In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.
“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”
It is sad to see how many preachers in our days make it their business to enrich men’s heads with lofty, empty, airy notions, instead of enriching their souls with holy truths.
Fix yourself under that man’s ministry who makes it his business, his work, to enrich the soul, to win the soul, and to build up the soul; not to tickle the ear, or please the fancy. This age is full of such light, vain souls–who dislike everything but what is empty and airy.
Do not judge a minister: by his voice, nor by the multitude who follow him, nor by his affected tone, nor by his rhetoric and flashes of wit; but by the holiness, heavenliness, and spiritualness of his teaching! Many ministers are like empty orators, who have a flood of words, but a drop of matter!
Some preachers affect rhetorical strains; they seek abstrusities and love to hover and soar aloft in dark and cloudy expressions, and so shoot their arrows over their hearers’ heads, instead of bettering their hearers’ hearts.
Mirthful things in a sermon are only for men to gaze upon and admire.
He is the best preacher, not who tickles the ear–but who breaks the heart!
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power!” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
2019 was a great year for the Fight of Faith, and I am thankful to all of you who stopped by the blog. I am also thankful to Tim Challies who featured five of the articles below in his Al La Carte posts. The Fight of Faith readership increased by 410% over 2018. As a final post for the year, here are the top 10 most read Fight of Faith articles for 2019. Keep fighting the good fight of faith.
Something seemed off from the beginning. There were four of us lined up in the back of the church to help serve the Lord’s Supper. Our church is not large, so I was surprised that I did not really know the other three. I recognized them, and I knew they were members of either the youth or college group, but I could not place them.
The music began, and we started walking down the center aisle toward the pastor who was leading the service. We walked passed approximately 100 people sitting on each side of us and reached the table. The pastor proceeded with the service and handed us the elements to distribute. This was all standard fare. There would be two of us for each side of the congregation. I took the plate of bread and started down to the first row on the south side, and my partner was already missing.
I managed to make the first couple rows work by myself, thanks to accommodating church-goers. That is when I looked to the back, and my fellow server was at the last row. He handed all the elements in the trays to them and walked out leaving the congregation on our side of the church to pass around the bread and cups themselves. I proceeded to serve at the front of the church while congregants at the back continued to pass the plates through the pews working their way forward.
By the time I was at the middle of the church, most of the bread was gone, and I saw some people even sharing their own tiny cups. The other two servers did slightly better, but it was all done without reverence. I was livid. Every passion of disgust and anger in by body was turned up to ten.
When I had finished attempting to salvage the situation, and my job was done, I went to look for them. I found them sitting on the counter in the bathroom laughing and clowning around. You can bet that I laid into them with every theological argument for the importance and seriousness of the Lord’s table that has ever been made. It was all at a fever pitch, and their indifference only lengthened the lecture. In the end, I had dispensed the facts just like the elements of communion. Everything I said was true, but my anger had made a mess of it.
After a few minutes of cooling down, I went to find them to apologize for my rage, but I also wanted to reiterate what a blessing the Lord ’s Table is to us as believers. I could only find one of them, and I saw pain in his eyes. It was the pain of longing that comes from wanting to be loved and have someone be proud of him, and he had partially hidden it behind a mask of unfazed rebellion. My heart began to break.
I told him, I was sorry for the anger in my tone, but I still believed every word I had said. He said his grandmother had asked him what had happened, and he told her, “Doug is way too serious to do any good in this church, just like you had said.” I immediately felt a tinge of offense at the thought that his grandmother had said that about me, but I also knew that this was his way of striking back. That is also when the knowledge that his parents had abandoned him came flooding back to me from somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
I knew I had done right and wrong all at the same time, so I launched into my second discourse. I let him know that I realized I had said some hard things to him, and biggest problem is that he did not know me enough to know that I only wanted what is best for him. Hard words rarely ever carry any weight unless you know they are given to you from a heart of love. So, I spent a few minutes getting to know him. It was a rough morning, but when it was all said and done, we had been through something difficult together. All the ice had been broken, and we were able to speak candidly with each other; without masks.
That is when I felt the pillow on the side of my face. My bleary eyes began to open, and I saw the clock reading 2:23 p.m. My Sunday afternoon nap had come to an end. As I lay there enjoying the breeze of the ceiling fan on my skin, still feeling the passion stirring in my soul from the events of the dream, I thought, “Maybe I was a little too focused on the wrong details of communion.”
What does this have to do with following Jesus? There is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church.
