For the past few Sundays I've been preaching a series on the life of Samuel, one of my all-time favorite heroes from the Bible. The last time he made a personal appearance is recorded in I Samuel 28 when God allowed him to be brought back from Paradise to pronounce imminent judgment on King Saul for his rebellion and disobedience.
But that got me to thinking. What if the apostle Paul could come back from Heaven for just a few days to walk around and check out our 2008 world? What would he say about the state of Christendom, especially in this country? I think that he would be totally blown away by the number of people who claim to be Christians yet bear no resemblance to Christ. I think he would marvel at the insipid shallowness of the preaching in many so-called Christian churches. I think he would be very offended by all the people wearing crosses around their necks and from their earlobes while they go out and live like the devil. I think he would be confused and troubled by the Christianity Lite that we have come to accept and expect.
Coke Lite. It looks the same, smells the same, weighs the same, but lacks authenticity--nasty stuff. Bud Lite. It has the same color, it's called beer, but it is defined exactly by what it lacks--calories. Christianity Lite. It has the trapping of Christianity, some of the teachings, but it is not the real thing. Rather, it is a cheap knockoff, a counterfeit, a carefully devised substitute.
Paul, in I Timothy 4 warns us: "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth."
Then in II Timothy 3 Paul elaborates even more on what it will be like in the last days: "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these."
"Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power." That is Christianity Lite, and we are swimming in it. It is Christianity without the cross, original sin, Satan, blood, hell, eternal damnation, guilt, etc. - you know, all the stuff that makes people feel queasy. It is a kinder, gentler, more user-friendly brand of Christianity that offends almost no one. EXCEPT OF COURSE FOR JESUS, AND ANYBODY WHO HAS EVER READ HIS BIBLE!
You can't take the cross out of Christianity and expect to have anything left. The cross is central in the story of redemption because sin is central in human history. We are all sinners by nature and by choice and are all racing headlong toward Hell's Canyon, and I'm not talking about the one out east of here. Sin carries consequences and God knew that the cross was necessary if any of us was ever to have a chance to avoid the inevitable destruction we were all headed toward.
But the cross is not pretty—it is an instrument of death. Half the Hollywood actors and starlets along with millions of other people wear it as jewelry as though it were an amulet, a good luck charm. But think about it... why don't we wear little miniature golden gallows, or electric chairs, or gas chambers? The cross was never meant to be a decoration, especially for lukewarm Lite Christians.
I love the following words by A. W. Tozer. He says it so beautifully.
The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the Gospel (A.W. Tozer).
Most of us in this country have been marinating in Christianity Lite for so long that we aren't really sure what the real thing would look like. I'm talking about the kind of Christianity that rocked the 1st Century, that changed whole cities by the power of the Gospel, that raised people off their sick beds, that caused prostitutes and IRS agents to fall to their knees in repentance before God, that made the demons cringe when Spirit-filled Christians walked by. I'm really sick of Christianity Lite--in me, in you, in our churches, in all of us. I hope I live long enough to see this city rocked by the real thing.
Tired of the fake, crazy for the real thing,