“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” – Hebrews 5:12-14
A number of upbeat and catchy songs have been written on the theme of Christians riding on the “train to heaven.” Folks like to sing along while entertaining the happy idea of hopping aboard that heaven-bound train where they can sit back and enjoy the ride. Of course, this is pure fantasy, but if there were such a train, I daresay the majority of passengers would be unwittingly riding in a personal boxcar. And, some of those boxcars aren’t very big.
When it comes to the Christian life, many people have a tendency to look for a workable formula, acceptable blueprint, understandable synopsis, or a compatible explanation that can be contained (thus controlled) in one’s “personal boxcar” where it can be safely confined and locked away from any outside interference (from God or others) that may challenge it to grow, mature, expand, explore and experience Christ, the Living Word, through the eternal Spirit, as the All in All.
Looking to any type of workable formula for a successful, workable, predictable, unruffled Christian life is self-defeating and unrealistic. Not only that, but it reveals self-serving slothfulness, as well as a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit to guide, instruct, teach and lead into an ever unfolding revelation of the Person and work of Jesus Christ and His will. Formulas may be helpful in some aspects of life in the physical, scientific, mathematical and worldly realm, but in the spiritual realm they are extremely limiting and, if depended upon, are about as spiritually flimsy as a punctured inner tube is to a drowning person. When life’s stormy waves begin to break over your head, your well-rehearsed formulas (and platitudes) will only help you to sink faster. In other words, God is sovereign and doesn’t have to conform to religious formulas, nor will formulas save anybody.
People’s naïve dependency on formulas to provide a “fail safe plan” to help them perform the “right way” to keep God “off their back” and ensure that they will arrive safely in heaven is a recipe for spiritual disaster. Assuming that formulas are somehow the “life preserver” that is supposed to erase fear of failure and guarantee a relatively easy life without major upsets, disasters, conflicts, suffering and challenges that require decisions and actions that are outside of the formula’s boundaries is sheer folly. When real life intrudes and overrules the pat answers of man, this is the time when formulas fail, and a person’s faith plummets for the pure reason that God cannot be contained in mere formulas within the confines of man’s “boxcar” existence. This was the difference between righteous Job and his companions—they clung to their formulas and Job clung to the Sovereign God he knew, loved and served so well.
There are many formulas available in today’s religious market. Some examples of formulas are, “The Four Spiritual Laws” that were popular in recent times (which should not be used as an end in and of itself); the plethora of man-centered self-help books that offer man’s vain philosophies as substitutes for serious Bible study and meditation on the Word of God. Formulas abound such as those offered by so-called “Christian” psychology, Focus on the Family (instead of focus on Christ); contemplative meditation and spiritual formation (Hinduism and New Age); Word of Faith/Positive Confession (mind science, witchcraft); Emergent Church methods, and so forth. People like formulas, however, because a formula can give a person a warped sense of infallibility, power and control.
Marvin J. Rosenthal wrote, “Tradition can be good, but sometimes however well-intended, tradition can be a hindrance to truth. For some, tradition becomes truth in place of ‘thus saith the Lord.’” Personally, I would also like to add that for some tradition becomes the “ultimate” religious experience in place of dependency upon, and life in, the Holy Ghost. Therefore, if the truth is hindered by tradition, and the Holy Spirit is quenched by tradition, how can we declare that Jesus is the Head of the church?
Dependency upon formulas not only leads people away from Christ and the Word of God, but they open the door for cultish beliefs and behavior, as well as occult and demonic influences. This is because adhering to a formula can actually make the formula itself a type of anti-Christ (substitute for Christ) and negates the presence of the Holy Spirit whom we are to be led by, walk in, and be filled with because the Holy Spirit will always point us to Christ, reveal Christ, confirm the work of Christ, exalt Christ and cause us to worship Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of the Spirit, one of which is the much-neglected, but very much needed gift of discernment. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” 1 John 4:1. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” Galatians 5:16. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” Galatians 5:25. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” Romans 8:14.
People who are functioning within the narrow confines of a religious formula will become resistant and belligerent if anything outside of their formula, including the truth, challenges them to a greater understanding and perspective. A formula often serves as a type of insulation from a personal encounter and relationship with God, as well as feeds pride, and dulls a person down with a false sense of “accomplishment” as a Christian. We are not called to be “accomplishers” but to be victorious overcomers by the power of the Holy Spirit.
People riding in boxcars can’t be sure of where they are, and they certainly can’t enjoy the scenic beauty of the trip. Christians in a boxcar religion are just as limited. They have no understanding of the ways of God, neither do they have a burning desire to escape the stuffy confines of their boxcar spiritual life, exchanging it for first class seating where the light shines in and avenues for true ministry (service) abound. Once people settle into their dingy boxcar with their predictable formula, they adapt to the status quo, which leaves them with no desire to pursue an intimate relationship with God by continuing to learn of Him, seek His face, know Him in greater ways, and follow Him outside the confining, lifeless formula mentality. Keep in mind, all cults and false religions operate within the perimeters of formulas
An example from Scripture is the story of the rich, young ruler who approached Jesus, and said, “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (See Luke 18:18-22). As you study this passage, you realize that while the young man was seeking for a formula for eternal life by keeping some of the Ten Commandments, he had missed, not only the intent of the Law, but the Law Giver Himself, and his lack of faith and spiritual blindness became evident when he refused to pay the price of true discipleship, rejected Jesus’ answer, and sorrowfully turned away from Him to walk back into his empty world of “formulas.” Even if it were possible for a person to keep the whole law, but miss Jesus, the only thing that person would acquire besides a dead-letter formula, is a religious spirit; and, he or she would still be lost. Only Jesus saves!
