In this chapter I want to establish a basic truth about our discovery of the stuff of which martyrs are made. However, there is an incredible block of basic truth that we are assuming as we come to this study. We are assuming, and not attempting to prove, many, many truths which everyone in evangelical Christianity ought to know already--such truths as the inerrancy of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the reality of God, the reality of a personal relationship with God in the life which God offers to us, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace through faith apart from human merit, etc. In other words, this chapter will be foundational, but it will assume the fundamentals of the faith.
So, let's do it.
This study has for its title, The Stuff of Martyrs. I chose that title because the Bible has always presented the faith as something worthy of whole-hearted devotion and wildly-abandoned sacrifice--up to, and including, serene death at the hands of vicious men. But that is not the temper of Christianity in America, nor is it the visible character of most evangelicals. We need a return to pure devotion. We need somehow to become pointedly fixed on the supreme goal that God has for us. We need, in biblical terms, to believe what the martyrs believed. What was it that they knew that we do not seem to know? It is my contention that what they knew was the personal sufficiency of their God, so that, no matter what they ran up against, God was present, capable, and willing to work in the details of their lives to bring them to ecstatic joy in the end. So, in the chapters ahead I will be driving to make this point: that God is sufficient; that, particularly, Christ, the God Who became man to bring us to God, is the final answer to all of the real questions of life. But when we address the issue of the sufficiency of Christ, the first question--if we are going to be honest with ourselves and others--is: Sufficient for What?
Sufficiency must have a backdrop. There is a reason why most people in our world today have lost their confidence in a sufficient God. That reason is not any of the myriad challenges that men have thrown up as excuses to remain in unbelief (the presence of evil in the creation of a good God; the suffering of the innocent; the horror of war and man's inhumanity to man; etc.). It is, rather, that the Adversary has smoked up the battleground so badly with non-issues that the true backdrop is no longer being seen.1 In addition to this, the proclamation of the Gospel has suffered from reductionists who, in their desire to accommodate the instant gratification syndrome of the culture, have erased too much of the content of the message.2 This combination has resulted in a crisis of non-understanding. Thus, this chapter will introduce this matter of the proper backdrop for a consideration of the sufficiency of our God.
There is a powerful reason why there must be an understanding of the background against which one will measure the sufficiency of Christ in light of the problems of life. That reason is that sufficiency cannot be legitimately measured without a backdrop. Neither can an honest evaluation be made against an illegitimate backdrop. How can one tell whether Christ is sufficient for a given problem unless and until He is known well enough to measure Him against it?
Let's begin by considering the problem of an illegitimate backdrop. This problem is simply the fact that when Christ is measured against an illegitimate backdrop, it is natural that the measurer will then walk away from Him, having decided that He is not what He is presented to be. The problem with this? Simply that walking away from the Source of Life means death to the walker. I once read the testimony of a man who had been in the ministry of the Gospel for a number of years. After teaching others that they ought to trust in Christ, this man lost his daughter, taken in death in a rather tragic way. At this point he forsook the ministry, believing that Christ had failed him. But he walked away illegitimately because he was measuring Christ against a backdrop that was not legitimate. There is no promise in the Word of Christ that service to Him will result in the health and long life of one's offspring. So, to say that He failed to be what He claimed to be was a false accusation. One cannot be faulted for not doing what he never promised to do. Now, if the man had taken his anguish to Christ in humility to seek comfort and not been comforted, he would have been right to walk away--for Christ does promise to comfort us in all of our affliction.3
My point is simply this: Christ has been falsely represented in a myriad of ways to our culture so that, when things do not work out to the expectation of the culture, we feel justified in walking away. But we are not justified in walking away without first being absolutely sure that the expectation we have was firmly rooted in divine promises--instead of the rather goofy notions that some have created of Christ in our generation. Therefore, the only honest approach to the question of the sufficiency of Christ is to first establish a clearly biblical backdrop against which to measure that sufficiency. Here, however, is a critical factor: honesty. One of the sad facts of our experience is what the Bible calls the deceitful heart.4 Unfortunately, our desire to be honest and our desire to have whatever it is that we are seeking often create a clash in the deepest inner workings of our hearts that makes it very difficult for us to even know if we are being honest. So, we need to consider what is required if we are going to honestly approach the issue of a legitimate backdrop against which we are to measure Christ.
The first matter we must consider is what most of us consider our responsibility: the right to direct our own lives. If we are going to insist that we be given the right to determine our own destiny, we must be willing to accept the corollary responsibility of accepting the results as ours. This is not normal, nor easy. In the beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to be self-directed, they both sought for someone to blame for the sorry results. This is the norm for all of their children, and it is the easiest way to deal with the problems of self-direction.
