Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
*To self-realize is to become who you want to become through mental envisionment.
I recently came across an ‘interesting’ presentation of the Gospel. (Sadly it is all too common as a bit of research revealed and common knowledge attests). It may be said to be a presentation of the ‘self-realized Gospel.’ It goes something like this:
[after a list of questions, including “Do you believe that Jesus is your lamb?”]
“Did you give the right answers to these questions? Do you believe your answers to be true? If so, then the Bible says Jesus has paid the punishment for your sin. He is your Saviour. You will never have to be afraid of the Second Death or the Lake of Fire…”
[then it adds there is “one more important thing to say” and provides what it calls a thank you prayer or a type of sinner’s pray]
Simpler versions of this would include ‘Jesus died for you, you just need to believe that to be saved’ or ‘God is love, you just need to accept His love to be saved,’ etc.
I have no doubt many who put forward this sort of message are well-intentioned. There is certainly much orthodox truth in what they say. There is belief that we must confess to be true in order to be saved (our sinfulness, Jesus as Saviour, His death and resurrection, being the most basic). The shortcoming is ‘what must I do to be saved?’ It is not to passively give mental assent to something. It is not to rely on your own work of mental understanding. It is not presumptuous.
This message is put forward and then we wonder why people don’t change or fall away—they’ve never believed! This message may have become popularized because of self-realization in broader culture (eastern religions), New Thought/Word of Faith, making the Gospel more palatable to a non-Christian public and doctrinal illiteracy. Whatever the reason, it sadly isn’t the Gospel.
We know this is not the Gospel by knowing the Gospel itself and also by knowing heresy.
The Gospel in the Opening of Acts
“Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19–20a)
The self-realized Gospel may be considered as a sub-form of Socinianism. Apart from holding some very unorthodox views, Socinius (1539–1604) taught that one is saved merely through mental assent to certain doctrines. While the self-actualized Gospel is often very orthodox it shares this ‘assenting’ in common. But even the demons believe, James tells us, but they are not saved!
Socinianism in this broad sense is alive and well, embraced by many (like one I spoke to yesterday, last week, people who sit in the pews, the wider nominal Christian public).
In conclusion, a self-realized Gospel relies on self and mental assent. The Gospel comes with empty hands and relies completely on Jesus. It is a declaration that calls sinners to actively repent and believe. We repent, feeling sorrow for our sins, turning from them to Jesus. We believe, meaning we trust in Jesus to save us and cry out to Him for mercy.
So let us help each other more clearly share the Gospel and may many be saved by it.
I recently had a fascinating conversation. It went like this.
I was chatting with some relatives. The subject was about something very old that had been refurbished. I made the remark, “It will last for another X years or until the Lord returns.” “That is a very odd statement,” came the reply, “I’ve never heard anyone say that before. What do you mean by that?” “It is a common Christian saying,” I replied simply. “I’ve never heard anyone say it,” came the reply from the person who has a Catholic background, “What do you mean by that?” Now, knowing the person would at least be familiar with the Apostles Creed, I said/cited, “Well, the Apostles Creed says Jesus will ‘come again, to judge the living and the dead.’” Rather than provoking more conversation this resulted in the person saying, “Ok, Chris, let’s stop being religious.” (Though I know they had been struck even by this truth).
Behind the surface discomfort with “religion” this individual was unnerved by at least 2 things: Jesus’ coming judgement, and [related] their own mortality.
The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death” (both physical and eternal) (Ro 6:23a).
Jesus' return, which is a glorious prospect to the believer, is a terror to the unbeliever, because they are ill prepared to meet the Judge.
Death is likewise a haunt because it foils our pride that believes we are immortal and ushers in Judgement.
People fear death and judgement. (And they mock us for reminding them of their deepest fear. However, when they do their conscience has been pricked and we need to pray for them).
The good news is this person, and the many unbelievers who live under this tumultuous burden, may have peace if they believe in the Gospel. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (Those who have become recipients of the love of God through faith in Jesus).
May they stop putting off the thought, seeking to suppress the reality, and repent and trust in Jesus today.
(We recently heard of Paul's biography and testimony in Philippians 1 and were also encouraged by a visiting evangelist to use our testimony as a means of sharing the Gospel with others. This is my testimony. What is yours?).
