I am of the opinion that the greatest danger confronting the Christian church and every individual Christian at this moment is to fail to understand and appreciate the absolute necessity of a precise, clear knowledge of the truth. I say this because we are living in days when there is a powerful reaction against all this.
We are living in an age that dislikes precision and definitions. It is an age that is anti-theological, anti-doctrinal and which dislikes propositions and exact knowledge. It is a lazy age in every respect, a sentimental, sloppy age, an age that wants entertainment and dislikes effort. In the whole of life today the principle is ‘something for nothing’. We are ready to take but we are not ready to work; we are not ready to give ourselves. It is true all round and it accounts for most of our problems. It is particularly true in the realm of the Christian church. We must therefore deal with this very carefully.
This tendency shows itself in many ways which are generally very plausible. One way is to say that Christianity is something that is so wonderful that it cannot be defined, that it baffles analysis or any attempt to state it in propositions. I am sure you are familiar with that particular view. People say you might as well try to dissect beauty, or an aroma, as to define the Christian faith. It cannot be done, they say. You experience it marvelous and wonderful! But if you try to analyze it, then you destroy it, there is nothing left. You must not bring the rude hands of analysis here.
Another way in which it is put is this: that Christianity is only a matter of one’s spirit. What makes us Christians is our spirit, and if we have an appropriate spirit, then we are Christians. Christianity is an attitude, a view of life, a general statement concerning our personality and our being. There was a slogan not so long ago which said, ‘Christianity is caught, not taught’. You catch the spirit. You feel it in the meeting and you get it. But what is it? Well, you do not know, but that does not matter. You have got it! That is the great thing and you feel much happier and much better than you did before.
Then a third way in which it is put is this: that after all what matters is our general reaction to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is one of the most popular views of all. People say, ‘You read the Gospels and there you see this portrait of Him and, as it were, you meet Him. Now what decides whether you are a Christian or not is this: Do you like Him? Do you want to be like Him? Do you try to imitate Him? What is your reaction to Him?’ You must not come and dissect, and bring your propositions and your theology and say you have got to believe this and not believe that. What matters is your total response to Him, and if you react favorably to Him, then you are a Christian.
The fourth way is the approach that describes Christianity in terms of living. What does it matter what people believe as long as they are living good, Christ like lives, as long as they are generous, ready to make sacrifices, ready to help others, and concerned about the uplift of the race? That is what makes people Christians.
Now this dangerous attitude takes one other form. I put this in a category on its own because I am beginning to think that in some ways it is the most subtle form of all among evangelical people. It is the tendency to estimate whether or not people are Christians, not by what they actually say about their beliefs but by what you feel about them. Now, I do want to make this clear, because I have encountered it a great deal. We attach greater importance and significance to this ‘feeling’ that we may have about them than to the very words that the people themselves use about the Christian faith.
I want to give an example or two of this, because I confess that I am becoming alarmed about it; indeed, I am almost discouraged because it seems to me that if we proceed much further along this line, the evangelical faith is going to disappear. Let me give you an illustration. On a visit to London some years ago, I went into a certain bookroom which was managed by an evangelical organization in one of the major Christian denominations. To my astonishment, I found that they were selling there a secondhand book by a man who was notorious at that time. He was no longer alive, but he had written this well known book about Christianity in which he virtually denied all the cardinal articles of the Christian faith. As I was looking round, the secretary of this society came to speak to me, so I called his attention to this book and expressed my amazement.
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘wait a minute. You know, we must be very careful.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
He said, ‘Have you ever met this men?’ end when I told him I had not, he replied, ‘Well, I have. I stayed with him a few months back. I was on deputation work and he entertained me for the night, and the next morning we went into a little chapel attached to his house where he took family prayers. And you know, I don’t think I have ever been in such a spiritual atmosphere. It was a blessing to my soul to hear him taking family prayers on that occasion.’
‘Yes, but my dear sir,’ I said, ‘what does he say in this book?’
‘Oh, I know that,’ he said, ‘but you see, if you had heard him taking those prayers! I have never known a more devout man. I have never been in a more devotional atmosphere.’
