Overcoming in modern America

He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the Second Death – Revelation 2:11

In speaking to the church in Smyrna, Jesus praised His people for their faithfulness to the gospel in the midst of persecution. He also warned them of a coming persecution, one that would be much worse than the one that they were presently experiencing. And this more intense persecution, whom Satan was bringing, was going to test their faithfulness. Those who passed the test, who were faithful even unto death, would receive a crown of life. If they would overcome, they would not be hurt by the second death. 

In this passage, we must consider the following things

1 – What does it mean to be hurt be the second death?

2 – What things must we overcome that we might not being hurt by the second death?

3 – How we can overcome those things?

The Second Death

Death is referred to in the Bible as the last enemy that shall be conquered (1 Cor 15:26). Death is not a friend. Death is a consequence of sin and not a part of any of the things that God called ‘good’ at the beginning of creation. One day death will be conquered by the great Resurrection, when all that have ever lived will be raised from the dead. The Bible says that all will be raised, both the good and the evil (Jn 5:28). The good will be raised to everlasting life in their new bodies, but the wicked will be raised to judgment. They will stand before the Great White Throne to be judged for the deeds that they did upon the earth.

And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death – Revelation 20:12-14

The Second Death is aptly named because it refers to what the first death accomplishes: namely, the destruction of the body. However, the Second Death is different from the first, for the resurrected bodies of those that are hurt by it will never expire like they do in natural death. They will be subject to torment day and night, never having any rest. Just as the righteous will forever live, so they will forever die.

And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night… – Rev 14:11 

In summary, the Second Death is the awful, final judgment that God brings upon mankind. Those who are not saved will be cast into the lake of Fire. They will be tormented day and night, forever and ever. 

What we must overcome

Jesus remarked that only those who overcome will escape the Second Death. What are those things that we must overcome?

In the church in Smyrna, Jesus specifically speaks of the ‘tribulation,’ or trouble, that Satan was bringing upon them. However, tribulation is not the only thing that Christians must overcome. Throughout Revelation chapters two and three, Jesus tells every church to overcome, even though they all don’t face the same issues. Each of us face different issues in our lives, and we each must overcome the challenges that we face if we wish to escape from the judgment to come. And here in American, I would argue that we face multiple things that must be overcome. 

The parable of the sower is a good place to look in regard to this subject. In the parable, the man scatters seed that falls onto four different types of soil (Matt 13). One soil was the hardened path, the other was shallow soil, the next was soil that had thorns, and the final was good soil. I believe that every Christian falls into one of these four categories of soil. I would like to go over each of these briefly.

The Wayside

The first category of soil is the seed that was scattered on the wayside. By ‘wayside,’ it is meant that this ground was often trodden upon and therefore hard. It was ground that was not suitable for the seed to sink into. Jesus said that this particular ground represented the people who heard the word but failed to understand it. Although the word was sown into their hearts, they didn’t take the time to thoroughly understand what it had to say. As a result, the enemy came and stole the word. How did he steal the word? He did it by deceiving them with some false doctrine or philosophy of the world.

Jesus said this would happen. He said that in the last days many false prophets would come and deceive many. (Mt 24:9-13)

Paul said this would happen. He said that in the last time, some would depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and DOCTRINES of devils. (1 Tim 4:1)

Paul also warned us not to be deceived by the vain philosophies of this world (Col 2:8).

Now, more than ever, it is important for every Christian to know what the Word of God says and to understand it thoroughly. When the word is deeply implanted inside the heart and the mind, the wicked one cannot come and steal it away.

I’m sadden to see so many Christians succumbing to worldly ideas and ungodly doctrines. When a Christian puts a rainbow by their Facebook profile to indicate support for LGBTQ lifestyles, you can be sure that they do not have the Word of God deeply implanted into their hearts. They have rejected the word of God for man’s ideas and popular morality rather than God’s morality. 

When a Christian is more concerned about skin color and issues related to skin color more than issues related to the heart, they do not have the word of God deeply implanted into their hearts. 

