Silver And Gold

As I read Proverbs Chapter 17 during my devotional time, God drew my attention to verse 3 which says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts.”

One of the many problems with what we call the church today, is that most of us never make it through the refiner’s pot.  Many never even make it to the pot itself.  Our Americanized version of Christianity implies that our relationship with Jesus should be at our convenience, completely unburdened by any personal sacrifice on our part because we are saved by grace, no strings attached.  But that is not what Jesus taught.  Jesus said that being His disciple would come at great personal cost to us.  That we must be willing to forsake all to follow Him:  our family, our children, our plans, our culture, and even ourselves, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  He said the crucifixion of our self would be required to follow Him and be His disciple, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27).

You see, when Jesus spoke to first century hearers of “carrying your cross”, what they heard was “you must carry an instrument of your own death….daily.”  This would not have been an attractive component of what Jesus’ teachings were calling them to do.  What Jesus was basically telling them was, “Follow Me to your own death, and I will give you new life, but that new life will cost you everything.”  At Luke Chapter 14, verse 28, Jesus tells His followers that they must count the cost to follow Him, then at verse 33 He tells them what that cost will be, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33).  Notice that Jesus is not saying here that we must simply be willing to give up everything to follow Him.  He is saying that those who do not give up everything they have, cannot be His disciples.  Jesus calls His followers to a radical devotion that has been largely lost within what we call the church today.

For the most part, what I see in the church today, is a congregation of people who want to follow a Jesus that doesn’t require anything from them.  They want to follow a Jesus that would never place them in a refiner’s pot, much less, ever lead them into the furnace.  I see people comfortable in their commercialized version of Christianity, worshiping the Jesus that they are being taught about by other people, rather than the Jesus they are personally pursuing themselves through prayer and careful study of scripture.  For the most part, those within the church today are following someone else’s version of Jesus rather than the real Jesus of the Bible Who says things like, “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful.” (John 15:2).

I guess the question we must ask ourselves is, are we silver or are we gold?  Or are we just a branch that should be cut off because we are bearing no fruit for God with our life?  Are we a branch that is even willing to be pruned by the refining pot, so that the salvation we have received by His grace will be a fruitful branch for His kingdom?  The refining pot will come at a great personal cost, it will be painful, you will grieve the loss of many things that you never realized you were holding onto.  One of the hardest things God ever asked me to do was to let go of what I aspired to do for His kingdom and submit to what He aspired for me to do.  How many of us are truly willing to let go of everything, no matter how much we have reasoned in our heart to continue to hold on?  How many of us have convinced ourselves that we are approaching the cross with empty hands, as we ought, only to look down and see them holding on to something we are trying to bring with us?

As I meditated on the refiner’s pot versus the furnace, I realized how few people actually give themselves wholly over to Christ.  The refiner’s pot serves to prune a person, but the furnace utterly destroys them.  Pruned silver versus pure, untarnished gold.  The furnace leaves nothing of the old person remaining, everything is lost in the furnace, burned away into oblivion, leaving only a purified soul, flawless, whole and complete.  Our great aversion to the refiner’s pot should serve as an acute reminder of how desperately far away each of us are to the spiritual wholeness that comes by the furnace.  The refiner’s pot should remind us that no matter how righteous we think we are, there is always more work to be done in us.  As Christians, we should never be comfortable where we are at in our spiritual growth, but rather, we should long for the refinement that brings us to the spiritual wholeness that is promised by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The more you truly, personally know Christ, the more you will long for the refinement that comes at great personal cost.  The more you truly, personally know Christ, the more you eagerly anticipate, “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:8).

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one being snatched from the fire.” (1 Cor 3:12-15)

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10)

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” (1 Cor 9:24,25)

Banquet Of Scraps

The other day, when I was talking to someone about how scripture says Christians are to forsake the desires of the world and die to self, their disregarding response was, “Well, I will never be like you.” Implying that my level of commitment was not only something that they didn’t think Christ required of them personally, but was also way more of a commitment than they were ever willing to make themselves. What this person was basically saying was that they will never pursue Christ in such a way that would require them to make major changes in their life towards a radical faith and commitment because, in this particular case, this person has no desire to forsake the world. What this person fails to realize is that Christ calls all of us to the same standard of righteousness and commitment. He calls us all to radical pursuit. Indeed, we all have different parts to play in His kingdom, but His command to be willing to forsake everything to follow Him, applies equally to us all.

Most Christians in this day and age are content with spiritual scraps, when God has offered them a banquet feast. Jesus speaks a parable to this effect at Luke Chapter 14, and although He is primarily alluding to the Jewish nation forsaking their Messiah and thus some of them losing their place in His kingdom, this parable can also be understood in a Christian context as well. Jesus is Savior of us all and His commandments and the gist of His teachings apply to all of those who choose to be part of His kingdom.