I was born and raised in a nominal Christian family. Such nominalism, however, did not prevent the Holy Spirit preparing my heart and from hearing and responding to the Gospel. From as young as I remember I cannot recall not knowing that God existed (c.f. Ps 22:10b). Likewise, I knew that we should do what was right in His eyes. For example, around 5 years of age, my parents stopped going to church one summer. I knew this was morally wrong and so we began going to church again in the fall because I insisted. Going to church and Sunday School established many of the basics of the Faith in my life. I even stopped going to Sunday School at a very young age so that I could stay up and listen to the sermon. But belief in God, worship and good morals is not the same as believing in the Gospel; that’s a lesson that a paper clip taught me. Yes, a paperclip! One day I accompanied my father to Sketchley’s Dry Cleaners to pick up his uniform. At the counter there was small container of paper clips. When no one was looking I stole one. I broke the 9th commandment. As we walked back to the truck I felt so miserable for what I had done that I tossed that paper clip into the grass along the sidewalk. Yet, my conscience continued to convict me that I had not only sinned but was a sinner. Then Pastor Fehr, who was converted wonderfully during WWII, invited anyone from the church who might be interested in Baptism to attend a series of classes on what it meant to become a Christian and how Baptism was the ordinance to express this. You didn’t have to be a Christian to attend but could attend to explore these matters. Very simply in those classes Pastor Fehr shared from the Bible of how Jesus was sent to die for sinners and that if we repent and trust in Him Jesus would forgive our sins and grant us new life. That was enough, I did not need much convincing. I believed. Upon profession of faith I was baptized at an evening service on the Lord’s Day, December 11, 1994. I was 9 years old. Since that time God’s persevering grace kept me from straying too far from following Jesus, even during my teenage years. I wasn’t perfect but was spared many youthful sins. I continued to grow in the Faith, in a knowledge of the Scriptures, in a reliance on the Holy Spirit, all while humbly proclaiming, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour.”
My testimony is that simple and all of this took place when I was very young. Many Christians consider it a great privilege to be led to Christ through some type of “Damascus road experience” after having blatantly pursued a life of sin. Certainly there is great grace in these conversions, but God’s grace also works in other ways, including my experience. In the parable about of the vineyard workers from Matthew 20 these ‘Damascus road’ conversions would be those perhaps hired at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Responding to God’s providential care and grace at a young age you might say that I was a worker called “early in the morning.” Though the attitude of the early workers is portrayed negatively, in practicality it is a blessing to be called early and it is a privilege to know Jesus from a young age and have longer to get to know Him. I count it as God’s wonderful grace that I was positioned in a place where I could respond to the Gospel early to know and follow Jesus.
In a recent blog I used those who regularly attend, or are part of a church, to discern the true number of Christians in Canada. The number I came up with was far lower than the 63.2% who identify as Christian sitting in at 3%.
What of those other 60%? Well I’ll allow their perseverance and the Judge to verify the genuineness of their faith but many of them may be what are known as “the Dones” (or even Secular Christians). The Dones are those who are done with the Church (or “organized Christianity”) but positively affirm belief in God, Jesus as the Saviour, angels, prayer, the support they feel they receive from their faith, the importance of being spiritual and a morally good person, loving their neighbour, etc.
Speaking with Dones reveals a number of reasons why they’re done with church. We need to listen to see where they are at (Prov 20:5). Often we should sympathize with their reasons, though we will want to encourage them in another direction. Sometimes we may need to speak the truth in grace into their faulty notions, and to do so as winsomely as possible.
Why did these people become “done”? The reasons vary as to the individual stories but a number of general observations could be noted: 1) they had a bad experience with “the church,” 2) the hypocrisy in “the church,” 3) they were hurt or felt they were not supported in some way, 4) post-modernism- the rejection of institutions, 5) individualism- I can be “spiritual” by myself with no need of public worship or corporate Christianity, 6) acedia (that is spiritual laziness)- I don’t feel like going (or I have other things I could be doing), and that leads to 7) confused priorities. We could probably think of some others. Many of these are real reasons for being disgruntled with the church.
Let’s address some of these.
Finally after we’ve listened and trouble-shooted all of these potential hangups with the Done we need to discern with them whether they are a Christian or a “Christian.” If they are not a true Christian these potential reasons for being “done” are eclipsed by their need of the Gospel. When we know and seek Jesus everything else falls into place, as we become undone.
We live in a changing culture. It isn’t changing from Christian to post-Christian (that change occurred in the 1960s–80s). We’re changing from a post-Christian culture into an eddy of the unknown.
Now as the under-dog (yet with an Almighty Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ), how do we as Christian churches engage with our culture?
At a recent conference a non-Christian and Christian help was offered to answer this question. I thought it was worth restating with some of my own commentary.
The Christian faith used to be the worldview and moral code of Canada. People would ask: does this honour and glorify God; what does God think about this; what does the Bible say; is this good or bad; does it love God and love others, etc…?
As people came to hold the Christian faith nominally these questions were asked, not through reason, but through intuition: that is, because of what we’ve received, I don’t feel comfortable with X, Y, or Z.
