Thanks for your e-mail comments and for these questions. Your responses have given me the opportunity to go deeper with this material. My comments and answers to your questions follow.
In your meeting summary you stated:
“First of all, we were all blessed by the message and we were all encouraged to deepen our faith. We likened subjective faith to trust, which is built upon objective faith. We were thankful that you pointed out the difference between the two.”
I would agree that subjective faith is related to trust. It is interesting that I didn’t find the word trust used in the dictionary resources that I consulted regarding the definition of faith. I think of trust as a word that requires an object (often external) in order to be understood, i.e. I trust in the strength of my chair to support me, I trust in the law of gravity, or I trust (rely) in God, etc. Subjective faith describes a condition that exists within us that enables something else to happen. When we have faith in God, then trust in God becomes possible. When we have faith in God, obedience becomes desirable. When we have faith in God, following Christ Jesus and His commands as written in scripture becomes our passion. By its very nature, subjective faith points toward the unfathomable depth of God’s nature and as such, we must live with the reality that we will never fully understand it. Our natural human desire is to try to compare objective faith to something else such as trust, but this doesn’t really move us closer to understanding faith.
“Is God only partially pleased with us and if so, is this different from His seeing us as the righteousness of Christ? Is God more pleased with us the more we are sanctified? Does the process of sanctification have anything to do with pleasing God? (This is actually four questions!)”
“Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
In this situation, we see that faith is needed to please God, and faith goes hand in hand with belief in the fact that God exists and God rewards those who seek Him. This use of faith seems to suggest both the objective and subjective meaning. The use of believe is correctly translated from pisteúsō G4100).”
I cannot state whether God is partially pleased or totally pleased with us. I can state that God is constantly pruning, testing, disciplining, and challenging us to obey what He said we should do in the many commandments contained in the New Testament. I cannot speak to His heart regarding what He thinks or feels when He observes our state of partial sanctification. Perhaps someone else can think of a scripture that would apply here. Based on what God does in our lives to move us toward greater and greater conformity to the nature of Christ Jesus, it is clear that He desires more sanctification and compliance from us. I cannot say that His activity in this area is motivated by being displeased. I think it is best to say that He continually chooses to conform us and cleanse us as He wishes for His purposes as best determined by Him. I don’t believe we need to speculate about His level of being pleased with us. We just need to keep repenting, submitting, and obeying. He wants us to partake in His divine nature.
2 Peter 1 (NASB95)
3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Simply put, He wants us to be faithful. He loves us as we are and He will love us as we grow in faith. I will let God finish the answer to this question.
Hebrews 12 (ESV)
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
“Is this an issue of more or less faith or is this an issue of salvation?”
“Those who believe the entire Bible and do not feel like they must go beyond the scriptures to answer questions that are not answered in the Bible have great faith. Those who disregard unpopular passages of text, ignore inconvenient verses, or exclude entire books because they think the books belong to some other dispensation, are living their lives with less faith. Thus, faith expresses itself in the acceptance of biblical inerrancy and sufficiency.
Faith can also be measured by the ways that we cling to sinful behavior. Those who are willing to repent for their sinful ways and are willing to ask God to give them the power to overcome sin can be said to have more faith than those who resist repentance for their sins. God intends for faith to be expressed in every aspect of a Christian’s life. He expects us to live according to the standards of the Bible and to reject the standards of the world.”
This question must be brought down to the level of an individual person, and not just a hypothetical person, but me and my life. It is possible for a person to “be good” and live a public life that appears to be Christian, but this does not make a person a member of God’s family. Many unregenerate people do this and many of these people occupy seats in churches. It is also possible for people to have low levels of faith and to struggle with doing what Jesus said we should do. Not “being good” or having an easy life without struggles does not tell us much about the state of regeneration or the level of a person’s faith. We are called to accept and live by every word that is in the Bible. The fact is, none of us do this perfectly. The real question here is intensely personal, “Am I following every New Testament command and if not, why not?” We must routinely evaluate our own faithfulness.
“What gifts are you referring to here? Spiritual gifts or physical?”
“By faith, Abraham was tested and was found willing to sacrifice his only son. Today, God may test our faith by asking us to give up the gifts that He has given us, without our questioning His wisdom.”
I was thinking of non-spiritual gifts. God can give a child and then the child can die a month later. God can give wealth and it can be taken away or He might even ask us to give it away. God gave Jonah a vine for shade one day, then He sent a worm the next day to kill the vine. I was primarily pointing to our obedience and the fact that we should not grumble against God when the good things in our lives are no longer present.
1 Corinthians 12 (ESV)
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
These spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of the Body of Christ. As far as I know, God does not take them away, but He is sovereign and He could do as He wishes. For example, He could choose to redistribute the gifts among the people in a church to provide for a better balance of gifts among the congregation. Please note that “faith” is also a spiritual gift. Thus, each of us may have a different level of faith just as we have differing levels of the other gifts.
