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Revelation 22: The antidote to deconstruction of faith

Unsplash/Emily Morter
Unsplash/Emily Morter

Say the name Billy Graham and almost everyone from around the world will know of him. His ministry is regarded as one of the most influential and impactful for the cause of Christ in modern history.

Graham is renowned for being a tremendous Christian evangelist who held large-scale evangelistic meetings in stadiums and arenas. He was a spiritual advisor to presidents and world leaders, authored several books, involved in various humanitarian initiatives, and was a radio and television preacher. He was also well-known for his integrity and humility, setting the standard for so many others who proclaim the Gospel. While he was known for sticking to his convictions, he committed to interfaith dialogue with the hope of transcending denominational lines and impacting people for good from all walks of life. Few Christian leaders throughout ecclesiastical history left a lasting legacy of faith, inspiration, and transformation of hundreds of thousands of lives as Billy Graham.

Yet his grandson, Will Graham, says there was once a pivotal moment in his grandfather’s life when all of his many achievements for Christ’s sake could have been thwarted. He recounts how in the early years of Dr. Graham’s ministry he faced sizeable uncertainties and doubts.

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Dr. Graham had become the close friend of Charles Templeton, a fellow evangelist who often traveled with him in campaigns organized by Youth for Christ. Graham and Templeton, however, despite their close friendship, would end up going in different directions.

Templeton started studying at Princeton and had come to believe the Bible was flawed, and not entirely reliable. Templeton started challenging Graham’s beliefs and even exacerbated some of his discouragements. All of this shook Graham to the core, filling him with unanswerable questions, not only about theological matters but with doubts about his calling.

But a momentous turning point occurred during a visit to Forest Home, a Christian retreat center in California, where Graham had been invited to speak. While there, he devoted himself to earnestly searching the Scriptures, and praying. It was in the serene setting of Forest Home and his time alone with God that the evangelist developed a profound conviction. He acknowledged and committed himself, without reservation, to the divine authority and power of the Word of God — the Bible. Will Graham writes:

“One night at Forest Home, he walked out into the woods and set his Bible on a stump — more an altar than a pulpit — and he cried out: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck [Charles Templeton] and others are raising.’

“And then, my grandfather fell to his knees and the Holy Spirit moved in him as he said, ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word — by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired Word!’

“My granddaddy wrote in his autobiography that as he stood up his eyes stung with tears, but he felt the power and presence of God in a way he hadn’t in months. ‘A major bridge had been crossed,’ he said.”

The next day, Graham preached at Forest Home and some of his closest friends said they had never heard him preach with such authority and power. That day 400 people were said to have received Christ.

In recent years, there has been an emphasis on “faith deconstruction.” Several high-profile Christian personalities have reportedly left the faith and repudiated what they previously believed. Other professing Christians have said they too went through a period of profound doubt and wrestled with difficult questions, but the experience led to a deeper understanding and a stronger faith than before.

Someone said that sometimes God allows a period of doubt to inoculate us from a lifetime of disbelief later. It’s interesting to note what Will Graham said about the difference between Templeton and his grandfather, Billy Graham. He said that Templeton came to believe that “academia — not Jesus — was the answer to life’s problems.”

The theme of Revelation chapter 22 verses 8 through 11 provides the antidote to a complete deconstruction of faith. It underscores the importance of genuine faith and spiritual authenticity, encouraging all those who profess the faith to “worship God only” — to cultivate a deep personal relationship with God and never exalt any other, whether an angel, human, or some belief system as God’s equal or greater than him. Here is what the Bible says:

"I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said, 'No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!'"

Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

The Apostle John said that as an eyewitness, he could affirm everything recorded in the book of Revelation was completely accurate and trustworthy. John speaks in the same vein as Luke, who highlighted in his Gospel account, the careful investigation undertaken by himself and others who were eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Jesus’s life. In the book of Acts, chapters 2, 3, and 10, it says that the apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ and the miracles he performed. Peter in his first epistle emphasized the apostles’ firsthand experience of the Savior’s majesty, reinforcing the authenticity of their testimonies.

