31 December 2018

Let the Church Seek God's Honor, Not this World's Acclaim

An addendum to last Friday's theme
by Phil Johnson

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.—James 4:4



cripture forbids believers to imbibe the world's values (cf. 1 John 2:6; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21) or set their affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2; 1 John 2:15; Matthew 16:23). Christians do not belong to this world. We are not beholden to the world. We cannot legitimately court the world's admiration or approval. And it is wrong to think otherwise. Jesus told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:9).

That truth is ignored or rejected by multitudes of 21st-century evangelical Christians who wrongly believe that if the church does not first win the world's friendship and admiration, we have no hope of reaching anyone for Christ. Some of today's largest and most influential churches even take surveys to find out the desires and ambitions of unbelievers in their communities. Then they plan their Sunday services accordingly, putting on a performance that caters to what people say they desire.

Popular televangelists follow a cruder version of the same strategy, promising people health, prosperity, and riches in return for money. They are today's equivalent of the medieval indulgence-sellers. These religious charlatans make their appeal blatantly and directly to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"—the same carnal cravings that 1 John 2:16 says are "not of the Father but . . . of the world."

Churches are full of people who are sinfully obsessed with the whims and entertainments of this world. They are desperate to keep up with various worldly fads and secular celebrities. They wrongly believe that if they embrace the icons of pop culture, the world will also embrace them and therefore be more open to Christ. So they wear the badges of worldly fashions; they echo the key elements of worldly wisdom; and they immerse themselves in worldly amusements. They cultivate an unhealthy appetite for attention, popularity, and worldly approval, convincing themselves that this is a valid evangelistic strategy.

Even in the highest echelons of evangelical academia certain scholars seem driven by an unhealthy yearning for academic renown. They become so desperate to win the admiration of their counterparts in the secular academy that they willingly compromise the truth and sometimes even apostatize completely.

The wish to be noticed and admired by other people is itself a carnal, illegitimate lust. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because, "They [did] all their deeds to be seen by others" (Matthew 23:5). They made a show of public piety to give the impression they were holier than anyone else.

Like the Pharisees, today's stylish evangelicals fancy the praise and recognition of other people. But unlike the Pharisees, most of them want to be noticed for being hip, not holy.

It dishonors Christ when Christians try to fit into the fraternity of those who hate Him. Scripture is very clear about this: "Friendship with the world is enmity with God."

According to Jesus, the only business the Holy Spirit has with the world outside the church is to "convict [unbelievers] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Those are precisely the themes that are typically omitted when churches become too interested in winning the world's approval.

The church must get back to preaching the gospel, remembering that the message of the cross, when faithfully preached, is by God's own design "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The gospel alone is "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Christians should not be ashamed to proclaim it.

It's true that if we are faithful, many in the world will view us with contempt as enemies—and we must be prepared for that. "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). The world put Christ to death, and He said, "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).

Furthermore, our Lord Himself didn't shy away in shame or retaliate in anger. Indeed, "to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. . . . When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Phil's signature


From 95 Theses for a New Reformation: For the Church on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, edited by Aaron B. Hebbard (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 144-45.

4 comments:

Even So... said...

It dishonors Christ when Christians try to fit into the fraternity of those who hate Him.

Yes, that's true and it's awful. But this is what happens when your theology says that everyone naturally has the ability within themselves to choose Christ. Therefore, using any and every means necessary becomes a necessity. As if they can soften Jesus to the point that he is palatable to the general populace.

I'm not simply aiming to attack a synergistic approach to salvation, however. There are lots of people who don't know much about that who nevertheless think it is good and right to partner with or mirror the culture in order to win it. They might even use 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (as in...I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some) as a justification for such error. But Paul wasn't engaging in sinful activity to identify with others. And he was despised by the culture of his day.

Unknown said...

The High Calling...

If God has called you to be really like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put on you such demands of obedience, that He will not allow you to follow other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.
Other Christians and ministers who seem very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it; and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.
Others can brag on themselves, on their work, on their success, on their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.
Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money or having a legacy left to them or in having luxuries, but God may supply you daily because He wants you to have something far better than gold, and that is a helpless dependence on Him, that He may have the privilege of providing your needs day by day out of the unseen treasury.
The Lord may let others be honored, and put forward, and keep you hid away in obscurity, because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.
God will let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him, and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing; and then to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done, and this will make your reward ten times greater when Jesus comes. The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over. So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and He will not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you. God will take you at your word; and if you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and let other people say and do many things that you cannot do or say. Settle it forever, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that others are not dealt with. Now when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven.

Author Unknown

Unknown said...

Well said. It's very difficult to find a church in my country Ghana that does not fall into this catergory of self glorification. God bless you for this article .It's eye opening

Charles Hays said...

So true.