When a Christian is more concerned about a women’s right to choose over a baby’s right to live, you can be sure the Word of God is not deeply implanted into their hearts. 

These, of course, are some of the primary issues of our day, but they are by no means an exhaustive list of worldly and ungodly ideas that Satan uses to steal the word that is sown into the heart. 

The Shallow Ground

The second type of soil is the shallow, rocky soil. In this type of soil, the hearer of the word may understand, but they do not let that word sink down deep enough to keep them during difficult times. These are those that rejoice at first, hearing the good news and experiencing the joys that come with conversion. However, they do not prepare themselves for the coming hardships. We should all be keen aware of the fact that Satan will indeed come, bringing trouble and persecution with him, in effort to kill that word that has been planted in our hearts. 

Those who are represented by the shallow soil are those who break during times of temptation, persecution, and trouble. They are like a tree that is uprooted by the storm because the roots have not gone deep enough into the ground. It is regrettable that many churches are filled with these kind of Christians. They are often being taught the benefits of being a Christian, but not about the troubles that come accompany them. The verse that says, “Through many tribulations we shall enter the kingdom of heaven,” is never heard at their services. Instead, they are promised a better life in this world. 

We should recognize that, in this world, persecution and hard times will come, especially in these now difficult days. You can be assured that if you speak biblically regarding the issues of the day that you will be called a bigot, a homophobe, a racist, a hater, and even a nazi. Some people will keep their mouth shut because of this. Don’t keep your mouth shut. Speak the truth in love. 

But besides being called names, Christians who speak the truth in this day risk losing their jobs, their businesses, and their families. And it is getting to the point where Christians are, in America, facing the prospect of being physically harmed because of their faith. 

We must be diligent to put the Word of God deep into our hearts. We need to be like a tree firmly planted into place, that no storm can move. We must be like a house built on a firm foundation, that come hell or high water, we will not budge. We must be like Martin Luther, who said, “here I stand, I can do no other, so God help me.” We must determine in our hearts that it is the Lord we will serve, even if all else forsake Him. We must boldly proclaim like Joshua did, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”

Here is my question for you: Will you break on the day that evil visits your house? Will you cave when your name is cast out as evil? Will you succumb when your business is boycotted or your livelihood threatened? Will you kneel when the statue is raised and the music is sounded? Or will you stand with the faithful?

The Thorny Soil

The third type of soil is the thorny soil. This soil represents those who do allow the word to come deep into their hearts. Satan can’t steal it away, for they understand it well; nor will pressure or persecution cause them to relent, for they are firmly established in the truth. However, Satan is not giving up so easily. His strategy is no longer to destroy, but to distract. 

The Bible says that the thorny ground hearers are those that are choked up by the cares of this world, by the deceitfulness of riches, and by the ‘desire for other things.’ This is a broad array, but it narrows down to this: a distraction away from what is most important.

When Jesus told the parable of the king and the great banquet, it wasn’t gross sin that kept those who were invited out of the kingdom. One was busy with his business, another with his property, another with his wife. It was normal things in their improper place that kept them out.

Are you distracted away from what is most important? Are you caught up in things that have nothing to do with your calling as a Christian? Is your mind preoccupied by sports, entertainment, games (particularly video games), politics, business, hobby, or the like? Do the things you engage with on a day to day basis help or hurt your Christian walk? Are your everyday activities bringing you closer or farther from Christ? 

the Bible says that everything is permissible, but not everything is expedient. That is, there are many things that are not sinful, per se, but become sinful when they impede on our Christian walk. When a wedge of gold or a Babylonian garment becomes an accursed thing, you must get it out of your tent, or you will perish with them.

When Gideon took his men by the creek side, he told them to drink. The ones who put their face in the water were told to go home, but the ones who lifted the water in their hand were chosen for the army of God. What does this tell us? If the activity that we are involved in cause us to bury our faces in it so that we cannot focus on the mission at hand, it must be discarded. But if we can keep our eyes on Jesus, allowing ourselves to be refreshed by a hobby or activity, then it is permissible and advisable. As soon as it consumes our mind it begins to consume our soul. 

