Living by Our Convictions
June 1, 2002 - There will be seasons or spells in the journey of life that are painful and perilous. Opposition to the truth of the Gospel is not a passing feature; it is a permanent fixture.
by Alistair Begg
Any notion that serving Christ in the cause of the Gospel is an invitation to tranquility certainly cannot be learned from the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. Keenly aware of the hostility of the times, Paul also is aware of the timidity of Timothy and of the absolute necessity of providing for Timothy the keys to stability in a shaky world.
Paul urges Timothy not to be ashamed,(1) but to aim for God’s approval(2) and to continue in the faith.(3) Paul seems to be saying to Timothy, "I know you’re young, I know you’re timid, but let me make this absolutely clear. Terrible times will appear, and the environment in which you are to exercise the ministry of the Gospel will be as follows."(4)
Then Paul writes, "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."(5)
Paul is not giving simply a litany of the chaos in the culture, but he is identifying the fact that when we find religious profession interwoven with godless living, we need to exercise careful discernment. And he is urging Timothy to avoid religious hucksters.
Indeed, when we think about the ministry of Jesus, the mercy of God was extended to every penitent sinner so as to grant cleansing and forgiveness and restoration. Jesus’ most stinging condemnations were reserved for religious con men and for those who tolerated their activities.
These false teachers prey upon a certain kind of individual, one who displays both a moral and an intellectual weakness, and who is burdened by sins. These teachers can play upon such people’s sense of guilt and can feed their minds with all kinds of deceitful lies.
These teachers are pretenders who use the right kind of language but at the same time distort its meaning. They reveal the corruption of their minds and the condition of their lives. Paul adds these striking words: "So also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone."(6)
When Paul left the Church in Ephesus after having established the work there under God, he said to the people, "I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."(7)
In Paul’s words we see this striking, passionate emphasis on being alert, being discerning, being discriminating, being watchful. Paul writes Timothy that he is to pay attention to all of the things that Paul has told him.
And here is a lesson for us: Let us not be believers who scurry around for access to the latest notions, grab for the newest gimmicks, run for the next conference in the hope that we will find a means to usefulness.
Paul is essentially writing that we are to make sure that we’re concentrating on the basics, that we’re doing them ourselves and that our friends and neighbors are doing them. The Christian life is really straightforward. It’s not easy, but it is straightforward.
If we live godly lives, then we will face persecution. Do we want to be liked by our friends more than we want to be loved and honored by Christ? If we profess godliness and progress in godliness, we need to recognize that at the same time "evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."(8)
Paul writes that there will be all kinds of chaos. Impostors will howl and offer nonsense through a variety of means. They’re going in the wrong direction. They’re deceived, and they are deceivers. In light of all of this, it seems that Paul is saying, "Timothy, in contrast to all of the foolishness and chaos that’s around you, I want you to stand out against the crowd. I want you to continue in what you’ve learned and have become convinced of because you know those from whom you’ve learned it and you know what it was you learned."(9)
What is it that makes us people of conviction? Ultimately it is the grace and kindness and providence of God, for there is no human explanation.
It is as if Paul is writing to Timothy—and to us: "Listen, you need to be grasped by the truth of God’s Word. You need to grasp its truth. Because it is by means of the conveying of this Book that men and women are brought to faith. It is by the Scriptures that our knowledge of God is imparted. And in this Book you have everything you need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work in this painful and perilous journey of life."(10)