“I council thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.” (Rev. 3:18-19)
A truly great high school football coach who cares about his players will work them hard during the late summer two-a-day conditioning drills. The football team that is heading toward a successful season can be heard groaning and complaining about the coach’s tough training methods and seemingly impossible standards for the entire six to eight weeks leading up to the first game of the regular season.
It is only after the team takes the field and discovers that they are well prepared to play high-quality football that they can look back at their coach’s emphasis on physical conditioning and the constant repetition of the same basic plays over and over again until they finally got them right.
The character lessons these players learned from their coach, about how to approach a particular challenge with intensity of purpose, hard work, and a will to never quit, often last them throughout their lifetimes, long after they stop playing football.
A God who asks little of us cannot have much of an impact upon our lives…and can never be considered great.
A compromised message from the pulpit tailored to please people will never inspire the type of commitment that will produce excellence of character in us.
A book like this one, on the subject of the second half of the cross…to have real value must inspire committed Christians to continue forward on their present journey of faith, and to jolt less dedicated Christians out of complacency.
The story of the Bible is God’s call to people to give their best, to surrender all to Jesus Christ in trust and faith.
God is a spiritual coach who demands the very best, by setting up a rigorous training program of situations and circumstances for our benefit. He does this because He loves us enough to want to see us victorious on the playing field in the actual game of life.
Dumbing-down and diluting the Christian experience to a more comfortable level, results only in mediocrity. The Holy Spirit would never inspire or condone “Christianity Light” (Acts 4:8). God is not and never has been interested in producing mediocre saints. That is why He gave us outstanding natural talents, abilities, and capacities, like His own. God created us in His image. That is why God says to us “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).
God is the great playbook writer of the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible. The reason that God wants to compose the playbooks for our lives is that He wants to set up a regimen of spiritual training where we can be challenged to give our all…the very best we have to give.
In the area of assimilating godliness, which we initially know nothing about, we need a demanding coach to set up the program and to push us to our limits.
We won’t reach excellence in the area of Christ-like character on our own. Like learning to play championship football as a team, or learning to play classical piano at an advanced level, we need someone who is more knowledgeable than ourselves to show us the way and to push us toward a greater effort and a higher outcome.
The truly great teachers, coaches, and role models in our lives obtain our total commitment to do our best because we sense that their demanding standards are based upon the fact that they really care about our development as people.
The respect and sense of worth that is shown toward us through a coach or a teacher, who cares enough about us to demand our very best effort, will often inspire us to perform at our highest level for a lifetime.
Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is telling us here that He has the winning play-book, and that He is the Championship Coach. Only God knows what it takes to have godly character. If we will join the team, and not quit, God will set-up a tough spiritual training program for us.
God does this because He cares about us. Like an inspiring college professor, a demanding high school athletic coach, or a respected parent, we will find ourselves wanting to please God and get His approval in everything we do.
That is the greatness of Jesus Christ.
Jesus inspires a life-long commitment to excellence in the course of our life. God takes people like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul, and transforms them into people with spiritual character and power in the areas of life that really matter.
Abraham becomes the father of faith, Joseph leads the nation of Egypt through seven years of famine, David becomes a godly king, and Paul evangelizes the Mediterranean world.
These are the world-class results when God is our coach and we submit ourselves to His program of spiritual conditioning and training.
The Easy Route Won’t Produce Results
When we pick up our cross and are following Jesus, God is intimately involved with our spiritual training program. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ set up this initial beneficial environment. Through Jesus, man can re-establish fellowship with God with a fresh start as new creatures in Christ.
God the Father looks at us through Christ. Christians are sinless in the sight of God the Father through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, so that we can experience a walk of faith through the situations and circumstances God composes for the believer in this life.
This program of spiritual training is extremely important to God. In the Old Testament, God was constantly fine-tuning, changing, and using the outward political environment to get the Israelites back into a relationship of trust and faith in Him.
