Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Counting the Cost

For the sake of history, I think it would be beneficial to comment where and when this post was written, to put it in context.  I started my Seminary education right after my last posting, at the end of January.  I'd use the excuse that I was too busy to write my thoughts until now, but from past experience, you can clearly see this is not the first time I've gone months without writing.  Anyways, I've been studying intensely, meditating more on the things of God than I ever have before.  I'd like to say that the forced nature from Seminary is proving to be of most benefit, but I cannot.  It is solely because I want to learn - I want to grow closer to Christ - that I am getting so much out of my experience.  Classes are one thing, but being devoted to fellowship and spiritual education outside the classroom has proven monumental in my growth.  The last post is proof positive of this phenomenon, and it has only continued.  

I hinted above on what I want to talk about.  I owe this train of thought to my mullings over what my Monday night Theology group spoke on last night, and the chapter in Mere Christianity entitled "Counting the Cost," which I gladly steal from Lewis for my own editorial.  Here it is:

What if Christians today are not at all obeying the will of God, but have settled for a lie, a less glorious "half-truth yet lie none the less" kind of lie that the Enemy is quite satisfied with us buying into and God is quite grieved in one sense but patiently gracious as well?  Let me explain.  Galatians 5:1 says "It was for freedom that Christ set us free," and so naturally, that is a truth we Christians love to identify with and rightly so.  The problem though, is we need to take that truth in context and fully understand the implications of that.  Paul continued by saying "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery... For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF" (Gal 5:1, 13-14).  You see, we hear "freedom" and think cool, I no longer have to toil and strive after doing good religious things anymore, because that not what saves me, Christ saves me... I can just relax and do whatever, and God's grace will cover my wrongs.

Can you see how some of that is true but it's taking liberty (pun not intended, okay but I'll take it) where it has no right and ignoring the biggest implication of the true freedom we were given?  

Yes.  We no longer must toil and strive after doing good religious works.  That's a glorious spiritual fact because of what Christ did on the Cross.  He broke the yoke of slavery, which is the power of sin from failing to observe the Law of God.  Christ fulfilled the Law for us and imputes his righteousness on us, granting us freedom from having to toil in vain.  

No. We cannot just relax and do whatever!  The word from Paul follows with the imperative to serve one another through love.  When we do not follow through with the freedom we were given, we are in the wrong and it is to spit in the face of Christ; He has swung wide the prison bars and removed the shackles, only for us to sit down in our cells and act as if we are free, yet practicing none of it.  

This begs the questions, why don't we live out our freedom? And what would that even look like if we did?   Both are legitimate questions.  First, such a great gift not fully utilized and received should well be and that it isn't raises concern for the actions of those who opt not to.  And second, since so little truly utilize the gift, it is hard to know if the risk is worth it.  I think that is the main reason why; it still involves risk and that scares us.  As for the what it would look like?  We see it in scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at missionaries who are completely insane for Christ.  

Did you pick up on the problem?  When one seriously looks at the early church as depicted in Acts and the Epistles, and as you read how cannibals ate the family of John G. Paton and yet he was still compelled to share Christ with them, you get a sense that this freedom granted to us doesn't really look like freedom, at least not according to worldly, secular standards.  This is Paul's account of hardship:  
Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
Why? Why?!!! Why in the world would a man willingly go through all of that?!  It's madness... according to the world.  But to one set free, who truly knows his freedom to be a "resurrected-with-Christ, fully redeemed and made new creation in Christ, mature and perfected human as we were intended to be and designed as such from a sovereign God" kind of person, all that hardship is pure joy, because it is the work of God.  

This gets to what I read in Lewis.  He brings up the scripture on Jesus' command to "be perfect" and interprets it quite literally, as I do now too.  Lewis says Jesus meant "the only help I'll give you is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I'll give you nothing less."  Lewis continued to explain that we are really quite satisfied with being decent, but dread the pain and work of going all the way, using the analogy of a toothache, and wanting aspirin to dull the pain, but not wanting the dentist in the morning to solve the problem.  The whole chapter develops the thought, and to regurgitate it all would be silly, just read it yourself.  

It is the problem of our church.  We bought the lie that convenience and comfort are at our disposal, ordained by God, nay the blessing of God, when really it is a snare of the Enemy.  It is proper to bring up the argument that the Scriptures regarding all their persecution and hardship is not relevant anymore, since Western culture adopted Christian thought as the standard norm.  That argument falls apart when you consider Lewis' position, that we in our sin nature are depraved and can always progress farther toward Christ's image.  Again, read at least the chapter "Counting the Cost," for I can do it no justice.   Also, if we were living in freedom, don't you think we would have more impact on a lost and dark world than we currently experience?  Paul and his companions converted a continent.  We Christians look just like secular society with our HDTV football after church, satellite subscriptions, iPhones and BMWs.  Of course, I grossly exaggerate some of the wealth concept of the Churched.  But Americans still love their conveniences and comforts, Christian or not.  

Do we American Christians get out and drive the homeless man off the street, bring him into our homes, bathe and feed him and share the hope of the Gospel, the gift of Freedom to live fully?  Or are we too afraid he might swipe our credit card when we're not looking, or stain the sofa?  Do we American Christians freely give our assets to fund missions and to support the poor, or are we too concerned with our 401Ks depreciating in value?  Do we have the audacity to think we one day on this side of Heaven should rest?  Do we shine a warm light of hope to orphans?  Do we invite widows to our spare room?  

I am as guilty as the rest.  That's why I write this; I feel incredibly convicted.  This is Lewis closing remarks in that chapter: 
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible.  He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.  He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good on HIs words.  If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose [okay, Calvinists have a different take that they were never a part of this group] - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.  The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Since writing this, I heard a theory that God may very well be pouring out His Wrath on America by remaining silent and allowing us to toil in our own abilities. Is that why we have so little impact? Is our success and economic growth/recovery just a form of God's wrath, as we become more and more independent, more and more apart from God and His provision? We say we are blessed by all the liberties we have, but that is not scriptural. The only liberty we have from God is the ability to love radically God and neighbor! Cool, we are not hunted down and arrested for holding a Bible Study or dispensing Bibles... But we are complacent in our freedom. We are spiritual loafers.