It is hardly a matter of wonder that the country that gave the world instant tea and instant coffee should be the one to give it instant Christianity. If these two beverages were not actually invented in the United States it was certainly here that they received the advertising force that has made them known to most of the civilized world. And it cannot be denied that it was American Fundamentalism that brought instant Christianity to the gospel churches.
Ignoring for the moment Romanism and Liberalism in its various disguises, and focusing our attention upon the great body of evangelical believers, we see at once how deeply the religion of Christ has suffered in the house of its friends. The American genius for getting things done quickly and easily with little concern for quality or permanence has bred a virus that has infected the whole evangelical church in the United States and through our literature, our evangelists and our missionaries, has spread it all over the world.
Instant Christianity came in with the machine age. Men invented machines for two purposes. They wanted to get important work done more quickly and easily than they could do it by hand, and they wanted to get the work over with so they could give their time to pursuits more to their liking, such as or enjoying the pleasures of the world. Instant Christianity now serves the same purpose in religion. It disposes of the past, guarantees the future, and sets the Christian free to follow the more refined lusts of the flesh in all good conscience and with a minimum of restraint.
By “instant Christianity” I mean the kind found almost everywhere in gospel circles and which is born of the notion that we may discharge our total obligation to our own souls by one single act of faith, or at the most by two, and be relieved thereafter of all the anxiety about our eternal spiritual condition. We are saints by calling, our teachers keep telling us, and we are permitted to infer from this that there is no reason to seek to be saints by character. An automatic, once-for-all quality is present here that is completely out of mode with the faith of the New Testament.
In this error, as in most others, there lies a certain amount of truth imperfectly understood. It is true that conversion to Christ may be and often is sudden. Where the burden of sin has been heavy, the sense of forgiveness is usually clear and joyful. The delight experienced in forgiveness is equal to the degree of moral repugnance felt in repentance. The true Christian has met God. He knows he has eternal life and he is likely to know where and when he received it. And those also who have been filled with the Holy Spirit subsequent to their regeneration have a clear-cut experience of being filled. The Spirit is self-announcing, and the renewed heart has no difficulty identifying His presence as He floods in over the soul.
But the trouble is that we tend to put our trust in our experiences and as a consequence misread the entire New Testament. We are constantly being exhorted to make the decision, to settle the matter now, to get the whole thing taken care of at once—and those who exhort us are right in doing so. There are decisions that can and should be made once and for all. There are personal matters that can be settled instantaneously by a determined act of the will in response to Bible-grounded faith. No one would want to deny this; certainly not I. The question before us is, “Just how much can be accomplished in that one act of faith? How much yet remains to be done and how far can a single decision take us?”
Instant Christianity tends to make the faith act deadly and so smothers the desire for spiritual advance. It fails to understand the true nature of the Christian life, which is not static but dynamic and expanding. It overlooks the fact that a new Christian is a living organism as certainly as a new baby is, and must have nourishment and exercise to assure normal growth. It does not consider the act of faith in Christ sets up a personal relationship between two intelligent moral beings, God and the reconciled man, and no single encounter between God and a creature made in His image could ever be sufficient to establish an intimate friendship between them. By trying to pack all of salvation into one experience, or two, the advocates of instant Christianity flaunt the law of development which runs through all nature. They ignore the sanctifying effects of suffering, and practical obedience. They pass by the need for spiritual training, the necessity of forming right spiritual habits and the need to grapple against the world, the devil, and the flesh.
An undue preoccupation with the initial act of believing has created in some a psychology of contentment, or at least non-expectation. To many it has imparted a mood of disappointment with the Christian faith. God seems too far away, the world is too near, and the flesh is too powerful to resist. Others are glad to accept the assurance of automatic blessedness of eternal security. It relieves them of the need to watch and fight and pray, and sets them free to enjoy this world while waiting for the next.
Instant Christianity is twentieth century orthodoxy. I wonder whether the Apostle who wrote Philippians 3:7-16 would recognize it as the faith for which he finally died for. I am afraid today that he would not.
