2014 is here. The lists have started with various resolutions with the goal of somehow making us better. Improve at this or finish that project or live up to whatever standard we failed at in 2013.
Christians will likely go further and put a spiritual dress on it to be a better Christian than they were in 2013. More bible reading, more prayer, stronger church commitment, change that habit, less sin, more love, better relationships. Be better, do more, try harder. Strive to be a good Christian. Whew!
I don’t know about you, but it sounds exhausting. One of the reasons I’ve ceased with New Year’s resolutions is because no matter how motivated or sincere I may be at the beginning of the year, inevitably I fall off the wagon. Then the cycle repeats itself at the start of each year. It can get discouraging.
Now I’m not saying we should not have goals, not improve or tend to growth areas in our lives. I’m certainly not saying that we should be negligent or slothful about our Christian walk. But what I am saying is that I think the focus is wrong when we think that the way to improve our Christianity is create a list and turn into New Year’s resolutions to be better Christians. Continue reading
I like what M. Craig Barnes says about that. He writes,
“The restoration of Christ, often referred to as conversion, does not make us into different people but converts us back to what God designed us to be from the beginning – specifically, creatures who bear the mark of holiness. This is a progressive process through which we are changed ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3:18). But our movement through this sanctification occurs not through our own efforts at developing piety. It is only as the Holy Spirit binds us into the life of Christ that we are able to take on his holiness. Thus, our spirituality is always vicarious, since it is through this union in Christ that are made holy. He is the image of God that we bear in our lives.
The significance of this for pastoral encounters is found in the unique way we invite people to make changes in their lives. We do not peddle images of the super-Christian and tell our parishioners to try harder to attain the goal. That’s just another false image. And it will leave us only with more judgment by tossing out the not-good-enough Christian into our heap of failures. The only way out of the judgement trap is for pastors to keep pointing to the true image of the God in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, ‘and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). So with poetic irony, pastors help people to change not by talking about them, but by talking about the God revealed in Christ.” (93)
This is so much in line with what I wrote a while back Why I Do Not Teach Christian Living Principles. Somehow, this idea exists that Christians mature by giving them a list of principles to measure up to and then pointing out how they are not measuring up. This only creates condemnation or self-righteousness. Rather, we are changed into the image of Christ through identification as the Holy Spirit does his work and we respond to that work, accordingly.
When I came home the other day, I found a card stuck in my door from a local church. The church was advertising a deliverance prayer meeting. I kind of smirked. Not that I didn’t appreciate the intent behind the motives. The motives are good – addressing sin and struggles, to walk in the way of the Lord. However, the problem is that it is supposed that by bringing whatever ails us to the altar, that automatically sets our sanctification straight. This is especially true if there is some heavy emotion involved. I have heard this far too often, because of emotional altar experiences, that person has been delivered and set free.
But how do we know this? The only way to tell if a person has been delivered and set free, so to speak, is that they show it. And by delivered and set free, it typically means behavior, issues or thinking that are contrary to Scripture. I actually think the language should be revamped (what would this even mean to the unchurched?). We are already delivered and set free in Christ (Col. 1:13-14). The problem is that our Christian walk may not automatically align with this reality. Prayer is good and needed, definitely. But alignment takes time and opportunity. It takes being confronted with situations that would bring out sinful or choices.
The truth is that sanctification is a process. Growing up in Christ is a process. We don’t get there with a magic bullet of altar crying but by a transference of affections from self to Christ and a transformation of thinking that complies to His Lordship. While I do acknowledge there are times, when we are jolted out of patterns of bad behavior or thinking, for the most part it is trek through peaks, valleys, deserts, and fire. There are ups and downs, failures and victories on the path of progressive sanctification. Continue reading
As I’ve started my master’s thesis process, I’ll probably be posting time to time on thoughts that arise as I go. I’m addressing how God speaks today and making a case for him speaking sufficiently through Scripture. Of course that doesn’t negate the subjective experiences that we have but puts them in a framework. Now I know just saying that raises the hackles on some folks. But I think a lot of confusion exists because when we see God speaking to folks in Scripture is not adequately seen through the broader spectrum of his self-revelation. Anyways, like I said, more to follow.
John Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God is a staple for this work. I really liked what he said here:
Believers often wish that God revealed more to them than he has revealed in Scripture. Often, Reformed writers will respond to this need by simply telling people to read their Bible and more carefully. Charismatic writers often suggest that the troubled believer should listen for a fresh revelation from the Spirit. But both of these solutions are essentially intellectualistic. Both of them urge that we resolve our unease by seeking further propositional knowledge, either from Scripture or beyond Scripture. But Scripture itself tells us that often our need is not for more knowledge, but for spiritual growth, spiritual perception, the revelation of Ephesians 1:17. (236)
What he is getting at is our need to absolve tension of uncertainty. Whether it’s relying on the knowledge of Scripture or supposing that God speaks beyond Scripture, the quest is usually born from a need for more information thinking that will take care of whatever it is we grappling with. Why? Because uncertainty has a way of making us squirm. But maybe God wants to do something in the not knowing and use that so we turn to him with trust in the completed work of Christ.
Consider the passage that Frame cites – Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
What is the spirit of wisdom and revelation? Read in context of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:1-16, it’s concerning the Christian’s identity in Christ and what we have by virtue of that identity. This is the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer that enables to accept the truths of Scripture and be secure in this identity. By doing so, we learn to rest in Christ and being found in him (Philippians 3:9) even in the midst of uncertainty. That is the place where we grow, in the place of dependence upon him. Its a journey that is not easily resolved by more information but by transformation over time.
You’ve been in an elevator, right? You’re on one floor and you need to get to another floor. You push a button, hop in, press the floor that you want and ride up to that floor. It is not uncommon to treat Christianity like this. I think this happens anytime we create a two-tier type of Christianity: distinguishing between the “haves” and “have-nots.” The “haves” do something to press that button, which usually comes in the form of some type of prescription – do this to take you from here to there.
This can come in many forms. It’s going to the next level. Or it’s following Christ as opposed to believers who don’t really follow Christ (don’t get me started on that unwarranted distinction between Christians and disciples. You either are in union with Christ and indwelt with the Holy Spirit or you are not). Or it’s those that are Spirit-filled vs. those who aren’t Spirit-filled. Or it’s those who really go out and do big things for God vs. those who don’t. Or it’s those who make disciples vs. those who don’t…and the list goes on.
I also think there is a self-centered focus on elevator Christianity. What is most important is to do whatever is required to get to that next level for yourself. If you’re not discipling enough, or not Spirit-filled enough, or not doing big enough things for God or aren’t surrendering enough, do X, press the button and then you have sufficiently reached your goal. And that is the point of elevator Christianity. Step in, do what is necessary, to reach your goal so you won’t be like those Christians who aren’t doing x, y or z. Continue reading