Have you ever found yourself reading in bed at night when you suddenly come across a quote that makes it feel like the ground beneath you just shook? If so then you will be able to relate exactly to how I feel about the two excerpts below. The first is by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and co founder of Together For the Gospel alongside Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney and Ligon Duncan. Despite admitting to being the briefcase kid in high school, Al has proven himself to be no woose when it comes to taking a stand for the truth of the Bible. In the quote he touches on authentic christianity and what he says struck me because I have been thinking quite a bit recently about what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus. To be honest I am often wearied by my own hypocrisy in this area because I know that all too often I pay lip service to things that I should be passionately living out. I think of some of the things that Jesus said like “sell all your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33), “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22), and “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Unquestionably, Jesus was 110% serious about the call to follow him. Yet my western, materialistic, selfish, sinful heart all too often tries to suppress the call of Christ to fully surrender my life for the glory of God. And it really gets to me, or as we say in Northern Ireland “It does my head in”. Too often I make excuses for myself because my indwelling sinful nature is so alluring at times. During these times I don’t want to be challenged with, or rebuked by the truth. I am very comfortable with where I am in my ‘Christian’ walk thank you very much. I’m not alone though am I? We have churches full of people who want nothing more than a superficial, almost superstitious faith. Worse yet we seem to have a growing number of churches who have pastors that seem happy to tickle their audiences ears with self-help, pop psychology and comedic sermons so long as the tithes keep coming in.
Truly though, if we were to stop and examine ourselves for just 1 minute out of the 1440 minutes that make up a day, we would soon see that we fall frighteningly short of the the biblical mandate for what a Jesus follower should be. In fact it probably wouldn’t be wrong to suggest we have more in common with the Pharisees. We possess a “form of godliness but [deny] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). We love ourselves and our little ‘clubs’ more than we do God. We pat each other on the back and say well done when what we really need is a solid rebuke like Jesus gave to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mathhew 16:23). We hold on to our little unbiblical traditions and refuse to be open and listen to emerging generations. Or, if we are part of the emerging generation, we refuse to learn from the past because we are, as C.S. Lewis termed it, “Chronological snobs”. Who needs the past? They’ve had their say! Their message is outdated and irrelevant for our culture we say! En masse church, as Mohler puts it below, is becoming, or worse yet has already become, “the refuge of the faithless seeking the trappings of faith without the demands of revealed truth”.
God Deserves More
God deserves so much more than that does he not? The Bible calls us to live lives that magnify God not shrink Him. This is to be done in both word AND deed. Not one at the expense of the other. Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The Liberals and emergent church are big on these deeds but not on the preached word. They seem to follow St Francis of Assisi’s mantra to “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words”. However that stance ignores the clarion call of scripture to “Preach the Word [at all times]” (2 Tim 4:2) and only serves to undermine the fact that we are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, apart from our works. I did a word search for preach in the New Testament and it pulled up 76 passages that talk about preaching the gospel and the good news of the kingdom; 76!! How can that be ignored? Note also that Jesus says in the passage above that we “BEAR FRUIT”. A tree cannot bear fruit if it is dead. Nor can a branch bear fruit unless it is attached to the tree. Likewise we cannot bear fruit, proper fruit, fruit that is more concerned with glorifying God than it is mere social change, if we are not first joined to the tree that is Jesus Christ. But how do we become joined to the tree?! Luke records in the book of Acts,
“….when they heard this [the gospel] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38 ESV)
So by focusing on the fruit the Liberals forget the root!! They forget that the gospel is first and foremost a call to repentance and faith in the good news that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It is through believing the gospel that men and women become attached to the tree of life, Christ, which will then result in the fruit of good deeds. If the gospel is not first then what distinguishes the deeds of the Muslim from the deeds of the Christian?!
Equally as guilty though are we who deem ourselves to be evangelical conservatives. How often do we pass the homeless person on the street without even saying hello because “they are filthy and stink of piss”? We sing our lovely hymns about going and answering the call, proclaiming salvation in Jesus’ name, yet we can’t even pluck up the courage to share the gospel with our friends and neighbours because we are more concerned about offending them, than we are in glorifying God. So we leave them right there where they are; on the path to hell. We need to be careful that we do not become like the liberals and ignore the fact that we are to live it out as well as preach it (Matt 23:3, 1 John2:4-6).
How are we to live then? That brings me to my second quote. It comes from a sermon preached by John Piper. In the extract Piper asserts that it is the Christian’s duty to live a life that magnifies God. In typical Piperesque passion he says, “The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God…” I really can’t say anything more about this quote because it leaves me speechless and amazed at my total and utter dependance upon the grace of God and Jesus Christ. Read the whole quote and perhaps you will be left feeling the same.
“Spirituality is what is left when authentic Christianity is evacuated from the public square. It is the refuge of the faithless seeking the trappings of faith without the demands of revealed truth. Spirituality affirms us in our self-centeredness and soothingly tells us all is well. Authentic faith in Christ calls us out of ourselves, points us to the Cross, and summons us to follow Christ.”- Albert Mohler
“When David says, ‘I will magnify God with thanksgiving, he does not mean: ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is. He means: ‘I will make a big God begin to look as big as he really is.’ We are not called to be microscopes, but telescopes. Christians are not called to be con-men who magnify their product out of all proportion to reality, when they know the competitor’s product is far superior. There is nothing and nobody superior to God. And so the calling of those who love God is to make his greatness begin to look as great as it really is. The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God…
We are called to be telescopes: people who make the greatness of God seem as great as it really is. This is what it means for a Christian to magnify God. But you can’t magnify what you haven’t seen or what you quickly forget. Therefore, our first task is to see and to remember the greatness and goodness of God. So we pray to God, “Open the eyes of my heart,” and we preach to our souls, ‘Soul, forget not all his benefits!’
…There are only two groups of people in the world whose differences from each other are of any eternal significance: those who love to magnify God and those who love to magnify themselves. At the root of all ingratitude is the love of one’s own greatness. For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest; we are cripples leaning on the cross shaped crutch of Jesus Christ; we are paralytics living minute by minute in the iron lung of God’s mercy; we are children asleep in heaven’s stroller. Natural man hates to think of himself in these images: unworthy beneficiary, cripple, paralytic, child. They rob him of all his glory by giving it all to God. Therefore, while a man loves his own glory, and prizes his self-sufficiency, and hates to think of himself as sin-sick and helpless, he will never feel any genuine gratitude to the true God and so will never magnify God, but only himself.”