I am sick to death of Sermons! I’m sick to death of Bible Studies! (Yup, I actually said that and meant every word of it!). Year after year, sitting in neatly lined up rows, like ducks in a shooting gallery, listening as the pastor says, “turn with me to this verse; turn with me to that verse.” Year after year, it seems more and more like all we're doing is worshipping with the back of the head in front of us, listening to sermons after sermons after sermons. Year after year we sit in a small group at our mid-week Bible Studies and ask each other, “what does this verse mean to you; what does that verse mean to you?” If I had a nickel for each sermon I've listened to and each Bible study I went to, well, you get the point. Enough all ready! I’m sick of it!
Now before you go labeling me a heretic, let me back up a little and explain. First of all, let me say that I am of the firm opinion that we can call ourselves “Christian” and be faithful members of a Bible believing church all our lives, never missing a service. We can be baptized, tithe regularly, and even claim to speak in tongues. We can have a high attendance record at a mid-week Bible study for 50 years, and one day still hear Jesus say to us the words nobody wants to hear, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.”
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7: 21-23; ESV)
Does that mean that we shouldn’t have times of teaching and Bible study? No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that there must come a point in time somewhere where we walk out of the classroom and begin putting into practice the things we learned. If that were not so, then perhaps Paul’s words about “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) can rightly also be applied to us. Yes, life is a life-long learning time. However, somewhere in the process every student must do a practicum. Somewhere along the line students get ready for graduation. Instead, I see a lot of classroom lectures in Christianity (or in pseudo-Christianity), but I see very little practicums. Instead, 50 year Christians are still eating pabulum from their booster seat called the church pew, instead of the meat and potatoes of “doing” the faith in the marketplaces of life.
James tells us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1: 22-23; ESV).
Has the modern church deceived itself? Are we even aware of what we look like? Have we become hearers only as opposed to doers? Other than perhaps a few small exceptions, I think we have. Many are good at hearing; but only a few are good at doing. James actually goes so far as to say that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Did you see that? A work-less faith is a DEAD faith!
If your schooling has no practicum, you fail the course! The proof of the faith, the test, is in the doing. We’ve all heard the expression, “words are cheap.” That’s not just some secular mantra; it applies to our faith too. Sometimes I just want to yell out, in the words of that classic TV commercial, "Shut up, Steve!" There must come a place and time where we “shut up” and start “putting up.” That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t care any more how well you can parse that Greek verb! I don’t care any more how powerful of a preacher you are! I don’t care any more about your Bible school and seminary degrees, or that you’ve got a D.Min (that’s ‘Doctor of Ministry,’ not ‘demon’ – ha, ha). What I care about is not your talking the talk; I care about your walking the walk. I care about “doing” the word; not “talking” the word.
I remember an illustration from my seminary days. This didn't happen at our school, but the story was told by a professor and supposedly happened at another seminary somewhere. Apparently at that seminary there was a lecture series on the Good Samaritan. Part way through the series, there was a break for lunch and everyone was directed to an adjacent building where lunch was to be served. What everyone didn’t know was that the walk to lunch was a test. What everyone didn't know was that an old man who was dressed like a needy bum, and who was asked to sit half sprawled out on the path between the buildings. Sadly, not one of those attending the Good Samaritan lectures even acknowledged him, much less offered to be of any assistance. They got the teaching, all right, but they all failed on the doing part.
Is this what the church of today has become? Have we become mere talkers and listeners? Have we forgotten that the purpose of all those Bible studies, and all those sermons, is that we then take those lessons and put them into practice? What good is a nursing degree if you never use it to nurse a patient back to health? What good is a Bible lesson learned if I don’t then use it in a practical way to bless someone else with the love of Jesus? What good is a divine blessing from Heavenly Father if I don’t use it to bless another of His children? Or do we think that all the blessings of the Gospel are for us to internalize and keep to ourselves?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of “Cheap Grace.” He said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14; ESV). Are Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace” and Jesus’ “wide gate” the same thing? I think so. If not actually the same, they’re certainly related.
Certainly there are many Christians who will never hear that horrible “I NEVER KNEW YOU!” They have learned the importance of being “doers” of the faith and not “hearers” only. But I would argue that they are in the minority. I’m afraid that there are far too many today who, though they may claim to be born again believers, are really simply “religious.” They are trying to enter by the wide gate called “Religion.” Oh, they look Christian enough. They even speak all the right Christianese dialects that they learned from years and years of pew-sitting listening to sermon after sermon and attending Bible study after Bible study. They might even be deacons and elders and choir directors, and perhaps even, are pastors themselves. But unfortunately, the road they’re on leads to destruction. Unfortunately, the road they’re on will one day lead them to hearing, “I NEVER KNEW YOU!”
And he told them this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit from it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13: 6-9; ESV).
The fruit is often missing because there is no “doing.” The lesson is that if there continually is no fruit, the tree is in danger of being cut down. The lesson is, the barren tree has only, at best, one more season and one last chance to produce fruit. The lesson is, if the fruitlessness of being a hearer and talker only is not soon followed by the fruit of “doing” the Gospel, we face having our tree cut down.
I equate all those religious talkers and hearers, all those incidents of Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace, all those examples of Jesus’ wide gate and barren fig tree - I equate them all with Jesus’ coming pronouncement to the pseudo-Christian masses of “I NEVER KNEW YOU!” For me, that is scary stuff. Has the modern church become lethargic in this regard? I wonder sometimes.
I began by saying, “I am sick to death of Sermons! I’m sick to death of Bible Studies!” That is actually not totally true. It is only true if the “DOING” of the Gospel is not front and center.
Lord, keep me from practicing cheap grace and from the hypocrisy of being a barren fig tree. Keep me from inadvertently getting sucked through that wide gate. I’m tired of all the religious talking, Lord. I want to be a doer of the Gospel. To that end, I pray for your help. Amen.