THE PROBLEM OF SPIRITUAL PASSIVITY
THREE AMAZING THINGS
It seems to me that there are three amazing things happening simultaneously among evangelicals in America.
The first, and most obvious, is the multiplication of mega-churches. In 1984, there were at least one hundred American churches with memberships ranging from 5000 to 7700! So many other super-churches have been added since that date that it is difficult to know exactly how many there are today.
The second amazing thing is the multiplication of "mega-sins!" On the one hand the land is replete with growing churches. On the other, the news reports are littered with sordid accounts of "Christian sins" on a scale undreamed of a few years ago. A few samples will suffice:
Greed, once the domain of God-haters, is now proudly claimed by His supposed friends. True, this passion for the acquisition of "things" has often been conveniently re-labeled "prosperity," or "the abundant life." But no amount of religious alchemy can transmute the lead of avarice into the gold of godliness!
The divorce race, we are now told by the experts, finds saints and sinners running neck and neck. Premarital sex, according to a recent West Coast survey, is as rampant among professed "Christian" youth as it is among their counterparts in the secular society that surrounds them.
Do not misunderstand. This is not to say that big churches cause big sins.
Surely a Holy God can never have endorsed the peaceful coexistence of such mutually exclusive phenomena! Where, then, can we find a reason for this apparent anomaly? Let's begin our search with the third amazing feature of American evangelicalism-the multiplication of spiritual passivity!
By passivity I do not mean lack of activity. I mean, rather, a vast indifference to the essential expressions of biblical Christianity: commitment, prayer, humility, and self-sacrifice.
The message heard in our churches today has changed. As often as not, today's evangelical churchgoer is likely to hear about "the importance of a good self-image," "feeling good about yourself," "discovering the secrets of financial success," or he may learn the art of smothering conviction through group worship.
These things are forms of religious recreation. They all cater, one way or another, to simple self-interest.
Religious recreation and vice have always cohabited very comfortably. The saffron robes of the Buddhist have never stifled his sinning. The wild dances of the animist have never deterred his self-indulgence. The moving ceremonies of the Hindu have done nothing to curb his immorality.
Why then should we suppose that "Christians," chiefly motivated by selfishness, should feel any particular impulse to embrace the disciplines of holy living? Having provided our generation with self-serving substitutes for real Christian living, we have successfully paved the way to increased sin instead of increased holiness.
IS THERE A CURE FOR SPIRITUAL PASSIVITY?
Happily for us, Paul the apostle has given us a treatise on the whole subject in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. The heart of what he wrote is in the fourteenth verse: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead!" But, since this command was not written in isolation, we can profit greatly by tracing the major ideas that surround the unusual order.
1. Partnership with Darkness
In verse seven he writes, "because of such things [sins he has just listed] wrath comes upon the disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them."
He has pinpointed for us the basic cause of passivity. While we have, by replacing discipleship principles with religious recreation, created a climate for passivity, the fact is, passivity itself is traceable to personal sin.
To the degree that a believer imitates the behavior of the world around him, he retreats to the darkness from which he was originally rescued. He has begun his slide into indifference!
Paul tracks the lion to its lair. He bluntly writes of real sins, practiced by real people: "sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking." These are the kinds of things that produce spiritual lethargy.
Sin, then, is the first step toward passivity.
2. Divorce From Darkness
"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness!" Paul insists that passivity is something the Christian not only can but must do something about.
The first thing Paul demands is a "divorce."
This means exactly what it says: Break all connections with the things on Paul's list! It may mean dumping some magazines, turning off the TV, avoiding soul-sapping movies, breaking a questionable friendship with a co-worker, kicking out the fantasies about someone else's spouse, stopping your church-hopping, taking your kids out of a legitimate summer activity and sending them instead to Bible Camp. It may mean saying a flat-out "no" to your craving for a new car, a bigger TV set, another needless kitchen gadget, or purging your vocabulary of marginal language.
