I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately; as an Iowan, it was hardly an option. And I have been writing about politics a lot lately – something I have promised to correct. Don’t worry, while I’m going to start with politics and patriotism as a background, I’ve got a very biblical and spiritual point to make in this post.
America’s Greatest Economic Challenge
As I have observed American politics and the American economy, I think I have placed my finger on what our biggest political problem is. We want to “fix our country” but we don’t want to change anything significant while we do it. A poll I read a few months ago made this clear. Americans “care deeply” about debt reduction, but we do not want our taxes raised nor do we want our benefits cut. We want change without sacrifice (well, our own sacrifice anyway), change without pain.
If you have a massive debt problem you have to do one of two things (or a combination of the two). You have to bring more money in, or you have to spend less money. Either we need to take more money in as a nation or we have to spend less money. We need to do a little bit of both.
But the idea that the massive debt we are in is going to go away without some sacrifices on our part is nonsense – a fatal fantasy. This political fantasy is also reflected in our spiritual pursuits today. We want a religion that gives us much but requires little of us. That lie needs to be confronted.
Gospel Truth: Resurrection requires DEATH!
A friend of mine once said something so simple and obvious that I was shocked I’d never realized it before. There is one unalterable requirement for a resurrection. Before one can be raised from the dead, one must die. Jesus was only raised after he laid down his life in death. At every baptism I have ever performed, I said these words, “Buried with Christ by baptism into death and raised to walk a new life in Christ.” There is no new life in Christ until a death occurs.
This is the fundamental truth of Christianity – the call to Christ is a call to die. We have false prophets roaming about proclaiming a false gospel that Jesus came to help them find their best life, to help them succeed at their goals and ambitions – to bring their dreams into reality. I don’t cuss, so I cannot accurately describe such skubala!
There is no life without death. The gospel has two parts, according to 1 Corinthians 15. First, Jesus died for your sins. Second, Jesus rose again as the Conqueror. To experience the gospel story, we must repeat the cycle.
We are crucified with Christ. We die. Jesus didn’t die and rise again to help me succeed in my goals. He did all that so that I would die to self, die to my ambitions and dreams and goals, and live to him. I can only come to Christ naked – old things are gone, all things become new. I can bring nothing with me when I come to Christ. Any gospel that proclaims anything less than death, that offers life without death, resurrection without crucifixion, is a false gospel.
We are raised with Christ. When we die to self, when we lay down our lives for Christ, we are raised to a new life in which the Lordship of Christ is everything, in which the power of Christ is available to us to the work to which God calls us, in which we serve God’s agenda and glory in this world and not our own.
This is basic Christianity.
My fear is that there are way too many Gulf War Christians today instead of World War II Christians.
World War II Christians
After Pearl Harbor, America went to war – the whole nation and every person in it. It was not just soldiers who fought the war and made the sacrifices. Back home, everyone was involved in the war effort even if they did not pick up a gun and fight. They bought war bonds, changed factories from producing consumer products to military vehicles and supplies. Basic goods were rationed in the homeland, because the nation was at war. Nothing mattered in America more than defeated der Fuhrer and the Emperor. Just about every person in America suspended their normal lives and invested themselves in the war effort.
That is the kind of Christian we need. Those who die to their own ambitions and dreams and rise again to devote themselves to the service of God.
Gulf War Christians
I’m a loyal American – flag-waving, patriotic and passionate. I cheer for the American tiddlywinks team if they are on ESPN2 late nights!
And I support our military. I don’t really want this to become a war-thread but I think that going over to fight the Taliban and to unseat Saddam was good and just, even if expensive. I respect the military. I honor them.
But I have never worn the uniform or picked up a gun to defend our nation. I have supported the war effort but given very little in its prosecution. I’ve been called on to make few sacrifices for that effort. I’m a loyal American, but I’ve received far more from my country than I have ever given for it.
That is, far too often, the kind of Christian that is being raised today – Christians who support the war effort and cheer on those who participate, but do not really participate in it. We may even send a check from time to time to the front-line warriors. And sometimes we even go for a “mission trip” to the front lines, but by and large our lives go on as normal.
Challenge: show me one person in the entire Bible who had an encounter with God then carried on with life as usual. It just doesn’t happen. God appeared. Names changed. Lives changed. It was dramatic.
The Problem: The church is far too full of Gulf War Christians – people who want to continue living their lives as normal while supporting the spiritual “war effort.” They want a Christianity that helps them achieve their goals and makes their dreams come true. The idea of dying to self, of giving all for Christ, of sacrificing and suffering in his name is foreign to their understanding.
I will say this: the SBC will never succeed as a Gulf War organization. We talk about name-changes (support the concept) and new strategies and reorganization and new motivations and such. But only one thing will really rescue us from decline. Gulf War Christianity has never succeeded. Only World War II Christianity has any hope of reversing trends.