are created in which righteousness dwells. Peter then admonishes in verses 13-14, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”
In other words, if all the things of this life are going to burn including the good things you enjoy, then what is actually important in this life, and how then, therefore, should you live?
Living Life According to the Blessed Hope – Titus 2:11-14
My concern following the elections this past week is the division that has been created during the campaigning that has crept into the church. Those divisions tell me that many Christians have lost their eternal perspective. I would expect divisions in the world because beliefs are often polar opposites, but that should not be occurring in the church.
Since the left wing of the Democrat party is diametrically opposed to the right wing of the Republican party, I expect they will fight and bicker with each other on nearly everything. I expect it will be very rare that they will agree on anything. However, the rioting and demonstrations against President elect Trump that have occurred this week are without reason or merit. Ignorant people have believed ridiculous and malicious rhetoric and have acted accordingly, but such is the nature of any mob encouraged to action by agitators. At the same time, there has been a lot ridiculous things said about Mrs. Clinton that have agitated supporters of Mr. Trump to respond in irresponsible ways. The result is even deeper divisions in our nation than should exist, and some of that has spilled into the church.
Let me be clear, I found much of the Democrat platform and the policies advocated by Mrs. Clinton to be nothing short of evil. In addition, Mrs. Clinton had proven herself to be an individual of low character with her constant lying and blame shifting. However, Mrs. Clinton is not Satan or even a demon. She has been greatly influenced by the enemy, but she is not the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 is very specific, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places.” That is why we are to take up and put on the full armor of God so that we can stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
At the opposite end, I found much in the Republican platform had the fingerprints of godly people all over it. The platform of the Constitution Party was even better. Some of the things Mr. Trump has been advocating are very good and in keeping with what God requires of government. However, he has also been advocating some very poor policies and has proven himself to be a man of low moral character. For that reason, many Christians concluded they could not vote for him without violating their conscience which would have been sin for them. They may be glad that Mr. Trump won instead of Mrs. Clinton, but they could not bring themselves to vote for him. I will remind you that it will only be revealed over time if Mr. Trump has changed from his past and will rise up to the demands and responsibilities God has placed on him as the President Elect. Neither Mr. Trump nor any other politician is, has been or ever will be the savior. Our only Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ and the only true hope for this nation is a revival in which churches repent of their heresy and lethargy and God pours out His spirit so that a significant portion of the population becomes genuine Christians.
Whatever you consider yourself to be politically, when you became a Christian, you became a citizen of heaven according to Philippians 3:20. Your first allegiance belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and not to any political party, or for that matter, any nation. You can love your nation and you can fight for the ideals of your political persuasion, but those must always be pursued in light of commands, principles and precepts of the Scriptures and eternity. A ramification of that is the importance of the fellowship of other believers. To castigate, disparage or alienate another believer because of how they voted is simply wrong. The unity of the body of Christ and the fellowship of the saints is much more important than any of the mundane political events of this life. Sure, you may be disappointed in what other believers do and say in regards to politics, but our quest is to use our spiritual gifts in helping one another become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Sure, you should seek to persuade others to your point of view just as they should seek to persuade you, but as Christians, that should be in the mutual quest to apply the Scriptures and its priorities to life.
Turn to Titus 2:11. Paul has written to Titus who has gone to Crete as Paul’s representative to set things in order and appoint elders in the churches there. Paul sets out the qualifications for elders in 1:6-9, warns about some of the people and problems there in 1:10-16, and describes the character qualities that should mark the Christian in 2:1-10. In Titus 2:11-14 Paul declares with a purpose statement the importance of a Christian actively demonstrating the godly character qualities he had just listed. How a Christian lives is vital to the proclamation of the gospel for it is the demonstration of the truth of the gospel message. Without a godly life to prove it, our message is just empty words. Paul describes in this passage four aspects of God’s grace to men declared in the gospel message. First, verse 11, it is salvation from the penalty of sin. Second, verse 12, it is salvation from the power of sin. Third, verse 13, it is salvation from the despair of sin. Fourth, verse 14, it is salvation from sin’s possession.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
The emphasis of the passage grammatically is the grace of God coming through the person and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ that has resulted in salvation for man. That is what changes our character from being wicked to being righteous. My emphasis today has been on God’s promises for the future that give us an eternal perspective that helps us keep our priorities right in the present. Paul calls that “the blessed hope” in verse 13. The Lord’s return will bring about the culmination of the very purpose for which we were created and redeemed. Living a proper life in the present demands that I live according to what God has done in breaking the bondage of sin with my hope fixed in the promises He will fulfill in the future. A proper eternal perspective helps keep present priorities correct.
This passage helps Christians keep the purpose and priorities of life on track and protects us from the disunity that is easily fostered by the pressures and enticements of living in this wicked world.
First, we note in verse 11 that the grace of God offers salvation from the bondage of sin. That is the starting point of the Christian life and it comes by God’s grace as Paul points out here or as He states in Ephesians 2:8-9. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. All pride is destroyed at the cross because man cannot earn by any means or method what Jesus offers freely on the basis of faith in Him.
