Prepare to be Surprised (PH)

By Paul Hayden

The Christian life is full of surprises. The biggest one of all is right at the beginning. On December 25th 1977, when I prayed, “God, if you exist, let me know,” I got the biggest surprise of my life when He actually answered, not by an audible voice, but by a quickening in my heart.

 John Wesley talked about his heart being “strangely warmed,” and I have heard many other testimonies from people to whom this has happened, and who least expected it at the time. Being transformed from darkness to light, is the biggest surprise you’re ever going to get.

 Acts 26:18

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

 2 Corinthians 4:6

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.

 But after our conversion too, the Christian life continues to be full of surprises.

 Three weeks after my heart had been changed so permanently, I had a desire to go to church. I wasn’t from a church-going family, so I had no idea what to expect. I was thoroughly convinced that everybody else in church would have had the same experience as myself. Wrong. This was the next surprise. I couldn’t find anybody who had had the same experience at all. Most people I met in church had been born and brought up in the church. It was just a social club to them. They had absolutely no idea about the new birth, and the new life that the Lord gives to all who truly repent and turn to Him.

 And it wasn’t long before I discovered that many churches didn’t even teach the Bible at all. Another surprise. I eventually learned that churches that call themselves “evangelical,” were the ones that did. So I have migrated towards evangelical churches ever since. The Bible warms my heart. Every time I read it, I get the same experience as the two on the road to Emmaus:

 Luke 24:32

And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

 But the surprises didn’t stop there. I had spent several years in evangelical churches, when I came across some students who started talking about the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. I’d never heard these expressions before, because I had been cocooned in Arminian churches, where they don’t tell you about these things.

 These students were telling me that I didn’t have free will. I was shocked at this. “Of course I’ve got free will,” I thought. I am free to choose what I like. But the argument wouldn’t go away in my mind. After six months of thinking on these things, I woke up one morning and realised that they were right. I do have a free will to choose what colour socks to wear every day, but I have no free will whatsoever to choose good. I’m a slave to sin. We all are.

 This was like having my legs kicked from under me. Everything I had been taught in the past, even in evangelical circles, was wrong. I had to go back to the beginning and relearn everything I had blindly taken in. I realised that preachers can be wrong. A preacher can appear so confident in the pulpit that he’s right, but we should still be like the Bereans, who didn’t even believe Paul the Apostle until they had themselves compared what he had taught with the Scriptures:

 Acts 17:11

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

 OK. So I’ve now moved to a Calvinistic evangelical church, and I’m not following the pastor blindly. Good. Praise the Lord. But I was then led astray, would you believe it, by my love for the truth. In my hunger for correct doctrine, which in itself is good, I sought out the church that seemed to have the most correct doctrine. I knew all along that no church was perfect, but at least I could attend the best I could find. And everything was fine for a while. Even today I can recommend the preaching there.

 But..... the shock came when I realised that I could go to a church that seemed to have everything right doctrinally (well, most things anyway), but there would still be three main problems: 

 Firstly, it tended to be quite exclusive. Joining that church, you are separating yourselves from every other Christian who isn’t quite as doctrinally enlightened yet (and probably never will be until they die).

 Secondly, the ministers are held in too high esteem. That’s in order to keep the doctrine pure. They are the only ones who are allowed to preach, who supposedly have the correct doctrine and who are expected to be followed implicitly. No man should ever be exalted like that.

 Thirdly, to them, a good church is defined solely on how sound in doctrine it is. But you can have all the right theology and still go to hell. Nobody anywhere is going to have all their theology right anyway:

 1 Corinthians 8:1-2

Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

 Right theology is not what defines a Christian, although we should be seeking truth. It’s whether you are born-again in your heart that defines a true Christian.

 And then, another surprise. I used to know an old lady, who knew her Bible very well and was a professing Christian. And I had no reason to doubt her profession, she seemed to exhibit many Christian graces such as kindness, patience and so on. She had been a Christian for a lot longer than I had, so I certainly respected her. But she had a problem with the church we were both attending at the time. She didn’t like the church talking about indwelling sin in the believer.

 To back herself up, she came up with this Bible text:

 Hebrews 10:1,2

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.”

 This tells us that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament could never take away sin, but were only ever meant to be a picture of the true sacrifice that would come later in Christ. The argument is that, if they could have taken away sin, then they would have ceased to have been offered and the worshippers “should have had no more conscience of sins.”

Now we all know that animal sacrifices can never take away sin, but Christ’s blood can. So this lady was quite adamant that if we continue to think about indwelling sin all the time, then we still have a conscience of it and therefore we can’t be true Christians, because we can’t have had our sins taken away by Christ yet. That’s what this verse, in her mind, was effectively saying.

 But my Christian experience is very different. Now I have become a Christian, the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in my heart, and it is as though a light has been switched on. I now see all the dark and dingy corners of my life I never saw before. In fact, the closer I get to Christ, the more sin I see in myself. Yes, of course, as a true believer, I know, praise God, it has all been forgiven. It has all been taken care of and put on Christ... 

