• The Great Divider
The Great Divider
Outreach Letters

The Great Divider

  • The Great Divider

The Great Divider

Division is both a dirty word and a common phenomenon among Christians. Much of it is avoidable. Some of it is inevitable. The apostle Paul put it succinctly when he wrote these words to the Corinthian churchI hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you… No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. Jesus Himself made it clear that He had come to bring, not a uniting peace but a dividing sword: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household”.

There is no greater polarizer than Jesus Christ. While the Christian system seeks to curry favour in this world and win the patronage of its prominent people, Jesus calls us to a loyalty to Him which separates from all else.

The demands of Jesus polarize, the demands of Jesus divide, and it is response to those demands which distinguishes those who are His disciples from those who are not.

Jesus Himself does not divide, but commitment to Him does. Not the shallow, so-called commitment of the evangelistic type, which offers people what they want as against what God wants. Whatever else that may be, it certainly is not commitment to Jesus. The commitment which Jesus looks for not only demands everything but, more to the point, it demands it for His sake alone.

That such commitment is rare among those who claim to be followers of Jesus is hardly surprising, for it cuts right across every selfish desire and motive. Moreover, it cuts right across the human will, demanding that we lay down our lives simply out of love for God and for one another. This is unpalatable and unattractive to the majority and certainly is no aid to filling churches and writing success stories.

Throughout history, God’s people have been divided on the basis of those who will obey Him and those who will not. Which is to say: those who surrender their wills to His will and those who insist on their own way.

It has often been said that the human will is indomitable – which is an admirable quality in itself. But unless that will is subject to God, and all its power is laid at His feet, its very indomitability brings it into direct opposition to Him.

The most beautiful picture we have of the willing and costly submission of the human will to God is that of Jesus at Gethsemane. As He wrestled with the horrendous prospect of crucifixion, Jesus found Himself torn between His own desires, fears and instincts of self-preservation on the one hand and the will of His Father on the other. The choice was His to make and He knew it. He alone had to settle that conflict. It was a choice no one else could make for Him. He had already declared: “No-one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord”. Now He was faced with the stark reality of that choice and His conflict was enormous.

Then, out of the depth of His anguish, came the cry: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will!” At those words Heaven rejoiced and Hell trembled. Yet it was Jesus who still had to pay the price. That agonising choice in Gethsemane simply set Him on a course. It was now up to Him to go through with it.

Heaven’s joy and Hell’s defeat were written in blood – that same blood of Jesus which Christians love to talk and sing about… but rarely choose to mingle with their own.

The words of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament are plain. All who follow Him are called to discipleship. There are no exceptions. The Church of Jesus is intended to be an elite body of those who live in submission to God. There is room for no one else.

“Many are called, but few are chosen,” said Jesus, and the record both of scripture and of history shows us that, though the many may indeed be many, the few are exceedingly few.

Christianity has, by and large, always emphasized reaching the many, on the pretext that it cares for lost souls and so must rescue as many as possible from eternal damnation. In contrast, Jesus – though initially attracting many who clamored to have their needs met – soon set about gathering the few. In the process He had no compunction about doing and saying whatever was necessary to thin the crowd down to the handful who qualified to be among the chosen.

Yes, Jesus loved the lost – more than any man has ever loved them – but first He loved His Father. He knew, as we all should, that God’s glory is paramount. He also knew that God can only be glorified in humanity when that humanity is surrendered to His divinity. Only then can God have His true expression through human flesh and only then does humanity find its fulfilment.

Jesus came to this world as the first full and complete example of this, but He was definitely not intended to be the last. God’s intention was that Jesus should be the forerunner of a whole new family of God’s people: the firstborn among many brothers, as Paul put it.. Hence John’s words: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus didThat was God’s intention. It still is.

The problem is, to “walk as Jesus did” not only means living as He lived, it also means dying as he died. Not necessarily the death of a martyr – though that must always be a possibility – but the death of the grain which falls into the ground. If that grain seeks its own survival it remains fruit-less, barren and alone. If, on the other hand, it submits to the sower and the soil, it will not merely be resurrected – it will be greatly multiplied.

Such fruitfulness is attractive to many, however the means of attaining it is not. Even so, the laying down of our lives – or “death to self” in well-worn Christian jargon – is fundamental to all who presume to be followers of Jesus.

The apostle Paul was not daunted by such a prospect. In fact his passion for Jesus drove him to seek it as a precious prize. Hence his potent words: I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. For Paul, commitment to Jesus was everything or it was nothing.