The appearing of God’s grace brings a universal offer of salvation to all men, but it does not bring universal salvation. Many passages speak of the sufficiency of Jesus’ atonement for universal salvation and of God’s universal offer of it, but salvation also requires belief in Jesus to apply what He has done to them personally. If men would believe, they would be saved (John 3:16), but because they will not believe (John 3:18), they are condemned. The death of Jesus is sufficient for the salvation of all men, but it is efficient only for the elect, that is, it is applied only to those who believe because God has drawn them to Himself (John 6:44).
The gospel is also the starting point of Christian unity for there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit and one God and Father over all who has given one hope of being called into the one body of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6). The gospel gives the basis for the unity of believers, but each Christian must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and not let outside influences, extraneous issues and personal pride and sin hinder it.
Second, we note in verse 12 that salvation changes the character of the believer. As the Christian becomes more familiar with God’s word and more sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit, he will understand what it means to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age and turn away from ungodliness and worldly desires. The grace of God has given us the Scriptures which contains His commandments, principles and precepts for living. Jesus Christ, the personification of God’s grace, further revealed for us how God wants us to live. The grace of God has also given the Holy Spirit to indwell believers that “we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). The Holy Spirit is the believer’s indwelling teacher (1 John 2:27) enabling him to apply truth to life and live in righteousness.
The behavior of a Christian is to be different from the rest of society. It takes work to resist the pressure of the world to conform us to its actions and attitudes, but God’s grace is transforming the believer into the image of Christ in keeping with being a new creation in Him. When it comes to politics, do not gloat if your candidate wins and do not fall into despair if your candidate loses. That is what worldly people do. Your behavior will reflect the reality of your walk with Christ. Is it sensible, righteous and godly? If not, then be more diligent in Bible study and prayer so that you may draw closer to the grace of God and let Him transform you by it.
Third, verse 13 shows that the grace of God in salvation gives hope which is a confident assurance that the good things God has promised for the future will happen. True Christians have an eager anticipation of the future. The word “looking” here carries the idea of a certain expectation that is eagerly awaited. It like a groom standing at the front of the church “looking” for his bride to enter. Christians are looking for “the blessed hope” which is the return of Jesus Christ.
What a contrast the Christian’s hope is to the kinds of things for which non-Christians have “hope. ” They cannot have a confident assurance, but only a strong desire and wish. That is why the anger and despair when those hopes are not met. That is the reason for the riots and demonstrations over Mr. Trump’s win. How sad that Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic party would be someone’s hope. How wonderful it is to have a hope that transcends all human politics and circumstances. Jesus’ loves me and proved it at Calvary, and His resurrection proves all His claims and promises are true. He will return one day to take me to be with Him for ever. He will enable me to live for His glory in the present and be at peace and rejoice in the midst of any circumstance (John 16:33; Matthew 5:12). He makes those same promises available to you.
Fourth, God’s grace in salvation makes Christians His own possession – “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Jesus’ atoning death changed everything for by it He redeemed us, that is, He purchased by His own blood those who would believe in Him. This transfers you from the kingdom of darkness into His own kingdom of light. Righteousness became your new master instead of sin (Romans 6). You become a new creation in Christ Jesus for good works that you should walk in them letting your light shine so that others might also glorify your Father in heaven (Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16). We who were not a people He made into His own people that we might proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9-10).
As much as I am still baffled and in shock about all that has happened politically this year, I have come to believe that Mr. Trump is God’s answer to a prayer for mercy for this nation. I do not find the man to be trustworthy, so I do not have much confidence about what he will actually do in the future. I do know that God calls us to pray for him as our future president (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and that Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We must be diligent to pray for him and that God will use Mr. Trump to fulfill the purposes of government as expressed in Romans 13:3-4 to cause fear to those who do what is evil and give praise to those who do what is good.
I do believe we have at least a four year delay in the rapid development of government antipathy toward Biblical Christians that has been occurring in this nation in the present administration and would have continued if Mrs. Clinton had won. The question is what will we who are Biblical Christians do in these years to come?
If Christians place their hope in government as they have done in the past elections and return to their apathy, then our society will continue its rapid decline and the political backlash against in the future will be strong. As we have seen this morning, God has called us to proclaim the gospel, live sensibly, righteously and godly, keep an eternal perspective by looking for our blessed hope in Christ’s return, and live as God’s people being zealous for good deeds that He will be glorified by them. What is your commitment to these Biblical goals?
As we celebrate communion this morning, keep in mind that in doing so we not only show forth the Lord’s death which brought us salvation from sin, we also show forth our hope in His promised return. Let your participation on communion this morning be a sign of your commitment to live in the daily reality being saved and having your hope in Him.
Sermon Notes – November 13, 2016
Hope for Christians – Selected Scriptures
Responses to the Election
The Eternal Perspective
Living Life According to the Blessed Hope – Titus 2:11-14
Divisions in the Church
Paul’s letter to Titus
God’s grace offers salvation from the bondage of sin – Titus 2:11
Salvation changes the character of the believer – Titus 2:12
Salvation gives hope for the future – Titus 2:13
Salvation makes Christians God’s own possession – Titus 2:14
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