When I was a kid, I had a thing for zombie flicks. I adored them.
They never really gave me the creeps or kept me up at night because I always knew they weren’t real. Unfortunately, there’s been something of a resurgence of zombies lately and, in this instance, they are quite real.
The “living dead” in question have overrun, of all things, the church. In the form of what I will refer to here as the “wounded sinner concept”, the spiritually dead enemies of Christ have come to dominate His bride. With this post, I hope to shed a little light and inspire a little reformation so that this zombie horde might at least be recognized as the threat that it poses to every purpose of the church.
“Virtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God.”
“The sensuous Christian lives by his feelings. The spiritual Christian lives by the Word of God.”
Ours is an age of practical heresy. Simplicity and ease are our guiding principles. The path of least resistance is our favored route.
When did knowing God (as opposed to feeling or experiencing Him) become so unimportant to the church? When did His sovereignty lose its savor? When did we come to define God by worldly standards and test Him by our rules of fairness, goodness and the like? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
How is it that we came to the place where His nature and character became little more than moderately interesting theological fine points? How did the God who is the source and goal of every good thing in each of our lives become so utterly trivial to our daily thought life?
Whenever and however it happened, there’s little denying that we’ve become a very shallow people following a very shallow god. As we soberly survey our current situation, we’re sure to notice smoldering wreckage and lethargy where once stood intellectual vitality and pursuit. In the name of spiritualism, we’ve switched off our minds. In doing so we’ve starved our souls and completely compromised our witness to the majesty and glory of God.
The nature of God is the central pillar of the Christian worldview. Every other concept’s flavor and detail descends from our understanding of Him. A right knowledge of His perfect holiness and sovereignty always brings growth, peace, fulfillment and joy. Any corruption in our understanding of His nature and character invariably leads to a cascading series of ever increasing error, loss and pain.
Prayer life, thought life, sex life, politics, friendships, business, art, family…each of these are defined through our understanding of God. His nature and character are everything to us. Our only hope for recovery from the wretched state in which we find ourselves will come through more fully knowing and embracing the holy, sovereign God of Scripture.
Surely we can agree that perpetual increase in knowledge of God is life’s defining relationship for any Christian. It sustains and inspires us as nothing else can. Accepting this, it would follow that a right understanding of our God’s nature and character would be of paramount importance to those who claim Him as Lord. I suspect that very few contemporary Christians would express a contrary sentiment on this subject.
Yet we find ourselves in a strange place today. This seemingly obvious and necessary truth is not often exhibited by contemporary Christendom. What we see from the church is quite contrary indeed.
We swim about to and fro proclaiming the misguided and misguiding notion that the nature of God is nonessential. It’s an extra. As long as we have one central concept down – God is Love, with love being defined by whichever worldly whim prevails at the moment – we’re okay. All is well. Any details requiring more than bumper-sticker sized elaboration are issues for theologians to ponder if they feel the urge.
In our unending pursuit of ease and flight from conflict, we have chosen the quick route to shallow waters. There we have grown complacent and weak. Where once we dove deep and made waves, we now skim the surface and lazily bathe in the light of a dying world.
The Christian fish has come to love shallow waters. He has grown comfortable there. Unfortunately for this fish, his place of quiet, calm comfort is soon to disappear. The tide is about to turn.
We’ve been lured into these inviting waters for a purpose. The world that hates us desires our silence if it cannot have our death. Our enemies pursue the former so that they may one day achieve the latter. The peaceful place in which we’ve grown so complacent is actually a killing pool.
Our killing pool.
We’ve been separated from knowledge of the true nature of God, and once that happens in the life of a Christian, the best that can be hoped for is a sterile life of stagnation.
We have chosen such a life.
Knowledge of Him is essential. It is everything. His sovereignty is everything. His holiness is everything. He has revealed Himself to us for great purpose and benefit, but we have turned away. We prefer to gaze only where self can be found. Yet where He is, our precious, glorfied self cannot be.
And that has always been our greatest problem.
Stronger than any other urge in our fallen nature is the inclination to favor the self. It is our central sin. This narcissism obscures every good thing. It colors our perception so profoundly that, without His intervention, we would be utterly incapable of seeing, much less recognizing, any good thing whatsoever.
We know that this bent away from God and towards darkness is the inherent spirit of every fallen man. It is the nature of the rebellious. It is the natural state from which He has saved us, though we will struggle against it for the duration of our time in this fallen creation.
