Pitfalls in the Pursuit of Godliness

Are you a passionate Christian? Are you passionate about evangelism? Are you passionate about holiness? Are you a threat to the health of your church?

Does that last question seem out of place to you? I’ve started to notice a strange phenomenon in the Christian life: the most zealous people in the church can often be the biggest threat to the church’s health.

It’s true that we should never be lacking in spiritual zeal. The pursuit of holiness and concern for evangelism, for example, are right and good. However, it seems frighteningly easy to allow our passion for godliness to run away with us to the point where we end up with something much less biblical.

The issue I think is that sometimes our zeal is not grounded in knowledge. Our passions are not held in place by a mature understanding of the teachings of Scripture. Here are a few examples.

Pelagius was a heretic (condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD) who asserted free will and denied predestination to such an extent that he reduced the work of Jesus to mere moral example. Pelagianism is the view that we all have the ability within ourselves to obey God and earn salvation; we only needed Jesus to show us how. According to this view, salvation is comes through our successful imitation of the life of Christ. I trust we can all see that this is obviously not what the Bible teaches.

What does this have to do with being passionate about holiness? Here is the interesting thing about Pelagius…he was widely known, even by his opponents, as a godly man who was passionately concerned for the Church’s holiness. He formulated his theology and defended it because he believed that those doctrines would lead to reform. Somewhere along the line, his passions distorted his understanding of the gospel. His zeal was not grounded in knowledge and so it distorted his knowledge.

A few years ago I heard a series of talks by a church planter in Australia who described evangelists as some of the most dangerous people in the church. The church planter’s story was remarkable. He started with a handful of people and the church grew exponentially. A few years later the church was a couple of thousand strong. Yet the journey was plagued with difficulty because those in the church who were most interested in reaching out were also most prone to lead the church into compromise. The desire to reach out was so dominant that it began to replace and distort other biblical imperatives. Everything inside the church had to appeal to those outside the church.

I can see how this happens. Passionate Christians feel very strongly about the problems in the church today. It is only natural that this would lead to opinions on how to solve those problems. The pitfall in the pursuit of godliness lies in our failure to test both our diagnosis and proposed cure against the Bible.

What is the solution? Well, first we need to say that the solution is not that we become less passionate. Passion is a good thing. We are commanded in Romans 12:11 to “never be lacking in spiritual fervour.” The solution is to make sure that our theology is biblically robust enough to handle our passions.

Are you a passionate follower of Jesus Christ? Then work hard to make sure that your passion is firmly grounded in the Bible.

How do we do that? Stay tuned for the next post.

 

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