Now we can begin to see what sort of preaching will bring real change in the lives of people. We don’t just need a mirror held up to show us how imperfect we are. We don’t just need to be told how worthless and destructive the world is. We don’t just need to be told how dirty our hearts are and how false our love for the world is. Real gospel preachers need not have the skill or the desire to accomplish those tasks. A man may not be able to describe such sorrows with vivid and soaring speech, he may not be able to practically identify with those who so struggle at every point, but God may use him still to expel the very lies he may struggle to understand or explain. A preacher should faithfully explain the depths and the beauty and the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A suffering sinner doesn’t need a poet to describe his sorrows to him; he needs a pastor to apply the healing balm of Jesus Christ. Rather than be one who catalogs and then rails against the manifold dragons of the world, let the preacher of the gospel wield the sword that can actually slay the beast.
The preacher cannot know all that is bound up in every heart before him. He is not a magician. But he can shout out the truth, which when it gets into your heart will be like Aaron’s staff in the Exodus account- the staff that turned into a snake and ate up the others thrown forward by the false prophets of Egypt. The preacher need not be a master of describing the condition of the natural heart, nor must he be intimately acquainted with your individual struggles. He is entrusted with the description of that greater love which withers up the old and leaves in their place a new creation in Jesus Christ. Let the church never cease to preach like this. We have the only power that can pry the love of the world out of a human heart.
Reader, I urge you directly- open your heart to the love of Him who is far greater than the world. Let the gospel clear away the stifling fog of unbelief that is hiding and clouding the face of God. Hear this plea- He claims your love! Everything he has done and is doing in the world by the power of His Spirit has been about reclaiming a sinful world to Himself. The God of love has so clearly made His heart known, that only faith and understanding are needed to call your heart back to love for Him.
Doctrine and Demand in the Worldly Heart
In light of all we have seen it becomes plain how little credit we should give to those people of the world who despise our Christian beliefs. By now you surely see that to describe them as “people of the world” is most accurate. A worldly person (as they may be called) thinks that the new birth is a complete fiction. All of his love is wrapped up in the world around him, and he sees nothing there of new births, spiritual hearts, the crucifixion of the old man, the blessings of the gospel, or any other of our most precious doctrines. He sees all of this as totally opposite to what he has observed around him, and by that standard he rejects it. When he sees the changed life of the Christian, when he sees a friend or family member turn away from worldliness and fall in love with God, he simply dismisses it as a religious fervor- a nice distraction to the simple minded, but far beneath him personally.
Such a man continues unmoved and undaunted in his worldliness. Love for the world does not always look sinister and depraved- often it is exposed through a simple apathy toward the gospel and a total preoccupation with the things of a limited earthly horizon: how much will I make and who will I be seen with? If the thought of death or what comes after ever intrudes into the worldly man’s sights, it never does so with any power to bring conviction or change. Typically such a man will have a vague concept of “living a good life” and being at least better than those around him, and on that foundation he rests his hope- if hope is not too strong a word for the casual attitude so many adopt towards eternal things. If they believe in God at all, they seem to believe that they will be happily transported from a world in which they have had almost nothing to do with God into a world in which they will have everything to do with God for all eternity. To the worldly among us all this talk of love for God, walking by faith, knowing our hearts, and the expulsive power of which we speak means absolutely nothing.
Christianity demands that we fall out of love with the world, but such a person has no interest in the demands of Christianity. This is because they have no interest in the doctrines of Christianity. Why would they care about doing the work (falling out of love with the world) described in the Bible when they don’t even believe the words of the Bible? The work will always be beyond your reach when the words are beneath your attention.
They cannot see spiritual truth because their eyes are bound tight with the blindfold of unbelief. They do not see the love of God in sending Jesus into the world. They do not see the Father’s mercy in delivering over Jesus to die for us. They do not see the power of the cross to save, that Christ has suffered in our place, bearing all the punishment that we deserved to endure. They do not see that God is both perfect justice and perfect love- passing over our sins, but only because they were paid for in full by Jesus. The new birth is a mystery to them- that God would take a spiritually dead heart that is in rebellion against Him and breath in the Christ-loving power of new spiritual life. If they would only look to Christ with believing eyes all mysteries and troubles would vanish. As it is, they will remain locked in to their love of the world because they have never looked with faith to the one who can drive it all away. They have never gazed at that brighter light of a greater love. And in this there is at least consistency- they do not fall out of love with the world because they do not love God more, nor do they care to even try.
Doctrine and Demand in the Born Again Heart
But if there is a consistency in error, is there not a like consistency to be found in truth? The man who actually believes in the doctrines of Christianity will be ready to submit to the demands of Christianity. When a man is told to love God supremely, to love Him more than all others and to give Him alone the throne of the king in his heart- the worldly heart is shocked and offended. Yet this will not shock or offend the person to whom God has been revealed as the One who offers peace and pardon through the reconciliation of the gospel. Shutting out the world from your heart is impossible if you have nothing to replace it with, but it is not impossible for the one who has found God to be his sure and satisfying portion. Turning the heart away from things below is not a grief to the one who has seen the beauty of the things above. When all you have is love for the world, turning away is like blotting out the light. But when you love God more you know and experience that brighter light of heavenly glory. Through the gospel Jesus Christ has dealt with our sins, destroying the wall blocking out the joyous heat and near blinding glow of the love of God for us. This light is treasured not with physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith and in the heart that has been born again by this very same power.
The holiness of life that Christianity demands is hollow unless it is preceded by the doctrines of Christianity. In fact, it is worse that hollow. It is a false gospel that leads only to despair. And the answer is never to minimize the holiness to which we are called, for to do that we would have to minimize the Holiness of the One who is doing the calling. Rather, we must see and believe this doctrine- that on the cross Jesus Christ has reconciled the vast gulf between the holiness of God and our sinfulness. He has atoned for our sin through his own sufferings in our place. He has paved a road for a new influence to break into our hearts. He has brought us back to God, not in slavish fear but in glorious gratitude. The Holiness of God can now be our cherished friend rather than our terrifying enemy.
If the demands on our lives that Christianity makes are separated from these central Christian doctrines you will either have a legalistic and pointless life-code or a dead traditionalism. But when doctrine and demand are brought together, the true Christian with a truly born again heart is able to grow in the one by the strength of the other.
The gospel is the only possible motivation in living the Christian life that actually works.
The demands of the gospel upon your life are not beyond your strength if the truth of the gospel is not beyond your acceptance.
You can change, not because you are strong enough, but because the gospel is true enough.
Think about the language used to describe the Christian’s spiritual armor. Think about those very words- the Christians spiritual armor! Why would we need armor? Because we are called to fight. We are called to strive and work and grow. Christianity involves personal effort. But look at what sort of armor we are called to put on: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). The power of our weapons lies not in our own strength, but rather in those things that have reference to our God- faith, salvation, truth and the Spirit through His word. These are the weapons with which the battle is won, new heights are conquered, and a Christian is able to look out on new vistas of God’s grace from places he previously never would have known nor hoped to achieve.
Christianity demands powerful life-change, but it supplies a power equal to the task.
The Christian life can only be sustained by the power of Christian truth.
The gospel brings both pardon and purification, and it is important to see the relationship between them. The best way to cast out an impure love is to replace it with a pure one, and by the love of what is good expel the love of what is evil.
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)