Nearly 2 billion people in the world still haven’t heard the name of Jesus even once. Most of these still live in Asia, and they are still dying without hope by the tens of thousands every day. Jesus said to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, and He has equipped His Church with everything we need to obey His commands. Another generation has passed, and where are we? It grieves me to write this, but even on the home front, the Church seems to have lost, instead of gained, ground.
Today our churches permit people to mix and match their belief systems any way they please, as long as they don’t impose their beliefs on anyone else. Having abandoned the Holy Scriptures as our standard for faith and practice, we find ourselves defenseless against the world, the flesh and the devil. The divorce rate among couples in the Church today is no better than that of the secular world. I wonder how we compare in other areas, like consumer debt, personal morality, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide. Not only are Christians increasingly indistinguishable from the world in the way they live, but if you ask them, most would probably say they prefer it that way. They would rather blend into the crowd than to stand up against an increasingly hostile world.
Everywhere Christians are in retreat-and-seek-cover mode against the onslaughts of cults, nationalist movements, modern science and postmodern cynics. What is the way out of the foxhole we have dug ourselves into? It is to repent, to return to Jesus, to surrender to Him and start living as He commands us to.
Somewhere along our journey from a dead religion of laws and guilt, we modern Christians have misplaced the other side of grace. It was undoubtedly left beside the road with the best of motives. I’m sure that most of those who abandoned reality sincerely wanted to display the immeasurable love of God to a lost and needy world.
But we have failed to reveal the wonderful grace of Jesus we sing about with obedience in our everyday lives. Instead, we have produced an “old dishwater” kind of religion—that insipid, lukewarm faith that Jesus said He would spew out of His mouth! All those uncomfortable scripture verses about taking up the cross—discipline, sacrifice and suffering—somehow, they just seem to get in the way of our modern-day “convenience store” Christianity.
We’ve been taught to serve up a watered-down gospel for so long that the real Gospel has become an embarrassment. However, half a truth is no truth at all. Obedience must always be a vital part of our response to His love and grace. Faith without works is dead. It is time for us to find our balance again—to restore authentic Christianity before it’s too late. Distorted, perverted gospels always self-destruct. The disciplines of spiritual reality are “lost arts” to most modern Christians. But they have been tried, tested and proven by millions before you. They are your only way out of the fantasy and illusion of so much that seeks to counterfeit Christianity today. May I challenge you to come along and begin a journey on the road to reality? Won’t you venture out with us and journey into the heart of Jesus?
A Deadly Dichotomy
The stones of the church parking lot crunched beneath my feet in the freezing December air. It was my first Christmas in America—and I was as excited and bewildered as any two-year-old child at the wonder of it all. I had never seen a Christmas like this before! In many parts of my native India, December 25 passes without fanfare. For my people, it is just another day of bondage to sin, suffering and death—the life without Christ. You see, for untold millions in Asia, there is no Christmas. As far as they are concerned, Christ still has not come. His name, His peace and His redemption through Calvary are not yet known or understood. Asia has yet to hear the Good News of Christmas—that Christ came into the world to seek and to save lost sinners.
On the way to church that night, it seemed to me as if the whole nation were Christian. Streets, stores and malls were decorated brightly. Thousands of tired-looking people were filling their cars with bags and boxes of gifts, food and wine for the holidays. Nearly every home had colored lights, decorated trees and even life-size manger scenes telling the Christmas story.
“How these people must love Christ!” I thought. “What a wonder to live in a country that is saturated with Christians, churches and the Gospel!” Inside the church, I touched the beautifully padded pews in awe and walked carefully on the rich carpeting. Even the altar was decorated in red bows for the candlelight carols we had come to hear. A huge tree stood on one side with a large American flag on the other. The symbolism of a Christian nation celebrating the birth of the Savior was new and exciting to me.
In the front of the church was an orchestra backed by a hundred voice choir standing in the pyramid shape of “a living Christmas tree.” At first, I thought it was a tree. But then I realized it was colorfully robed men and women forming the tree. One man told me that the steel scaffolding for the display had cost the church more than $25,000. I couldn’t imagine that much money—at that time it could have built four or five village churches in Nepal or India. I looked down at the lavish program in my hands and wondered to myself how much it had cost to be printed.
Back in India, I had been involved in printing tracts for our Gospel teams, and I recalled that five cents’ worth of tracts would give the Gospel to 100 people. “But these people love the Lord,” I rebuked myself. “I mustn’t judge.” But still, the thought wouldn’t go away. If this printed program cost only 50 cents to produce, that would have been the equivalent of 1,000 tracts. (And I suspected it cost more than 50 cents!) I thought of the national missionaries I knew of in Nepal and Myanmar working without enough Gospel tracts among millions of lost Hindus and Buddhists. The rest of that first Christmas was still awesome and exciting to me, but the thought of those unprinted tracts haunted me. Why did these people who already had everything still need to buy more? Why did they send so many Christmas cards to people they hardly knew?
