December 13, 2011
God created us with five physical senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Each one is important; none are nonessentials. If you think which one of them you could do without, you will be hard pressed to name one as least important. Unfortunately for some in our world people must learn to get on in life without one or two, but if they could enjoy the use of all five, you will find that they would rather that.
As we sat at a funeral conducted in another religious tradition than our own, I was made aware once again of the spiritual senses God has also given us. He has given us spiritual sight (2 Cor 3:18), spiritual hearing (Rom 10:14-18; Eph 1:13), spiritual smell (2 Cor 2:15), spiritual taste (Ps 34:8) and spiritual touch (2 Cor 6:17; 1 John 5:18).
If we are healthy, we don’t think about exercising our physical senses; they just happen. But the older I get, the less my eyesight and my hearing function properly. Like many men my age, I wear glasses and have the beginnings of a hearing deficiency. Chronological age brings break downs in the senses. Some of them can be dangerous. A sudden loss of sight can be devastating. The loss of a sense of touch can be fatal, especially if we sustain a cut or a burn without realizing it. Loss of hearing can put us in jeopardy, too.
However, the longer we walk with the Lord, the better our spiritual senses should become. Paul said, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).
It was probably a break down in the spiritual senses of the Galatian church that alarmed Paul so much. After a brief introduction, the apostle got straight to the point: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1: 6, 7). A distorted gospel, like a distorted image in a fun-house mirror, looks and sounds like the real thing, but some things are out of proportion. The distorted images of a fun-house mirror hall are easy to discern: heads are too big, or legs too long or too short. We laugh and point at how weird we look and walk away chuckling.
However, when a distorted gospel is preached, there’s nothing funny to laugh at and something dangerous to consider. So serious was Paul about distorted gospels that he pronounced a curse on the one who delivered it – twice! “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (vv. 8, 9).
These are strong words not to be taken lightly. Paul’s theological descendant, Martin Luther, likewise had strong words on his commentary of this passage:
Note the resourcefulness of the devil. Heretics do not advertise their errors. Murderers, adulterers, thieves disguise themselves. So the devil masquerades all his devices and activities. He puts on whit to make himself look like an angel of light. He is astoundingly clever to sell his patent poison for the Gospel of Christ . . . . When the devil sees that he cannot hurt the cause of the Gospel by destructive methods, he does it under the guise of correcting and advancing the cause of the Gospel. He would like best of all to persecute us with fire and sword, but this method has availed him little because through the blood of martyrs the church has been watered. Unable to prevail by force, he engages wicked and ungodly teachers who at first make common cause with us, then claim that they are particularly called to teach the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures to superimpose upon the first principles of Christ doctrine that we teach.
Luther considered preachers of distorted gospels as murderers, adulterers and thieves. Jesus said the devil would come to steal, kill and destroy the work of God in a person’s life (John 10:10). The world hates the gospel and the blessings of Christ it brings to sinners “because the world is the devil’s.” The gospel the world loves to hear is one that appeals to the will of man. The gospel the world loves to hear is one that sings along with Old Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra), “I did it my way.” The gospel the world loves to hear may on occasion tip its hat in recognition of God’s grace, but it is still a message of self-salvation and self-glorification. As far as I can tell, no one likes hearing the words “You cannot save yourself from God’s wrath.” But it is in those words that we find good news because God’s grace has provided the One who can unfailingly save us from God’s wrath.
As I sat there, sadness cast its shadow over my soul. Almost all the people there, at least the ones who did not know the gospel of grace, were listening to a prescription that would lead them by the hand to eternal condemnation. Anger began to rise in my heart but decorum and respect kept me from interrupting.
The next morning my wife and I went to a worship service in yet a different tradition than our own. The only difference was that in this tradition the gospel was front and center in worship. The gospel was proclaimed in song, in the liturgy and prayers and especially in the pastor’s preaching. In his own quiet way, the pastor pointed his people to Christ and his saving grace alone for a happy eternity.
As we drove away, my wife turned to me and said something like: “Yesterday we fed on ashes. This morning was like a long, cool drink of refreshing water.”
Be of good cheer,