In one of his last warnings to his protégé,’ Timothy, the apostle Paul expounds on the conditions that will exist, “in the last days.”
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Paul concludes the thought by saying: “have nothing to do with such people.” Sadly, it isn’t hard to find people who fit that description – lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, etc. – in the world today, or even in the church. But the words that trouble me the most, the words that haunt me as a pastor / teacher, are the words of verse five: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
As it turns out, we don’t have to be selfish, greedy, arrogant and abusive in order to fit the definition of, “having a form of godliness,” without the power. In fact, we can be quite lovely on the outside, quite Christian looking if you will, yet bereft of any real life changing power within. How can that be?
We are missing something. We have reduced the life of transformational power that is the byproduct, the result, the outflow, of a servant-to-master relationship with the living Jesus, to mere assent to correct doctrine. Somehow or other we have married our minds to biblically correct ideas about Jesus and divorced our souls from the person of Christ.
The evidence isn’t hard to find. The seminary I graduated from is located near Memphis, Tennessee. (It was downtown when I was there in the 80’s). From the very beginning it has emphasized personal evangelism. It proudly boasts that as a result of the gospel witness of its students since the late seventies, over 150,000 people have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ. (Note: that’s just the conversions. It doesn’t count the people who were already believers). The 2010 census showed that Memphis has a population of 662,897. That means that 22% of the population over the last thirty years has professed faith in Christ. One would think that if 22% of the population of a city was Christian that city would be a very nice place to live. Yet Memphis has one of the worst crime rates in the state of Tennessee. And the real estate website Neighborhood Scout rates Memphis as being safer than only 1% of US cities.
In the words of Dallas Willard, the Christianity that we are practicing is “not producing the kind of people that we know life demands and that we ourselves long to experience.” What are we missing? Why is there so much profession without possession?
What we have been missing, and thankfully what can be had by all, are the habits of life and the attitudes of heart which create space in the soul that allow the Spirit of Christ to have his transformative way with us. We need to know that the living Lord Jesus wants to be in relationship with us and that it is possible to have a relationship with him. And we need to know how to pursue that relationship, how to build it, how to welcome him in and walk with him. That is what we are pursuing on Sunday mornings in our worship services. I look forward to sharing more of what I’m learning with you then.