Just look at me. LOOK AT ME!! OK, Okay…. that’s a little over the top, but it is, in a nutshell, the primary first impression that unbelievers are often asked to respond to when confronted with ‘Christian’ ministry. The enemy knows quite well that man’s greatest vulnerability is in his own reflection. The Roman poet Ovid, a contemporary of the incarnate Christ, writes about the dangers of self-obsession in his ‘Metamorphoses’. He introduces the characters of Echo and Narcissus, and sounds a literary warning about the dangers of pandering to people’s love of their own voice, and of inordinate affection for their own image. Seems as if the pagans get it a little better than the church sometimes. There is an urban legend that when Cornwallis surrendered to the Patriots at Yorktown, the Continental Army band struck up a rousing rendition of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, mockingly embracing the foppish and dismissive insult tendered toward them by the European fines of the day (a feather in a coonskin cap? really?). Secular literature, tribal tradition, and all sorts of miscellaneous folklore have dealt with the issue of excessive self-celebration and unbridled vanity, but it seems that the modern church has to keep learning that lesson over and over again. In the mean time, the lost are often expected to see past representations of the redeemed life that run counter to lessons they learned way back in grade school about the dangers of excessive pride and vanity.
The biblically sanctioned means by which to communicate God’s goodness to those who have no appreciation for the Word of God is personal testimony, but it is not intended to be a verbal regurgitation of one’s own psychoses to elicit the sympathy of others. Sharing the message of Christ’s goodness is not an excuse for unsolicited participation in an impromptu group therapy session, but an opportunity to offer proof of His presence in the life of the believer. The point is not simply ‘look at me’, it must always be ‘look at His work IN me’ – and the distinction is vital! That said, we tend to fumble that one with alarming alacrity. One well known preacher went so far at to say “….give god the glory, but take the credit for your work”. What an interesting thought, and how dangerous. Not that it’s wrong to expect people to know what you’ve done for the sake of the Kingdom, but that the need to be recognized for it is such a casually accepted and even condoned insistence. What of humility? What of modesty? What of righteousness? An evangelist friend said something during a revival service at our church a few years ago that I’ve never forgotten. It was near the peak of the ‘name it and claim it’ virus that so many believers had picked up from their boob tubes. He said that it wasn’t that he didn’t believe God couldn’t get him a new luxury car, but that God had delivered him from the vanity of wanting one. I doubt that will get him a spot on TV any time soon, but WOW!
Old-timers had an amazingly simple solution, revealed to them through scripture, that our modern theological shallowness avoids like the plague – sanctification. The very idea that we can and should live life apart from submission to the impulses of our ever present flesh – that we can say no to the greed, lust, pride, vanity….you know the list, and that we have the power, once received by faith, to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). The hindrance is the lack of will to do so, the winking excuses for not doing so, and the celebration of those who don’t do so. There is a grace subsequent to salvation (By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God – Romans 5:2, (emphasis mine)) – a crisis experience of faith that results in re-orientation and re-definition of what we do, not just who we are (i.e. salvation). This grace is the product of faith exercised and not just internalized. It results in a purely voluntary submission to the excellence of God’s ways over our ways, and a deferral to the judgment of the one whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Once that grace is accepted by faith, and the life is surrendered toward God’s purposes over our own, then and only then is the heart prepared to be genuinely baptized in the Holy Ghost and empowered for true purpose. The modern Charismatic appropriation of manifestation without transformation is a mockery of the purpose of His infilling, and it feeds a sort of spiritual narcissism rather than an empowering for service.
An authentic Holy Ghost baptism into the life of a genuinely sanctified believer creates an irresistible and comprehensively presented witness of Christ’s true power to redeem, not just another flashy alternative to stimulation starved unbelievers. One leaves the haunting imprint of the Spirit’s conviction in their mind while the other is summarily filed away among their other interesting play things – one causes them to say ‘WOW, that’s cool!’, while the other causes them to say ‘MMMM’ in convicted reflection. The true power of witness lies in the sanctified behavior and invocation of Christ’s message, not the manifestations of the inhabitant. It’s the difference between ‘God can’ and ‘God did!. The disciples marveled to Christ that even the devils were subject to them ‘through thy name’ (Luke 10:17), not through any particular thing they were doing. The popularly accepted practice of dismissing the convictions of our ‘Holiness’ fathers and mothers is in fact a dismissal of the purity of their intent and abandonment of their righteous ulterior motives. It was to remove every vestige of carnal distraction from the outward appearance so that when they interacted with the world, they did so as something brand new inscribed on what John Locke called the ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) – not littered and festooned with the graffiti of the world out of which their witness calls the observer to come, but clearly reflecting the purity, freshness, ‘other-ness’ of their deliverance. The cartoon that occupies so much of our vision of the ideal these days is more Hercules than Samson, more Sheena than Deborah, and seeks to entice the world to Christ rather than engage the lost with the witness of His Holy Spirit’s power to redeem. The true witness of the spirit empowered Christian insists upon a particular response – not ‘ain’t I something?!’, but “oh, what a Savior!”