If you are not willing to lose your job, you are not as good of an employee as you could be. If you are a leader in your organization and you are unwilling make decisions that could place your position in jeopardy, you will make decisions that are detrimental to your institution. I am not talking about being reckless or being manipulative by repeatedly threatening to leave. Those are major shortcomings as well. However, one of the biggest flaws of many workers is that they are more concerned about self-preservation and personal peace when it comes to their employment than what is best for the organization.
When the leaders of an organization begin to protect their positions, the organization has started down the path of a slow death. Self-preservation and personal comfort is where we all tend to begin our careers. Entry level employees usually only have one goal; make the work as easy as possible, get a paycheck, and get out of there, but as we grow, we should move beyond that to become a more responsible member of the organization. We should take ownership to contribute and take responsibility when the institution falters. However, there seems to be only a limited number of people that are able to work in a way that is not driven by self-interest.
Employees who are truly able to transform an organization have come to see the bigger picture, and they understand that the goals of the organization are more important than personal survival, ego, and securing the lightest workload possible. They recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become willing to take risks that hazard their own employment and personal peace to accomplish their goals. This does not mean that employee satisfaction is not part of the equation, but this is not a contradiction if understood correctly. A place of employment that abuses its employees is setting itself up for failure as well, and a worker that makes great decisions in that area might have to put themselves at risk to protect their colleagues.
Workers like this are often hard to understand because their actions are unconventional. They operate from a moral system rather than a political one. They will often push for change that most people in the organization do not think is necessary because things are working fine, and they do not want the risk or the extra work. The transformational employee, on the other hand, looks beyond those challenges to the greater good. In doing this, they are willing to put in the needed labor, take the heat, and pay the political costs. The bottom line is this, the people who are willing to lose their jobs for the sake of the success of the organization are usually the most valuable members of that institution.
What does this have to do with following Jesus? Besides the fact, as Christians, we should strive to be the best employees we can be, there is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church. Many local churches, big and small, often exist for self-preservation rather than the propagation of the gospel. They make decisions based on self-interest and personal gratification rather than the glory of God.
It seems that the chief end of many local churches is to exist. Maintaining the building, meeting budgets, and preserving attendance by trying to make sure the congregants have a pleasant experience so they will not leave are what drives the decisions of many church leaders. There is nothing wrong with working for these goals. They are fine as long as those aims do not become more important than the gospel and obeying the word of God.
Buildings, budgets, and pleasant experiences can all play a part in the life of a healthy church, but they are not our main objective as Christians. We are involved in the greatest calling ever; knowing God and seeking his glory. A church that will do this the best is the one that is willing to lose all of these trappings if necessary. We need to look past convention to what is truly essential for success in the kingdom of God.
Rarely is a mega-church, or even a quaint little chapel, able show the power of the gospel to the world like a church banded together by the word of God while being willing to face cultural criticism and the persecution from the world. This was clearly seen in the early church. There is no local congregation that will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God that is unwilling to be uncomfortable. Kingdom work is neither glamorous or comfortable. It involves being engaged in the difficult aspects of this world; ministering to the orphan, the widow, and the addict for example.
We are often too quick to bow to the pressure of culture in order to protect ourselves, and we are regularly unwilling to do any difficult work. When you put that in contrast with the fact that the Lord Jesus called us to be willing to die for the faith if necessary, we begin to see just how much self-interest and self-preservation has formed our gatherings.
It is easy to shake our heads at the leaders in churches like these, but if we are congregants who desire a nice experience where nothing is expected of us, we are as much a part of the problem as anyone. We are servants of Christ just as much as the leaders are. Ask yourself, when a fellow believer in your church asks you to do something like helping a shut-in, do you grumble and complain internally? Often, the thought of having to attending a prayer meeting is enough to make a church member recoil in disgust. Please know, if that is us, self-interest has become our god. We are contributing to the slow death of not only our own souls but also of our local church.
May your buildings be beautiful, may your budget be overflowing, and may your gatherings be pleasant, and may you be willing to sacrifice it all for the glory of God if necessary.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Jesus (Luke 9:23)
I find almost invariably when people come to me in a state of spiritual depression, that they are depressed because they do not know the faith as they should. They say: “I am such a miserable sinner, you do not know what I have been or what I have done.” Why do they say that to me? They do so because they have never understood what Jesus meant when He said: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The very thing they are saying in self-condemnation is the very thing that gives them the right to come to Him and be certain that He will receive them. Where there is a failure to learn and believe these things, faith is weak. So strong faith means to know them.
