It was a December 31st, when the church conducted a special evening service to welcome the New Year. At the beginning of the service, pastor gave an opportunity to all the families to share their testimony about how God blessed them that year. The idea was, one person would represent one family and share the testimony of that family. As it proceeded in a random order, I am sitting there and listening to all the testimonies people share. All of them were about how God blessed them that year financially, physically and materially. People shared how they were healed of sickness, how God blessed them with a new home, new job etc. I started feeling nervous as I was realizing that I do not have a testimony like them, so I pushed my wife to do the sharing for our family but she hesitated.
It was the year God started showing me the truth of His grace and love, so on a spiritual level, I had a big testimony but I wasn’t sure if that is what was expected from me to share. Not even a single person in the entire congregation shared anything as how God blessed them spiritually, such as showing them some truth from His word, the blessing of being in a relationship with Christ etc. Finally the microphone came to me and all I could say was ‘this year God taught me a lot of things form His word and I am excited about what He is going to do in the coming year’. Needless to say, it didn’t make any applause; it didn’t make any ‘amens’. It was as if, who cares what God showed me from Bible? Do I have anything dramatic? Any supernatural healing? Any financial miracles? Any victory over sins? Any special anointing?
Though I didn’t have anything supernatural, I had good health, I had enough money, my family was in good shape and for all these I am always thankful, but I was more excited about something God was doing deep in my heart. He was showing me something that is so valuable than any materialistic things of the world. He was revealing the truth of His Gospel. He was teaching me that the Gospel is more than the changes it brings in our life such as good moral living, material blessings and good health.
Once I watched a testimony of a murderer on youtube. He murdered a husband and wife and went to jail. While in the jail, He got saved. His testimony was about an hour long and if you put that testimony into one sentence it would be something like this: ‘Before my salvation, I was this bad. Now, since I am saved, I am this good’. After listening to the testimony, I wished I was a murderer once. I wished I had a powerful testimony like him. I thought to myself, my testimony wasn’t worth sharing because it lacks dramatic, supernatural events which are required to move people’s heart. It is the criminals who get the chance to share their testimonies wherever they go. By the way, I have no doubt about the changes it brought to his life, but is that the point of gospel?
It is amazing that how people believe in a gospel of change. They all want to know how gospel changed our outward behavior and it is as if they believe that is the purpose of the gospel. And I agree that, it certainly is part of it, but is that the whole point? To me, gospel is more than how it helped me to stop drinking and smoking, more than what it does to my behavior. Gospel goes beneath the skin, it heals the root issue, more than the symptoms. It gives us a brand new identity in Christ. Like Joel said in his post, it is a gospel of exchange, not just a change.
Materialism has crept into the church. I think a majority of people goes to church not just for spiritual reasons, but for physical/material reason. How’s it going to help my kids to have proper discipline? How’s it going to help me to behave? How’s it going to give me a sense of security as being part of a community? How’s the sermons motivate me to live a morally right life? How's it going to teach me to control my finances? What blessing it can provide me on my health?
Isn’t that the reason churches conduct ‘marriage seminars’, ‘financial seminars’, ‘parents seminars’, 'leadership seminars', 'health and fitness seminars' etc? Everything they do is driven by externalism. They see themselves as a physical commodity and all they are concerned about is how nicely they can present it to the world. So when they come across a person who is ‘successful’ in his ministry, in his family life and in his finances or business, they immediately invite him to share his testimony or his secrets of success and probably don't even care how his relationship with Christ is. The message it conveys is, if you are not doing well in your education, money, leadership, health, career or relationships, you are not spiritual enough. After all, who cares about your relationship with Christ?
My testimony would probably go like this: 'Once I was so tired of trying to generate my own righteousness, but now God showed me how I can receive it as a gift. He made me a partaker of His divine nature and everything I will ever need comes with that'. It is as simple as that. Is it dramatic? Yes, but all the drama happened in my heart, not necessarily in my finances, health or earthly relationships. It isn't colorful enough to get any attention. This is not to say that, with the salvation, I now escaped from the problems of this world. I will have problems, but beyond all the problems I have hope and that hope is not based on my anything; it solely is based on Jesus and the relationship I have with Him.
Spiritual Dog Show
When I sit in the pew and watch a bunch of highly spiritual men sitting in the pulpit and the super spiritual among them spit out stuff like how accurately they can jump through the hoop, my feeling is like watching a dog show. As an unskilled, untrained dog, I too want to jump like them. It forces me to build my own high expectations on myself. I would run to the dog-school and eat highly nutritious dog-food and if possible find a dog-trainer. Quite sadly, it wouldn't take a long time to see me lying in the corner, tired and depressed.
God says we are spiritual beings more than physical beings, so He cares about our spirit more than anything else. He operates from a spiritual realm and He want us to see the things from His perspective. Unfortunately today's churches don't teach us this. Bible says, 'in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last'. When did it become a mere behavior modification system? When did it become about prosperity and bodily healing? When did it become a 'different gospel'?