However much we in the West dislike Karl Marx, he probably influenced the 20th century the most along with Darwin and Freud. Reviewing some notes from my Western Political Philosophy II class, I saw a warning in the life of Marx. He was a man who lost touch of reality, forgetting his life, his family, and his wife. His obsession with ideas compromised his ability to relate to other human beings, and he died a sad and lonely man.
The problems I have with Marx’s philosophies are endless, and unsurprising. However, I was struck by the way he formed his philosophy. Marx sat in his living room and formulated his opinions based on what he could see from the limited vantage point of his window and the immediate town. He never traveled (with the exception of several deportations from countries incensed by his philosophy), never sought to apply his doctrine, never looked past the pane of glass in front of his eyes to see the world as it really worked. He thought himself to be a very capable scientist, who correctly reduced complex political processes down to a scientific formula. And yet to anyone reading his writings, his juvenile understanding of how the world works is readily apparent. Marx imagined himself to be a genius, but in reality misinterpreted the entire world because he never experienced the world himself.
Emulating Marx is all too easy. He was a pure theoretician, not caring to seek out the application of his doctrine. He became enamored with ideas, and cared little about those around him. Marx developed a reputation as an irritable, miserable man who quickly alienated anyone close to him.
There is always the constant danger of doing the same with Scripture. I am growing in knowledge daily, but that does not mean I am growing in godliness. Knowledge without wisdom only leads to disaster. Solomon was the most knowledgable man who ever lived, and was given great wisdom by God. Yet he regressed in wisdom as his heart was turned astray by the gods of his wives. As Marx grew in knowledge, he regressed in wisdom as his ideology grew farther and farther out of touch with reality. Is it any different with theology? If I can only speak systematic theology, am I really pleasing the Lord? “Knowledge puffeth up.” I find this to be truer than I originally thought.
The Gospel—the Doctrine of God come down to rescue sinful men—intersects with real life. It is real life. The souls of men are at stake; it is no game. There is nothing theoretical in “God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. You are a sinful man, and His justice condemns you to hell. But, He sent His Son to take your place.”
Looking through the book of 2 Timothy, I am amazed at the number of times Paul called Timothy to serve and suffer with him. Do not be ashamed of me (1:8). Preach the Word I taught you (1:13). Suffer hardship with me (2:3). You followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and suffering (3:10). Come be with me (4:9).
Perhaps even more amazing is the number of outright commands Paul gives to Timothy. Kindle afresh the gift that is in you (1:6). Do not be ashamed of the Gospel (1:8). Retain the standard of sound words (1:13). Guard the treasure (1:14). Be strong in grace (2:1). Teach others as I have taught you (2:2). Consider what I say (2:7). Remember Jesus Christ (2:8). Solemnly charge people to be direct about the truth (2:14). Handle the Word of God rightly so you will have no shame (2:15). Avoid worldly chatter (2:16). Flee youthful lusts (2:22). Pursue godliness (2:22). Be wise in speech (2:23). Avoid lovers of pleasure (3:5). Continue in the truth (3:14). Preach the Word, regardless of the consequences (4:2). Be serious, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your calling. (4:5)
Paul was a hardcore discipler. Timothy was taught by the most radical man on the face of the earth, and that man told Timothy to imitate him. Radical discipleship as presented in Scripture is a dangerous call to follow. In 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 Paul describes what his passionate pursuit of Christ cost: whippings, beatings, being stoned, shipwrecks, dangers from robbers, Jews, Gentiles, exposure, hunger, thirst, stress, plots on his life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul told the Corinthians “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Imitating Paul had a heavy price tag on it.
We don’t live in a society as threatening as what Paul, Timothy, and the Corinthians faced. But the call to radical living and radical discipleship is no less urgent or extreme in the eyes of the world and the half-hearted American church.
Society tells us that we are entitled to privacy and this has become ingrained in the church (and people in the church like me). Confession of sin to others has almost disappeared, drowned in an appearance-based society. Here at TMC, we have a saying: “You’re just as jacked-up as everybody else. Stop trying to hide it.” The bedrock of authentic discipleship relationships is brutal honesty about sins and impure motives.