To offer a sinner the gift of salvation based upon the work of Christ, while at the same time allowing him to retain the idea that the gift carries with it no moral implications, is to do him untold injury where it hurts him worst. Many evangelical teachers insist so strongly upon free, unconditional grace as to create the impression that sin is not a serious matter and that God cares very little about it. He is concerned only with our escaping the consequences. The gospel then in practical application means little more than a way to escape the fruits of our past. The heart that has felt the weight of its own sin and along with this has seen the dread whiteness of the Most High God will never believe that a message of forgiveness without transformation is a message of good news. To remit a man’s past without transforming his present is to violate the moral sincerity of his own heart. To that kind of thing God will be no party. We must have courage to preach the whole message. By so doing we shall undoubtedly lose a few friends and make a number of enemies. But the true Christian will not grieve too much about that. He has enough to do to please his Lord and Savior and to be true to the souls of all men. That may well occupy him too completely to leave much time for regrets over the displeasure of misguided men.
A. W. Tozer Sermon: Forgiveness for the Past and Provision for the Present
To Be Understood, Truth Must Be Lived #AWTOZER
FOR A LONG TIME I HAVE BELIEVED that truth, to be understood, must be lived; that Bible doctrine is wholly ineffective until it has been digested and assimilated by the total life. I have held this to be an important element in the preaching of the Old Testament prophets, and I have felt it to be near to the heart of the moral teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. I admit that this belief has made me a little lonely, for not many of my Christian brethren share it with me. While I have not heard anyone deny the truth outright, few have seen fit to teach it with anything approaching emphasis. And by silence a man will reveal his beliefs as surely as by argument. This is one of those truths which at first may appear dull and colorless, but far from being tame or weak, this truth is of tremendous importance to all of us. While not to my knowledge formulated as a tenet in the creed of any church or school of religious thought, it nevertheless stands as a great divide to separate those who think rightly about the faith of Christ from those who think carelessly about it. The essence of my belief is that there is a difference, a vast difference, between fact and truth. Truth in the Scriptures is more than a fact. A fact may be detached, impersonal, cold and totally disassociated from life. Truth on the other hand, is warm, living and spiritual. A theological fact may be held in the mind for a lifetime without its having any positive effect upon the moral character; but truth is creative, saving, transforming, and it always changes the one who receives it into a humbler and holier man. At what point, then, does a theological fact become for the one who holds it a life-giving truth? At the point where obedience begins. When faith gains the consent of the will to make an irrevocable committal to Christ as Lord, truth begins its saving, illuminating work; and not one moment before. In His conflict with the religious textualists of His day our Lord often uttered short statements that serve as keys to unlock vast and precious storehouses of truth. In the Gospel according to John these may be found in something amounting to profusion. One such is found in John 7: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (verse 17). A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, explains “he shall know” as being “experimental knowledge from willingness to do God’s will.” Then he quotes Westcott: “if there be no sympathy there can be no understanding.” Obviously these words of Christ were understood by the great British Biblical scholar Westcott and the brilliant American expositor Robertson as teaching that truth can be understood only by the mind that has surrendered to it. The average evangelical Bible teacher today finds such a radical interpretation too revolutionary to be comfortable and so just ignores it. We must be willing to obey if we would know the true inner meaning of the teachings of Christ and the apostles. I believe this view prevailed in every revival that ever came to the church during her long history. Indeed a revived church may be distinguished from a dead one by the attitude or its members toward the truth. The dead church holds to the shell of truth without surrendering the will to it, while the church that wills to do God’s will is immediately blessed with a visitation of spiritual powers. Theological facts are like the altar of Elijah on Carmel before the fire came, correct, properly laid out, but altogether cold. When the heart makes the ultimate surrender, the fire falls and true facts are transmuted into spiritual truth that transforms, enlightens, sanctifies. The church or the individual that is Bible taught without being Spirit taught (and there are many of them) has simply failed to see that truth lies deeper than the theological statement of it. Truth cannot aid us until we become participators in it. We only possess what we experience. St. Gregory of Sinai, who lived in the fourteenth century, taught that understanding and participation were inseparable in the spiritual life. “He who seeks to understand commandments without fulfilling commandments, and to acquire such understanding through learning and reading, is like a man who takes a shadow for truth. For the understanding of truth is given to those who have become participants in truth (who have tasted it through living). Those who are not participants in truth and are not initiated therein, when they seek this understanding, draw it from a distorted wisdom. Of such men the apostle says ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit,’ even though they boast of their knowledge of truth.” Here is a simple but neglected doctrine that should be restored to its rightful place in the thinking and teaching of the church. It would work wonders.