It may not be self-evident, but we are often guilty of creating false backdrops against which to measure Christ for precisely this reason: we want to be self-directed without having to be either responsible or believing. In other words, there is an almost innate awareness in us that we owe our Creator loyalty and trust--thus undercutting our ability to be self-directed--but we do not want to accept it. We are innately distrustful of God. So, to accept the responsibility to be loyal to Him and trust Him explicitly is a very difficult thing to do. But, not to do that makes us sense our own failure to live up to what is innately right. So, we have to have a reason for our rejection of this responsibility. And the reason has to be good enough to give us the freedom to be self-directed without an overpowering sense of guilt. So, we become a master at creating reasons for rejecting the claims of the gospel. The best reason of all is the accusation that God is not what He claims to be. But to make this accusation stick, we must have a backdrop against which we have measured God and found Him to be wanting.
This is why we have called for an honest pursuit of a clearly biblical backdrop. It is honest to forsake God if He fails to be what His own Word says He is. But it is dishonest to create a backdrop so that God will fail to measure up to it. It is also dishonest to attempt to create a backdrop that does not come from the Word of God. How can one honestly hold God accountable for things He has not committed Himself to? God's Word is the only place where we can find God saying what He is and is not, and what He will and will not do. Those who believe in their own omniscience will invariably not want to be tied to this restriction, but their omniscience is a self-deluding lie and they won't find any help in a book like this at any rate. We must be aware that there are many who do not want to believe God's Word. These are often guilty of generating false backdrops against which to measure Christ--so that they can reject Him legitimately in the eyes of other men. Honesty means we have to deal early with the issue of whether we want to be self-directed, or have solutions to the problems of our lives. We cannot have both.
Now, with honesty an assumption, we need to ask another question: Is it really biblical to insist upon a biblical backdrop for the process of measuring Christ? For an answer, consider these words by the apostle Peter: "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother, Paul, also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (II Peter 3:14-16, KJV).
Here Peter writes of certain ones looking for certain things. This means that they were anticipating a fulfillment of promises that Christ had made. Those promises formed a legitimate backdrop of anticipation. But he warned them of two critical factors that enter into the picture. The first is the factor of timing. God's promises are to be fulfilled on His time-schedule and not on ours. To reject the sufficiency of Christ because He did not do what was promised when we expected Him to--without a specific promise of timeliness--is not legitimate. God will fulfill His Word in His own time. Reject Him for that if you will, but do not say that He has failed. Rather, be honest and say that you simply do not have the patience to wait.
The second factor is given in the phrase they that are unlearned and unstable. This means that there are two sub-factors that enter into the question of His sufficiency. One is a learning factor, and the other is a stability factor. This means that measurement against the backdrop cannot be legitimately done until I have learned what the backdrop really is. It is not enough to have grown up in a religious environment and to have submitted myself to umpteen hours of religious instruction. It is, rather, to have come to the Word of God over and over until I have the biblical backdrop firmly in mind for myself. Only then can I be sure of what to look for.
And secondly, the stability factor is the matter of steadiness in the commitment to hear from God with a willingness to act on what He says. No man can serve two masters. No one with a divided loyalty can have the patience necessary to endure to the fulfillment of the promises. If you want what He promises, but you want it on your terms, you have a divided loyalty that will push you to reject His requirement of patience--and in your rejection you will feel compelled to tell others that the reason you are walking away is that He failed. He did not. The unlearned do not know what to look for. The unstable do not want to look long, or hard, enough to receive it.
Peter says that the end of ignorance and/or instability is self-destruction. We need to understand how this works. There are four parts to the process. It begins with desire. What we want sets us up for the process of biblical integration (maturity) or the process of self-destruction. It can be said that what a person wants is the key to all else. The author of proverbs said it this way: "Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." The heart is the core element of our value system and the sponsor of all of our desires.
Next comes the method of achievement for the thing desired. When we want something, we normally begin to look for a way to get it. This is a critical step in the spiral of self-destruction of which Peter wrote. He said the people were looking for something. He also told them how to seek its fulfillment. But he wrote also of those who refused to seek the result God's way. Such a refusal, he said, brings on self-destruction. How so?
Because doing generates results. This is the third step in the process. What we desire sparks the motivation to act. How we act generates results. If the way we act brings the results we were looking for, we are satisfied. But, if our actions generate unexpected consequences that we did not want, we are frustrated--and normally begin to look for someone to blame. This brings self-destruction closer.
This response of satisfaction/frustration is the fourth part of the cycle. What we desired was sought after by a certain method. The seeking created a certain consequence/result. The result generated an emotional response. Peter says that those who are unlearned and unstable take part in this cyclical spiral to their own destruction. Destruction, ultimately, is the emotional state that a person finds himself in at the end of the cycle of seeking the wrong things, or seeking the right things the wrong ways. Frustration, anger, bitterness, fear, despair...these are the characteristics of the destruction of the soul. They are the end of a dishonest backdrop and an invalid rejection of Jesus Christ.
In asking the question of the sufficiency of Christ, we are asking about His ability to handle the difficulties that we face. Therefore, in order to find an answer, we must first identify the kinds of problems we face. We illustrated some of the forms that these problems take in the first chapter, but here we want to move into a more detailed examination of them. In a broad sense, there are two kinds of problems that we face. There are those which we have created for ourselves, and there are those which others have created for us. Within that umbrella of two types of sources of difficulties, there are three categories where these two types of difficulties assert themselves. It is to these categories that we now turn.
