The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing

November 15, 2014

The Lord Jesus Christ carrying the cross

(An excerpt from The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, Chapter 2:)

Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and “things” were allowed to enter. Within the human heart “things” have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.

This is not a mere metaphor, but an accurate analysis of our real spiritual trouble. There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Our Lord referred to this tyranny of things when He said to His disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Breaking this truth into fragments for our better understanding, it would seem that there is within each of us an enemy which we tolerate at our peril. Jesus called it “life” and “self,” or as we would say, the selflife. Its chief characteristic is its possessiveness: the words “gain” and “profit” suggest this. To allow this enemy to live is in the end to lose everything. To repudiate it and give up all for Christ’s sake is to lose nothing at last, but to preserve everything unto life eternal. And possibly also a hint is given here as to the only effective way to destroy this foe: it is by the Cross. “Let him take up his cross and follow me.”

The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the “poor in spirit.” They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem; that is what the word “poor” as Christ used it actually means. These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


The Terror of the Lord

August 1, 2014

Truth fully taught in the scriptures and verified in personal experience by countless numbers of holy men and women through the centuries might be condensed into this religious axiom: “No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God.” The first announcement of God’s redemptive intention toward mankind was made to a man and a woman hiding in mortal fear from the presence of the Lord. The Law of God was given to a man trembling in terror amid fire and smoke, and quaking at the voice of thunder and the sound of the divine trumpet. When Zacharias’ tongue was loosened by the mysterious operation of God “fear came on all that dwelt round about.” Even the famous annunciation, “On earth peace, good will toward men,” was given to shepherds who were “sore afraid” by reason of the sudden overwhelming presence of the heavenly host.

We have but to read the Scriptures with our eyes open and we can see this truth running like a strong cable from Genesis to Revelation. The presence of the divine always brought fear to the hearts of sinful men. Always there was about any manifestation of God something that dismayed the onlookers, that daunted and overawed them, that struck them with a terror more than natural. This terror had no relation to mere fear of bodily harm. It was a dread consternation experienced far in toward the center and core of the nature, much farther in than that fear experienced as a normal result of the instinct for physical self-preservation.

I do not believe that any lasting good can come from religious activities that do not root in this quality of creature-fear. The animal in us is very strong and altogether self-confident. Until it has been defeated God will not show Himself to the eyes of our faith. Until we have been gripped by that nameless terror which results when an unholy creature is suddenly confronted by that One who is the holiest of all, we are not likely to be much affected by the doctrine of love and grace as it is declared by the New Testament evangel. The love of God affects a carnal heart not at all; or if at all, then adversely, for the knowledge that God loves us may simply confirm us in our self-righteousness.

The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion is an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God. Cain and Abel are two solemn examples of this truth. Cain brought a present to One whom he assumed to be pleased with him. Abel brought a sacrifice to One who he know could not accept him as he was. His trembling heart told him to find a place to hide. Cain’s heart did not tremble. Cain was well satisfied with himself, so he sought no hiding place. The fear of God would have served Cain well in that critical moment, for it would have changed the whole character of his offering and altered the entire course of his life for the better.

As indispensable as is the terror of the Lord, we must always keep in mind that it cannot be induced by threats made in the name of the Lord. Hell and judgment are realities, and they must be preached in their Biblical context as fully as the Bible teaches them, no more and no less; but they cannot induce that mysterious thing we call the fear of the Lord. Such fear is a supernatural thing, having no relation to threats of punishment. It has about it a mysterious quality , often without much intellectual content; it is a feeling rather than an idea; it is the deep reaction of a fallen creature in the presence of the holy Being the stunned heart knows is God. The Holy Spirit alone can induce this emotion in the human breast. All effort on our part to super-induce it is wasted, or worse.

Because the fear of God is a supernatural thing it can never be raised by repeated warnings about war or Communism or depressions. The current trick of frightening people into accepting Christ by threatening them with atom bombs and guided missiles is not scriptural, neither is it effective. By shooting off firecrackers in the face of a flock of goats you could conceivably succeed in herding them into a sheepfold; but all the natural fear in the world cannot make a sheep out of a goat. And neither can fear of a Russian invasion turn impenitent men into lovers of God and righteousness. It just does not work that way.

Whence then does the true fear of God arise? From the knowledge of our own sinfulness and a sense of the presence of God. Isaiah had an acute experience both of his personal uncleanness and of the awesome presence of Jehovah: the two were more than he could stand. On his face he cried out a confession of his own sinfulness, make all the more intolerable because his eyes had seen the King, even the Lord of Hosts.

A congregation will feel this mysterious terror of God when the minister and the leaders of the church are filled with the Spirit. When Moses came down from the mount with his face shining the children of Israel were afraid with a fear born out of that supernatural sight. Moses did not need to threaten them. He had only to appear before them with that light on his face.

(A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous, 1955)


Patriotism or Idolatry (Part 2)

