Just last night, I read the introduction to John Bevere’s Good or God?, a book that tackles the subject of how “good without God isn’t enough” – in other words, how doing good things does not necessarily mean that you are aligned with God’s will. I’ve been wanting to read this book for quite some time, but only recently did I find myself with the spare time to actually sit down and start reading.
However, as is the case with most books (and all other sources of entertainment, for that matter), I felt the need to go online and start reading reviews of the product prior to beginning it myself – I do this not so much to see whether or not I will enjoy it, but more so to see how well it holds up doctrinally and whether or not it is written to a standard that leaves people actually enveloped in what is being said, rather than bored to death due to lackluster insights and overall lack of passion by the creator of the piece. Good or God? received amazing reviews (4.52/5 stars on Goodreads), but there was a something I noticed: of the two “bad” reviews the book received, they both seem to address a particular touch subject…
“Bevere takes the …. approach. You’re not good enough, and you’re never good enough, and you never will be.”
“I found this book to be more discouraging than encouraging. Sanctification is a lifelong process, but focusing so heavily on obedience only reminds me of how hopelessly flawed I am.”
As I lie in bed after finishing the Introduction to the book, my mind couldn’t help but drift to those reviews. You’re not good enough…never good enough…more discouraging than encouraging…
What’s wrong with that?
The reason these reviews kept me awake at night is because they point out a fundamental flaw within the Church today. Gone are the days when people went to church on Sundays to hear the truth of God’s message or the beauty of God’s goodness. Instead, the majority (sadly) of church-goers go for one of two reasons: (1) for the social aspect of it; or (2) to hear some encouraging words to leave them feeling giddy going into the next week.
Do you see how that’s a problem?
The fact is this: I haven’t read the book in its entirety yet, but if Mr. Bevere finds it necessary to drive home the fact that “you’re not good enough, and you’re never good enough, and you never will be,” that for one reason and one reason only: because it’s the truth! If the book leaves you feeling more discouraged at the end than you expected, maybe that’s because we have twisted God’s gospel so much that we have much need for discouragement! Do we have an Almighty and loving God who cares for our every need and leaves us with the eternal hope for salvation through His death on Calvary’s cross? Yes, we most definitely do, but while we are still on earth there is still much evil to be addressed, many hard topics that need be talked about! If you come to church or read Christian books or go to the Bible purely for encouragement, I hate to break it to you, but you’re in it for the wrong reason.
So man created God in their own image…
One of my biggest irks about the modern-day church is how infrequently we utilize the Old Testament in things outside of Sunday school, and in those rare times we do use the Old Testament (other than Psalms or Proverbs, of course), we stray away from the tough topics. I can understand the pastoral desire to leave the congregation feeling encouraged by the end of the sermon, but sometimes I think that the Christian people need more of a call to action than a word of affirmation. We aren’t the Davids who can take down Goliath; we are the Israelite army that was too afraid to fight. We aren’t the Abraham’s willing to sacrifice our son on an altar; we are the people who call God “mean” for asking us to do such a thing. We aren’t the Adam and Eve who look past the serpent and go on living in Eden; we bite into the fruit and then ask for more and more. Sermons have decided to linger more and more on the hopeful promises of the New Testament (which arrives through the realization of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah and Savior), but this has come at the detriment of our church: people no longer sit in our pews because they want to hear about the true God; they want to hear about the God created in their image, rather than the other way around. They want to hear about the loving, kind, and gracious side of God, not the justice-fueld side that reigns judgment down on those who are against Him. These are one and the same God, but can we truly comprehend one without the other?
Back in the Old Testament, people honored God’s truth to the point of legalism because the grace of God through Jesus Christ had not been fully revealed to them, and the judgment and justice of our “good, good Father” (we sing those words without recognizing their truth) was too apparent from all the stories that had unfolded. They were sent into slavery and then eventually left with 400 years of silence, and this left them with such a big view of God that they resorted to the sinful legalism that Jesus addressed in his Incarnation. On the flip side, we have clung so deeply to the grace of Jesus that we have forgotten that we are still called to live Christian lives, making the Gospel far more about ourselves than it is about Him. David Platt summarizes this well: “The message of biblical Christianity is not ‘God loves me, period,’ as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is ‘God loves me so that I might make him – his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness – known among all nations.’ Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.”
The sin of the Pharisees (and the modern-day Jews) is that they believed the Old Testament without accepting the revelation of the New (which was unfolding before their very eyes), so would it be wrong to claim that we, likewise, are sinful for lingering only on the God that we want to hear about, rather than the God who is necessarily true?
Not His will, but ours be done…?
Going off of this false view of God that the church has done very little to correct, I want to step out of the church building for a second and look at the Church as a group of people, because it is not only the men at the pulpit who have distorted our view of God, but we ourselves are to blame just as much. It has been said that we live in a world where “the state religion is tolerance, and we are daily forced to worship at its altars,” and I couldn’t agree more. In the name of tolerance we have taken on some sort of “judgment-free” zone (don’t even begin quoting Matthew 7 to me until you’ve put it in context) where you can’t even state facts without being reprimanded for being inconsiderate. Ben Shapiro’s whole “Facts don’t care about your feelings” movement is one I can get behind, because it is the necessary counterstrike to this far-too-tolerant world that loves living in sin because, well, “God’s a loving God,” and so as long as I am loving something I must be in line with God’s will, right?