The various challenges of invading foreign armies, temporary military occupations of their homeland by surrounding nations, the powerful messages of prophets sent by God, and the Babylonian captivity, constantly re-established the correct environment for trust and faith in God for the Israelites during their long history.
The letters to the churches in the New Testament are designed to keep Christians within the purity of an environment of faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
As always, Satan attempts to get Christians off course by subverting and attacking the God-composed environment created for faith and trust to operate. Satan’s strategy is a straight-on attack at the very program that God sets up in this physical world designed for the people of faith to discover His love and His care.
If Satan incites the Midianites to attack Israel, God responds with the calling of Gideon and the uniquely creative plan of the counter-attack with the 300 Israelite soldiers. This re-established an environment in Israel for active faith in God.
If Satan incites the Philistines to invade Israel and defy the God of the Jews through a warrior champion like Goliath, God counters with the raising up…seemingly out of nowhere…of a courageous young man named David.
David kills the giant with one sling-shot stone perfectly aimed into the forehead of Goliath. This starts in motion a process to establish the reign of a godly king in Israel that sets up the environment for the Jewish nation to again exercise trust and reliance upon God.
The scriptures tell us that Satan desired to “sift” Peter during the faith-testing period of the arrest and trial of Jesus (Lk. 22:31), to destroy Peter forever in self-incrimination and despair over failing to remain true and faithful to Jesus at the critical moment. Satan successfully uses the unfamiliar, intimidating surroundings of the home of Caiaphas the high priest, as an unanticipated and underestimated new environment for Peter, who utterly fails in courage to acknowledge Jesus before a group of people assembled around a fire in the exterior courtyard.
Yet God counters by using this very same crushing defeat in Peter’s life to create a life-changing, positive character transformation in Peter, from previously being foolishly self-confident and self-reliant…to becoming humbly and wisely reliant upon the Holy Spirit for the remainder of his life.
Satan attempts to discourage and weaken Paul’s resolve for service by inciting a near-death stoning of Paul by the Jews at Lystra. Satan tries to bring disruption and doubt into Paul’s calling, to bring in an element of fear and possibly unforgiving resentment and bitterness toward the Jews into Paul’s God-inspired program of evangelizing the Greco-Roman world.
Instead, this failed attempt by Satan to attack the ministry of Paul… probably only created more spiritual freedom in Paul’s outlook.
From that time forward Paul could consider that he was now operating on borrowed time. Paul had looked a horrible death square in the face, and got up and carried on.
If Jesus Christ could raise Paul up from this stoning experience at Lystra, what more could Paul have to fear from opposition to his ministry? Paul could look at each current threat and say to himself that he already experienced far worse and had survived.
But on a deeper level, 1 John 4:18 says: “but perfect love casteth out fear.” This extreme physical attack upon Paul did not dampen his love for his Jewish brethren (Rom. 9:1-3).
Paul exhibits fearless ministry in perfect love (within human limits) throughout his calling to evangelize the first-century world, because Paul stayed faithfully within the rigorous training environment that Jesus Christ set-up for him. No matter what was occurring in the natural realm in terms of the deadly malice and hatred of the opposition, Paul remained steadfast.
These are all examples of a great, championship-quality Coach instilling the high standards of character and preparedness that produce victory on the field of play.
The greatest harm that man can do to the ways of God is to tinker with the training environment of faith that God sets up.
Mankind is constantly trying to replace the spiritual training program of a walk of faith with God, with empty religious practices that homogenize, sanitize, and nullify the environment of situations and circumstances whereby God can interact with faithful believers.
This occurred throughout the Bible. It starts with the lethal contrast between Cain and Abel. Cain wants to change the rules to suit his ideas. Cain wants to do things his way, with deadly tragic consequences.
In the New Testament, replacing God’s ways with our ways is one of the underlying causes of the lethal differences between the Jewish religious rulers…and Jesus…which culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus the Son of God.
