Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rejection of the Church and Gospel: Why?

Why are people walking away from the church? The latest Barna.org survey indicates that people have been making their exodus en masse:

• In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

Although there are undoubtedly many reasons for this, I think that the failure to truly grasp the Gospel is one of them. It took me many years to appreciate the Gospel. Although I had believed that Jesus is the promised Messiah who died for my sins, I just didn’t see that I was all that sinful. Consequently, I regarded myself as a fairly deserving guy, who was saved because, in some sense, I was worthy of it. I was more spiritual than the next guy. In fact, I had convinced myself that I was a pretty darn good catch.

As a result of this self-delusion, I never felt that I fit in. Worship was a meaningless bore; prayer was an arduous duty; and Christian fellowship was alienating and failed to affirm me. This is because I hadn’t truly known the Jesus who infuses these activities with richness. Worship was meaningless because my mind was fixed on the wrong thing – myself! Although I knew that I had problems, I didn’t fully grasp my real problem – sin. Prayer was empty because I failed to see how utterly hopeless and helpless I was without Christ. Not seeing my need, I failed to see the One who could more than compensate for it.

Of course, Christian fellowship was meaningless and alienating because I was either associating with people like me, all subtly competing to promote themselves rather than Christ, or people unlike me who were all about Christ. With these, I couldn’t connect. Neither group made me feel better about myself.

However, this changed, and it came about slowly through painful ordeals that revealed my true status – a hopeless sinner – before God. As God became more to me, the things of God also became more to me. But first, I had to decrease in my own estimation, and He had to increase.

John the Baptist’s disciples came to him. They were very troubled. There’s had been the top show in town. However, their ratings were taking a serious hit, and they felt that something had to be done about it:

• They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." (John 3:26)

John explained that this downturn was inevitable now that the Messiah Himself had arrived. Without any self-pity or disappointment, John informed his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Instead of lamenting his loss in prestige, John was rejoicing. He not only understood that this change must take place but also that it was for the glory of all of us.

Normally, we don’t like to decrease. Anyone knows it’s painful to decrease and it’s joyous to increase in money, attainments, recognition, power, and popularity. We have engineered our lives to increase in our own estimation and also in the estimation of the world. However, John rejoiced in the opposite. This is because he understood the far surpassing value of having the Christ:

• For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:34-36)

There is no life without the Son. Neither is there any enduring peace or joy without the Son. Our increasing carries many hidden costs. It requires us to continually try to prove and establish ourselves. We become self-obsessed and obsessed with comparing ourselves to others. When we decrease in favor of our Messiah, His increasing becomes our increasing; His glory becomes our glory and also freedom from our self-obsessions. If I am named as the US Ambassador to the UN, I participate in the power and glory of the body that I now represent. This is even more true when we become the ambassador of the Master.

I gladly exult in my Christ’s increase. It means my increase. The Apostle Paul had also been painfully aware of those things that he relied on to increase his sense of self-importance. He wrote about his pedigree, his education, and his stellar performance of the law. In these things he had placed his trust. However, understanding the surpassing value of having Christ, he would now gladly decrease:

• But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philip. 3:7-9)

Paul’s education and good deeds were not worthless rubbish, but placing his trust in them was! They also had blinded him to the source of real righteousness and peace. I can now thank God for the painful trials, which have revealed to me that I have no “righteousness of my own.” Instead, He has given me something more valuable.

I will therefore gladly decrease and regard all of my self-esteem and self-trust as “rubbish that I may gain Christ.” I now perceived that in every area of my inadequacy – my doubts, worries, failures, and fears -- He was more than adequate for me. I longer need to justify myself, because He justifies me. He became for me my righteousness, sanctification, wisdom and strength (1 Cor. 1:30). Let Him increase, and me decrease!”

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