Think of the person who God is using at this moment to take you where you don’t want to go in order to produce in you what you could not attain otherwise. Paul rattled Timothy’s cage. Radical discipleship relationships are built upon this model. People who love and care about you biblically are not comfortable to be around. They provide a strong call to think of the horror of Christ hanging on the cross and the impact His blood has on every decision. They don’t offer lame sympathy of dealing with struggles, they stand up and drive you to be holy like God is holy. They understand that leniency and grace are polar opposites.
Everyone has “that guy” in his life who faithfully called him to something better and drove him out of his comfort zone into greater Christlikeness. But I don’t think anyone ever feels like “that guy.” I know I never do. It takes a lot of courage to go hard and go deep into a relationship with someone. It is consistently terrifying to ask that question which cuts like a dagger but has to be asked. As Gunner puts it, there is the constant fear that you’re “charging the hill with no one behind you.” A man who does what is right when nobody else is usually looks like an idiot to everyone else and gets himself hurt.
Radical discipleship is normal discipleship as defined by God. He stepped down out of heaven, ruthlessly pushed twelve men to be like Him, and commanded them to do likewise. “Go. Make disciples just as I did you. Push them just as hard and just as uncompromisingly as I pushed you, understanding that some will reject you like Judas did me, but that’s the cost. I charged the hill with Judas and he didn’t follow.” Jesus never promised results in the Great Commission, but He showed them just how radical they ought to be in discipleship.
Paul’s pursuit of Timothy. Christ’s pursuit of the twelve. These are to be our models in discipleship. In both circumstances, the discipler lost his life. While we probably won’t lose our lives, we’ll most likely lose the esteem of some people. Discipleship is costly, but the benefits are worth it all. Paul said it best to Timothy,
…The time of my departure has come
I have fought the good fight
I have finished the course
I have kept the faith
In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness
Which the Lord
The righteous Judge
Will award to me on that day
And not only to me
But also to all who have loved His appearing
(2 Timothy 4:6-8)
This semester has been very busy. Consequently, I’m not able to post as often as I would like. I want what I write to be profitable both for me to write and for you to read. It takes a good deal of time to write a good post, and so instead of compromising quality, I’ve chosen to post less often. Hopefully I’ll return to posting three times a week again in the future.
These thoughts aren’t in any particular order. All of them deserve a much longer treatment, but I want to share them now. Hopefully they will be profitable to read.
1) Nothing I think or write about is original. Unlike copying literature, spiritual plagarism is pleasing to God, for lives lived for Christ are meantto be copied. Twice Paul tells the Corinthians to plagiarize his life. “Follow my example, as I follow Christ.” The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is a cliche, but it has been repeated so often because it is true. Being in leadership does not raise the standards, as all Christians are called to be as holy as God is holy. Rather, the stakes are raised, as responsibility in a public setting multiplies the effect of godliness and failure.
2) Walking closely with the Savior means being lonely in the world. Few people in this world seek to please Jesus Christ with every fiber of their body and every moment of their waking consciousness. I’m not speaking of perfection, but rather of a drive and passion which can only be explained by a radical gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit. The world does not understand grace in its entirety, and many Christians do not understand the transforming nature of grace. In Pastoral Ministries class, Rick Holland asked us a question: Are you the holy man in your relationships? Are you the restraining order on what movies people watch? Do people think of you when they contemplate their actions? Being in this place is a lonely place to be, but it is to be close to the Savior (Assuming this to be godly holiness and not Pharisaical legalism.)
3) God makes His will clear. Though He does not speak audibly to His people as He did to Moses, clarity still marks the counsel of God. It is easy to forget about the Holy Spirit! The Spirit constantly moves and shapes the desires of our hearts, illuminating the paths we ought to take. I never cease to be amazed how time clarifies the will of God. Patience is a virtue which is all but lost within Western Culture, but it is the medium by which God makes His counsel known.
