Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lost your Joy? Think Gospel. Galatians 4: 12-20

Have you ever had the impression that something has gone badly wrong in your spiritual life? There was once a time when it was your commonplace habit to talk about Jesus Christ every day, when reading your Bible was such a joy that all these reading schemes that talk about 4 chapters a day, or getting through the OT once and the NT twice in a single year seemed impossibly restricting, when you were at every meeting even some that were not really meant for you. There was a time when prayer was virtually continuous.

But now, it is somehow empty. The services always seem to annoy you; some glitch with the amplifier, a sour note on the trumpet, that wretched synthesizer again (why can't they use the organ?), your favorite seat taken by a visitor, a grammatical mistake by the preacher, you don't like the way they insist on breaking up into small groups to pray, the sermon is too long, the pews too hard, the hymns don't fit the music, the flowers are tired, someone else is serving communion, there always seems to be something that spoils it for you. And why have they switched versions of the Bible? OK the KJV was archaic but we were familiar with it and the cadence of the prose was magnificent. The gender non-specific NIV is too PC. The ESV may be correct in its translation but it doesn't flow like the NIV. Why is it that the passage for the day always seems to be an endless string of 'begats' or a story about some brutal Iron Age despot slaughtering his enemies down to the last woman and child? And what is the point of prayer? It's just talking to the ceiling, trying to make you feel better. If God wants to do something different he'll do it without advice from me.

Have you been there? What is the remedy? You had better start going to the evening service instead of just the morning. You had better reinstate your Bible reading plan. Are you tithing? Have you let that slip too? Better check with your bank balance. Trouble with prayer? Form a prayer triplet to help you.

Stop! Those may all be good things to do, but none of them is the remedy. Actually there is nothing you can do to restore your spiritual life. What do you mean Dr Hamblin? Are you implying that I am not just backslidden but actually an apostate? Am I the man of Hebrews 6? It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

By no means. What I am saying is that you are powerless to restore your spiritual health. Think back to what you did to convert yourself? Nothing, it was all of Christ. What did you do to sanctify yourself? Again, nothing. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. So why do you think you can restore your spiritual health?

There is only one thing able to restore you and that is the Gospel. Read about Jesus. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Listen to Gospel sermons. Concentrate on Jesus. This is the Gospel. God loves you. He loves you so much that he gave his one and only son for you. Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that he laid down his life for you. He suffered agony instead of you so that your sins would not be punished. And not just physical agony. He who had been one with the Father from eternity past and will be until eternity future had that bond of love wrenched apart, suffering separation from God the Father so that you would not have to. The Holy Spirit loves you. He loves you so much that his every minute is spent watching over you, guiding you, guarding you, leading you to Jesus.

And your part in all this? Come as you are. Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bid’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.

Waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot. Thy love unknown has broken every barrier down. Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve, because thy promise I believe.

In Galatians 4: 12-20 the relationship between the young church and Paul had broken down. They had lost their joy (v 15); they had lost their love. Once they would have torn out their eyes and given them to Paul; now he has apparently become their enemy (v16). They welcomed him because he preached the Gospel to them and that is now what they needed all over again.

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. Tell me the story often for I forget too soon.

And we do. Losing our focus on Jesus means that we lose our joy. We become sour and backslide. We nitpick, especially in other people. We see sinners everywhere, but not sinners saved by grace. Modern Christians seem to think that the Gospel is just about evangelism. It is a story for sinners; we more mature Christians require stronger meat. Nonsense! The Gospel is the Gospel is the Gospel. It needs to be preached to unrepentant sinners. It needs to be preached to young Christians. It needs to be preached to growing Christians. I needs to be preached to mature Christians. It needs to be preached to dying Christians.

Yes and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul, tell me the old, old story – “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”

The Galatians had enthusiastically responded to the Judaizers. They were zealous for the Law. It is so easy to believe that now we are saved we must progress to the higher ranks of Christendom. What are the extras we must adopt? The Galatians had become zealots for the Law. It’s fine to be zealous providing the purpose is good (v18). None of us gets worked up over Jewish food laws, I presume, but it is so easy to be zealous over the unimportant. When we were young the zealots were out with prohibitions. You couldn’t be a Christian if you smoked or drank alcohol. Now you may be foolish if you do and there are plenty of health reasons why you should avoid them, but do you really think that God has stopped loving someone because he burns a weed wrapped in paper between his lips? And that is true whatever the weed. God still loves drunks. He sent his son to die for them.

Christians didn’t go to the theatre or the cinema; they didn’t buy a Sunday newspaper; they never went dancing; the television and the radio were silent on a Sunday. I remember being told in a sermon that these long-haired fellows with electric guitars were plugged into Hell. We were zealous for all the wrong things.

Instead we must be zealous for the Gospel. Paul talks about again going through the pains of childbirth for them (v19). It like they have to be born again, again. Whatever our spiritual ills, the remedy is the Gospel.

Every day remember what Jesus Christ has done for you. Begin you prayers with thanksgiving for his love and mercy and his grace. Read the gospel passages regularly. Commit them to memory. Here’s a task that will aid you. Learn John’s gospel off by heart. Sounds impossible? Little children can do it. It doesn’t matter if you fail; the attempt will bless you. It is not a task that will get you into heaven, merely a device to keep the Gospel before your eyes.

If you are a preacher you will no doubt have heard the story of the young man who asked his mentor what he should preach about and received the reply, “Preach about Jesus and preach about 20 minutes.” I wouldn’t worry about the time limit, but otherwise it’s good advice. The Gospel is God’s remedy; never leave it out.


Doreen said...

This article is so where we / I am at. Thank you for the re focus, it is much appreciated.

Carter said...

I am in the process of doing what you recommend, for the umpteenth time. Works every time!

Anonymous said...

Needed to read this. Thanks for being faithful. ~p

Paula said...

Just been reading lots of stuff on your blog, as I have CLL. My brain got a bit bogged down by complicated science, but I finally got to this article and was blessed. Thank you.