I ran across this post today, and I think it’s very good. It’s a review of a book that is very popular among evangelicals, at least, judging by its ubiquitous presence in various manifestations throughout the Lifeway catalogue that regularly shows up in my mailbox(book, study Bible?????, and children’s version, to name a few) and by how many people mention it and quote from it often on Facebook. I found this review of the book very good, and I recommend it if you’re one of those people who has friends raving about the book Jesus Calling. I have not read it, and do not intend to.
However, what I want to discuss here isn’t the book Michael Horton is reviewing but the fact that several of the concerns he raises meshed exactly with something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, and that is that the concerns he raises aren’t exclusive to that particular book, but with MUCH of the teaching, writing, preaching, talking, singing and culture of the evangelical movement. In fact, the reason that book with those particular concerns is SO popular is a symptom of something disturbing, and that is that we in the evangelical movement for a large part are not teaching the gospel well and exclusively. I think we are losing, or in many cases have already lost our way. We say in our doctrinal statements and mission statements and the like that we believe the gospel, but what practically comes out in our teaching is that we don’t really trust it. Not really, because we end up teaching a kind of ‘trust Jesus and try harder’ sort of thing that ends up being works moralism not grace, though I don’t think we intend it. I’ll see if I can explain what I mean.
First, I highlight some excellent, excellent points from Michael Horton’s blog post that I referenced and linked to above:
"Yet I kept asking, “What purposes”? “Who is Jesus and why should I fix my eyes on him?” In short, the gospel is taken for granted. When exhortations to trust are separated from a clear proclamation of who Christ is, what he has done, and why he is therefore trustworthy, trust simply becomes a work—something that I need to gin up within myself."
"Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. I do not say that with a snarky tone, but with all seriousness. The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful."
I think this is a problem with MUCH of the teaching and books and preaching and ‘Bible studies’ and thinking in evangelicalism today. We focus too much on OUR purpose and finding 'something more' and finding the BIG thing we're supposedly to be about and what WE are FEELING and struggling with internally and focus MUCH too little on Jesus: who He is, what He has done in saving us, and how to rest our hope in HIM and in HIS finished work on our behalf, and instead of always spinning and spinning searching for 'something more' we would do much better to seek to know His revealed word, study and meditate upon and learn and pray for wisdom to understand and obey what He teaches us as we spend time in the Bible that He has given us and listen to preaching that faithfully teaches the BIBLE - and to do that we need to hear the scripture taught and explained, not ideas or the latest church growth strategy or pep talk, but the WORD. THAT is how we know Him.
We say Jesus is beautiful and we say that we want to know Him more and that we want to be Christ followers and we sing songs that endlessly repeat how we love Him and He loves us, but they are shallow, emotion ginner-uppers that don’t really talk much about WHY we love Him and WHAT He has done to show His love to us and WHO He is that makes Him so worthy of our love and worship and following, and it leaves us trying so hard to gin up that emotion for Him with nothing solid to point us there.
Here’s something I’ve come to realize over the past few months or so, and that is that we too often take passages that are all about grace and preach law from them instead. I have spent my life listening to pep rally sermons that focus on favorite Bible verses taken out of context to spur us on to really, really, really live for Jesus, especially during my stint as a teenager growing up in youth ministry, exhorting me to not waste my life, dream BIG dreams for God, find my PURPOSE for being ON THIS PLANET, finding the way to CHANGE THE WORLD, find the BIG thing I’m to do for God, live better, do better, serve Him harder, seek Him more deeply, seek for more-more-more of Him, love Him better, get it from my head to my heart. But we weren't really told how to do that, exactly. We weren't explicitly taught to hear Him in His word alone. I spent a large part of my older teen years and young adult years as went to Bible studies and retreats and conferences that fed the discontent BEGGING God to show me the BIG thing I was supposed to be doing that surely I was missing it! PLEASE, God, I don’t want to waste my life, PLEASE don’t let me miss the big, kingdom thing I’m supposed to be doing, and PLEASE, why do I feel this way? What am I missing? How many times have I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart, so worried that maybe I didn’t REALLY mean it the last time but I SO want to MEAN it this time. I went to concerts and got all pumped and I went to retreats and camps and revival meetings and nailed papers with my sins to a cross or sent those sin-filled papers through a shredder and promised that THIS time I’d really be on fire, THIS time I really was surrendering all, surely THIS time I REALLY meant it, crying real, genuine, heartfelt tears every time! And when Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.....came and I went back to the boring ol’ humdrum of life and, well, the passion of the mountain top fizzled to the daily drag of everyday life and I once again began wondering, did I REALLY mean it? Was I REALLY saved? I remember sitting in a women’s retreat Bible study meeting BEGGING God to show me what I was missing. I was a young wife and mom, but surely that’s not all I was supposed to be doing, was it? Was I impacting anyone for the kingdom just being a wife and mom, was I missing the BIG thing, maybe I’d already missed it, maybe it was too late? I went to so many church leaders over the years and begged them to help me know why I was feeling this way, why I felt so defeated all the time, and I don’t think I ever got the clear, explicit gospel answer I desperately needed.
