Have you ever struggled with the same sin for a long time, hoping that there was a missing secret that you could plug in and conquer it once and for all? Maybe it isn’t a particular sin, but your entire level of Christian commitment. You’ve been wobbly for years and you want to discover the secret sauce to solve your spirituality.
Once I had a conversation with a Christian friend about a temptation I was wrestling with again and again. He said, “Oh, I know your problem. You are trying too hard! You are trying to live your Christian life in your flesh instead of letting the Lord live through you.”
“Oh great,” I thought, inspired with fresh hope. So, I prayed a prayer of dedication and thought I would at last let the Lord Jesus live through me. How do you think that worked? How does a person actually tell when they are obeying the Bible by their own efforts or letting Jesus obey through them?
There are certainly Bible verses that talk about the Lord or the Holy Spirit empowering our obedience. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
It is a wonderful Christian reality that when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ they are united with Jesus’ death and resurrection. We really have had our bondage to sin severed and are empowered to live in obedience to the Lord. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
But that said, there are other verses that speak of our Christian growth as happening through disciplined obedience to the Lord. Notice how both our dependence upon the Lord and our disciplined obedience show up in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Are you dependent upon the Lord for spiritual progress? Absolutely. Can you always tell in your obedience that it is you or the Lord working? Of course not. If you are obviously sinning you can know, but if you are sincerely trying to please the Lord you have to obey the Bible and trust that the Holy Spirit is working regardless of your feelings.
In this column in the past I have raised cautions about Christian fads. Those fads can also work like the “spiritual secret” game. People around you get so excited about the latest book, conference, website, or Christian movie. You start to think maybe THIS at last will elevate my Christian commitment, my passion for the Lord, or my ability to get victory over that nagging sin.
In my past warnings, I always try to give some qualifications. If you have benefited from some of these movements in the past, I’m NOT suggesting that they are ALL bad or that you are undiscerning. In fact, it would be hard for something to become a fad unless it has some kind of Bible basis or tried to meet some kind of need in churches.
The issue is not whether or not there is some good at the core of the movement; the question is how big of a focus should it become in our Christian lives. Is it the missing secret?
Some of these fads are long gone. Do you remember getting excited about The Prayer of Jabez book? Then there were Jabez journals, T-Shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers. This one was especially ironic in light of how short of a mention that Jabez actually got in the Bible. Jesus gets a lot more attention in the Bible, of course, but the WWJD fad was more about buying the wristband than studying the Gospels to find out What Would Jesus Do.
Did you do the 40 Days of Purpose or did your church become a Pupose-Driven Church? Again, I’m not saying that the material in those programs was all bad (Of course not!). But how much of what you learned back then is affecting your life now? If 25 million people benefited from the book, shouldn’t America look different than it does?
How excited did you get about The Shack? Some people made it out to be the book that would change one’s entire perception of the Trinity. Maybe it did change some perceptions, but did it change them in a more biblical direction? But my bigger point is where is book today? It was everywhere just yesterday!
The Left Behind series has pretty much been left behind. Although, there was that movie starring Nicholas Cage. . . but that has come and gone too. Maybe those books and movie brought back the end-times fad back, but how long did it last? How many blood moons came and went since all of that?
The immediate fad of today is probably the religious themed movies. God is Not Dead 1,2, and 3 were apologetic documentaries. But many Christians still get quite excited about movies like I Can Only Imagine, Paul, Apostle of Christ and The Miracle Season. I am well aware of the discussions about the level of gospel content in each of these movies. But what will be the lasting value of any Christian movie?
God established regular means of Christian growth, like Bible intake, prayer, and participating in the life of a healthy church. The Holy Spirit promises to bless and empower you through the disciplined reading, thinking about, and applying the Scriptures to the regular stuff of life.
It seems hard to have to learn about the meaning of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books of the Bible in their contexts, and then work out applications to make wise decisions in your life. It seems like you are spending too much time having to pray about so many things.
Your church may not always strike your fancies, plus there are all of those sinners that seem to think they need you as much as you need them. And what about the sermons? If the pastor is really trying to be faithful, he is light on the emotional stories and actually preaches Bible-based expository sermons that require paying attention to process the content and then to think of ways that your life should change in light of the truth.
People want secrets and fads to super-charge their spiritual growth and spiritual impact on our community. God can send real revival. He has in the past and he can do it again. But revivals are extraordinary spiritual blessings on the normal means of ministry. In other words, revival is when the Holy Spirit sends extra blessings on normal Bible reading, prayer, and ministries of the church.
Don’t get too excited about hidden secrets. As one of my seminary professors wisely said, “The secret to the Christian life is that there are no secrets to the Christian life.” It is like the story of the race between tortoise and the hare. The slow and steady tortoise wins the race over the speedy, but lazy and distracted hare.
In the Christian life, don’t be afraid to be the tortoise. Just do a little praying and Bible reading every day and become more active in a healthy church, and your spiritual progress will start adding up. You will win the Christian race without any special secrets.
By John Crotts