Culture


There seems to be a creeping, pervading problem in American Christianity which infects many if not most sectors of the church, and which proves, in my opinion, to be very problematic.

On the one hand, you have an attitude of defeatism, where believers are fixated on their present struggles, despairing of their frailties, and overall hamstrung in their spiritual lives by an over realization of their persistent sinfulness.  These poor saints really do love the Lord, really do want to live lives pleasing to Him, really do want to see Him lifted high…but feel very deeply and very powerfully that they are completely disqualified from ever seeing Him glorified in their lives, convinced that He’s only tolerating them because He promised to take “whomsoever will,” and that if He would have thought that one through a bit more before saying it, He would have added the proviso, “except for that guy.  I mean, come on…just look at him.  Can you believe he calls himself a Christian?  Hey, Mike, Gabe…I’m a bit busy over here in the galactic core taking care of Sagittarius A* – can you just reach down and zap him for Me real quick in retaliation for his even trying to ask Me into his life, eh?  Thanks, guys.”

The Christian life for these poor saints is not a joy, it is a misery.  True, it’s less a misery than knowing for sure that they’re lost, still dead in their sins back in the world; but it’s a drudgery nonetheless because they are never sure that God has really forgiven them, that He’s really accepted them, and that He really delights in them.  They get it that the way of the transgressor is hard, but that’s the entire problem for them – because they are painfully aware of their own persistent sinfulness, they never really draw into God, never really experience the peace of God, and so when hard things inevitably come into their lives, they become increasingly convinced that this is simply further proof that they may just in fact still be reprobate, may in fact not truly be saved – that they may in fact still be transgressors in the essential sense.  All of which leads to spiritual melancholy – and outright depression.

These poor saints are trapped by defeatism, caused by an over-focus on their practice rather than their position.  Their hearts and eyes are firmly fixed on the fact that they are still mired in their own flesh, that they continue to live less than God’s best, that they continue to sin.  And though most wouldn’t say that their salvation is in any way dependent upon their performance, though most readily admit that the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is based entirely on Jesus’ FINISHED work for them on the cross, in practice they really aren’t sure of it at some deep, perhaps even subliminal level.  They want to draw near to God, they want to experience His grace and His peace…but they are so very painfully aware that they very much do not deserve it that they are hindered from ever really resting in His finished work for them.

Their symptoms point to a single diagnosis:  Their focus is on their practice, to the downplaying or outright ignoring of their position.  The indicated treatment: meditating on what the Bible says of who they are and where they are in Christ, meditating on the fact that Jesus is infinitely mightier than their own fallenness.  Jesus has conquered their sin at the Cross, and when He took the cup of the Father’s wrath for their sin, He drained it to the dregs, so that there is nothing left for them to atone for once they have called on Him for mercy.

And that yes, it “took” the first time they asked Jesus to forgive them.  No, they’re not on probation.  Yes, I’m really, really sure.  Here’s Ephesians; let’s study that deeply for a while, eh?

triumphOn the other side of the problem, however, you find the equal-but-opposite problem – and it can be even more of a doozy than the first.  On that side of the equation, you have a pervasive (and, quite honestly, very odiously arrogant) attitude of triumphalism.  The problem here is an over-focus on position, to the downplaying or outright ignoring or denying of practice.

Here on the Glorious West Coast of Michgan, I deal with a lot of saints who struggle powerfully with spiritual defeatism.   I have had to continually remind these precious saints that the issue was decided at the Cross, and that they need to take their eyes off their own selves and turn them to Jesus and His finished work for them.I have recently, however, been seeing an uptick in the instance of Christians who are walking in an obnoxious species of triumphalism.  Whereas the defeatist Christian never fully experiences the awesome peace and grace of God because of their awareness of and over-focus on their own frailty, the triumphalist insists that no, he is not acting in the flesh, because He is hidden in Christ, so back off, bub…while he is, in fact, very much operating in the flesh.

For these saints, the very deep and abiding problem is that they never come to terms with the fact that they are still prone to sin.  Sure, they admit that they struggle, that they make mistakes, that they still sin in a very general sense…but it’s not as bad as all that, you see, because they are saints, after all.  What this leads to is a tendency to be very quick to dispense correction to others…but to be invincibly closed to receiving correction themselves.

