With You Always

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:20

These are Jesus’s final words in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus tells His disciples (and us) that He is with us…always. He is ever-present. He knows us and likes to be with us. He likes to be near to us. His very Spirit dwells within us. He is closer to us than our own skin.

This truth should impact us in a few different ways. It should:

  1. Prompt holiness: There is no such thing as a secret sin. We walk exposed daily before the throne of grace, every heavenly being, and Jesus Himself. There is no hiding. Whatever sin we engage in is fully revealed and exposed.
  2. Destroy shame: It’s important that we not only know that our sin is daily exposed but that Jesus sees it all and still wants to be near to us. Our sin is not bigger than His grace and love. We don’t have to feel shame. We can receive daily the grace and forgiveness we need.
  3. Uproot loneliness: As a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is always with you. This means that the Father and the Son are also always with you according to John 14:10, 20, & 26. You are never alone. You also have at least one angel by your side at all times (Matthew 18:10). In other words, loneliness is a lie.
  4. Foster intimacy: Knowing that Jesus will always be with us should lead us to engage with Him daily. We need to spend time with this One who never leaves us. If He’s always present, we need to pay attention to Him, talk with Him, listen to Him and develop intimacy and friendship with Him.
  5. Repel lies: Jesus called Himself “the Truth”(John 14:6). He called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of Truth”(John 14:17). With such wisdom and knowledge of truth in such close proximity, we should never have to waste our time believing lies. We need only to check in with the Truth and see if what is being whispered in our mind is really true or just a deception of the enemy.

If you are a follower of Jesus, He is with you…always.

How does the knowledge of this reality impact your daily life?

Prevalent False Teachings

Peter is warning the early Christians about false teachers that will try to influence the Church when he says this:

For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 

2 Peter 2:18-19

Sound familiar?

Beware of leaders and teachers in the church who think they are offering freedom by saying things like, “That lifestyle isn’t really sinful.” They think they are offering freedom by not calling sin what it really is. But instead they are peddling slavery dressed up as freedom. Their message is appealing precisely because it appeals to the lustful desires of the flesh. It calls itself love when really it is licentiousness.

This false teaching is especially appealing to those who are “just escaping from those who live in error.” In other words, this kind of message appeals to new or immature believers who haven’t yet been grounded in the truth of God’s word.

Here are some common versions of this kind of false teaching:

  1. You don’t need a church community. It’s better to be spiritual on your own than commit to (what they call) “organized religion.”
  2. Sex before marriage is normal and good. Those who champion purity are just oppressive in their forcing of Victorian Era morality on us.
  3. The only way to really love the LGBTQ community is to let them express their sexuality however they want.
  4. Abortion is a women’s right because the fetus a part of her body, and she gets to decide what to do with her body.
  5. Pornography is a just a coming-of-age rite of passage for teen boys and can actually help young women throw off oppressive patriarchal sexual repression.
  6. Other people dictate my emotional state. So if I am offended or hurt by something, I bear no responsibility. The other person must account for the harm they have done to my emotional wellbeing. If I am offended, someone else (other than me) is to blame.

The list could go on but much of this false teaching pervades our current American culture. In each case above, there is an appeal to the selfish, sinful nature. That is why these false teachings have become so popular. In response to each of the above, here is the truth that we find in God’s word:

  1. Christianity was never meant to be done alone. We were meant to live in community as the Body of Christ. Most people who avoid church community do so because they never healed from an old, emotional wound. Many don’t want to look at the mirror that community often holds up to our own lives.
  2. Sex before marriage is common but not healthy. It ushers in all manner of destructive things into our lives. Besides helping to create a rape culture and a culture of promiscuity, sex before marriage is damaging to our bodies, our emotions, and our spirits.
  3. There is a better way to love those who are attracted to the same sex than saying “do whatever feels right.” This advice is bad advice in every area of life, including our sexuality. There is real freedom available in Christ from the distortions of the LGBTQ version of sexuality.
  4. The unborn baby has its own body that needs protecting. No one should have the right to kill an innocent life. Abortion violates the body of the unborn baby in the worst possible way. The most vulnerable in our society should be protected, not discarded.
  5. Pornography is a major part of the human trafficking network of oppression. It rapes the mind, objectifies women, and fosters toxic and violent sexual fantasy. It destroys healthy sexuality and has become an addiction that is destroying our society.
  6. Other people do not have control over my emotions, I do. I am responsible for how I react to people. I am not a victim of the world around me. I must take ownership of how I respond to the hurtful and harmful things that are sent my way. Most of the time, when I am offended, there is a combination of things happening, some of which I am responsible for and some of which I am not. Maturity is learning to discern the difference.