It means, once for all, cleaning the mud from the bottom of your shoes so you can walk freely into the house of His presence!
3. Waking from Sleep
"Wake up, O sleeper!" There is a current popular notion that says, "All dilemmas are dissolved by deliverance" (apart from the responsibility of the people involved).
Not so, according to Paul!
When a wife wakes her sleeping husband on a weekday morning, knowing the livelihood of the family depends upon his getting up, she is operating on the same assumption God does. She shakes the man vigorously, fully expecting him to be capable of responding (or she would have called 911 instead). In the last analysis, the responsibility of sleeping people to get up is theirs alone!
All the letters of the New Testament were originally read aloud to the assembled saints of the congregations to whom they were addressed. Imagine the impact of verse fourteen (Ephesians 5)! The group at Ephesus listened intently to an epistle personally addressed to them and their particular situation. Paul started out by calling them saints. He assured them they were chosen, reminded them they were Christ's own, told them they were God's workmanship, and asserted they were fellow-citizens, members of God's household, and built squarely upon the apostles and prophets. What a great list of privileges! What a raft of compliments!
But there were warnings too, beginning with: "You must no longer live as the Gentiles do!"
The real shocker came when the spiritual loafers in the group heard the speaker say, "Wake up, O sleeper!"
There is only one appropriate response when somebody yells, "Wake up!" The call is as clear as others like it in the Bible: "Repent!" "Believe!" "Let him that stole, steal no more!" or "Go, and sin no more!" They all come from the same source. They all carry the same authority. They all point to obedience that cannot be bypassed. Until they are obeyed, no further steps are possible.
In this case the promise is, 'Christ shall shine upon you." But, the shining follows the waking; it does not precede it! Tragically there are many sleeping saints, occasionally lamenting their drowsiness, and praying that God will "somehow" lift their spirits and give them a fresh shot of spiritual sensitivity. But all the while they are still hugging the warm pillows of their own sins!
The light follows the waking.
4. Carefulness, for Understanding
"Be vary careful, then, how you live-not as unwise, but as wise … Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."
Careful choices are imperative. It is this caution that keeps us wise and understanding. Without it we are merely religious robots following the crowd.
Invariably it is the sleepers who complain: "I don't understand why things happen to me." "Why doesn't God meet my needs?" "Why is guidance so hard to come by?" "Why am I so depressed?"
Sleeping people are not wise people. Waking up is a giant step toward wisdom!
5. Fullness, For Ministry
"Be filled with the Spirit." This is the heartening final thrust in Paul's sequence of thoughts. It is possible for people to stop stumbling in the dark and begin ministering in the light.
Having deliberately departed from sin and resolved to make careful godly choices in the future, the Holy Spirit can begin to work again in the believer. Whether he is part of a mega-church or a small country church, he no longer needs to languish in spiritual passivity.
ESSENTIAL EXPRESSIONS OF BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY
Remember that the essential expressions of biblical Christianity and commitment, prayer, humility and self-sacrifice.
Commitment returns when sin is properly dealt with. Prayer revives when sin is properly dealt with. Prayer revives when sin dies. Humility is the only possible reaction to the realization of sin. And self-sacrifice becomes a normal part of Christian living, once the impediment of guilt is removed! Sleep has ended. Vitality returns. The spiritual world once again becomes more real than the natural world. The light of Christ that greeted the awakened saint floods his daily life-not with emotion, but with reality.
Maybe you have been among the ranks of the spiritually passive. Candidly ask yourself, "Where have I been disobeying God?" Your question, if honestly answered, will open a floodgate!
Take immediate steps to separate yourself from the sweet seductive embrace of all that pulled you from fellowship with God. Open your eyes and let the Spirit of God clean you out and fill you up. Don't be discouraged by what the transaction feels like. You may feel nothing at all! Feeling good is vastly overrated. Being right is what counts.
Solve your private problem of spiritual passivity. It won't take many more private solutions before the church in general feels the impact.
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