The state of the Church in this country should alarm and motivate us to be a part of revitalizing it. However, the status quo is the result of several decades of denying the cross its proper place in ministry. Rather than preach the cross in its fullness, we have settled for preaching the blood for the forgiveness of sin; but have all but neglected preaching resurrection life, which necessarily proceeds from co-crucifixion with Christ (Gal. 2:20, Rom. 6:6).
Failing to preach the cross for the believer has resulted in a near powerless Church; the gospel of the lost or Christ's death for sins is yet faithfully proclaimed in sound conservative churches. However, the gospel for saints, our death with Christ, is only obliquely mentioned in many cases. Therefore, only a small percentage of believers come to an understanding of full salvation-being saved from themselves, as well as from sin, and usually come to such understanding in a haphazard manner. Romans 5:10 tells us, "For if, when were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life".
Some years ago, this latter part of the gospel-being saved by his life-was beautifully portrayed in Major Ian Thomas' excellent book, The Saving Life of Christ (Zondervan, 1961). This book is intended to call the Church to reviving the teaching of the second, and victorious, half of the gospel.
Such teaching can result in a new Reformation-sanctification by faith, to complete the work of the first Reformation, which stopped with justification by faith. Since the bulk of believers fall short of being saved from themselves, they continue to live out of a 'self-help' identity, when they could revel in who they are in Christ. It is to that end that this travel guide goes forth.
In my book, The Romans Road: From the Wilderness to Canaan, the fact that a majority of believers are yet stalled in the Wilderness was given prominence. A thoughtful believer could read it, determine his location or progress, and follow the instructions in crossing the Jordan. In this writing, I hope to lay out a travel guide for pastors to redirect the travel plans of their people as they progress on their spiritual journeys.
The first time I lectured on the analogy of the trek of the children of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, in my home church's Sunday School, I overheard a brother at the coffeepot afterward observing to another brother, "I wonder if I am closer to the Red Sea or the Jordan?" Prior to that day, the thought had not crossed his mind since he hadn't even known the Jordan was ahead!
It is my purpose to assist believers who may be like that brother, without a measuring rod to chart their progress. Many have no guide by which to assess their spiritual growth, since the way of growth or sanctification has been nebulous, if mentioned at all.
Justification by faith has been well charted in a number of persuasions, but the way of sanctification by faith has largely been taught in generalities. Justification by faith was the battle cry of the first Reformation and it was desperately needed at the time of Luther.
Absent clear teaching on sanctification by faith, there is a similar desperate need in the Church today. Then, it was salvation from sin; today, it is salvation from self. Self has been brought into such prominence by the world that it is all but idolized!
As a result, much ministry is done in the strength of self or flesh, such that the Church is increasingly impotent. Preaching the cross is the power of God (1Cor. 1:18) and it is a return to such preaching that will restore its power to light the way in the darkness of secularism, which has produced a self-centered society.
I trust that this guide will add some 'street lights' to the Romans Road, so that the way will be marked for the purposeful traveler.
The following headings provide the main theme for the discussion of the way ahead. The first is INFORM, which purposes to let the Christian populace know what has been missing in the bulk of teaching today. The second is REFORM, which will take up the manner in which such teaching must be augmented to supply the less emphasized half of the gospel. The third, CONFORM, will be instruction in following the teaching which is supplied under REFORM, through which one is conformed to the image of Christ. The fourth, TRANSFORM, will be the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing the mind and transforming the life as a result of the faith transaction.
Preaching the state of the Church is necessary to give the members a framework from which to view their spiritual growth or lack thereof. Absent such understanding, they are very likely to feel they are solely responsible for their spiritual condition or lack of identifiable growth.
Of course, the pattern for spiritual growth is clearly laid out in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Romans. However, the general lack of emphasis on our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection causes many students of the Word to follow the pattern of the majority of teachers and miss the depth of what is taught.
What with the current emphasis on self-help and the de-emphasis of the cross for the believer, it is understandable that a 'doing to be' mentality would characterize the Church. Since it is largely a behavioristic approach, the generally understood 'do's and don'ts' have begun to define a 'good' Christian.
Spiritual maturity is likely to be defined by one's ability to adhere to acceptable standards, which differ from group to group. It may be the filthy five, the nasty nine, or the dirty dozen things that are no-no's, while there may be a similar list of do's which elevate one in the eyes of other believers.
