I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things (2 Peter 1:13-15 ESV).
Christian tradition holds that the apostle Peter was crucified in Rome around 68 AD. The words above were written by Peter to early Christian believers not long before his death. We all know Peter – his brashness, his pride, his great failure on the night of Christ’s arrest and his bitter repentance (Matt. 26:69-75). As we glimpse his life through the pages of the New Testament most of all we see his humanity. He was, like us, a complex mixture of faith and fear, an individual capable of reaching great spiritual heights who also experienced a deep crisis of faith. We shouldn’t think of Peter or any of the other early church leaders as super saints unfamiliar with the spiritual struggles we also frequently experience. Peter’s apostleship was by appointment, not by merit.
But something else is revealed here in Peter’s epistle that exposes a gaping chasm between those earliest Christ-followers and those of the present day, and it’s this:
Peter, Paul and other early believers lived with the expectation of imminent death.
Peter’s letter was meant for circulation among the believers, in the same way as we today might share emails, blog or social media posts. He first speaks to them of God’s great power and grace, through Christ, to provide them with everything they need for Christian growth. He later goes on to remind them to respect scriptural prophecy and beware of false prophets and false teachers. And here, sandwiched in between these apostolic instructions, is this brief, almost throw-away comment. Paraphrased, Peter is telling them: “and by the way I expect my martyrdom is imminent, just as Jesus showed me all those years ago (Jn. 21:18-19), so I am sending you a written reminder of these things before I leave you so they can encourage you after I’ve gone.”
I find this short, simple passage poignant, but at the same time it fills me with intense sorrow for the gospel we in contemporary western Christianity have all but lost. When did we stop preaching the gospel of Peter, John, Paul, and, most importantly, Christ Himself? When did we convince ourselves that carrying the cross is optional? When did we embrace the lie that we can walk in the power of His resurrection but avoid the fellowship of His sufferings?
And how will we give account to the One who paid for our souls by His Blood for the false, tepid, diluted gospel with which we have preached to the poor and polluted the nations?
Strong words? Perhaps, but I have seen the fruit of this false gospel firsthand and it has made my heart sick. I have seen it preached. I have witnessed its poisonous effects both in Africa and Asia, and other non-western countries. More than once I have seen so-called ‘men of God’ berating congregations who can barely feed their children for not giving enough in tithes and offerings. I have seen church leaders teaching people who cannot even read that the Bible says Christ died so they can be wealthy. I have seen their shiny new cars and fancy houses, while their congregations endure poverty in unsanitary, run down dwellings. I have seen them building their personal kingdoms as they compete for visiting western ministries with western dollars that will impress their followers. I have seen them rebuke sin in their congregations while they themselves secretly dabble with adultery and fraud. Most often they deliver this false gospel because it is the gospel they have received from western sources.
And I have seen many of these things occur too, as perhaps you have, in my own and other western nations.
Too often this downgraded western gospel that is preached and also exported to poorer nations tells lies. It lies when it teaches poor people that giving beyond their means will ensure God’s favour. It lies when it engenders a false sense of entitlement and tells people that wealth, prosperity, and material blessings are God’s undeniable will for them. It lies when it promises that suffering is not part of the Christian journey. It lies when it upbraids desperate people for not having enough faith. It lies when it endorses the political parties of men as representing the Kingdom of God. It lies when it preaches hate and fear in the name of Christ. It lies when leaders grow fat and wealthy at the expense of those who trust them. It lies when it fails to bring people into the rest of God and instead loads them with religious bondage.
And worst of all, this false western gospel fails most miserably, when it keeps believers weak, immature and ineffective because they have not been taught that trials, persecution, and sometimes even death, should be normal expectations of life in and with Christ.
Peter and his contemporary believers lived with the expectation of imminent death. Daily. And if it didn’t happen, that was a bonus. This daily fact of their lives didn’t make them morose, depressed or fearful, because the gospel they had learned at the feet of Jesus and passed on to others had prepared them for hardship and at times even martyrdom.
