The other day, I sat down for my monthly meeting with our church’s deacons. We have a wonderful deacon board in our church – godly men who are gifted to serve the body. As we usually do, we started with devotions. A few years ago, I began using good Christian books as devotional tools with my leadership. At this time, our deacon board is reading and discussing The Grace of God by Andy Stanley.
The topic of this month’s chapter was the Ten Commandments and the whole issue of law versus grace. In our discussions, our conversation wandered around to the whole issue of someone who is lukewarm in their faith. What do we do with the person who claims grace of God but exhibits no evidence that the grace they claim is actually changing their lives? As the discussion continued, various people were brought to my mind. These were people I knew, people I had taught and ministered to, people I had counseled and sought to care for. They were also people who, despite my best efforts, displayed no evidence of the transformation Jesus brings to a life.
At those situations, a typical pastor often does one of two things. Either we write that person off, convinced that any help they need is not going to come from us. Or, we get down on ourselves, thinking that it was our failure to connect, to communicate, to help, that has them in that spiritual position. And while there may be some truth in those reactions – we may not be the person who will ultimately help them or we might have taken more time with them – the heart of the matter is often something very different. The heart of the matter is often this: that the lukewarm Christian is more in love with the world than they are with Jesus.
After my discussion with the deacons, I was reminded of a passage I read this past fall from Michael Reeves’ book Delighting in the Trinity. Interspersed throughout this wonderful book are small vignettes about historical figures and their thoughts on the Trinity. In one of those sidebars, Reeves quotes Thomas Chalmers, a 19th century Scottish pastor and scholar.
In a sermon on 1 John 2:15 entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” Chalmers discusses where the power to change comes from. Our lives are naturally guided and controlled by our love for the world. That is our default setting, a tendency that we all are born with. What can we do to change that? Is it possible to convince ourselves that the world around us is not so alluring after all? Can we adjust our heart’s desires so that the world does not seem quite so attractive? Chalmers concludes that trying to change our hearts by ourselves is “altogether incompetent and ineffectual,” for nobody can “dispossess the heart of an old affection, but by the expulsive power of a new one.” In other words, our tendency to love the world can only be changed when we learn to love something or Someone else more. We always love what seems to be the most desirable to us. As a result, we will only change what we love when something or Someone proves to be more desirable to us than what we already love.
To put it another way, you and I will always love sin and the world until we truly sense that Christ is better. We will be stuck loving the world first and foremost until we are convinced, by the power of God, that loving Christ is a better and truer option. We will love the world until we are convinced again of the truths of the gospel. You see, true change happens when we are overwhelmed by the grace of God in Christ. True change happens when we grasp anew the height and breadth and depth of the love of Christ for us. True change happens when we experience the freedom of forgiveness and the assurance of salvation. True change happens when God’s Spirit convinces us that God is indeed good. True change happens when we truly grasp hold of the truths of the gospel and are captivated by Christ our Savior. That is the answer for everyone – whether they are a “lukewarm” believer or not.