Unfortunately, many in the church seem to have largely given up the fight and indulged – even formally embraced – this self-focused inclination. We look to ourselves instead of to Him.
As we turn from His detail, light and truth towards our vagaries, darkness and delusion, our minds shrivel. Our theology suffers. Our politics suffer. Our relationships suffer. Our churches grow worldly and their light fades as we lose even the ability to rightly understand and define the very concept of evangelism. Our families grow weak and worldly. Our smiles grow hollow, our worries overtake us and our burdens increase beyond our ability to endure. Our spirits thirst for knowledge at the gates of our closed minds. Untethered to a loving, correct knowledge and adoration of His divine nature, we cannot fully live.
His holiness and sovereignty are nothing near the optional niceties and trivial attributes we’ve made them out to be. They are the core of His being and therefore they must be the heart of our desire. With this truth in mind, let us seek to embrace the essential beauty that is the nature and character of our Holy Lord. In doing so, I’d like to address a common argument used in the exaltation of self over God: The concept of the wounded sinner.
As we begin this examination, I think it wise to make note of the seesaw principle of doctrinal interpretation as presented here by Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse:
“We have long since adopted the old-fashioned method of the seesaw to test all doctrines. When children are riding two ends of a plank on a seesaw, we know that if one end is down the other is up, and if the first is up the second is down. So it is in the matter of all doctrines. There is an entire set of doctrinal interpretations which exalts man and abases God, and there is another set that exalts God and abases man. We may be absolutely sure that the path of truth, in every case, exalts God. How far did man fall? Only part way, say some, so that he still has the power within his lovable self to lift himself back to God. Man is up in that interpretation, and God is down. But did man fall all the way, so that not one man could ever have been saved unless God had moved to do it all? That abases man to the place where God has said he is, but it exalts God, and that is the true interpretation of the Word of God. The same rule of interpretation may be applied to all the doctrines in theology.”
Bringing glory to God through the complete exaltation of His nature is our goal and purpose. The explicit truth and beauty of His sovereignty and holiness is our everything. Without it, we are lost. We can only find truth when we lay all glory at His feet.
This is, among other things, call to reformation.
Through heeding this call all other things can and will be restored.
Our marriages, homes and friendships will flourish. Our businesses will thrive. Our churches will reclaim their commission and once again bring the brightest light to a fallen world. Our communities and nation will re-emerge from the abyss. Our bodies, minds and spirits will soar as never before.
These things are promised to us, but only through reformation.
“There is a long-standing controversy in the church as to whether God really is Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it.”
“How, then, is any man to be saved? God answered this dilemma by the doctrine of election based on the vicarious, substitutionary atonement as provided in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The great hatred which exists in some quarters against the doctrine of election is readily understandable in the light of the fact that Satan was ignorant of it, and that its introduction, as a sort of secret weapon, insured his own eternal defeat and provided for the salvation of the great company of believers who shall, under the graciously given title and position of sons of God, rule the universe for God throughout all eternity.”
Donald Grey Barnhouse
Fallen man is dead – completely, utterly, incontrovertibly dead in sin.
This is a critical issue that has been successfully confused by the enemy.
Where our adversary has clouded the matter, let us now seek the clarity our loving Lord has provided and yield our selves to it. The simple truth of spiritual death as the default position of fallen man is critical to the understanding of salvation and of great importance in knowing the nature of God.
The dead do nothing good. They stink as they rot. That’s about it, and even these are passive activities.
This is the state in which man finds himself.
The Christian must understand that man is born into a state of spiritual death and that he is, by definition, utterly devoid of any ability whatsoever to alter his situation. He knows no good thing. He sees no good thing. He seeks no good thing. As a dead spiritual being, he is deprived of even awareness of his condition and is incapable of action. The only world he knows is death. He cannot comprehend, much less pursue or interact with, the world of life.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)
This is a point worthy of pause.
Accepting without qualification that fallen man is dead is essential to understanding the nature of sin and the necessity for a completely external intervention where salvation is concerned. Put another way: God has to do everything in order to make a dead man live.
The man makes no contribution.
He does not call out or lift a finger toward the light. The dead do not speak or move.
Any notion that fallen, sinful, rebellious and spiritually dead beings can of their own accord recognize and reach out to the Holy God of Scripture should be purged from the Christian mind. The errors inspired by this one critical misconception alone are so voluminous and corrosive that their detrimental impact cannot be overstated.