 Galatians 2:20

...who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

 But as a Christian, I still have an ongoing struggle with indwelling sin. I don’t like my sin, I don’t want to do it, I hate it. I don’t do it deliberately or wilfully, but I fall into it. I never had this problem before I became a Christian. Sin never bothered me then. But it does now. The apostle Paul concluded about himself:

 Romans 7:24,25

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

 And I’m a wretched man as well. But, thanks be to God, I have a Saviour who has saved me from this wretched condition, and has put a new heart within me so I can now to some extent begin to live the life He wants me to live. But this experience of a spiritual battle within the Christian, was totally foreign to the likes of this old lady.

 I tried to explain to her that after we become a Christian we still sin, and I quoted the Lord’s Prayer: 

 Luke 11:4

Forgive us our sins.”

 We still have to ask forgiveness for our sins from God on a regular basis, even though we are truly born-again Christian people. But she simply told me, “Well, you’ve come out of Egypt, but you’ve not entered the Promised Land yet!”

 At least we can still have Christian fellowship with someone who differs from us in a point of doctrine. We can put that down to the fact that either they, or we, or both, haven’t come to a full knowledge of the truth on that issue yet. If we are both truly born-again of the Spirit of God, we can still have sweet fellowship with each other despite the differences. But anyone who claims to be born-again, and has had no experience at all of indwelling sin, I really have difficulty having fellowship with, because their experience is so different from mine.

 That old lady died last year. I’m sure that she is with the Lord now. If she never knew about her indwelling sin while she was in this world, she knows about it now, and is eternally thankful to have been saved from it. But a difference in experience, rather than theology, really surprised me and made me even more careful never to judge others.

 And then a couple of years ago, I spoke at a meeting, mentioning in my message that we’re all sinners in need of salvation. Nothing unusual, you may think. But after the talk, the group had a testimony time, where anyone could get up and give a testimony as to how the Lord has worked in their life over the past week. What a good idea! Would to God we would have more “testimony times”!

 But one young lady got up and repeatedly said, “We shouldn’t condemn ourselves.” And it became evident she hadn’t liked my message about sin at all. Not only did she think she didn’t have any sin now, but it seems that she didn’t believe she ever had any sin in the past either.

 This is one stage further than anything else I have ever come across before. In the past, all the Christians I had met at least acknowledged that they, as individuals, were born sinners, but are now redeemed by Christ. But this new theology believes we were never born sinners at all. It denies the doctrine of Original Sin. What’s the point of Christ then? Well, presumably, according to them, He did come into the world to take away “sin,” but that was a long time ago, and it was just “sin” in general that was taken away. Ever since then, everybody is now born without any sin, because Christ has taken it all away. So, Christ’s dying on the cross generally for “sin” has no real relevance to any of us as individuals at all today. 

 In this new system, we don’t need as individuals to repent and change our lives in any way. No! We are all to be told Jesus loves us as we are, there’s no need to change. We are all called now simply to recognise our condition, our “freedom in Christ” as some of them call it, which we didn’t realise before. It’s just a question of simply recognising something that already exists but which we are simply unaware of until we’re told about it.

 This must be the ultimate infiltration of humanism into the church. This is so absolutely against the true gospel, that it’s clear that all those who embrace this have no concept whatsoever of their need of a Saviour, and in my book surely, surely, surely they can’t possibly be Christian in any sense of the word. Can they? I really don’t want to be judgmental, but a false gospel is a false gospel, isn’t it?

 And, yes, it’s all about the humanistic doctrine of having a good feeling about yourself. The same young lady who said, “We shouldn’t condemn ourselves,” then went on to tell everybody about how she used to be really shy, but since coming to realise her new-found condition in Christ, she now has a good, positive feeling about herself, and has become very outgoing. She couldn’t stop chattering. This is the opposite of Christianity.

 Many years ago, when I started a new job in a hospital, I used to live in temporary accommodation in a room right next to the hospital kitchen. One lady in particular would arrive at 6.30am for work, and she was the loudest person you could imagine. I had my automatic 6.30am alarm call every day. But I met her a few years later, at a Christian meeting, and she had been completely transformed. No longer was she brash and loud, but she had been given a gentle and quiet spirit, and it was a joy to see her there. That’s what true Christianity gives people. It doesn’t make them extrovert, but exactly the opposite.

 1 Peter 3:4

the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

 Only a few weeks ago we went on a short break to the city of Chengdu. On the Lord’s Day we ended up in the “Chengdu International Christian Fellowship,” which held services in English. It soon became obvious that they had imbibed this “self-confidence” religion too. There was no humility, no reverence, no gospel, hardly any Bible (three unrelated verses from a dodgy translation), no mention of sin, and, worst of all, no mention at all of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Just feel good about yourself.

 Groups like this are now commonplace. And yet they would all claim to be Bible-believing. A think-positive, self-confident, feel-good humanism is NOT what Christ came to give the world. It’s so contrary to the truth, yet today, this “self-confidence” religion has now become the new mainstream evangelicalism.

 When the true Christian leaves this world for the next, he will have the second biggest surprise of his life, second only to his conversion, because I’m sure the next world won’t be anything like what we think it’s going to be. (Of course, the unbeliever will have the biggest surprise of his life at that point). But before then, while we’re still in this world, there surely can’t be any more surprises lurking just around the corner, can there?