Things Worth Dying For
A 5 Article Series
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1999
Volume 10 Number 1
The next few editions of Interact will contain a series of articles under the general title of ‘Things Worth Dying For’. Over recent years as I’ve moved around the country sharing with Pastors and people in churches and conventions, I’ve sensed a real desire to be relevant to our changing world in both our church programs and evangelism.
However, in the process of making adjustments in our thinking and endeavouring to revamp our programs and make our preaching more relevant, there is a danger of losing sight of our foundations – those core issues that are essential to the gospel.
Indeed in the process of seeking to accommodate changing culture and new thinking, those things that are driving such changes can overly influence – even dictate – changes in the church. The result can be a subtle shift in our thinking that affects our focus and, ultimately, the church’s direction, ministry and message. We can inadvertently end up with a gospel that looks and sounds similar, but is in essence different because it is not anchored in the truths of the Bible.
One could not read Paul’s letters to Timothy without being deeply impressed by his commitment to the gospel. He calls it ‘the glorious gospel of the blessed God’ (1 Tim.1:11). Throughout the letters Timothy is constantly urged to ‘fight’ to maintain its integrity and authenticity (1 Tim.1:19; 6:12).
The apostle constantly refers to ‘the faith’ by which he means the set of principle truths that go to make up the gospel (1 Tim.4:6). he even encourages ‘his son’ Timothy (2 Tim.1:2) to join him in suffering for the gospel (2 Tim.1:8).
What Paul believed about the gospel was his motivation – his love for God, his passion to know Jesus and to share the wonder of His redemptive work with the world, and his commitment to invest in young men, who would in turn invest their lives in the gospel.
The last chapter of 2 Timothy encapsulates the heart of the man. In prison, about to die, he writes almost with a cry of triumph, ‘The time has come for my departure, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness.’ One can imagine him walking to face his executioners with a sense of overwhelming confidence, knowing he had a faith that not only transformed and redirected his life but was also something worth dying for.
The church today needs people like Paul who have such deep conviction about the gospel that it burns in their heart – a ‘fire in their belly’, a conviction that evokes passion for God and motivates to godliness. It needs people who, because they understand and embrace the truths of the faith, are committed to evangelise and disciple others in response to God’s commission to do so.
Paul was ready to die for the truths that gripped his heart and to live in this reality. To him, this is what being a normal Christian was about. How many of us can honestly identify with this kind of passion? What are the things for which we would be prepared to go to the wall? have we made the distinction between the more peripheral issues that often take up so much of our time and energy in church life (like the way our services run!) and the primary issues of our faith, without which we would have no gospel?
For most of my Christian life I’ve had close friendships with people from a variety of theological backgrounds. Some of them hold different views from mine on a number of theological issues. Whilst this has sometimes led to spirited discussion it has not, however, inhibited our capacity to experience warm, productive fellowship and friendship. the things we think differently about are generally secondary issues that don’t determine our core beliefs – those foundational truths that help in establishing our evangelical framework.
I readily acknowledge that there are dangers in making declarations about what the ‘core issues’ in Christian doctrine are. The first and most obvious danger is that not everyone will agree with them! I therefore need to say that whilst I believe this series is important, even crucial, I certainly don’t see it as ‘the last word’ on gospel truth. The series is simply intended to be a statement of my passionate conviction that without an active commitment to these principles we will lose our cutting edge. I also want to stimulate our thinking about whether we as individuals are so convinced about our core beliefs that we consider them to be worth ‘going to the wall’ for. Indeed I see that some issues constitute a minimum framework if we are to be the kind of people God intended, impacting our fallen world as He desires.
Another danger in declaring the core issues is that these very truths that are intended under God to release, empower and transform our lives can themselves become our focus. We can be so taken up with defending them and condemning those who don’t think like we do that we can lose sight of why God gave them to us in the first place. In so doing we can neglect to embrace and personally apply these very precious gospel principles so that their implications become evident in our own lives. Indeed, in our failure to put into practice what we profess to believe we can so easily become legalistic in our demands upon others, even to the point of self-righteousness. This is surely what James had in mind when he wrote, ‘Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’ (James 1:22).
Those who haven’t a foundation of core beliefs will have no authoritative anchor or security in their Christian experience. When this is the case people tend to drift along in their spiritual lives, never really focused on knowing Jesus as He can be known, seeking at times to deepen their spiritual experience by embracing the latest spiritual fad and at other times feeling entirely disillusioned with Christianity in general.
The less certain people are of what they believe, the more vulnerable they are to drifting from one spiritual event to the next, carried about by ‘every wind of teaching’ (Eph.4:14). As somebody once said, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything!
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.
© Kel Willis (1 March 1999)