A Sludge of Self-Help Solutions
Hello Church Family,
I have been praying for you this week, that God would cause you (and me) to embody in increasing measure the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, [for] against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
As I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon, someone asked me recently, over lunch, “What is the single most influential book you’ve ever read (outside of the Bible, of course)?” That was a tough one! In fact, I couldn’t give an answer. There’s a long list of authors who have impacted me immensely: Calvin, Luther, Vos, Piper, Carson, Clowney, Keller, Tripp, Bridges, Zahl … I could go on for days; but narrowing it down to one seemed almost impossible.
So I went back to my office, thought about it for a minute, and surveyed my shelves. Ultimately, I determined that I could, at least, identify one book that has wielded the greatest influence over the past decade, and it’s this: Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. Wow, what an exposé of the alternative gospel of the American church; along with a pointed and well-reasoned solution: a return to the gospel of grace.
Well, in case you’ve never heard of the book, nor have the time to read it, I thought I’d include a brief snippet for your edification and joy. Here goes:
“The central message of Christianity is not a worldview, a way of life, or a program for personal and societal change; it is a gospel. From the Greek word for “good news,” typically used in the context of announcing a military victory, the gospel is the report of an appointed messenger who arrives from the battlefield. That is why the New Testament refers to the offices of apostle (official representative), preacher, and evangelist, describing ministers as heralds, ambassadors, and witnesses. Their job is to get the story right and then report it … And the result is a church, an embassy of the Triune God in the midst of this passing evil age, with the whole people of God giving witness to God’s mighty acts of redemption.
It is not incidental, then, that this story of redemption is called Good News. If it were merely information or a program for self-improvement, it would be called something else, like good advice or a good idea or good enlightenment. But it’s Good News because it is an announcement of something that someone else has already achieved for us.
When we are distracted from this commission, we begin to think of ourselves not as ambassadors of a great King and witnesses to that which someone else has accomplished for us but as the stars of the show. Instead of reporting the news, we become the news. In fact, today we often hear Christians speak of “living the gospel” and “being the gospel,” as if anything we do and are can be considered a supplement to God’s victory in Christ Jesus. Instead of ambassadors, heralds, reporters, and witnesses, pastors become entrepreneurs, managers, coaches, therapists, marketing gurus, and communications specialists.
With this transition, the focus necessarily falls on what we do, and Jesus’s role is reduced to an example. Books and sermons that offer good advice rank higher on the relevance scale than those offering the Good News. Just visit your local Christian bookstore and compare the number of books on Christ’s person and work with the aisles of “Christian” self-help literature. Yet the Bible provides a very different focus. With the exception of a few important passages in which we are told to follow Christ’s example of suffering love on behalf of others, the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is unique in every way: in who he was, what he did, and what he said. Only he could be God incarnate; only he could produce miracles that were signs of his deity and messianic mission; only he could inaugurate the kingdom with his blessings and curses; only he could die as an atoning sacrifice for sinners and be raised as the first fruits of those who sleep.” (pp. 105-106)
Perhaps I’m just weird (which is very likely reality!) but reading that makes me want to shout, “Hallelujah!” Jesus has done what I could never do—obey God’s law fully and completely, satisfy God’s wrath entirely, pay the penalty for humankind’s rebellion through his cross, conquer death and hell by his resurrection—so that I could be reconciled to God the Father and spend eternity with him! The realization of that causes my love for God to explode. It moves my heart to obey him joyfully and spontaneously. It allays my fears and anxieties.
My brothers and sisters, let’s continue to talk about what God has done for us in Jesus, and not get lost in all the motivational advice and improvement strategies of would-be self-help gurus!
In his grace,