As I suppose John Bevere would say: good without God isn’t enough.
Is it wrong to say that homosexuality is a sin? Is it wrong to say that gender dysphoria (or whatever its being called nowadays) is contrary to God’s will? Is it wrong to say that depression (yes, even clinical) is something that can be addressed by simply turning your hope to faith in God? To each of these questions, most people – yes, even Christians – would say “Yes, it is wrong! Stop judging people!” but the Bible doesn’t seem to say that at all. We live in a world where sin is tolerated because we have a distorted view of love, a love that relies far too on emotion and not enough on action (whereas in the Bible, love is always an action that precedes emotion, rather than the other way around). I am not loving somebody by encouraging them to continue in sin; in fact, I am hating them, showing apathy towards them by saying that their own sinful nature is not even worth addressing. Gone is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – “Not my will, but yours, be done” – and back are the days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – “Not your will, but mine, be done.” We have stopped caring about what the Bible says and have started caring more about what the world thinks, and it is to our detriment. To quote Captain America, “When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, YOU move.’”
But then again, the comics have turned Captain America into a German spy, so not even his word can be held credible anymore.
I *don’t* SURRENDER ALL
My last point goes back to that longing feeling we have as we walk into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings: “God, please speak to me some words of encouragement that will leave me motivated to serve You for the rest of my days.”
What happened to people like Job, who chose to willingly serve God even in the most depressing of times?
To be brutally honest, one of my favorite sermons is one entitled “The Question” – given by pre-cancer Matt Chandler back in 2007 – and, get this, it wasn’t encouraging! It was deep, dark, and gritty. It asked the very question I just posed to you: Why aren’t there more people out there like David, who panted for God lying a dying animal panting for water, who lie in his bed at night wondering how he could grow closer to God come next morning? Why aren’t there more people like Paul who longingly served Christ whether he be free or imprisoned, preaching or being stoned, living or dying? Where are the men and women like that, who go to church and go to the Bible and go to God not because they want to be encouraged, but because they truly want to surrender? We stand in the congregation and sing “I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Thee my Blessed Savior, I surrender all,” but we never stop and consider what those words mean!
To surrender is to wave your white flag and say, “I give up. I can’t do this. You truly are the victor.” Heck, to quote the reviewer of John Bevere’s book, to surrender is to say, “[I’m] not good enough, and [I’m] never good enough, and [I] never will be.” Can one truly be a Christian without daily attempting to surrender? Yet our culture has led us to believe that if you call someone to surrender – as does Bevere – that is in fact a negative, improper view of Christianity. Oh, how far we have strayed.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…surrender is not a one-time thing. I hate saying that I’m a Christian because it would be prideful to call myself a “little Christ,” as the name Christian implies. While yes, this is my desire, I am instead a disciple of Christ, daily choosing to pick up my cross and surrender all. Perhaps even a day is too long for my wandering heart – I must do it hourly, minutely, secondly. If we want to see a resurgence of people like David or Job or Paul or Abraham or Moses or Habakkuk – or Jesus – then we must decide to surrender every single moment and aspect of our life to Christ, recognizing that God’s purpose is not to encourage us; in fact, He has no obligation to us whatsoever. In our desire for encouragement, we have decided to worship ourselves, rather than God, making Him a servant to us rather than ourselves servants to Him. His very love and grace should be all the encouragement we need; we are selfish to ask for more, yet how abundantly He supplies more even amidst our selfishness!
Let me tell you this: when it comes to us (humankind), the Bible is very discouraging. If our track record tells us anything, we can see that humans are a sinful, fallen race that constantly reject a beautiful and loving Creator, and for that reason we should be very discouraged when we try to make ourselves the focal point of the Gospel. Instead, it is by turning our attention to that Creator – the forgiving, almighty God who took on human flesh so that He might reunite with His adulterous creation – that our encouragement lies, so if you truly are seeking encouragement we seem to all desire so much, stop making the Gospel so much about yourself and more about God! Be encouraged not by what God can do for you but what He has done for you and, resultantly, what you can do for Him. Is God still actively doing things for us? Oh yes, but if we rely more on what He has done for us in the past, then those things that He has done for us in the future can be recognized as the gifts they are rather than the entitlements we dream them to be.
- God created us in His image, so start reflecting Him …in all things, no matter how much we like it or don’t. Reject being pharisaical, but likewise refrain from leaning on God’s grace to justify your own sin. Strive for perfection, yet recognize that goal as unattainable (unless your Jesus, of course).
- God knows what is best, so let His will be done, not your own. This means to love others through action and not based upon feeling, unashamed to call sin “sin” – or really, unashamed to call anything what it truly is – and unafraid to proclaim the truth, even if some find it offensive.
- Start surrendering all. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Instead of surrendering your entire life in a moment of heightened emotion (like someone saying “I love you” in the midst a one-night stand), recognize that you as a human are far too week to make such a commitment and are doomed to fail; instead, surrender each moment individually, willingly handing it over to your Creator and recognizing it as His, not yours (like a married couple, devoted to loving each other for the rest of all time).