I just started a new book tonight, which was a mistake, because now I can’t put it down! I’ve read the first two chapters of “Radical” by David Platt, and I am so filled with silent awe and thought that I got out of bed, turned my computer on, and decided there’s work to do that is more important than sleep right now. This book is an invitation to wake up, and trade in false values rooted in the American dream, and embrace a notion that each of us is blessed by God for a global purpose.
This is what the back cover of the book says:
It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, what their new lifestyle would actually look like. They would, he said, leave behind security, money, convenience, even family for him. They would abandon everything for the gospel. They would take up their crosses daily… but who do you know who lives like that? Do you?
So…have we as Americans manipulated the gospel to fit our own comfort? Our own cultural preferences? Have we molded God into OUR image, without even being aware of doing so?
What About Us?
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these eager followers of Jesus in the first century. What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told to not even say good-bye to his family? What if we were told to hate our families and give up everything we had in order to follow Jesus? This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We DO have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We DO have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world LOOK like hate. And it is entirely possible that he WILL tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.
But we don’t want to believe it. We are afraid of what it might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. “Jesus wouldn’t really tell us not to bury our own father or say good-bye to our family. Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was…” And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with. A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.
But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshipping ourselves.
The Cost of Non-Discipleship:
……Consider the cost when Christians ignore Jesus’ commands to sell their possessions and give to the poor and instead choose to spend their resources on better comforts, larger homes, nicer cars, and more stuff. Consider the cost when these Christians gather in churches and choose to spend millions of dollars on nice buildings to drive up to, cushioned chairs to sit in, and endless programs to enjoy for themselves. Consider the cost for the starving multitudes who sit outside the gate of contemporary Christian influence. I remember when I was preparing to take my first trip to Sudan in 2004. The country was still at war, and the Darfur region in western Sudan had just begun to make headlines. A couple months before we left, I received a Christian news publication in the mail. The front cover had two headlines side by side. I’m not sure if the editor planned for these particular headlines to be next to each other or if he just missed it in a really bad way. On the left one headline read, “First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.” A lengthy article followed celebrating the church’s expensive new sanctuary. The exquisite marble, intricate design, and beautiful stained glass were all described in vivid detail. On the right was a much smaller article. The headline for it read, “Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees.” Knowing I was about to go to Sudan, my attention was drawn. The article described how 350,000 refugees in western Sudan were dying of malnutrition and might not live to the end of the year. It briefly explained their plight and sufferings. The last sentence said Baptists had sent money to help relieve the suffering of the Sudanese. I was excited until I got to the amount.
Now remember what was on the left: “First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.” On the right the article said, “Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan.
Five thousand dollars.
That is not enough to get a plane into Sudan, much less one drop of water to people who need it.
Twenty-three million dollars for an elaborate sanctuary and five thousand dollars for hundreds of thousands of starving men, women, and children, most of whom were dying apart from faith in Christ.
Where have we gone wrong? How did we get to the place where this is actually tolerable?
Yes, Mr. Platt, I ask the same question.. how did we get to the place where this is actually tolerable? How did we get to the place where Snooki gets paid $32,000 to tell students at Rutgers University in a commencement speach to “study hard, but party harder,” while 26,000 children died TODAY from starvation or a preventable disease? Just how did we get here?
Radical Revelation to be Radically Received:
Invite Jesus to come into your life. Pray this prayer, sign this card, walk down the aisle, and accept Jesus as your personal Savior. Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seems appropriate. ………I invite you to consider with me a proper response to this gosepl. Surely more than praying a prayer is involved. Surely more than religious attendance is warranted. Surely this gospel evokes unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to all that he is.
You and I desperately need to consider whether we have ever truly, authentically trusted in Christ for our salvation. In this light Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount are some of the most humbling in all Scripture.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”
Jesus was not speaking here to irreligious people, atheists, or agnostics. He was not speaking to pagans or heretics. He was speaking to devoutly religious people who were deluded into thinking they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven when they were actually on the broad road to hell. According to Jesus, one day not just a few but many will be shocked-eternally shocked-to find that they were not in the kingdom of God after all.
The danger of spiritual deception is real. As a pastor, I shudder at the thought and lie awake at night when I consider the possibility that scores of people who sit before me on a Sunday morning might think they are saved when they are not. Scores of people who have positioned their lives on a religious road that makes grandiose promises at minimal cost. We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even a mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way. Much of modern evangelism today is built on…..and it risks disillusioning millions of souls.
…..You might think this sounds as though we have to earn our way to Jesus through radical obedience, but that is not the case at all. Indeed, “it is by grace you (are) saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” We are saved from our sins by a free gift of grace, something that only God can do in us and that we cannot manufacture ourselves. But that gift of grace involves the gift of a new heart. New desires. New longings. For the first time, we want God. We see our need for him, and we love him. We seek after him, and we find him, and we discover that he is indeed the great reward of our salvation. We realize that we are saved not just to be forgiven of our sins or to be assured of our eternity in heaven, but we are saved to know God. So we yearn for him. We want him so much that we abandon everything else to experience him. This is the only proper response to the revelation of God in the gospel.
May we all examine our hearts more closely. May we pray that God align our will with his. May we realize that this side of eternity, this life, is a mere blip of time, and this will all fade away. May we not build our treasures on earth, but in heaven, where they truly matter.