Consider Genesis 3:6: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (KJV). Here we are faced with the kind of difficulties that others bring into our experience. Prior to the serpent's entrance into the Garden, Adam and Eve had nothing with which to contend. They were in harmony with each other. They were in fellowship with God. They were surrounded with a good environment that was designed to meet all of their physical appetites. They were content at all points. In addition to this, they had clear, unambiguous instruction from a God who had already demonstrated His wisdom and power in creation. They knew what they were to do and what they were not to do. Given no outsider-input, they would most likely have continued unto this day in their blissful contentment.
But the serpent came.
When he came, he inserted into their experience certain questions which they had apparently not considered previously. The first such question was Has God given you any prohibitions regarding your diet? The second question was How do you know He is telling you the truth? in regard to the consequences of disobedience. The third question was Given question number two, how can you be content with letting Him be the One who knows and controls?
The first question was rather point-blank: "Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1, KJV) This question was designed to create a sense of dissatisfaction at the basic level of physical appetite. At its roots was the reality that uninhibited indulgence tends to cut the edge from the freshness of experience. Everyone has experienced the reality that an uninhibited indulgence in something once delighted in tends to diminish the level of pleasure. (This, by the way, is the primary reason that addiction drives to ever greater levels of indulgence.) The question raised the possibility of a new level of physical satisfaction, and, by that, sowed a seed of discontentment. They were full of the other fruits and sated by them. Perhaps this new fruit would be better!
The second question arose because of a rather point-blank declaration. "You shall not surely die..." (Genesis 3:4, KJV). In this declaration there was imposed upon Eve the necessity that she decide whether or not God meant what He said. Up to this point, she had had no occasion to even entertain the question. And, tangent to this issue was a corollary one: "If God would lie, can He really have my best interests at heart?" This raised the specter of a future which might suddenly turn sour, or worse. This is one of the main reasons that we have claimed that the soul needs a sense of security above all else. The issue of a lying God is an issue of whether or not I am safe in His promises. If God cannot be trusted, there is no security for the future of any kind. Now, it goes without saying that there was nothing in Eve's past experience that would hint of this duplicity on God's part, but then, there had been no hint of other creatures who might have had deeper experience either. Suddenly there was a talking serpent who appeared to know more than she did.
The third question arose also because of the serpent's bold declaration, "...your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5, KJV). The question that was associated with this declaration was a question of how they could be satisfied with God being the One who knows and controls. That would be perfectly satisfactory if they could be sure that He had only the best in mind for them. But what if He didn't? In that case it would be of the utmost importance to know good and evil and have the ability to choose their own course so that God couldn't easily bring them to grief. Here the seeds of rebellion sprouted out of the fear that had been entertained that they could not trust the past experience they had had with God.
These three questions attacked Eve on three levels. First, there was the level of physical satisfaction. Second, there was the level of emotional security in the face of potential betrayal by a person with whom there was an on-going relationship. And third, there was the level of power to control the future for one's own good.
The fact that Eve found these questions a driving reason for disobedience reveals clearly that God had made human beings with three basic need-levels. The physical frame has to have physical supply at a level sufficient to provide satisfaction. The soul has to have a sense of security in its relationships with those who can bring about grief--if they are inclined to do so. And the spirit has to have a sense of significance that normally comes from the ability to act in a wise enough manner to stave off difficulty and grief.
Therefore the grid that the Scripture gives to form for us an understanding of our needs is clearly established early on in the revelation which God has given. Our needs boil down to three:
|a body which needs physical satisfaction|
|a soul which needs relational security|
|a spirit which needs the ability to DO wisely|
With this grid in place, we now have a backdrop to measure the promises and abilities of Jesus Christ. We can begin to raise the question of whether He is sufficient in light of the needs that we have.
1 The problem of non-issues as a smoked up battleground is simply the problem of multitudes of facts which either do not address the problem I am facing, or are not organized in such a way as to give me a clear view of how they address the problem I am facing. Today we are multiplying information at alarming rates. Much of the psychologizing and theologizing promises answers, but does not spring from the promises of God and does not address the question of what and how I am to trust Him in the face of my stress.
2 Reducing the Gospel message to a three or four step formula fits our cultural expectation like a hand fits a glove, but the reality is that the Gospel was designed to move us from a non-relationship with God to an active fellowship with God. This is the movement of a person toward another person. The issues are issues of how we get to know each other and cannot be reduced to a formula for how to. The bottom line is that reductionism invariably treats eternal life like it was a ticket to somewhere rather than an experience of the person of God.
3 Paul characterized God as the God of all Comfort in the midst of his own personal struggles. If He is such, His commitment is to comfort. If I am not comforted by Him when I come to Him in my stress, He is not being faithful to His character. If that is the case, He cannot be trusted.
4 Technically the question of honesty by man may be moot. The Scriptures say that every person is a liar, and the apostle Paul claimed that he did not have the ability to know with certainty what his own motives were. However, it is helpful to at least set this before us as an objective. God is able to open our eyes to deception--whether it is self generated or produced by a wiley opponent.