There is no basis for the extreme outcome of the crucifixion of Jesus…the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of man…if there are not stubborn and hard-hearted hypocrites sitting in the seats of power as religious and political rulers in Jerusalem.
The religious leaders of that day, and Jesus and His disciples, are in two totally different realities…two different character-building programs…two different spiritual “training camps” that are worlds apart. This difference is what fueled the tension that finally resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers did not submit themselves to the spiritual equivalent of the grueling two-a-day August workouts that typically lead up to the start of the high school football season, orchestrated by a demanding coach getting his team into top physical shape to be winners on the football field.
The ministry of Jesus Christ exposed the fact that they had not gone through God’s spiritual training program. Otherwise, they would have recognized the voice of God their divine Coach during the Sermon on the Mount. They would have been conspicuous within the listening crowd of people…with heads nodding up and down in agreement with what Jesus was teaching, walking in amongst the audience patting people on the back and encouraging them to listen to what Jesus was saying.
Instead, Luke 11:52 reads: “Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”
The ministry and teaching of Jesus exposed the fact that these religious leaders were outside of the uncompromising environment of faith that God sets up for the benefit of all.
Jesus exposed the Pharisees and scribes as unskilled and untrained players, posing as qualified players in the starting line-up on the field, and they killed Him for this (Mt. 27:18).
When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist at the river Jordan, John said “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance” (Mt. 3:7-8).
In other words, John the Baptist said “show that you are genuine athletes prepared for real play on the field, and not just pretenders and frauds wanting to wear the uniform during the game, and wanting to walk around campus wearing the varsity jacket during the week.”
The context of situations and circumstances in which God sets up faith and trust to operate, is not a matter to be taken lightly. God and Satan are in a constant spiritual battle over who controls the territory of the environment of situations and circumstances.
The Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the method of preparation for them to be able to conquer their promised land, is a straightforward biblical example of this concept.
God took Israel out of the context of Egypt and into the Sinai desert. God changed the environment altogether. In the desert God had more exclusive access and control of outward situations and circumstances to craft lessons of trust and reliance upon Him. The external issues for the Israelites in the desert were narrowed down to the basics…food, water, and getting the memory of Egyptian idol worship out of their thinking.
In the desert God was able to get the undivided attention of the Israelites, and to get them trained in the spiritual areas of trust and reliance upon Him, so that they would follow Him and Joshua into the all-important impending military battles.
God did not want the Israelites to be terrified at the first sight of warfare. God wanted the Israelites to march forward into battle with determined resolve and courage, for their own benefit and welfare. God’s demanding and challenging training methods with the Israelites, at the very real risk to Himself of becoming temporarily unpopular, proved to be of the highest championship quality.
Satan, by contrast in this environment of the Sinai desert, had fewer tangible outward opportunities to work with. The usual glittering worldly temptations and allurements were not present in the desert. Spiritual military “boot-camp” provided fewer openings for Satan to operate within.
One of the fallacies that should be addressed as we approach the upcoming end-times is the idea that just because we are born-again Christians, God is satisfied with spiritually out-of-shape and overweight players on His team.
This idea of a soft brand of Christianity is not biblical.
Every born-again Christian will be raptured when the time comes, regardless of what shape we are in. The thief crucified next to Jesus, who that very day would be in paradise with Him, with no future opportunity to live out his new faith on earth, tells us that salvation is entirely by grace through faith… and not conditioned upon works.
But the idea that Jesus Christ will not set-up a rigorous training environment to get us all into top spiritual shape before the end, whatever particular eschatology the end-times may entail, needs some serious re-thinking within contemporary Christendom.
This current environment of earth is a one-time, non-repeating event. The end-time is the last “football” season for all eternity. Jesus Christ will not allow His team to go out with a losing final season, because we were out-of-shape, unprepared, and poorly coached.
The perfect, divine coach Jesus Christ unselfishly loves each one of us too much to allow that to happen.