Therefore, if you are directing your life according to some sort of religious formula, you’re merely riding in the limitations of a boxcar without the presence of the Living God for “behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!” 2 Chronicles 6:18b. Nothing and no one can reduce the Lord God Almighty to a mere formula!
The next group of Christians is those who long for an acceptable blueprint for their life, especially as it relates to their future. They can also settle for riding to heaven in a boxcar of spiritual limitations. Let’s face it, people being what we/they are, wonder about the future and what it holds. Many people step over the boundary of God’s protective warnings and admonitions concerning the dangers of fortunetellers, diviners, mediums, and such, while many a zealous (but untaught) Christian has fallen prey to false prophets and their lying spirits within the church. (Note: The same lying and familiar spirits that speak through so-called “Christian” false prophets and heretics are the same as those who speak through mediums, diviners, fortunetellers, etc.)
When the risen Christ spoke with Peter on the beach prior to His ascension, He gave him a prophetical blueprint, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” John 21:18. Seeing the Apostle John nearby, Peter asked Jesus what was going to happen to John, and the content of Jesus’ response implied, “That is none of your business”…”follow thou me” John 21:22b.
Thus we see that Peter was given a very rare perspective from the lips of the Lord as to how his journey in this world would end, but between the time that Jesus uttered those words and the day in which, accordion to historians, they were fulfilled when both Peter and his wife were martyred by the Romans on the same day, he had no definite, detailed, minute-by-minute blueprint but to follow Jesus.
Nevertheless, many Christians try to work out an acceptable blueprint for their lives, sometimes based on verses from the Bible taken out of context, or because some “prophet” gave them a grandiose “personal prophecy”, or by bits and pieces of man’s so-called “wisdom” they pick up from sermons, or from “feel good” “Christian” books that fit into their notions about how life is going to work out for them if they carefully plan everything out and then follow that blueprint to the letter. While a formula consists of carefully constructed rules, regulations, do’s and don’ts, church traditions and pat answers, acceptable blueprints are more futuristic and personally “tailor made” to the individual which, in reality, offers a false sense of somehow being in control of one’s future and life in this world, which, in the end will enables them to painlessly step into heaven much like a passenger disembarks from a boat onto the dock.
Because of the imaginary, futuristic blueprint that has been worked out to the person’s liking, riding in the boxcar to heaven is less risky than moving on up to the unlimited possibilities presented in the deluxe passenger car. After all, some experienced and wise old saint in the passenger car might present a challenge to one’s blueprint, and that is a risk that this type of Christian can’t take. Nope. It’s better to withdraw into the boxcar and keep focusing on that carefully constructed blueprint so none of the lines become blurred. It’s safer that way. Or, is it?
In Peter’s case, the blueprint Jesus gave him was actually a type of comfort for him. After all, he had failed the Lord on more than one occasion, and then when Jesus needed him the most, he denied three times that he even knew Him. Yet, here was the Rock of Ages giving Peter a blueprint that assured him that he would fulfill his calling and commission, and in the end, instead of denying his Lord, he would actually give his life for Him. Peter needed to know that God, in His mercy, was showing Peter that he was forgiven, and that his life would make a difference in lives, that he would be a living sacrifice, and eventually an acceptable offering to God. He knew from that time on that he was, in God’s eyes, an overcomer. How personal, wonderful and awesome our God is!
But, it’s a whole different story when we take it upon ourselves to map out our own idea of what our life should look like. Pushed by fear, insecurity and pride the temptation to reject the truth of reality and accept whatever looks, feels or sounds good to itching ears can propel us into a tailor-made fantasyland that makes Walt Disney look like an amateur. The greatest danger in all of this is the subtle redefinition of God and His Word. When a blueprint becomes a person’s guiding factor as the “way, the truth and the life” it has taken the place of Christ. Focusing on the blueprint will blind spiritual eyes, and deafen spiritual ears. The person’s prevailing focus is on fulfilling the blueprint instead of daily following Jesus.
Then there are the people who settle for what they consider to be an understandable synopsis of the Gospel. They have no problem riding in the boxcar because they figure they have enough information to get by in this life, and enough knowledge to slide into the next. They have all the “basics” of Christianity down pat; can quote the plan of salvation forwards and backwards, and as far as they are concerned, that’s good enough. Their take on Christianity is, if you simply “accept Jesus” and tack Him on to your life when it serves your purpose, why go to all the bother to read and study the Bible? Synopsis people are content to sit in a predictable church where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, and where they are never challenged in a personal way to surrender all and get real with God.
