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WHY REAL CONVERTS CANNOT AVOID TRIBULATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, February 28, 2009

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).


Very few sermons are preached on this text in America or Europe today. Yet it is one that is of great importance. Without knowing this text and acting on it, I doubt that you will be able to enter the kingdom of God, either now or in the future when you die.

The Apostle Paul had been stoned and left for dead at the city of Lystra. But Paul was raised up after the disciples stood around him, doubtlessly praying. God answered their prayers. He rose up from near death, or perhaps death itself (the Scripture is not clear on this). After rising up he was soon preaching again. What an example to us all! Paul rose up in full strength and went with his assistant Barnabas to the city of Derbe. From there they travelled to Lystra, and to Iconium and, at last to Antioch, preaching the Gospel of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the lost multitudes.

Also in these cities, Paul and Barnabas preached to the disciples, that is they preached to those who had only recently said that they wanted to follow Christ. But Paul wanted to be certain that they had experienced real conversion. He wanted them to be “confirmed,” that is, strengthened in their faith. He wanted to be certain that they had not just believed the facts of the Gospel, but that they had experienced real conversion. How did he do that?

I. First, Paul confirmed and strengthened the souls of the new disciples and exhorted them to continue in the faith that they had professed to believe.

The text says,

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22a).

Paul wanted to be sure that “the souls” of these young disciples had really been converted. He wanted to be certain that they were not just nominal Christians, not just people that learned the doctrines of the Gospel, but that they would continue as real Christians. He wanted them to

“give diligence to make [their] calling and election sure”
      (II Peter 1:10).

And so Paul confirmed them, making sure they understood the suffering they would go through if they continued “in the faith.” Otherwise, if they did not know the trouble they would have to go through to be real Christians, they would fall away from their church and apostatize from Christ, and not enter the kingdom of God. The mere words that “they accepted Christ” were not enough for Paul. He knew they must be strengthened by hearing what it would cost them to become real, firm Christians, who would endure for Christ and the church to the end of their lives. Paul did not want them to be like those that

“have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:17).

And Luke adds that when hardships come many who are not real converts will fall away.

“These have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13).

Christ said that affliction, persecution and temptation would cause many false Christians fall away from the church and from their so-called “faith” in Christ.

No, their faith had to be stronger and deeper than that. And so Paul was busy

“confirming the souls of [these new] disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22a).

That is the first thing that Paul did with these new disciples. He was

“confirming [them] and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22a).

Paul knew if their conversion was not firm, they would go back to sin, and eventually fall away from Christ and the church.

But then Paul gave them the second thing they needed to hear to become firm, steadfast, unmoveable converts.

II. Second, Paul let them know that they would have to go through “much tribulation” to enter the kingdom of God.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

The Geneva Bible gives this comment on the text:

It is the office of ministers, not only to teach, but also to confirm them that are taught and prepare them to [carry] the cross [of suffering and tribulation]; (The 1599 Geneva Study Bible, Tolle Lege Press, 2006 reprint, note on Acts 14:22).

Where do we hear such preaching in America and Europe today? We expect Christians in the Third World to go through much tribulation, and “many afflictions” (Geneva Bible) to enter God’s kingdom. But here in the Western world we too often expect an “easy ride” to Heaven, without any tribulation or affliction. This, to me, is a tragedy – simply because it is not true to the Bible. The Bible clearly gives us several passages which show that real Christians must all go through hardships, tribulations and afflictions, or they cannot be true Christians. The Bible teaches that you cannot “enter into the kingdom of God” without enduring a great deal of hardship and trouble, and many tribulations. As our text says,

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Is this taught in our Sunday Schools in the West? Is it taught in our evangelistic preaching? Do we tell people that they must go through hardship and tribulation when they express an interest in becoming Christians? Do we tell them right away, as Paul did, that they must go through many hardships and troubles when they profess that they believe in Jesus? Very often we do not. And this is one of the main reasons we have so few real converts, so pitifully few real Christians, here in America and Europe – so few who are willing to suffer for Christ.

You must go through much tribulation and many afflictions and hardships to “enter into the kingdom of God.” And if you don’t believe that you should read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where Bunyan repeatedly makes this very clear.