I am constantly having to say these things. I am constantly having to write them. I had to write a long letter on this very point to a man I had never seen. The poor man was miserable and held in bondage. Why? Because he did not see that Christ is the friend of publicans and sinners and that He came to die for such people. He was not clear about the Person, he was not clear about the work of this blessed Person. His faith was weak and the doubts where there because of that. There are many who go through life miserable and unhappy because thy do not truly understand these things. If only they did understand them they would find that their self-condemnation in itself is an earnest of their repentance and the way to their ultimate release.
In other words, the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, Christian doctrine. Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines. That is the biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of the apostles.
The antidote to depression is to have a knowledge of him, and you find that in His Word. You must take the trouble to learn it. It is difficult work, but you have to study it and give yourselves to it. The tragedy of the hour, it seems to me, is that people are far too dependent for their happiness upon [experiences]. This has been the trouble for many years in the Christian Church, and that is why so many are miserable.
Their knowledge of the Truth is defective. That, you remember, is what our Lord said to certain people who had suddenly believed on Him. He said: “If you continue in My word then are you My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Free from doubts or fears, free from depression, free from things that get you down. It is the truth that frees–the truth about Him, in His Person , in His word, in His offices, Christ as he is.
We live in a culture that is saturated with Christian sentiment. Even secularism attempts to use the name of Jesus to get what it wants. This is clearly seen when a political figure who has no fear of God quotes scripture or uses a biblical illustration.
We see it in many of the popular manifestations cultural “Christianity” It is a thin veneer without any substance. It has rejected the word of God as its authority, and it has put self on the throne. This is greatest problem with commonplace religion.
For the man or woman rooted in scripture, it does not take much to see behind the façade. This type of religiosity is covered in references to self. Personal experience, feelings, self-esteem, and self-referential misuses of the words “love” and “justice”, litter its linguistic canon.
They want a utopia, and they think they can can usher it in through political power. What they are looking for is happiness, and the they think they can find it in earthly pleasure. They are looking for glory and they think they can find it in riches and popularity. The problem is that satisfaction will never be theirs because they are looking for it in themselves and in the things of this world.
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 greatest campaign in which mankind can ever be involved: knowing God. There is no greater glory and there is no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things because there is nothing greater than God.
The problem is that the way to find this glory and joy in God is to do the exact opposite of what you think you should do. It is like being submerged under a waterfall struggling for air. The most natural thing to do is to try to swim to the surface, but you will never get there because the crashing water will keep pushing you under. The right thing to do in that moment is swim down. It is only by swimming down that the water will spit you out down stream. This counter-intuitive nature is the same in the Christian life. If you are looking for true joy, he must increase, and we must decrease.
All the world, including commonplace religion, is swimming up. 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 his sacrifice on the cross satisfy the wrath of God for our sins, and will his righteousness be counted as ours. This is the first counter-intuitive, but there are many more that fill the Christian life.
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.
Love your enemies.
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.
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.
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).
If you are a Christian, you battle with sin. It is not necessary for me to list examples of the struggles with the flesh you may have. The minute you read the title of this post, you most likely had a specific struggle in mind. You have within you both flesh and Spirit, and the two are contrary to one another. Knowing this, however, does not mean the fight will easy or that you have it all under control. Here are five truths about your fight with sin you hate to admit.
1. Some battle scars are more recent than you are comfortable acknowledging.
As Christians, we are quick to acknowledge our struggles with sin, but we prefer to talk about the battles of the past. The ones where we have seen significant victory. The problem is, you have recent battle wounds as well. The fact that the battle is on-going is not something you like to broadcast to the world.
2. You sometimes try to get as close to the flame as possible without getting burned.
No matter how much you despise the sin that so easily besets you, you still find yourself wanting to get as close to the fire as possible. You think, “I will only allow myself this much room and will draw the line here.” The problem is that every time you get close to the line, it seems to move just a little further. This tendency to push boundaries has left you, on more than one occasion, beating yourself up over going too far.
3. You sometimes wonder why you are drawn to the very thing you despise.
Every time you are deceived by the deceitfulness of sin, you wonder how, at times, you desire the very thing you hate. Like Paul, you cry out, “who will save me from this body of death?” Even when you want to do right, evil is close at hand. You know that the problem with temptation is you because deep down you still have desires that war against your soul.
4. When it comes to your growth in godliness, you thought you would be further along than you are now.
You often think back to the many times you swore it was the last time, and you set out to grow in godliness. If you have been a Christian for a long time now, you remember looking forward to this time in your life with great anticipation. You imagined you would have experienced greater sanctification than you have.
