“Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let everyone fly out of Sodom: Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.” [Edwards, Jonathan. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God] I can’t even begin to imagine what the response would be by the world to a Jonathan Edwards’ sermon today. In addition, I predict the church would have a similar reaction.
There is no question of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? and wherein lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue which is acceptable in the sight of God? [Edwards, Jonathan. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections]
Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived on American soil. His keen insight into the theological and philosophical complexities of the word of God is unsurpassed by anyone in modern times. For Edwards, the Christian way was more than merely philosophizing or theologizing about abstract concepts in Scripture or life. It was about living a life that reflected the Lord and Master we claim to follow. In short, there were real, life changing implications to being a Christian. The aim of the Christian life in the present time – the goal you are meant to be aiming at once you have come to faith, the goal which is within reach even in the present life, anticipating the final life to come – is the life of fully formed, fully flourishing Christian character. [Wright, N.T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, 32] However, there are millions of people within the Christian community who are not concerned with their character. This is not to say that Christians are perfect. We are not. However, when Christians conduct their lives in blatant and open disobedience to core Christian principles and clearly stated biblical commands, something is terribly wrong. Moreover, as one surveys the current state of Christian conduct, it is clear that something is seriously wrong. It would seem that there are no detectable implications for claiming to be a Christian in contemporary times. That is to say, there seems to be a lot of affection for claiming to be a Christian and so little affection for the Christ of Christianity. So easily, we cast aside his commandments, from the seminary professor, to the pastor/elder, all the way to the member. We do so with brazen disregard for Christ, for His word, for the sake of His gospel, and for the sake of the church. We simply refuse to consider how our character affects our Savior. The integrity of the gospel message, of Christianity, and of our Christ is at stake. That fact does not even faze us. We lean on God’s grace and goodness, deceiving ourselves into thinking that God is long-suffering, merciful and patient. God is all these things. Then again, genuine Christians NEVER abuse God’s goodness in such a fashion. That kind of thinking and behavior is a sure indication that we need to search our heart and examine our faith. This may demonstrate to us that our faith is not biblical faith after all. It may be more like the faith of demons than the faith of a disciple. There are real implications for being a member of the Christian sect.
This loss of moral character has become so large an issue in our nation (America) that many business schools and medical schools have hurriedly had to reintroduce courses in ethics. However, courses in ethics, even if well taught, are but Band-Aids to those who, in their inner lives, no longer inhabit a moral universe. And that is where the vast number of people in the West are. They have vacated that older moral world. The great majority, two-thirds, say they do not believe in moral absolutes, that moral decisions are a matter of negotiation in each given set of circumstances. [Wells, David. The Courage to be Protestant, 146] The question is; how much of this cultural mindset permeates the Christian community? In addition, if we attempt to claim that it has not, then to what degree has it caused us to become callous to it when we see it in others? When we witness a fellow believer in outright sin, what do we do? What is our reaction? When we sin, what is our reaction? Are we busy making excuses and thanking God for grace or are we desperately seeking repentance and asking for grace so that we may not repeat the sin that so entangles our conscience? Regrettably, a great many professing Christians think so little of their sinful behavior that it moves them not at inch to try to change. Others beat themselves up, put up a false piety and accuse themselves before men and God, but they refuse to change their behavior. For some inexplicable reason, these people think it is enough to inflict self-guilt and shame on themselves and somehow this will appease God who will see their “heart” and how it really wants to change and He will give them a pass. After all, God is a loving, understanding Father. Some Christians think they are struggling against poor character and sin simply because they feel bad when they miss the proverbial mark. The problem is they continue to miss the same mark day in and day out. Moreover, some Christians have taken up open lifestyles that publicly demean Christ through the scandalous ignoring of clearly expressed commandments in Scripture. Some of these people don’t even flinch at the lack of character displayed by their behavior. Others hang their head and cry woe am I but continue in that scandalous lifestyle, all the while clinging to the hope that somehow, God understands and empathizes with their outright wicked rebellion. I am not pointing fingers at all here. We all have moments of rebellion. It is in those moments that we sin. However, the presence of God’s Spirit in the heart of the believer will not allow sinful behavior to continue indefinitely. He will pressure until repentance occurs.
From a positive aspect, Scripture clearly expresses the Christian virtues throughout. Jesus said, “he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) “Conversely, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” (John 15:2) In fact, Jesus said this: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” If bearing fruit glorifies the Father, then the opposite would mean that failure to bear fruit dishonors the Father. Without addressing the textual variant genesthe in this text, a quote from D.A. Carson helps accentuate the place of Christian character in the claim to Christianity. Carson writes, “We might paraphrase, ‘Bearing fruit is to my Father’s glory, and [thus] you will be my disciples’ – i.e. fruit-bearing is so bound up with genuine discipleship that the one stands by metonymy for the other.” [Carson, D.A. PNTC: Matthew, 519] In other words, being a Christian equals being a fruit-bearing disciple. They are one and the same thing. What is this fruit? For that we turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Someone might ask, how many of these have to be present in order for me to be guilty of bearing the fruit of the Spirit? And the answer is all of them. These are not nine different fruits. These are nine present components of what makes up the fruit of the Spirit. An apple has it’s seed, it’s flesh, is stem, it’s skin, etc. None of these in and of themselves are actually an apple. Corporately speaking, they are the various components of what makes up an apple. These nine traits are what make up the singular “fruit” of the Spirit. What should we do if we discover that components are missing? We should turn to the God of love and mercy and grace and repent, asking Him for forgiveness and petition Him to save us from our sin. He is the greatest of all rescuers. He will never turn away those who come to Him!
Christian character matters. It matters in our relationship to God, to others in the Christian community, to our family, to co-workers, and to the world. It certainly matters to evangelism. God uses the evidence of our lives to generate convicting power in our words with those that we associate daily. They pay attention to your words because your actions are consistent with your message. It is when you disregard those parts of Scripture, compromising your character, that your words become ineffective and even scandalous. The world does not expect perfection, but it will not abide a hypocrite. Why do you do what you do? Only you can answer that question. What is the real reason deep in your heart? And does God’s word on the matter really concern you? If it does, you will do something about it. If you do not do anything about it, then you may feel some guilt, a little shame, but you won’t change a thing. You may say it matters to you, but your actions will betray your real values. It’s funny how that works. We say we love our brother, but every time we have a chance to prove it, we don’t. We say obeying Christ really matters to us, but when someone points out an opportunity to repent of our current situation, we don’t. We ignore those convictions that we sense and continue to embrace and love our sin. However, we do feel a little bad about it and for many of us, that feeling is good enough in our book. After all, God understands why we won’t obey His simple commands. Some of them are just too demanding or, we are just too weak. I just can’t do it Lord. I really, really, really, want to. But the cost is more than my weak, sinful self can pay. Thank you for understanding why my wicked, rebellious heart means more to me than obeying you Lord. You really are a cool God. You love me so much! Thank you Jesus for understanding why Christian character is not something I can concern myself with at this time.