My reply was this: ‘But I don’t care what you felt. This is what the man says about the Lord Jesus Christ and His work and it is a denial of the Scriptures!’ But I found it very difficult to persuade him.
Then recently, a speaker was about to give an address on a certain religious book which had achieved some notoriety, and he prefaced his remarks by saying something like this. ‘Now I am going to criticize this book, but I must say this. A friend of mine who saw this man on television said to me, “If ever I have looked at a born again man there he was.”‘
You see, he was suggesting that what is said in the book does not matter! Though the writer denies the teaching of the Scripture and the creeds of his church, though he denies the being of God, the deity of Christ, and all the essentials of Christianity, in spite of that, what is being put first is our subjective feeling ‘The man looks to me to be a born again man.’ So in spite of what he says in his book ‘I therefore have a feeling, somehow, that the man is all right after all’!
This is happening in other ways, too. A few years ago there were various campaigns at which all kinds of people had come together who had never been together before. And evangelical Christians were saying, ‘You know, these others are such nice people, they are much nicer people than we ever thought.’ Why they should ever imagine that people who are wrong in their doctrine are of necessity not nice I do not know! But the argument had reached the point at which it was being said that, because they were so surprisingly nice, it did not matter very much, after all, that they were so wrong in their doctrine.
Or, to give one final illustration, I once had a lengthy discussion with an evangelical Christian in which I asked him why he had used a certain man in connection with his work. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I know what you mean, I know what he has written in his books, I know what he preaches, but I have got to be honest. I find that I can have more fellowship with him than I can with many conservative evangelical Christians.’
I said, ‘What you really mean, of course, is that he is a nicer man by nature than many evangelical Christians. But,’ I went on, ‘you must not call it fellowship. You find that he is more affable and that you can get on more easily with him. But that is not spiritual fellowship!’
Now that is the kind of thing that is being said at the present time. It does not matter what people may teach. Though they may deny the very essence of Christianity, if I like them, if I am attracted to them, if I can talk easily to them, then that is what counts. It is what they are that is important and thus they make an appeal to you.
Here, then, is the very thing to which our attention is being drawn by this statement of the Apostle Paul. So what do we say about this modern tendency? Here is the answer.
First, that Christian people are mistaking natural qualities, niceness, a cultural veneer or politeness, for true Christian grace. It seems that we are no longer capable of differentiating between the two. How often today is affability mistaken for saintliness! ‘What a gracious man he is,’ they say. What they really mean is this: he never criticizes and he agrees with everybody and everything. I know of nothing more dangerous than that. These so called gracious men are, of course, altogether nicer than John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul! I do not hesitate to go further they are very much nicer than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who denounced the Pharisees! Affability is not saintliness. A mere intellectual, moral flabbiness, is not synonymous with graciousness and with the possession of grace!
Secondly, the fact that people are devout tells us nothing about the truth of what they believe. There are very devout Jews, devout Muslims, devout followers of Buddha, Confucius, and so on. A devout attitude in and of itself tells us nothing.
Thirdly, the moment we begin to talk in these terms, it means that we have abandoned all objective standards. We are now judging only by our own subjective feelings, by our impressions and reactions. Is there anything so dangerous?
Fourthly, and much more important, it is a complete denial of what the Apostle is teaching at this very point, and indeed in the whole of his Epistle. The Jews, he says, are lost and they need to be saved. Why? Because they are lacking in exact knowledge of the truth. This is the reason for their condemnation. So we must never put anything before exact knowledge. It is the most important thing of all.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4)
My fifth argument is this: to speak like that is a violation not only of what the Apostle teaches here, but also of the whole of the New Testament teaching with regard to the way of salvation. What does it teach? Well, it talks about coming ‘unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). Everything in the New Testament is put in terms of truth. What is preaching? Preaching is a proclamation of the truth. And it is an exact proclamation. Preaching is not talking about a vague feeling, but is the presentation of a message, of a case. Preaching is something that is reasoned and argued from the Scriptures. It is truth, and therefore it must always be in the first position.
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Saving Faith Romans 10 is an excerpt from Saving Faith an exposition of Romans Chapter 10 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, as published here.