|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part four (final) of a series. Read part three.
Today many are pursuing, and leading others to pursue, a cultural pseudo-Christianity that demands nothing of its adherents except that they function as members in good standing of a religious social club.
At the end of our last article we stated that today's self-described evangelical churches are, with few and very precious exceptions, centers of what may be best described as a cultural pseudo-Christianity rather than authentic, spiritual Christianity. As the Holy Spirit declares in 2 Timothy 3:5 they have "a form of godliness but denying its power."
We asked: What does that mean, and what is the cure? How does it manifest itself in the churches around us? We must look always and alone to the Word of God for the answers, and so we shall.
"A Form of Godliness"- But Not True Saving Faith
The Bible speaks often and in many places about the relationship between outward appearance and inward reality. In the Greek of the New Testament, two words are used to describe this. The word morphe is used whenever the Holy Spirit speaks of an outward appearance that is the same as the inward reality. The word schema is used whenever the Holy Spirit speaks of an outward appearance that does not comport with inward reality.
It is vital to note which word is used in 2 Timothy 3:5. Those described are said to have "a form of godliness" - an outward semblance of reverence and respect toward God. The word translated "form" in this verse is morphe. What the Holy Spirit is saying through Paul is that the outward appearance is but a counterfeit of godliness - but this is a true reflection of the counterfeit within.
The verse goes on to explain why: "but denying its power." An expanded translation of the Greek would read, "but rejecting and refusing the power that resides in godliness by virtue of its nature." And what, in the original, is the meaning of "godliness"? The word has to do with a reverent respect toward God that, in view of His holiness, does that which is pleasing to Him.
What, then, is the sense of the passage? In his commentary on it, Warren Wiersbe puts it very directly:
Paul stated that these people he has just described would consider themselves religious! "Having a form of godliness" (2 Tim. 3:5) suggests an outward appearance of religion, not true Christian faith; for they have never experienced the power of God in their lives. Form without force. Religion without reality.
In other words, people - church members, church leaders, pastors, Bible college and seminary professors - who are unsaved, but deceived into thinking they are by the promotion and pursuit of what is nothing more than an outward, cultural Christianity having no basis in regeneration by God the Holy Spirit. In 2 Timothy 3:13 Paul speaks of such people as "imposters...deceiving and being deceived."
By contrast, in Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Paul exhorts true believers to "not be conformed to this world." The word translated "conformed" is the Greek word schema. It describes a condition in which someone's outward appearance does not reflect his true inward state. In other words, Paul is saying that true believers are not to take on an outward appearance that does not agree with the inward spiritual nature that is ours by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
This is the test of authentic Biblical Christianity. Instead of being "conformed to this world" we are to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." The word translated "transformed" here is metamorphosis - the opposite of schema. It signifies a condition in which outward appearance, outward behavior, reflects inward reality.
To what are we to be transformed? Paul tells us in Romans 8:29 that God predestined believers "to be conformed to the image of His Son." Colossians 3:10 tells us that we "have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him."
Many Need to "Get Lost" In Order to be Saved
There are many people in reputedly evangelical circles today who may think they are saved, but they actually need to "get lost" - they need to understand and come to grips with their true spiritual condition. These include, as we have said, not only church members but also church leaders, pastors, Bible college and seminary professors. They are pursuing, and leading others to pursue, a cultural pseudo-Christianity that demands nothing of its adherents except that they function as members in good standing of a religious social club.
This is the nature of present-day cultural pseudo-Christianity: People are considered to be "Christians" if they faithfully attend the "club's" meetings and enthusiastically sing its "club songs" (mostly "gospel songs" composed in the last 150 years having little or no truly Biblical content). They are considered to be "Christians" if they hear and follow agendas rooted in worldly philosophies, legalism, and man-made doctrines; if they participate in the religious club's programs; if they support it with their money; and if they recruit others to join on the basis of their response to a man-centered sales pitch rather than the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.
Dear friends, we must face the fact that much of the post-evangelical, post-Scriptural church in our day is in a state of conformity to the world instead of Christ, because many if not most of those within have never been regenerated by the Spirit of God. It is true in self-described conservative churches of all names and labels: Reformed churches, Bible churches, Baptist churches, Fundamentalist churches, choose whatever you wish.
When British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones took up his first pastorate, he entered a church in which he soon realized that many of its people, and leaders, were not truly saved. He resolved to preach the Gospel faithfully, and to set the holiness of God and the high calling of the Christian before them. Many were startled when two of the earliest converts - people who had previously thought they were long-time Christians but realized they were following a mere cultural pseudo-faith - were the head of the church board, and Lloyd-Jones' own wife.
The more I hear from readers and listeners in America and around the world, the more I am convinced that the present-day church - the post-evangelical, post-Scriptural church - needs this kind of an earth-shaking work of the Spirit of God. May true believers in Christ pray that God will prepare our hearts to be His instruments in such a revival.
1. Commentary on the passage in Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Study Series: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010)
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