By Timothy Hammonds
THE THINGS THAT MATTER TO TIMOTHY
May 28, 2014
I really appreciate Pastor Peter Jones entitled How Ephesians Killed My “Radical” Christianity. He is showing through the book of Ephesians all that has taken place in our lives in becoming Christians, therefore we don’t need calls to become radical in our Christianity or ministries to others. Jones starts by giving a definition for “radical.”
Definitions matter. So before proceeding I wanted to define the term “radical.” By “radical,” I mean that strain of Christian thinking that says living a normal Christian life, getting married, having children, raising them in Christ, loving your spouse, being faithful at your job, attending worship, reading your Bible, praying, loving the saints, and then dying is not enough. It is that strain of Christianity that says, “There must be something more that I must do to be a good Christian.” The radical thinks and preaches that, “Good Christians do amazing things for Jesus.” This type of thinking is found in all branches of Christianity. There are mission weeks, revival meetings, monks who abandon all, elusive second blessings, pilgrimages to Rome, women who leave marriage and children far behind, men who leave jobs to enter the ministry, young men who believe that memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a means of grace, preachers who imply that Word and Sacraments are not enough, and conference speakers who demand that we pray more and more. The halls of faith echo with phrases like: Be radical. Give it all up for Jesus. Sacrifice everything.
In my 25 years as a believer, I’ve seen many manifestations of these radical Christians. They fall into every camp of Christianity that there is and spread the idea that we all need to be doing “great” things for Jesus.
The problem with this view is at the heart of it basic human pride. These Christians don’t want to live the quiet and peaceable life, but want to puff up their Christianity into something that it is not. They yearn for greatness, and success on a human level instead of being content with being in Christ and growing in sanctification and holiness via the means of God’s grace.
They look through history and see where the great men of the faith have walked and desire to walk in the same greatness, without regard to the suffering those great men had to endure for that greatness. In one sense, these people are looking for the glory of the cross, without the sufferings of the cross.
But the truth be known, God doesn’t need their greatness or sold out life. God doesn’t need them, or us, at all. We forget that when God raised up men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, He did so out of His grace toward the body of Christ. It’s God’s grace that we have great men of the faith at all. God was the one doing the raising up of such men, not the men themselves. I’m quite sure that Martin Luther didn’t wake up one day and think, “Gee, I think I will turn the Christian world upside down by pointing out the sinfulness of indulgences.”
What most don’t realize is that Luther had already posted other thesis’ on the door of the Wittenberg church. No one noticed. It was only when he struck a cord at the purse strings of the church that it caused an uproar. Yes, justification by faith alone was at the heart of what he was saying. He had already made such proclamations. But it was God who used him to strike at the errancy in the church of his day. It was God moving, not Luther being “radical.”
What Peter Jones doesn’t point out is that at the heart of these “radical” Christians is the arrogance and pride of the flesh. These people who live this way, and try to impose their brand of sanctification on others, are really motivated by the flesh. In other words, if you really love Christ, then you have “to do” all this other stuff as well, otherwise you are not a sold out Christian.
Never mind that much of the gospel is centered upon the truth that “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) What these radical Christians have done is created a new priesthood. Apparently the royal priesthood found in 1 Peter isn’t enough for them. They want a new priesthood where everyone is doing radical things for their radical egos, never realizing they are striking at the heart of the gospel with every new call for radicalness.
These people need to repent in their thinking. God doesn’t need you! He can get along without you just fine. So to sit there and pump everyone up with the idea that they have to be a Martin Luther, John Calvin or John Wycliff to truly be a good Christian, is actually quite heretical because it is rooted in Satan’s first lie, that we would be like God. Only the Triune God can raise up men like John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon or J.C. Ryle. Not everyone is called to do as much. In fact, we should be more concerned with being faithful in our every day lives in our pursuit of holiness than we should be in confronting the lost at the local pizza joint. If we actually lived as holy Christians are called to do, then the evangelism will fall into place. Instead of indulging the flesh in new calls for a new kind of Christianity (and an old, old sin), why not pursue holiness instead. Read God’s Law** and actually see how we might conform to it more and more in our sanctification than to simply come up with another version of works theology. Let His word conform us to His image, and set aside the image of fallen man screaming to be like God. Only He can make us like Him and He really doesn’t need are “radical” calls to Christianity.
** From Kevin DeYoung’s article on the sanctification debate and what we do agree upon:
The Bible is concerned about our obedience to the moral law of God. God wants us to be obedient and expects us to teach others to be obedient (Matt. 28:19-20). The purpose of exulting in grace is never so that sin may abound.
Timothy Hammons is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog