Signs of the Times


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.

Amid today’s orgy of adulation over Michael Jackson, we should pause and remember real heroes–men and women who paid the ultimate price for this nation, but whose lives go uncelebrated.

U.S. Army Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw was one of individuals. He died on June 25th, the same day that Michael Jackson passed away. But Lieutenant Bradshaw didn’t die in a Hollywood mansion from a drug-induced heart attack. He was killed on a road in Afghanistan, when his vehicle was targeted by an improvised explosive device.

 

Read the whole article here.

This is a great parable-ish undoubtedly prophetic comedy-but-not-really-all-that-funny-given-how-pathetically-true-it-actually-is blogpost by my friend and fellow pastor Tom Spithaler.

You must go read it.  Now.

This gag article is funny – very funny.

Unfortunately, it’s also not too far removed from the realm of possibility with our current leadership (I’ll use that term for lack of a better one) in the federal government.

But it is a very funny read…

"As a non-abled person, I can’t be expected to keep up with people who have something going for them," said Mary Lou Gertz, who lost her position as a lug-nut twister at the GM plant in Flint, Mich., due to her inability to remember righty tighty, lefty loosey. "This new law should be real good for people like me." With the passage of this bill, Gertz and millions of other untalented citizens will finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Said Sen. Dick Durbin: "As a senator with no abilities, I believe the same privileges that elected officials enjoy ought to be extended to every American with no abilities. It is our duty as lawmakers to provide each and every American citizen, regardless of his or her inadequacy, with some sort of space to take up in this great nation and a good salary for doing so."

There are guys who really dig Andy Stanley.

I am emphatically not one of them.

I’ve never dug his whole “one point preaching” thing which assumes (among other things) that Christians (or at least, non-seminary-graduated-pastor-types) are idiots who need to have Biblical truth premasticated for them and spoon-fed in only the gentlest, most non-challenging way possible.

Ergh.

Ed Stetzer recently interviewed Andy on his blog (thanks for the heads-up, Brian)

Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.

Yeah.  Not one example.

Like, for instance, not Nehemiah.

Look, Andy…we don’t see very many examples of “one point preaching,” either.  And…?

V-B-V isn’t the only way to teach the Word; it is however an amazingly effective way.

Contrary to what Andy says. “That isn’t how you grow people.”

…darn.  And here I thought that people were growing just fine in expositionally focused churches and movements like Calvary Chapel, Acts 29, Harvest Bible Chapel, Johnny Mac and Grace Community, and others.  Darn those pesky facts getting in the way and blowing up a perfectly good baseless assertion!  Darn them to heck!

I honestly don’t know why anybody takes this guy seriously – oh, no, wait, I do…he’s a chief Growthinista.  For the Growthinista, apparent results in the nickels-‘n’-noses department trumps all.  Alrighty; allow me to revise and extend my remarks.  I honestly don’t know why anybody who self-identifies with one of the aforementioned expositionally focused churches and movements likes this guy.

Seriously.

Another gem from Andy:

All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life.

Oy.

Apparently, all Scripture isn’t in fact profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness; to be thoroughly equipped unto every good work, the man of God had to wait nearly 2000 years for the Lord to finally and graciously raise up Cap’n One-Point-Preachin’.

Give me multiple-point preachin’ Spurgeon any day over this character.

Again: Why does anybody take this guy seriously…?

I’m a stark-raving, frothing-at-the-mouth, rock-ribbed premillennial pretribulationist.  In a word, I am an unapologetic Dispensationalist.

It’s a very good thing, though, to read and carefully consider what others who don’t agree with your own dearly-held views.  There is much to gain and glean from the thinking of other viewpoints than your own.

In light of that, I intentionally read the works of, for instance, preterist posmillenarians like Gary DeMar.

On economic issues, Gary’s actually got some pretty good stuff.

In this article, he examines the economics of envy.  Good read.

Good article here from the Institute for Creation Research, which among other things looks at the current evangelical trend of soft-pedaling the all-important doctrine of inerrancy.

"Oh, I really don’t see it that way," he stated. "My church teaches that the Bible may be inspired, but it’s not inerrant. It’s all about man’s description of God."

I heartily agree with those who state that evangelicalism is in its twilight. Evangelicalism, ironically due to its obsession with relevance, is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  In seeking to accommodate itself to the zeitgeist, it has both consciously and unconsciously watered down the core tenets of the Scriptural faith and has become little differentiated from the moderate-to-liberal mainstream of modern Christianity.

There is a reason why most theologically paleoconservative church Statements of Faith (including CC Lakeshore’s) begin with a clear declaration along the lines of, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, verbal, plenary, confluent Word of God” or something along those lines. The reason is that without an inspired, inerrant Bible, we have no firm basis to believe in God in the first place – at least, no firm basis to believe in the God revealed in that very Bible.  It is the Bible which tells us of the Triune God, of the fall of man, of God’s work of redemption on the Cross, and of His soon-return for us at the end of the age.

And of Creation, and other bugaboo topics that theological neoconservatives really and fervently wish weren’t in the Bible, as they cause great embarrassment for them in their quest to be relevant and must be explained away rather than accepted and dealt with head-on.

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