In my earlier post, The Arrogance of the Radical Christian, I pointed out the problem of those who call for “radical” and “sold out” Christianity. Under their presuppositions, all those great men of the past who have stood for the faith, subscribed to their views on what it means to be “radical.” In other words, they view men like John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon from their lens of self-centered Christianity thinking that John and Charles just decided one day to stand up and become radical for Jesus, and this is what made them great. Never mind the fact that it is God who calls men to positions that we would label as “great.” Never mind that God equips such men for greatness through the sufferings of the cross. Never mind that it is God’s Spirit working in a person that allows them to do great things for God. This movement is just another manifestation of Arminianism that so plagues the church. If we are small or great for Jesus, it is by His Spirit and grace that we are so, not our own fleshly desires.
The problem with me pointing out the arrogance of this line of thinking is that we fall into the danger of missing our own arrogance as well. Those of us who believe that when we are called to live normal lives for Christ, also struggle with sin of arrogance and pride. I believe this is because of the sinfulness of sin and the flesh. Sin is so deceptive that when we are able to identify sin in one sector of Christianity, we fail to see the sin in our own sector of Christianity. I’m probably falling terribly short of the mark here in making these observations. That is how blinding sin really is. We can be guilty of the very same plank in our own eye, while spotting the speck in our neighbors.
I do know that even though I point out the arrogance of the “radical” calls to faith, I’m guilty of those things as well. Don’t think that for a moment of my 12 years of desiring to be a faithful pastor that I didn’t want the churches where I pastored to be something great for the LORD. I did. I wanted my ministry to have an impact in a big way. I wanted my sermons to be so good that people would download them by the thousands from SermonAudio.com. I wanted to see people come to faith under my preaching and teaching. I wanted all those things. And yes, I would have become the latest cult-of-personality pastor on the scene had God given me that opportunity.
Thankfully, He didn’t.
What did happen was that the longer and longer I was in the ministry, the more broken I became. Or maybe it was that I became more aware of my own brokenness. I found that there was less and less of me to give, especially in the pulpit, where I felt closest to God and most used by God.
The unexpected of all of this? It was simply that the more broken I became, the more I realized I had no right to stand in that pulpit on my own account, the better my sermons became. I was a much better preacher because there was less of me. The sermons were much richer, because I was adding less to them. (Please don’t make the mistake of agreeing with me, that I didn’t deserve to be in the pulpit, without realizing the reciprocal truth, you don’t deserve to be in the pews. We are where we are, by God’s grace.)
Please don’t misunderstand. I was studying and preparing for my sermons, as I always had. But the manuscripts were just window dressings by the time I would get to the pulpit.
All it took was the slow grinding away of God’s Spirit in my life over the course of 12 years of ministry. We all know this to be true because we see those preachers who have become seasoned over the years and their sermons get deeper and deeper. The problem we face today is that we think that we can produce such men through popularity and polls instead of through the sufferings of Christ. We think by reading the right book, or attending the right seminary and conference, we can be used by God in a real way.
But the truth is that the only way God will ever use us in a real and lasting way is after He has whittled us down to where nothing is left, except His Spirit. To think it will take anything less than this, is the arrogance that we suffer from in the normal Christian life.