Saturday, February 14, 2009


An Irrelevant God?

Is our god relevant? (Hint: the small "g" is intentional.)
Several of our recent posts have wrestled with the following question in different ways: what is wrong with the church? Of course, there is no single right answer to this question. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that we no longer live in the light of grace, because we have no idea what "grace" really is. By the way, lest you find me self-righteous, I do not absolve myself in this indictment.
To begin with, we cannot truly grasp the amazingness of grace until and unless we understand the enormity and very wretchedness of our sin. And this intense sin awareness also lies beyond our grasp, because we have a massive underappreciation for God's holiness. In so many ways, we worship a different god ... one who is crafted after our own collective image. Any reevaluation of our Christian faith must begin with recapturing a proper fear and awe of its Author and Perfecter.
Fear and awe? Consider Isaiah, who had every human reason to consider his understanding of God's true nature to be quite adequate. After all, he was Israel's foremost prophet ... a veritable holy man on a mission. Yet, this "holy man's" response to an encounter with the "Holy Holy Holy" One seated on His throne was supremely jarring:

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.
Isaiah's encounter with God began with a terrifying realization: God is holy, and he was filthy. In short, he was doomed. No other outcome but instant and consuming firey judgment was imaginable when his sin came up before the unfiltered holiness of God. However, God did not mete out His justice on Isaiah, but rather forgave him, and Isaiah's response was unqualified, total obedience: Here I am, send me! Scripture demonstrates repeatedly that this is the way it must be--true obedience is born of a sincere experience of God's grace. Yet such grace is bereft of meaning absent a true recognition of the enormous stinking corpse that is our sin ... but this sin is just an abstract notion outside the bright white holiness (i.e., majesty and purity) of God. Yet it is this true holiness that has slipped from our collective consciousness.

Indeed, I fear this is not the God we carry to the nations or our neighbors. It is not the God we preach from our pulpits or whose songs we sing. Dare I say it is not the God many of us carry in our hearts?

Instead, we have internalized a different god ... one who inspires no fear, no trembing, no awe. The spirit of our age, the god of our choosing ... well, he's nice and all ... in a Mother Theresa sort of way, only better. Really, we're glad he's around and grateful for his kindness. We have a vague appreciation for his overlooking our "mistakes", but we feel little obligation to break out of our comfortable apathy on his account.

Why has the church become increasingly irrelevant? Can it be because we serve and preach an irrelevant god of our own making, rather than the "Holy Holy Holy" God of Scripture? Can it be that any hope of Christian renewal, either personal or corporate, must begin with a genuine "Woe to me" moment?


  1. Jailer’s comments on how little reverence for God we often sense in the church reminded me of R. C. Spoul’s book on “The Holiness of God”. Beginning it, he turns not only to the passage in Isaiah 6, but also Peter’s reaction when he first realizes something of who Jesus is: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Lk. 5:8)

    Both of these passages also bring to mind another book of Sproul’s, “If there’s a God, why are there aetheists?” In this second book, Sproul explores the dynamics of the reaction Paul describes in the first chapter of Romans: Why is it that, despite the fact that “what can be known about God is plain to them”, men choose to “... by their unrighteousness suppress the truth”? (Rm. 1:18, 19)

    The answer to that question is in the awful chasm between His holiness and our filthy sinfulness. He stands apart from us and knows us through-and-through: “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Pr. 15:11) What He sees is not pretty: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Pr. 20:9) And He hates that: “You ... are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” (Hab. 1:13) Faced with this, men flee headlong into denial.

    All this, the Bible teaches us is part of “general revelation”. All men, believers and unbelievers alike, are “born knowing this” - and denying it. It’s part of who we are. What is not part of general revelation is any indication that this state of affairs is anything other than inescapably and eternally terrifying - which is why we deny it. That can come to us only through God’s special revelation in the Gospel, as His Spirit enables us to believe it when preached to us. “... you have been born again ... through the living and abiding word of God; .... And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Pt. 1:23, 25)

    The lesson we should draw from this is that faithful preaching is powerful, but, to be faithful, it must both confront men with the reality of their dreadful estrangement from a holy God, and offer them the good news of His remedy for that estrangement in Christ: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) If all that’s proclaimed is our sin and God’s hatred of it, then we’re not telling people anything they don’t already know deep-down, and they’ll respond as Paul describes them doing in Romans 1, inventing a “reality” which they think they can stand. If, on the other hand, we preach “good news” without being frank about why it is so good, then they’ll just bring the “gods” they have invented into the “church” with them. Either way, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rm. 3:18)

  2. Kudos to you, Jailer for writing on this. I had a remarkable moment in my Christian growth about 18 months ago: I didn't fear God.

