The early church found itself in very similar circumstances that we find ourselves in today. They were living under the authoritarian rule of Rome with its most ungodly, pagan culture. Violence was publicly glorified. They were faced with sexual immorality that surpassed even the vile degradations that we see in our own culture today.
In our own culture in the last twenty years, it has been horrifying to see perversion after perversion not only propagated but also accepted as the norm. In the future, we may be marked for having a church membership or even attending church. In the future, it may cost us to be a Christian. What will we do then?
If you were to read Romans chapters one, two and three, you would be reading the newspapers of today. We don’t need to get anxious, though, or fearful or throw our hands up in despair. We must remember that in the middle of a perverse culture and a suffering church, Jesus is not overwhelmed. He is not finished, and he still has work he is doing. He will raise up a prevailing church to witness about his glory. He will fill his followers with the Spirit, power and boldness to speak out.
Those who have a hunger to see God move, those who see what is happening out in the world and weep, to them God will give a holy cry. He will put a holy prayer in their hearts. God will give them an anointing to minister to his saints and to a dying world.
We told that we have a shield of faith that we’re to use. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16, ESV). This verse raises a question, though.
The Bible also says that God is our shield. Genesis 15:1 says, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” David writes about this in his psalms, “O my strength, I watch for You—for God is my strong tower. My God in His lovingkindness will go before me. God will let me look down on my foes. Do not slay them, lest my people forget. With Your power shake them and bring them down, O Lord our shield” (Psalm 59:10-12).
So is God my shield, or do I have my own shield of faith? Which is it?
First, we have to understand what faith is. Most people think faith is when we mentally agree with something we read like, “I believe today is Sunday. I mentally affirm some facts like two plus two is four.”
Faith is much more based in the spirit and heart. Scripture says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, emphasis added). Don’t get me wrong; you have to believe with your head too, but the Bible says that salvation comes when we believe with our hearts.
God tells his people through the prophet Isaiah, “Give me your heart. With your mouth, you honor me, but your heart is far from me” (see Isaiah 29:13-19).
The answer is found in David’s prayers and songs. “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you…. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:2,7-8,11).
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
What disturbed the Thessalonians was they thought Christ had already come, and that they’d missed it. Paul reassures them in the next verse, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2:3).
So, what was Paul’s primary theology about Christ’s return? We find it in two passages:
“Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12).
“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).
Paul is crying, “Wake up! It’s past midnight already. The Lord’s coming is drawing near, so stir yourself. Don’t be slothful. Jesus is coming for those who expect him.”
Skeptics may ask, “But what about Paul’s own words? He did say two things had to happen before Christ returns. First, the Lord can’t come until a great apostasy takes place. And second, the Antichrist has to rise up and proclaim himself God. We have to see the Antichrist sitting in the temple, demanding that people worship him, before Jesus will come.”
First of all, you have to be willfully blind not to see a raging apostasy gripping the whole world. Unbelief is seeping through nations, with believers falling away from faith on all sides. The apostasy Paul refers to has clearly arrived.
Secondly, according to John, the Antichrist is anyone who denies the Father and the Son. Moreover, he says, the increase of such Antichrists is proof we are living in the very last days. In short, nothing is holding back Christ’s return!
God uses people to refresh other people. He so loves this kind of ministry that he moved the prophet Malachi to speak of it as a most-needed work in the last days. Malachi described how, in his day, God’s people built each other up through one-on-one edification: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another” (Malachi 3:16).
When did this happen, exactly? Malachi’s words came during a time of rampant ungodliness, when the “devourer” had destroyed much fruit in the land. God’s people had grown weary and started to doubt that walking with the Lord was worth it. They thought, “We’re told it pays to serve the Lord, obey his Word and carry his burdens. But as we look around at the proud and the compromisers, they’re the ones who seem happy. They’re pursuing prosperity, living carelessly, enjoying life to the fullest.”
I’m convinced Malachi’s word about this ministry is a mirror image of the present day. He has given us a picture of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days, as God’s people stop gossiping and complaining and instead minister refreshing. It’s happening by phone, by letter, by e-mail, and face to face. And God is so pleased with this ministry, we’re told he writes everything down. Every kind word spoken, every call made, every letter written, every effort to comfort the downcast is recorded in a “book of remembrance.” And the Bible says each of us whose deeds are written down will be precious to him: “’They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels’” (Malachi 3:17).
Be a Titus to someone who’s downcast in spirit. Pray to have the spirit of Onesiphorus, who sought out the hurting to bring them to healing. Think of it: You’ve been given all the power of heaven to refresh a hurting believer, someone who needs the consolation that God has given uniquely to you. Yes, there are people who need you and the Lord intends your past consolations to bring refreshing to them. Call that someone today and say, “Brother, sister, I want to pray for and encourage you. I’ve got a good word for you.”
I sought the Lord in prayer and I asked him, “What is the most important aspect of your making us your temple?” Here’s what came to me: access with boldness and confidence.
Paul says of Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him” (Ephesians 3:12).
In the Jewish temple, there was very little access to God. In fact, such access was available only to the high priest, and then only once a year. When the time came, the priest entered God’s presence in the temple with fear and trembling. He knew he could be struck down for approaching the mercy seat with unforgiven sin in his heart.
Today God has emerged from that small, restricted room. And he has come directly to us in all our disgrace and corruption. He tells us, “I’ve come to live in you. You don’t have to hide your filth and despair from me. I’ve chosen you because I want you and I’m about to turn your body into my home, my dwelling place, my residence.
“I’ll send my Holy Spirit, who will sanctify you. He’s going to clean and sweep out every room, to prepare your heart as my bride, but that’s not all. I’m going to seat you right next to me and I’ll urge you to come boldly to my throne, with confidence. You see, I want you to ask me for power, grace, strength, everything you need. I’ve brought heaven down into your souls, so you can have access to it all. You’re rich, yet you don’t even realize it. You’re an heir to all my glory.”
The sole reason your body is holy is because the Holy Ghost lives there. And it’s kept holy only by his continual presence and power. You can’t do it. You’d become a nervous wreck just trying to guard all the entrances. You’d get discouraged when you failed to keep out all the dust and filth that blows in. You’d get weary by running from room to room, sweeping and polishing, trying to make things look good.
Every Christian ought to rejoice in this fact: God is in you! And he is with you always, so who can be against you?