In this series on the necessity of self-examination, in my last post we considered the second reason this is a necessary discipline, that is, to make sure we are not walking in some way of sin. A third reason for the necessity of self-examination is to see if we truly are manifesting the characteristics of a new nature and growing in holiness. If last week’s Supreme Court decision does not wake us up to the necessity of examining ourselves, nothing will. As a nation we have done what no other civilization in the history of the world has done. We did not get here by accident.
A corrupt culture is the result of a corrupt Christianity. When the salt has lost its saltiness it no longer has any preservative effect on society and becomes good for nothing (Mt 5:13; Rm 2:24; 2 Kg 2:19-21). The principle function of salt is to preserve and to prevent putrefaction, and the individual Christian does this by his/her individual life and character, by being a Christian in every sphere in which he/she functions. Your mere presence should modify the way people talk and act (1 Pt 2:12; 4:4, 5). People pay much closer attention to what we do than to what we say (Tit 1:16), and are more prone to follow our example than our profession. Christians, just by being Christian, influence society almost automatically. And herein lies the problem. Here is how we got to where we are.
A false evangelism has produced a false Christianity in which holiness and Christlikeness is unnecessary, or at best optional. It is a type of evangelism that, wherever it prevails, inevitably produces a dangerous and superficial religion. Sadly, it has not only prevailed but dominated in our nation for decades producing generations of false Christians, and as a consequence the society in which we now find ourselves.
It is a Christianity that separates justification from sanctification, and offers forgiveness of sins without the necessity of a changed life. It is an evangelism exemplified by the messages displayed on church signs near our home which read, “You make the choice and God makes the change; Heaven is within the reach of everyone; God is waiting for you.” All communicate the message that it is within one’s own power and ability to affect their own salvation. The deciding factor rests with them. They must do what they can and God will do the rest. The message is distinctly given that the choice is not God’s but theirs and that they are able then and there to decide the time of their rebirth.
Such a message bypasses the offensive truth that all true conversion must first begin with a new birth and establishes a plan of salvation that is sub-scriptural. On the basis of this false evangelism, a person may make a profession without ever having their pride and self-confidence shattered; they are never told of their need for a change of nature which is not within their own power to affect, so when they never experience this radical change, they are not distressed. They have not been told it is essential so they see no reason to doubt they are Christian. They are never told that there is a “faith” that can be exercised by unregenerate people which can lead to joy and peace (Mt 13:20, 21), yet leaves a person’s nature unchanged (2 Pt 2:20-22).
Today we are told that people are “broken” and the gospel is for “broken” people. This is utter nonsense. The only truly broken people are those who have been crushed by the searching, condemning, and cleansing power of God’s word (Jer 23:29; Lk 20:18), who have been brought to the point of despair over their total inability to save themselves, and who have cast themselves unreservedly on the grace and mercy of the only one who can save them (Lk 18:13, 14). All the rest are guilty, rebellious sinners by choice, not by circumstance. To call an unregenerate sinner “broken” is to make them a hapless victim rather than a guilty rebel under the wrath of a holy God. They do not need mending, but to be reborn which is something they themselves are not able to do.
Avoiding overt sins is not holiness and conviction is not conversion. The problem is not sins, but sin. It is easy to preach against and be indignant with sins which neither we nor our congregations are tempted to participate thereby leaving the heart untouched and instilling a false sense of security. A stony heart might be broken by conviction but remain a heart of stone. The words of 18th century preacher Thomas Scott are an apt description of the false Christianity produced by a false evangelism, and it is this “Christianity” which characterizes the majority of professing Christians today:
Leave out the holy character of God, the holy excellence of his law, the holy condemnation to which transgressors are doomed, the holy loveliness of the Savior’s character, the holy nature of redemption, the holy tendency of Christ’s doctrine, and the holy tempers and conduct of all true believers: then dress up a scheme of religion of this unholy sort: represent mankind in a pitiable condition, rather through misfortune than crime: speak much of Christ’s bleeding love to them, of his agonies in the garden and on the cross; without showing the need or the nature of satisfaction for sin: speak of his present glory, and of his compassion for poor sinners; of the freeness with which he dispenses pardon; of the privileges which believers enjoy here, and of the happiness and glory reserved for them hereafter: clog this with nothing about regeneration and sanctification, or represent holiness as somewhat different than conformity to the holy character and law of God; and you make up a plausible gospel, calculated to humor the pride, soothe the conscience, engage the hearts, and raise the affections of natural men, who love nobody but themselves. (John Scott, Letters and Papers of the Late Reverend Thomas Scott, John P. Haven, 1825, 289)
With a lowered standard of conversion comes a lowered standard of Christianity. It is a form of Christianity without the power of Christianity (2 Tm 3:5). God never forgives a person’s sins without at the same time also changing the nature of the sinner. By emphasizing “faith” without ever explaining the nature of true faith, or that wherever true faith exists there is also new life created in the image and character of God, and manifesting itself in a hatred of all sin, this false evangelism debases the biblical meaning of conversion and does not give the word its full import.
This false evangelism has rejected the truth that regeneration is the cause of conversion, not the result of it. True conversion is not simply a change of standing before God, but also a change in the nature of the sinner. No one can be a true believer who does not also possess a new life. A true Christian can no longer live and think the way they did because they are no longer the same person they were.
In all true conversion something really happens, there is a real transformation and change, saving faith is never found in isolation from a changed life. This is why it takes more than a few hours or few days or few weeks or even a few years to establish whether a person’s professed faith is genuine. The ultimate end of the gospel is the glory of God, not the conversion of sinners, and when this truth is forgotten then results will come before truth, and conversions will be regarded as more important than God’s glory.
It is highly probable that many of you reading this are products of this false evangelism. If so I beg of you, I implore you, I plead with you to examine yourself. Do you have a hatred of sin, especially your own? Is your heart’s desire and aim of your life to be more like Christ?
Do you pray for, yearn for, and long for holiness? Do you discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tm 4:7)? Are you grieved by your sin; that you have sinned against the One you love?
Are you crucifying your flesh or just starving it? Do you like the thought of the sin, but are careful to avoid the actual act? Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? Do you long for the pure milk of God’s word, all of it, especially that which pierces you to the quick and crushes your pride and self-sufficiency, or is the faithful teaching and preaching of God’s word secondary to programs that pander to the flesh and entertain your children, or to personal preferences?
Do you tremble at God’s word (Is 66:2), do you have a healthy fear of sinning against such a holy and just God? Do you embrace the discipline of God because by it we may share His holiness (Hb 12:10)? Do you study to know your own heart and the deceitfulness of sin? Do you have a new nature, are you a different person, do you have new desires, new affections, new ways of thinking?
Does holiness characterize your life, your language, and your conversation (Eph 5:3, 4)? Are you exposing the unfruitful deeds of darkness, or are you participating in them, even if just vicariously through entertainment (Eph 5:11, 12)?
Are you pursuing the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hb 12:14), or will you come short of the grace of God? Are you born again?
As a pastor, I have seen so many people begin well and end badly. They begin like Abraham and Daniel but end like Demas and Lot’s wife. They must have the world. O, examine yourselves.