On Wednesday I couldn’t figure out, at first, whether to list six or seven risks for “young restless Reformeds.” By that I mean Christians, mostly “young” — below middle age — who have gotten ahold of the teaching that Christ is sovereign in salvation and everything else. Closely connected with this truth1 is that God uses everything, including sin and our own meaningful choices, as part of His plan, and always to bring Himself glory.
Six risks or seven risks? I had an outline, but I know it doesn’t include all of them. (Some of course will say that Reformed theology is itself the greatest risk — but that’s another column or series.) The reason why I couldn’t decide the number is that there’s so much overlap between several of my suggestions. And number 2, basing most beliefs upon reactions, affects them all.
Regardless, I view the Reformed and Gospel-centered “resurgence” as mostly a good thing, to the extent that Christians who adhere to it are reading Scripture, not just reacting to those who misread Scripture, and trying to apply their higher views of God to their daily decisions.
Yet what other risks might there be to YRRs, or other Christians? Here’s another to consider:
3. Forgetting that in Christ, we’re no longer totally depraved.
I began wondering about this when I saw that it was difficult to compliment some Reformeds.
Maybe it’s me? I don’t know — all I know is, to some who love the doctrines and applications of God’s absolute sovereignty, and their own sinful instincts, it’s very difficult to tell them:
Hey, thanks for your sermon this morning; it really encouraged me.
One person I know would often shuffle awkwardly. He might grin and say, “Well, praise the Lord.” Perhaps I read him wrong, but at that point what I really wanted to do was add, “Yes, thank God that He’s gifted you to glorify Himself through your talents and labors in the Word!” But that might not work and could make someone feel even more awkward.
Might some of this actually be due to “overdosing” on a teaching of total depravity?
Because even C.S. Lewis misunderstood this: “total depravity” does not teach that humans act wicked, all the time, with no inclination toward good or ability to do any good thing. It merely reflects what Scripture teaches: that by nature, no one seeks after God (Romans 3: 9-20), and that Christians “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2: 1-2). Even the good things we do are from bad motivations — without Christ, that is.2
That’s my whole point: Christians are no longer totally depraved. I love Ephesians 2’s past tense! Christians were dead in their sins, in which we once walked. But we no longer do that!
Now, does that mean we can sit around and be passive? I don’t think that will happen to a true Christian. He will want to war against the pieces of sin left in his body, in the manner Paul describes in Romans 7. He will know that growing in holiness has two sides, perhaps best expressed in Philippians 2: 12-13: “[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” And he may even know that this struggle gets just a little easier when he’s not remembering who I am in Christ, as some devotionals and spiritual-warfare manuals encourage, but rather who Christ is in me.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5: 16-17: “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
With these glorious truths in mind, might it make sense, in one sense, not to focus so much on fearing our own pride? This may be my own experience, but I find that it’s easier to forget self-focus, not when I’m giving into it or trying to fight hard against it, but when I’m forgetting myself altogether and focusing on Christ. The New Testament would seem to back this up: so much of the Gospels are about what Christ has done, followed by vital afterthoughts starting with “therefore”s: therefore, knowing this Gospel, here’s how you behave in everyday life.
Humility is like breathing: it’s vital to life, yet strangely much easier to do when you’re focused on greater things. But just try to think, Breathe in! Breathe out!, and you’ll get exhausted.
With that in mind, I think Reformed Christians could stand to learn how to accept a compliment. “Praise the Lord” seems wholly appropriate, for sure, but why cringe, as if you really don’t want the praise? Of course you do; most people do, and it would be more humble to admit that you need other people’s affirmations. A worse pride, as Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, would be to pretend you’re above needing affirmation. It’s also far too easy to grow proud of “humility.”
So how about this: I say, Thanks for what you did; it really encouraged me today.
And you say, That’s great to hear. I love knowing God is using His gifts to me to bless you.
I want to encourage my Reformed friends! God has used so many of your talents and spiritual gifts to glorify Himself to me. But using too much “total depravity,” just because some people don’t know it enough (see risk no. 2!), doesn’t help, and could even denigrate Christ’s grace.
Next week: Reformed Christians, trying to regain “the Gospel,” may overcorrect for past wrongs (again, see risk number 1) and define it too narrowly. Thus they may miss how the Gospel affects our views of the afterlife, and our callings today.