Who Changed Things?
By Michael L. Brown
Who changed things from the vibrant, Spirit-empowered “by life or by death” faith of the New Testament to today’s spineless home-and-garden Sunday-morning religion?
Who changed things from “Leave everything and follow Me” (see Luke 14:33) to “Pray this little prayer and you’re set for eternity”?
Who changed things from “All who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) to “Ask Jesus into your heart and enjoy a comfortable life”?
Who changed things from a fearless proclamation of the truth, whatever the cost or consequences, to a watered-down, compromised message that is afraid to offend anyone?
By what authority, by whose decree, based on what new revelation have we so blatantly departed from the faith of the apostles? Who changed things?
Who changed things from the New Testament faith, where even the disciples could not minister without the Spirit’s enduement, to today’s version, where whole ministries are run with hardly any evidence of the Spirit’s work?
As A. W. Tozer once said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” This remains true of most of the contemporary church in the West.
Who changed things from a God-centered faith to a man-centered faith, from “Take up your cross and deny yourself” to “Bypass the cross and empower yourself”?
Who changed things from holiness being beautiful to holiness being bondage, and from the early church being known for its high standards to the contemporary church being known for its scandals?
Who changed things from the people of God being a threat to the powers of darkness to the people of God being active participants in darkness?
In the early church, Paul instructed the Corinthians to separate themselves from people who claimed to be believers but were living in outward, unrepentant sin (see First Corinthians 5). Today, some of those people lead our churches and preach from our pulpits. Who changed things?
Who changed things from a faith that was so focused on the life of Jesus and so infused with the reality of His death and resurrection that no sacrifice was considered too great and no act of service too extreme – to the contrary, suffering for Him was considered a privilege (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29) – to today’s convenience-store Christianity, where we have to “sell” salvation to the sinner by spicing up the deal with perks and benefits?
When did Jesus stop being enough? When did obedience become an option? When did keeping God’s commandments out of love for Him become “religious” (in the negative sense of the word)? Didn’t Jesus say that if we loved Him, we would keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21)? Who changed things?
If we belonged to another religion that claimed to have other books that supplemented the Bible or traditions that superseded it, that would be one thing. But we don’t. We believe the Scriptures alone are God’s Word and that nothing that comes after the Scriptures – no tradition, no alleged revelation, no consensus – can undermine or countermand the written Word of God.
So who changed things from the biblical version of the Jesus faith to the modern American version?
We can debate church history and blame this group or that group, and we can point out what is wrong with this denomination and that denomination. We might even have some great historical and contemporary insights. But unless we get back to believing what is written and acting on what is written, we will continue to perpetuate our merry-go-round Christianity with lots of noise and action and bells and whistles but with little authority, little purity, and little effect (if any).
I didn’t get the memo that God’s Word and Spirit were not enough, and I am far more concerned with what He says than with what the latest polls say. Really, now, since when did the Lord command us to fashion our preaching and our style of worship and even the way we look based on what’s trending?
If some church leaders choose to trust in worldly business models and carnal consulting firms, that is their choice. I say we go with the power of the name of Jesus and the wisdom of the Word of God and the fullness of the Spirit. I say we go with the New Testament model, applied with boldness and compassion to the needs of the day.
Years ago, Leonard Ravenhill said, “One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed.” I want to be that simple soul. How about you?
It Is Time
I refuse to believe that what we see in churches across America is what God planned for His people. I refuse to believe that it is the God-intended norm. The Word of God is against it. Church history is against it. What the Spirit is doing around the world is against it. What I have experienced in my own life is against it.
Everything inside me is shouting, “There must be more! We must go deeper!” Is that same voice shouting inside you?
There Must Be More
If the death and resurrection of Jesus are real – and they are – there must be more. If the outpouring of the Spirit is real – and it is – there must be more. If the promises of God are real – and they are – there must be more. If the requirements of the Lord are real – and they are – there must be more.
It is high time we quit trying to drag the Word of God down to our level of experience and commitment, trying to conform Scripture to our ways rather than conforming our ways to Scripture. Instead, we need to take hold of everything He has promised and everything He has called us to, and, by His grace, pursue and obey Him until His reality becomes our reality.
What’s Normal Anymore?
What does God’s reality look like? What is normal according to the Word? As I have said for many years, what the world calls fanaticism and most of the church calls extremism, God calls normal. In the words of Leonard Ravenhill, “Christianity today is so subnormal that if any Christian began to act like a normal New Testament Christian, he would be considered abnormal.”
What does normal look like, according to Jesus? “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39).
What does normal look like, according to Paul? (Let’s remember that Paul told us to follow his example; see First Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9.) “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20-21).
Unfortunately, as expressed by Watchman Nee, “By the time the average Christian gets his temperature up to normal, everybody thinks he has a fever.”
I say it’s time we burn. In fact, the Word commands us to be fervent (which means red-hot) in spirit in Romans 12:11, so that others can catch fire as well.
They can call us crazy, judge us as religious extremists, and put us out of their company. But if we walk in humility, if we bless and don’t curse, if we honor those in authority while determining to obey the Lord no matter what, the fruit of our lives will be the proof of God’s goodness. And people will come flocking to us, saying, “I need what you have. How can I experience more of God in my life?”
Our Fitting Response
Missionary C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” This is the reality we must live by.
The glorious Son of God shed His blood on our behalf, dying for our sins so we could belong to God, bringing us into His family as brothers and sisters. His Father is now our Father, and we are joint heirs with Him (Rom. 8:14-17). This is the truth that we are responding to with our lives. Such divine love demands nothing less than everything.
The key is ever setting these facts before our gaze. When we forget what the true New Testament faith looks like and what it should be built upon, our response weakens. Our devotion wanes cold. Passion comes and goes. Suddenly our faith becomes expressed through a weekly event, not a moment-to-moment lifestyle.
Studd summons us back to the wondrous Cross and the radical call of that Cross. And yet when we give our everything to follow the Savior, He in turn gives everything to empower us for the journey ahead.
Consider the words of Paul: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). All things!
That is the glorious Gospel. How should we respond?
Jesus says, “Follow Me” – and that means all that we have, all that we are, and all that we ever could be belongs to Him. We now live to do His will, with our eyes set on Him, and our life goal is to know Him and make Him known, regardless of cost or consequence.
That is normal, according to the New Testament.
As Paul wrote in Second Corinthians, Jesus died for all so that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
Or, as he said to the Colossians, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).
Or, as expressed by Peter, we are to live “for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:2).
This is beautiful, not binding – our act of gratitude as recipients of grace, not our futile effort to receive His grace. And because of that grace and mercy, we belong totally to Him: “Therefore,” Paul writes, “I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service” (or “your spiritual worship”) (Rom. 12:1 NET).
So let us crucify every distraction; let us count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God; let us ask the Spirit to work afresh in our lives; and let us take hold of the challenge that fueled the fires of D. L. Moody’s life, as spoken to him by revivalist Henry Varley: “Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.”
Isn’t it time that our nations see what God will do with a man or woman fully consecrated to Him? Isn’t it time that our generation has a true demonstration of the Gospel? This is normal, not abnormal, and so I encourage you to join me in striving to be normal in the Lord’s sight, by the grace and power of God.
– Taken from THE FIRE THAT NEVER SLEEPS by Michael L. Brown and John Kilpatrick with Larry Sparks, © Copyright 2015 – Michael L. Brown and John Kilpatrick with Larry Sparks. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg PA 17257.
Michael L. Brown is founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, host of a daily talk radio show, author of more than 35 books, and is widely considered to be the world’s foremost Messianic Jewish apologist.