Monday, May 16, 2016

Living in a Different World

Free stock photo of man, hands, church, religion

            With Christendom waning and God’s people becoming increasingly ineffective in gospel witness in North America, it is time to re-focus on the message that is spread.  Dallas Willard does an excellent job of casting the contemporary problem and offering the solution.
            Many evangelicals in North America have come to faith in Jesus Christ through gospel presentations such “The Romans Road” or “Steps to Peace with God.”  Each delineates the biblical realities of human sin, God’s wrath, humanity’s inability to rebuild a relationship with God, and God’s offer of reconciliation through the cross of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23; 6:23).  Where these and many other written or oral gospel presentations have failed is the other side of the coin, after people have said “yes” to a relationship with Jesus.  Verses requiring a lifetime of obedience to Jesus due to our salvation are downplayed or ignored (John 14:23; John 15:10; Matt 28:19-20).  Yet, it is through a lifetime of obedience, submission, and active spiritual formation that spiritual authority and power is generated, the kind of power and authority that have a positive effect in our broken world.  Dallas Willard makes the astute comment:    

           For the one who makes sure to walk as close to Jesus as possible there comes the reliable                    exercise of a power that is beyond them in dealing with the problems and evils that afflict                    earthly existence. Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows                that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the organized and disorganized evils                around us, and that we are unable—given this chosen strategy—to promote his will for good in            this world with adequate power.” (Dallas Willard, The Great Omission)

            Jesus’ message of hope and wholeness was not only one of forgiveness of sin, but also one of newness of life.  According to Willard, “To be ‘saved’ was to be ‘delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of his dear Son,’ as Colossians 1:13 says.  We who are saved are to have a different order of life from that of the unsaved. We are to live in a different ‘world.’” (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines).  The gospel as reflected throughout the entire New Testament says that new life is now available in the Kingdom of God if one trusts Jesus Christ—”trust[s] the whole person of Christ in everything he touches—which is everything" (Willard, The Great Omission).
           Willard continues this stream of thought,
We cannot have a gospel dealing only with sin. We have to have a gospel that leads us to new life in Christ, and then spirituality can be presented as a natural development of such new life.  But if we divide between justification and regeneration in such a way that the gospel is only “believe Jesus died for you sins and you will go to heaven when you die,” we are stuck with a theology that is inherently resistant to a vital spirituality (Willard, The Great Omission).

Quite simply, a gospel that solely emphasizes justification does not create disciples who will pursue becoming like Jesus.  Without truly becoming like Jesus in belief, character, and action, followers of Jesus have no witness or authority in the postmodern world.
            Willard argues persuasively that nothing in the teachings of Jesus or the early followers suggests that one can enjoy Jesus’ forgiveness and yet have nothing more to do with Him until heaven.  As Tozer says, “Salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures.”   Willard has different words but the same conviction, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." (Willard, The Great Omission).
Failure to expend effort in the Christian life, failure to expend effort to practice the spiritual disciplines and become an apprentice of Jesus’ way of life, leads to moral and spiritual defeat—a destination many Christians find themselves in today.  In Willard’s words, “Only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling, and character that ‘cleans the inside of the cup’ (Matthew 23:25) and ‘makes the tree good’ (Matthew 12:33)" (Willard, The Great Omission).
 As we prepare leaders for a church that will live on mission, they need freedom from sin, a freedom that the gospel promises, without the anemic discipleship that a gospel focused only on justification provides.  Nothing less than the future of the church and its witness in the world is at stake.