Why did they eat and drink so much that they often got sick? And how, I wondered, could all this be done to celebrate and proclaim the coming of the Savior? If even the very name of the Savior is still unknown to millions of lost souls, I reasoned, isn’t this self-indulgence a strange way to herald the coming of the Lord Jesus? Wouldn’t it be more fitting to proclaim the Good News of His coming to those who’ve not heard rather than to those who’ve already heard thousands of times?
Since that Christmas I have traveled millions of miles, speaking to Christians. I have counseled privately with hundreds of them about their beliefs and lifestyles. What I have found has to be one of the most tragic ironies of all time: A tiny group of believers who have the Gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story.
Most Christians are living out that Christmas irony every day in one way or another. As individuals, their lifestyles often amount to an enormous self-deception. Who we claim to be is disconnected from what we know, and what we know is even more removed from what we do. It is so unreal. It is a mysterious but deadly spiritual dichotomy. A dichotomy is a whole divided into two parts. And we as modern Christians are living dangerously in this double contradiction of our beliefs. To choose deliberately to live in a world of unreality such as this is a disease or sickness.
Many nights, after preaching my heart out, I returned to my hotel room bitterly discouraged, asking myself how this paradox can even exist. It has to be one of the great mysteries of all time. For instance, as I was writing this book, another great missionary conference was being held where thousands were gathered from all parts of the country. Most were raised lovingly in Christian homes where the Word of God was honored. They gathered to consider the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives. Some of the greatest Christian orators of our time addressed them. Some of the finest musicians in the world played and sang to them. Beautiful films and videos portrayed the needs of a lost and dying world in vivid graphic detail. Hundreds of Christian organizations spent tens of thousands of dollars to present the desperate needs of a world without Christ. Mission leaders flew in from every continent to plead the cause of the lost. In addition, the participants themselves spent huge sums of money to come and be challenged, educated and informed.
What will the results of this enormous investment be? Thousands stood at the invitation and offered themselves for missionary service. But if this conference is like past ones, the statistical chances of even a handful of them going to the hidden peoples is almost nil. Fewer than one percent of those who respond to the altar call will ever obey the Great Commission of Christ and go to the foreign mission field. Of those who do go, many will not return for a second term of service. The percentage that will actually go to the hidden peoples of Asia, where almost 90 percent of the world’s unreached people are dying without Christ, is so small that it doesn’t show statistically!
As another example, a few years back I was privileged to speak to the youth group of one of the great evangelical churches of our day. It was a model of ministry that would be the dream come true of any pastor. These young people were exposed to the most balanced youth ministry possible. They had a full-time youth director, Bible studies many nights of the week, monthly socials, weekly fellowships, a gym and sports teams, camps, conferences, concerts, a big library, full-time counseling staff—everything! I looked forward to presenting to them the burden of Christ’s heart for the lost world. When I addressed 350 of these healthy, well-fed, bright-eyed young people with the message of New Testament Christianity, the results were incredible. With tears in my eyes, I told them of the lost and needy millions still without Christ. Many appeared deeply moved. But when I asked for a show of hands of those willing to give their lives to Christ’s service, not one was able to say, “Yes, Lord!”
Since When Is Obedience Optional?
Not one was willing to break out of that velvet cage of comfort and convenience to begin a radical lifestyle lived from an inner reality that affects the world. Since when has obedience to Christ and His Gospel become optional to Christianity? What kind of church, culture or ethnic group can produce a faith where obedience to God has become dispensable? This is the question I ask myself over and over. These examples are not unusual—just the extremes. I address thousands of people weekly. Even in the best meetings, it is rare that more than one or two percent of the listeners will pledge to support national missionaries, let alone volunteer for service on the mission field. This amazes me constantly because most believers could contribute $1 a day—almost without sacrifice. Yet that small offering can mean the difference between spiritual life or death for some tribe or village in Asia. This should ring alarm bells in our minds and hearts. Something is wrong when Christians don’t respond to what is so dear to the heart of Jesus.
What’s really wrong? How can we diagnose the causes or come to grips with this deadly problem in our Christian lives? I think it is best described as the dichotomy of the modern Christian. First, we modern Christians have divorced what we do from who we are. We have lost touch with our spiritual being or self-identity in Christ. Seldom does our spirit-man lead and dominate. We are content to act out a religion of externals, a lifestyle disconnected from the life born of the Holy Spirit in our human spirits.
Today, millions of people claim to be “born again.” By this, they mean that they have walked the aisle to be saved from hell; find peace and joy; escape from guilt; please family and friends; find wealth, health and happiness; and get that preacher off their backs!
But a religion measured in such superficial, external terms bears no resemblance to the faith of Scripture. For them, Jesus is “cool,” and being a Christian is a respectable, acceptable and normal choice. What’s more, it’s free, instant, a convenience-store item. All that is necessary is to pray a 30-word prayer, sign a little card or put your hand on the television screen—and you’re in! This modern Christianity is weak on the Gospels. You rarely hear an evangelist preach from Matthew, Mark or Luke. To do so would mean that the ego demands of Christ on His followers would have to become a central concern.
