God in the word, not in experience

Most of my Christian life has been led from one spiritual mountaintop to another. In fact, there was a moment when I realized I was more focused on the experience, and feeling it, than I was about knowing God. It was finally when I found John 17:17 when I found the true force of sanctification. It was when I found Romans 10 that I found the true place where God meets us. Here is Michael Horton to explain much better what I mean..


Marketing gimmicks were made with people like me in mind. It took me a while before I wised up to the promotional ads announcing that I had won a free trip. Contacting the company to collect my “free” prize, I learned that there were several hoops I had to jump through in order to get it. A lot of Christians express a similar frustration. At first, they were overwhelmed with the Good News. Salvation in Christ is a free gift. However, the fine print came later. Now they are on a treadmill, try to find the “higher life,” hoping desperately to experience the fullness of their salvation.

Note Paul’s argument in chapter 10:

Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “o not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)”or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming… for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?… Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:5-17)

Do you see the logic of the method which Paul outlines here? Certain methods just go with certain messages, and that is certainly true in this case. We often hear it said that the message of the gospel never changes, but the methods do. However, Paul is saying that the gospel has its own method. It never changes. It always puts us on the receiving end.

The spirit of works righteousness says, “How can I climb up to God and bring Christ down to me, where I am, in my own experience?” Like Ulysses crossing the expansive seas to conquer dragons and finally to arrive at his reward, the logic of works righteousness conceives of salvation by personal conquest. Luther spoke about ladders that people climb in order to steal into God’s presence: mysticism, merit, and speculation were the ladders he had in mind. These same ladders are plentiful today: the feverish interest in makeovers, reinventing ourselves, and changing our identity. We are all looking for a plot to make sense of our lives, a script that will make us feel like our lives are not a waste, that they mean something. We all want a new drug, a new experience, a new achievement.

Where do you think you’ll find God? Some people speak of finding ultimate peace of mind in Tibet or rock climbing in the Alps. Perhaps it’s not surprising that we call spiritual epiphanies “mountaintop” experiences. Others talk about their experience of seeing the Dalai Lama, the spectacle of the Mass, or experiencing “transcendence” at a Hindu ashram or Buddhist temple. Some travel great distances to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment: to Lourdes in the hope of experiencing a miracle or at more Protestant venues, like Toronto or Pensacola to “catch the blessing.” We are always looking for a revival: something exciting, awe-inspiring, and majestic. Newsweek is not likely to send a reporter to your church next Sunday simply because the Word will be preached. That is not where the action is. And yet, Paul tells us, this is exactly where the Spirit is miraculously at work in his grace. It is precisely here where he unites us to Christ and gives us his gifts. Sometimes we make “spiritual disciplines” a way of making our way up the mountain to experience God. However, unless we are going regularly to the Scriptures to find Christ and crying out to him for salvation in prayer, even personal Bible reading and prayer can become methods of idolatry and self-trust.

We don’t expect to find God in the feeding trough of a barn in an obscure Palestinian village, much less hanging from an instrument of Roman execution. Yet this is where God meets us. While we are trying to climb higher, he descends lower. Of all our faculties, our natural religious, moral, and spiritual instincts are actually the least likely to find God where he has found us.

Page 105-106

Horton, Michael. The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. Grand Rapids: Baker. 2009. Print.


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