Right now there are many Christian believers living under oppressive regimes with this same daily expectation of persecution, and the possibility of imminent death. This is their reality. The gospel they are living is vastly different to the gospel multitudes of western Christians currently feed on, where the expected proof of God’s favour and blessing are comfort, prosperity and a happy, trouble free life. Furthermore many western Christians are primarily consumed with getting political candidates elected who will ensure a comfortable, trouble-free lifestyle can continue for them and their families.
But things are rapidly changing for western Christians. Rights and entitlements that have long been taken for granted are being eroded and challenged as the political atmosphere becomes increasingly unpredictable and volatile. Perhaps God in His grace will send us missionaries from the nations where persecution and martyrdom are daily expectations to teach us how to live our faith in this new and unfamiliar territory.
The church was commissioned to go to the world with the gospel Christ Himself delivered – the Gospel of the Kingdom. By the grace of God, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and the sacrificial commitment of many men and women, untold multitudes have received that very gospel and continue to do so.
But equally, perhaps even greater untold multitudes have received an incomplete, false and man-made gospel that has brought them into bondage and confusion. We were entrusted with the responsibility to take the light of Christ to nations and peoples in spiritual darkness but too often we have failed to embrace that light ourselves, preferring to build and export our own kingdoms rather than His.
We have lost something priceless.
The early church believers possessed a secret – a detachment from the world, a Kingdom focus, that allowed them the freedom to lose their lives. Jesus had taught them that whoever desired to save their life in this world would lose it, but whoever lived as if their life was already lost, would save it (Matt. 16:24,25). His words weren’t necessarily about physical death. They were about cultivating and living each day with a Kingdom focus.
We, however, are too often handed a false gospel that teaches us God wants to save our comfortable, worldly lives. So, we don’t know how to live with the expectation of losing them.
This ancient treasure of living a surrendered life, one we are prepared to lay down, expands in us as we learn to hold all we have in this world loosely, whether it be our home, our lifestyle, our possessions, our relationships, even our freedom. Unless we allow the Holy Spirit to work this lifestyle of surrender deep within us, the world and all it apparently offers us becomes our focus. And when the world is our focus and its comforts are our expectation, we find it necessary to adjust the gospel to fit our desires.
The great majority of Christ followers may not be required to literally lose their lives for Him. All Christ followers, however, are required to live an overcoming, surrendered life for Him. And a surrendered life is costly.
May God grant us the grace to disown every false gospel we have embraced, and turn again to the uncompromised gospel of the Kingdom that Christ brought to us.
And may He grant each of us the power to live with the same expectation expressed by another early apostle: “that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20,21)
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2019 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
24 thoughts on “The Gospel Time Forgot”
“The great majority of Christ followers may not be required to literally lose their lives for Him. All Christ followers, however, are required to live an overcoming, surrendered life for Him. And a surrendered life is costly.”
Yes and Amen. It is indeed a high price….but one worth paying.
There isn’t a font big enough for my AMEN!
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Excellent words! God Bless!
Thanks. God bless you too.
Thanks for sound doctrine.
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Hi Cheryl. Great post. Living in a country where Christianity is a relatively new concept I agree with your analysis. Many people tend to look up to western ministers and unfortunately what is being imported is more enslaving condemning than liberating. The message on eternity is hardly taught. It is all about now. Thank you for reminding us of our mortality and as one pastor rightly put it, “the world is our mission field while heaven is our true home.”
It’s lovely to hear from you Lydia. “Unfortunately what is being imported is more enslaving condemning than liberating.” How very sad but true.