Thus, the false religion of popular Christianity does not ask us to internalize the passion and mind of Christ, to surrender our egos, lay aside our flesh, take up the cross and begin a lifestyle marked by submission to the will of the Father as He did. We are also seldom asked to internalize the commands of Christ— to begin a lifestyle of sacrifice, service and suffering for the sake of our Lord. We are not asked to love as He loved, walk where He walked, interact with the kind of sinful people He did and live the life of self- sacrificing service that was His trademark.
But what about that vast network of Christian activities that so often preoccupies our hearts, hands and minds? Don’t our frenzied lives prove our piety? I cannot look at them without asking the critical question: From where does this current wave of activism spring? Will it pass through the fires of judgment? Is it the work of our own hands and egos, or does it spring from the heart of Jesus? If your Christian service were to end today, would it make any difference in eternity? Second, we modern Christians are divorced from what we know.
Until you travel to some of the poorest nations in Asia, you cannot appreciate the religious information glut we have. Christians here are blessed with thousands of Christian books and DVDs, 24-hour Christian radio and television, conferences and seminars, and all the Christian resources of the Internet. Someone has said that there are more than 1,000 commentaries on the book of Acts in the English language—but not 100 Christians living with the power of New Testament Christianity. All too often, it seems, we’re willing to be students of Christianity rather than disciples of Christ. The fact is that most of us are substituting learning and information for practical obedience.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of Christian missions. The focus has shifted to learning about the hidden and unreached peoples rather than going to them. Probably no culture has been better able to fulfill that frightening prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:1–8. We are a people “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We are indeed “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Never in history has there been a society with so much information about God, but so little real knowledge of the Holy One.
Whatever the reason for this lack of spiritual reality, it cannot be a lack of teaching resources. We have shamefully hoarded Christian knowledge, preventing the rest of the world from finding out the truth—while not taking advantage of the knowledge it possesses.
Why Are We Still Spiritual Babies?
The question that faces us is this: How can a Christian culture that knows so much truth fail to perform? Why do we have all this Bible study? Our Sunday school and Christian education programs? Our Holy Land tours and Christian sea cruises? Our camps, retreats, seminars, conferences, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and broadcasting? Why do we now even have Christian theme parks, family theaters and coffee houses? Isn’t the reason to be like Christ? Isn’t that what we say?
Then why are we still spiritual babies? Kindergarten Christians? Why is there so little power and holiness in our lives? Why aren’t we manifesting Christ to our friends, neighbors, classmates and peers? Why aren’t we incarnating Him to those across town in our own inner cities—and to the lost billions still in darkness around the world?
Not What We Do, but Who We Are
Certain truths have become evident. One of the most devastating is the fact that the concept of missions has been so cheapened that many Christians now equate it with fund-raising. It has been reduced to just another appeal for money, similar to the annual budget campaign or the building fund drive. If and when missions is reduced to a dollars-and-cents decision—merely another option for our giving—we prove that we have lost sight of the Savior. The test of our true affection is not how much we give, but how we live. Missions is not something we do, but something we are. There is a principle at work here: Self-centered Christians cannot and will not respond to Christ because they are not submitted to Him as their Head. Dichotomized Christians have reproduced their schizophrenic personal lives in the corporate life of the body. Disobedient Christians produce disobedient churches!
Christ’s Unchanging Mandate
Jesus has made clear the mission mandate for each one of us who claims to follow Him. He said that He lived to do the will of His Father; the fields of lost souls were white unto harvest; and He was sending us into those fields just as the Father had sent Him (John 4:34–38). That means “missions” is simply an extension of His life, working through your life, to reach this generation with the love of God for a lost humanity. God is not asking us to give money to missions, but to make missions the central passion of our lives! The Church, as the corporate expression of the Body of Christ, exists only to fulfill His will. And what is His will? He is “. . . not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Christ meant His Church to be primarily a missionary organization—or better yet, a missionary organism. The Body of Christ, His Church, is the living presence of a God whose heart is pounding with a passion for lost and dying souls. We must therefore be fellowshipping and worshiping with one thing in mind: reaching lost men and women wherever they are. We are to be a people willing to exchange anything and everything we have for the pearl of great price—the kingdom of God. Jesus was always pressing on to preach the Gospel in the next village. His heart’s cry and prayer was for the dead and dying, for the lost, sick and undone. And the heart of every true disciple who follows in the steps of Jesus will be the same. We must be willing, as He was, to let everything go for the sake of lost souls—to give our lives to recapture just one lost inch of territory from darkness and hell.
How can a church that does not reflect this spirit really be the bride of Christ? What explanation or rationalization can we offer to explain the condition of Christianity today? The Bible offers us little help. It doesn’t give much space to descriptions of a church that appears to be nothing less than a headless corpse. How else can we describe a church body that appears to have fallen so far away from the commands of its mind—the Lord Jesus? Let me elaborate:
We have a feed-me-first fixation. Christianity today is stuck in a rut of self-development. It is a me-and-mine style religion that survives on an endless diet of books, video teachings, conferences and seminars. This fat-head faith has produced a generation of Christians who know all the answers but won’t cross the street to help a neighbor in spiritual distress. This demonic reasoning goes, “Me first—after all, I can’t help others until I help myself!” We’re content to sit in our comfortable pews week after week sucking on our spiritual baby bottles—as long as the religious entertainment offered doesn’t interfere with lunch or the ball game.
