Nobody can come under Christ’s lordship until he faces the demands of the cross of Calvary.
I realize this truth every time I stand up to preach. Each week as I gaze out from the pulpit into our congregation, scattered among the faithful believers I face nonbelievers who’ve walked in for the first time. Some are successful, self-made, hard-driving businesspeople. Others come from all kinds of walks of life. Yet all are laden down with secret sins. These people are living as they please, not under any spiritual authority, but they’re empty and disillusioned. They’ve become sick of pursuing pleasures that never satisfy.
I could preach all kinds of sermons about principles and rules of behavior, or how to cope with stress, or how to deal with fear and guilt. But none of this kind of preaching gets anyone “out of the world.” It doesn’t change anybody’s heart.
I simply have to tell the nonbeliever that his self-will, self-reliance and stubborn struggle to do everything his way will destroy him. And, in the end, it will bring him everlasting torment.
If I don’t give him this message, then I have forever shut up the heavens to him. And I have made him a twofold member of hell. His condition will be worse than before he came through our doors.
I have to bring that man face to face with the message of being crucified to his independence. I have to show him that he must come out of his deluded world of self-goodness. I have to tell him there’s no way to peace in this life except through full surrender to King Jesus.
Otherwise, I have deceived this man. And I’ve committed the horrible sin of the worst kind of pride: I have counted him as a “convert” to make myself look good. May it never be!
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am obligated to speak His truth to everyone who truly repents: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).
These verses strike at the very heart of why we are hated. When we were saved, we got “out of the world.” And we accepted our mission to insist that others also “get out of the world.”
“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
“Ye are not of the world . . . therefore [because of this], the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Christ is saying, in essence, “The world hates you because I called you out of your condition. And that means I called you out of their fellowship. Yet, I didn’t just call you out. I then sent you to call everyone else out.”
The Protestant antichrist spirit works to hinder this separation of Christians from the world. It makes it seem possible for believers to stay in the world and still regard themselves as Christians.
You may ask, “What exactly does Jesus mean when he says ‘the world’?”
He isn’t just speaking of ungodly lusts, pleasure madness, pornography or adultery. No, “the world” Christ refers to isn’t some list of evil practices. That’s only a part of it.
“The world” that Jesus speaks of is an unwillingness to surrender to His lordship. In short, worldliness is any attempt to co-mingle Christ with self-will.
You see, when we surrender to the lordship of Christ, we cleave to Jesus. And we’re led by the Holy Spirit, step by step, into a walk of purity and uprightness. We begin to appreciate godly reproof.
I can’t speak for other pastors; I can only speak what I know. And for fifty years now, I’ve preached to some of the hardest, most wicked sinners on earth: drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes. Yet, I tell you, these sinners are much less resistant to gospel truth than many who sit in church pews and are blinded to their condition.
Thousands of people who attend church regularly across America are more hardened than anyone on the streets. And no smooth, soft-spoken, half-truth gospel is going to break down the walls of their wickedness.
Saul of Tarsus was just such a hardened religious man. A Pharisee among Pharisees, an upright figure in a highly religious society, Saul had it all together. So, did Jesus come to this man taking a poll, asking what he’d like to see in a synagogue service?
No! Saul was struck to the ground by a blinding light, a full blast of the presence of Christ. It was a piercing, confrontational meeting that exposed Saul’s heart, pinpointing his sin (see Acts 9:1-9).
As a minister of the gospel of Christ, I am to do likewise. It’s my business to convince men and women of their sin. I’m to warn them of the danger that awaits them if they continue their way of living. And no amount of flattery, or subtlety, or getting them to like me will change their condition.
In plain terms, I am called to lead people to forsake everything to follow a Christ whom they find unattractive. Only the Holy Ghost in me can accomplish that. “For I have not shunned (held back from) to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I preach the mercy, grace and love of Christ to all people. And I do it through tears. But the only thing that’s going to pierce the walls erected by hardened people is a blast of the presence of Jesus. And that has to come out of the mouths of contrite, praying pastors and parishioners.
A church that’s accepted and approved by the world is a contradiction in terms because it is an impossibility. According to Jesus, any church that is loved by the world is of the world, and not of Christ.
“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).
My life has been greatly influenced by the writings of George Bowen, a Presbyterian missionary who labored in India from 1848 to 1888. Bowen gave up all his missionary support to move into a slum and live as the natives there did. He led a frugal existence, in near poverty. Yet, because of that choice, he left behind a testimony of the true power of living in Christ.
This godly man warned of an antichrist spirit to come which he identified as being “the spirit of modern society.” According to Bowen, this spirit would infiltrate the Protestant church with the mindset, methods and morals of the larger society.
The antichrist spirit would continue its influence until society and church couldn’t be differentiated. Over time, the world would lose its hatred for Christ’s Church and true believers. It would stop its persecution, and the Church would be loved and accepted by the world. Once that happened, Bowen wrote, this antichrist spirit would have taken the throne.
Several years ago, as the doors to Iraq were about to be opened to Christian relief organizations, The New York Times ran a derogatory article. That is to be expected from a liberal, secular press. They might applaud the distribution of food in Iraq, but certainly not the preaching of Christ.
The article quoted a Protestant scholar who was critical of the whole effort. He completely denounced it, saying the church should mind its own business; he seemed actually embarrassed that the church would be evangelizing. Now that is a worldly mindset!
The closer we get to the mission of Christ—to preaching the gospel that He has ordained—the more we will be despised by the world.
Abraham did amazing exploits as God led him into the fullness of his blessing. Later, though, when circumstances turned bad, Abraham lost his focus on God’s glory. He turned instead to his own resources: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe” (Genesis 12:10).
The story makes clear that Egypt was the last place Abraham should have gone. Along the way he put his wife in jeopardy; he lost her to a hostile king for a season, and he lied and manipulated things to save himself. This man had trusted God wholly up to that point. Why didn’t he trust God to see him through his difficulty?
Maybe similar things happen in your crises. When life gets hard—in your finances, your health, your family—do you keep your eyes fixed on God’s glory through it all? If you’ve ever “gone to Egypt” for help in such times, you know how lifeless an effort it can be. Often it complicates the problem, adding shame and despair.
My point is this: Our separateness from the world doesn’t happen through our efforts or abilities. It happens through a revelation of God—and His glory remains with us even in our hard times. Consider the prophet Isaiah. When he entered the temple, he saw the glory of God: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). That holy sight sent Isaiah face down on the floor in humble awe: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (6:5).
At that moment Isaiah recognized God’s separateness. The Lord told him, “I have separated you for My holy purposes. I am sending you to preach My Word to a corrupt people. They will resist you, but you’ll be able to endure it because you have seen My glory. When they turn on you, you won’t have to ‘go to Egypt,’ because you’ve seen the nature of the God who has called you.”