|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 7: Security in the New Testament
“ Lord, to whom shall we go?”
Having had a lightning glance at the Old Testament, we now move on to see what the New Testament tells us about security. We'll work our way through, looking at what the Gospels tell us, what Acts tells us, and then what the various letter writers tell us about this subject, and finally see something from the book of Revelation.
7.1 The Gospels
In a previous chapter we looked specifically at how Peter related to Jesus. We start this chapter with Peter again as we consider the verse above. People had been finding some of the things Jesus had been saying difficult to take in. Some of his apparent followers now started turning back, so Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they wanted to leave as well. It is then that Peter comes back with these words: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know you are the Holy One of God.”
When they had first been called and left everything to follow Jesus, they perhaps wondered what it was that had actually attracted them and made them leave the security of their everyday lives and follow this travelling preacher. These weren't average Bible School students, potentially religious devotees! These were fishermen, tax collectors and so on, men out of the rough and tumble of hard working life. What made them leave this security for something intangible?
For the answer we have to go first to Luke 5 where Jesus borrows Peter's boat, to use it as a floating preaching platform. It was at the end of that sermon, which Peter may or may not have understood, that Jesus suggested that Peter put out into the deep to catch some fish. Now Peter was a fisherman who knew these waters and knew fish, and he knew there were no fish there! After all, he had been out the whole previous night with no catch. There was nothing around!
Yet something in what he had heard and seen in Jesus made him want to respond positively. When they put the nets down they were nearly swamped with the catch. Peter is devastated. There are no fish here but the nets are full. Suddenly something of who Jesus is broke in on Peter. “Depart from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Suddenly he is aware of his total inadequacy, so much so that he feels an awful sense of unworthiness. It is at this point, as he falls before Jesus, that Jesus instructs him to follow. Peter responds. perhaps because of what he has heard from this man, but mainly because of what he has seen him do.
Peter's brother, Andrew, was probably there as well and he had encountered Jesus earlier, up near Jerusalem (Jn 1:40 ), and so perhaps he followed for similar reasons. He has heard and he has seen and somehow confidence has been created in him that makes him feel he also can go.
Likewise James and John, who had been nearby washing their nets. The other disciples when they were called must have had a variety of reasons why they left their jobs and followed Jesus. Something about Jesus attracted them and gave them a sense of security. Some times it was his words, but so often it was the obvious power that he exhibited that said, “This man is in control. This man can be trusted. With this man you can feel secure!”
That at least Peter felt secure with Jesus, we have examined in chapter 5. The truth must surely be that as they travelled with Jesus, as they heard his teaching, as they saw his healing ministry, as they saw the miracles, as they saw the way he loved people, their lives must have been changing. How could you remain unchanged in the face of all this? So, when others are drawing back, these men have caught something more in their hearts that made them stay.
Yet even these words of Peter seem very frail when we consider how they all later abandoned Jesus to the Cross. No, the picture of security in the Gospels is a very fragile one. They had watched and they had heard, but still their faith is very fragile. At this point in ‘church history' the followers of Jesus still feel very frail and their awareness of the security that is theirs is very limited. So when the Cross comes they are devastated, they do not understand, it doesn't conform to their expectations and so almost without exception they flee and hide. So, for a while at least, their security comes from being behind locked doors!
Now, before we pass on from the Gospels, perhaps we would do well to examine one of two things that Jesus actually taught about security. Here we are on firmer ground. Chapter 5 and the first part of Chapter 6 of Matthew's Gospel show us the Sermon on the Mount as it covers behavioural issues. But when we come to 6:19 Jesus starts speaking about security issues.
First of all Jesus warns against putting your trust in material wealth (v.19-21), and then a bit later challenges us not to worry about food, clothing, and provision generally (v.25 on). He tells us that God our Father knows what our needs are and that He will meet them, so all we need do is simply focus on God's will and leave Him to sort out the rest. Here is a critical challenge. Security, he says, comes from knowing God and doing His will and leaving the rest to Him. Many of us have reversed this: we focus on the rest and make knowing God and doing His will a secondary issue.