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

2 Peter 1:16-18

Peter writes to believers in Jesus to remind them of the truth they were taught. He assures them that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’s life. These aren’t “cleverly devised stories” that we read about in the New Testament. Peter was there when Jesus healed people. He was there when Jesus cast out demons. Peter was there when the fish and loaves were multiplied and when Jesus walked on water. He saw Jesus’s power on display firsthand.

Peter recalls here the moment when he was an eyewitness, with James and John, of the transfiguration. In fact, Peter was the one who spoke to Jesus in His transfigured form as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Here is Matthew’s account of that moment:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Matthew 17:1-8

It is important that we remember that when we read the New Testament, we are reading firsthand accounts of people who were there. These are people who were expecting their own death in the near future, as Peter did, and decided to start writing down things for future generations Christians.

These are not made up stories passed down from one person to the next. And these are not accounts of a good rabbi teaching nice things. These are eyewitness accounts of the miraculous power of the Son of God, God-incarnate, Jesus the Messiah.

One of my favorite quotes about the validity of the resurrection of Jesus comes from Charles Colson:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Chuck Colson

These apostles gave their whole life for the truth of the gospel, the truth of what they saw with their own eyes that they passed on to us through the writings of the New Testament. We have now experienced in our own lives what they said was true and our lives are forever changed by it. Now we have the honor to give our whole lives to Jesus and the truth of the gospel. Now it’s our turn!

Sacrifice of Praise

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16

Why do Christians sing about God’s goodness and praise Him even in the midst of the difficulties of life? To the outside observer, this sort of worship can seem fake. But far from being disingenuous, this is one of the most profound and real things a follower of Jesus can do.

When we praise God during the difficult times of life, when we declare His goodness when nothing around us seems good, when we celebrate His faithfulness when things are crumbling around us, what we are offering is a sacrifice of praise. We are declaring what is true about God’s nature even though our circumstances don’t seem to reveal that truth. We are saying that God is good regardless of our circumstances. This is what makes it a sacrifice. And this is the kind of sacrifice with which God is especially pleased.

This past Sunday in church we were singing about the goodness of God. I looked around the room and knew all the extremely hard situations people were in. And yet, they were singing to God and praising Him for His goodness. Was this them being fake? No, this is as real as it gets. This was them giving God one of His most treasured gifts. This was a sacrifice of praise.

In that moment, the Lord gave me a picture. Imagine you are a servant and soldier to the true King. It is easy to sing the King’s praises while in the King’s court. It’s easy to declare that he is the one true King from his palace.

But what if you had crossed into enemy territory? What if, while you were fighting to expand the one true Kingdom, you got caught and imprisoned by the enemy. Everyone around you mocked the one true King. They beat you and starved you. They asked, “Where is your King now?” In this environment, could you still praise the King? Could you still declare his goodness? Are you willing to offer him a sacrifice of praise?

That is essentially what we are doing when we praise God for His goodness even when our circumstances are difficult. What we are saying is that God’s nature and His goodness don’t change even if our circumstances do. We are declaring that we have tasted the goodness of the King in the past and that we will taste that goodness again in the future even if we aren’t experiencing it right now. In a way, we are prophesying God’s goodness. We are calling the future into the present.

