There is no way a professional athlete could be successful if she was convinced that her team was destined to lose. There is no way a soldier in the army could be successful if he was convinced the enemy was going to triumph. Yet many Christians labor under a similar mindset, convinced that the world will only get worse before Jesus returns, convinced that Satan will win the coming battles before the coming of the Lord.
Not only is that attitude unhealthy and self-defeating. It is also unbiblical.
Allow me, then, to confront three paralyzing theological mindsets.
1. The first mindset sees every spiritual and moral setback as evidence that we are living in the final apostasy prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24.
There He said, "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matt. 24:10-12).
Like clockwork, as soon as a new, heretical teaching begins to spread, or as soon as a Christian denomination denies a fundamental doctrine, or as soon as a prominent leader falls, believers begin to say, "This is it! This is the falling away Jesus spoke of! This is the last great apostasy!"
This kind of thinking results in an attitude of resignation, of throwing in the towel, of getting into the bunker mentality where we hunker down among the faithful few until Jesus comes and rescues us. There is nothing biblical in that way of thinking.
Even if we agree that Matthew 24:10-12 applies to the end of the age (rather than to the time before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD; some would argue it applies to both periods of time), what makes us so sure that the current defection we are witnessing is that defection?
And what makes us so sure that we are living in the last generation? How many generations before us believed that very thing?
The reality is that there has been defection and apostasy and falling away and great deception in every generation from the times of Jesus until today, and the New Testament way to address these apostasies is to teach the truth with clarity, power, conviction, and patience.
The triumph of error is hardly inevitable, and even during a final time of great apostasy, the harvest will be even greater (see Revelation 7:9-17). In any event, we are called to confront error with truth, not to capitulate to it. Truth is infinitely more powerful than error.
2. The second paralyzing mindset believes that, because the last days will be marked by ever-increasing darkness and we are living in the last days, things in the world will only get worse, so there's no use fighting against it.
This, we are told, is what Paul warned about in 2 Timothy 3:1 where he wrote, "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come" (NKJV).
But did you ever ask yourself why Paul would be warning Timothy about something that wouldn't happen for at least 2,000 years? Does this make sense? And when you read Paul's description of the last days in vv. 2-5, does it sound unique to our generation, or does it describe the state of humanity throughout the generations?
If you have a Bible handy, read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and you'll immediately see three things: 1) Paul was giving Timothy practical instructions for his own life; 2) Paul's description of the evil of the last days applies to past generations as well as the present generation; and 3) Paul ended his exhortation by saying, "Avoid such people."
In other words, Paul didn't want his spiritual son to have any misconceptions about this period in which he lived, a period called the last days, referring to the time from the death and resurrection of Jesus until His return. (For more on this, see my article, "Does the Bible Really Say Things Will Only Get Worse?") And so he told him plainly that difficult days were ahead and that wicked people would continue to act wickedly, even persecuting the righteous (see 2 Timothy 3:12-13).
The key for Timothy was to stay steady and faithful, unmoved by what was around him, faithfully preaching the Word (see 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5). It remains the same for us.
What we often forget is that, according to the New Testament, these last days are also characterized by great outpouring of the Spirit and great harvest (see Acts 2:14-21), which is why Paul proclaimed that, "The night is far gone; the day is at hand" (Romans 13:12). That's why John wrote that "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8).
The reason I am so filled with hope and confidence in the Lord, despite the dark days in which we live, is because Jesus is Lord, God the Father sits enthroned as King of the universe, and His Spirit is moving powerfully through the earth.
And even without that positive outlook, when we see evil and injustice, it is our sacred duty to take action, whether that means opposing slavery in the 1800s or opposing abortion today.
We do what is right because it is right. We shine like lights because that's what light does, regardless of where we stand on the prophetic calendar.
3. The third paralyzing theological mindset believes that since everything is foreknown to God and predestined by Him, there's nothing we can do to change the future.
"What will be will be, and so there's no reason to rock the boat or risk our lives or make sacrifices for the gospel. Just chill! It's all going to work out the way God planned it."
That mentality is completely foreign to the Scriptures, and whatever the Bible does teach about divine foreknowledge and predestination, it does not teach that, a mentality more akin to fatalism than to biblical thinking.
I was a Calvinist from 1977-1982, and I have dear friends who are Calvinists, some of whom I have debated, and I can assure you that this fatalistic and paralyzing mindset is foreign to solid Calvinists too. In fact, some of the greatest prayer warriors, evangelists, missionaries, and revivalists of the last few centuries were Calvinists, believing that God has destined their prayers and their efforts to make an eternal impact.
Either way, whatever your theology might be (and whatever the Lord might and might not be doing behind the scenes), you will give account to God for your actions (or inactions). And since the Lord calls us to go make disciples of the nations, to ask Him to thrust forth laborers into the harvest, to pray that His will be done on earth as it is heaven, it behooves us to pray and to go and to obey and to serve.
As for the attitude that has fueled my spiritual fires for the last 45 years, it is expressed in the words of missionary Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) who said, "The future is as bright as the promises of God."
Jesus said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him, and He promised to be with us as we went to fulfill His mission, right up to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
That's more than enough to keep me encouraged, faith-filled, and soberly optimistic until I see Him face to face, no matter what comes my way (John 16:33; Romans 8:37-39).
I say it's high time we throw out these paralyzing theological mindsets. Do you agree?
Jesus is building His Messianic community, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Count on it.