I recently heard a radio preacher from a large evangelical church in Southern California say, “The reason that there is no revival today is the sin in the church. How could God bless us if we are involved in the sins we are.” Is that true? Imagine if He was right. Imagine if God’s will and work in the world were dependent on me. That is a pretty heavy burden and weight of guilt for a mere mortal like me to bear. The reality is, if my sin really held back revival – then revival would never come. Because, as Luther aptly stated, we are simultaneously justified and sinful. I have been radically saved and transformed, but I remain a sinner in need of a Savior.
This pastor is not alone. There are thousands of pulpits in evangelical churches proclaiming this people-centric theology; that what God wants most is my obedience, and when He gets it He blesses and when He doesn’t get it He curses or ignores. If that were true, that would mean that our performance is what drives the hand of God; and it would degrade God’s sovereignty by making His will subject to my actions. It would make me the initiator and Him the responder. That is a scary thought and simply not what the Bible teaches.
While I appreciate a pastor’s desire to motivate their congregation toward holiness (I have the same desire) we must not let that desire lead us to “beating the rock a second time.” So let’s be careful to properly represent God and how he relates to His people (Christians). Let’s not give our people the impression that when they are committing less outward sins, that their deeds are somehow good enough to earn something from God. That somehow in those instances, when their spiritual performance looks good and their actions appear to be obedient, that God is more willing and able to work in their life and in the world. As good as that sounds, it’s not true. They could never be good enough. God’s holiness requires something that none of us is capable of delivering – sinless perfection. That means that our works can’t earn us anything. Even the most pious devotion and dedicated work, if it is performed as an attempt to be righteous, will fall flat. We need a righteousness greater than we can muster up. We need a Savior.
With that in mind, let’s return to the revival issue. I truly believe that radio pastor was trying to be helpful, and that he whole-heartedly believed what he was saying. However, for the reasons stated above, I vehemently disagree with him. And I disagree because I believe he has the proposition backward. Revival doesn’t tarry because sin abounds. Sin abounds because revival tarries. And one of the reasons we aren’t experiencing revival is because the church is spending too much time looking in the mirror trying to fix ourselves and not enough time looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. My white-knuckled attempts at being good enough and focusing on my performance as a means to convince God to do something, is a poor substitute for worshiping the One who has already done everything in my place.
OK, so what do we do with a Bible is chocked full of rules and commands? Are you suggesting that we ignore them? Of course not. But lets be honest, what I find is that I can’t and often won’t obey them; even on my best day. And if by chance or by heroic effort I manage a few minutes of perfectly obedient behavior – it is likely that my motives for doing so were mixed at best.
Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Obedience is a wonderful thing. I actually prefer it to disobedience. But obedience to earn or keep a righteous standing before God is an insult to God’s Holiness and Christ’s sacrifice. Only Christ’s PERFECT obedience, in my place, is good enough for a holy God. My works earn nothing, because there is nothing to earn. We already possess God’s full unwavering love and acceptance. It was given to us when we believed the words that our glorious Savior whispered 2000 years ago, “it is finished.” Today He still bears the scars to prove it. We are as holy as we are ever going to be every moment of every day. The shocking truth is we are as holy as Jesus, even when we are in the act of sinning (which we almost always are), because our righteousness comes from outside of us. It comes from Christ. It is a gift of free grace from our holy God at the expense of His Son. That’s not an excuse. It’s just the truth.
So what is a Christian to do? Do I give up on trying to obey? Well, that’s where grace comes in. By His grace, my weak and feeble attempts at obedience actually become something. Though they are not good enough to earn anything or change my status; by grace they become a beautiful offering of love from a grateful redeemed sinner to their loving Father. Though my obedience does not move God’s hand, it does bless His heart; and becomes an act of worship to the One who is worthy of it.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29:2