4) We are to be known as people who love God in His entirety, not just one facet of doctrine. I’m reading a book by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg entitled On Being a Pastor. If anyone is interested in pursuing the pastorate, you should read this book. In it, they warn against being known as “axe-grinders.” Identifying yourself solely with a specific doctrine is damaging, as much of God’s fullness and radiance is glossed over. There is more to the Christian life than baptism, sovereignty, eschatology, etc. We need to study deeply each of these topics, but none of us should ever be known as “The Baptism Man” or “Mr. Divine Sovereignty” because we neglect the rest of God’s glorious revelation!
5) Nothing is harder or more paradoxical than authentic Christianity. There are so many tightropes to walk in Christianity. I am called to be hungry, yet satisfied; thirsty, yet filled; filled with joy, yet grieved over our sin; radical, yet balanced; wise in finances, yet willing and eager to give all away; innocent as doves, yet crafty as serpents; all things to all men, yet not forgetting to be the unique person God made me; dissatisfied with my lack of holiness, yet content with the Spirit’s work in me.
6) Our cursed world still radiates beauty.Go watch a sunset and remember that it is a tainted, imperfect sunset. The sum glories of heaven are beyond my comprehension or imagination. God’s beauty shines so clearly through the veil of our sin, think of what glory we will see once our imperfect body is done away with and the veil is lifted.
Today marks the start of Outreach Week at TMC. This evening, I’ve been asked to preach for a church high school youth group. This is my first full-length sermon, so pray for me! I’ll be preaching out of Numbers 23:19-24. Here’s the conclusion of the sermon. It will be a little choppy, because you don’t have the context of the first twenty-five minutes of sermon.
Having grown up in the church, I am really concerned that kids think about their faith. They don’t realize that God has no grandchildren. I can easily fill up both hands with friends who have walked away from the church and the gospel after graduating high school. I know how easy it is to become a parrot, who speaks what he hears and never believes what he says. The Lord looks at the heart, not the words. And this means all my goods words avail me nothing if my heart does not love the Lord. I praise God that my parents instilled into me from an early age that Jesus doesn’t love me just because He loves them. The point of my sermon can be summed up as this: Are you a parrot? Or are you a child of God?
ARE YOU A PARROT?
C. It’s Matter of Life and Death
It is absolutely critical to realize something: Balaam was not a believer. I cannot stress this enough. Look at what Balaam said about God. And then understand that he was not a believer.
Balaam heard the words of God. He spoke the words of God. He evangelized for God. And Balaam is in hell.
He is proof that it is entirely possible to agree with the words of God—what we would call the Bible—and never actually believe it.
I grew up in church. I’ve attended Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, Wednesday prayer services, AWANA, youth group. And you know what; none of it justifies me before the Lord. Attending church does not mean believing Jesus.
Let me ask you a question: Have you come to the place where you realized that you can’t save yourself? Have you said, “Jesus, I am a sinner, please come and be Lord of my life”? Have you surrendered your life to Christ fully?
Balaam was unwilling to surrender his life to Christ. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 2: 15? Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Balaam was unwilling to humble himself before the Lord and admit he needed to obey God.
Jesus warned us against following the foolishness of Balaam. In Matthew 6:20 He says But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Another famous verse, I know. But remember—God does not lie. Balaam refused to submit himself to the very words he was speaking. He didn’t believe the words. He didn’t trust the words. In the end, Balaam understood the words he spoke. Remember how we said God was on the warpath and He would win? Balaam joined the losing side, and now is suffering for that decision. Balaam stored up for himself treasures on this earth, and they availed him nothing.
Unlike Balaam, we are still alive today. We still have the opportunity to trust Jesus. Guys, if you haven’t trusted the Lord, you need to. Learn from a man who didn’t. Balaam wishes right now he had truly listened to what he was saying. If you don’t know Jesus Christ personally; if you haven’t admitted your need for Him; if you don’t have a desire to obey Him and His Word—please, learn from the foolishness of Balaam.