But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. II Timothy 3:1-5
The northwest burgeons with people who reject Christianity. Living near Seattle, I am in constant contact with the ardent anti-theist. Admittedly, when lounging in a darkened Starbucks and the man sipping coffee behind me is engrossed in Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist or Richard Dawkins’, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, I have an irrepressible urge to ask him a question which inevitably brings on a passionate lecture about the enslavement, abusiveness and intolerance of religion. I am never offended, only fascinated.
More often, as I pause for a breath while hiking up Mt. Rainier, unexpected and enlightening conversations develop with others who have stopped to marvel at the view. Delighted to find someone intently interested in their opinion, they unburden their heart with surprising intimacy. Almost all claim a deep spirituality, yet divorced from the evils of corporate religion. They are often shocked that I sympathize with their rejections of Christianity for an individualistic, inclusive mother-earth-respecting, liberal metaphysical devotion. And I do get it--even if I disagree . When you look at Christianity today, it is tempting to dismiss it as empty zealousness.
These sincere, semi-agnostics don’t want ethereal, theological truths to argue, but a practical spirituality--a spirituality devoid of judgmentalism and elitism--one that brings peace and unity. They are looking for a remedy for their hangovers, their loneliness, their feelings of inadequacy and rejection--something to make sense of the chaotic confusion of the world. They want something real with results you can see, feel, touch.
Why did they rejected Christianity? Because we have nothing to offer the masses. Our faith seems to have no power to solve problems. Christians preach a better world through faith, but look at our lives. Christians are lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, Christian’s children are no more obedient than anyone else's, we are ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure. Statistically, Christians almost parallel “the world” in sex outside marriage, divorce and abortion rates. How are our lifestyles superior to faithful Jews or Muslims or Buddhists? Why become like a hypercritical, narrow-minded fundamentalist with a bunch of moral standards they promote but never keep? Yes, perhaps Christians offer free tickets to life after death, but most people aren’t really threatened by the idea of hell.
Who can blame those who reject Christianity for saying no thanks to our self-righteous badgerings that claim we hold the moral high ground? We may think that our personal-assurance-of-salvation-independent-of-how-we-act is a good sales point, but to others it just comes across hypocritically smug.
That cross-tatooed, porn-addicted, thrice-divorced deacon who greets at the church entryway may make you feel you have a cool place to worship, but unless some of the sinners are graduating into sainthood, I’d say its time to recall the gospel product for manufacturing defects.
I know what you are thinking. The beauty of the gospel is that Christ died for our salvation and it is not our good deeds that save us. And please note: I AGREE! Our works do not save us. Jesus’ works save us. What are we, ablaze with the incredible free gift of salvation, supposed to do now--start preaching works-righteousness? No!
Yet, think of what has become of Christianity? Where have we gone wrong that our lives cause a stumbling block to the cross?
I am going to back up and give some context:
Dualism and Faith
An ancient philosophy called dualism underpins the worldview of 21st-century evangelicals. Dualism, the idea that there is a cosmic struggle between the material and the non-material world, is not in and of itself wrong. Christianity, however, has accepted the pagan solution to this problem. This is the reason we have lost the power to our gospel message. I will attempt an explanation, but I will have to begin in Genesis. The following may seem a bit too philosophically erudite, but please give me a chance to explain where I think the majority of westerners get it wrong:
The Material World is Still Good
God is spirit. What exactly His spiritness is we don’t know. However, we do know that within the realms of the unseen came the seen. Into His vast deep cosmos, He spoke and there was material. Before He introduced man onto this earth, He created matter by which man could interact with God. He looked upon the heavens, the earth, the seas and the creatures He had breathed into existence and He pronounced them good. The material world, matter, physicalness is good!
Creating us to enjoy and interrelate with matter, God gifted us with eyes to see the colors, shapes, textures, shadows and light. He gave us hearing to understand depth and balance, to delight in music and voices, wind and waves. We can taste, touch and smell the physical realm. The material world allows us to interact with ourselves, others and God. Imagine trying to know God without senses. Yet, we also know there is much more than what our senses can identify. There is the spiritual world that is experienced beyond matter. Both the physical and the spiritual are integral to knowing God.
The effects of disobeying our Creator was the tearing apart of perfect unity--the oneness--of spiritual and material. Isolation infiltrated our existence and we began our irreversible drift from God. Human interrelationships deteriorated, and our beings, both our souls and our bodies began decomposing until finally--death--the material disappears. The world grew fragmented on the spiritual level and worked its way down to the microscopic level. The immaculate and spotless system collapsed.
