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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Easy Believism and Cheap Grace

“It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not come, but rather to rely on one’s readiness to meet him; not to presume that he will not attack, but rather to make one’s self invincible.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Being a Christian Requires Effort
One of the problems today is that there’s too much of what I’m going to call “easy believism” and cheap grace in the modern Church. Church leaders pretend as if being a Christian requires little or nothing from you. Just show up to church occasionally, let us entertain you, by a license plate frame with the church’s name on it, and an adhesive Christian fish symbol for the trunk of your car and you’re fine. You’re even better if yours is the fish (truth) eating “Darwin.” In addition, you might want to purchase a “Smile God Loves You!” bumper sticker and a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet. Whoever tells you that being a Christian requires little or nothing from you is “level three.”[1]
The truth is that if you are truly committed to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you must settle it in your mind and heart that you are called to be a spiritual warrior that wages an on-going, never-ending spiritual warfare in this life. This truth is less discouraging, I’m convinced, when those entering the local church are told that God is faithful and trustworthy in all he says and does and that he will never leave the wounded behind on the battlefield. In fact, it needs to be impressed upon all Christians repeatedly that the battle has been won. All things are ours in Christ and he has conquered sin and death for us. God is a warrior who fights for us and stands beside us (Ex. 14:14; 15:3; Deut. 1:30; 3:22; 20:4; Jer. 20:11). This must bring us great comfort. In addition, you need to know that you will not fight alone, but that your fellow-Christians who will serve as part of your spiritual family and “band of brothers” will surround you. And if God will not leave those wounded by sin behind on the battlefield, the Church better not do it either.
Such an approach will, no doubt, require a major but necessary adjustment in your life. It will require you to think, ponder, and decide who you are and what you really want for your life and for the lives of those with whom God has entrusted you. Possibly many will choose to play golf and drink beer with Barney, unless you’re Baptist and then you’ll just play golf. It’s not an easy choice, but it is crucial that you make it now! You must listen to the Word of God and let it tell you who you are and what the Christian life is really about.
So I’m asking you who you are and what kind of a spiritual warrior you want to be. The very fact that you are reading this book is some indication that you have a desire to define who you are as a Christian. Are you both willing and prepared to accept the identity of a true follower of Christ or are you more desirous of a “kick-back, laid-back” approach? Barney has lots of Christian friends and has room for a lot more.
Being a true follower of Christ, however, requires more of us. It certainly gives us a unique identity and promises a fruitful, blessed life here on earth as well as a glorious inheritance. Living the Christian life, however, is not easy. There are times when it is downright hard. Committing to live according to God’s ways, honoring, obeying, and revering Christ, and walking in step with the Holy Spirit requires a lifetime of spiritual warfare.
Yet the promise of Scripture is that in Christ we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). This biblical statement is not designed to cause us to sit back on our laurels and take it easy. It is a promise that Christ has won the major victory over sin, death, and condemnation. We are still admonished in light of all that Christ has done to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). Who are you now and who do you want to grow spiritually to be? What price are you prepared to pay for that growth? How do you intend to accomplish what you propose to be and to do?

Learning Your Mission
The armed forces use various “field manuals” to teach the soldier what his mission is. The Word of God also has directives for the spiritual warrior, which explains either in outline or detail how he is to act and be. 1 Corinthians 16:13 is such a text. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” This one of those clear texts directed to the male. The text is rich in military imagery and is designed to raise the testosterone levels and develop “testicular fortitude” among real men. A “man of courage” does not send his wife downstairs at night when they both hear unusual noises. That’s the man’s job.
The Latin Vulgate uses a word in this text from which we derive the English word, “virile” (viriliter) in its version. Christian men are commanded to “act like men” and to “become strong.” This New Testament admonition echoes what the Old Testament also teaches. (Cf. Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Josh. 1:6-9, 18; 10:25; 1 Chr. 22:13; 2 Chr. 32:7.) Let’s take just a moment and look at a few of these Old Testament texts in order to get oriented.
Joshua 1:6-9, 18
Right at the outset of this book, God speaks to Moses’ successor, Joshua. God will now do what he commanded Moses to do in preparing Joshua for leadership. In Deuteronomy 1:38 and 3:28 we discover that the two main components that Joshua needs as a leader are encouragement and strengthening.[2] These are two of the main themes of the entire book of Joshua. Israel is poised to begin the Conquest of the Promised Land. Following on the heels of the “Conquest” of the land will be the “Allotment” of it. Both facets are indispensable. To that end, Joshua, the leader, must be encouraged and strengthened for his task.
God’s promise is followed by the condition upon which the Lord would fulfill his Word. Joshua was to be a leader that was strong and firm, i.e., well assured, courageous, and not easily alarmed.
