I have been preparing a talk for the ladies in my church coming up after Easter and the topic is pursuing holiness. It has been very challenging so far. Mainly because it has highlighted to me how much I still have to learn and how little I really rely on God’s grace in my day-to-day life.
It has been interesting to see how churches have changed their approach to “preaching the Gospel”. There would appear to be a desire to align with the world view in many cases. Importance being given to individuals feeling comfortable and feeling good about themselves. In many ways pastors, preachers and Bible teachers have become motivational speakers, sticking to some truth but trying to make the listener go home with a warm fuzzy feeling. There is a reluctance to challenge the “normal”. Difficult topics have been avoided or glossed over from the pulpit, Watering down important topics such as sin in all its sinfulness. A fear of losing members of the congregation has resulted in a lack of boldness in spurring each other on in their faith. For some, the entertainment, social activity and interaction seems to be the centre of every event including worship. As long as it is fun they will come back is a common view. At what cost!!!
What to say about the sermon? Many believe and demand it should be more like a thought for the day… no more than 5 minutes. The excuse for this seems to be, the lack of ability to concentrate. How so? The same people that demand the sermons are as short as possible are the same ones spending hours watching sports on TV or going to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster which is 3 hours long. Maybe not at the moment due to the pandemic, but this will soon return.
There are no more Sunday Schools like I remember… the teaching of doctrines has been abandoned and many Christians go to church all their lives and are fed milk. Their faith and walk with the Lord has become shallow and they are blown here and there following the best speaker and trusting wrong teaching, unable to discern truth, or question what is being taught for themselves.
What to make of a sentence like this: “If the Bible calls it sin, your opinion doesn’t matter.” I saw that on Facebook and it made me stop and think. If this sentence makes us feel outraged, there is a problem. We have started to think like the world thinks.
Of course it is not all doom and gloom. There are good churches out there fighting against the modern view of the Gospel, where all goes and we don’t tell people they are sinful and rebels. There are many Christians who are seeking to live holy lives because they understand we serve a holy God and that is His will for our lives that we are more like Christ.
As I read about the puritans, who were actually called that because they sought to follow God closely and live separated from the world in order to please God, I asked myself if people see in my life that kind of zeal for God’s truths and for how I serve him.
Are people attracted to our churches because they are just like any other place they go to or do they see something so different and beautiful that they want to find out more? Do people befriend me because they see Jesus in me or because I am just like each one of them? Are they impacted by the way I talk, dress myself, conduct myself? Are they intrigued and slightly uncomfortable by what I stand for and believe?
Easter is in a few days time and as I think about what Jesus endured on that cross in my place, what pain, what cost he paid, I can but wonder about this grace which I will never fully understand. Grace is underserved favour. I don’t deserve it. No one does. No one can live perfectly obeying God’s commands. We are all rebels and we all want to rule our own lives, our own way. It does not help that society, schools, businesses all tell us the same: “be the person you want to be”, “be diverse and inclusive”, “write your own destiny” they say, “you deserve to be happy”. It is much better to hear that, than to hear:
” for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, emphasis mine) or 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine)
There is a problem called sin that has infected our hearts and broken the relationship between man and God and there is nothing we can do that will make it right. That is why God devised the most perfect rescue plan that could ever be conceived. He sent His only Son to live the perfect life (without sin, and perfect obedience) that we could never live and die the perfect death (which would appease His wrath and pay the penalty in full) that we deserve. This is what the Bible tells us in John 3:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (verses 16-18)
Jesus died for us and he conquered death. He rose again. His resurrection has brought us hope of eternal life and a glorious future.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
Here we should all be saying a big AMEN. What glorious truths to know and believe in. The Gospel that brings life and freedom from slavery to sin. We are forgiven and we stand righteous before God our Father not because we deserve, but because Christ died for us and rose again.
Job done. We can all go now, right? I believe in Jesus, I gave my life to Him and I recognise I need Him to be saved. I can go on living my life the way I want because Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so… goes the song. We need to pursue holiness because that is God’s will for our lives.
4 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 14-16)
Most of the New Testament is written with instructions on how to live lives that will be pleasing to God. We are supposed to be a holy people, set apart and different from the world. Made holy by God for God. We hear people talking about revival and the old days when crowds were drawn to stadiums and many heard the Gospel and turned to Christ. What we need is to preach more of the same in greater depth. We need to study the Bible with enthusiasm and passion. We need to study the easy bit of the Bible and the harder parts. We need to remind ourselves of important doctrines which will help us feel equipped to fight the heresies and false teaching which are creeping into our churches and home. We need more of Christ and the Gospel because we are still sinners. Yes and God loves us and He wants us to bring glory to His name and reflect His image, not ours. It is about his glory, not ours.
As we think about Jesus and the cross and all its significance for us as Christians, may God help us understand through his Holy Spirit the words of the old hymn:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all. ( When I Survey The Wondrous Cross. Isaac Watts)