Sometimes the contrast gets quite overwhelming. In this case, it involves reading two quite contrasting texts. On the one hand, we have press reports of some pretty reprehensible behaviour, and on the other hand we find very strong admonitions to holy and pure living. The two certainly clash.
I believe it was Karl Barth who once said we should read the newspapers in one hand while reading our Bibles in the other. That has long been my practice. So just now I have been reading some pretty staggering headlines, and in stark contrast to them, some powerful commands about holy living.
The tragic headline reads as follows: “Former Glenorchy mayor and MLC Terry Martin has admitted he spent $150,000 on 162 different prostitutes in the two years before his arrest over sex with a child in September, 2009.” Wow, that is just mind-blowing and soul-destroying stuff.
This incredible story continues: “The 54-year-old sobbed in the dock as the Supreme Court in Hobart watched his recorded interview this morning. Mr Martin’s distress was palpable – both in court and on the DVD recording – when the questioning turned to a stack of child pornography found in a locked drawer in the study of his Claremont home.
“Mr Martin had oral sex with a Glenorchy 12-year-old and took sexually explicit photos of her at his home in September, 2009, after she was advertised as a prostitute by her mother and the mother’s partner Gary John Devine. Mr Martin has pleaded not guilty to underage sex charges and one count of producing child pornography, arguing that he believed the girl was 18, as advertised at the time.”
Wow again. What an amazing and morally devastating tale. The heart just breaks to read this, especially if one has at the same time just been reading one of Paul’s calls to a devout and holy life, urging us to stay well away from sexual immorality.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul offers us a very forceful admonition on the topic of sexual immorality. His advice is spot on: “flee sexual immorality” (v. 18). That means what it says: don’t even hang around such sexual temptation – get out of there right away.
There is a clear example of this of course in Scripture: Joseph, who fled from the seductive temptations of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:12). Indeed, he “ran out of the house”. This is sound advice for every one of us. Unfortunately this MP did not take to such thinking.
But the really sad truth is, there would be plenty of Christians caught out in sexual sin as well. We may well expect non-believers to get themselves into such horrendous moral jams, but unfortunately far too many believers also get themselves into such sinful situations.
I suspect a good part of this is because we simply are not heeding Paul’s advice – indeed, his commands. Nor are we listening to Jesus or the other New Testament writers as well. And the problem goes even deeper than this. You see, all over the Christian churches today we are getting heavy doses of cheap grace.
When it comes to the gospel message that we preach to non-Christians, all we seem to hear is stuff like this: “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved. Come to Jesus to get healthy, to get wealthy, and to have all your needs met. Jesus is here to serve you and to make you happy and give you everything that you want.”
And when it comes to the Christian life, all we seem to hear is: “Jesus is your pal, your friend, he is here to have a nice time with you. He wants you to just be happy, to have a nice self-image, and to feel good about yourself.” It is all a me-centred message in other words.
We seldom hear what Jesus talked about: about how we must deny ourselves, crucify our flesh, take up our cross, and follow him daily. We forget how often Jesus in fact made it hard for people to follow him. Just consider for example Luke 18:18-30. Here Jesus highlights the very thing the rich man did not want to part with: his riches.
Jesus knew that he had to ruthlessly deal with the false gods in his life. He did not pander to him, but said he must renounce his riches entirely and decisively. And we read that the ruler “became very sad”. Indeed, the people around him asked, “Who then can be saved?”
The gospel is never meant to be made easy and palatable for us. It is a costly gospel, which demands our all. That is because it cost Jesus his all. That is the very point Paul makes in the Corinthian passage: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (vv. 19-20).
This is an absolutely crucial truth which we ignore at our own peril. We are not just casual friends of Jesus who can do whatever we want. We are not just his buddies, free to live the same way we always have. As the Narnians were reminded of Aslan, “He is not a tame lion you know”.
He is the holy, pure and exalted God of the universe, not a celestial Jeeves waiting to do our every bidding. The idea that we are not our own stands in marked contrast to the worldview of the surrounding pagan culture, which say the whole cosmos exists for me and me alone.
The humanist idea that you are the centre of the universe and are entitled to do whatever you want to do runs head on with the biblical gospel. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us, and we are not our own anymore; we are His and His alone. When Paul spoke of being bought with a price he was of course pulling imagery straight out of the slave market.
As Thiselton comments, “The imagery stresses primarily the new ownership, and secondly a costly act on the part of the new owner which makes the believer legitimately and contractually the one to whom the believer now belongs.” Indeed, the Corinthians would have understood exactly what Paul was getting at here.
Garland puts it this way: “The Lord has full property rights over them. The imagery derives from the slave auction, familiar to Corinthians because Corinth was a major center for slave trafficking.” The trouble is so many of us today have no idea of what is being demanded of us here.
And most preachers are not giving us the biblical message either. They are not telling us that we are slaves of Christ, and that he demands total obedience of us in every aspect of our lives, not just a haphazard acquaintance. So we have been told that we can come to Christ on our own terms, not his, and we can live as we please, and expect him to be just peachy about all that.
Well, it does not work that way. All the preaching of cheap grace does is result in the living of cheap lives. When the going gets tough these shallow and lukewarm believers will give up the Christian life as easily as they got into it. Until they hear a gospel which demands their all, they will never give their all.
Bonhoeffer had it right when he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”. Or as A.W. Tozer rightly stated, “If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament on the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity… The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter.”
Today’s cross is all about self, and everywhere we see Christian casualties as a result. What this Tasmanian MP did is being done every day by believers as well in various forms. As long as we are reared on a gospel of self, we will live a life of self. It is that simple.