I love apologetics. But there’s no point rolling out a package from some other time or some other place and imagining that’s enough. Read 1 Corinthians, chapter 1. Paul’s message was always ‘Christ crucified’, but he understood that Greeks and Jews had different problems with that message. The Greeks loved wisdom, and to them the cross looked foolish. The Jews loved power, and to them it looked weak. So Paul preached ‘Christ crucified’ as the ‘power of God’ to the Jews and as the ‘wisdom of God’ to the Greeks.
The church must truly engage with the people around us. Someone once said it isn’t enough to have a vision for your church; you have to have a vision for your community. I think that’s right. We need to resist a tribal, siege mentality and have enough confidence in the gospel to reach out in humility and touch the community where it is hurting. And our communities are hurting.
All of this is important, but there is something more important –the quality of our lives as God’s people. I’m thinking about our character and our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and especially with God himself. Unless there is reality there, all we’ve got is sociology.
The deepest level
So the biggest question is, ‘how are things going at this level, the deepest level?’ Here are a few questions based on the book Outgrowing The Ingrown Church by C. John Miller to help us dig down a little into our lives and churches.
Is God working my life?
This is not about God doing things ‘for you’. It’s about him doing things ‘in you’, showing you more of himself. We are supposed to be dazzled by him, and if you are not being dazzled by him, then you can be sure you are being dazzled by something else – and whatever dazzles you runs your life.
Am I doing business with the cross every day?
The cross is the defrost button of the soul. You need to climb to Golgotha every day, bringing your cold heart with you – and your guilt. There, standing in the dark, you learn again to hate sin as you see where it will take you, and what it did to Jesus. You will also learn to love Jesus again, as you see how freely he went there instead.
Am I building my life on justification by faith, or am I loaded down with inward guilt?
Those are the only options. Either Jesus is my righteousness and I take my stand every day on the solid rock of his life, death and resurrection on my behalf, or I am managing my sin myself by minimising it, or blaming others for it, or hiding from it, or pretending it isn’t so bad. The first brings a robust joy and generates a spiritual magnetism the world finds compelling. The second will just make you and your church anxious.
Am I repenting every day?
The closer you get to the light, the more clearly you see your sin and the more glad you are to repent of it. This generates in us a broken and contrite heart that keeps us in the love of Jesus and brings God the Father very near.
Am I forgiving someone every day?
We are constantly experiencing low-level sleights that need to be instantly forgiven and dismissed as a factor in our lives. Sometimes we experience much bigger things that require a great struggle to forgive, and then an ongoing commitment to forgiveness every time the memory of it invades our hearts. Either way, we need to be forgiving someone every day.
What is it I do simply because I love Jesus?
The two big motives of the fallen human heart are fear and pride. The gospel gives a new motive – love for Jesus and desire for his glory. If you can get there, you are really getting somewhere.
Is the Spirit of God a known and felt reality in your life?
Galatians is pretty clear. We are either walking with the Spirit, conscious of him, honouring him, and bearing the fruit he produces in us; or we are doing the works of the flesh and will reap the destruction that such works bring. And then there is that other dimension: the outpouring of the Spirit. God works through the ordinary, everyday means of grace at all times. Believe that. But there are also extraordinary times when the Holy Spirit moves powerfully in an individual, a congregation or a community. I’m not sure we believe this anymore. Not when you measure it by our prayers. As we think about the importance of knowing the times our biggest need is the rediscovery of this reality. In the end, our churches and our communities need God himself among us, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nothing less will do.