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Pragmatic Christianity


In a small group at church a while back, we watched a series of videos on temptations and how to avoid them.  After the last video, I commented to the group that I felt I had just watched a PBS pledge-week series on “How to Live a Better Life”.   If the speaker had not mentioned that the verses he had quoted were from the Bible but just said “a wise man once said” and then quoted the verse, PBS viewers would have loved this series…there was nothing inherently “Christian” in it to offend or put anyone off.   I’m not against what he said, it’s just that he didn’t take if far enough.

He made out that if you do these things, put up guardrails against temptation, then your life won’t get messed up and you will live a better life and those around you will not have to pick up the pieces when you crash and burn. Which is probably true, but is the epitome of pragmatism. “We follow the Bible and Jesus so we can live a better life; it just makes sense.” Is that the real reason we are to have guardrails in our lives?  So we can live better and not mess up?

I asked the question to the group “What is the ultimate purpose for guardrails?”  The speaker in the video didn’t answer that question.  If he had, then it would no longer be PBS material.  He didn’t take that last step and apply the question to the Christian life; he just talked about life in general.

Pragmatism (do this because it makes good, wise sense to do it) makes this whole Christian thing all about me. But the Scriptures are clear that this life is not about me. It’s all about God.  All of life is about God. We were all created for Him, and we live our lives for Him and His purposes.

The ultimate Biblical purpose to live a clean holy life unencumbered with sin is that it brings glory to God Himself.  Period.

We do this not to live easy trouble-free lives but to honor God and please Him, not ourselves or others. Without this last step, the Christian life is still about us and what we get out of it. But it’s not about us; it’s all about what He has done for us, and living God-honoring lives is our response to His love for us. It’s not about pragmatic reasons, but about holy living, because He wants us to, because it glorifies Him, not so we can live nice lives. None of this was brought up on the series.

He mentioned at the end that we just need to simply “make up our minds” to do the right things…so, how many times have you done that and succeeded?  How has that worked out for you?  It’s not about just “making up our minds”, but all about, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. There was no mention that we are powerless to do any of what he suggests on our own, unless God is doing this in and through us; we have just got to somehow grit our teeth and go for it.  There were no suggestions on how to cooperate with God and allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to help us keep our minds “doing the right things”, to change.

Living the Christian life is not just difficult, it’s impossible to do in the long term.   Without the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we are doomed to failure.

I think this speaker is an amazing communicator and I enjoyed the videos. But during any presentation of life values, we need the ultimate perspective that life is not about us, never was and never will be. Putting up guardrails so I can live a pure and holy life isn’t about me. It’s all about God. For it’s by Him and His power we exist, and it’s for Him and His glory we live. Any other purpose, and it becomes about me.

I heard a sermon once on the Ten Commandments and the reason the pastor gave for obeying them was so we could live trouble-free lives.  This totally ignores the rest of the text of the Law given to Moses, where repeatedly God’s voice booms through to us from ages past, “I am the Lord your God.”  That is the reason He gave.  That’s it.  We don’t need any other reason to obey.  We don’t need a pragmatic “What’s in it for me?” reason.  God’s command should be good enough, and if it is not, then we can come up with 100 excuses and reasons for not obeying that particular command, especially the seemingly insignificant.

If obedience to God  because of Who He is and what Jesus has done for us on the Cross isn’t enough, then no amount of pragmatic Christianity will last the long term.  We will make excuses and become sloppy and lazy and no longer intentional in our Christianity.  If we are living for God’s glory and for His pleasure and for His use, these reasons never change and if we truly love Him, the we will follow His commands.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  That’s all the reason we need.


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