Then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, Son of God, stepped into the world of matter and began the process of reunifying what had shattered. We still breathlessly await the final restoration of both the physical and spiritual when Christ comes again.
The earliest Greek philosophers understood the problem of this disintegration. Body and spirit seemed in ceaseless tortured competition. They felt the soulful urge to transcend the physical and reach out for a spiritual experience that matter simply could not satisfy. They mistakenly took the physical nature as embodying the sin or the evil of man. The material world seemed to restrict a human’s ability to capture and reside in the divine. All that was good; beauty, love, justice, compassion, truth was unreachable for imprisoned flesh. The senses could only barely perceive these higher, purer elements. They did not recognize the it was their sinful hearts that needed to repent and be made clean. There was no power to change the terrible weight of sin.
So, the early pagan philosophers, most famously Socrates (in Plato’s Phaedo), believed the person must strive to disassociate one’s soul from the physical world in order to see the unseeable, encounter the invisible higher truths. Virtue and truth could only be discovered by struggling against physical body. You can see dualism take shape in the polar opposites of hedonism (the physical is worthless, so it irrelevant what the body does) and asceticism (excessive discipline and self-denial bring physical into submission of spiritual.) Suicide by hemlock, Plato recorded, liberated Socrates from the evil physical world. Only in death could one come to the fullness of truth and see clearly. This world held no hope, no power to release one’s body from evil.
Dualism in Faith
A fracturing of body and soul happened in Eden, we as Christians agree. Paul speaks of dualism of body and soul, the fight between body and spirit.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:21-24,
But Protestants have incorporated the presupposition of dualism into their concept of faith. They have done to faith what the Greek philosophers did with the body and spirit. They split faith into two parts--the spiritual and the physical and pitted what should have been a perfect unity against each other.
Most Evangelicals teach that faith is born purely in an intellectual/emotional spiritual realm that may or may not then move into the physical realm. Faith is reality without form or movement. Indeed some Protestants will demand that sincere, authentic faith will prove itself in the material world. Even so, it is also essential for the fundamentalist that a living, salvific faith remains distinct from any work. It must or their Protestantism implodes. For them, the power of faith is the power to raise one from the dead, not a power to conquer the sins Christ saved us from while we live.
As a Protestant, I knew many who were just thrilled to death that sin in no way impeded their relationship with Christ. Anything they did to “try and be good” or in any way modify their behavior was as filthy rags and unacceptable to God. Some Protestants are comfortable with their self-centered characters and have no plans to walk in the path of righteousness. Their seats to heaven are padded, so they sit back and rest in the arms of Christ casually acknowledging the sinfulness of sin, but not realizing there was abundant grace given to us by God to overcome the forces of evil that hold our natures' hostage.
This faith may save you, but it will never convince the unbeliever. Christians have become a huge stumbling block for those who don’t believe because today’s Christianity has no power within the lives of the believer. Faith is a trophy rather than a power tool for your life. Faith has no effects. Christians have the form of godliness but deny the power.
Here are a few texts that describe the power of our faith:
Luke 24: 49, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Acts 1: 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Acts 19: 20, “In this way the word of the LORD spread widely and grew in power.”
Romans 15: 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I Corinthians 4: 20, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”
I Corinthians 2: 4, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.”
II Corinthians 6:7, “in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.”
II Corinthians 10: 4, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
II Corinthians 12: 9, “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”
II Corinthians 13: 4, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.”
Colossians 1: 11 “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully...”
I Thessalonians 1: 5, 9, 11, “ because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake....They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the LORD and from the majesty of his power.... With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”
II Timothy 1: 7, 8 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our LORD, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
This power of God is not just miracles, not just a zealous way of preaching, but a power to change the person into the likeness of God. This is a transformative power, a power that crushes the head of the serpent and the demonic forces that have held us in slavery. It is the power to slay sin.
Christ not only died so that we would be saved from eternal hell, but that unity may be achieved again--the chaos and shattering of sin in our lives could be healed. His blood purchased the unity of oneness of both the seen and unseen and that our faith would shine in both the physical and spiritual realms. This is the power unbelievers need to see. This is what the world is searching for. Our gospel should not only speak it but live it.
James 2: 14-26, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.