I have enjoyed reading though Knowing God with a group of guys in our church over the last few months. Last night we did the final chapter on the Adequacy of God. This section jumped out at me from Packer:
We are unlike the Christians of New Testament times. Our approach to life is conventional and static; theirs was not. The thought of “safety first” was not a drag on their enterprise as it is on ours. By being exuberant, unconventional and uninhibited in living by the gospel they turned their world upside down, but you could not accuse us twentieth-century Christians of doing anything like that. Why are we so different? Why, compared with them, do we appear as no more than halfway Christians? Whence comes the nervous, dithery, take-no-risks mood that mars so much of our discipleship? Why are we not free enough from fear and anxiety to alow ourselves to go full stretch in following Christ?
One reason, it seems, is that in our heart of hearts we are afraid of the consequences of going the whole way into the Christian life. We shrink from accepting burdens of responsibility for others because we fear we should not have strength to bear them. We shrink from accepting a way of life in which we forfeit material security because we are afraid of being left stranded. We shrink from being meek because we are afraid that if we do not stand up for ourselves we shall be trodden down and victimized, and end up among life’s casualties and failures. We shrink from breaking with social conventions in order to serve Christ because we fear that if we did, the established structure of our life would collapse all around us, leaving us without a footing anywhere.
It is these half-conscious fears, this dread of insecurity, rather than any deliberate refusal to face the cost of following Christ, which make us hold back. We feel that the risks of out-and-out discipleship are too great for us to take. In other words, we are not persuaded of the adequacy of God to provide for all the needs of those who launch out wholeheartedly on the deep sea of unconventional living in obedience to the call of Christ. Therefore, we feel obliged to break the first commandment just a little, by withdrawing a certain amount of our time and energy from serving God in order to serve mammon. This, at bottom, seems to be what is wrong with us. We are afraid to go all the way in accepting the authority of God, because of our secret uncertainty as to his adequacy to look after us if we do.
Now let us call a spade a spade. The name of the game we are playing is unbelief, and Paul’s “he will give us all things” stands as an everlasting rebuke to us. Paul is teling us that there is no ultimate loss or irreparable impoverishment to be feared; if God denies us something, it is only in order to make room for one or other of the things he has in mind. Are we, perhaps, still assuming that a person’s life consists, partly at any rate, in the things he possesses?
The mind of a western individual is that there is nothing he fears more than losing his own life because he lives for the moment. He has no hope of tomorrow. He has no concept of a God who is sovereign over all things. You can see this from the policies western governments have pursued during the Coronavirus pandemic. People are willing to sacrifice all their freedoms to simply stay alive. Why? Because they have no hope beyond the grave.
What Packer shows us here is that the same mindset runs through Western Christianity. It’s is a self focused pursuit which has no real and tangible belief in a God who is sovereign over all things. We live for “safety first”. It is a religion with sadly no hope beyond the grave. This explains why churches’ natural impulse was to close churches when Covid hit and many of them have not reopened. Why? Because preserving our physical, financial and social life is all that matters to the western christian.
Packer rightly exposes the truth that this attitude runs counter to the impulse of true Christianity as practiced on the early churches. The early church did not live for “safety first”, they lived for Jesus first. They really had experienced the resurrection power of Jesus and knew the hope beyond the grave. How else does one explain why Stephen spoke so boldly knowing he may face death? How do we explain why all the apostles were martyred save one? Jesus had destroyed the idolatry of safety in them and replaced it with true worship of Him. And may He do the same in us.