Perhaps you are feeling as if you have wakened to an alien world or are hoping that you will soon waken to discover that recent events were only part of a now-vanished nightmare. But we really are living in a country that most of us no longer recognize as the country of our birth. The truth is that for the vast majority of our history as a nation, Christians have been able to live quietly and quite comfortably—perhaps too comfortably. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that many of us have grown complacent in our faith and complicit with the world.
Our thoughts have not been heaven-bent, our motivating desires have not been eternal. We have loved the world and the things in the world. Far too many of us would find the confession of the patriarchs as alien to us as many of our current circumstances seem. For the writer of Hebrews said that men like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13b). We might sing the words to the old gospel song—“This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through; my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”—but we never genuinely lived them. We have treasured up things that will end with time.
Now God is not an ogre who asks us to take a vow of poverty, wear a horsehair shirt, and eat one meal of gruel a day. In fact, He assures us that He is a “God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17b). However, in the same verse, He warns us: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world [that would include the majority of Americans today] not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (v. 17a). Yet far too many of us have done just that: we have become conceited—haughty, arrogant, high-minded—taking for granted the comforts we’ve surrounded ourselves with, losing thankfulness for God’s kindness, readily accepting the notion that things would always be this way, that in the words of another hymn, we would be “carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease.”
Well, Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it. And God is not going to give His beloved Son an effete, presumptuous, and self-indulgent bride. The Lord is preparing us for eternity; in so doing, Peter explains that “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (I Pet. 4:17a). In other words, we need not puzzle over the strange events occurring in our nation. We need not wonder if God has fallen asleep, taken a vacation, lost His power, forgotten about us, or decided to abandon us. We are not in the clutches of wicked forces too strong for us. Satan has not succeeded in usurping God’s throne. The ungodly have not succeeded in thwarting God’s plans.
On the contrary, God and His Son both love the church to a degree beyond our ability to appreciate. And so He is engaging in a process intended to sanctify us and prepare us for eternity. We have heard it said, and perhaps like me you have said, God is judging The United States. There is ample evidence to suggest this and biblical reasons to believe it. The apostasy of this nation and its wholesale rebellion against the gospel that has been broadcast here more fully and faithfully than anywhere else on earth give witness to the justness of God’s judgment on this nation. But I believe Peter has given us the immediate reason for our present trials, namely, that God is dealing with those of His own household first. He has begun a chastening and sanctifying process that is intended to wean us from this world. It is no accident that we find it increasingly difficult to garner any comfort, consolation, or satisfaction from the affairs of this life. There is no hope, no salvation, no deliverance in this world. Any of us who know the Lord and yet have believed or hoped that to be true are being disabused of that notion.
God wants us to place absolute faith, hope, and trust in Him alone. He wants us to love Him and to love the appearing of His Son. So what’s going on? In great love and absolute faithfulness, God is preparing His church for eternity. “Beloved,” Peter writes, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing” (I Pet. 4:12a). God is refining His own.
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