5. You wonder if you are the only one; certainly there are other Christians out there who have risen above this.
You occasionally look at other Christians and think, surely they don’t have to war with sin the way I do. They seem to be the picture of piety. When you look at them from the outside, you think, “certainly their heart does not struggle like mine.” You may even hear from someone who claims, contrary to scripture, to have stopped sinning, and you think, maybe it is true. Maybe it is just me.
What you need to know
1. You are not an anomaly because being a Christian means battling sin.
This fight is something we all face, and warfare never happens without a few wounds. The fact that sanctification is a process that will not be completed this side of eternity means that every believer, no matter how sanctified they are, still has unsanctified areas in their life. In fact, the closer you walk with Jesus, the more aware of the battle you will become. The problem is not when you feel the conflict, the problem is during those times when you do not. John Newton once asked the Lord that he might grow and found that these inward trials were part of the growth process. Temptation will continue to come as long as you live, and it can be difficult to resist, but our standing in Christ is not shaken because we encounter temptation. As John Owen once said, “When we say a tree is firmly rooted, we do not say the wind never blows upon it.”
2. You are not alone because Jesus is with you.
Christ did not go to the cross to atone for your sin and bring you forgiveness to leave you to yourself to see if you could hack it. He called you, and He will keep you. Even when He sends His rod of correction, it is His love that is dealing with you, not His wrath. His wrath was satisfied on the cross. He is faithful and just to complete the work He has begun in you. You can look back and see victories over sin in your life, and you will continue to see more. Stay close to our Savior, hide His word in your heart, and pray without ceasing. He has promised to be with you, even to the end of the age.
3. The enemy will continue to accuse you, but there is no condemnation in Christ.
The enemy will frequently tell you that you are not worthy of being a Christian. Never go for the bait because what he wants you to do at that moment is to begin to justify yourself. The minute you start listing off all your good qualities and victories over sin, he will have you right where he wants you. There are clearly victories you have experienced in Christ, and you are right to rejoice in them, but they do not make you worthy to be a Christian. When Satan tells you, you are not worthy to be a Christian; the correct response is to agree with him. Of course I am not worthy to be a Christian, no one is. I was not worthy in the past, I am not worthy now, and I will not be worthy in the future, but Jesus is worthy, and my worth is found in Him. I am counted righteous in Him. And if you ever start to believe the lie that you may have fallen beyond forgiveness, here is something you can do to snap you back into reality. Picture Jesus dying on the cross and imagine yourself walking up to Him, and try to tell Him He didn’t do enough to atone for your sins.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6
It is amazing the amount of church growth that can be accomplished in the power of the flesh. Though there are significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.
Many times, however, church growth seems to come down to thoughts like this, “If we get this program or attraction going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but have we traded the spirit of God for business acumen? Is our church only growing because we have grown skilled in organizational leadership and event promotion? Don’t get me wrong, those things are not necessarily antithetical to the ways of God. God has not called us to be inept in the ways of business and leadership. A godly elder should have knowledge in these things, but let’s be clear, a church can grow in numbers without the Spirit of God moving. To prove this, all you have to do is look at a few well attended liberal churches that have abandoned the faith.
The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.
A church where the congregants live worldly lives is not really growing, even if it is growing in size on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, and affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread while we neglect our prayer life, it does not matter how big our church is.
This also seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons. Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After they spend the entire week indifferent to God and godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen. However, when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen when we attend church. The congregants often have more influence on the spiritual state of a congregation than the pastor. This can be seen every time a Godly preacher is driven away.
True church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We do not need more programs to increase the number of people who attend and live worldly lives. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bolster attendance. The church will grow because the people will be evangelizing, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.
I have many concern about the state of the church growth movement, but this post was not aimed directly at it. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and those without them.
As we grow to be more like Christ And by the world, we are less enticed, In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving, Then of our growth, He is approving.
John Cooper, of the band Skillet, recently addressed the rash of recent prominent Christians leaving the faith. People such as Josh Harris and Marty Sampson. His words are strong and worthy of your time. You can read his entire Facebook post here.
One of his points shines a spotlight directly upon a blind spot of those leaving the faith. It is worthy of reiterating here because it exposes the hubris behind such statements and their desired continued influence over the lives of others. Cooper says the following:
“I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?’ – John Cooper
My heart breaks for those who leave the faith. My heart breaks even more for those they have injured. In the end, my prayer is that they will return to the only Savior who can save their souls, but let us not mince words, they are clouds without water puffed up with their own self-importance, blinded to their own folly.