It is this particular category, the category of the thorny ground, that especially trips up American Christians. We are like the church in Laodicea, who thought they were rich, but were really wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. We, in America, have become too much like the rich young ruler. We will give all for Christ as long as we can keep that one thing that we love most. And if we think like the rich young ruler, we will perish like him, as well. 

What is it in your life that is like a thorn, choking your Christian walk? Cut it out! Does your eye cause you to sin? Pluck it out! Does your hand cause you to sin? Cut it off! It is better to enter life with one eye, one hand, and one leg than to be cast into hell fire, ‘where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

The Good Ground

The final type of soil is the good soil. This soil represents those who hear and understand the word, let it deep into their heart, and weed out the thorns. They are the ones that will produce a crop. They are the ones that will be fruitful in their Christian life, in the work that God has called them to do. 

And this we must understand, we are all called to labor in some way in our Father’s vineyard. Not all of our work is to be the same. Not all of the body is the eyes or the mouth or the ears. There are different parts with different functions–but they are all part of the same body. You are part of that body and you have a place in that body. You have a function in that body.

So beware that you do not think to yourself, “at least I am saved. I may not be doing what God wants me to do, I may not be functioning in the body as I should be, but at least I’m going to heaven.”

This is a doctrine of Satan. No person living in perpetual disobedience will enter the kingdom of God. God has commanded you to work in his vineyard. Will he take ‘no’ for an answer? Will He accept whatever excuse you dream up? Will your lament of not being good enough or talented enough or qualified enough satisfy him? Will He accept the idea that you are too busy with work or home life or hobby? 

What did God say to the Israelites who went home to work on their own houses and neglect the house of God? He said, “Consider your ways!”

And remember the parable of the two sons that Jesus spoke: 

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” – Matthew 21:28-31

How to Overcome

We have seen from the parable of the sower that (1) a lack of understanding, (2) persecution and trouble, and (3) the distractions of life are what we need to overcome upon pain of eternal death. The question is now, how can we be those who overcome?

The solution is not difficult in explanation. We must be diligent to hear the word of God and obey it, no matter what the cost.

We must be willing to sacrifice everything, including our own family and lives in our efforts to be faithful to the Word of God. Jesus said to the church at Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death and you will receive the crown of life.”

We also must ‘meditate on the word of God day and night, that we may observe to do all that is written therein,’ for then, the Lord says, ‘you will prosper and have good success.’ 

We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can be hearers only but not doers of the word. We must take our place in the vineyard of God and be about the Father’s business.

We must NOT forsake the assembling of ourselves together! Instead, we should ‘exhort one another daily, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.’ (Heb 10:25)

In Summary

It’s not those that start who are victors, but those who finish. Our Lord said that we must ‘count the cost’ lest we be like the foolish man who started a tower he was unable to finish. I’ve seen many in my own life who have fit this description. They were godly people, who walked with God, yet like an unfaithful spouse, abandoned Him for love of this world. Like Demas, they ‘loved this present world;’ or like Judas, they sold themselves for 30 pieces of silver; or like Satan, they were lifted up in pride; or like Eve, they desired the taste of forbidden things. Whatever the case may be, they had become like Saul, who, although his heart was changed, and although he had become a new man by the Spirit of God (1 Sam 10:6,9), fear of man led to his demise. His kingdom would have been established forever, instead it was wrested from his hands and given to a man better than him (1 Sam 13:13, 1 Sam 15:27). 

More and more in this world are we faced with the tantalizing prospect of throwing in the towel. A simple relent, just a pinch of incense in worship to Caesar, just a simple bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s god, and all will be better–the pressure will be gone, the fire will be extinguished, the anguish will be relieved. No longer will you be scorned by the world or hated by men. No longer will you be called a bigot or misrepresented in your views. The world will receive its own. You will enjoy a comfortable ride on the spacious road to hell. 

So I urge you not to give up. Don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking it is too late. Every rebuke that Jesus gave was followed by a call to repentance. In other words, He is calling you back to Himself. The offer is there for ‘whosoever will.’ Amen.