Reflections on this morning’s sermon 02/05/12
The Woman at the Well- John 4
This morning Dave presented the story of the woman at the well, emphasizing the number of challenges the woman presented to Jesus when He asked, “Give me to drink.” The persistence of Jesus made the woman eventually recognize that He was the Christ, and she believed. On the strength of her testimony many others also came to hear Christ and believed, but some were not willing to hear the woman testifying, I believe because of her questionable lifestyle. But still they came and heard for themselves, and believed that this is the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Reflecting on Dave’s presentation of the progressive revelation of Christ is the theme for today, because it started me thinking about something I read in Tozer last night. Tozer brilliantly persuades us of the sterileness which our gospel has fallen into: “The churches (even the gospel churches) are worldly in spirit, morally anemic, on the defensive, imitating instead of initiating and in a wretched state generally because for two full generations they have been told that justification is no more than a “not guilty” verdict pronounced by the heavenly Father upon a sinner who can present the magic coin faith with the wondrous “open-ses-ame” engraved upon it.”
In studying the history of revivals, at least one element is present in the history, but absent in our present culture. It was the inquiry room for which D. L. Moody was so famous. Men and women would come forward, and the Christians who were with them would stay with them until the people themselves were convinced of God’s presence. Moody would not allow emotional expression because “emotionalism” had been roundly condemned by staid churches, but nevertheless the workers realized that responders needed time to “wrestle” with God and His truths before realizing that God had indeed changed their life.
I think that, in history, it has started much earlier, at least by the time of Jonathan Edwards, if I am not mistaken. Edwards had a great revival, though some Calvinists would rob this great time of its true glory by suggesting that Edwards grew to know better in his later life. Yet, when I read his responses in his letters where others are alarmed about the emotional state of the responders, he seems careful to give them room to suggest it was excessive, but without really believing it excessive himself. At any rate, it was the custom of Edwards and his fellow workers to stay long after the service, all night if required, until the barrier was broken between the penitent and God. His own wife gives a powerful testimony of waiting all night upon God, and being filled with a sweet peace that words could not adequately express. I remember that Edwards himself went about early in his teens despondent because he could not feel like he was saved. What a awful United States I would live in, had not Mr. Edwards persisted in seeking the grace of God!
Contrast that to today. I have had the great fortune of being involved twice in Billy Graham crusades, and I have only wonderful things to say about his crusades, not the least because my own mother found salvation in one of his earliest crusades. But in both crusades, I was trained just to read some Scripture, and pray, encouraging the responder to pray some form of the sinner’s prayer. It is theologically sound; God can be counted on to hear us when we pray, and the steps to salvation were included, and were very clear. But what was lacking was the time for the new believer to weigh the things that he was learning, and to call upon his God, and to see His God powerfully answer.
That, it seems to me, is the problem of today. We do not give time for people to realize the great things that God has offered; they often walk away not knowing the treasure that they have received. I understand the history of responsible church leaders wanting to avoid what was termed in history as “emotionalism”. In fact I remember leading many people to Christ myself with a little tract that showed a train with the engine labeled fact, the coal car labeled faith, and the caboose labeled feeling. Feeling was at the back, and our culture today wants it to remain there. What a tragic mistake I made! I would pray with the new believer, get them to pray, and then have a few words with them afterward, telling them accurately “that was all it took, for God is completely faithful”.
I was theologically sound, but I was guilty of emptying the gospel of its greatest power, the power to change lives, and thus I was emotionally dead. I am dreadfully afraid I walked away from those new believers, leaving what I term, “walking dead new believers”. Now, I would say, you are a believer, and you need to begin to change, but they had nothing except the basic words of salvation to base their faith on. It is a marvel, a miracle, a testimony to the great Holy Spirit that any of them grew, and that usually happened because of good Christian follow up with meaningful Bible classes that managed to address both truth and feeling.
I am convinced that if God will indeed answer our prayer for revival at Sun Grove, and indeed, in our world, that we need to change this “formula salvation” to a salvation that incorporates the sinner to feel the awesomeness of God, to know their utter need, and to see for themselves the wonderful grace of the cross. It cannot be just a factual presentation. Too often I have seen Christians stop at the point of accepting Christ, not ever knowing what a wonderful vibrant walk with God is available, and it is my fault, it is your fault, because we want every peg of salvation to be just so, the holes accepting the doctrinal rods that we would put into it just perfectly.
But life is not perfect. And people are messy. Look at the woman at the well. Did she not respond wrongly to His first attempts? Did it not take her awhile to correct her assumptions and believe? That is what I am asking for; a change in our invitation rooms where we take it to a point where the new believer is really “finished” with God, not when we are finished with our theological presentation. Too often now, the Christian new life is all but “finished” when we release our new converts. Instead we need to bring them to a point where they recognize what “It is finished” means to their own life.
Tozer, in his wonderful way, says it better, and I will close with his thoughts: “The Christian message rightly understood means this: The God who by the word of the gospel proclaims men free, by the power of the gospel actually makes them free. To accept less than this is to know the gospel in word only, without its power.” We have now been doing this presentation of the gospel wrongly for a couple of generations. Is it any wonder that statisticians tell us there is not any statistical difference between Christians and society in divorce and affairs? Many Christians never get the idea of the power of God to transform their life. I am afraid we have created the mess in our presentation of a gospel without power. Oh, that we might present the power of the Cross to change lives!
Tozer, A.W. (2011-04-19). God's Pursuit of Man (p. 18). WingSpread Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tozer, A.W. (2011-04-19). God's Pursuit of Man (p. 16). WingSpread Publishers. Kindle Edition.