The Greatest Need in the Church Today
Justin Taylor recently highlighted this excerpt from an interview with Jerry Bridges in TableTalk. Bridges, who has authored several books and served with the Navigators for over 50 years (and has been particularly influential on my own theology and vision of ministry) reflects on the greatest need in the church today. Worth a slow read and careful reflection.
There are so many needs in the church today that it is difficult to single out one as the greatest. However, if I had to pick one, I would say the most fundamental need is an ever-growing awareness of the holiness of God. I don’t say this because that is the main emphasis of Ligonier Ministries but because I believe it is true.
The emphasis of my own ministry has been the believer’s personal pursuit of holiness. But years ago I came to realize the gospel has to be the foundation and motivation for the pursuit of holiness. Believers need the gospel to remind them that our standing with God is not based on our own obedience but on the perfect, imputed righteousness of Christ. Otherwise, the pursuit of holiness can be performance driven: that is, “If I’m good, God will bless me.”
How, then, can we get Christians to embrace the gospel every day? I believe Isaiah 6:1-8 gives us a paradigm for addressing this need. Isaiah sees God in His holiness, that is, His supreme majesty and infinite moral purity. In the light of God’s holiness, Isaiah is completely undone by an acute awareness of his own sinfulness. This is what we need in our churches today. Because we tend to define sin in terms of the more flagrant sins of society, we don’t see ourselves as practicing sinners.
It is only after Isaiah has been totally devastated by the realization of his own sinfulness that he is in the right position to hear the gospel proclaimed to him by the seraphim: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 7).
What happens next? Isaiah hears God say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Immediately he responds, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8). What causes such an immediate and spontaneous response? It is gratitude for the forgiveness of his sins as he hears the gospel from the seraphim. Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). It is because the vast majority of Christians do not realize how much they have been forgiven that there is so much lethargy in the church today.
There is an inevitable sequence in the account of Isaiah’s vision. It is God (in His holiness), guilt, gospel, and gratitude. It is deep, heartfelt gratitude for the work of Christ as proclaimed in the gospel that motivates us to pursue holiness. But it all begins with an ever-increasing realization of the holiness of God. That is why I see it as the greatest need in the church today.
The whole interview can be found here.