By Will Graham
It is a part of the Christian’s general knowledge that spiritual hindrances are almost too many to be numbered: pride, lust, greed, envy, cruelty, hatred, malice (and the list goes on). In spite of their seemingly infinite variety, we could neatly some them all up in one short three-lettered word: sin.
Every child of God has to battle constantly against this inbred corruption within his fickle heart. The great soul-physician Stephen Charnock observed that, “Many wild beasts lurk in a man’s heart.” He lamented much over, “that heap of vermin that breeds in our nature.” Charnock realized that there are two contrary principles at work in the heart of the born-again believer, namely, the flesh and the spirit. They incessantly and violently revolt against each other in a most perpetual and merciless warfare.
I beg you, dear reader, to forgive me for being the one to break you the news that this civil war within each one of us will only cease when we go onto glorification, and not a second sooner (whether you like it or not)!
Sin, to be blunt, is abominable in every way. It is an affront to the supreme glory of the Almighty and it dampens our spiritual fervour. Nothing will put your fire for God out like sin. And it is precisely this thought that leads me to my chief concern regarding contemporary spirituality within Western Christianity, namely, ‘passionlessness.’ What does that mean? With this term I mean a lack of God-ward desire, worship, zeal and hunger. I would venture to suggest that passionlessness is the dominant spiritual hindrance of our generation. Godly passion reflects biblical faith; passionlessness distorts and perverts it. Passionlessness, then, is blasphemy of the highest order. Passion is essential to authentic Christianity.
Nevertheless, to begin, it would be important to point out that passion is not just a force at work within believers. Secular anthropology is gradually realizing that all human beings are first and foremost, ‘desiring’ beings. The Enlightenment irrationally bought into Descartes’ idea that we are primordially ‘thinking’ agents (“I think therefore I am”) whereas Protestant Scholasticism tended to see man as a ‘believing’ being; but experience has shown us that we are more than our thoughts and beliefs; we are ‘heart-centred’ people (and not brain-centred). We find love, passion and desire at the core of our being. They are fundamental to our human constitution. So then, it is not a question of ‘whether’ we love but of ‘what’ we love. Every one of us has this inner longing for the eternal that we are unable to shake off. It is a deep yearning that, just like the barren womb and the grave, fails to be satisfied. Unbelievers conscious of this lack are led to the utmost despair.
For the believer, it is this passion that lies at the heart of our being what makes God’s service such an effortless and liberating delight. Just as I don’t have to convince you to kiss your wife and children good night, so I don’t have to convince a Spirit-filled man to seek God. It is his chief desire. He loves to do so. When you love, you don’t need convincing. You act freely and willingly. All is pure pleasure. You have an inner urge that leads you to do things for the sheer delight of doing them. Passion does this. It awakens us, inspires us and leads us to live for something (or someone) greater than us. Passion forgets all else to be caught up in the object of its affection. After all, to be passionate means to be passionate ‘about’ something (or someone).
Contrariwise, passionless is completely the opposite. No passion, no interest. William Wilberforce commented, “Where the heart of affection is superficial and transitory, we may find evidence of neglect and unkindness.” Passionlessness neglects prayer, studying the Word and the communion of the saints. It promotes a machine-like existence in which religion becomes a repetitive ritual. If there was anything Jesus condemned, it was the superficiality of an inauthentic religious life which didn’t stem from God-ward passion but from man-pleasing and self-advancement. Do you know why people flee from our churches? Quite simply: because the churches are dead. There’s not a speck of passion left in the place. As sad as it is to confess, Christianity has been reduced to a soft-boy sissy club with preachers spending half of their time thanking the few congregants that remain for being so kind as to visit God’s house once-a-week and leave a little offering behind.
Let me ask you something: is this the faith Christ gave His life for? Is this the Gospel that turned the world upside down? Where is the fire of the first century church? Have we lost the seriousness of our God-given task? Where is the glory of the Sovereign and exalted Christ who demands that everyone comes to Him on His terms, and if not, then to hell with him?
I open to you my heart when I say that the only men (and women) that will do anything of use in this last hour are men (and women) set ablaze from on high! Such people will doubtlessly be rejected, abused, spat upon and ultimately, beheaded or crucified; but the surgeon must expect his sick patient to kick and shriek. Here’s another question: when was the last time you were cursed and stoned because your preaching provoked hatred and wrath in the hearts of your listeners?
If New Testament Christianity is anything, it is passion. And this watered-down contemporary spirit of passionlessness has to be dealt the death-blow once and for all. Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “All religion has to do with passion, with having passion.” This holy violence must take an aggressive hold of our souls. After all, our God is a Man of war (Exodus 15:3). To be His servant is no light thing. He conquered us so that we could conquer others for Him. Henry Scougal spoke of a poet at whom, “the God of love had shot all His golden arrows... but could never pierce his heart, till at length He put Himself into the bow, and darted Himself straight into his breast.” God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). He wants your affections, He wants your heart and He wants your desires.
It is time to burn for God! It is time to expel passionlessness from your life! It is time to get low before the Almighty and pray in the words of Amy Carmichael, “Make me Thy fuel, flame of God!” Will you dethrone passionlessness and coronate Christ in its stead? May the God of fire give you the grace to do so.