“Are you here saying that there are two parts to salvation or that those whose hearts have been regenerated will persist in faith to the end?”
“We have a place in eternity with Jesus if our hearts have been regenerated and we persist in our faith to the end of our lives.”
A regenerated heart will produce evidence of faith as revealed in our actions. Those who persist in their faith to the end of their lives have produced conclusive evidence of faith. Works do not regenerate a heart, but works consistent with faith naturally flow from a truly regenerated heart.
“Are the Churches underground in China actually resisting evil?”
“We have been told that we are not to resist evil and we are to follow the example of Jesus, which means that we may be led like lambs to the slaughter. It has always been this way since the earliest days of the church.”
First, I need to amend one phrase in my original text. I said, “we are not to resist evil.” I should have said, “we are not to resist an evil person.” I will also need to spend some time talking about the word “resist” as it relates to people and Satan, and to discuss a number of other scriptures before I can fully answer this question.
Matthew 5 (NASB95)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It is very unfortunate that the understanding of these verses and most of the other commands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount have been seriously and negatively influenced by Augustine. He taught that we should not take the teaching of Jesus literally when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount. Augustine taught that Jesus did not literally mean “turn the other cheek” and “do not resist an evil person.” In order to support his just war theory, Augustine taught that these verses referred to our mental attitudes and mental behavior. In other words, we should respond to an offense by turning our minds toward loving our enemy and praying for them, and then we would be free to draw the sword and kill evil people.
Augustine argued that it was possible and right to disconnect the will from the phrase “Do not resist an evil person.” However, a study of the Greek word shows that to resist has to do with the total activity of a person, and the word “resist” most certainly includes the will. I do not believe that we are free to say that Jesus didn’t really mean what is recorded in scripture.
Resist or resists (G436). “ἀνθίστημι anthístēmi; fut. antistḗsō, perf. anthéstēka, 2d aor. antéstēn, imperf. mid. anthistámēn, from antí (473), against, and hístēmi (2476), to stand. To stand against, resist, whether in deed or word (Matt. 5:39; Luke 21:15; Acts 6:10; 13:8; Rom. 9:19; 13:2; Gal. 2:11; Eph. 6:13; 2 Tim. 3:8; 4:15; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9; Sept.: 2 Chr. 13:7, 8; Josh. 1:5; 23:9; Job 9:19; Ps. 76:7; Jer. 49:18; 50:24; Dan. 4:32).
Syn.: antikathístēmi (478), to stand firm against; antitássō (498), to set oneself against, resist, oppose; antipíptō (496), to fall against or upon, resist; kōlúō (2967), to forbid, hinder, withstand.
Ant.: sumphōnéō (4856), to be in accord, agree; suntíthēmi (4934), to assent; sugkatatíthēmi (4784), to consent; eunoéō (2132), to agree with; peíthō (3982), to persuade; epineúō (1962), to nod to, approve, consent; súmphēmi (4852), to express agreement with; suneudokéō (4909), to approve of, assent, consent.” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, (electronic edition) Edited by Spiros Zodhiates
In other words, Jesus was saying something such as, “do not stand up against evil people with your actions and your words, instead, turn the other cheek, love them, and pray for them.” Putting these words into context, we can see that we are not to seek revenge such as “an eye for an eye,” and furthermore, if an evil person intends to take advantage of us, we are also not to resist. I believe Jesus really meant “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42) I also believe that when Jesus said, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” He did not mean pray for them as you are killing them as has been taught by the Roman Catholic Church.
Today, the common teaching regarding these verses either relegates them to another dispensation (dispensationalism) or attempts to neutralize their power by teaching that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said. These verses are some of the most powerful verses in the New Testament for describing how we are to conform our lives to the nature of Christ Jesus. When we do not take them at face value and live by them, then we fall quite short of what He is commanding.
To put this into context a bit further, the preceding passage from Matthew 5 can be said to rest upon the following two verses.
Mark 8 (NASB95)
35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
If we value our own lives more than we value Jesus who gave us life, then we will find it very difficult to embrace the statements of Jesus given in the Sermon on the Mount.
2 Corinthians 10 (NASB95)
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
If we really believe this, then we will find it much easier to turn the other cheek and to not resist an evil person.
I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with a friend who was a pilot during World War II. He explained to me that when he was flying over France and Germany his goal was to make himself as bad of a target as possible to the German anti-aircraft artillery. Even though he was ultimately directing is aircraft toward a specific destination, he was constantly changing speed, altitude and the direction of his flight. In short, he was doing everything possible to be unpredictable and to avoid being shot down so that he could reach the final destination of his mission. He always kept his mind on the destination even though at any given moment his aircraft might appear to be going somewhere else.
