This past Sunday morning I was preparing for Bible study, and three minutes before starting, a member tells me, smiling widely, “The church has refused to help me with what I’ve asked for so I’m going to find another church.”
With that, he left. He had been attending for almost two months and had recently placed his membership with our congregation; and if he would have waited a minute more to speak with the pastor, he would have learned the pastor had acquired what he had asked for. There was nothing to do but jump into the Bible study and move on; but our passage brought to me a heaviness that matched the moment.
In Philippians 3:18-19, Paul is writing to his congregation in Philippi and, while instructing them to follow his example and those like him, warns them of a group of “Christians” out there called libertines or antinomians. Having accepted Jesus, they felt that grace allowed them to discard most moral standards or boundaries, letting them live however they wished. Paul writes of them “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
I feel sick writing this, but isn’t this a picture of what many of us do with church anymore? It’s no longer about coming before a Holy God and bringing our brokenness and out-of-control egos to the cross, and, through long-term obedience, letting Christ’s holy character redemptively and corporately shape each evil and annoying one of us into His Church, being rooted in good news for good works.
Rather, like a buffet or shopping mall, we show up to church with our entitled, consumer attitudes, pick and choose what’s to our liking, feed our felt “needs”, and move on until next week. We want an easy god or spirituality and a happy hangout that provides nice, uncomplicated relationships, exciting music, cool events, and a cheap grace that requires nothing of us, but once we catch a glimpse of the blood-stained cross and hear Jesus say “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”, we realize there is nothing easy and cheap about what Christ is calling us to; so we move onto something a bit more pampering. The health, wealth, and comforts of this our consumer culture are caressing the hearts of our Christians, churches, pastors, and groups to seduce and shape them into nonchalant, carefree, and cozy “enemies of the cross”.
Martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”
Die to ourselves, die to our egos, die to that which we think we are owed and entitled. If we do not come to the cross and die with Christ, we can never rise up in Christ to live the life enriched with His righteousness, revealing Christ and Christ only.
For your thoughts, here’s a question I’ve been pondering recently: Do you want to be a Christian, or do you just want to appear to be a Christian?