Fallen man is dead. As such, he cannot reach out, approach, call for or even see God. God must first come to him and breathe life into his spiritual carcass before it can even see Him and respond in obedience.
Charles Spurgeon explained man’s situation this way:
“Some say that man may through his own efforts attain salvation – that if he hears the Word, it is in his power to receive it, to believe it, and to have a saving change worked in him by it.
To this we reply, You do not know what man is by nature; otherwise, you would never have ventured to make such an assertion. Holy Scripture tells us that man by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). It does not say that he is sick; that he is faint; that he has grown callous, hardened, and seared, but it says that he is absolutely dead.”
The issue here is rather simple, really. It is clear.
Only a fallen will could choose to miss it, and that’s exactly what ours are prone to do. The Apostle Paul knew this all too well:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:18 (ESV)
The clearer our understanding is on this crucial matter, the greater God becomes. Hand in hand with his ascension is our decline as we shrink into insignificance, all in perfect harmony with the simple seesaw principle enunciated by Dr. Barnhouse. Ultimately, God becomes all and we become nothing.
The countless manners in which we contort, spin, scramble and disassemble this crystalline truth is aimed at one goal and one goal alone: The preservation of self and its glory.
And this is where the greatness of our problem also becomes a bit clearer.
Where we play the decisive role, we must deserve credit. Where we deserve credit, we deserve glory. Where we have any glory, He does not have all glory.
Enter: The thief.
As long as self is credited with any good thing, there is a thief at work. As thieves who have laid claim to God’s own honor, we have corrupted our relationship with Him.
Our philosophies are all tainted, more often than not with terrible consequence.
What we read – how we read – is colored by this corruption. What we think is corrupted as well. How we worship, pray, do business, vote, court and entertain is all altered to accommodate the primacy of the self.
Even our evangelical efforts are profoundly perverted. Indeed, our very understanding and definition of evangelism itself has been wholly compromised by the warped notion of the wounded sinner.
“Let any man create a fly, and afterward let him create a new heart in himself.; until he has done the lesser thing, he cannot do the greater. Besides, no man will. If any man could convert himself, there is no man who would.”
“Far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently.”
The “wounded sinner” simultaneously plagues and infatuates Christendom. His perceived state has come to define the modern day evangelical movement. The very nature of God has been profoundly distorted as a prerequisite for propping up the wounded sinner mirage. Consequently, evangelism’s pursuit has been confounded and confused.
With a belief in the wounded sinner, we have become number driven. Or, put another way, we’ve become glory driven – the glory in question being of the results-verified, self-validating sort. The other edge of this sword brings us the dreadful burden of failure felt when we don’t see the results we desire in pursuit of the honor we so desperately seek. We’ve become slaves to an unbiblical burden to achieve. We judge our success by conversions witnessed and wonder what we might be doing wrong when the numbers don’t point in the “right direction”. Hand in glove with this pressure to perform comes the pressure to conform.
With every man having the same option to vote God in as the next and our result-based glory at stake, the call to joyous proclamation and witness becomes a burden of impossible weight. The wills of men ultimately decide salvation; they will choose the elect. If this is so, our battles with these wills take on a nature never conveyed in Scripture. We are subsequently reduced to the role of pathetic marketers of a reasonable god.
As man is exalted from being “dead in sin” to the “wounded sinner”, God is inexorably devalued. In complete harmony with this realignment comes the redefinition of evangelism itself, elevating our choice and actions as well as those of the wounded sinner to preeminence while eliminating God as the complete Sovereign of His elect. The seesaw is not where it needs to be. Man has been lifted off the ground and God has been lowered in kind. This most dangerous of concessions started us, as it always does, down the slippery slope of compromise with a world that hates us and despises our God.
Yet down that slope we enthusiastically go, accelerating the plunge through our defense of it even as the resultant carnage unfolds before our eyes.
Light, fluffy sermons heavy on milk and light on meat become the norm, as not to scare off the wounded sinners among us. The wretched nature of fallen man is minimized as a matter of routine and love is redefined to include only the most Hallmark worthy of sentiments. The jealous, vengeful God of Moses’ time is said to have “changed” somewhere midstream into a much more pleasant, reasonable fellow. Confrontation is avoided at all costs. “Girls Gone Wild, Bible Style” Scripture study CD sets become not only defensible, but desirable as a mechanism of outreach to the “spiritually wounded”.
