Mini-Messiahs

Yesterday our pastor quoted the popular words attributed to D.L. Moody (though they might have originated from a guy named Henry Varley.)

Those words, in case you’ve forgotten them or have not heard them before, are, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.”

As he quoted these words, I felt an instant burst or youthful, zealous desires swell within my chest, almost like my inner teenager was told I couldn’t do something and I was determined to prove the powers that be wrong. But, just as quickly as the desires swelled, they popped and stopped short.

Not because, as our pastor proposed, I was overcome with guilt or laziness, but because, for some reason, and for the first time that I can recall upon hearing those words, I was overcome with the thought, “That just sounds terribly amiss.”

I sat there for a moment, trying to digest this new indigestive response I was having to this popular motivational quote. After a few moments, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think that Moody quote is wrong, because Christ is that man.”

The more I’ve thought about this over the last day, the more I am becoming convinced the Moody quote has led to dangerous, unintended consequences. Hence the title of this post.

In the fifteen years I have been a Christian, I have heard that Moody quote several dozen times. The response seems to always be the same, inspiring in the hearts of individuals sentiment similar to mine – “I want to be that man” – or Moody’s – “I will try my utmost to be that man.”

On the surface, it sounds fine and probably innocent enough. But considering that Christ was (and is) that man, and considering that besides Jesus, that man or woman will never exist (assuming you hold proper views on the depravity of man), those words move from the fine/innocent category to the bad/dangerous category real quickly.

Come to think of it, I have never heard anyone make even the slightest mention that Christ was/is the man Moody desires and exhorts us to be in his famous quote. (A quick google search turned up no mentions of this important counterpoint either.)

Yet these words by Moody are used at conferences and retreats and missions training and church services hundreds, if not thousands, of times every year in American Christianity.

I am not attempting to be vitriolic with this post. Nor am I questioning the good intent of the pastors/leaders/speakers who quote these words. I do, however, believe that a serious theological error is being committed by omitting the declaration that Christ is the man Moody speaks of when referencing Moody’s quote. As a result, I also believe a tremendous disservice is being done to the saints by stoking improper motivation in them as they pursue sanctification.

To quote Luther in his Lectures on Romans:

“Since the saints are always conscious of their sin, and seek righteousness from God in accordance with His mercy, they are always reckoned as righteous by God (semper quoque iusti a deo reputantur).

Thus in their own eyes, and as a matter of fact, they are unrighteous. But God reckons them as righteous on account of their confession of their sin.

In fact, they are sinners; however, they are righteous by the reckoning of a merciful God (Re vera peccatores, sed reputatione miserentis Dei iusti). Without knowing it, they are righteous; knowing it, they are unrighteous. They are sinners in fact, but righteous in hope (peccatores in re, iusti autem in spe)…

…Now is this man perfectly righteous? No. But he is at one and the same time a sinner and a righteous person (simul iustus et peccator). He is a sinner in fact, but a righteous person by the sure reckoning and promise of God that he will continue to deliver him from sin until he has completely cured him. And so he is totally healthy in hope, but a sinner in fact (sanus perfecte est in spe, in re autem peccator).

He has the beginning of righteousness, and so always continues more and more to seek it, while realizing that he is always unrighteous.“

Some might charge me with semantics, but, I see two greatly important points lacking in Moody’s quote, as well as its quoting. First, the fact that we, the saints, are righteous because God declares us to be, the declaration based upon Christ’s gracious and meritorious work – not upon our variable and fluctuating ability to achieve “full and whole consecration” to the Lord. Second, the fact the saints, as Luther says, “will always be unrighteous.”

I don’t know why popular evangelicalism is hesitant to embrace this dichotomy but I do believe that it (righteousness resulting from God’s declaration coupled with us yet remaining unrighteous) provides the ideal ground for pursuing sanctification, for it acknowledges the full and whole consecration of our Lord Jesus as well as the full depravity of our own selves, both of which seem to be not only the starting point for saving faith, but also the beginning of the miraculous work of sanctification that the Lord has promised to work in us for His glory and our joy.

As such, have we not a better chance of attaining the desired sanctification by resting in these truths, than by pursuing a pseudo-sanctification driven by a pep talk, lots of will power, and the carrot that we are to strive for something (full and whole consecration) that only the Messiah could (and did) attain?

I believe we do. So to answer Moody afresh, “Why, yes, sir, the world has seen what God can do through the man you exhort us to be and it is a wonderfully effectual, wrath assuaging, sin forgiving, life injecting thing He has done!”

Here’s to resting in all the spectacular work God the Father accomplished “with and for and through and in and by” Christ, for His glory, and our earthly and eternal benefit! May we live in light of this spectacular work, and not go astray, in a vain pursuit of trying to become mini messiahs.

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