I was listening to a sermon by John Piper on my iTunes the other day when he said something that really intrigued me. Now, Dr. Piper often says things which I find stimulating and inspiring, but this little blurb hit me harder than most. He said, “Following Jesus is first and foremost not heroic!” Not heroic.
This statement came in the context of the two disciples of John the Baptist who, in response to John’s cry of “Behold, the Lamb of God!,” left up and began following Jesus (John 1.35-37). Piper points out that the reason these men followed Christ was not because they were like David’s Mighty Men, rushing about to please the king (2 Samuel 28.13-17), but because they were desperate sinners, longing to be saved by the one who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29). Thus, they were not heroes; they were desperate men in need of a savior.
Why this grabbed me so strongly was because it made me look deep down inside of everything I do, to the core of all that I work in the name of Jesus Christ, to search my motivations for doing such. Why do I teach Sunday School? Why do I write blog posts? Why do I spend so much time studying God’s Word, even when no one’s watching me? It is not heroism which should drive me. I am dead without Christ, condemned to hell. It is not in heroism that I must follow him, it is in humble submission to his worthiness and sacrifice.
Maybe you are having trouble seeing these attempts at heroism, or maybe you are thinking that these things would be so obvious that you would easily put them off, but in doing so you would be denying the heart of all of man’s fallenness. Our attempts at heroism are pride, self-satisfcation, masquerading as humility. This is present in Scripture when we hear Jesus admonish the one who fasts and disfigures his face or prays and elevates her voice (Matthew 6.5, 16). It shows up in Saul who claims to have spared the choice animals in order to sacrifice to the Lord, though this was not his command (1 Samuel 15.15).
It is also present today in the popular movements of postmodern Christianity. Phyllis Tickle in her much heralded book The Great Emergence speaks of the practitioners of the new emerging Christianity, of which she would be one, as “the new faithful” (p.134) and says of “Emergence Christianity” that “what once was an engaging but innocuous phenomenon no longer is. The cub has grown into the young lion and now is the hour of his roaring” (p.163). Her fellow Emergent Village brother Tony Jones even went so far as to write a book about the movement he’s associated with called The New Christians. Both authors depict contemporary Christianity as being in a dire situation, one where lava has crusted over the faith and it will take something radical, their movement, to save us now. This is heroism par excellence.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been heroes, men like Augustine, Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and even contemporary ones like Adrian Rogers and Al Mohler; but I firmly believe that none of these men were heroes of their own creation. They didn’t sit up at night contriving their plans, or writing books as an apologetic for their cause. No, they were raised up by God, desperate men in need of a savior, who God equipped with the spiritual guns to go out and put a heavy loss on the head of Satan’s armies. They didn’t search for it, but in faithfulness to God they found themselves in the midst of something much bigger than themselves and much greater than they personally could handle; and through their victories God, and not them, received all the glory.
We could certainly use some heroes like these men right now, but the process of raising them has to be biblical fidelity and Spirit-filled conviction, not simply a man-made desire. Whether our work is set on a global scale, such as the Emergent Church Movement, or if it is much smaller, like me teaching my Sunday School class, the clear fact is, if what we are doing is just heroism, actions pointing to Christ but only focused on promoting our own glory, then our motivations are in the wrong place and we need to be reminded of our true state. Christianity already has a savior, his name is Jesus Christ, and chances are pretty good that none of us are his second coming.