Leaving my last post as I did, I feel like I have left a tap running in the bathroom that I need to attend to. So I must attempt to explain what I meant in that post.
Round about 26 years ago I discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ. This historical man that lots of people talked about, swore by, reckoned the year of their birth by came and suffered and died on a cross. And he rose again from the dead. As I examined the evidence for this event it appeared to me not simply as ‘religious truth’ but a fact of history. The implications followed thick and fast – he was/is divine and my sins could be forgiven. I believed Christ. Indeed he, the living Lord, was calling me to follow him.
Then, as a young Christian, I was encouraged by my Christian friends to develop good habits in the Christian life – read the bible, pray, apply what I was learning. The trouble was that I easily suffered from guilt at failure. The answer it seemed to me was to work harder at reading the bible, praying, applying what I was learning.
Now, I rather suspect that this pattern of thinking and behaviour is more widespread than one would think. I have heard people say things like, “Preaching the gospel on Sunday is all very well, but I need to know what to do on Monday morning”. Or even more startling, “So-and-so has received the gospel and come to faith. Now what he needs is to know how to live the Christian lifestyle.” Perhaps, even worse would be a tendency for preachers deliver sermons that are simply a sequence of how-tos for the Christian life. (I have heard that this happens, though I have not experienced extended ministry of this type.)
What my early experience, and these pseudo-quotes display is a belief that the gospel is only to be preached to the unconverted, but once you are saved you need to leave it behind and move on to “living the Christian life”. You see what I’m saying? It is easy to think that “living the Christian life” can be done without the gospel.
The fruit of this thinking can be quite startling when one’s eyes are opened to it. For example, not long after my conversion some of my new Christian friends were attending a church that had a morning “teaching” service and an evening “gospel” service. The interesting thing was the attitude that they developed to the evening service. They were bored by the “gospel” service. At the time I swallowed this. It seemed reasonable: if I were to hear the Four Spiritual Laws, or whatever, week after week then, sure, I would get bored too.
But there is some thing deeply wrong with this thinking. How can anyone be bored with the gospel? And more importantly, after conversion as I go on in the Christian life and I discover that I still sin, what am I then to do about it? If I have left the gospel behind then all that remains is a list of how-tos which I look up (if I have been disciplined enough to store away somewhere) and select the right one to apply. But this approach has no power. Though I may fight my external behaviour by the targeted use of tips and techniques gleaned from bible examples this does not get to the root of the matter – my deep, ingrained sin. (Of course, all humanity, even you, dear reader, shares the same problem!)
For example, I travel to Solihull a lot, so I spend a fair amount of time in the car. Inevitably, I discover that everyone else is a dreadful driver. Not me, you see. I am perfect. They cut me up. So I get righteously indignant i.e. angry.
Well, anger is a sin in the bible. How should I deal with it? Do grit my teeth and control myself? Do I start breathing exercises to calm me down? Do I try and think nice bibley thoughts? What should I do? These kinds of things may work in a sense – I may look on the outside calm and in control. But I know the sin is still there untouched. I was slighted, disrespected. I had my rights taken away!
The real question is: how does the gospel get to the deep root of the problem? How does the gospel minister to me in such a way that the sin of anger, or any other sin for that matter, is overcome. The gospel is the only thing on offer. Christ must be the answer. Viewed in this way, the gospel must be relevant to the whole of life not simply to “how I get saved”.
Personally, that’s what I want to get into this year.