Recently I led a small group study on other religions. During one week of the study, I gave an overview of Islam, and a friend was kind enough to loan me a copy of the Quran to review and use in our discussion. As she handed me the book, she said, “Be sure not to let it touch the ground.” The owner wanted the book treated with reverence and respect.
My thoughts instantly turned to the Bible, and how I often treated God’s Own Word with far less dignity than what I was promising for this book. Where was my Bible at that moment? Under a pile of papers on my desk? On the floorboard of my car? I related this instance to the class when I taught the lesson and the thought really resonated. We as a small group, and as believers, had it seemed lost a certain sense of reverence and respect for God’s Word. Not only for the book itself, physically, but for what it said.
Why is this true? I believe that when you think about it, the Bible is really a very radical book. The more I study it the more I find the life in Christ prescribed in its pages is markedly different from that embraced by modern North American culture. I believe my greatest struggle is not understanding the Bible, because I can get past the language and the cultural context, but rather believing it in such a way that it truly changes each and every aspect of the way I live.
Do we really believe God’s Word when it says to treat everything in this life as rubbish compared to my relationship with Christ? Well, sure that’s true for those guys back then, and of course that rich young ruler was asked to give all that He had to the poor and follow Christ, but God doesn’t demand that of us today, we reason. Really? This underscores a way we do not believe God’s Word. We can distance ourselves from the level of sacrifice toward God and to God that we find in its pages.
What about that phrase, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me”? A cross is an instrument of torture. So the inference from that verse is that a commitment to Christ is probably going to involve some pretty deep, wounding, and persecutory issues for the believer. Doesn’t sit quite as well as the thought of putting a cross charm around the gold chain on our neck, does it? Here again, we push away from the idea that believing God may lead to personal persecution.
In general, I find the North American church is teaching the “kinder, gentler” parts of the Bible, versus the foundational, shake-you-to-the-core radical teaching that it really is. Perhaps we as church leaders in general do know the Word, and think for most people it’s just too much to handle at one time. Like drinking water through a fire hose. Or, perhaps we really don’t know the Word. Or worse, we read it, but deep down at the conviction level—where we stake our lives on its very chapter and verse—we really don’t believe it.
Pastor, as you prepare to preach, I challenge you to ask yourself—especially when you come across more difficult teachings—do I really believe this? Am I doing what Christ through His Word demands of me personally, and am I leading my congregation to do the same, no matter what the cost? Would I be willing to not only do what the Bible says here, but do so even if it cost me much personally, and cost our church much as well?
If a teaching has a high price in terms of the reaction to me, the messenger, am I willing to stand with a guy like the Apostle Paul and know “to live is Christ and to die is gain?” Okay, I know that sounds over-the-top, but I’m convinced we’re just not asking these questions in our churches, and worse, in our pastoral studies. While most of us would without hesitation stand and defend the nature of God’s Word—infallible, authoritative, divinely-written and truthful—we will routinely skip over many of the calls to action associated with it.
Belief is more than just knowing something, or even accepting it is true. The devil himself believes Jesus is who He says He is. But we know that real belief in Christ is not just knowing what is true, but living in that truth. So many times, Jesus calls us to not only live in His truth, but to stake our very lives on it.
Difficult as it is, we must, in leadership, be consistently asking ourselves “Do I really believe God’s Word?” And if we do, then we must be bold enough and confident enough in that belief to act on it, and call our congregations to do the same.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.