If you want to be a real Christian you are entering a very difficult way of life. And I want you to think of several “tribulations” you will have to go through if you want to “enter into the kingdom of God.”

1.  You must go through the “affliction” of losing your worldly friends. Paul makes that very clear in II Corinthians 6:17,

“Come out from among them, and be ye separate”
      (II Corinthians 6:17).

It is right to be kind to lost people when they come to church. But the Bible teaches, in II Corinthians 6:11-18, that you must separate from lost friends who show no interest in Christ and the church.

“Whosoever…will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Dr. MacArthur correctly says that James 4:4, “Describes love in the sense of a strong emotional attachment. Those with a deep and intimate longing for the things of the world give evidence that they are not redeemed” (The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Bibles, 1997; note on James 4:4). If you want to become a real Christian convert you must leave the “City of Destruction,” and those who are in it, as the Pilgrim did in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

“We must through much tribulation [‘many afflictions,’ The 1599 Geneva Bible] enter into the kingdom of God”
      (Acts 14:22).

Even young people raised in the church must separate themselves from friendship with the unconverted. II Corinthians 6:17-18 applies to all. You must go through the “affliction” of losing worldly, lost friends if you want to “enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Some of you young people must give up worldly friends if you hope to ever become a real convert, a true Christian.

“We must through [many afflictions] enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

2.  You must also go through the “affliction” of self doubt and self condemnation because,

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

“Because the carnal mind [the mind of the flesh] is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). “And by the flesh he meaneth a man not regenerate” (The Geneva Bible, note on Romans 8:7).

The unconverted, unregenerated mind is “against God.” That is why you cannot “learn” to be a Christian. All the things you merely “learn” are a jumbled confusion in your mind. Therefore, you must go through the “affliction” of self-doubt and self-condemnation, even doubting your own ability to figure out how to be saved. And you must judge yourself and condemn yourself as one who is “by nature” a child of “wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
      It is a great “affliction” for a proud person to admit to himself that his

“heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”
      (Jeremiah 17:9).

But you must go through that affliction until you agree that your heart is desperately wicked and you cannot trust yourself regarding salvation.

“We must through [many afflictions] enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

3.  You must also go through the “affliction” of conviction of sin.

“And when he [God’s Spirit] is come, he will reprove [you] of sin” (John 16:8).

The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince the world of sin. This means that God will convict you of past sins. But it means more than that. It means that God will convict you of having a sin nature, that your very nature is “dead” (Ephesians 2:1, 5) in sin, and that you are “by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). You must bear this “affliction” until you can honestly say, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The 1599 Geneva Bible says of that verse, “This vice, or sin, or law of sin, doth wholly possess those men who are not regenerate [born again].” You must be convicted of having a nature that is totally depraved, which you cannot trust or rely on, or trust. You must come to the place where you don’t trust your own evil heart.

“We must through [many afflictions] enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

But there is one more “affliction” you must go through to enter the kingdom of God.

4.  You must go through the “affliction” of “striving.” Jesus said,

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24).

The word “strive” is translated from the Greek word “agōnizomai,” which literally means “to struggle” (Strong). Christ said, “Strive [struggle] to enter in.” This leaves no room for you to say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Yes, Christ said, there is something you can do. You can strive, struggle, fight with all your might, agonizing to enter in to Christ. Even though you writhe with inner pain, you must fight with all your might to enter in to Christ Jesus. “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24). Such a struggle will be painful but, when you finally do come to Christ, you will find Him waiting for you with open arms. Jesus said,

“If any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9).

Therefore strive and struggle with all your strength and purpose to enter in to Him. You will then know and feel that

“the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”
      (I John 1:7).

(END OF SERMON)
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THE OUTLINE OF

WHY REAL CONVERTS CANNOT AVOID TRIBULATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

I.   First, Paul confirmed and strengthened the souls of the new disciples and exhorted them to continue in the faith that they had professed to believe, Acts 14:22a; II Peter 1:10; Mark 4:17; Luke 8:13.

II.  Second, Paul let them know that they would have to go through “much tribulation” to enter the kingdom of God, Acts 14:22b; II Corinthians 6:17; James 4:4; I Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:3; Jeremiah 17:9; John 16:8; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Romans 7:18; Luke 13:24; John 10:9;
I John 1:7.