Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sneaking Into Heaven

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their God is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Philippians 3:18-19 ESV
I hope never to lose my sense of humor, such as it is, but I have to acknowledge that much of what captures the imagination of our culture are the negative influences of TV sitcoms. Yes, I enjoy them myself, but I'm increasingly aware of how their influence is harming us.

In the past decade or two it has been increasingly popular to portray men in particular as mindless, carefree, and immature, enjoying only sports, beer, cheeseburgers, and busty women other than their wives, while embracing a simplistic morality which says, As long as I'm not hurting anyone, just let me live my life as a little boy.

The reason this portrayal is so humorous is because to a large extent it has become more and more true as men have neglected the harder things in life while embracing those pleasures which gratify them the quickest. We laugh because Hollywood has captured a side of human nature that in former days would have been disdained, but by bringing it to light with likable characters in funny situations, it has provided us with a defense mechanism against slothfulness, gluttony, and greed.

I say this not because I am a snob about TV, but simply to point out how well it portrays a problem which Paul addresses in today's passage.

Paul's immediate audience was that of a church he dearly loved, the believers at Philippi. One needs only to read his extended passage of thanksgiving in the early part of the letter to know that his love for them was deep and sincere. So, he is addressing believers, not a group of people who had never heard the gospel.

He says, I "tell you with tears" that I have heard that many of you are walking "as enemies of the cross of Christ." And then, he defines their behavior more specifically. Note:

their end is destruction
their God is their belly
they glory in their shame
with minds set on earthly things
What he describes are those at Philippi who are Christians "in name only." He is saddened to the point of tears for their lack of maturity, their willingness to walk down known paths of destruction, not only denying the cross of Christ but by declaring in their own shame that they are indeed enemies of Christ.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to draw the parallels with modern culture. Not only do we have the humorous and unflattering portrayal of human nature as depicted on our sitcoms, but we also have to look at the easy targets like Wall Street, Madison Avenue, etc. But, it's even worse.

Ready to hear what the most disturbing problem is? It's the same as it was with Paul -- it's the church itself.

Paul's beef wasn't with the world outside; it is understandable that outside of Christ such behavior might be rampant. No, Paul's tears were due to the failure of those who come to Christ casually, that is, without first considering the price Christ paid ("enemies of the cross", he says), nor the cost of discipleship implicit in one's decision to become a follower in the first place.

Who hasn't seen this? As far as that goes, who hasn't behaved this way themselves as a believer?

Knowing that our culture accepts, and even celebrates, people who establish their own morality and flaunt it, defend it, and reverse it when expedient to do so, it is even more incumbent upon Christians to distinguish themselves as lovers of Christ and his cross.

We don't sneak into heaven the back way. We don't receive forgiveness without repentance; we don't love Christ except that he has loved us first; we don't unite with him in heaven unless we live with him, acknowledging him in our words and behavior, on earth.

Believing is not enough; indeed, the Bible teaches that even the demons believe and shudder. Belief that doesn't yield obedience, even to the point of cultural separation when necessary, represents the belief of a Christian "in name only." Paul calls such Christians enemies of the cross of Christ.

It is a hard thing to accept, yet it is most certainly true, that a daily duty of a Christian is to honor the cross of Christ in our behavior in all things.

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