At Luke 14:15, a man tells Jesus, “Blessed, happy and fortunate is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” And Jesus responds to Him with a parable about a man who gives a great banquet. In the parable, a man planned a large banquet and sent out invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to contact each of the invited guests, telling them that everything was ready and the meal was about to start. But verse 18 says, “But without exception they all began to make excuses.” One after another, the guests made excuses for not coming. One had just bought a piece of land and said he had to go see it (verse 18). He made tending to his home and possessions priority over God’s kingdom. Another had purchased some oxen and said he was on the way to yoke them up and try them out (verse 19). He made his work and personal projects priority over God’s kingdom. Another gave the excuse that he was newly married and therefore could not come (verse 20). He made his family priority over God’s kingdom. Jesus said when the master of the house heard their excuses, “Then the master of the house became angry” (v. 21), and told his servant to go out at once and gather the poor, the blind and the lame to fill his house.

After telling this parable, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, in the sense of indifference to, or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God, and likewise his wife and children and brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life also– he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not persevere and carry his own cross and come after (follow) Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26,27 Amplified). Being confronted with the stark reality of what it truly means to be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ, is a game-changer for most of those who have long-claimed Jesus as Savior, but have never truly understood what it means for Him to be Lord of their life.

To drive home the point of His parable about the banquet feast, Jesus then tells the crowd the Parable of the Builder who did not count the cost of his endeavor, and thus, wasn’t able to finish. Jesus then concludes these teachings by saying, “So then, any of you who does not forsake (renounce, surrender claim to, give up, say good-bye to) all that he has, cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33 Amplified). Notice who Jesus is addressing in Luke 14:26,27,33– “If anyone comes….Whoever does not persevere….So then, any of you…..” Anyone, whoever, any of you— Jesus is addressing us all.

Unfortunately, as we see in the Parable of the Banquet, and many other of Jesus’ parables, not all will be willing towards complete surrender. In the Parable of the Banquet, they had excuses. In the Parable of the Builder, he didn’t count the cost and was unable to finish. In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:11-15), some weren’t receptive (the hard ground), some weren’t committed (the stony ground), and some succumbed to distraction (the thorns). The thorny ground represents those who seem to receive the Word, but their heart would rather pursue worldly riches, pleasures, desires and lusts, “And as for what fell among the thorns, these are the people who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked and suffocated with the anxieties and cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not ripen or come to maturity and perfection.” (Luke 8:14). For those among the thorns, the things of this world take their time and attention away from radical pursuit of Jesus and His Word, and they end up making excuses for why they are unable to attend the banquet.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions– is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Rom 12:2)

“You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

”On hearing this, Jesus told him, ‘You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. Seeing the man’s sorrow, Jesus said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:22-24)

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:16,17)

The Gorilla, The Elephant, and Taxes

A common saying you often hear is, “There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.” And while it is possible to evade taxes, no one can escape death. It’s like the 800-pound gorilla that follows everyone around, but everyone does their best to ignore it. Like, as long as we don’t make eye-contact with the hulking beast, it’s not really there sort-of-a-thing. But it is there, waiting. No matter how much we consume ourselves with the things of this world and wallow in their distractions, we will all, at one time or another, have to wrestle that gorilla. Some will do it the split second before they die in some random accident. Some will do it periodically, every time they attend a funeral. Some will do it as they suffer through a terminal disease. And some will do it as they helplessly watch that person suffer.

The Bible actually speaks to us about three types of death:
1. Spiritual Death
2. Physical Death
3. Personal Death

The Bible speaks of spiritual and physical death at the very beginning of the human story in Genesis when God tells Adam, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16,17). God was forewarning Adam that indulging in rebellion would give birth to sin, the fruit thereof, being spiritual and physical death. The spiritual death of Adam was the separation of God and mankind, which was symbolized by the Temple curtain of the Jewish Temple. The same one that was torn and forever breached by the death of Jesus Christ (Heb 10:19-22). The physical death of Adam would come later, but it would inevitably come because the wages of sin always has been, and always will be, death, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23). The wages of sin is death. Jesus paid the wages of our sin at the cross, thereby saving us from eternal spiritual death.

That leaves personal death, which Christ tells us must take place to be His disciple: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23,24). Like physical death, which cannot be escaped by any of us, personal death cannot be escaped by anyone who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He says so: So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).

This often comes as an inconvenient surprise to people who have long considered themselves Christian, but have never actually read the Bible, the Gospels in particular. You don’t have to read the Bible to receive salvation in Jesus Christ, but you do have to read it to live out that salvation according to Jesus’ instructions and bear Him fruit. That is because it is scripture which teaches us that: 1) spiritual death is certain without Christ; 2) physical death is certain for all of us; and the 8000-pound elephant hanging out next to the 800-pound gorilla in the lives of many Christians today is that, 3) personal death is certain with Christ.

If your salvation seems to have come at no personal cost to your way of living, then you may not want to make eye-contact with that elephant.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:25)

“‘Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them,’ says the Lord, and ‘touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me’, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:17,18)