Though the Christian system loves to revere Paul – in the same way as the system of Jesus’ day revered the prophets of old, once they were safely tucked away in their tombs – it knows that the growth and success it seeks will never come from inviting people to die to themselves. So it has devised other ways. From the unrepentant Catholic who receives absolution at the confessional so as to go out and indulge himself yet again, to the “bless me” Charismatic who sees God as the under-writer of His own desires, plans and ambitions, the range varies widely. But the essence is the same.

You don’t attract people by confronting them with a cross of execution and you don’t keep a crowd by cutting across their wills. Seeing as the Christian system needs people as grist for its voracious mills, it has always been very adept at presenting itself and its message in a way that will be appealing to men rather than pleasing to God.

Whereas it’s true that some sections of Christianity have in recent times looked like going the way of the dinosaur, there is more than enough enterprise, initiative and expertise around to keep the Christian show on the road. In this regard the American approach has worked well – both in the United States and in numerous other countries where it has been successfully transplanted.

Having led the world in the art of salesmanship (it’s not the product that counts, but how you package and market it) and secure in the belief that there is indeed a sucker born every minute, Americans have succeeded in perverting Christianity on a huge scale and to an unprecedented degree.

So much of what contemporary Christians fondly think to be a resurgence of Christianity has nothing to do with God’s desire and everything to do with man’s. It would be nice to think that this increased “spiritual” activity is the result of more people wanting to live on God’s terms. That, sadly, is rarely the case. What is, in fact, taking place is that Christianity is making itself more attractive by not only meeting people on their own terms but also by offering them resurrection without crucifixion.

Hence the only dividing line is that between the born-agains and the not-born-agains. Being born-again is what really counts. Taking up your cross and following Jesus is at best optional and, in most cases, completely avoidable. So long as you’re born-again you’re ok. You have your ticket to heaven, you know which buttons to push to get even more blessings and any time you feel in need of forgiveness you can just come to God, say sorry and go on your merry, indulgent way, rejoicing in how wonderful it is to be a Christian. To cap it all off, the system tells you you’re one of the chosen, that God is smiling on you and that – so long as you keep paying your dues (to the system) – you’ve made it.

Can anyone seriously equate that with New Testament Christianity? The awful truth is, in one form or another, most do.

Jesus, though, has another way of looking at it. He said the day will come when he Himself will draw the dividing line in judgement: “He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on His left.” The sheep will be blessed and the goats cursed. The distinction is graphic and the illustration equally so, for there is a fundamental difference between sheep and goats.

Sheep are, by nature, submissive creatures. It is no coincidence that Jesus’ own approach to the cross was prophesied by Isaiah with these well-known words: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

Goats, on the other hand, are anything but submissive. They are agile, they are strong, but they are also self-motivated, wilful and independent. Goats are achievers. They can climb to great heights unaided. They know what they want and they go for it. Just don’t try running their lives. A sheep, though, has no plans of his own. He contentedly places himself in his shepherd’s hands and seeks to go only where he is led.

The sheep which knows its shepherd’s voice and follows him is secure and at rest. When the shepherd leads, the sheep readily follows. Where the shepherd leads, the sheep trustingly goes. Its fulfilment is in being a submitted follower and if that should lead to slaughter, so be it.

To a goat, the sheep’s life must look boring, mindless, restrictive and even suicidal. Fancy trusting your life into another’s hands and just being one of the flock! Imagine never being free to do your own thing – to scale great heights of personal attainment. And as for being led by a shepherd… no life for a goat, that. No life indeed.

But then God is not interested in goats. Those who enter His kingdom with selfish motives and remain there unbroken, unchanged and unrepentant, may think they have found a way which provides them with the best of both worlds. But they are wrong. Goats among the sheep they may be. Selfish and self-willed they may remain. Unbroken and unsubmissive may be their ways. But, rest assured, judged and rejected they shall surely be!

From Cain and Abel to the present day, the division has always been the same. Men may tamper, men may pervert but God’s claims upon our lives remain the same. And, in the end, He will have for Himself a people who live as Jesus lived. A people who lay down their lives as He laid down His life. A people who hear the word of God and do it.

Jesus came to those who were called God’s people to make them truly God’s people. They rejected Him, just as they had rejected those God had sent to them in the past. One day, as He gazed across that city which prided itself on being the very centre of God’s presence on earth, He poured out His anguish: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Here again is the Great Divider. On the one side men clamour for what they want, and the perpetrators of Christianity fall over themselves to offer it to them in the name of Jesus. On the other side Jesus reaches out, seeking to gather them all to Himself. But they are not willing, for both the guardians of Christianity and the converts it attracts seek to preserve their lives for themselves rather than to lay them down for Jesus.

“Woe to you …you hypocrites,” said Jesus to the religious leaders of His day, “you travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are!” Things haven’t changed much. But, then, neither have Jesus’ terms: “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it”.

That’s the Great Divider.