God protects Christians facing contemporary turmoil and troubles just as He protected the apostle Paul in the first century, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said in his address to the SBC Executive Committee February 19, 2018, in Nashville.
In the months before he spoke, a gunman slaughtered twenty-six people attending worship service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on the heels of a massacre that killed fifty-eight concertgoers and injured five hundred more at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas. More recently, a teenage student who had been expelled from a Florida high school returned, killed seventeen students and teachers, and wounded fourteen others, although Gaines didn’t mention any specific tragedies.
“In light of everything that has happened and is happening in our nation and our world, you have to ask yourself does God really protect people,” Gaines said. “Well He does, but how does that work?”
Gaines’s sermon during the first plenary session of the SBC EC meeting was drawn from Acts 23, where God encouraged Paul and protected him from certain death after he had been taken from the Temple and beaten by Jews who objected to his ministry.
“The Apostle Paul needed protection,” Gaines said. “Everywhere he went, there would be a revival and a riot,” usually simultaneously.
God Protects Christians from Past Sinful Deeds
Pointing to Acts 23:1—I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day—Gaines asked “How could Paul say such a thing? Had he forgotten what he had done?”
Recounting Paul’s persecution of the early church (Acts 8) and citing Paul’s admission of perpetrating such persecution (Acts 22), Gaines noted that “[Paul] was not sinless.”
“How can he say this? It’s very simple. He had repented of his sins and Jesus had forgiven him,” Gaines, who also serves as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, said. “Jesus’s blood and Jesus’s righteousness protected Paul from his sinful past,” he explained.
“The only way to have a clear conscience is to have a cleansed conscience,” he said. “But once you have a cleansed conscience, aren’t you grateful that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin?”
Gaines observed that most pastors preach to people every Sunday who are “getting beat up every day by the devil by things they have repented of.”
He exhorted EC members, staff, SBC entity leaders, state convention leaders, spouses, and other guests to be encouraged by God’s protection and to resist the devil’s temptations and accusations.
“If you have repented of your sins, if you have forsaken your sins, and you’re still feeling beat up, that is not conviction from the Lord,” he said. “That is condemnation from the devil. . . .
“Jesus Christ sets us free and forgives us when we have repented of our past sins,” he said.
Further, when we resist the devil, he has to flee, Gaines said. “The order is clear—submit to God, resist the devil, he flees.”
He acknowledged that some people choke on the words “resist the devil,” choosing instead to ignore Satan’s schemes.
God Protects Christians from Psychological Discouragement
Pastors who are not being harassed by Satan can be assured that people in their congregations are suffering, Gaines said.
Imagining some of the lies Satan may have used on Paul—things like “You’re a failure. You’ll never get out of this jail alive. You’ll never preach again. You’re washed up. You’re too old. Your ministry is over.”—Gaines noted that such psychological discouragement is one of Satan’s favorite tactics.
“All Paul wanted to do was to take the Gospel to people who had never heard. Instead, he is in jail,” he said.
It is noteworthy that in the midst of this psychological warfare from the devil, Jesus showed up and stood by Paul, Gaines said.
He speculated what Jesus may have said to Paul to counteract the accusations of the devil:
- I’ve seen you on those missionary journeys.
- I’ve seen you being beaten.
- I saw you and Silas there at Philippi singing hymns at midnight with your backs bleeding.
- I saw you when you rebuked those demons.
- I saw you when you were praying and no one else saw you.
- I want you to know, son, I saw you.
“Discouragement is when courage leaves you,” he said. “The Bible says over and over, ‘take courage’—you have to take it by faith!”
God Protects Christians from Physical Danger
Being protected by the Lord from physical danger does not mean Christians will not experience troubles and tragedy, Gaines said.
“But I want to give you a word of promise from the Scripture: If you’re living for Jesus Christ, if you love the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s not over on this earth until God says it’s over.”
“God will protect you from physical danger until its time for you to go home if you’re living for Him,” he said.
Gaines listed ways God’s protection is on full display in this story—God placed Paul’s nephew in the right place at the right time to expose a plot to kill Paul; He prompted governmental leaders to provide a protective detail of soldiers and safe passage for Paul; He sent Paul to Rome to share the Gospel; and, He had Rome pay for the trip!
“Do you want the SBC to look like the Book of Acts, or will we settle for less?” Gaines asked.
“Dare we operate in God’s power instead of our power? Do you want to see the world turned upside down? Are you tired of seeing what man can do?” he asked.
Gaines closed by encouraging Southern Baptists to repent of their sins, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and walk courageously in God’s presence.
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press and is a member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This article first appeared in Baptist Press. SBC LIFE staff contributed to this report.