THE ATHENIAN SPIRIT
The Search for New Instead of Deep
Acts 17: 21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Paul was burdened by the idolatry which ran rampant through the city of Athens. While he waited upon Timothy and Silas to come Paul went into the temple and shared the gospel. The philosophers were told that this Jew was spreading some strange doctrine and they desired to hear what Paul was teaching. Philosophers loved to hear something new which they could adopt and tell to others. It is a sign of great intellect and thinking. So Paul stood in the midst of mars hill and preached the gospel to the Athenians.
When I first became a believer I never heard of a church called “Mars Hill” church. But they have sprung up in these last days. I suppose it implies that this church can present truth with great erudition and intellect and with great reason. And many times in these same churches they find things that are new in the Scriptures. Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll started churches that were named Mars Hill Church. And they both found many things in the Scripture that were new interpretations and insights into Scriptures. And those churches grew rapidly.
People in fast paced western cultures desire to hear something new. They have little tolerance for the same old things. And in this present day people do not want to hear the same old gospel especially if it means digging deeper into old truths. They want to hear things that are relevant to their desires and their lifestyles. And so we have constructed a religious system which appeals to the flesh and which presents false hopes and false achievements that are based upon earthly rewards. The deeper things of Christ are rejected in favor of earthly success and earthly pursuits.
On one side of the modern church system you have pragmatism, nationalism, material gain, and other things found in this fallen world. On the other side you have religious philosophy, salvation through humanitarian deeds, and a universalism that teaches that God will eventually save everyone. Of course there are other streams of evangelical thought which borrow from both extremes, but in general the extremes have found a home within most of the visible church structures and practices and belief systems. And what is common to all is the pursuit of the new.
Do you see when the newest Christian celebrity comes upon the scene? Today it is Joseph Prince. He is the new and fresh person who comes with new and fresh revelation straight from God. Of course there must be great music, large screen technology, many things for sale through the ministry, and wonderfully produced television programs. His teachings on grace appeal to the selfish flesh and give great comfort to those who wish to live unremarkable lives within a culture of hedonism. And we will applaud him until the next celebrity appears.
So with all the man worship and the attraction for the new, the church has long since ceased striving for the deep. The cross is now old hat and is given fleeting mention and hardly any attention. The resurrection is not studied and embraced as the divine revelation that substantiated the cross and all that Jesus was and taught. It is viewed and something we can use to start over. We can breathe new life into our business and family and career and set a new course for earthly success. Who meditates upon the divine mystery of Christ’s resurrection? Who is moved to tears and a breathtaking awe just considering the glory of when the Son of God rose from the dead? Again, everyone seeks a quick fix Christianity without the inconvenience of delving into the depths of God’s eternal truths.
The church has lost all appetite for the spiritual food which comes from seeking and praying and fasting and meditating and searching for the deeper wonders of the simple truths of God. Who beseeches the Spirit to open our hearts and minds and unlock the precious jewels that lay hidden deep within those truths listed in statements of faith? Like a man who eschews all soft drinks for several years. He eventually loses his taste for them and many times they no longer appeal to him. He has gone without them and learned to live without them as well.
And that is where the church is today. We have learned to live without seeking and feeding upon the glorious mysteries of the cross and resurrection. We have sculpted the Lord Jesus into a western genie and given Him a place in our doctrine. But that is a clever and self serving caricature and not the eternal Christ. Let us look at a teaching of the Apostle Paul’s.
II Cor.3: 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Look at this glorious teaching! This is not something that can be glossed over and used for church water cooler conversation. In fact rare is the church member who even discussed such things. What is Paul speaking of? This is the fine china of spiritual truth. It cannot be learned by a cheat sheet or by looking on someone else’s doctrinal paper or by some theological cliff notes. It will not unfold and reveal all its treasures in a sermon series. But let us go on in the next chapter.
II Cor.4: 4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.
6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Stand back and see what glorious mysteries are contained just in these few verses. This is not the “Purpose Driven Life” or “Your Best Life Now” pragmatism which appeals to the earth man and can easily be understood and implemented in our pursuit of success. This is richness offered to those who diligently seek it. It is a gift of truth which is unspeakable and full of glory. This is not some Scripture-bit which you place on a small tract. These are truths which can only be understood by believers and which can only be known by an authentic and sacrificial journey which will not be denied. They are deep truths that have an unfathomable amount of layers and which minister and strengthen the man of the Spirit.