When it comes to ministry, Jesus comes out with some equally challenging teaching: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff ” (Mt 10:9,10). What is he saying? Don't rely upon human support or human methods. That sounds rather different from some of the ministries we sometimes encounter in the Christian world!
A little bit later on he says “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:19 ,20). Again, what is he saying? He's saying don't worry about trying to prepare for crisis situations, but instead let the Holy Spirit give you the words you're going to need. That's a bit different from the training we give today.
Yet further on he says more upsetting words: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” and then goes on to include the whole family. What's he saying? Don't put your final trust and your final love in people, even the closest to you. This is not an excuse not to love your family, but it is a challenge to ensure our final security is in God and not in people (as much as He may use them to bless you!)
In the next verse he bangs the final nail in our coffin: “anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (10:38 ,39). What is he saying? If you place reliance in yourself you're in trouble, but if you give up reliance on yourself you'll suddenly find the real meaning of life. Security isn't found in self achievement or self effort, only in giving your life over to God.
The message from Jesus in the Gospels keeps on coming:
Security, real security only comes through knowing God intimately through Jesus.
7.2 The Acts of the Apostles
When we move on into the Acts we find a combination of ‘slow humanity' mixed with apparent bravery, and it is important to see both aspects.
Our temptation sometimes is to simply see the Acts of the Apostles as a glorious work of the Holy Spirit, but it is in fact more than that. It is a glorious work of the Holy Spirit through very human men!
When I speak of 'slow humanity' what I mean is that there are a number of instances where the people involved seem very slow to understand - but then that is a comment made with hindsight! For instance, at the outset Jesus told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, yet some time after Pentecost they are still well and truly stuck in Jerusalem and it basically takes persecution to get them out and about. Jesus words were, in fact, prophecy because they did eventually go to all those places, but it took the confusion of persecution to get them out doing it.
Then there is Peter's very hesitant going to Cornelius in chapter 10. Three times he has to have the vision and even then he is not very sure about it. In both this and the previous example we have men who have trouble coping with God's will because it seems to go against all they have known before. Yet God does not give up on them. Then there is the famous disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 which we'll look at in a later chapter, where these two giants of faith cannot agree to disagree amicably. Haven't they learnt anything about the grace of God?
Finally one has to say, if we dare be honest, there always seems a question mark over Paul's behaviour from Acts 21 on. Was it really necessary for him to spend much of the following years in prison testifying? The text would indicate that he needn't have gone down that path, although it also clearly indicates that God was with him all along it. Was this a case of God's second best route to achieve the same end, because of the rather stubborn approach of this great man of God?
Note next their apparent bravery? Bravery? Well, certainly, because they clearly were doing things that required much courage. After the hostility against Jesus by the authorities, it certainly required courage to stand up publicly on the day of Pentecost. After being put in prison in chapter 4 for preaching publicly, it was certainly courageous the way Peter spoke to all the religious leaders. Half way through chapter 5 after the apostles have been imprisoned yet again, it is certainly courageous to be out preaching the next day and to then declare you have to obey God rather than men (5:29)!
At the end of the chapter, after they have been flogged, it is certainly courageous to carry on teaching on a daily basis. After unpleasant persecution comes in chapter 8 it is certainly courageous to carry on preaching and teaching as you flee. In chapter 13 it is certainly courageous of Paul and Barnabas to go out on their missionary journey without any real knowledge of where to go or how to go. It is certainly courageous to carry on going from place to place when all you seem to get is opposition. Oh yes, it certainly seems that the word ‘bravery' applies here.
'Apparent' bravery? Well yes, because when you look at all these activities there is a common thread running through them. In virtually every case we find these men are responding to being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is because they have had encounters with God that each of these men did the things they did. It seems therefore that it's not so much bravery as being captured and motivated by the powerful presence of God. The first part of Acts at least, is probably what in history we would call revival, where the powerful sovereign presence of God comes and energises and motivates His people. These men therefore, are secure in the presence of God. Little seems to shake them because the presence of God is so strong. Again there is no clever planning, just responding to the energising of the Spirit and the pressures of the circumstances. When there is an awareness of the powerful presence of God, there is little cause for anxiety in the world.
