By Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin
When we embrace the way from below, we embrace the way of Adam, which is the way of death. We, too, become captivated by the tree in the garden we believe will provide true wisdom. Instead, false wisdom lies there waiting, masquerading as truth; this is the sin “crouching at the door” (see Gen. 4:7) that desires to take us captive. God has called us to embrace a different way, the way of life in Christ by the Spirit. This call is to follow the footsteps of Christ leading from the Garden of Gethsemane to the tree upon the hill. It is this tree, the cross, where true wisdom is found.
The challenge, of course, is that the way from below appears so wise. The path is wide, the companions are many, and the destination seems desirable. The road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. Our feet are trained to find paths of self-achievement and self-glorification. We use our vocations to build significance. We use our relationships to get ahead. We spend our money and our time trying to gain more power. Because we are prone to waywardness, prone to walk the path of pride, self-sufficiency, and power, we need the church to ground us in Christ and his way. We cannot live in Christ’s way on our own. This likely sounds right, but many of us functionally doubt our need for the church. Pursuing the way of Christ seems like a “me and Jesus” kind of endeavor. But our focus on ourselves unearths a deep foolishness that owes more to our culture and worldliness than it does to Scripture. We have no hope of pursuing the way from above apart from the church.
The church is called to be the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). When we enter the household of God, we are all still planted in the way from below, but the church is called to mirror the truth of our hearts and to witness to the true path in Christ. In every facet of its mission, the church is called to strip us bare of our deep-seated desire to self-fulfill, to call us to repentance, and to invite us to die so that we may have eternal life in Christ alone. Sadly, rather than calling us to walk the way from above, the church has affirmed and even propagated the way from below.
In a culture drunk on power and in need of an intervention, the church has too often become an enabler. In many places, churches openly affirm the way from below. Instead of being told how desperately I am in need of God, I am repeatedly told how much God needs me. Instead of being exhorted to pick up my cross and follow Christ, I am told that Jesus wants to be my partner in the plan I have to rid my life of all struggles and challenges. We hear gospels of moralism, centering on my power to become a better person, and we hear sermons offering up God as merely another resource along my journey for successful and happy living. Sermons become pep talks amid a quest for power and significance. Instead of worship being an invitation to come before God in humble awe and reverence, worship becomes an experience meant to lift us above the travails of everyday life and give us a sense of transcendence. Instead of hearing God’s vision of redeeming all things in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit, we hear of the pastor’s vision to grow an even bigger church that does bigger things so that he can be powerful and we can be powerful with him.
The church is called to rest in the grace of God, whose power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).10 Unfortunately, the church has often capitulated to the way from below. It has embraced the way of power to control. This must be addressed head-on. If we ignore the deep vices of the church by pointing to signs of success on the surface, we are in grave danger. The Lord, we are told, “weighs the spirit” (Prov. 16:2). When we embrace the way from below for ministry, we develop a superficial spirit. We can build buildings, programs, and services of power that are, in the end, weightless. What might it look like to become weighty churches?
Who are the brothers and sisters in Christ we can look to who have embraced the way from above? Who are the voices crying out in the wilderness that there is a different way?