Friends, that is EXHAUSTING. And it is NOT the gospel. Finding your purpose for BEING ON THIS PLANET (can you tell I’m getting weary of hearing that phrase?), begging and pleading with God to show me the BIG thing I’m supposed to do with my life, trust Jesus, yes, but also try harder, do better.....is NOT the gospel.
The good news of the gospel is that I am a wretch. I CAN’T do it. That is the point. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to His cross I cling. Jesus paid it ALL. ALL to Him I owe. These are NOT just words to songs (and more’s the pity we don’t sing such gospel rich songs as often anymore. Ahem.) My life is hid in Christ. Because He fulfilled the law and suffered the wrath I deserve for my sin on the cross and rose again, I am free from the curse of the law. As His forgiven, blood-bought child, He very well may place a burden to do some ‘big’ thing on my heart, He may call me to go somewhere far from home and share the gospel there.....or He may call me to be a wife and mom here, faithfully serving Him day in and day out, being a faithful church member, community member, sharing the faith, teaching children’s Sunday school, teaching my children day in and day out as we arise, as we sit and as we walk along the way. And that is NOT a small thing. Somewhere along the way we have lost the idea of vocation - that everything we do is to be done as unto the Lord. It’s not that some things are BIG things but others are boring and not what we should aspire to.
For every person in the history of Christianity whose name we have heard, there are thousands more who we have never heard of, but who were faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our passion ought to be to serve our Savior whole-heartedly and with abandon, not to be spinning and spinning and begging and pleading for our BIG thing. Our purpose is to know God, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Spend time in His word, pray, learn to obey Him in the small, everyday things, and when and if He leads you to so-called bigger things, obey Him there, too, but don't discount the joy and importance of living for Him and serving Him in the 'mundane' things and don't miss out on the everyday graces and progress in the faith He is working in you because you're so concerned you're missing the big thing. Learn to find your satisfaction not in how passionate you ‘feel’ about Him, but in HIM.
My assurance does not rest in how sincere I think I was or wasn’t at each of those pep rally type events. My assurance does not rest in how sincere I think I was when I prayed ‘the prayer’ for the umpteenth time, or whether I prayed it just right. My assurance rests in what Jesus did on the cross. I cannot stress how important it has been for me to finally get to this understanding in the midst of the do more, do more, try harder, try harder, dream bigger, love more preaching I have heard my whole life.
I spent the first 4 months of 2011 memorizing the book of Philippians. And I have spent February of this year reviewing it, meaning, I have spent countless hours meditating on Philippians. I love chapter 3:7-12, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Did you catch that the righteousness is not my own, but that which comes through faith in Christ, and that we do what we do, obey Him, seek Him, seek to live for Him because He has MADE US HIS OWN. The things that Paul lost and left behind and counted as rubbish, were the do more, try harder, be better of legalistic Phariseeism, as he spells it out in the beginning of chapter 3. We do not have to do, do, do, strive, strive, strive, for more, more, more to gain acceptance with God. If we are in Christ, we ARE accepted in the beloved. We ARE His. We ARE counted righteous in Christ. To finally understand the significance of this is to finally, finally, stop wondering if I really, really meant it or if I really, really repented or wondering if I’ll waste my life while I plead to find the BIG thing and to rest in the fact that Jesus did it ALL. I am accepted and beloved and positionally righteous in God’s sight because Jesus took the wrath I deserve on the cross. I am free from striving to nail it down AGAIN. And I am free to obey Him and serve Him with abandon from a heart overflowing with gratitude that is founded on WHO He is and WHAT He has done. Knowing who He is and what He has done, I WANT to live for Him. I don’t want to waste the life He has placed me in and I want to live faithfully day in and day out, and when I stumble and confess it, He is faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
And one more thing, I have learned in my years of walking with Jesus that change might happen all at once in a life, but more often, it is a gradual growing in grace as you submit yourself to God’s word. When you look back over the course of your life, you begin to realize that you are not the same person you were five years ago, ten years ago, and that the Holy Spirit has been shaping you to be more like Christ as your desires change to be more like His and as you learn to love His word more, love others more, and share your faith as an outpouring of a life devoted to Christ.
Jesus IS beautiful and worthy of praise, and worthy of being served wholeheartedly and given our very best. Let’s do a better job of lifting HIM up and telling WHY we should love Him and worry less about OUR purpose and OUR dreams and visions and wants and desires and seek to see HIM glorified.
Two books I highly recommend that have helped me to process through these things recently:
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J. D. Greear