The church can go astray in many different ways - Satan will make sure of that. One of the most subtle ways is a growing disconnect between what we believe (our doctrine) and how we live.
What do I mean?
It is possible to be doctrinally correct and pure and yet for our lives not to line up with the Gospel. I am not thinking here about sinful behaviour, speech or even thought. I am referring to a reluctance to gladly endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
Jesus and his Message
Jesus insists that everyone who follows him must deny themselves and take up their cross (Luke 9:23). This means a life of humble self-denial and cross-bearing. If we want to know exactly what this looks like we are to consider the life of Jesus himself, who was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.
There must be something "cross-shaped" about the life of every genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
In our comfortable Western Culture where we are rarely persecuted this cross-bearing must take a deliberate form:
- we might give sacrificially of our time to serve others
- we may give sacrificially of our money to help build the kingdom
- we may be prepared to speak out on issues that are unPC and suffer the consequences for it
When Paul defends his Gospel he often defends his own life-expression of it. This is most noticeable to the church at Corinth where false teachers and super-apostles were threatening the church. Paul does not merely defend the Gospel, he defends his lifestyle which flows out of the Gospel. The two are connected. He explains how much suffering he has passed through. While the super-pastors of his day boasted about numbers and miracles and power he boasted about the sheer amount of sufferings he had endured:
- worked hard
- been in prison
- exposed to death
- on five occasions received the notorious 39 lashes
- on three occasions beaten with rods
- three times shipwrecked
- plus, plus, plus (2 Corinthians 11)
How to spot false Christianity and false teachers
It is possible to be 100% doctrinally correct and yet in fact to hold to a false Gospel. If our lives do not reveal the cross-bearing that is the external mark of all true Christianity, then our intellectual attachment to the Gospel cannot be authentic.
This is perhaps the greatest temptation of western evangelical Christians living in an age of ease. It is possible to believe all the right things but to live a life of ease which in point of fact denies the truth of a crucified saviour.
A sobering self-examination
What kind of Gospel do I really believe? If I examine my life - and most esepcially the cross-bearing, sacrifical aspects of it - how much of the Gospel do I really believe?