If someone has been reading in these parts for any time now it is pretty clear how enamored I am with Francis Schaffer’s two questions from A Christian Manifesto: “What does loyalty to Christ mean to you?” and, “Why are you a Christian?” Building on this Os Guinness reminds us that it used to be common parlance for people, Christians in particular, to “count the cost” before embarking upon an enterprise. It stands to reason that the loss of this kind of thinking has been detrimental on many levels first an foremost what it even means to be a Christian.
It can be argued that easy believeism, past legalisms, America being founded on rebellion all contributed to the failure to seriously consider and then follow what the demands of Christ actually are. But it is simply sin nature, Humans are born wanting to sin, pride an laziness are in us and that feeds our ability to blithely sail along ignoring Christ and then being shocked and appalled when we run into the rocks of his clear commands. Like all rude awakenings we tend to take umbrage rather than recognize it for what it really is, what Sheldon Vanauken called, a Severe Mercy.
Christians are not called to a charmed life of ease.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 6:24-26
Again count the cost, what does loyalty to Christ mean to you? Why are you a Christian? Yet in all of this there is a reason. Christ is purifying out, sanctifying the saint, which is a difficult yet beautiful process.
“but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
God is in this for our good and his glory. It is us who fight to abort this process because our pride tells us it is beneath our dignity.
And example of where we would fight the commands of God is in the perpetually ongoing debate over roles in marriage. The text says what it says about husbands and wives, but we reason that could could not have possibly meant that, there must be a way out. When in fact there is not only a practical reason but a deeper and more beautiful one.
“The reason the headship of the husband is so violently objected to is that is is misunderstood. First of all…* the Bible does not say men and women are unequal. Neither does the Church. There are no second-class citizens in the New Jerusalem. It is husbands and wives that are unequal. It is precisely in marriage that they enter into a relationship of superior to inferior – of head to body. And the difference there is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional, not organic. It is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgement as to talent. In ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows, Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think equality is based on the image of the march. IN a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade, nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the trinity. Marriage is a hierarchal game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching.” – R.F. Capon, Bed & Board
To survey the state of marriages today it appears there is much more marching going on than dancing.** A good bit of this could be traced to the cultural lies that the church is an idiot and doesn’t know what it is talking about with Headship. But more than that I suspect most couples failed to count the cost and ask what loyalty to Christ would look like in how they function in their marriage. Or to paraphrase Schaffer, Why did you get married? Capon points out the obvious illustration of the trinity marriage is supposed to display. God did have a plan and a purpose in creating marriage, it is not as if he was just spitballing when he brought the Woman to Adam in Genesis 2. If couples would work out their marriages with fear and trembling before the Lord perhaps marriage would be something that a lost and dying world actually wanted.
Aiming at Heaven
The law of God is, or should be, honey on our lips. But a hearty number of professing christians see it more like Jim Carry in Bruce Almighty, “God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant! He could fix my life in one second, but he’s rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm.” That feeling comes from disobedience and the discipline of a holy and good Father.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:7-11
This is the difficult process though which God is taking away with his left hand that which he intends to give back more so, in his right hand are pleasures and more pleasures forevermore.***
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 6:24-26
Coming across a command of God and rejecting it is gaining a portion of this lost and dying world at the expense of eternity. It is denying the dance in favor of goose-stepping to the drum beat of a fallen world. To go against the diktats of the world through obedience to Christ is to move further up and further into His glorious already not yet kingdom.
“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in, aim at Earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
An illustration of this is the issue of modesty. To be modest is to be set free. Cultures have dress codes. In Islamic nations women’s bodies are controlled through the mandated covering of their entire bodies in liberal nations women’s bodies are controlled through the mandated revealing of their bodies. To fail to go along with the culture in either case brings shame and condemnation. The Christian woman who refuses cultural norms in her conformity to Christ is the actual free one. She is not at the tyranny of the male or female gaze, she serves neither, she servers a higher authority that is deeply vested in her own joy. To seek approval of the world by indulging in pride and subsequent failure to reach an impossible standard is the essence of what Lewis means by aiming at the earth and gaining neither that nor Heaven.
My Kindergarteners Know this
When a man becomes a Christian he is transferred from being a slave to sin and made a co-heir with Christ. He leaves the domain of darkness, and citadels of unbelief and becomes naturalized to the kingdom of eternal light. That new citizenship, sonship, comes with blessings and obligations. All sin is premeditated, cosmic treason. Fortunately our Father is filled with grace and mercy, but that is not there for us to continue to trespass on his patience. Rather it should spur us on to higher and ever higher loyalty to Him. Or as my kindergarteners have been taught to sing:
“I’ll live each day to serve my Savior, for He’s my Lord and King.”
Loyalty to Christ is not a part time gig, compartmentalizing is not loyalty. Salvation is an all or nothing proposition. God will have no competitors. Those commands we so dislike are for our good, they are stripping away idols, of pride and power. Our time, our bodies, are not our own, they all were given a free gifts and we give them back as living sacrifices, for Him to do with as He wills. Count the Cost what does loyalty to Christ mean to you, if you can not, why are you a Christian?
“When Christ calls a man he bids him, come and die.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
It should not come as a surprised to the three regulars here that this blog expresses grave doubts about the actual number of christians occupying pews in churches. And it is for reasons like this. The average professing church goer would struggle to accurately articulate the gospel, and many of those people fill pastors inboxes on Monday mornings frequently because the word preached did not align with the gospel they assumed. Our salvation was hard won for us, we should count the cost to Christ, which is our gain, and count the cost to us, which is his gain in glory from our holy lives.
God is not a cosmic killjoy looking to deprive his children of their fun and games. He is a father who restrains us by his will from those things that are detrimental to us. Though they promise freedom they lie and enslave into a march into the outer darkness. Loyalty to Christ is an eternal dance underneath a glorious proscenium before an adoring audience of one. The lights, backdrop, and wings may feel limiting but they contain the dance for it’s greatest manifestation.
The texts that we would rather not be contained in the cannon are there and they are there for a reason. They are the boundaries of the dance. If you find yourself chaffing at them it would be healthy to beg the questions: What is loyalty to Christ worth to you? Why are you a Christian?
*Capon throws in an unhelpful jab about the apostle Paul being prejudiced against lady pastors here. Which I find ironic due to the fact that our roles in the church are also a ecclesiastical version of the dance he so wonderfully describes for marriage. Women Pastors are so clearly a move from the dance to a march and hilariously are the only kind of clergy that gets attention in an actual parade these days!
**In a similar vein Capon on the subject of masculinity and femininity in sex is wonderfully illustrative of this dance.
***I already quoted Screwtape once and Mere is coming up, a paraphrase seemed better form here. But yes if you thought that was too good to be me, you were right.