The classic illustration of this in Acts must be Stephen. He is described as “a man full of God's grace and power” (6:8) who spoke with great wisdom and direction of the Spirit (6:10). It was this that stirred up the first opposition against him. When he stood before the Sanhedrin his face shone with the glory of God (6:15), i.e. it is God by His Spirit who is energising and motivating Stephen and he seems to have not a care in the world about the upset he is causing! When challenged by the high priest (7:1) he speaks out boldly and dares to remind them of their history. Eventually he challenges their unbelief (7:51). Now at this point he could have walked out but instead, full of the Holy Spirit he speaks out a vision he sees, of Jesus standing beside God in heaven.
Now humanly speaking this is crass stupidity, but this is not a man stirred by human passions, this is a man motivated and energised by the Spirit of God. It is almost as if it is God who is stirring him on, despite what He must have known would be the outcome. The Lord's child returned home as the first Christian martyr. Despite the appalling danger Stephen was totally secure! The worst men could do to him was kill him. That simply meant he would be going home earlier than expected!
Today we have often lost the sense of heaven being our home and many of us get most upset when a saint dies, yet all that is happening is that they are going home. If we can believe the New Testament, heaven is an impossibly more glorious existence than being on earth where we suffer pain, hurt, anguish and opposition. No, Stephen challenges us to believe what the Bible says about death, and in that comes a new sense of security. We'll see what Paul says about it later.
Then there is the strange episode of Paul's last journey to Rome. It really all started on the last leg of his third journey, when he arrives at Tyre (21:3) where the disciples urge him “through the Spirit” not to go to Jerusalem. Surely what this must mean is that by the Spirit they have a premonition that things will go badly for Paul there. When they moved on to Caesarea the prophet Agabus clearly warns Paul what will happen if he goes to Jerusalem. Whether it is foolhardy or not, Paul declares that he will go and is willing to die in Jerusalem if necessary.
As I've already indicated, it's difficult for us to understand why Paul drove on into what he clearly knew were going to be bad circumstances. What we must say is that if nothing else it shows us the amazing sense of security Paul had. We'll see it more in his writings later on. He goes to Jerusalem, gets involved in an upset in the temple and is arrested. None of it was his fault - apart from the fact that he was there! He uses the opportunity to speak to the crowd but they reject him violently. He subsequently testifies before the Sanhedrin and causes great upset and is put under guard. That night the Lord confirms His presence with him (23:11) and confirms he will end up in Rome.
Because of a plot to kill him, he is then transferred to Caesarea where he remains under guard for the next two years. Yes, he testifies before various rulers but with little apparent fruit. So why was he there? Was it to write letters to the churches? Eventually on the journey to Rome in the face of shipwreck, an angel of the Lord confirms God's purposes for him (27:24). In the midst of the storm Paul is the only one on the boat who is completely secure in his knowledge of the Lord's presence and His purposes for him.
Now whether I'm right or wrong in the way I've put a question mark over this great man's activity, there is no doubt about his security in God. Throughout this time he is completely secure in his knowledge of God's plan, purpose and calling on his life. Anything can happen but he is secure in all of that!
7.3 The Letters
When we come to consider the teaching of the various letters of the New Testament it might be easier to consider them according to writer:
The majority of the letters that we have were written by Paul so let's pick up on some of the things he says to us. We'll just take one or two from here and there:
Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Paul has come to a place of knowing that whatever happens in a Christian's life, God will bring good out of it. Here is a major cause of security for everyday life.
Rom 8:38,39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord
i.e. nothing but nothing can keep God's love from coming to us! That is an amazing declaration that Paul has come to know.
1 Cor 1:27,28 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him .
Here is a truth that Paul has understood. Our security doesn't come from being clever people, good people, religious people.
1 Cor 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Wow! God won't let anything come your way that you can't handle! Let that make you feel secure!
2 Cor 1:20-22 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come
That is powerful. God's promises of blessing are for us in Christ. It is He who helps make us stand firm and He who has put His Spirit in us as a guarantee of what is yet to be. Be secure!