That this style of religion has no effect whatsoever on our Monday morning lifestyle doesn’t matter. It wasn’t meant to make a difference at work, school or play in the first place. Our newest churches, with their air-conditioned atriums and gymnasiums, are being designed with the best ambiance money can buy. The designers don’t want us to feel too much different there from the way we do at the mall or health club.
Our churches are patterning their architecture, evangelism and programs after the world rather than the dictates of Christ through the Holy Spirit. For far too long, we’ve grabbed the latest fad in the world and baptized it into the church by adding a cute phrase or two. So “Jazzercise” became “Praisercise,” and computer dating services became Christian singles’ clubs. Rock ’n’ roll emerged as “Christian rock music,” and the heavy metal sound was reborn as something called “Christian shock-rock.” The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of examples. A look at our church activity calendars reveals not a body of givers, but a society of receivers. Even our prayer meetings are little more than “bless-me” clubs. Could it be that we have let our churches become elaborate social programs with the name of God tacked on as an afterthought?
Was Karl Marx right in this case? Isn’t this kind of religion really a narcotic—“the opiate of the people”? This is “convenience store” Christianity. The pastor’s main job is to find ways to sugarcoat the Gospel message, making sure that he preaches a gospel that offends no one and runs a church that meets every imaginable mental and physical need. It is a religion that loves to quote “charity begins at home” when the subject of missions comes up. It reminds us that Jerusalem must get in line to be fed first, but never gets around to quoting the part of the verse about “Judea and Samaria” and especially the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
What does the Lord Jesus think of our religious merry-go-round? The question that must be asked of every Christian activity we support is simply this: Will this event create any impact on a lost and dying world? If the answer is no, then we must reconsider sponsoring it. We must ask if this is something from our agenda or His.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We have switched to a retreat and survival mode. Actually confronting the takeover of our school systems and institutions by decades of secular humanism is too much of a strain for our kind of religion. That would require going out and witnessing to the publicans and sinners of our day. So we are running into temporary survival shelters such as Christian schools, religious radio and television broadcasts, Christian concerts and myriad other escapisms.
The controlling force behind this massive retreat from the post-Christian, secularized culture is fear rather than holiness. It is laziness rather than righteousness. And it is born from a lack of love rather than a genuine desire for separation. Could it be that these “good things” are really enemies of the best? “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
What Really Is Going On?
We have established a social caste system in our churches and institutions. I thought only Hinduism had a system of social discrimination, but experience proves that religion by itself almost always divides rather than unites people. There are those who congregate in churches for all kinds of reasons other than the biblical one! Many churches will sell out and move their property if a neighborhood starts to change racially or economically. No cost is too great to preserve the class distinctions that created the church in the first place. We will pay any price to maintain a church without people who are different from us in any way.
Could it be that at the root of most of our denominations and local church splits is not a pious struggle for truth—but an invisible system of discrimination against others based on age, race, education and economic background? And what a tragedy we see on the mission field when some of these same denominations try to export their schisms and divisive teachings to the churches of the Third World. Let’s face it. We like to be with our own kind. A church that asks us to love and reach out to the unlovely or to those different from us is unthinkable—yet it was the core of Christ’s evangelistic lifestyle.
We need to repent of the loveless, intolerant, self-centered Christianity that has become one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Church today. Some modern church growth teachers are now openly applying marketing techniques to further divide and create churches based on demographics rather than spiritual birth. This used to be done by tiny committees of racial bigots who met secretly. Today it is being taught as church growth in some of our seminaries! “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).
We are fascinated by having the best and the biggest. Social scientists say that the last sign of life in any movement comes when it starts to build monument-style buildings. Why do we insist on building the largest and most impressive structures in our city when people on the other side of town are hungry, jobless and worshiping in storefronts? Why do we construct extravagant, inefficient buildings at all? What motivates us to try to be the biggest and the best? Who taught us that “bigger is better” and “nothing is too good for the house of the Lord”? Did God tell us this, or have we learned it from the world?
We need to start asking ourselves hard questions. How can we be making monthly church mortgage payments of $50,000 and still say we don’t have enough in the budget for missions? Can we square this extravagance with the commands of our Lord who said, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?” (John 5:44). We are taken up with bumper-sticker theology. Any kind of spiritual thought that goes beyond “how to have a happy family” seems to be incomprehensible to modern Christians. The only kind of Christianity we want is a pragmatic kind that shows us how to have a positive mental attitude, get ahead with our career plans, win friends and influence people.
What’s happened is that we’ve made over our theology and preaching agenda into an image of ourselves. When I first began to preach about the necessity for a transformed and obedient life, someone would always come up to me and say, “Let’s be careful here not to put people on guilt trips and teach legalism.” Such people want the Gospel and the Bible to stop with the phrase, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven.” That’s the end of their theology. That’s all that fits on their bumper sticker!