May 7, 2014

Patriotism or Idolatry (Part 2)
Our discomfort-and perhaps rebellion-at what such illustrations imply is itself indicative of the situation. We are accustomed to denouncing communism as atheistic, devilish, and totally false, while hailing the United States as so nearly perfect that we will unquestioningly lay down our lives for it when called upon to do so. Certainly communism is grave menace to the free world-probably as grave as any that has yet threatened the peace. Certainly the United States of America is a great nation and in many ways a “good” nation. But are we ready to give our nation supreme allegiance, and to depend upon it for all our needs? To do so is to attribute to it the power and perfection that only GOD possesses. God stands in judgment upon both Russia and the United States. My fundamental standard of judgment is not the aspiration of the United States, but the obligation of my faith in God.
When I look at it in this way I soon see that, frightening as is the threat from communism, even more awesome is the danger of so idolizing my nation as to put it above the guidance even of Almighty God! As we continue to build larger and larger “barns” for our surpluses and piles of armaments, are we willing to face the fact that God may be speaking to our country with the SHOCKING WORDS OF JESUS: “FOOL! THIS NIGHT YOUR SOUL IS REQUIRED OF YOU; AND THE THINGS YOU HAVE PREPAIRED, WHOS WILL THEY BE?!” (LUKE 12:20) or “WHAT DOES IT PROFET A MAN, TO GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD AND FORFIET HIS LIFE?!” (MARK 8:36)
This does not mean that I cannot be both an American and a Christian. The question is one of priority. Am I a Christian first, and then an American? Or am I an American first, and then a Christian? Do I give supreme devotion to my nation’s interest, shaping my religion to conform to it? Or do I acknowledge God as supreme, constantly striving to help to make my nation more godly – to make it conform more nearly to THE WILL AND WAY OF GOD?
(The Decision Maker, by Willard W. Wetzel; 1963)


Patriotism or Idolatry (Part 1)

April 16, 2014

“Patriotism” can be a valuable servant of men who seek to make their nation as righteous as possible in the service of God, but it may also become a pseudo-religion in which God is considered the servant of a particular nation and culture.
We are always faced with the temptation to equate Christianity and Americanism, and to feel that almost anything is Christianity if it is in the best interest of America. At its worst, the danger may cause us to revise the elements of our faith (unconsciously of course) in order to make them blend harmoniously with the “American way of life.” Perhaps this is why many Americans feel that there is nothing distinctive about the Christian faith. What they think is Christianity is really Americanism – patriotism raised to an improper position of supremacy over the Creator Himself.
Examples are not difficult to uncover, although usually they go undetected and unchallenged. A barbershop discussion brought forth the apparently not uncommon opinion that no foreign-made automobiles should be permitted to be sold in the United States “because we need the work for our own people. So let’s keep American money from going to ‘foreigners’.” Passionate was the resistance to the suggestion that the issue was not as simple as that, since American cars are sold in other countries. Equally passionate was the opposition to a suggestion that the matter ought to be viewed primarily through Christianity glasses, a difference with vast consequences.
In another instance a pastor reported that a member of his church refused to continue attending worship services because the congregation voted to give the place of honor in the sanctuary to the Christian flag rather than the American flag. He added that on the Fourth of July he had a near rebellion on his hands when he failed to ask the congregation to stand for the singing of the hymn” America the Beautiful,” while no one objected to remaining seated to sing “Our God, Our Help in Age Past.”


High Theology and the Younger Generation

July 31, 2013

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This week I came across an article that one of my Christian education professor posted to my Missions and Evangelism professor’s Facebook wall.  It amazes me to write that this is how I came across the article, because the article itself is about how the church has changed, and how the younger, technologically savvy, generation is rejecting the evangelical church for more traditional theology.  (“Young Evangelicals are Getting High” can be found on The Christian Pundit.)

Evangelicals have been writing for years about how the church is losing the younger generation to the world.  Churches have therefore been striving to become more “relevant,” in order to keep these young people in the pews.  But a new trend is emerging.  Instead of rejecting the faith outright, many youths are turning to the high theology of the Catholic, Angelical, and Lutheran traditions. 

“The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology… What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Savior who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.”

I find this extremely interesting, and I wholeheartedly agree.  The church is missing something.  That something is a sound theology of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness in Christian living.  It is missing intellectual integrity, as existential thought swept through and mutated the church into a place of ecstatic emotionalism.  Church today is more about how I feel that who God is and how he is worthy of our worship.  Holiness is lost also as we wrestle with our experience of sin in the world.  But what do you expect when you take away the theology of a holy God and replace it with a genie in a bottle who exists to grant me my every wish and fancy?  Church is no longer about meeting God but about God meeting my needs.  Prosperity theology has been the greatest perversion of theology to date.

“Perhaps if Protestant churches began acting more like dutiful mothers instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer youth leaving their ecclesiastical homes as soon as they are out of the house.”


Was the Lord Jesus Christ Relevant?

July 24, 2013

I have heard it said over and over again, trumpeted by pastors and evangelists alike, that the church must become “relevant” to reach our culture.  Such statements lead me to ask one question: Was the Lord Jesus Christ relevant?

I only see the Lord being relevant in two ways.  He fed the crowds and healed all their diseases, meeting their physical needs.  And he told parables using illustrations that his listeners would understand and relate to, taking example from farming and shepherding to explain the Kingdom of God.  Nothing else.

He didn’t host organized rallies, play popular music, or do anything else to make the people “happy.”  He didn’t draw anyone by worldly means, but it was the Holy Spirit that drew the elect.  It is true that some people came only to get their fill, but they left just as quickly as they gathered. The true followers remained, and when asked if they too would be leaving, declared: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of life!”  There was nothing keeping the disciples except the conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  They looked for no worldly reward or praise from men, but sought wholly after the knowledge of the truth.

This too should be our motive.


Trial and Judgment

July 17, 2013

I spent Saturday afternoon glued to CNN, and was watching as verdict for the George Zimmerman trial was read.  I found myself pondering the different possible outcomes, and the different reasons why it ended up the way it did.  To many it seems unjust that someone who took the life of another gets to walk away without punishment.  Many are asking, where is the justice in that?  Cases like these provoke much emotion.

It is easy to look at these things and ask, as the prophet Habakkuk did, “Why do you tolerate wrong?… The law is paralyzed and justice never prevails” (Habakkuk 1:3).  I am reminded of the words of Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’”

I do not say this with hatred, or with a particular view of who is at fault or what should have happened today.  I am only stating that in a world of sin, God will sort it out in the end.  He is Judge.  And on the Day of Judgment there will be no jury to vote on what man thinks should be.


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