T. Pierce Brown
In a recent meeting with a group of preachers, one of them mentioned that for a person to use the phrase, “total commitment” now puts him under suspicion. If that is true, and it probably is, I want to use that example to protest and admonish.
It seems to me that far too many of us are prone to react rather than to act. We take our cues on what to do or say from some “side” with whom we wish to stand aligned and identified, rather than from God and His Word.
Of course we are aware that “birds of a feather flock together” (whatever that means), and that certain groups of people tend to use certain kinds of phraseology. One can almost identify certain persons from certain schools or areas by the expressions they use in prayer. One may make a fair guess (sometimes) as to the modernistic tendencies of a person by the expressions he uses. It is true that in many areas “by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew12:37), and “thy speech betrayeth thee” (Matthew 26:73). However, it seems a shame and even a tragedy that Christians would allow the misuse of a scriptural concept by someone to prevent their using that concept properly.
Whether we like it or not, Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross and follow me” (Matthew8:34). If that is not “total commitment,” I would not know what to call it. If a person should say, “Self denial means doing without food, clothing or sleep. So if you do not lose 40 pounds, or if you sleep more than 4 hours per night, you have not denied self,” I would protest, but I would not therefore be afraid to affirm the necessity of self-denial. No one has the right (and I refuse to give them the power) to steal from me the precious words of my Lord simply because they misuse them.
When Jesus said, “He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” he meant that. If a person should so misapply that to mean that if one stayed at home with a sick child rather than attend some religious function, I would protest, but I would not allow that to prevent me from affirming the truth of Jesus.
Just because the expression, “Baptism doth also now save us” has been perverted into baptismal regeneration through a sacramental act, I do not intend to cease affirming the truth about the necessity of baptism. And though millions have perverted Luther’s idea that salvation is ONLY through faith, and teach that salvation is by faith alone, it in no sense robs me of the joyful right and responsibility to affirm that salvation IS by faith.
Why should we only take the rebound when the leaders of false systems miss the goal, and then go dribbling down the theological court to make a belated point? Why not get on the ball ourselves, take the offensive, and teach the positive glorious truth that salvation is by grace through faith as that obedient faith accepts the grace on God’s terms instead of being afraid someone will think we are purveyors of Calvinism.
If you can not teach salvation by grace without being suspected of Calvinism; if you can not teach that baptism saves without being suspected of Romish leanings; if you can’t teach self-denial, evangelistic zeal and extraordinary dedication without being accused of cultism, then something is either wrong with your teaching ability or the perverted view of your critics, or both. In neither case should we be afraid of teaching the truth.
If by “total commitment” someone means that every waking moment must be spent in some religious activity, we should deny that. But if he means that whether we eat or drink we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:6-8) and we should “do all to the glory of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:31), and that includes sleep, recreation and work, then affirm, applaud, and uphold that.
Part of the problem is that although most of us give lip service to speaking where the Bible speaks, and some of us even try to “call Bible things by Bible names,” NONE of us speak or write without using our own words rather than Bible words most of the time. On a few occasions I have preached a sermon starting with Genesis 1:1 and ending with Revelation 22:17, using nothing but God’s word, but that is rare. Since the Bible does not use the term “total commitment” we can make it mean various things. We should make sure of at least two things insofar as we can: 1. Our meaning is made clear to those to whom we speak or write, and 2. The meaning we attach to a phrase is consistent with the Bible teaching on the subject.
For example, a person may quote accurately Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Yet if those who hear him understand or misunderstand it to mean, “despise, reject, disregard, even to the extent of taking one’s own life, or to leave home if a parent questions a particular program in which one is involved,” then great damage may result. It already has! But that does not mean we should refuse to talk about total commitment, self-denial, crucifixion of self, and such things. One needs to learn the difference in being totally committed to Christ and his Word, and being totally committed to ANY program man may devise for carrying out of his word. I may be totally committed to Christ without giving one dime or one minute to some PARTICULAR program, campaign, or organization that men may dream up.
I belong to God from the top of my head to the sole of my foot–body, soul and spirit. My time belongs to God, whether I wake, sleep, play or work. I am totally committed to that concept. I do not always act like it. I sometimes use my body and my time for selfish interests rather than for God’s glory, and I should feel guilty when I do. But if I should decide to golf or fish or eat a piece of fried chicken, or walk in the woods that I might be a better servant of God, I need not feel guilty. I shamefully confess that I have felt guilty playing with my children in years gone by! I now play and study with my grandchildren, and feel no guilt. I did not have enough insight 40 years ago to know that playing with my children could be a greater means of saving souls than knocking on a door and setting up a Bible study on some particular occasion!
I now know that one can also lie to himself and play with his children, walk in the woods, and look at television and pretend that he is doing it for the glory of God. But that does not change the principle or truth of my point. Let us not be frightened by the phrase “total commitment” or any other concept that God approves so that we play down the importance of giving our lives for God. One of the greatest tragedies of our times is that we allow the teachers of various false systems–either denominationalism or cultism in the church–to be more devoted to their false systems of religion than we are to the actual practice of the truth!