God’s Word Will Meet With Resistance At All Levels
This is part four of my post on applying the Word of God. For the first post and linked headings, go here.
Having seen how God’s Word needs to impact us at all levels, it’s now appropriate to look at the next related theological truth that we need to keep in mind regarding application.
c. Human Sinfulness Will Resist God’s Word
The ‘flesh’ doesn’t give up easily. When God’s Word and Spirit comes to convict the world and ourselves of sin, judgement and righteousness, it meets with resistance. Romans 8:7 puts it starkly: ‘the mind of the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.’ And although the hearts and minds of our listeners may be regenerated, it’s clear that until the new creation, our flesh still co-resides with the Spirit and a battle happens every time the Spirit attempts to gain the upper ground (Galatians 5:17).
How does this affect what we do with application?
i. Anticipate Objections
Firstly, we must expect opposition at all the levels that God’s Word speaks against: whether worldview, culture, family or individuals. There is no truth that God’s Word states that isn’t going to be met with some opposition at some or even all of these levels.
This means that in our preaching and teaching we must anticipate and answer objections. In our preparation and teaching we must keep asking: ‘How will each level of human sinfulness (i.e. worldview, cultural, family, self) try to side-line or reject this Word?’ We can never just state a truth and expect a smooth passage from the hearers’ minds into their hearts and wills. Good teaching will answer their objections in order to break down these walls of resistance. This is something that apparently the Puritans did very well. Their sermons constantly answered anticipated objections in the hearts and minds of their hearers.
ii. Anticipate How The Word is Minimised
Secondly, we will do well to understand the ways in which the individual person will try and resist the Word, because it’s rarely going to be a simple outright rejection. In fact, the more ‘religious’ we are, the more sophisticated we also become at minimising or sidelining the Word.
In the last post, I dealt with the human person at three levels: mind, affections and will. It’s helpful to see how each of these levels will try and offer resistance to God’s Word. And here’s the thing: even if the Word does trickle down from one level to another, the flesh will try and ‘stall it’ at that level and not allow it to penetrate thoroughly.
So firstly our minds will resist the Word. The initial objections to God’s truth will often come at the level of enlightenment. Only when are minds are renewed (Romans 12:1-2) can there be true transformation.
But then once the Word is understood what we’ll try and do is to keep it ‘stalled’ or locked up in our minds so that it stays there. How many of us are religiously enlightened but only have the Word remain ‘head-knowledge’? Our hearts will try to prevent deep transformation at the level of our affections and will.
However, even when the Word does get to the level of our affections – and perhaps we feel great emotion or remorse at what’s being said – we’ll again try to ‘lock it up’ at that level and not allow it to progress any further and actually change our wills. So we might feel strongly about our sin and want to repent and change, but it’s easy to then let it stop there instead of allowing God’s Word to go deeper and actually change our behaviour and patterns of living. We may even comfort ourselves that at least we felt strongly about the desire to change though it didn’t actually change the way we live.
Good Bible teaching that is strong on application and impact will recognise what’s likely to go on at all of these levels of the human self: mind, heart and will, and seek to anticipate and address these ways in which we will attempt to minimise God’s Word.
iii. Liberalism and Legalism
In the end, I reckon you can see the flesh’s opposition to God’s Word as coming in two familiar forms: Liberalism and Legalism.
Liberalism is when I try to discount the actual truth of God’s Word by either sidelining it or by massaging its pointedness or by outright rejecting it. It’s when we say to ourselves: ‘Did God really say…?’ ‘Does God really reject this or that way of living…?’ ‘Surely God can’t mean….?’
Legalism is when I accept God’s Word but I keep it on the surface rather than let it penetrate and transform me completely. The religious will always fall back to disciplines, routines, rules, traditions, and ultimately self-righteousness in order to dodge the Word as a Word against them. The legalist will keep the letter of the law but miss the spirit of the law. The legalist will be quick to point the finger at others and agree enthusiastically with the preacher that ‘others need to hear this’ while at the same time dodging how they themselves need to hear it as well. Legalism is resistance from the religious and is so prevalent in our churches.
Therefore if we fail to really apply God’s Word on a deep level and only ever go for behavioural changes rather than transformation at every level, what we’ll end up with is a church full of legalists who think everything is okay because they are ‘evangelising’ and ‘doing their quiet times’.