For as long as I can remember, a sentimental Christianity, one based more upon emotions than upon the Scriptures, has been unappealing to me. Frankly, it simply seems useless. Such a Christianity, unfortunately, pervades the American religious landscape.
Something like the following is all too common. Roger and Sally have a son named Charles. Charles has been married and divorced several times and is now married again. Roger, Sally, and Charles are life-long church members and don’t hesitate to use God-talk whenever conversations take a religious turn. The couple has never rebuked the son for his multiple marriages and divorces, and the son has never repented. When a church took steps to discipline Charles after he left his first wife and children for another woman, both Roger and Sally were “hurt” by the stand the church leadership was taking and eventually left the church for another. Charles had already left that church and had been welcomed into another local church of the same denomination by a pastor who had been fully informed of Charles’ sin.
Roger and Sally and Charles will talk with great affection about God, the church, the cross, and heaven. They are “nice” people and do “nice” things for others. Their local church plays a central role in their lives. When it comes to making difficult choices in following Christ, however, they always justify taking the easier route, the road that never has to confront sin, either their own or their children’s.
The problem with such folks is that their Christianity is a man-centered religion. For them, the reason Christ came to earth was to make life more pleasurable for his followers. The purpose for the death of Christ is so they can enter heaven. Such thinking betrays a worldly and sentimental view of Christianity and is naive and foreign to the Scriptures.
Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the twelfth century, maintained that following God is a matter of finding in him our desire, the very centrality for our living: “We read in Scripture that God has made all things for himself. His creatures must aim, therefore, at conforming themselves perfectly to their Creator and living according to his will. So we must fix our love on him, bit by bit aligning our own will with his, who made all for himself, not wanting either ourselves or anything else to be or to have been, save as it pleases him, making his will alone, and not our pleasure, our object of desire.”
Bernard’s thinking is much more in line with what Jesus taught than is the thinking of the Rogers and Sallys and Charleses of our American Christianity. In Luke 9:23–25 Jesus taught, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Jesus spoke these words to religious people, folks for whom God-talk was a pleasing thing.
Sentimental Christianity refuses to make the hard choices, refuses to make real and tangible sacrifices, refuses to respond to the sin in one’s life. In the end, many whose Christianity is merely a sentimental longing will find themselves outside the atoning work of Christ. Biblical Christianity, though, sees the loathsomeness of sin, both one’s own and that of others, sees the graciousness of a forgiving Father and the loving sacrifice of his Son, and takes seriously what the Scriptures teach.
Biblical Christianity exalts the will of God above one’s own and desires ultimately that God be glorified. Jim Elliott, the missionary whose life was taken on an Ecuadorian mission field, recorded this prayer: “Father, take my life, yea, my blood if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it, for it is not mine to save. Have it, Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation [a drink offering] for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine altar.” May that be our attitude and prayer as well.