Our Due Response to God
By Fred O. Blakely
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). There are many indications that contemporary professors of the faith fall far short of its scriptural demands upon them. The situation is very much like that which prevailed in Jewry at the time of our Lord’s enfleshment, and in the conflict with which He was relentless.
One reflection of that deterioration is apparent in a notable contrast of emphases in our day with that of Biblical writers regarding primary concern and duty for the Godly. In that departure, there is a particularly striking parallel with the stress dominant among the leaders in Israel at the first advent of Jesus. I have been listening to preaching, reading modern sermonizing, and perusing church periodicals, bulletins, and various publications of a rather extensive range for more than three-score years. That has given me a sufficient sampling of the current religious thought to form an intelligent opinion of its nature, and to ascertain something of its distinguishing characteristics. And it is on the basis of that acquaintance that I make the above indictment.
The Current Stress in Preaching. The burden of emphasis in the preaching of today is institutional promotion. So pronounced is that situation that, if this element were eliminated, little or nothing by way of application would be left. The burden all along the line is get out and “do something” for the “church” as an expression of your devotion to God. As one writer well put it, “We have been taught that we should live for the church.” If we are not actually confronted with full-fledged ecclesiolatry, it would seem that we are but little short of it.
I knew of at least one congregation that pulled out the stops and went the route. It arbitrarily added a new qualification for the Eldership and deaconate in its organizational zeal. A man must, without fail, report to the preacher for “calling” at least one night a week. Failure to do so disqualified him to perform any of the high functions of his office. I have known numerous brethren who sincerely loved God, and were wholeheartedly devoted to Christ, but whose position or temperament made it impractical for them to do promotional work. These kind of persons are often mercilessly harassed by this stress.
Many a housewife and mother, encumbered with the care and nurture of her God-given charge of children, has her conscience continually perturbed by an endless demand from the church to “get out and win others,” or by some form of organizational activity, to evince her affection for the Lord. A keynote increasingly heard in recent times asserts that one’s eternal salvation is actually dependent upon due response to promotional agitation. A constant stream of that sort of agitation pours forth from some congregations. When that is swelled by the equally-steady demands of the church-related agencies, the bedlam of attempted exploitation of the individual becomes exasperating.
Similar in First Century. As we have said, that situation is not without precedent. It is similar to that existent in Israel when our Lord began His earthly ministry. Organized Jewry was fostering formal religion. It cared not for “the weightier matters of the law.” That is “judgment, mercy, and faith” (Mt. 23:23). It was of no concern to the vested clerics of Jerusalem that actual human need went begging, so long as the temple treasury was enriched (Mk. 7:6-13). The fact that God’s heritage was alienated from Him by blind hearts and stubborn wills caused no anxiety. They themselves had taken away “the key of knowledge,” and were neither entering into fellowship with God nor suffering those who so desired to do it (Mt. 23:13; Lk. 11:52; cf. Isa. 9:16). As the program of proselyting and institution recruitment and enlargement went forward apace, the motive was not of a genuine desire to bring people to God. Its end result, therefore, was to make those who responded to it “twofold more the child of hell” than those who promoted it (Mt. 23:15).
Jesus’ View of the Situation. It is no wonder that the Son of God, here from Heaven on the Personal mission of divine redemption for man, cried out in righteous indignation against the gross perversion of the right ways of God. And we may be certain that today, His work of redemption accomplished, and He being exalted to the right hand of the Father, He is no less incensed by the similar abuses in the church. Wholly without doubt, He would call the church from its distorted obsession. But what would He offer in its place? Where would our Lord have the stress placed as an appropriate and acceptable response to God by the individual and by the church? That is a question of grave import to every child of God. What would my Lord have me to do, in view of all that He has done for me? Certainly, its answer will more than compensate for any effect spent in quest thereof.
God has Spoken on the Subject. When we have faced squarely up to the question, it is a matter of immense gratification to discover that, all the while, the answer has been clearly before us, and that it is wholly adequate and authoritative. It is plainly set forth in the Scriptures of truth. In the sacred writings, men of God repeatedly contemplate, on the one hand, the grace of God. In immediate association, on the other, the required reaction or response to it is made plain. Certainly, this goes to the heart of the question of how we may acceptably show our faith in and love for God. The instances of the occurrence of that situation in the Old and New Testaments are, indeed, numerous. They involve both God’s covenantal people and aliens. Because we are here concerned especially with the current perversion of emphasis in the church, I shall cite only cases applicable to the family of God. We give you below several representative specifications of these inspired exhortations enjoined by the Lord and His Apostles. They will suffice to demonstrate that in our day, in general, a Biblical emphasis is not being made in this connection. At the same time, what is even more important, the passages cited graphically portray the kind of response God actually seeks from His people.
The Desired Response. “Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? . . . He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:6-9). “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:18-29). “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:11-15).
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (I Pet. 1:3-23). “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pet. 4:1-11).
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 6:14-7:2; cf. I Jn. 3:1-3). “Seeing that His divine Power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us by His own glory and virtue . . . Yea, and for this very cause, adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue, and in your virtue knowledge, and in your knowledge self-control, and in your self-control patience, and in your patience godliness, and in your godliness brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness love . . . for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (II Pet. 1:1-11).
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your spiritual service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-3). “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27). “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God.” “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, give diligence, that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” “Ye therefore, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being led away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:1-18).
Conclusion. It requires neither a profound theologian nor an exhaustive study of these selections of Scripture to perceive that here is an emphasis that is seriously lacking in the contemporary church. It stands in sharp contrast with the organizational drumbeating of our day. It does not seek to build an institution, but to perfect the saints, build up the body of Christ, and bring it to maturity in Him (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). That is the kind of exhortation the Holy Spirit provided for the first-century church, as well as for that of all centuries--including our own. It is not conducive to clerical career-building, or vainglorious institutionalism. But it is designed to assure realization of the objective of God by His people. And the implementation of that design is our Lord’s primary purpose for His church. A truly “New Testament church”, as men are wont to call it today, will reflect this New Covenant tenor and stress. To the extent that it fails to do so it cannot properly be considered to be New Testament, or New Covenant in species and thus entitled to recognition as such.