Vignette one: Centuries ago, when I was a brand-new Christian, I tried to witness to a friend in high school. He listened openly enough to such as I had to say. At the end, he had to confess:
"I just keep trying to convince myself that accepting Jesus would make me a better writer... but I can't!"
I blinked. I hadn't said anything of the sort.
Vignette two: Some time after, I was in the back yard with some family. Something (I think it was a Frisbee) got stuck on the cliff-like hill beyond the fence. One of a couple of adult ladies present said:
"Wish it down, Dan!"
I honestly had no idea what she meant. I must have goggled a bit, because her sister said, "You mean, 'Pray it down.'"
"Yeah!" she agreed. "Pray it down!"
Vignette three: A bit over a year ago, I was trying to explain an excruciatingly hard decision I'd had to make to a loved one who is an unbeliever. I tried to explain it simply and straightforwardly. But she completely disagreed with me, and warned me I'd regret it in ten years.
Her concern was strictly pragmatic. It wouldn't work for me. It wouldn't make me happy. I'd feel sad about it. I shouldn't do it.
Bottom line: the difference between Christianity and paganism is the difference between serving God as God, and trying to be God.
To the dear lady in vignette three, that I would do something simply because I believed it would best serve Christ was inconceivable. Didn't it hurt me? Make me sad? Look bad? Risk alienating others? Then, for pity's sake, why do it?
To the friends in the first two vignettes, God was something to use to get what I want. Could He do that? Make my friend a better writer? Get my Frisbee down?
The pagan conceives of God as (at best) a commodity, a resource, a tool. If the pagan can make no use of Him — or, worse, if God gets in the way of his desires and plans — then God is to be cast off.
How do Christians respond?
Well, how we do respond and how we should respond are, sadly, not always the same thing.
We should respond by preaching the Gospel as it really is: the word of truth, the word of the transcendent Creator and Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:13). We should respond by preaching the Gospel of the imminent Kingdom of God and call the unbeliever to repentance in light of that truth (Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:30-31; 28:31). We should respond by preaching God up, and preaching man down (2 Corinthians 4:1-18). We should unveil the glorious, transcendent majesty of God. We should expose the pathetic, inexcusable, guilty, doomed vulnerability of man. We should set out God's terms of reconciliation, through Christ, because of His work on the Cross. We should call man to immediate and unconditional surrender, by repentant faith.
That's what we should do.
What the church does instead is to try to repackage God, as if he were yesterday's widget, and sell Him as useful. I wish I could say this is seldom done, but you'd know I was lying. I've seen books, I've heard sermons, I've seen ads that present God as the best way to get what we want, to achieve our dreams, and as the ultimate Enabler of our agendas.
This is the god of Balak, the god who can be manipulated into serving our desires. The god of paganism.
This is not the terror of Isaac (Genesis 31:42, 53), the holy and majestic and unspeakably ultimate God of the fathers, the prophets, or the apostles. It is not the God our Lord Jesus proclaimed, served, nor revealed.
God forbid we offer dying men such a miserable substitute — let alone cling to such a lie ourselves.