Well, that’s not the Gospel—and I’m not teaching perfectionism either. But we have to question a Christianity that has so distorted the doctrine of grace that a simple call to obedience is mistaken for legalism. Challenging people to live the normal Christian life rather than accommodate themselves to sin is not a guilt trip or manipulation. These phrases are frequently used today as a smoke-screen defense by self-serving believers who don’t want their fantasy-land religion upset by the truth. This narrow view of salvation has impoverished our faith more than we realize.
Whatever happened to the teachings of Jesus on eternal judgment in hell? Why don’t we warn people about the terrible punishment that awaits them if they don’t turn back to God now? It’s astonishing that so-called Bible-believing Christians have, in effect, taken a pair of scissors and snipped out vast sections of the Scriptures.
Jesus lived daily with an awareness of the awful consequences of rejecting the grace of God—but why isn’t His Body connected today to the passion of a Savior who died to save men and women from eternal flames? How can we be casual about the lost world when God considered it so important that His only solution was Calvary?
“This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6–7).
We have spoiled our children and youth. Why is it that the young people of our churches are given fun and games rather than the challenge of the Great Commission? The preteen and teenage years are so critical. This is when most young people choose their careers and mates—probably the two biggest decisions that determine the course of any believer’s life. Anyone who has ever worked with adolescents will tell you that this is probably the highest point in our lives for energy and idealism. Teens want to test out the ethics and morality of their church and parents to see if it really works.
But what are we giving them instead? The standard answer is to hire a youth director to plan parties and trips based around the premise: “You can be a Christian and have fun too!” How many millions of our youth have been ruined by the introduction of this worldly Christianity just at the moment in life when they most need to see reality?
What would happen if instead we treated our youth with total seriousness, exposing them to mission field learning experiences? Opportunities to love and sacrifice for others? To serve on the front lines of the Gospel? Will parents back this kind of program? If not, why not? How long can we go on ducking this question? We have ruled out the supernatural and opted for self-sufficient, computerized Christianity. Technology is the modern-day magic of our culture. It gives its users an incredible but false sense of power and control. To many today, knowledge and information have become equal to doing.
This is why the Church has become the world’s greatest collector of knowledge and expertise. And this is also why we’re so dependent today on consultants. How many pastors spend far more time meeting with church-growth consultants, fund-raisers and salesmen than they do seeking the face of God for His will, plans and solutions? We are becoming more and more dependent on horizontal, rationalistic, here-and-now solutions to our problems. We’ve become terrific consumers of products, seminars, shortcuts—anything, it seems, that does not require us to wait on the Lord for vertical solutions to our dilemmas.
Stand outside a typical church next weekend and watch the congregation leave the worship service. Why do so many look as if they’ve just left the local movie theater, laughing and casual? Why are others sad and troubled with unsolved personal problems? Why are some so obviously bound by addictions and sin? Are these the faces of people who have had a face-to-face encounter with the Living God? Where is the reverence and awe we would expect from a people who have just witnessed the miraculous? What is really going on in our churches today?
The haunting question that must be asked about the status of Christianity is this: Why do a people who have so much have so little? With all this knowledge and skill, why is there no great move of God in our churches today? When are we going to look ourselves in the mirror and say, “OK, I know enough now. I’ve trained enough. I’ve consulted enough. What am I going to do about my knowledge of God and His ways? When is my life going to demonstrate His compassion to the needy world around me?”
We are following false shepherds. The Church today is being ravaged by deceived men who spread half-gospels and lead millions of people astray with false teachings. I don’t want to take time and space here to list examples of these religious con-artists, and there would be very little profit in doing so anyway. It’s sufficient to say that they’re everywhere, and many of them sound doctrinally correct.
But we should be asking some even more relevant questions, not resting until we get the answers in our spirits: Why do we let these people into our homes via radio, television and the Internet? Why do we go to their seminars, conferences and churches? Why do we buy their books and DVDs? Why do we give millions of dollars to keep their man-centered ministries going? Few Christians can say they haven’t been taken in by these wolves at one time or another. What is it, then, that is making us so vulnerable to their seductive doctrines?
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, . . . beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; . . . These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest: to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever (2 Peter 2:1, 14, 17).
Hyper-activism and Dead Works
We have fallen victim to hyper-activism and dead works. Modern churches are among the most frenzied organizations in the world. In almost any average-sized community, the calendar is so full that you can keep going almost day and night on a year-round basis. The unwary believer is challenged constantly to join this merry-go-round of religious activities and fellowship. Because yielding the time and money we control to Christ is such an important test of stewardship, many a sincere but naïve Christian falls into this trap of carnal activism.
For many, workaholism is as addictive as alcohol or smoking. Such victims of religious “busyness” are little different from cultists on the treadmill of earning their salvation by penance, selling books or doing good works. Their bookshelves are full of Christian books and videos. They’re always off to another meeting or seminar. Christian broadcasts and CDs play in their cars. They’re the kind of people who are present every time the church door opens. But in the wake of these busy Christians are often broken homes, relationships and churches. Family, friends and co-workers shake their heads and instinctively pull back. Jesus predicted that the branch connected to the vine would produce much spiritual fruit. But too often our frantic lives are barren.
