Archive

Posts Tagged ‘higher life theology’

The Active (versus Passive) Christian Life

November 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Lately I have very little time for extra study, and what study that has occurred involves glimpses of several different topics.  Among my scripture meditations and book reading, the theme of persecution, and what Christians in other countries have faced (and still endure) has been prominent: Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home (a novel about persecuted Chinese Christians), material from Barnabas Fund regarding current persecution in several countries, and Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey Through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace (a previous ChristianAudio free book of the month) are all good reading, ways to remember and pray for the persecuted church.

Another topic (though at least somewhat related), from various reading in the Bible, Christian articles, sermons, song lyrics and podcasts, is the Christian life and experience — in terms of how the Bible describes it, versus the idea taught in some hymns and bad theology.  Again I think of song lyrics, which are great for teaching Christian doctrine—whether the biblically correct kind or false views.  Yet many hymns and praise songs direct us to the passive experience of life, such as the Keswick “Let Go and Let God” hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

I appreciate Andy Naselli’s writings on this topic, found in his book as well as several articles online, regarding the problems with “higher life theology,” such as this article from The Gospel Coaltion.  Simply put, the “quick fix” approach doesn’t work with Christianity, and doesn’t provide an answer for the real trials and disappointments of life; the Keswick idea sounds great and “spiritual,” but as well explained in this above-linked article:

What’s really frustrating is when you think there’s a quick fix that will catapult you into a higher region where this cycle is no longer necessary, and you think you’ve entered this region already, only to find yourself sinning again. Come to find out you only thought you had consecrated yourself! Better try again . . . actually, don’t try . . . but you get the point.

That’s the good news Naselli gives us. The gospel actually does transform us into holy people, even if gradually. There actually is a higher region where the sin-cycle no longer burdens us—it’s called heaven, and Jesus is going to bring it down with him. And there actually is a quick fix coming one day, and it’ll be really quick: “We shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52).

Until then, in the words of Packer, let us not “let go and let God,” but rather “trust God and get going.” Or in the words of Hebrews 12:1–2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”

Hymns from an earlier era, back to the 18th century, reflect the more accurate experience.  “Take my life and let it be” will disappoint time and time again.  Instead, “through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…”  As Alistair Begg, teaching on Habakkuk 3, observed:

Our (unbelieving) friends are not drawn by the idea… ‘I have a dreadful problem, I went to God, I don’t have any more problems; therefore, we’re having a picnic, I will rejoice; we will rejoice, and we would like you to come over and see what it is like to rejoice.  Well you’re flat out not telling the truth.  Eventually the picnic is in heaven, no doubt about that, that will be untrammeled joy, that will be unmitigated praise and wonder.  But right now, all hell lets loose against us:  fightings outside of us, fears within us, doubts, disappointments, cancers, broken relationships, children that drive us crazy, and I’m only running through the first little section.  And everybody goes, ‘that’s right, that’s right’.  …. So, how do you get to ‘I will rejoice’?  .. he says ‘I will rejoice in the Lord’.  I will be joyful in God my Savior. … ‘Sovereign Lord, I have cancer; Sovereign Lord, my uncle is in a wheelchair, Sovereign Lord, my kids are killing me.  Sovereign Lord!’  This is the Christian experience.  Through many dangers, toils, snares, I have already come.  Tell your friends that, that’s believable.  Tell your work colleagues that, they’ll identify with that.  Tell them, when it all hits the fan, and you feel like running for it, the answer is not in the transformation of circumstance, but the answer is in the revelation of God in and of Himself, in His word the Bible.  I have nothing else to hold on to.

Charles Spurgeon is another great source for inspiration, regarding the importance of Christian work and effort (not a passive experience), as with a few excerpts from sermon #914:

When the Holy Spirit descended, there were two signs of His Presence. The one was a rushing mighty wind, the other was the tongue of fire. Now if the Holy Spirit intended to do all the work Himself—without using us as earnest instruments— the first emblem would have been stagnant air. And the next might have been a mass of ice, or what you will, but certainly not a tongue of fire. The first emblem was not only wind, but it was a mighty wind, and not only that, but a rushing mighty wind, as if to show us that He intended to set every spiritual sail in the most rapid motion.  . . .

there is no illustration used in Scripture to set forth the heavenly life which allows the supposition that in any case Heaven is won by sloth. I do not remember ever finding in Scripture the life of the Christian described as a slumber. To the sluggard I find a warning always—thorns and thistles in his garden—and rags and disease in his person.

I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago, when I first began serious study of theology.  I understood the basic message then, as his very strong response to the Keswick passive sanctification teaching idea then introduced.  It is probably time to read it again, for the greater appreciation that comes with greater maturity and understanding of God’s word.