Yes, the church in particular and the Christian world in general have missed the point about missing the mark! There is no question about it. The tragic irony is that we do not even know that we have missed the point about missing the mark, while all the time we talk about ‘missing the mark’!
Anyone who is familiar with the teaching of the Bible knows, that the word for SIN both in the Old and the New Testaments is translated as failing to ‘hit a target’ or ‘reach a standard’, or ‘missing the mark’.
But the question is, what is the mark we have missed? And what is the point we are missing about ‘missing the mark’?
We have missed the mark of the objective or the purpose of God in creating us as humans in his own image. The purpose of God for us is made clear in the summary of the ten commandments as the greatest of the commandments – to love God with all the powers of our being. To love God, to seek him and to live for him and no one else and nothing else. This is the only thing lawful. Everything else is unlawful. This is the only thing moral. Every other pursuit which does not spring from the pursuit of God and from a life of fellowship with him is illegal, immoral and totally evil. And neither such people nor such lives have any place in the Kingdom of God.
J. I. Packer explains, “Sin is going contrary to God, retreating from God, turning one’s back on God, ignoring God… What, in positive terms, is the essence of sin?… Living not for Him, but for yourself; loving and serving and pleasing yourself without reference to the Creator; trying to be as far as possible independent of him, taking yourself out of his hands, holding him at arms length, keeping the reins of your life in your own hands; acting as if you and your pleasure, were the end to which all things else, God included, must be made to function as a means – that is the attitude in which sin essentially consists.”
He further writes, “Paul tells us that sin began when men who ‘knew God… did not honour him as God, or give thanks to him’(Rom 1:21), and he gives us the most exact analysis of the spirit of sin that the Bible contains when he declares that ‘the mind of the flesh (the mind and heart of unregenerate sinner) is enmity against God’ (Rom 8: 7), disaffection to his rule, resentment of his claims, and hostility to his word, all expressed in a fixed and unalterable determination to pursue one’s own independence in defiance of the Creator.” (God’s Word’s, J. I. Packer, 1981)
Everything man has done since his fall into sin is with this disaffection with God and his word, thus disassociating with him and the life through him. We know that right there in the book of Genesis, apart from a few who lived by faith and in fellowship with God, humans went on a totally different course outside of a relationship with God. And in his attempt to make a living for himself, man had embarked upon a course of total independence of God. Man’s God-defying, his identity and security-seeking attitude outside of a relationship with God is epitomised in the words of the Babelites, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Of course in carving out a life independent of God, man has gone on to create and develop several systems and structures in every area of life. He has developed ‘quite fine and sophisticated’ religious, philosophical, political, economic, judicial, military, and socio-cultural systems and structures. He has built so-called centres of ‘higher learning’ of schools and universities for the sake of imbibing this knowledge which is independent of the Creator.
As the Preacher in OT cryptically states, “…God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Therefore he says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Eccl 7:29; 1;2) Everything is vain because they not only lack anything of eternal or spiritual value but they are all under God’s judgement. Neither baptising nor christening them nor any amount of prayer is going to make them acceptable to God. The Bible simply and categorically declares that the world and everything in it is passing away. For everything man has made independent of the Creator is under God’s condemnation.
The words of our Lord Jesus in John 10:10 are very eloquent too, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus was not only implying that there was no life in the world unless he gave it but there is a radical indictment of all other options and solutions offered by the world that they not only rob but kill and destroy! Jesus also pits himself against all other options and solutions on offer.
The very fact that Jesus chose to be born in a cattle shed in a small shanty town outside of Jerusalem, and the kind of life he chose to live tells us about the value he placed on what man has made of the world and its systems and structures. He was born and lived totally out of the world’s systems and the models it offers. If this is not understood then we do not understand anything about Christ and the gospel of the kingdom he preached.
The point missed
The point that is being missed both by the church and the Christian world is that everything that man has made for himself in his brief history on earth is apart from God and in defiance of God and out side of fellowship with God. Therefore everything he has done during his existence on earth howsoever grand, howsoever sophisticated, howsoever beneficial from human perspective, is under the condemnation of God. It is, as Paul writes, under God’s wrath (Rom 1:18) and therefore ‘evil’(Eph 5:16). This is the reason why Bible neither recognises nor acknowledges the wisdom nor the achievements of man in the world, howsoever grand or beneficial to life on earth. These have no eternal nor spiritual value.
In the last 2000 years, the church in general and Christians in particular, have lost this understanding regarding the world and its systems and structures. Therefore they have not only cozied up to its ways of life but cavorted and have begun to cohabit with the world. Practically every aspect of our lives both as Christians and the church today is imbued with the world and its ways.
We have tacitly adopted world’s thinking and world’s systems and models – from the way we think about and do worship to our missions and evangelism including the way we teach the Bible both in our churches and seminaries. Our very understanding of church is discoloured with world’s thinking. The organisational models and the lifestyles we have adopted as individuals are all of the world. They are neither of Christ nor of his Apostles in the New Testament.
We have not only pursued but promoted and prospered and have taken pleasure and pride in what the people of the world have carved out for themselves in defiance and independence of God; that which is under God’s judgement and therefore under his wrath. In general many Christians have been in thrall of the knowledge, power and positions that the world offers. We seem to be enchanted by the things that Christ resisted and rejected when tempted. Why is it we are so much enthralled by one’s progress and growth in the world and are least focused on one’s spiritual development and growth? Even our understanding of spiritual growth is understood more in terms of acquiring of social and communication skills and participation in ministry related activities. We seem to have forgotten that spiritual growth is about a life of spiritual intimacy with God such that he or she lives in and by the spirit while living in the body and the world (Rom 8:4-9)
Our very understanding of the ‘will of God’ is so self-centred and world-focused that we do not even think of the will of God as his purpose in creating humankind! And that it is to this purpose Jesus was referring to in Matthew 12:50 and John in 1 John 2:17.