Where in our oh, so busy, busy lives of Christian service is Christ Himself? Where is the fruit that would authenticate our works? Are we merely acting out the motions of the Christian life, or is the Spirit of God being released in our religious activities? To answer this question and so many others, we need to cross a bridge. Too few modern Christians even know it exists—but there is no other way for the world-weary believer to go. It means giving up our fairy-tale notions about Christ and Christianity. It means stepping away from the comfortable Christianity—the one we have conformed to our culture. But for the man and woman God uses, there can be no other direction.
How Long Will We Be Duped?
By now I’m sure you’re already asking yourself the most critical of all questions: Is there any hope for a people who have fallen so far away from authentic Christian living? Recently a dear friend and fellow minister in New York City went through an experience that has to be every parent’s worst nightmare. And I need to tell this story at this point because I think it parallels vividly what I’ve been trying to say about Christians and Christian culture today. This true story gives me hope and confidence in the measureless grace of God.
For the sake of those involved, I’ll call their daughter Mary. Although Mary appeared to be a model child in her early years, she and the whole family obviously had many unresolved spiritual and mental problems. Mary grew up in the church, surrounded with every physical and spiritual advantage a child could have. I had stayed in their home on several occasions—yet nothing prepared me for the shock of what this beautiful girl became in her rebellious teenage years. As a high school sophomore, she began having behavior problems at church and school. Frustrated family and friends couldn’t get through to her. Numerous attempts at counseling only made the problems worse. Mary refused to listen to even the most loving advice. It seemed that if something was against the rules, Mary had to do it—the more outrageous, the better! Eventually, no one could control her. She began disappearing for days on end to act out a prodigal life of drug abuse and illicit sex, which led to suicide attempts. Her father and other friends from church often walked the streets of Times Square looking for her among the thousands of teenage runaways who were attracted there from all over the nation.
After many attempts to stop her, one discouraged friend after another quit trying to get through. Thus began two years of life in and out of jails, institutions and hospitals. Mary’s life was still on a fast track to destruction when the Lord finally reached her in a rescue mission. Thank God, her story has a happy ending. She turned back to Christ and today is living for the Lord.
But I tell this story of Mary the prodigal because it could easily be the story of the Christian church today. We also are prodigal. As congregations—and as individuals—we’re out of touch with reality. Like Mary, we’re not listening, not submitting to our spiritual head. What’s more, we’re in such total rebellion against Christ that we’re hardly aware anything is wrong! In our story, Mary finally came to that point where she realized she had to return to God or end up dead in some back alley. But although Christianity today is desperately sick, still we refuse to admit our need for crisis intervention. We’re so busy with our own plans, agendas, activities and pleasures that we’ve lost sight of the one and only purpose for which Christ redeemed us.
The world is dictating its standards to us, and believers have been taken captive by the powers of darkness. We are living in a generation that is no more the Body of Christ exercising authority over the powers of this world. Instead, the world is dictating its sordid standards to us. We are not manifesting the life and power of Christ. Instead, we’re living in captivity and bondage. We are not storming the gates of hell. Instead, we’re falling over one another in retreat—looking for foxholes, hiding from the Enemy. Why is the army of God in retreat before the world, the flesh and the devil? Will we ever again be able to display the glorious love of the living Christ? Will this dark and dying world ever see Jesus in us again?
My answer is yes—a thousand times, yes! There is a way out of this mess. We don’t have to remain living in powerless, insipid hypocrisy. God has ordained for us to demonstrate Christ to a lost and dying world. He wills for us to have victory. He wants us to recover our lost authority and live again as He did. Authentic Christianity is not reserved only for missionary heroes and super-saints. It is not something that happens only on faraway foreign fields or in the pages of the Bible. It must and will blossom forth right on the street where you live, at your work, in your school. It is for every believer, whatever your calling or circumstances. Jesus wants to extend Himself into your world. However, for this miracle of abundant life to happen, you must make daily choices. God will never force you to walk the road to spiritual reality. It is a journey you must decide to begin personally.
Spiritual reality begins when, like Moses at the burning bush, we come face-to-face with the Living God. Up until that moment, Moses had tried in his own power to deliver Israel without success. His self-appointed rescue attempts floundered, but then for the first time, he saw the invisible Creator on the mount of God. What a transformation came to this disgraced prince. Moses was empowered from on high. From then on, he counted it a privilege to forsake the splendor of Egypt and suffer with the people of God.
Could it be that many of us have not yet turned aside at the burning bush to gaze at the real Jesus? We must begin our spiritual journey there—not with the plastic substitutes so often offered on the airwaves today. How long will we go on being duped by the phony “christs” that are circulated by the purveyors of television’s pop religion? The secret of the abundant life is Christ and Christ alone. We must see the real Jesus. We must have a correct vision of who He is and, therefore, who we are to incarnate and serve during our time on earth. Only then will we begin to rediscover the authority, glory and power of His majesty. He is head of the Church and our Lord. We were made for Him and His pleasure. This is not the same God we are being taught to manipulate and order about by the superstars of today’s religion. The true Jesus rules— and that means He rules us. The true Jesus reigns—and that means He reigns over us. We must learn that our proper place is at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Only then will we find the key to unlock His plans and purposes in our individual lives. What awe, reverence and worship the very names of our Lord should evoke in the spirit of every true believer.