Eyewitness testimony can be necessary to prove truth claims. It’s highly valuable in a court of law, particularly in trials where a person’s life is on the line. In the book of Revelation, the lives of millions are on the line and the apostle John assures everyone his words are based on what he saw with his own eyes.

Sin is a powerful force in life. Every Christian knows the experience of sinning, then repenting of it, but later falling back into the same offense. In chapter 19 and verse 10 of Revelation, it’s recorded that John bowed before an angel in worship and was rebuked by the angel not to do that, but to worship the Lord only. But in verse 8 of chapter 22, John repeats the same sin! How thankful we should be that God is not begrudging in granting his forgiveness many times over.

Not long ago, Pope Francis gave a homily at St. Pius V. Parish in Rome and said something that every Christian should always remember:

“The God of mercy; he does not tire of forgiving. We are the ones who tire in asking for forgiveness, but He does not tire.”

Oh, how wonderfully true! Where would be if this were not the case? We would have no hope in this life or the next.

When John bows down in worship to the angel in chapter 22, he is instructed for a second time: “Worship only God” (vs. 9).  The angel’s censure echoes the first of the Lord’s Ten Commandments: “You must not have any other gods but me” (Exodus 20: 3), meaning we must not pay homage or give allegiance to anyone or anything more than God.

John A. Broadus, once the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote:

“The German philosopher, [Immanuel] Kant, probably the greatest philosopher of modern times, said: ‘There are two things that always awaken in me, when I contemplate them, the sentiment of the sublime. They are the starry heavens and the moral nature of man.’

“Oh! God made them both, and all there is of the sublime in either or in both is but a dim, poor reflection of the glory of him who made them. Whatever there is in this world that is suited to lift up men’s souls at all ought to lift them towards God.

“[T]he idea of God subordinates to itself all that is great … More than that is true. I repeat, all that exalts our souls ought to lift them towards God.”

Genuine faith requires that everything in life be subordinate to God. Recognition of this first principle of authentic spiritual life mandates every doubt, fear, and anxiety secondary to him. There are many matters about God, his Word, and complex issues of experience that can not only be difficult to understand, but despite our best efforts to comprehend them, they allude us. Nevertheless, we must lean on God still, trusting him implicitly. We must cling to him when nothing seems to make sense and we are tempted to conclude he either doesn’t exist or he’s indifferent to our circumstances.

The Bible admonishes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). This is the essence of what it means to “worship only God.”

Worshipping only God means prioritizing one’s relationship with him above material possessions, personal desires, romantic partners, family members and friends, power and influence, entertainment and pleasure, political ideologies, philosophical beliefs, cultural norms, spiritual practices that detract from the one true God as revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Scriptures.

When the prophet Daniel received his message from God about the future, he was told, “Keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4).  But John was instructed to do just the opposite, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near” (v. 10).

Daniel’s vision was for a later time and sealing it would preserve its integrity until its appointed season. In contrast, the events revealed in John’s vision were imminent, indicating that the time of their fulfillment would begin to unfold and people desperately needed to know about them so they could prepare their hearts and lives accordingly.

The book of Revelation describes many primary events that will occur during the apocalypse. There will be wars, famines, natural disasters, calamities such as hail and fire, a mountain (perhaps an incredible meteorite) cast into the sea, the poisoning of both salt and fresh waters, plagues of painful sores, scorching heat, intense darkness, earthquakes, the return of Jesus Christ, Judgment Day, and the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

Unfortunately, too many professing Christians avoid the study of Revelation because much of it seems enigmatic and mysterious to them. Many pulpits won’t take it up. Yet a careful study of Revelation is like someone being given insider trading tips for the stock market. It’s exceedingly profitable for a virtuous, meaningful, blessed life, and unlike insider trading, it’s perfectly legal. In fact, it’s encouraged.

When these events in the world start happening (and it seems several have already started), most people will be blindly groping their way through the unknown, baffled by what’s going on. However, God’s people who have embraced the prophecies of this book will be able to navigate the times.