It becomes a routine of comparing ourselves among ourselves, which the Scripture declares to be unwise (2 Cor. 10:12). So long as one can do the do's and not do the taboos, he is generally accepted as a 'good' Christian!
However, such a behavioristic approach becomes less and less fulfilling; but one who is disillusioned usually does not have a viable alternative. Many shop around for groups with different emphases and may eventually write off the Church altogether.
The shortcoming of such teaching must be faced and exposed as that of living the Christian life in our own strength or the disciplining of the flesh. Informing believers that they have been misinformed can do much to lighten their burden and open them to the teaching of who they are in Christ.
As this is clarified, they can see that they could keep all of the rules in total sincerity and yet be carnally minded or walking according to the flesh.
Many times, the pastor himself is yet in the same mode so that he will be learning as he teaches his people; thus, it can be a time of group ministry or all coming to the state of brokenness together. With the present lack of teaching of the cross, it is not unusual for a pastor to be several to many years in the ministry before he has illumination or revelation on this vital truth which comes through brokenness.
Since pastor or people all must lose their lives to save them, this period of time can help them identify that which they must lose.
Having INFORMED believers that they have been given less than the full orbed truth about salvation, it is necessary to REFORM the teaching to add the less-taught half of the gospel-the victory half!
Of course, it is vital that the entry half of the gospel not be de-emphasized in any way while adding the victory half. However, it is vital that equal emphasis be laid, not only on the Lord Jesus' death for our sin, but also upon the allied truth that we died with Him.
Understanding our participation in the passion of the Lord Jesus enables us to move from a 'doing to be', performance-based Christianity, to a 'being to do' spirituality. A thorough understanding of our death, burial, resurrection, and ascension with the Lord Jesus, and the appropriation of the same, is the necessary construct on which to base a transition from a 'do it yourself Christian' to one of abiding in Christ.
Such teaching can result in a new Reformation which will result in a revitalized Church.
The needed teaching is stated in abbreviated form in the "Romans Road" book and in expanded form in the basic book, Handbook to Happiness.
The goal of our Salvation (both halves!) is that we are to be "conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). If we are to be like Him, it will be essential that we lose our lives at the cross and allow him to live, with brokenness an essential dimension of the process. Philippians 1: 29-30 tell us that we are "not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for his sake".
This will require a faith transaction where we deny ourselves and take up the cross, similar to the time when we embraced the cross for our sins. By so doing, we exchange our life for His, where being carnally minded will be replaced by having our mind renewed by the Holy Spirit.
The day we are saved, we are baptized into Christ and His death (Rom. 6:3), but we are usually not informed of this aspect of our salvation. If we don't know we died, it is only logical that we try to live for the Lord rather than allowing Him to live through us!
When we are convinced and convicted of living in our own strength (or after the flesh), we are candidates to lose our lives at the cross in exchange for His resurrection life.
Absent the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, the foregoing will only be intellectual understanding, which is not life transforming. Denying ourselves and taking up the cross means that we begin to live out of resurrection life, which begins with a mind renewed by the Holy Spirit. The renewal of the mind begins a process of healing of damaged emotions, which can have a major impact on interpersonal relationships as well.
This transaction is also known as the filling of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) or the walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). The resulting life transformation is frequently greater than at the new birth and very often results in relief of long standing psychological abnormalities.
The accompanying revitalization equips one to minister in his spiritual gifts and edify the body of Christ.
Since traveling the Romans Road is fraught with many perils that are unfamiliar to the average pilgrim, it must be introduced as optional and only pursued with those who express the desire to enlist for such a journey. However, its blessings and the possibility of life transformation should be made known to all, with each having the opportunity to agree to partake, since many are enduring unknown struggles for which they know no answer.
Attempting to push or force such teaching on the entire membership frequently results in much resistance, since God's purpose is to deal with the flesh in which the majority of believers are existing, if not living. Broad exposure to such an option is desirable, but participation must be purely voluntary. It can be safely said that the majority of Christians are not lining up at the cross to die! Bookstores have worn carpets in the area of self-help books, but the corner for books on how to die is much less frequented!
Having laid out such a disclaimer, the present world conditions are opening up a greater percentage of believers to embrace a spiritual life that is tailored to adverse conditions. The 'American dream' and Sunday morning Christianity do not fit this scenario, particularly when the dream becomes a nightmare!
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version, public domain.