There is a commonplace religion that invites its followers to do the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. It is a religion of self-help, and it likes to go to church. We see it in many of the popular manifestations of cultural “Christianity.” It has a thin veneer of truth but lacks the substance. It gives lip service to following Jesus, but its heart is chasing the American dream.
In many cases, it is thankful that Jesus has provided forgiveness, but now that is done, it can get on with more important things. It has rejected the word of God as its authority and has replaced it with self. Putting self on the throne appeals to many because they believe it is how they will find the fulfillment they seek, but instead of nourishing their souls, it only deadens them further.
For the man or woman rooted in scripture, it does not take much to see through the façade. It thinks it can find what it wants by being the master of its destiny, so it replaces biblical truth with personal growth tactics. What it is looking for is happiness, so it replaces preaching with pop psychology. It is looking for glory, so it turns pastors into celebrities and worship leaders into headliners.
It loves to be the hero in every bible story. It is David defeating the giant. It is Joseph overcoming betrayal to see his brothers bow down to him. It is Moses leading the people out of slavery. It is Nehemiah using all of the correct business principles to build the wall and protect Jerusalem. It also loves to sing about itself. It revels in songs about overcoming, victory, and being more than conquerors. It shouts, “I can do all things through Christ,” and “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” but it replaces the spiritual and eschatological reality of those truths and applies them to worldly success and other earthly longings.
The problem is its followers will never find satisfaction because it tells them to look for it in themselves and the things of this world. Instead of waiting on the Lord to bring the holy city, adorned like a bride, down to us, it attempts to build its own city with a tower up to heaven. It will never work. Human ingenuity cannot overcome sin and the curse, no matter how much positive thinking and mental determination we direct toward them.
Besides thinking earthly pleasure, power, and popularity are the chief goals of life, it makes many stumble by appealing to their natural intuitions. Jesus taught us that the way to find what we need is to do the exact opposite of what seems natural. It is like being submerged under a waterfall struggling for air. The natural thing to do is to try to swim to the surface, but you will never get there because the crashing water will keep you down. The correct thing to do at that moment is to swim down. It is only by swimming down that the water will spit you out downstream. This counter-intuitive nature is the same in the Christian life. If you are looking for true joy, glory, and fulfillment, he must increase, and we must decrease.
All the world, including self-help religion, is swimming upward. It is trying to make itself righteous and find its glory in itself, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only hope for us is Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins. We must stop trying to justify ourselves. We need to admit our depravity instead of trying to hide it and come to Him in faith. Only when we bring our sins to him, instead of our good works, will we find that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross satisfied the wrath our sins deserved, and his righteousness is counted as ours. Bringing our sins to Jesus instead of our “good” works is the first counter-intuitive that brings us into the Christian life. It is not the only one. Many more follow, and they directly oppose much of what commonplace religion teaches us.
- It is in our weakness that he becomes strong.
- In Jesus, the last will become first.
- The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.
- It is more blessed to give than receive.
- Blessed are those who mourn.
- Lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
- The meek will inherit the earth.
- Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
- Blessed are those who suffer for Christ’s sake.
- Walk by faith, not by sight.
- Love your enemies.
- Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
When Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, he was not inviting us to a life of misery. He was calling us out of ourselves to the most extraordinary life possible: knowing God. There is no greater glory and no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth; not ourselves or the pleasure of this world. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things and will end up with nothing.
In the words of Adoniram Judson, “I beg you not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.” It will lead you to fear those who can kill the body and take away your earthly pleasures, and it will tell you to neglect him who can destroy body and soul in hell. Take heed to the words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).