In Britain, the Church is sometimes seen as a bunch of negative grumblers, who enjoy complaining and are anti everything –perhaps with some justification. But before we try too hard to put the record straight, it is important to realise that there is a grain of truth there. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
The simple fact is that the gospel is negative before it is positive, and the truth can never be adapted to our politically correct society. The process only works the other way round.
Only the devil says ‘do what you like’
Even within the Church it is easy to laugh at all the ‘Thou shalt nots’, but this is dangerous ground. It certainly is for freedom that Christ set us free, but that freedom is from sin, not from the obligation to follow a Christian lifestyle. Only the devil says ‘do what you like’. It is the road to destruction that is wide; the road to life is as narrow as it always has been.
And Psalm One, the first of that great collection of human accounts, which showcase the realities of living for God, makes the matter plain. Before we read a single statement of what the man of God should do, we get a comprehensive list of actions that he must avoid. And they all relate to going along with the crowd.
Today it is rarely heard from our pulpits, but it has never been more important that we ‘come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.’
Possibly this has been over-emphasised in the past, but certainly the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Meanwhile, the biblical standard remains exactly where it always has been. Eight of the Ten Commandments are negative statements of what believers should not do. And before anyone writes that off as Old Testament stuff, check your concordance: they are all repeated in the New Testament – more often than they are in the Old!
The joy of forgiveness cannot be found before the agony of conviction
The inescapable fact is that Christianity does have a huge negative element. If anyone wants to follow Christ ‘he must deny himself and take up his cross daily’. ‘Popular Christianity’ is virtually a contradiction in terms.
The joy of forgiveness cannot be found before the agony of conviction. It is only those who humble themselves that the Lord can exalt. The verses roll on and on. It was Paul who was in chains when he spoke to Governor Felix, but it was Felix who was afraid. Paul had chosen to speak on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).
And so, today, let us pray anew for our preachers, that they will be given words so that they can fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (Eph 6:19). And let each one of us seek to build with gold, silver and costly stones rather than wood, hay or straw. Because judgment day is coming, and I certainly don’t want to be one of those ‘escaping through the flames’ (1 Cor 3:15).
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