Oh how malnourished is the spiritual man in the American church. He has been fed the fast food of materialism, success, self esteem, nationalism, and the all the accoutrements of the surrounding culture. And yet here we read some profound truths that could provide such spiritual meat which would be used to mold us more into the image of Christ. But when you are addicted to sugar you avoid meat. When donuts are your staple then steak is for others. And the church has for so long survived on fast food that it no longer even sees that spiritual depth is contained in Scripture. Being anti gay marriage is now the mark of a deep believer.
But like the Athenians the church looks for the new activity, the new youth program, the new sermon series, the new conference, the new truth, the new speaker, the new book, the new CD, and anything and everything that is new. You see, the excitement of the new activates interest and the old truths are just plain old. The cross? The resurrection? We’ve heard that story before ad infinitum. Gives us something new with immediate affirmation and fulfillment without the demands of personal diligence and a relentless spiritual pursuit. In essence, we want everything without sacrifice, without self denial, without time, and without any cost at all. Like the Athenians give us something new which can carry us over until the next new thing.
There is a cost however to a deeper revelation of the foundational and eternal truths. When you say “the cross” everyone knows to what you are referring. But that term is just a term if that is where you stop. “The cross” is only a phrase that refers to an event that happened over two thousand years ago. And to most believers that is the beginning and the end of their understanding. They do not wish to sacrifice time to seek the vast amount of revelation contained in that phrase. In fact most believers have no idea what you even mean when you say “seek” as it pertains to things of the Spirit. They know what they have been told to believe and what more can there be? Their orthodoxy can be proved on paper.
But when you read the gospel accounts of the crucifixion over and over again without being pressed by temporal needs and schedules you can allow the Spirit to guide you into some glorious places. Some of them you can share as well as you can, while others you cannot begin to speak. In fact sometimes the Spirit ministers certain depths of eternal truths which you only partially understand but which thrill your soul and change your heart. And if you are a student of the Word, and if you are a disciple of prayer, many times the things which were revealed to you which you could not fully understand are subsequently opened to you down the road in a time of reading God’s Word when you were not even seeking to understand what was living within your spirit. And then, without warning, you read a portion of Scripture and in a sacred moment a kernel of truth bursts open with understanding that had you previously perplexed.
And that, my friends, is a wonderful and amazing gift of God’s grace. And when you go to share that with another believer many times that believer will nod as if they already had known it, but you can discern they have no idea about which you speak. It is one thing to know narratives and doctrines, but it is quite another to know them in a way which literally changes your heart and expands that same heart to receive more. It is very difficult to define knowing from knowing. In the Star Trek series each spaceship was equipped with a holodeck. It was a simulated reality facility where you could actually step into a Shakespearian play, or at an historical event, or anything that could be programmed. So it is one thing to read an historical account, but you could experience that event in a simulated reality.
Even though that is a clumsy example it still provides a difference between reading about something but also having that event significantly impact you even though you were not there as it happened. I am not trying to sound spooky, but I am trying to present to you a ministry of the Spirit who can take truth and make it such a reality to us that we literally experience the power and authority of that truth. And after the mind understands that truth, and after we pray and meditate upon that truth, and after we see the very essence of that truth and how it unfolds within the Person of Christ, then the Spirit can miraculously take that truth and infuse it into our spirits in such a way that our entire being feels its weight. And then we are changed.
But, alas, the modern believer has no time for such intangibles. We need earthly utensils which can be used to hewn out a more prosperous earthly life. These lofty thoughts belong to dreamers and not to the evangelical foot soldier who struts and frets his hour upon the ecclesiastical stage. But I strongly suggest to you my fellow believer that for those who tread spiritual water and dive no deeper than a Sunday morning service, well there is a life which beckons beneath the waters of this earthly life. And under the wind and waves of this temporal life is the Living Christ. And if you truly desire Him, and if you dare to look beyond yourself, then you may go as deep as your heart will carry you.
And I can promise you this: You will never be disappointed in what is granted unto your heart and life.
Col.2: 2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Oh the treasures in Christ that are waiting for anyone to discover!