Is the Christian life a life of peace, or is the Christian life a life of warfare? It’s a great question with a stunningly simple answer, and it came in the form of a 2005 regional conference message from John Piper in Greenville, SC. Here’s Pastor John.
Lord Jesus on the Damascus road says to Paul: I send you. “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:17–18). I send you to open their eyes. Right. Right. Paul knew good and well God alone opens eyes.
Second Corinthians 4:6, “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul knew that. He wrote that. He knew that God alone can raise the dead. God alone can give hearing to the ear. God alone can give light, spiritual light, to the blind eye. And he makes humans an essential element, a means in the process called evangelism. Or, he makes you a key player in your fight for joy. It is his gift. He alone can give it, and you must fight for it.
Now that produces a certain modesty, I think, in the fight. When I say you must fight and only God can give, it should create a certain modesty in the fight. I use that phrase because it seems the best alternative to the presumption that comes with thinking, “I can make this happen.” He tells me to rejoice in the Lord and always rejoice (Philippians 4:4). All right. He tells me to do it. I will do it. There is a certain presumption there that just doesn’t fit with everything I have seen so far.
Here are some texts that describe the modesty of the Christian claim on God. Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” There is a certain modesty as you go into battle. “I will make my horse ready. I will strap it tight. I will put my sword in my hand. I will get a good night’s rest. I will eat breakfast properly. I will stoke the engines of my flame for God. But victory is in the hands of the Lord. Joy belongs to the Lord.”
Or Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Be a planning people. Be planning churches. Oh yes, don’t live planless lives. Just be modest. Your plans may or may not happen, and God will decide. And be happy about that. Be totally happy about that.
Or Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Be a watchman and build a house. But just be modest. If your house gets built, God built it. And if nobody attacks the city, God kept them from attacking the city.
We have a place in causality whether it is our joy, guiding our steps, growing a church, leading someone to Christ. We have an indispensable place on planet Earth. He wouldn’t have created us if there were not reason for us to be. But it is a modest place that ascribes to God the final say in whether I am happy today or not. We must not begrudge to God the seasons of winter that he may will for us when we have done all we can do to make ourselves as happy as we should be, and we are not. There are several things that this modesty accomplishes.
1) It guards me from thinking that I decisively produce the joy that God demands and, therefore, life becomes a series of techniques. I think one of the reasons in America that we are a technique people — I mean, just hope in magazine after magazine, mail after mail. “Here is the new technique for your marriage and the new technique for living the victorious Christian life and the new technique for growing the church” and technique, technique, technique. The reason we are technological people — whatever that word is — is because we are not modest. We don’t really emotionally embrace the fact that God has given us some things to do, but in the end we don’t have control. God has control.
That removes the attitude, “I am American. I have got to have results. So I will get people saved. And the way to get them saved is — if I can’t make them saved — is I will develop a technique that gets them saved on the beach immediately.” And that is where a lot of our evangelistic strategies have come from: a lack of submission to God’s sovereignty, a lack of modesty, and therefore the drive to produce managerial techniques that make things happen ourselves. That is one thing this view will help you avoid.
2) The second thing is that it will keep you from falling into legalism thinking that you can do this in order to gain God’s favor. You have got to have God’s favor first before you can do this. We will get there in a minute.
3) The third thing it does is help balance. I don’t know if you have ever struggled with this like I and people in my church do: the balance between, Life as fight and life as rest. Matthew 7:14, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” So the Christian life is hard, right? It is hard. It is a fight. It is war. That is one thing. And if that is the only way you think, you are probably going to be a sick person, because you also know another thing Jesus said in Matthew. That is Matthew 7. Always keep Matthew 11 and 7 together: 7, 11. Maybe you remember it that way. What did he say in chapter 11? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you” — say it, — “rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle [meek] and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).
Well Jesus, which is it? Rest or hard? Narrow? Am I am in your arms just kind of being brought to heaven, or am I swimming and stumbling and working and climbing and clawing? Is it restful to be a Christian, or is it war to be a Christian? And the answer is, It is both. And here is the way they come together: The war is to rest in the right place. And the whole world is telling you to rest in all the wrong places. Rest in money. Rest in success. Rest in your looks. Rest in your strength. Rest in your business. Rest. The world wants you to find your satisfaction, your restfulness, your peacefulness in insurance, padlocks, cruises, big fat retirements, big portfolios. These are all the restfulness commendations of the world. And the war is to rest in the right place. And it just happens to be rest for Christians who are worldly.
4) And another reason that I stress this modesty is that it does give all glory to God.