On Les Feldick's program, where he walks through the Bible, Les made an analogy about keeping the faith that stuck with me. He said that Christian faith is like paddling a canoe upstream. If you let go of the paddles you will be carried downstream. A pastor once said we should not go with the flow; a dead fish can do that!
Christians need to grow in the faith, studying God's word and keeping a close relationship with God, or they will be pulled back in the faith. Biblical counseling movement founder Jay E Adams wrote that people have big problems that require counseling when sanctification slows or stops.
Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ. After I started attending Oxford Valley Chapel in Levittown, PA, I heard the term "progressive sanctification." To me, the added "progressive" emphasizes the idea that sanctification is a process. We need to obey God and do our part and our sovereign God does the rest.
The apostle Paul describes our faith as a race. I recall watching a documentary about U.S. Navy Seals, where the leader runs along sand with trainees while chanting "stay up with the pack; don't fall back." If we stop paddling, we fall back in our faith, so we must keep paddling along, working out our faith with fear and trembling.
Not only do individuals fall back in the faith, but so do whole churches. This happened in the church at Corinth, where worldly ways polluted the church. Fast forward to the 20th century, where in the 1920s, the mainstream Presbyterian churches compromised the faith by bringing in worldly values: modernism and liberalism. About this time, many people abused alcohol. The government's way of combating the problem was prohibition. This didn't resolve the problem but enriched gangsters and gave the government more control! What did help is faith-based ministries. The 20th Century Christian Men's Fellowship, later called The Oxford Group, helped people overcome their voluntary slavery of alcohol abuse. The ministry drew on the power of God and his principles to rescue people from their sin.
Ministries like the Oxford Group helped the church to realize its true purpose: to redeem sinners and have them grow in the Lord. Ministering to broken people helped people realize that we are sinners in need of a savior. Churches in the 20s did not preach this but instead spewed out the mantra of the basic goodness of humans.
Just as was the case with the Corinth church, churches need to show fidelity to God by taking into account that we are sinners who need to repent and live a Godly life. What believers need is constructive repentance. Paul wrote a letter to call the church to repentance. When he visited the church, he explained that the letter was written in order to tell the truth of the Gospel and to bring spiritual healing. "I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death." -2 Corinthians 7: 8-10
Today Christians need to keep paddling forward, and not be pulled back to, as Martin Luther says in his hymn "A Mighty Fortress", this world with devils filled. As Brother Martin warns, Satan's a tricky devil, so keep pressing on in the faith! Seek the truth!
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