Today, most people still do not use reason to inform their worldview, rather they subjectively rely on intuition.
Because of this shift Christianity went from being celebrated, tolerated or viewed as quaint to now being seen as increasingly dangerous.
In “Righteous Mind: Moral Intuitions are Different,” social psychologist explains what our culture’s new moral intuitions are:
If we simply speak louder (like in so many language quandaries) we don’t actually facilitate understanding. If we simply give a straight up yes or no answer, our view will likely clash with theirs.
While sometimes we’re left with no other option than providing a straight up answer without an explanation (and know that God will use such faithfulness), we need to learn to be better listeners:
If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. (Prov 18:13)
The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Prov 20:5)
When pressed for a yes or no answer on any moral or theological question we might respond, “I think your question deserves more than a one syllable answer.” Ask questions. Attempt to figure out what ethic (see above) they’re operating from. Build trust through listening. Where have they come from that has led them to this place? Finally help them understand why something is right or wrong (harmful, oppressive and unjust) and tell the better story of how Jesus’ way is better, freeing and just.
In apologetics and evangelism we must learn to speak the truth in love or blend grace and truth as the Bible teaches.
Reposted from our FAQ evangelism page.
When many people think of God they wonder about His relevance, or desire more than a get out of hell free card (in that case, “I’ll just wait until closer to death before pursuing Him,” they think, which itself is dangerous, c.f. Isa 55:6, “seek the LORD while He may be found.”]).
I’m reminded of Jesus’ comment in Mk 12:27, that “He [God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In the context of the Resurrection this means He’s the God of those who are spiritually alive, both those in Heaven along with followers of Jesus today. More broadly spun you could say God is not just a God for the afterlife but for life today.
Christianity is a religion for today and not simply the afterlife. Here are some examples as to why:
1. Peace with God
The heart of the Bible’s message is that humanity has fallen from its original state of friendship with God and now in sinful rebellion is under just condemnation. We are God’s enemy. Having an enemy such as this along with the eternal guilt that accompanies it bears heavily upon one’s body, soul and spirit. Suppressing the truth of our condemnation, we seek to evade the thought of this rebellion with still more rebellion. We try to substitute being made for God with other things (e.g. money, sex, power, etc). While some of these things may satisfy for a time they do not do so completely. As such we’re left with anxiety and depression. The only solution that can bring us peace is to become at peace with God through repentance and faith in Jesus. The moment we believe, we enjoy this peace; peace from the penalty of sin, friendship with God. Ro 5:1 says, Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Life to the Full
Many people think they are living a full life; however, our fullness can only extend as far as our sin inhibits—not far at all. We’re not living life fully because we’re not living as we were design to live. We’re not living for God and His glory; we’re living for self and today. As a result of not being at peace with God we’re actually spiritually dead. We may think we’re alive but it isn’t even a shadow of what we were created for. Jesus came not only to give us eternal life (Jn 3:16) but abundant life today. “I came that you may have life,” He said, “and life to the full.” (Jn 10:10). This life comes through His Spirit that He gives every believer; the purpose He enables them to fulfil.
Not only does the believer gain peace and life but also wisdom. The Holy Spirit is called the “teacher.” He, through Scripture, teaches us in the way of God. When we do what pleases God, we not only honour Him, but life generally goes better for us. Proverbs 3:8 says, “[Wisdom] will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Walking in the Lord’s wisdom brings the steadfastness of truth to our lives that we don’t naturally have in this world tossed to and fro by changing ideas and thought patterns.
4. Strength For Today
Life can be difficult, even for Christians. God never promised that it wouldn’t. Believers have been freed from the penalty of sin (through the Cross), are being set free from the power of sin (by the Spirit) and will be freed from the presence of sin when Jesus returns. Yet in the meantime Jesus promised to comfort us through His Spirit’s presence. Christ “dwelling in our hearts by faith” (Eph 3:17) and such promises as “I am with you always, to the end of the age” Mt 28) mean that even in the valley of deep darkness the believer can be assured of the Lord’s presence, comfort, help and strength. All of this increases our relational knowledge of God and produces character. This is an assurance and experience a believer does not enjoy.
5. Bright Hope for Tomorrow
Yet not only “Strength for today” but “bright hope for tomorrow” as the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness reminds us. Yes, but I thought we were talking about the here and now, not the future. Indeed, but the future impacts how we live today. The assurance of eternal life means that the believer has hope amidst of the hopelessness of today. One’s belief about tomorrow does shape how we live today after all.
So don’t just think of God when you think about tomorrow, know He is immensely relevant for today too. Would you “call upon Him while He while He is near” today through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ?
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