    While I could comment on that "revelation" in light of the topical blogging on "What's Wrong With the Church?", I am without excuse--I can't say it is because I haven't been "taught" to fear God. I have read the Old Testament, and have done several deep dives learning about the God of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, the Chronicles, and the prophets. His love is clearly demonstrated in His discipline of those He loves. But in reading that discipline, how can I continue to sin?

    More importantly, we see Him continually trying to bring us to repentance. I have in my den a framed picture of the Twin Towers. Next to that picture is a framed Wall Street Journal from 12 Sept 01. It is there to constantly remind me of the key event that changed my life forever, but also as a reminder that the God of the Old Testament hasn't changed despite my sinful desire to make Him in "my image." I read Amos, where we hear about "the earthquake" - an event clearly known to the Israelites and Judites as a message from God...and see our own message...what is next that He may bring to remind us to fear Him?

  3. Hi Patrick, I've been meaning to say hello for some time now......though I was on my way out of Okinawa when you were coming in, I definitely remember you!

    Just out of curiosity, how was your life changed forever because of 9/11? If you don't mind sharing, I'm sure there would be many that would be interested in hearing more.


  4. Great reminder....I think I will forever be trying to fathom how great our God really is. I can only imagine....I guess I won't really know until I join my Lord when my time is up here on earth.

  5. Some USA churches, yes. House churches in China, no. Underground Christian meetings in Eritrea, no. Sudanese Chistian refugee camp meetings, no. The 'we' part is what concerns me - as much as I love the USA, it is not my true citizenship. I should feel closer to a non-English speaking, impoverished, 3rd world Christian than my friendly agnostic neighbor who shares my favorite sports and is a 'good old buddy'...

    I struggle with this disconnect daily and am glad you posted the topic, thanks.

  6. I agree with Joe. We avoid even using the word "church" any more because of the negative connotations. Nothing could be MORE relevant to our lives than the liberating, powerful gospel of Jesus, who came not just to be our PERSONAL savior but to save the world through us.

    Yet even if that message were being accurate preached from the pulpit, the very fact that one person, however anointed, is elevated over the rest of the body of Christ sends the message that most of us are not ready to "go and make disciples of all nations."

  7. There is alot of "follow God and you're life will get better" preaching going on right now. And in general, that is true depending on how you define "better". Paul thought his life got better, but he was in JAIL. He didn't, as you say, invent a God of convenience. He took God as he found Him, and just followed him. Alot of churches don't do that. A possible reason: Churches need members. Perhaps in addition to worshipping a god of our own making, Churches also fall into telling people what they want to hear. The result is lots and lots of members, but not alot of substance. Hence the irrelevance of the church.

    Also, there are so many churches really screwing up right now (not just normal humal imperfections, but churches committing genuinely terrible acts) that alot of people who follow Christ perhaps do so outside of a traditional church. Churches need to walk the walk if they want to be relevant.

  8. The whole thing smacks of a world that has turned it's back on God. They do not want to follow or obey him. They want him to fit into their world on their terms and have him jump at their voice and actions. There is no reverence for his "Holiness" or fear his wrath when we disobey his commands. Now it is more common to have individuals see themselves as a spiritual being greater than our Risen Christ and his Holy Father in Heaven. And that is total garbage.