The defeatist saint is crippled with stunted spiritual growth due to an inability to enter into the rest of the Lord; the triumphalist saint is crippled with stunted spiritual growth due to an inability to see their own very real fallibility, and therefore an inability ex post facto to deal with their flesh – since what they deny has any real, pervasive force they likewise deny really needs to be dealt with.

Here’s how that manifests:  A triumphalist saint walks in pride, is critical of others, is lax with regard to personal holiness, but claims to be mature, has a vaunted view of his own spirituality, and feels unduly entitled to the deference which is due them their position, absent any real substantive reason for said deference (and, in fact, in the presence of real, substantive reasons for withholding such).

A defeatist wearily toils under the impossible burden of self-condemnation, and any critique of his walk with the Lord tends simply to confirm that self-condemnation and increase his burden.  A triumphalist will critique you on your walk with the Lord, but will react very badly when you return the favor.

We came face-to-face with this phenomenon recently; an individual that my lovely and gracious wife and I are peripherally familiar with acted in a very inappropriate manner and needed to be rebuked, which set off the proverbial fireworks.  When confronted with the inconsistency of his claim to be a godly, mature spiritual leader, he immediately responded that he was highly offended that his godly, mature spirituality would ever be called into question – he was, after all, filled with the Spirit, called holy and a saint, and had been given victory in Jesus.

He could not see – could not see – the gross inconsistency between his position and his practice…and therefore could not see that that very dissonance is something that needs to be addressed.

As Martin Luther’s famous restating of James’ great maxim puts it:

We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.

The triumphalist would likely never consciously contradict Luther…but his actions and attitudes stand in as sufficient contradiction nonetheless.

The defeatist cannot bring himself to claim any of the blessings of God for his life, so wracked with guilt as he is.  The triumphalist claims those blessings and more, demands them even due to his position, and does so while subtly or flagrantly living contrary to the God who desires in all cases to bestow such blessings.  He feels no particular need to live according to the responsibilities of his position, while seeking to enjoy the rights and privileges of it.

In both cases, true spiritual growth is greatly hindered, true spiritual maturity is denied, true fellowship with God and man remains unrealized.

The answer to both extremes is a remarkably simple one:  To realize both my position and my practice matter, to acknowledge that my standing before the Lord is wholly dependent upon my position, and the Spirit’s great work in my life this side of the veil isn’t so much to bestow upon me His spectacular gifts of prophecy, healing, and tongues (though He obviously does that), but rather more so to incrementally bring my practice into harmony with my position, and that the two sides to the same issue are utterly inseparable.

To the defeatist, the Bible’s encouragement is to fully trust in Christ and His finished work for you.  Your standing before God, and His favor towards you, is not in the least measure based on your performance, but on your simply trusting in that finished work.  You are secure in Jesus, because He carried your sin on His Person to the hill of Calvary, all of it, suffered the full and unmediated wrath of the Father for that sin, and forever secured your salvation and right standing with God.  He did all of this alone, and He did it infallibly.  You cannot ever improve on His finished work by your penitence, your self-improvement, or your anything; He did it all, He paid it all, and now in return for your simple faith He gives you all.  Enter into the rest and joy of your Lord, for this is His great desire, and this is what pleases Him, not your doomed efforts at reformation.  Your simple, child-like faith in His mercy and grace won for you at the Cross, and nothing else.  As the hymn of the faith says:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Therefore, you can rebuke the whisper of the enemy in your heart which says that the Father is displeased with you, that you do not measure up, that you are utterly unworthy of the least of His mercies.  With the exception of the first part, the rest is all true!  And so what?  Even so, God is forever pleased with you, because of Jesus, and since you are hidden in Him, and He does measure up, and He is worthy, so are you.

Don’t rest on how you feel, rest on what He says!

Don’t wait until you “get”  it or “understand” it – you never will!  Instead, rejoice in it by faith – which is the very principle by which we are called to live in the first place, not by merit or performance.  Simply faith!

To the triumphalist, the Bible’s admonition is to remember that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble – and that the essence of humility is to have a right and sober view of oneself.

Which includes the concept of not thinking of oneself more highly than he ought to think, in fact, of thinking of others as as being better than oneself.

