For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again – 2 Cor. 5:14-15
The biggest problem of the Church today is the reversal of that passage. And no, I’m not talking only about the Prosperity Gospel and its branches; I’m talking about the way we regard our Christianity today (coming to think of it, the world-famous magazine bearing that title is a great example of this).
We live in the me-me-me era, and it didn’t end in the 80’s. In fact, it’s been there since Adam and Eve decided that they’d be better off doing their own thing (Gen. 3) rather than obeying God. And ever since the Fall, mankind has been corrupted; we are inherently and by nature selfish, seeking our own benefit and generally looking out for number one, to the point where it becomes accepted as the status quo of life. The occasional selfless – or at least apparently selfless – act surprises us, throws our worldview off-balance and we cynically ask what lies beneath. If a stranger smiles at you in the street, you’ll instinctively wonder what he or she wants. And not in a good way.
It is this selfish nature that our heavenly Father deals with throughout our earthly walk with Him. He saves us by His own grace (Eph. 1:7) and for His own glory (Eph. 1:5-6).This is what Scripture speaks of when it states that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Ps. 3:8; cf. Is. 43:11). We are saved because of who God is and because of what He has done, and because of this, He rightly gets all the glory.
People don’t like this – evidence is found in the doctrines of all of the world’s religions: Do something and you’ll earn your place with God (or gods). It’s what we call a “works-righteousness” system of belief, and even a little child can describe it:
“Who goes to heaven?”
“And who goes to Hell?”
This has nothing to do with the gospel as proclaimed in the Bible. As far as Scripture is concerned, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, emphasis added) and subsequently, we all desperately need the salvation offered by God in Christ. We’re all born with Hell as our destination, and the only way out is by repentance and faith in Christ who bore the penalty for our sins
But we know all this, don’t we? And yet, like with so many truths of the Bible, we often fail to meditate (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2) on this crucial one and so we miss the great implications and applications that flow from it. The Church today suffers from Biblical illiteracy of a medieval scale. Our lives – at least over here in the fat West – are quick and easy to the point where we don’t even realise it anymore. We don’t learn anymore to chew mental food – everything has to be served in digestible sound bites without long words. And this dumbing-down of Scripture input has transferred into the Church, and thus we approach the study of God’s Word lightly and superficially. The result? Sermonettes for Christianettes – to quote John MacArthur. We learn our little poems, smile at the pictures and off we go to perpetually unchanged and unaffected lives of Churchian discip-lite. And in that manner, it is easy to miss the meat of the Word (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13). So let’s take a moment and consider our original passage (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
It is fair to say that the apostle Paul went through a lot of trouble with the Corinthian church. In total, he wrote to them at least four letters of which divine providence has delivered us only two. What we know as 1 Corinthians is in fact at least the second letter Paul addressed to this tumultuous church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9). In there, the apostle addressed a number of issues, from sexual immorality and church conduct to the use of spiritual gifts – literary one problem after the other.
To make things worse, disturbing news reached Paul, who was in Ephesus, about the infiltration of false teachers in the Corinthian congregation. So Paul decided to visit them in person – an event known as the “painful visit” (2 Cor. 2:1). During this time, someone from the Corinthian assembly stood up and publicly insulted Paul (2 Cor. 2:5-8, 10; 7:12), and the church did nothing to defend their founding apostle. Broken-hearted and wanting to spare the Corinthians further reproof (2 Cor. 1:23), Paul went back to Ephesus, from where he wrote a third letter known as “the severe letter” (2 Cor. 2:4). The letter apparently had the desired effect, and the Corinthian church repented – but not completely. Paul – possibly in Philippi now – knew that there were still some rebels left in there; some recalcitrant minorities who would just lie dormant until they could strike again. So he decided to do two things: First, to write them the letter that we know as 2 Corinthians, calling for full repentance and reconciliation and second, to follow that letter by visiting them again in person (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1-2).
We don’t know what happened when Paul revisited the Corinthian church. We don’t know if he had to go there and be bold among them (2 Cor. 10:2), or if the Corinthians examined themselves (2 Cor. 13:5) and cleaned up their act. What we do know is that Paul was forced to defend himself and his apostleship against slanderous accusations from the false teachers in the church, because what was at stake was not just his character, but the authenticity of the Word of God. If Paul was discredited, so was his message and thus the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ.
And in the midst of this, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives a succinct description of what the Christian life is all about: Namely, that is does not belong to the Christian. And it was crucial for the Corinthians to understand this, because, like for us today, it was the key to all their problems.
We don’t think like that anymore. The gospel today has mutated into a man-centred, it’s-all-about-you therapy that wants Jesus as either the magic pill that will sort your problems out or the cherry on the top of your not-too-bad life. Acknowledgment of sin, repentance, the holiness and righteousness of God, His Just character and Hell are hardly mentioned. Today’s evangelism has turned the gospel into just another self-help recipe, and the Bible into a diet of “becoming a better person”.
Well, it’s not hard to understand why the Church of Christ is so corrupted, weak and apathetic today. If you get the gospel wrong, you are not left with much to build on – especially since a wrong gospel will not save and convert anyone and you’ll just wind up with a church full of people who are not even saved to start with.
But here the Word of God gives us a shattering reality: If you are a Christian, then your life is not your own anymore (not that it ever was). It belongs to Christ because He gave it to you through His resurrection. Life is not about our dreams, ambitions and desires, but about His service. This is why He called us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mat. 6:33) and why He called us to bear a cross as His disciples (Mat. 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23): Because when we came to Christ in faith, we died to ourselves so that we can live in a new life (Rom. 6:4, 11). This is God’s plan for us – that we start our new life dead to our old self and now, like newborns, to grow into the character, image and likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
This is from where everything flows out: Service, ministry, holiness, worship, obedience, wisdom, security, peace, joy – the entire Christian life. When we see life like this, self-sacrifice is no longer a feat but the natural expression of this spiritual reality; and from this then pours out love (which in the Bible is self-sacrificial action, not just a feeling).
We need to take some time to meditate on this truth and pray that the Holy Spirit will show us how we can start living like that; to see where this death and life must come in our lives practically, so that we might begin to grow into the people that God wants us to. There simply is no other way.