Confidence is not the same as arrogance. Believing the “mission” is worthwhile and that the necessary support will be present to engage the enemy is essential.
Courageous leaders can be fearful. Courage is that attribute that allows us to overcome fear and perform the task at hand.
A leader does not have the luxury of panic. If those around him are in a snit, he must keep his head and make sound judgments. He must assess the situation and respond accordingly. During a lot of military missions, Mr. Murphy and his bevy of laws show up. Leaders must be prepared to expect the unexpected. Missions are altered “on the fly” and good leaders adjust and help their people do the same. The leader keeps a cool head in the midst of the battle. They are not easily alarmed precisely because they have been trained. When they finally get in a combat situation, their training “kicks in” and they perform—even when the pressure is great.
Another of Joshua’s characteristics was that he was to rely fully on the Lord and his promises. (Cf. Deut. 31:7, 23.) Under his leadership Israel would “inherit” the land. In the New Testament this refers to spiritual blessings (1 Pet. 1:4).
The necessary encouragement and strengthening will not “fall from the sky” or magically be given to Joshua (and Israel [Deut. 31:1-8]). The command is not merely given to Joshua but to all the adult males in the covenant community. Joshua is not to operate like a “loose cannon” or “lone wolf.” He is not an independent operator. True leadership operates within the confines of other leaders that have been given the same command. In that sense, leaders are concerned about and devoted to “the team.” Who is your team? If you’re recently married, your immediate team might be you and your wife. A married couple with children would constitute another “team.” A pastor has several teams. His wife, children, Elders, Deacons, and congregational members are all “teams.” If he’s wise, he’ll break them all down into manageable, lead-able groups. His first priority is to his family. There I said it. It needed to be said.
Deacons are also integral parts of the church “team.” A properly functioning Diaconate is necessary for a vibrant church. The various works of mercy and outreach are key for the Body of Christ. The property must be maintained and our Treasurer is also a Deacon.
The congregation is a larger “team,” but if it’s divided into smaller groups, the church can still exercise its “small unit tactics.” How? I’m convinced that part of a healthy church is a sound Eldership. When the Elders know, visit, and train their people, the entire church becomes a “team effort.”
Both Joshua and Israel are given a divine call. God is with them and they are with each other. For those reasons there must be no hesitation in taking their office. They would, no doubt, encounter obstacles, but in the power of God and the strength of like-minded numbers they must not waver.
In order to accomplish this, we must exert our utmost. John Calvin reminds us that we will never be fit for executing difficult and arduous matters unless we’re prepared for such exertion. Why is that? Let me suggest three problem areas.
First, our abilities are, at best, weak. We like to show off our strengths and neglect our weaknesses. Few work on weaknesses at all. If, as male leaders, our weakness is leading our family in worship, we tend not to work on that deficiency and seek silly substitutes. Somehow we’d like to believe that if we just bring home more money that will make up for our weakness in spiritual leadership. Wrong!
Second, Satan’s attacks are formidable and vicious. Most of us haven’t taken this seriously enough. That’s why we get hammered like we do. In all kinds of warfare, most of the combatants believe that nothing will ever happen to them. It’s always the “other guy” who gets it. Something very similar is true in spiritual warfare. We tend to believe that everything is hunky-dory until Satan hits us with a major groin shot. Male leaders need to recognize, acknowledge, and do something about the fact that Satan will oppose you at every step, at every turn. He will lay a spiritual minefield for you every day.
Third, we are creatures that like to follow the path of least resistance. We let our guard down and relax our efforts. We are happy with a little—spiritually—and tend to be pleased with minimum efforts. We don’t seem to “get it” when our wives tell us they want us to lead them spiritually. We’re too easy on ourselves. We need a spiritual plan for our lives, for the life of our wife, and for the lives of our children. We need to remind ourselves going in that this plan is going to require much of us. A little is better than nothing, but we must not be satisfied with just doing a little. We’ll talk more about this in a moment, but for now I want you to see that your mission as a Christian leader must follow a plan.
I teach my high school wrestlers to give their all from the opening whistle to the end of the match.[3] If I think they’re relaxing before the match is over, they’re going to hear from me! The time to relax is when your hand is being raised in victory, not before.
There’s a related and complementary text in the tenth chapter of Joshua that we need to look at in this context.
Joshua 10:25
Leaders and warriors need to stand together. The Bible is explicit that the Lord God Almighty is a warrior (Ex. 15:3), who stands beside us in the spiritual war (Jer. 20:11). Joshua 10:25 points us in this direction and imparts valuable spiritual insight into what the nature of the mission of the male leader/warrior is.