He was avoiding enemy fire by using techniques of non-violent non-resistance. He might see the source of enemy fire coming toward him from the ground, and he might have a plane loaded with bombs, but he was on another mission, which did not involve engaging the evil people he encountered during his journey. He had been instructed to not resist the enemy (evil person) while fulfilling his mission and he followed those instructions, because they were the best strategy for preserving his mission and his life.
As Christians, we have several very specific missions. We are to share the Gospel of Christ Jesus, we are to respond to God’s effort to sanctify us, and we are to reach out to people in need through good works. Jesus gives us instructions for completing that mission. Regarding evil, there are two basic instructions. First, “do not resist an evil person” and “Love your enemies,” and second, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The word “resist” is the same Greek word in both verses (G436) that was defined above.
James goes on to tell us that when we resist (G436) Satan we are to “Draw near to God,” and when we do this, God will draw near to us. (James 4:8).
The author of Hebrews tells us, “You have not yet resisted (G478) to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;” (Hebrews 12:4). In other words we are to resist the devil and we are to resist sin.
James also says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8).
Bringing this back to the original question regarding the resisting of evil and the bigger picture within which I was writing, which had to do with our response to persecution, I offer this exhortation. — The time to reflect upon how we will respond during a time of persecution is now. The military pilot I described knew exactly how he was to respond while on his mission if he was fired upon. Similarly, we should be aware of how God wants us to respond while we are on our mission and we are persecuted. There may come a day in our lifetime when we must make deliberate choices when persecution comes.
- 1. We must keep our attention on God at all times and the commission that He has given us.
- 2. We must stand firm against the devil while constantly drawing closer to God.
- 3. We must resist sin, flee from immorality, and repent for our sins.
- 4. Finally, we must not resist an evil person and we must love our enemies and pray for them.
To put this into even more practical terms, if persecution comes at us from the left, then we should swerve to the right and keep teaching the gospel. When temptation to sin comes up at us from below, then we are to flee by increasing altitude and speed. If temptation to betray our faith comes towards us from all directions, then we should go underground and keep honoring our Lord. If our best efforts at non-resistance fail and we should find ourselves in the hands of evil people, then we must know how to respond to such situations. Fortunately, scripture presents very clear directions about this.
John 18 (NASB95)
7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.
Jesus spent his entire ministry preaching the truth and avoiding capture knowing full well that the Jews wanted to silence Him by death. He spoke the truth and whenever a situation looked like it would degenerate into physical battle with evil people, He withdrew. He did not resist evil people, but He also never compromised the truth. At the end of his earthly ministry, after being betrayed, when the Roman soldiers were coming for Him, He realized that He could no longer evade capture through non-resistance. As a result, He peacefully submitted to the Father’s will and accepted His next assignment. When Peter used physical violence in an attempt to respond to the Roman soldiers, Jesus rebuked him. By doing so, Jesus was saying that the Father’s plan must be obeyed. Finally, they arrested Jesus. Every event that is recorded in the four Gospels regarding all that happened after this point confirms that Jesus did not resist anything that was done to Him. He yielded completely to whatever the Father permitted and whatever the Father did.
Paul beautifully describes non-violent non-resistant activity in the following passage.
Ephesians 6 (NASB95)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 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 the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist (G436) in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit,
These instructions were used by Paul in his ministry, and I believe they were also used by Jesus in His ministry. When we resist evil in the way that Paul described, we are following in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.
Paul goes on to give further instructions to the Ephesians regarding the armor of God. He shows through his own life that we may end up in chains just as he ended up in chains, because he spoke the truth and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus.
Ephesians 6 (NASB95)
… and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
There is a time for using the non-violent non-resistant means that Paul described to avoid encounters with evil people, and there is a time when we can no longer avoid capture by them. When we have been captured by the people of Satan, we are to stand firm against the evil one and his people through our testimony and our use of scripture. If we are captured while following in the footsteps of Christ as Paul described in Ephesians then we are not to lament, because God may need us to preach the Gospel to our captors or fellow prisoners.
10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist (G436) or refute. 16 “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18 “Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Now to get back to the specific question that was asked. Kathleen and I had a conversation a couple weeks ago with a couple who were able to participate in the underground church in China for a while. They witnessed how persecution builds a strong church, and they witnessed how a new member of the local church betrayed the church resulting in many believers being taken into custody. They told us how people from the Chinese underground churches went into North Korea to preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus. As a result, the underground Chinese churches have long lists of courageous people who they have not heard from in many years. They faithfully pray for these missionaries hoping that they are still alive, and accepting the very likely possibility that they will not see them again until they reach heaven. These missionaries were willing to leave everything behind and go into an environment where the risk of imprisonment, torture, and death was extremely high. These missionaries and the Chinese people in the underground church do not resist evil people from the government who persecute them, but they do resist Satan and they flee from immorality and sin. They take the Sermon on the Mount with deadly seriousness, because the Gospel is truly a matter of life and death.