Paul puts it like this:

Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Understand also, dear trumphalist, that although it is indeed true that your standing before God isn’t based on your performance, your life still matters to God, and He expects you to live it for Him – which includes the idea of daily crucifying your flesh…which in turn directly implies that your flesh requires daily crucifying!  Keep in mind that Romans 7 appears before Romans 8 – by design, not simply by logical necessity.  The same Apostle who speaks in the present tense and includes himself in the triumphs and glories of the eight chapter, speaks in the present tense and includes himself in the struggles and setbacks of the seventh chapter.  John, agreeing with Paul, in the same epistle in which he declares that the true believer cannot {continue in} sin, also is very painfully clear that the believer can never be completely free of sin this side of the veil, and must determine to struggle against sin.

Therefore, you must be open to the same correction you are quick to apply to others.

You must recognize that though what you do does not save you, your salvation necessarily changes what you do.  Yes, you are blessed beyond the curse because of Jesus, but you are supposed to, therefore, live in real blessing, not simply demand it.  Yes, you are eternally righteous in Jesus; therefore, live like it.  Yes, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; therefore, give evidence of that sealing by a life lived in humble joy before God and man.

As Martin Luther has said:

The true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.

…which is really another way to restate James:

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Both Christian defeatism and Christian triumphalism are extremes of Christian thinking and attitude which are combatted by a proper perspective:  My position is eternally secure in Christ, my standing with God is based on His finished work, and so my practice, which does not determine my standing, is however daily to be brought more and more in line with that exalted position, by the grace and working of the Spirit.

Friend and fellow-pastor Tom Spithaler discusses Christian freedom here.

Interesting article here by Harry Jackson:

All too often, both the press and politicians view the African-American community as a monolithic group that will go wherever the cultural winds blow them. This is not true.We want to express our concerns and be heard. The following letter is an attempt to encourage the president to consider our viewpoint on the redefinition of marriage.

Same-sex marriage is not a civil right. The laws enacted by Congress during a century of struggle for equal rights for African-Americans were intended to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, not on the basis of an individual’s sexual preferences or personal behavior.

Many of the people we speak for felt that your disparaging statements during the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot were directed at them. Some of the people with ‘worn out arguments and old attitudes’ are not bigots or homophobes; they are our cultural elders, who are rightfully saying, ‘Don’t tear down a fence until you understand why it’s there.’ Recent studies show that there is a resurgence of hope about marriage among the young people of this generation. Mr. President, let’s keep hope alive.

We also stated that the California Proposition 8 votes amending the state’s constitution to protect marriage marked the beginning of a new era in American politics. For the first time in recent history, black and Hispanic voters (predominately Christians) voted for President Obama and simultaneously voted against the Democratic power structure on this social issue. In light of this phenomenon occurring simultaneously within the black and Hispanic communities, we respectfully warned the president that hooking his political wagon too closely to the gay marriage bandwagon could precipitously erode public confidence in his administration.

Very interesting read.

Perez Hilton, who came down on Carrie Prejean for her answer during the recent Miss Amerca pageant, apparently came unglued when someone else he’d…ah…commented on didn’t take kindly to it.  Per Hilton, no human being should ever be physically assaulted…but apparently verbal and emotional assault is quite copasetic-kosher-keen.

Hilton has – until this incident – been the voice for the “gay” community.  It is therefore the very height of irony that:

After Perez Hilton’s slur-laden reaction to an alleged assault by the manager of the Black Eyed Peas, even former allies of the celebrity blogger have turned against him.

Officials at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have called on Hilton to apologize for the "vulgar anti-gay slurs" he made in a video following a confrontation with manager Liborio Molina.

If this situation doesn’t perfectly exemplify “irony,” I really don’t know what does

The American’s Creed is the official creed of the United States of America. It was written in 1917 by William Tyler Page as an entry into a patriotic contest. It was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives April, 3 of the next year.

I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.[1]

From the Wikipedia entry, The American’s Creed.

I wonder what our nation would be like a generation from now if this Creed was inculcated into our schoolchildren as well as the more conventional Pledge…?

The Rev. Jason Stellman, an erstwhile Calvary Chapel church planter and contributor to The Blog Of Which We Do Not Speak and current minister in good standing with the Presbyterian Church in America, has written a short but very spot-on critique of the whole “we gotta contextualize the Gospel” mindset here.

Good response here to Chris Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great.

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