A sacrifice of praise is something we can only give when we are behind enemy lines. In heaven, when we are with Jesus for eternity, we will be completely saturated in the goodness of God. Declaring God’s goodness will be easy. The only time we can give a sacrifice of praise is when things are hard and we decide to declare God’s goodness anyway. This is a special gift that we can only give to God right now. For the rest of eternity we won’t be able to give Him this meaningful sacrifice. We can only do it now and for a limited time.

So if things are difficult in life, that is the time to praise God for His goodness. He is worthy! Being “real” doesn’t mean letting our circumstances dictate our worship. Being “real” doesn’t mean letting our hardships change our confidence in the nature of God as a good and loving Father. Yes, let’s be honest about our struggles and trials. Let’s be honest about our disappointments and frustrations. But let’s wrap our honesty in the truth. The truest thing we can declare is that God is good! He is slow to anger, abounding in love. His kindness leads us to repentance. His goodness knows no end!

At Work In You

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 

1 Thessalonians 2:13

It has become popular to reduce the word of God to just words written by humans years ago. This gives us authority over it so that we can manipulate it, dissect it, and make it fit our culture. But when we do that to the word of God, when we treat it as if it is just a human word, we prevent it from having any transformative power in our lives.

The Thessalonians received the word of God as the word of God, and because of that it was at work in them. When we treat the word of God as the word of God, we submit to it rather than trying to make it submit to us. When we do this, there is an energizing of the word within us. As we surrender ourself to the truth of God’s word, the power of the word of God flows through us.

We see Jesus teach this principle in Matthew 10 when he says:

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.”

Matthew 10:32, 40-41

If you acknowledge Jesus for who He really is, the Son of God and Savior of the world, then He will acknowledge you before God the Father. If you welcome a prophet as a prophet, you’ll be able to receive from the prophet their reward and blessing (see 1 Kings 17:7-24). If you welcome a righteous person as a righteous person, you’ll receive the reward that comes from acknowledging them for who they really are.

Likewise, if we treat the word of God as the word of God, and not just words of humans written thousands of years ago, we get the reward of having the very words of God dwell in us, work in us, and pour through us. And God’s words have life-giving, creative power every time He speaks! (Genesis 1; Mark 5:41-42; John 1:1-5).

If, however, we treat the word of God as mere human words, our “reward” is that we’ll have unbelief, skepticism, and doubt at work in us–in our hearts and minds. The fruit will be human reasoning that is empty and powerless.

The Truth–The Whole Truth

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…

Ephesians 6:14a

Truth is what keeps us from being caught with our pants down. Our culture has become so accustom to lying and to liars that people can’t tell anymore when they are bending or shading the truth. It has become a habit for many to tell “little” white lies. Yet, we are told here–unequivocally–that one way we stand firm against the schemes of the enemy is to have the belt of truth buckled around our waist.

The word in the Greek that communicates this idea of having the truth “buckled around your waist” is a compound word that combines the word “to gird” with the word “all around.” We get the idea here that Paul is saying the truth should be wrapped around us on all sides until we are fully encompassed by it.

Truth is an exposing light. This is why the enemy is a deceiver and a liar. He hates the light. Truth is sunlight, bringing life, warmth and light. But when our eyes have been so accustomed to darkness, light can be scary at first. This is how Jesus explained it to Nicodemus:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:19-21

Truth not only brings light, but it also brings freedom–freedom from darkness, from sin, from deception. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free‘”(John 8:31-32).

Paul gives us a picture of what can happen when we have a constant dose of loving truth spoken into our lives:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

Ephesians 4:14-15

My 9-year-old son helped me see something a few days ago about the armor of God that I had never seen before. We were talking about the sword of the Spirit and how it is the word of God (Ephesian 6:17). And then, in passing, he mentioned that it must hang on the belt of truth. This blew my mind! I had never thought of this before.

Swords are sheathed on a soldier’s belt. Our sword, the word of God, hangs on the belt of truth. Our source of truth is not our opinion; it is not what our culture is saying at the moment. Our source of truth is the word of God. Every word God speaks hangs on truth.