This subject is just the last two words of the typically long, 18th century title of the book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christianity in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. Written by William Wilberforce, this book helped persuade minds and hearts about the powerlessness of the “cultural Christianity” being practiced at that time in England and the need for a living faith in Jesus Christ. Having seen the movie Amazing Grace in recent months, I was motivated to read Wilberforce’s seminal work. The source of his passion to end slavery in his nation was his dynamic walk with the Lord that this book reveals.
As the Lord so often does when I’m reading one thing seemingly unrelated to other studies, I have found His Spirit using Wilberforce’s words to seal things He has recently been teaching me and that I have been emphasizing in the preaching and ministry here. In particular, recent concerns I have had regarding worldliness in my own life and in the church find truer expression in Wilberforce’s words:
The advancement of the kingdom of God and His glory are scarcely embraced as the objects of our greatest passions. The pursuit of these treasures is no longer what we strive for…Personal pleasure and personal peace become the regulators of where we live, where we work, how we spend our time, what we think, what we say and how we amuse ourselves. The great issue of our life becomes (overcoming) boredom. What tragedy!
…Life goes on with too many living in a kind of shapeless idleness. Recreation becomes the goal of life. Pubs abound, sports are perpetually proliferating, gambling consumes many, and almost any form of entertainment is pursued to fill the void created by a meaningless life…We are not criminals or murderers or thieves. Our sin is not so obvious. We live according to the standards of society, drifting along on this world’s ideas of living, oblivious to the consequences.
…The Bible instructs us to put to death the deeds of the sin nature, but through habitual indulgence, the way of the old nature has become the norm for the majority of modern Christians. The idea of exercising vigilant restraint and self-denial is viewed as something belonging to the residents of monasteries. (boldness mine).
Reading this, one almost feels as if Wilberforce is addressing our day and culture. But then again, nothing is new under the sun – especially the sins of our old man.
Wilberforce then urges his generation toward authentic Christianity. As he points out, the same Jesus who said “Believe in Me” also said “Follow Me!” For Wilberforce, this means living by faith. To live by faith is “an exhortation to continually allow our faith – our relationship with Christ – to be the habitual dynamic by which we live out our days. We must walk (live) by faith as the motivating and ruling dynamic of our life. When we live this way, it creates a new kind of vision for our life” (again boldness mine).
Note from the bold wording above that Wilberforce saw both a worldly, cultural Christianity and an authentic, dynamic Christianity to be the result of our habits. What are we giving our minds and hearts and times and passions to? If to Christ and His kingdom, the results will be that the church will be world-changing. If to pleasure and idleness, the results will be that the church will be world-conforming.
How do we evaluate properly our habits? As I am in the midst of preaching a series on the Lord’s Day entitled Calling the Sabbath a Delight, I was excited to see that Wilberforce stresses Sundays as the day to address our habits. Nothing like setting a day God gave us aside to be sure that the habits of our lives are centered on Christ. Let me conclude then with this quote, for it lays the matter clearly before you. Again, the boldness is mine.
Another example of the differences between the these two kinds of faith is what we see in reference to Sundays. This is a day that God Himself set aside to be a special day. It was designed to be a day when spiritual issues could be especially focused on…The intention was that this would be a joyful day of fellowship. But is it? How do cultural Christians spend this day? Do they enter God’s house with gladness? After church, if they go, how do they spend the rest of the day? Do they spend the day cultivating their relationship with God? Do they reach out to others to help them with their growth in Christ? Do they use their time seeking to serve the kingdom of God?You would think that setting aside one day for these purposes would not seem problematic. Properly understood, it should be viewed as a great blessing. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead of experiencing the day as a day of spiritual opportunity, a day of reflection and adjustment, a day to correct the errors that might have accumulated during the week, or a day of joy, love and harmony, many abuse the day through the sense of obligation they attach to it or by totally disregarding it. It seems to them a chore to devote a whole day to God. If they attend church at all, they deem it a merit entitling them to spend the rest of the day as they please…For many, business itself is viewed as more recreational than enduring what they feel to be the drudgery of Sunday!
There are those who find themselves having the right attitude to the devotional life and especially the role Sunday plays in it…They desire a heart that is more hungry for spiritual things and less consumed by the enjoyments of the temporal world. If you are one of those people, do not be discouraged.