There exists nothing more confrontational than the gospel message. The message is so contrary to our natural state that it is hard to understand, hard to accept, and hard to be transformed by it. The societal sense of self-preservation, self-motivation, and self-sanctification are born out of a self-sufficiency. Yet, it is that self-sufficiency that is in direct conflict with a gospel that says only Christ is sufficient. Most of us have often been told that we are good people able to conquer whatever we want, and with this mindset so entrenched into modern thinking, anything contrary to it is portrayed as both unloving and untrue.
Not only does that worldview act as a barrier to conversion from unbeliever to believer, but it also influences the life of believers. Many people are not only convinced that they are good, but also persuaded that there is something that they can do to earn God’s favor. We often build our relationships with others upon the same premise that suggests if I do something good not only will the other person accept me, but he or she is obligated to accept me. Therefore, we have determined that God must act in the same way and we approach him with the mindset that what we do in our strength matters to the Lord more than who we are in Christ’s strength. Unfortunately, what we learn is that many professing Christians have confused the passive and the active parts of the Christian life.
Throughout the New Testament, we learn that salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (consider the layout of the Romans Road, Ephesians 2, or the entire book of Galatians). The very nature of the gospel message reveals two parts to the Christian life. First is the active part in which we are active in placing our faith in Jesus Christ. The continuation of that faith is outwardly demonstrated by obedience to the commanded will of God.
Related to the active part of the Christian life is the passive part. One of the great difficulties of understanding in the Christian life is that the inward heart and mind transformation that comes in the Christian life is not the result of our own work, but of God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit. Transformation is not something we are capable of undertaking on ourselves. Instead, our work in the transformative process is to allow God to work in us.
Paul teaches this concept in the well-known passage of Romans 12:1-2. It is there that Paul urges believers to offer themselves as living sacrifices upon the transformation of their lives. Note though that Paul’s command to offer ourselves as living sacrifices is in the active voice while the command to be transformed is in the passive voice. What does this mean? It means that God does the transforming while we respond in obedience. However, a quick look at the majority of professing Christians reveals that the typical Christian life is lived in quite the opposite manner. Most attempt to God’s work by transforming themselves on the condition that God will accept them. Thus so many Christians now try to be active Christians and in doing so have transformed the Lord’s message into salvation by works. How we have confused the very gospel that Christ came to preach!
The sanctification of a Christian is a process, a process that requires time, humility, and submission. We cannot expect to be transformed overnight, but neither should we be content in our deficiencies. Therefore, we must recognize that transformation is a greater event than we can undertake in our strength. Instead, it requires the work of God in our lives. There exists a great necessity to change perspectives that maximizes the Lord’s work without minimizing our responsibility. In this regard then, we need more passive Christians.
Photo “Are You One In the Stream of the Holy Spirit” courtesy of user Maltz Evans and Flickr.