There are fewer things that instill confidence than a good butt kicking, especially if it’s the other guy(s) that get theirs kicked. You bust out the “whupping sticks” and do your job. You get down to business. In Joshua 10, Joshua’s forces have decimated the ranks of the five kings of the Amorites. According to 10:16 these five thugs/weasels fled and hid themselves in a cave at Makkedah. Joshua has large stones rolled against the entrance, posts guards, and continues the butt kicking. Verse 20 makes it clear that Joshua and his warriors cleaned the enemy’s clocks.[4]
In the 24th verse, just prior to the military tribunal that sentenced the five kings to death, Joshua and the chief warriors put their boots on the necks of the kings. Symbolic—very symbolic. But it is interesting that the focus is not on either Joshua or the warrior chiefs. The admonition in verse 25 is this. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” The solid victory is couched in the promise that the Lord God Almighty will do certain things for his people.
The Conquest will be long—it will take a lifetime—but the Allotment will be glorious. In that time between Conquest and Allotment we are not to be indolent, inactive. Male leaders have been given an awesome promise from God. All of the enemies with whom they have to do battle are going to be brought into submission. We will be engaged in the battle, but God assures the victory. We are neither to be afraid nor to get discouraged. Knowing—knowing—that God will defeat all of our sworn enemies and the enemies of our families ought to rally the troops. Armed with that infallible truth, what Christian man would not want to be a strong and courageous spiritual leader?

The texts that we’ve examined in this section have pointed us to certain indispensable characteristics of the Christian warrior. Let’s look at them briefly.
First, the 1 Corinthians 16 text was unequivocal that Christian males are to “act like men.” How do we know what Christian men should act like? That’s a “no-brainer.” God tells us in the Bible. One of the reasons there’s so much confusion about and distortion of the role of the male today is that God’s people are not acquainted with his Word. Men tend to gravitate either to the extreme of almost being effeminate or the other extreme of being like a secular “macho” man. A thorough investigation of the Word of God reveals what we’re supposed to act like.
Second, we are to “become strong.” Strength is something you’ve got to work on constantly. The modern slang of “use it or lose it” is to the point. At my age I’ve got to work hard just to maintain the status quo. Christian men have as part of their mission becoming strong. The primary emphasis is on spiritual strength and not becoming an anabolic steroid. The Bible is clear that physical strength has some merit, but spiritual exercise has more. (Cf. 1 Tim. 4:8.) It’s a process and not a once-for-all-time event. Being a member of a church that has as one of its conscious goals the training and strengthening of spiritual warriors is a necessity. You should make certain that your church not only “talks the talk” but also “walks the walk.” What I mean is this. There are many churches out there today that speak glibly about “accountability.” I’m becoming convinced that this is one of the cheapest and most misused words in the modern church’s vocabulary.
It’s easy to talk about accountability and being accountable. It’s also equally easy to lie. I’m not advocating that joining a solid church where you’re known and supervised with eradicate every instance of bogus accountability. Being intimately involved with a “band of Christian brothers” does help, however. It’s one thing to meet with a group of guys or even a para-church organization for accountability; it’s quite another to commit yourself to a spiritual band of brothers. So what’s the difference? There are several, but let me just enumerate a couple.
First, friends and para-church organizations are just that. Some friends and organizations do a pretty good job with the whole accountability thing. A good friend will hold you to your word. A good para-church organization will too. The problem is that these men have families, jobs, schedules, and the like and they hold you accountable because you’re their friend. They have not received a special calling from the Lord God Almighty to care for your soul. Their friendship might include loving you enough to care for your soul, but that is not their ecclesiastical calling. Elders in a biblical church, however, do have such a call. They will give account before God for your soul. (Cf. Heb. 13:7.) A biblical Elder, therefore, will take his calling from God very seriously.My second comment is connected to the point about Elders being called by God to serve as leaders in the local church. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your friends or accountability group discovers that you’re having an affair. They talk to you and try to hold you accountable, but you persist in your affair. What type of ecclesiastical authority do they have over you? None. They might get mad at you and threaten to tell your wife or they might become very saddened by the whole sordid affair, but they can do precious little other than that. Accountability in a biblical church, however, looks and works differently. I’m convinced that you can reach the same level of friendship and love for one another, with this difference. If you persist in your affair the church can discipline you and, if necessary, excommunicate you.
[1] I’m going to give a detailed explanation of the various “levels” in the Summary below. If you want to skip ahead you will find it there, but it’s not essential that you do that now. It’s up to you. Basically what I’m saying is that being told that little or nothing is required from you as a Christian is bull manure. You wouldn’t want to step in any.
[2] Deuteronomy 1:38, “But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it.” 3:28 “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.”
[3] I’m a volunteer wrestling coach—in my spare time!—at El Modena High School in Orange, CA.
[4] NASB: “It came about when Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were destroyed, and the survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities…”


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