We spend enormous amounts of our time and resources to gaining that which is under God’s wrath – its knowledge systems, its life models and its economic and governing systems. We even encourage our children to pursue the same with panache.
This is totally unacceptable and alien to God and his kingdom. It is not just detestable but abhorring to him. Churches and Christians cannot have anything to do with the world and its ways. It is oxymoronic to call oneself a Christian and to pursue and cherish what the God-defying world has to offer, howsoever grand and useful it might appear to be.
Flee from the wrath to come!
In the Old Testament, the Lord said to his people, Israel not to follow any of the systems and methods of the people around them. They were to be different from the nations among whom they lived. They were to be different as he was different. Right from the building of the ark by Noah to the building of the temple and in all aspects of the people of Israel as a nation they were to follow his statutes and instructions as commanded in his law. They were not to follow the ways of the peoples around them. The church was called out and constituted precisely in the same way. They were called out of the world to be ‘imitators of God’ and not to follow the world and its ways.
Since when have the knowledge and wisdom of the world become acceptable and necessary for the building of the Kingdom of God? When has God said that it was alright to use the power structures and systems of the world to promote his kingdom? Since when has gaining philosophical acumen, political and economic clout become necessary for spreading of the gospel? Who said that gaining positions of power and knowledge in the world were essential to be his witnesses and that these were blessings to be sought after and cherished?
The grotesque irony is that we not only pray for and seek but even conduct thanksgiving services for ‘gaining the world’ which is under God’s wrath, not realising that we might perish with it!! We pray for, seek and gloat over that which Apostle Paul called as ‘dung’. How can any one pursue and gain that which is under God’s judgement and claim that it was a blessing received from God! How can any one claim that they prayed and sought God’s will in seeking the world and what it has to offer! Isn’t it like King Saul claiming that it was God’s will for him to spare the goats and the sheep in order to worship God?! Isn’t it like Achan having a thanksgiving meeting for the things he stole from Jericho?! Oh, the horror of it!
Is it any wonder then that when Christ called people into his kingdom, the conditions he laid were so stringent – deny yourself, leave everything of self, world, and sin in order to be his disciples? And the first requirement was REPENTANCE – to ‘turn one’s back’ upon every thing of sin, self and the world in order to be born of life from above and thus be part of his kingdom. And is it any wonder that when he returns he will say to many even to those who claim that they have done a lot in his name, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt 7: 23)? This is because all that they did was not with the life that comes from God but with the knowledge and power that springs from self and the world. If you claim to be a child of God and yet if your life and work is by and for the flesh and the world, then your claim to new birth is suspect, my friend!
Everything that man does whether as ministry or in any other area of life if not done with the knowledge and power that springs from a fellowship with God has no eternal value and does not pass muster before God at the final reckoning. How tragic would it be for anyone who relied upon the knowledge, money and strength gained in the world in order to live the life of a Christian or to ‘do ministry’ and have presumed that he or she was serving God!
Our engagement with the world ought to be as little as possible, to the extent necessary as Paul says, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7: 29 – 31)
Our calling to be God’s own people is to ‘go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come’(Heb 13: 13, 14). We are to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world and not to pursue, participate, promote nor take pride in its wealth nor in its glory.
The writer to the Hebrews comments about the life of those who live by faith, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”(Heb 11: 13-16). It is extremely alarming that for the last century or so, Christians both individually and corporately have all but forgotten this teaching. They are recklessly heading like Achan of old, into the abyss of worldly gain and glory not knowing that Achan’s fate could be their lot too!
Or as the Preacher says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed in to judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl 12: 13,14)
The teaching is simple and straightforward. As God said to Joshua in the context of Achan, “…they have taken some of the devoted things (things on which there was God’s judgement and which were devoted to be destroyed); … Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you…”(Josh 7: 11,12. Italics are mine)
The world and everything in it – with all its systems of religions, philosophies, education, economics, politics, along with all the knowledge, power and positions it can offer with all its development and life models including its philanthropic and humanitarian efforts are under God’s judgement and God’s wrath. Anyone who pursues, promotes, takes pleasure and pride in it will merit the same judgement and wrath of God which is upon the world. And until Christians repudiate and reject all that is of the world they will not only be enslaved to it but would falter and fumble from one defeat to another and will be disowned by God and face the same fate that awaits the world and its systems.
Woe, unto anyone who teaches and preaches anything other than this! Woe unto anyone who has promoted such self-affirming and world-pursuing lifestyles and passed it off as the teaching of our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ! How dare they call themselves as preachers of the gospel! How so ever great, well known and successful a preacher, teacher or leader may have been, if he or she has not taught self-denying, world-forsaking and sin-rejecting life – they have not only miserably failed but have been ‘blind guides of the blind’! By whose measure are they considered great and successful? If their greatness and success is measured by the size of the structures, budgets and numbers they have garnered, they are probably closer to Babel than to Bethlehem! Since when has the truthfulness of the gospel of Christ come to depend upon the greatness or the successfulness of the preacher! I care not if this is an indictment of some of the so-called great leaders…they shall perish with their greatness if they have not taught and fostered lifestyles based on agape and in the footsteps of our Lord and Master!
The call then is for a clear and total separation from the world and all that it has to offer.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:16)
“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6: 17, 18)
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight… “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:4, 7-9)
The good fruit is the fruit of a life lived in and by the Spirit and not in and for and by the world or the flesh. May the Lord give unto us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in understanding this. May the Lord help us to flee from the wrath which is already upon this world and to flee from the wrath to come. Amen.