As we have a fuller realization of our true place in creation, the wonder of Christ dwelling in us becomes the beginning of understanding. Yet this awareness remains a secret to so many in our age, because our real worship has shifted from the King of the universe. We adore our own abilities, bodies, minds and talents rather than the God who gave them to us.
Contrary to the popular thinking of Christianity today, the Lord did not reach down and save us from sin and death so that we might be merely happy, healthy and wealthy. Those who teach this have invented another gospel and portray a false christ—the god of this age rather than the God of the Bible. A gospel without the cross is no Gospel at all.
God’s purpose for man, from the moment He created us, has never changed. We have always been destined for the throne—created to rule with the One who created all things for Himself. First, we are to be the Body—the hands and feet of Jesus in this present world. “And he is the head of the body, the church,” says Colossians 1:18. All who believe and have been baptized into Christ are the Church. Now we know that our head, Jesus Christ, is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. But the Bible says His body is somewhere else. His body is us. We are left here on earth to carry out His desires and will. The purpose of the body is to fulfill the commands, desires and wishes of the head. We are attached to the head so that we might manifest the mind of Christ and do His will on earth.
God has so ordered the world that right now we are His primary agents of redemption to lost humanity. Our hands are His hands; our feet are His feet; our tongues are His tongue. This means that the basic way God expresses His limitless love today is through the Church. Lost men and women in this dark and dying world will not be found unless we search for them. In 1 John 4:17 we read, “As he is, so are we in this world.” I love the way Moffatt translates this in his classic version of the English New Testament. It reads, “. . . since in this world we are living as He is.”
This makes it abundantly clear that a believer’s life ought to so represent Christ that the world can once again see Jesus. We follow Him in a way that others can taste again the presence of Jesus walking and living among them. The only way that Christ is presently incarnated to a lost world is through us—we are carrying on and extending His presence, His Word and His works to a new generation. When Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, He revealed the image of the Father to lost and sinful men. This glorious ministry is now ours as we reveal the mind of Christ to the lost around us.
Second, we are ambassadors of Christ in the courts of a rebellious world. As Jesus prepared to leave this world and return to His Father, He called the disciples together. “All authority is given to Me in heaven and in earth,” He declared. “Now go in My name—as the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Later, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul described us as “Christ’s ambassadors.”
An ambassador is a person who represents his country in an alien land. He is given authority by his government to represent the best interests of his nation. He can make and break contracts for his government and handle all kinds of affairs, both civil and military. Ambassadors exercise enormous power and influence, particularly when they represent a powerful kingdom.
The Bible tells us that we are no more citizens of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We belong to our sovereign King, and His name is Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. As ambassadors sent to this world from another kingdom, how then are we to live and represent our King? Under a real monarchy, you do not debate the wishes of the king. You simply obey without discussion or question.
The Lord Jesus left us with a clear picture of His desires for our generation. We know from Scripture exactly what He wants us to be doing. We even know what kind of behavior He wants the world to see in us, because He taught us His lifestyle both by word and example.
Third, He wants us to operate in His authority and power. Christ wants us to move in the same mysterious authority and power that surrounded His earthly ministry. In Matthew 7:29 we read, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He confounded the best academics and theologians of His day—as well as kings and rulers of all sorts. From the beginning of the Church, we see this same quality reproduced among the apostles.
In Acts 4, Peter and John are dragged before the Sanhedrin—the most powerful religious court in Israel. They are questioned about where they received authority and power to heal a cripple. In verse 10, Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, boldly replies, “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” This was an eloquent answer, and it stunned the lawyers and priests. In verse 13 we read, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
Now we get the full picture. These highly educated, suave, sophisticated leaders recognized that something unusual was happening. Something out of this world was going on! They weren’t used to having a bunch of blue-collar “rednecks” answer like that. By this they knew that these less-educated fishermen had been with Jesus. The same energy that blazed out at them from the Galilean they had killed was alive again in these disciples. Those who did not want such light and life were very threatened.
So we see that through Christ we are potentially restored to live as God originally intended man to live in the Garden of Eden. God gave man authority in Genesis chapter one—and now we are expected to live and serve Him in that power. Does this “job description” make you feel a little uncomfortable? It did me, too, when I compared the lives we lead today with the life of a normal Christian as described in the New Testament. How is it possible to live as His body, be His ambassador and operate in His power and authority? Isn’t God making impossible demands on His fallen creation? Of course not! God would not ask us to have this kind of authority and power-filled life without also making a provision for us to live such a supernatural existence.
The key scripture that explains the secret of this divine indwelling is Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” God does not commit His authority at random to anyone. This verse is basic to understanding the process of incarnating Christ to our generation.
Christ’s life is mine by faith. It is called by many names, but this exchanged life is the only acceptable New Testament norm. Anything less is a sick substitute for reality. I have been crucified—it is no longer I who live. Our ego is dead. Our will is submitted and surrendered. We cannot let circumstances, family, friends, the government, the media, religious leaders or Satan himself lead us to anything less than reality.
