Among the many distinctive traits of 21st-century global culture is our confidence in technology.
To every problem there must be a solution which technology can supply, if only the science is advanced enough and there is money enough to apply it. And in many areas of our human experience that has been proved to be true, so that we can all be profoundly thankful for the benefits of scientific research in making us healthier, more comfortable and (perhaps) happier than our forebears.
Not surprisingly, the Christian community has been sucked into this way of thinking, because in every generation we are far more squeezed into the world’s mould and addicted to the spirit of the age than most of us Christians recognise, let alone care to admit. So, whatever problems we face in our discipleship, individual or corporate, we are programmed to look for the newest technique to solve them. There are plenty on offer, in a multitude of websites, conferences, events, books. Many offer a ‘one size fits all’ solution, frequently in terms of a particular technique, to provide the answer to our longings for more fruit, more love, more reality, more fulfilment. Moreover, insofar as they are biblical, many have a useful contribution to make.
So the Christian sub-culture has its own parallels to the fad diets and the get-fit programmes, the quick fixes and the heightened expectations of transformation, shouted at us every day by our commercially-driven society. What we need to do is to dig a bit deeper, if we are not to become serial junkies for the next evangelical panacea. We need to explore what God tells us about his agenda for our redeemed lives in his world and to measure our progress and our expectations against his truth, not our cultural fantasies about ‘becoming whatever we really want to be’.
The heart of Christianity is the gospel, the central theme of the Bible and the reason for Christ’s coming into the world. The good news is all about God on a rescue mission, to seek and save the lost. As the opening chapters of Romans make clear, this great salvation is primarily a rescue from the wrath of God, which is already ‘being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth’ (Romans 1.18). Jesus came to save us from eternal death, which is separation from God, the only source of life and light and love, in the terrifying reality which the Bible calls hell. This is why the death of Jesus, the representative of sinful humanity and the substitute for each repentant sinner, carrying the just penalty of our rebellion in separation from the Father, is the heart of the good news. The substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of Christ, on Calvary, is not a side issue to a religion of moral improvement. Without the cross, there is no Christianity.
Restoring God’s image
Yet related to this rescue, in the closest possible way, is God’s saving activity of restoration. The effect of our sin in our individual lives is to alienate us from the life of God and condemn us to judgment; but its effect on the whole human race was to mar and spoil (though not totally destroy) the ‘image of God’, in which Genesis 1.26 tells us the human race, male and female, was created.
The New Testament teaches us very clearly that it is God’s purpose, in redeeming lost humanity, to restore this image in his rescued people. ‘Put on the new self, created to be like God [the image restored] in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4.24). The parallel in Colossians 3.10 tells us that this new self ‘is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’. Supremely, 2 Corinthians 3.18, one of the greatest biblical explanations of the Christian life, states: ‘We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’.
This is God’s grand plan, his agenda for all our lives. It will not be brought about by the latest quick fix, or application of some spiritual technology. This is a life-time commitment to being ‘imitators of God’, to becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus in what we say and do, but even deeper, in who we are, at the very heart of our being. The old vocabulary for this was ‘holiness’ and ‘sanctification’. But, however we may describe it, nothing is more central to God’s purpose for our lives, or more vital for our churches. The greatest contribution any of us can make to the evangelisation of our world, in our generation, is our godliness.
David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.
This article was first published in the June 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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