The Down-To-Earth Faith
December 23, 2007
A fellow was invited to present a special series of Bible studies at a congregation where not everybody knew him. For the first two or three services in that series people were sort of evaluating the visiting preacher, getting some idea of who he was, and maybe forming impressions based on lessons or illustrations or the way that he spoke. About half way through the series one of the gentlemen from that congregation came up to the fellow and said to him, “You are a pretty down-to-earth guy, aren’t you?” The preacher took that as one of the finest compliments he could have received because he believed that Christianity is the down-to-earth faith.
I believe it is true that the faith which is revealed in t he New Testament is very much down-to-earth. It is this fact that marks the nature of Christianity and sets it apart from any religion of man that we know anything about. I would like to describe to you today with three simple points why I say that, and I hope that this will cause all of us to think of what we owe to Christ.
The God Who Involves Himself In Human Experience
First, Christianity’s focus is the God who involves himself in human experience. If you will think about this you will see that God would have to do this in order to mean very much to us. Greek philosophers, for example, in the times just prior to the New Testament, held that the gods were pretty much unknowable, untouchable and certainly unmovable. The only way they involved themselves in human life was just to show their displeasure or their anger. In more recent years the deists have had the idea that there is a creator who made everything we see and sort of set it in motion, but who doesn’t have much to do with the workings of the world beyond that initial spasm of activity.
There have been others. For example, Islam holds to the idea that God could never have allowed a great prophet like Jesus to have suffered an unjust or unfair death. God would not stoop to such a thing as that. The German philosopher, Helmet Thielieke, however, made a great point when he observed, “Tell me how exalted your god is and I’ll tell you how little he means to you.” His point was that if we hold that God is so far removed from us that he has nothing to do with us, he can’t have much impact upon us. Thielieke commented, “A god who has nothing to do with our laughing and weeping, our fear or our boredom, a god who is absolutely beyond all human experience, such a god would have absolutely no meaning to us.” That point is so very true.
If you think especially about God’s involvement in the things of everyday life that may cause us to hurt or to struggle, you will see how necessary his involvement in our experience is. In his book, “The Cross of Christ,” John Stott made this observation, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could anyone worship a god who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.” Notice that last phrase – detached from the agonies of the world. “But each time I have had to turn away and in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from the throne pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness.” Then he makes this statement: “That is the God for me. He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh, blood, tears and death.”
He entered our world. That certainly is what the New Testament proclaims in so many wonderful ways. The New Testament says that Jesus was willing to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11 and following), that he shared in the flesh and blood which is our condition. That Word who in the beginning was with God, and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, John 1 says. Philippians 2:6-7 indicates that the one who was in the form of God was ultimately found in the form of man. Hebrews 2:14, 17 and following suggests that Jesus partook of flesh and blood because we were sharers in flesh and blood. In this situation, the New Testament says that he experienced all the emotions and temptations that are common to all the rest of us. Those things that bring us joy, those things that bring us sorrow, those things that move us to amazement, those things that drive us to confusion, the things that encourage us to do right, the things that tempt us to do wrong – Jesus faced all of those – so much that he is a high priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15).
And the New Testament says that he identifies with people still in what we go through in our lives. Remember that his identification with his church was such that when Saul of Tarsus was breathing threatening and slaughter, seeking to bind both men and women because of their confession of Christ and imprisoning them, the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Not them, but me!) So the story of the gospel is that Christ Jesus shared in flesh and blood, experienced what flesh and blood experiences and identifies with us now.
Some years ago there was a short play written which was titled, “The Long Silence.” I would like you to think about what it says. “At the end of time billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them, but some groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame but with belligerence. ‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We endured terror, beatings, torture and death.’ In another group a young black man lowered his collar, ‘What about this,’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. ‘Lynched for no crime but being black.’ In another crowd a pregnant school girl with sullen eyes said, ‘Why should I suffer? It wasn’t my fault.” Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups,” this piece says. “Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. ‘How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world for God leads a pretty sheltered life,’ they said. So, each of these groups sent forth their leader chosen because he had suffered the most – a Jew, a black man, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other and at last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever – ‘before God could be qualified to be their judge,’ they proclaimed, ‘he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man. Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone; then let him die. Let him die so there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’ As each leader announced his portions of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled, and when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word; no one moved, for suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.” The faith revealed in the New Testament focuses upon the God who involves himself in human experience.
The God Who Is Served By Basic Daily Living
The second reason Christianity is the down-to-earth faith is that it loves and adores the God who is served by basic daily living. What we have just described about God’s involvement in the world is too profound in its influence to be confined to one special day. It affects all of eternity. The impact of it is too great in a person’s life to be reserved to a few special occasions. It has to change how that person lives in the most basic daily ways.