Anything to get the attention of the wounded sinner. And when we say anything, we mean anything. Any secular, worldly, rebellious, God-hating thing becomes worthy of emulation. The ends now justify the means.
In the name of Christ, we’ve compromised Him at every turn, all by first denying His sovereignty. We’ve become ashamed of His truth and open cowards in an attempt to appease and lure “wounded sinners” into our midst. And in this we have had great success.
So successful have we been, in fact, that many of our congregations now overflow with wounded sinners. The wounded sinner has come to define many of our churches’ teachings and preaching. These wounded sinners are our comfort, our hope and our joy. They are the motivation for every program, strategy and sermon.
All of this for wounded sinners who in reality do not even exist.
These are dead men and women in our midst. Totally, completely, incontrovertibly dead spiritual beings who are utterly incapable of seeing, much less recognizing and reaching out to, the God of Scripture and His Kingdom. At the end of the day, we’ve tailored our programs, messages and strategies – our teaching and preaching – to accommodate the dead.
So it is that self-centered glorification and “evangelism” have led to death-centered churches. The spiritually dead are embraced, included and encouraged in every way. They come to influence and mold every facet of church organization and pursuit. Church energy and resources become more and more dedicated towards catering to the hopes and desires of spiritual corpses. While zombies are enthusiastically fed in the name of Christ, His sheep are left to starve.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
James 4:4 (ESV)
“Evangelicals were once known as “the serious people.” It is sad to note that today many evangelicals are the most superficial of religious believers – lightweight in thinking, gossamer-thin in theology, and avid proponents of spirituality-lite in terms of preaching and responses to life.”
The dead have come to define much of the church of Christ.
This is what is known in strict theological terms as “a problem”.
In the names of Christ and evangelism, we’ve overseen the transformation of His church. And lest we assume that this is all the accidental effect of misguided but well-intentioned believers, we may rest assured that there are no accidents at work here. There never are. This is not a random thing we’ve witnessed. It has all been carefully crafted. In this transition from God-centered glory and evangelism to the relentlessly self-serving, numbers and results oriented marketing of salvation, we see the unmistakable stamp of the enemy. This is all by his design.
By this design, the elect suffer.
The church home that should be dedicated to deep worship and the equipping His people for the mission of true evangelism has instead gone wandering off, chasing after the mirage of wounded sinners. This glory-seeking church rabidly gives chase with a bouquet of sterilized slogans and homogenized logos in one hand and a warm, ready-to-pat-on-the-back pose cocked and loaded in the other.
As a consequence of our preoccupation with the dead, the elect are not fed. Their growth ceases, if it ever began. They are not equipped to tear down enemy strongholds or destroy enemy positions. They are not equipped to evangelize. The people of God are neglected; left to individually pursue depth and His purpose without the effective support of the body.
This is a great tragedy.
We must return the church to its true calling. Through reformation, we will once again measure church growth first by depth and then by breadth. We will equip believers for the glorious task that the Lord has set before us. We will lay all glory at His feet. We will then be able to proclaim and evangelize…finally evangelize!
From subject to subject, every thought, concept, idea and ideal pondered in the minds of men is inexorably attached to and shaped by the nature of God. This foundational truth must guide us along our path.
Our minds will be renewed as we embrace the Holy God of Scripture. Our Father will open our eyes and hearts to His nature. His character will come to fully form our opinions an all things. Our wills shall be conformed to His, to our everlasting benefit and His everlasting glory.
As we seek, find and submit to Him fully, we will cringe at our current state but above and beyond any anguish or anxiety we may encounter will be the pervasive, perfect, ever gracious love of our Lord. He has brought us to this place for great purpose. He has given us eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart for action.
He has called us to a great mission. He will equip us for the success that He has assured.
Let us now see and hear so that we may soon act, and in doing so bring all glory to Him.
An essential initial step towards this place of perfect peace, purpose and effective action is the dismantling of the “wounded sinner” concept. When this is done, beautiful things will follow.
There will be no more zombie-driven programs.
No more zombie-sensitive strategies.
No more zombie-coddling sermons.
God will be fully glorified. The church will be restored. Christ’s sheep will be fed, and His bride will experience the sort of peace, fulfillment and joy that simply cannot be found where the “wounded sinner” myth prevails.
And then, Lord willing, zombies will be saved.
Copyright 2014 Scott Alan Buss