    We cannot sit back and not "still" proclaim our Saviour and make known their lost state until his coming. What a day that will be. :)

  9. Assuming this is true (which most of us probably agree that it is), what should we do personally?

  10. Bill -- I thought that might be you, but I wasn't sure. Hello again!

    Life change after 9/11: barring the fact that I was on a US Airways flight from Atlanta - Charlotte, en route to DC, and the many thoughts that might engender, there were many personal plans that I had that never got fulfilled -- grad school, leaving the Service (yes, was planning to get out in 2002), dating and marriage, etc.
    But more importantly, it changed my life in seeing a completely godless world being granted permission by God to be His instrument of warning and correction to us. We, as a church, had been blessed with incredible wealth and freedom during the 1990s---and what did we have to show for it---had we been wise managers of what He had given us?
    Then, spending time in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, the Arabian Gulf, etc. showed me a world completely devoid of any workable soil for Christianity to thrive, let alone be even worked over for seed planting. It showed me an area which I have heard referred to as the 10-40 window, areas violently shut out to Christianity...but yet, was one of the areas Peter and Thomas both broke into following the Ascension of Christ!

    The American church (and let's be frank, that is the church we can only relate to -- nobody on this blog is meeting underground in China or in prision with Copts in Egypt) has failed a big test He gave us -- the blessings that poured out on America and the Church in the past 50 years has been unparalleled in church history...what other ways can God change the course of the church or test it the way 9/11 did?

  11. Thanks for sharing, Patrick......a lot of deep stuff to think about for sure!

    The things you saw in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and the Arabian Gulf give you a very unique perspective and you have much to offer the church in America. As you know, I lived in the 10-40 window for 20 years myself and I find that though most American Christians want to understand, it's really difficult for most to maintain that kind of perspective for very long. Short of living in the "rocky soil" nations themselves, it takes a lot of effort to adjust one's perspective and the status-quo seems to win out in the end too often.

    I'll look forward to more of your future posts and the unique perspective that you've gained through your experiences!

  12. I am daily thankful for grace - for when I realize that I am the worst of sinners, a man with unclean lips, a sinful man - my God gives me a promise: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". When I acknowledge how bankrupt I am spiritually, that's when I most understand grace.

  13. Man is prideful and does not want to admit his true state of heart, his sinful nature, his complete inability to earn salvation. And we are weak creatures, lowest on the spiritual food chain, although most beloved by God. Other beings in the spiritual food chain aren't happy about that beloved part, and they are more powerful than we are, so they are determined to keep us from all that God has for us. And we're doomed without Christ.

    Too many churches are afraid to speak His name and the truth of the war we are in, because they are afraid they'll scare off members. They care more for their church's bank account than the souls of those in their care. This is a huge problem right now.

    Lastly, we have done a lot of damage in Christ's name over the years, and have lost our credibility, especially when people are being influenced by satan. We need to stop the infighting and focus on what's really important.

    That's just my thoughts on why it is happening...other than the fact God told us it would. For those of us who are walking with the Lord, we must be stronger than ever now, and turn away from even our own families if they would lead us astray.

  14. Yes, there are wolves in sheep clothing trying to pull believers and seekers away from true faith in Christ. To blanket Christianity is dangerous and almost at the point of admitting to be an atheist, agnostic, pagan, etc... The True Church is the Body of Christ and it has "unity". We are warned about the diferent gospels: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ."--Galatians 1:6-7.

    God is irrelevant when you're not a believer in Christ. When you have not been saved by grace through faith in the person of Jesus Christ. God is irrelevant when He is not Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresident, i.e. the god of our imaginations, a little god like us...ones that focus on the meism instead of the Heism. We must get back to looking at God as High and Lofty....High and lifted up...Author & Perfector of our faith....Alpha & Omega....

    Don't blasheme God with our pettiness! We shouldn't even want to bring His name across our lips due to His reverence.... He created us and not the other way around! He breathed into us the breath of life...we did do anything. We deserve death but through Christ, we get life! "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."--Ephesians 2:8-9.

    We must realize the gift that God has given those in Christ. If you're not in DON'T have that gift however; you can receive this gift by placing your trust in the Sovereign One and believe in the One that sent Him!

  15. Glad you submitted this article. It's a wake-up call for all Christians. I was blessed to study the life of Moses in a Bible Study for the year. Traits of a Holy Person in 2009 were suggested. Though Jesus is our high priest and we have access to our God, so relationship is possible, yet I am one of the first to admit that I took grace for granted.
    It's definitely a humbling experience. I'm so far from being a "holy person" and that adjective would only be applied to me through Christ blood.

    The real question is "Is our relationship with God irrelevant?"


Record your thoughts on the cell wall