Hi Cheryl..Great message to hear this morning…I had been reading in 1 and 2nd Peter just today..and have come full circle..I was in AA for 6 yrs..and learned to lay down my life in ’83..and God invited me into the fellowship of Christ..1 Cor. 1:9..My mother was a christian so in ’85 not much of a stretch to believe in Jesus..I had a Damascas road experience..from 85-89 Learned and taught by Christ..but I was disillusioned..and became involved in a mess…which the Lord has brought me through..and now listen to T. Austin-Sparks teachings among others ..and am so blessed..that he has chosen me for such a dispensation as we are in..we are a remnant..and I love my brothers and sisters in Christ..thank you sister..
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You have a wonderful story to tell for all of eternity. Thankyou Sandra.
Austin Sparks, deceased, is still so relevant to us today. His teachings are rich indeed and much needed in these days of confusion about God’s body in the world.
Absolutely agree Erroll. He is one of my favourites. There is a link to his many Christ-centred articles on the main page of this blog for anyone interested in following up.
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Cheryl, What a breath of fresh air to read your article!!! What you write of is so true. I’m American and very familiar with the Faith Teaching with it’s prosperity and living in divine health which it promotes. Currently my wife and I are in the Philippines. This Western false teaching that is abundant in America is very much here as well. It’s so sad to hear preachers talking about prosperity to many who sometimes don’t even earn enough in one day to feed their family. This teaching doesn’t work in poor countries (it doesn’t work at all), it just leaves many disillusioned. The days in which we find ourselves in is calling us as disciples of Jesus to embrace the full gospel of self-denial & cross bearing in order to imitate our Master. Please keep sharing the true message of the Kingdom!
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Hi Steve, Yes, the false gospel is very present in many forms in the Philippines, I agree. I have no problem with God’s people prospering and I do believe God heals today, but we need to be preaching/teaching the whole gospel, not being selective with what we want and what we don’t want. Thanks for taking time to comment and rich blessings on your ministry in the Philippines.
Wonderful article, Cheryl.
Puts me in mind of Jesus’ words – You will receive power and you shall be my “witnesses”, Greek, martus. The word at the time meant “one who reported what they had seen and heard, but because Christian witnesses so often laid down their lives, morphed into out word martyr.
In effect, Jesus prophesied over those who would follow Him that they would be given the power to lay down your lives for the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, a.k.a. the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I honestly believe the Lord wants us to prosper and be in health, as we pursue His kingdom and His righteousness. Not as an end (our riches) but as a means to prosper the kingdom of God with the treasures of His heart, the lost souls of men and women everywhere.
OK – stepping off my soapbox now.
Blessings, and again Thanks for being a faithful witness.
Thanks Ben. Yes, I agree the Lord wants us to prosper but in the right order, as you have said. The preaching of the gospel has become seriously unbalanced unfortunately.
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To me it is the same spirit that Jesus contended with In his day. It is a different gospel it is not the gospel of the kingdom. It is possess acquire and control it is full of errors (flesh) self. It is The gospel of mammon. This article blessed me.
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Yes, yes, ‘the ancient treasure!’ Sometimes I’m prone to fear at the personal cost, but then ‘I’m undone by the mercy of Jesus, I’m undone by the love of the Lord.’ Thanks so much Cheryl.
I think we are all of us prone to fear and I’m sure Peter and the others were also. After all, there is much to fear if we are committed to following Christ in this world. But He is able to overcome our fear, exactly as you say, by His love which casts out all fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is choosing something better, despite the fear.
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Love costs something.
Yes. Care to expand?
I think my granddaughter explained it well this week. She referred to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace and said “Sometimes God rescues us and sometimes he gets in the fire with us.” We gain experiential knowledge of him in trying circumstances. We pray (and sing), “We love you. We want to know you. Take us deeper or higher or beyond our borders,” and then freak out when he puts us in circumstances where we have to surrender some aspect of self-reliance to gain the experience of his faithfulness. In the end it is still for our benefit, of course, but loving God means we put him ahead of our comforts and coping methods. Every upgrade in relationship costs something.
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Great wisdom from both grand-daughter and grand-mother. Thankyou Charis.