"Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven,but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast,but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross." [Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ]
The Puritans have a saying: "The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay." The Cross of Jesus Christ melts the icy cold complacent hearts, while it also hardens some hearts resulting in the rejection of Christ since it has a tendency to deal with sin and other issues. The Cross is still an offense to many while it is continually piercing hearts and wooing them back into the love of Christ. When culture is critiqued in love and Christianity is brought into question by the Cross of Jesus Christ, it has a tendency to resound warning notes and calls into question many predominant cultural trend within the Church and society. Some reject this: this is why there are persecutions (like three leaders that were martyred in Turkey by Muslims who regularly attended their Bible study). It challenges and breaks every man-made religious beliefs and egocentric human nature, probing our inner most beings,often resulting in rage against those who preach it. It pierces between the division of soul and spirit, judges the desires and thoughts and intentions of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12).
We live in a Post-modern Therapeutic Culture. If you look up books, television, advertisements, health consciousness, affluence, comfort, self-help groups; everything is trivial. These things are not necessarily bad in themselves, but I must call into question as to what extent this pop culture has penetrated the life of the Church numbing believers in their walk with God, and has succumbed to a secular drift. The tricky part of being adrift is that it is not speedy but slow. The scriptural prophetic role is to raise questions with a love and care for the spiritual health of the Church. Christians are called to ” examine” themselves whether they are in the faith or not. This is not hard to see in the Bible.
A recent article that I read from Preaching.com had this interesting excerpt titled: “TEENS CONFUSED ABOUT HOW TO GET TO HEAVEN.” It reads:” A recent LifeWay Research survey of American teens shows that most believe in heaven but have mixed views about how to get there. According to a May 23 Baptist Press story: Results show that 69 percent of teens believe heaven exists. Also, a majority strongly agree with the traditional Christian belief in Jesus Christ’s death for their sins as the reason they will go to heaven (53 percent). Yet while many teens believe they will go to heaven because of their belief in Jesus Christ, one-quarter trust in their own kindness to others (27 percent) or their religiosity (26 percent) as their means to get to heaven. Out of the 69 percent of the teens who strongly or somewhat agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins, 60 percent also agree that they will go to heaven because they are religious and 60 percent also agree they will go to heaven because they are kind to others. That leaves approximately 28 percent of American teenagers who are trusting only in Jesus Christ as their means to get to heaven.”
The author continues: “This is where confusion and perhaps a bit of self-made salvation have crept in.” Scott Stevens,LifeWay’s director of student ministry,noted: “Why would teenagers feel the need to add anything to Jesus’ work on the cross? Maybe it’s because so many of them are fully engulfed in a performance-based existence where they are constantly striving to earn the favor and acceptance of those around them, especially those in positions of authority. How often do these teens experience Unconditional LOVE…. in their church?”"
Let’s zero-in on the words: “Unconditional love…..in their Church.” By unconditional love, there is only one definition-(Greek)Agape. Or simply put: “God-kind of love” found in and through Christ. Before my brother Stephen became a Pastor, he had this deep conviction of original sin which troubled my entire family. Stephen had gone to an evangelistic campaign with some of my colleagues, a team that goes by the name of JERICHO OPERATION where I had been working as an assistant secretary and Bible- counsellor. Stephen came home,deeply convicted of his own sin to a point where I had to take him to a Psychiatrist since he could not stop groaning crying day after day. That morning in the spring of 2004, there were a couple of eyes staring at us at the Psychiatric clinic because of Stephen’s condition. We were ushered in after waiting for several minutes. The Psychiatrist did his best to help him, prescribing medications and asking questions, as I stood by Stephen’s side with my Mother.
One sentence that still rings like a loud sobering Church bell literally blew my mind away. He said,” I usually refer this state of human brokenness to Evangelists and Bible counsellors. There has been many cases where I have co-worked with Evangelists in relation to this condition,” said the Psychiatrist. My Mother added, “He (Stephen) has been doing nothing lately but reading and meditating upon his bible and praying before he departed with the evangelism team.” Looking at Stephen’s countenance the Psychiatrist affirmed, “That is very good, keep it up!” Much later, after recovering from this brokenness, Stephen said to me, “You thought I had become insane; but I heard the gospel preached to me so powerfully that brought convictions of my inner sin.”
The Psalmist clearly portrayed this when he said in Psalm 51:
(V. 6) For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
(v.17) The sacrifices of God are a BROKEN SPIRIT;
a BROKEN and CONTRITE HEART,O God,you will not despise.
(v.18) Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
The entire chapter is a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. This is not a mere emotional-hype worked-up by human will or religious-ambition, but one that comes from a deeper conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit. There are many among SOME (not all) in Charismatic camps and Pentecostals, including mainline evangelicals, that teaches the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as a mere THERAPY for patching up old habits or lifting up low human self-esteem in favor of biblical text that says men are created in the image of God. This, of course, is partial truth. Man does regain a new healthier image after conversion.
The truth is that man is created in the image of God but, I must insist, a fallen IMAGE that fell short of the glory of God (Roms 3:23 ). Prophetic imagination captures biblical verses revealing to us that God in His grace tears a man down by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that he may build him up,creating him anew,and conforming him to the image of his Son.
Remember how David wept before God in Psalm 51?
(v.10 )CREATE in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
(v.11) CAST me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
(v.12) RESTORE to me the JOY of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
People often pray for revival in their Churches and nations. However, the most crucial element of a God-centered revival is often ignored. Christ made this explicitly clear in John 16: 8, 9: “And when he comes, he will CONVICT the world concerning SIN and righteousness and judgment….” So the question must be asked, “Is the Church prepared for a deeper knowledge and conviction of sin?” When sin is diagnosed and dealt with, people can, by the mercies of God, see, behold and embrace Christ as he truly is.
Many people use Jesus’ Name as a band-aid to patch up old wounds merely to escape pain and suffering. Jesus is often portrayed as a short-cut/ ticket to heaven by filling decision cards that says, “I accept Jesus” merely because people want to avoid hell. Hindus in India, with their many deities have said, “I respect Jesus” and do not have problems adding one more god to their religion, resulting in pluralism, syncretism, polytheism and the deification of the self.
The New Testament greek uses the word “metanoia” for repentance. This is a u-turn,a spiritual paradigm shift of the heart, that when the Cross of Jesus Christ is preached,”the word of God” which is living and active,sharper than any two-edged sword, pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow,discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Without the preaching of the Cross,and the Holy Spirit’s deeper conviction, Christianity will be as strident and as destructive as that which it tries to mend. As one author puts it: “The Cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done...by one who must embrace the GRIEF, enter into death [to self], and know the pain of the criticised one.” Jesus understood this so well and embodied what prophet Jeremiah felt so incisively. Post-modern contemporary Church is aware of this in theory, but in practice, we have not come close.
At best, we might be on our way by His sovereign grace. There is so much talk about the Holy Spirit in our present age,but I doubt that the Holy Spirit can be so powerfully at work whereas people have disinterested concern in Christ himself. When He is genuinely involved, Christ is always the focus of people’s attention and affections.—–Joey.Z