How many times have you heard something along these lines? “He says things that are controversial. He sometimes stretches the interpretation to make a point. I don’t always agree with what he says. But, at least, he is preaching from the Word!” The words “at least” are our way of saying we value a message based on a text of Scripture rather than a motivational topic looking for a Bible verse. And we should. But is “at least” the best we can do?
There is no honor in “preaching the Word” if we are not getting it right. In response to our view that modern preaching has gone soft, we are in danger of thinking any expository message will do. And a common expository message of evangelical preaching today is an unfortunate distortion of the New Testament message. A common response to the feel good message of motivational speakers has been to emphasize the negative and put a thick, wet blanket over the joy, promise, and power of New Covenant living.
And this negative emphasis plays right into Satan’s hand. Why would the devil want believers to experience the joy, promise, and power of New Covenant living? That kind of excitement might become contagious and draw in the lost. No, let’s keep a heavy “woe is me” attitude of all that is wrong with me, with the church, and with the world. Let’s promote that flavor of Christianity that puts a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
I believe Satan has used two influences to manipulate and promote this negative message. First, our theological constructions regarding moral depravity do not adequately reflect all that changed at the new birth. Without Christ, the lost are truly morally depraved; slaves of sin’s power without hope in this world. But somehow, this system of theology requires believers to be labeled as sinners as well, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why since it is in opposition to all the New Testament teaches. I constantly hear believers referred to as having a wicked and deceitful heart (Jer 17:9) despite the fact that our old heart, too dirty to be cleaned up, has been replaced (Ez 26:36). I constantly hear believers described according to Paul’s lament of Romans 7 even though, in the context of his Romans message, it makes the most sense to understand his angst as his pre-conversion existence. (See my earlier post Romans 7 and the Normal Christian Life.) A system of theology that requires this dim of a view of the believer’s power over sin is not letting the Bible speak for itself.
A second influence Satan is using is our experience with sin. We have all felt the tug of sin’s power. And Satan comes to us with his deception and says, “You know that tug? It is not really a tug. It is an irresistible pull. It is impossible to withstand. You will never escape its power. You are only human. And the power and prison of sin just goes with the human condition.”
The message of the New Testament says just the opposite. By the power of the exchanged life – Christ’s righteousness for my sin – I have been set free from sin and its power. In fact, quite frankly, I am not merely “human”; I am “superhuman” by virtue of the God of the universe living inside. Are we going to walk in the experience of Satan’s accusation or by faith in God’s promise of victory over sin?
Walking by faith says that no matter how many times I feel the tug of sin’s power, I am the victor through the power of the exchanged life. So how should I respond to the tug of sin’s power? Let’s talk about it next time.