2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
Here is the heart of our security, that Jesus took our sin on himself and gave us his righteousness. We ARE righteous because God has declared it!
Gal 3:13,14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Simple basics: Christ took any curse on your life and in return gave you all the blessings of life and goodness that come by the Spirit from the promise made to the man of faith, Abraham. Your life is to be one big blessing from God.
Eph 1:4,5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
All this God planned before the foundation of the world - that you would be holy and blameless in His sight because of what Jesus has done.
Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain
Devastating in its clarity. While he lives, Paul's whole life is Christ. If he dies it only gets better! Can we view life and death like that? That is security.
Phil 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
ALL not just some, that's how much God loves you!
Col 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
As long as we are in the ongoing process of sanctification, even though we fail from time to time, we are free from accusation. God is for us, remember! That will be enough for Paul; space won't allow us to go through every one of his letters. You can cover the rest.
If Paul is the giant to the Gentiles, Peter was the giant to the Jews. We only have two short letters from him but they confirm all that we've heard from Paul.
1 Pet 1:1,2 To God's elect, strangers in the world….who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.
Here are the same Gospel ingredient words: elect, chosen, sanctifying. Peter declares we are what we are entirely by the work of God, having been chosen by Him by His foreknowledge for a salvation that involves a life separating work of the Spirit for submission to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. These words in Peter's first letter are similar to those words he spoke out on the day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross
The truth is that all of this had come about as part of the definite plan of God, which God knew would happen and which involved men exercising their free will to reject and crucify the Saviour of the world. Peter is quite clear on the Gospel basics which bring us into a place of security
1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
For Peter also is quite clear that the heart of the gospel is that Jesus died on the Cross to take our sins and make us righteous. It is because God declares us righteous that we can rest secure not having to strive for salvation
2 Pet 1:3,4 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
There again is an echo of Paul - we have in the salvation of Jesus EVERYTHING we need, there is nothing we can add to this salvation, it is complete. All we have to do is receive it and live it, actually sharing, by the Spirit, in the divine nature.
The third of the ‘big three', John, also reflects the Gospel basics in his first letter and then in Revelation shows us even more cause to feel secure.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Forgiveness and cleansing is just a confession away; not a casual confession but a genuine one. When we come sincerely to God in repentance then forgiveness and cleansing is there. For many of us we've heard this so often we tend to lose the wonder of it, this thing that is foreign to virtually every other world religion which require works to achieve forgiveness.
1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Here is one of John's really pastoral verses. He doesn't expect us to sin but IF (and there is a possibility) we do then he wants us to know that Jesus is still on our side, speaking to the Father on our behalf.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Again John wants to reassure us - we ARE children of God. That is the relationship that has been given to us. Be secure in that.
1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
Here is the crucial verse for our security. The point of the whole thing isn't that our relationship with God depends on how much we love Him, but in fact it's all about how much He loves us.
When we come to the book of Revelation, rather than in individual verses we find it is the whole sense of this incredible book that conveys security. Here is the aged saint in exile for his faith on the isle of Patmos and he receives this most amazing revelation from God. What are the elements of this prophecy that convey security? The following are just some starters for that book:
For this aged saint, in the closing years of his life in exile, and for us who may be living in the last times, there is tremendous assurance in all this. Things are not out of control. Man is not master of his destiny. Satan is not triumphant. Instead Jesus Christ is Lord of all, to the glory of the Father.
7.5 And So?
Everything we've looked at in this quick scan of parts of the New Testament tell us the same things:
Our salvation depends on the finished work of Jesus Christ and not how
well we achieve.
Jesus Christ is Lord of all, seated at his Father's right hand, ruling in the
midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2 / 1 Cor 15:25)
Our security is in these truths, in the faithfulness of God who declares His
purposes and keeps to them!
If you have trouble feeling secure in God, may I suggest that you go through this chapter and learn each verse that I've quoted, and speak them out loud. Allow the Holy Spirit to take the truths of Scripture and implant them in your heart. Let Him convince you of that as you do that project.