The primary themes of Revelation are to prepare, believe and obey, endure persecution, and be encouraged because your faith and works will surely be rewarded. The future may hold the worst of times, but it also promises the best of times.

But perhaps one of the most ominous messages of the book of Revelation is verse 11, which reads:

“Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

This passage has been debated extensively, but it isn’t difficult to interpret actually. It is a warning that there is an expiration date on faith. If faith is not exercised in time, it will be too late, and whatever the state of one’s soul is outside of a right relationship with God, is the way that person will remain throughout eternity.

The Scottish New Testament teacher and profound scholar, William Barclay, says of this verse:

“There comes a time when it’s too late to change. In Daniel we read: ‘The wicked shall do wickedly’ (Daniel 12:10). As Ezekiel had it: ‘He that will hear, let him hear; and he that will refuse to hear, let him refuse’ (Ezekiel 3:27). A man can so long refuse the way of Christ that in the end he cannot take it.”

Perhaps the worst part about Hell will not be the pains of hellfire, whether the fire is literal or not. Perhaps the most torturous aspect of hell will be that its inhabitants are forever stuck with their unsatisfying desires, bitterness, hardness of heart, hatred, unforgiveness, emptiness, misguided and perverted sense of morality, lack of peace, and the futility of lives not directed by a regenerate heart purified by faith (without faith is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6) but instead driven by ego-centric motives and not for the glory of God.

Only someone who has been born-again can live in a way that pleases God (John 3:3-7). Only someone who has become a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) can live a life characterized by righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God.

It’s not that the unsaved person doesn’t have enough good works to save them, it’s that they don’t have any at all. In Romans 3:10-12, the apostle Paul emphasized the bleak spiritual condition of the unregenerate, saying: 

“No one is righteous — not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”

It doesn’t matter how much an individual may think of themselves as a good and virtuous person, or how much they may esteem another as being good, God has a higher standard. To be good is to do what God commands — to obey his laws from a heart made anew through faith and the regenerative work of his Spirit.

The Bible says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

An illustration of this would be the pirates who operated along the coast of my home state of North Carolina during the colonial period. The region was known for its treacherous waters and hidden inlets, making it ideal for pirate activity. Pirates such as Blackbeard were notorious for their raiding of ships and barbarous acts.

Nevertheless, if we were to look closely at their lives, we might find some noble and commendable things. They might have been kind to their women and cared for their children. They might have given generously to the poor from their treasures. They might have had a strong work ethic, planting and raising crops to feed themselves, and their families. Yet, every seed they planted, each ear of corn they harvested, and every shilling they gave to the impoverished was part of their labors to continue in willful rebellion against the United States. Therefore, they were guilty and they had nothing by which to commend themselves to the United States government, they could only accept its terms of surrender.

And so it is for everyone outside of Christ. God calls on us to stop resisting and surrender to his sovereignty. Conversion, a change of mind, heart and will, starts the moment an individual surrenders to Christ.

This transformation of life is not something that can come through human effort or moral striving, but it’s the result of an inner change wrought by the Holy Spirit in the heart. By being born again and becoming a new creation in Christ, individuals are empowered to walk in the power of God’s Spirit, enabled to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The redeemed are equipped to live out God’s purposes, glorify him in their lives, and fulfill the mission to which he has called them.

What fruitless and wasted lives are those who never experienced the new birth! The lives of those who don’t know Christ’s saving power are spiritually unfit for anything but to ultimately be thrown into God’s cosmic garbage can, with no hope of changing, no hope of ever being the person God intended them to be, and no hope of ever possessing godly character.

But those who come to know the Lord are not only declared righteous but can increase in righteousness from one level of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18).

“Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

God’s prophetic strategy is starting to manifest.

Doubt sees the obstacles,
Faith sees the way!
Doubt sees the darkest night.
Faith sees the day!
Doubt dreads to take a step.
Faith soars on high!
Doubt questions, “Who believes?”
Faith answers, “I!”

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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