But something is still very wrong. Why are so few living out the “not I, but Christ” lifestyle that Paul describes in Galatians 2:20? Although God eagerly desires to manifest Himself within us, I believe it is because so few of us have learned to let the cross do its deadly work in our flesh on a daily basis. We haven’t yet come to a full understanding of the cross. We must return to Calvary.
The glory and presence of Christ will return to our lives and churches only when we have rediscovered the cross of Christ. The cross has two operations. First, on it Christ paid the penalty for our sins and thus bought our eternal salvation. But it doesn’t stop there. The second work of the cross provides for our ongoing sanctification—the daily, continuous crucifixion of our flesh.
This great doctrine is not very popular lately because it requires a voluntary acceptance of death to ego or self. Someone has put it this way, “If self is on the throne, then Christ is on the cross. If Christ is on the throne, then self is on the cross.” This is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:10 that we are “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” Accepting death to my ego is the only way to manifest the life of Christ. Putting my “self” to death is the only way to exchange my life for His.
I believe that this is the real meaning of Galatians 2:20 when Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ.” So here is the spiritual law of the flesh: The measure to which I will manifest the life of Christ is the same measure to which I am willing to put my “self” to death.
When Jesus walked on earth, God was showing us not only what He was like but also what He wanted man to be like. Jesus had authority and power because He constantly submitted Himself to the will of the Father in every matter. Christ pleased the Father and reflected the Father perfectly because He perfectly put to death His flesh. And we repeat this cycle as we submit to our head, the Lord Jesus. This is the life that is connected to Jesus, the head, on a decision by-decision basis. It is the submitted, dead-to-self life that the Lord can animate and use for His glory. It is the only kind of life He will empower and use.
If we’re rightly connected to the head in this way, it would be hard to imagine making any decision without first submitting it to Christ for His approval. What would that do to the way we spend our time? What does Christ say about the television shows and the movies we view, the music we listen to, or the catalogs and magazines we read? What about our activities—church, clubs, leisure time, friendships, hobbies, prayer, service, sports and study? What about our relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, mentors and role models? Whom do we idolize and pattern our lives after? What about our purchases, both the large and small ones? Is our shopping basket under His control? Does He direct the checks we write? What about the “big buys”—our car, home and insurance? What about our intake of food and drink? Is Christ or our appetites in control? And of course, there are those major decisions in life—full-time missionary service, career and job plans, education and the choice of a mate.
For the Christian, none of these things is any longer a personal decision. It is not what others say, what self says or what circumstances dictate. The only valid question is always, What does Christ say to me about this decision? But most of us find ourselves making even the big decisions without prayer and waiting for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Obviously, the gap between this kind of biblical Christianity and the shallow spirituality of our day is a significant one. How different is this kind of self-sacrificing faith from the pleasure-seeking, self-serving, wimpy religion so often preached and practiced in our churches!
The Bible contains unchanging laws. Therefore, we cannot cast out, bind with spiritual words, deny or command away that which the Bible declares needs to be crucified—our flesh. There is no shortcut to the victorious life. God is not going to put your flesh to death for you. He did His part on Calvary. Now we are told in Romans 8 to “mortify the deeds of the body.” We must choose to experience the reality of Galatians 2:20.
Some people believe they need to wait on God to deliver them, to come and crucify their flesh. They have a false notion that they have to remain neutral and let God do some kind of “sanctification work” on their flesh. Nothing could be further from the truth. His work was completed on the cross 2,000 years ago. Now we have to act on the freedom He has earned for us. We are called upon to put the flesh to death on a moment-by-moment basis—by faith—in the same way receive salvation in the first place. It is all of grace by faith. The only human action required is the submission of your will to His.
Unless we as humans are tied into and connected to Christ our head, we are nothing and have no purpose. Even the greatest geniuses of art and science are only a marred, shallow reflection of the God who created our universe in the first place. Jesus died that we might be plugged into Him, as the branches are part of the vine.
The Bible tells us that all the works of the flesh will be burned up. How hard it is to accept this. We still want to do the work of the Lord in our own power and strength—be it with our education, talent or wealth. But in the eyes of God, it is still just educated flesh, talented flesh or rich flesh—all to be burned up in judgment and rejected by Him. We must come to that place of absolute understanding that as human beings there is nothing in us—not our looks, background, education, riches, talents or anything else you can add—that will enable us to live the kind of life God wants us to live in our generation.
You see, following Christ means making a 180-degree turnaround. It is an exchange. My life for His life. There is no longer any parallel existence of both together. It is no longer what I want. It is not my will, my way, my plans, my wishes—but only what He wants. The question is always, What does my Master say? What does He want? Then all that I have is His. My hands, legs, heart, eyes, ears, finances, family, dreams and visions—everything belongs to Christ. He is able to live, breathe, walk, touch, weep, look and hear through the earthen vessel of my body.
This is the true message of Easter!
Excerpt from The Road to Reality: Coming Home to Jesus from an Unreal World by K.P. Yohannan