One of the amazing things about the New Testament is this very fact. We will be reading along on some profound doctrine, something that gives us a glimpse of the mind of God himself, or we will be soaring along on the heights of some wonderful declaration of praise, and suddenly we will be in the middle of how we are supposed to talk or handle our anger or work. Christianity is the faith which elevates ordinary tasks to the level of sacred sacrifices-when they are done as if they are done for the Lord in both manner and spirit.
All through the Bible you see this. In Micah 6 there are people wanting to know how in the world they can offer enough sacrifices to please God, thousands of rams, rivers of oil, maybe even our own children – maybe God would be pleased with that – but we are not sure. The prophet said he shows you what is good. God wants you to do justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. In Romans 12:1 Paul appealing on the basis of the mercies of God says that our bodies ought to be presented as living sacrifices. This is not something so simple as an occasional sacrifice separate and apart from ourselves that we allow to be surrendered to God. This is our lives. In Colossians 3:17 the apostle Paul says, “Whatever you do in word or deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” There is the down-to-earth nature of Christianity. Everything in word or deed!
Our God, you see, the God of the Bible is served by first obeying and then honoring our parents, loving our wives, or respecting our husbands, doing our jobs with our best effort, treating those from whom we have nothing to gain honorably and inwardly maintaining our own integrity. I just surveyed the last half of the book of Ephesians with you. The service of this God is not hidden away in an exalted sanctuary somewhere to be exercised by a special, separate class of God’s people. Instead, the service of this God is the offering of the life of each one of God’s people, faithfully and honorably meeting ordinary responsibilities and privileges of every day for God.
And neither is the service of this God the “in touch with your spirit” rule of a self created realm which is bounded on the north, south, east and west by the feelings and opinions and preferences of self. The service of this God is the discharge of very practical obligations which are directed and measured by the objective standards of what God has made known. The faith in the New Testament is down-to-earth in total because it gets to where we really live.
The God Who Gives Meaning To A Person’s Whole Life
And then thirdly, the faith revealed in the New Testament is the down-to-earth faith because it hopes in the God who gives meaning to a person’s whole walk through this world. One of the most timeless and personal needs of a human being is to know that his life counts for something, that what he does matters. Psalm 90, the last verse of the prayer of Moses the man of God, one of the oldest prayers of the Bible, ended with the plea that God would establish the work of our hands. The God of the Bible addresses this need, not with infinite power or infinite wisdom only, but with infinite concern for us.
He takes an interest in what each one of us does. He deals with us according to what we have done. He holds us accountable for it and then lets our works follow with us. In Psalm 53 at verse 2 he looks down from heaven to see what we will do. In Psalm 139, verses 2 and 3, this God is acquainted with our ways and even our thoughts. He pays attention to what we do.
And then the statement is made over and over again in scripture (at least a dozen times) that God deals with us according to our works. One of the first times is in Psalm 62:11-12. It says, “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.” Proverbs 24:12 says it. Romans 2:6-8, 2 Cor. 5:10 emphasizes that this is what takes place as we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
The last book of the Bible then turns around and dwells on the promise. At a time when the Lord’s people seem to be overwhelmed by trouble and unfairness that finally God deals with man according to what he has done, whether it be good or evil. Revelation 20:12 pictures the dead, the small and the great before the great white throne in view of this idea. The promise to the Lord’s people is always that when we finish our journey in Christ, we rest from our labor and our works follow with us (Rev. 14:13).
The faith revealed in the New Testament is the down-to-earth faith because it focuses on the God who involves himself in our lives. It serves the God who is interested in the sacrifices of basic daily living for him, and it draws meaning from the God who pays attention to what we do in this life.
Ironically, the very attention to what we have done which tells us that our lives have meaning also brings us face to face with the very down to earth reality – that is for all of us what we have done is not always something we can be proud of. If all of us look at what we have done and know that God dealt with us only on the basis of those deeds, we would be in trouble. So the gospel says that God has addressed reality in a down-to-earth way. He faced up to the need, paid the price of it for us, and on that basis offers us a savior.
Bill Dillon in his paper, The Gospel Gleaner, had this little saying recently: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent an engineer. If our greatest need had been financial, God would have sent an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent a savior.” Aren’t we glad he did?
And on the basis of what that savior has done, God offers us life – the hope of eternal life. When a person confesses that he believes Jesus Christ is the son of God to the point that it turns his life around and that person is buried with Christ in baptism, God raises him up to walk in newness of life. As that person walks that new life, as he confronts weaknesses and flaws in his life, he will confess that and pray about it. God remains faithful and righteous to forgive him on the basis of what Jesus has done. And as he walks in the light, God goes on cleansing him to make it possible for us to arrive at home some day.