Beware the prophet who speaks peace to your sin. There is a heresy out there – fast becoming a consensus – that because we are saved by grace we are free to revel in our sin. No! What biblical prophet ever preached against repentance? Not one.
But, don’t miss the point! Is Micah, in the above verse, preaching the evils of beer and wine? Of course not! This is merely an illustrative example. What he’s saying is that this people has become so perverse, so disobedient, that they would be far more hospitable to a soothsaying liar than to a truthful prophet.
Where are these people at when this is written? They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle marked by plenty of wine and song; but, meanwhile, those in power “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance” (Micah 2:2, NIV). The people eat and drink the profits of injustice and misery; and they will not escape His terrible judgement.
We ought never to be at peace with our sin. Our flesh constantly wars against the Spirit (1 Peter 2:11, Galatians 5:17), and we must fight back. But, to war against the flesh we must be in the Spirit. To war against the flesh while in the flesh is to become a noxious white-washer of tombs; someone who foolishly subscribes to the notion that a cup cleaned only on the outside is clean enough. The Christian wars against the flesh while in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
What does this mean? We earnestly confess our sins (Romans 10:9-10, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5); we cleanse ourselves in the waters of baptism and eagerly accept the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that our cup can only be cleansed from the inside out (Matthew 23:26); and the Holy Spirit, who has entered our lives by the miracle of the Cross, is the only one who can complete this critical task. We cannot. Our work is to confess, repent, petition and pray; His work is to remake us in our Master’s likeness.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Most of us know how this story ends. Stephen gets stoned by his enemies, asking God to forgive his murderers in the process.
What’s interesting about this story is that Stephen begins his discussion with the Sanhedrin with a lengthy polemic on the history of the Jewish people, starting with Abraham and leading up to Solomon. Then suddenly, as if the Holy Spirit gets fed up with having to give a history lesson to a group of religious leaders who full-well know their history, Stephen changes gears: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:51). It’s as if the Lord of Heaven has finally run out of patience and decides to skip the rest of the story and get right to the heart of the matter: the Messiah came; not only did you miss it, you killed him, and now you’re persecuting His servants.
Just imagine Stephen’s point of view here. He’s filled with the Holy Spirit and waxing a theological eloquence that would put most bible school professors to shame. Do you think he’s a bit swept up in the moment? Maybe a little freaked out? A little surprised by the brave and articulate words flying out of his mouth? I would be.
Then imagine how he feels when, suddenly, he sees the fabric of space ripped apart, and Jesus standing on the other side.
I can’t begin to imagine everything that’s going through Stephen’s mind here; certainly, he understands that he’s about to die. Do you think he gets the value of his suffering though? Do you think he knows that he’s going to go down in history as the first Christian martyr? Do you think he knows that not only will his name will be remembered, it will be forever recorded in God’s holy scripture? Do you think he knows that his example will serve as an encouragement to countless others? No, likely he understands only that he has been honoured to suffer as Christ has, that his reward will be great, and that this is going to hurt, a lot.
Suffering of one kind or another is pretty much a guarantee for Christians – “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20) – and suffering is suffering, it’s not fun. I often wish that it didn’t come with the territory, but it does.
What also comes with the territory, though, is a promise that even clumsy attempts to serve the Gospel will have a lasting impact. Our works will “become manifest” (1 Corinthians 3:13), surviving whatever the world can throw at it.
Ages ago my wife, Gail, invited a friend to church. The invitation was declined or ignored, and Gail resigned herself to offering up some prayer and getting on with her life. Just this last week, she found out that both the friend and her husband have accepted Christ, and that the husband is to be confirmed in their local church this coming Sunday. The friend told Gail that her invitation is what got the ball rolling. The friend (a lapsed Christian) and her husband were not comfortable with the invitation to come to our church, but they were able to make the journey to the church she'd spent time in as a youth. So that's where they went.
Of course, we don’t know this conversion wouldn’t have occurred without Gail’s help (I’m sure Jesus would have found a way), but her invitation had an incredible impact. That family will go on to plant their own seeds, and her one act of simple obedience – having the courage to invite someone to church, something I have a hard time with most days – turns out to be a work that will have ripples in eternity.
We don’t always get to see the results of the work we do. One sows, another reaps, and so on. And oftentimes we suffer shame, pain or worse without the comfort of seeing where all this is going. All the more pleasant the surprise will be, then, when we get to see the finished product in Heaven.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.