These are the people who don’t care if the scenery outside their boxcar changes as long as it doesn’t affect them; they don’t care about what they are missing in the first class passenger car, and their whole attitude is, “I can take it or leave it, I’m saved—so what’s the big deal?” As far as they’re concerned, it’s up to others to go out into the harvest field, and labor for the Master.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) we read of the servant who only had to be faithful with one talent, but instead he “digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.” This servant operated with an understandable synopsis, and this limitation, when confronted with the slightest command of his Lord, revealed his true character and heart condition. This servant was given the least of all the other servants, yet he did nothing with what he had, but went and buried it.
Perhaps Matthew Henry’s comment on this Scripture best describes such a slothful, arrogant and self-sufficient servant. Henry wrote: “Christ keeps no servants to be idle: they have received their all from him, and have nothing they can call their own but sin. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. The day of account comes at last. We must all be reckoned with as to what good we have got to our own souls, and have done to others, by the advantages we have enjoyed. It is not meant that the improving of natural powers can entitle a man to Divine grace. It is the real Christian’s liberty and privilege to be employed as his Redeemer’s servant, in promoting his glory, and the good of his people: the love of Christ constrains him to live no longer to himself, but to Him that died for him, and rose again. Those who think it impossible to please God, and in vain to serve him, will do nothing to purpose in religion. They complain that He requires of them more than they are capable of, and punishes them for what they cannot help. Whatever they may pretend, the fact is, they dislike the character and work of the Lord. The slothful servant is sentenced to be deprived of his talent. This may be applied to the blessings of this life; but rather to the means of grace. Those who know not the day of their visitation, shall have the things that belong to their peace hid from their eyes. His doom is, to be cast into outer darkness. It is a usual way of expressing the miseries of the damned in hell. Here, as in what was said to the faithful servants, our Saviour goes out of the parable into the thing intended by it, and this serves as a key to the whole. Let us not envy sinners, or covet any of their perishing possessions.”
The last type of Christian riding in a boxcar is the one who bases his or her beliefs on a compatible explanation. Such people filter everything they read or hear concerning Christianity through their “mental framework” which is made up of preconceived conclusions that serve as guardians to their fragile ego. While such people may appear to be open to hear other opinions and conclusions, their mind is already made up, and if an explanation is presented that isn’t compatible with what they already believe, they simply dismiss it as bothersome irrelevance.
While outwardly they may appear to be receptive, inwardly anything that doesn’t neatly “fit” into their like-minded filter, or is incompatible with what they have already concluded, or that challenges them out of their comfort zone in any way is simply dismissed. Their “filter” has nothing to do with separating truth from error; rather, they filter out anything from the Word of God, or exhortations from the Lord’s servants that challenge them in their comfort zone. Thus, they can merrily ride along in their own personal boxcar without a thought or concern for what others are thinking, doing or experiencing. And, that also includes what God is doing in the world, in the church, or in the lives of people.
These people actually enjoy riding in the boxcar because it separates them from “fundamentalists” whom they view as narrow minded, old fashioned, outdated, and clueless. Even though they may nod and smile at the exposition of a solid, “rooted and grounded,” seasoned soldier of the cross, inwardly they cringe at bold confidence that unashamedly declares the “way, the truth and the life” as it is written. This prideful “stiff-neckedness” causes them to be receptive to different “interpretations” and explanations of the Bible, as well as who God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are, what constitutes true Christian living, and so forth. Therefore, when given the opportunity to reject blatant error, they may play around with it while trying to figure out how to fit it into their personally constructed mental framework. All of this compromise may give them a heady feeling, but their feet are precariously standing on shifting sands.
An example of such a person can be found in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:11-14, “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, For many are called, but few are chosen.” Here is what Charles Haddon Spurgeon said pertaining to this Scripture: “The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. This he has proclaimed to them in his word, together with the terms of salvation, revealed by the Son of his love, who gave his own life that they that believe in him might have everlasting life. And for these he has prepared a kingdom, from the foundation of the world. But he will not force them to accept of it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel; he saith, “Behold, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Choose life, that ye may live.” Choose holiness, by my grace; which is the way, the only way, to everlasting life. He cries aloud, “Be holy, and be happy; happy in this world, and happy in the world to come.” “Holiness becometh his house for ever!” This is the wedding garment of all that are called to “the marriage of the Lamb.” Clothed in this, they will not be found naked: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But as to all those who appear in the last day without the wedding garment, the Judge will say, “Cast them into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Therefore, if you can identify with riding in a “spiritual” boxcar while depending on your workable formula, or acceptable blueprint, or understandable synopsis, or compatible explanation to get you to heaven, now is the time to call out to the Lord to stop the train and help you exit the confining box you have stuffed yourself, and God, into. It’s time to repent, surrender all to Jesus, and let Him set you free, lead you into all truth, cause you to be quickened by His Spirit, save you by grace, and raise you up with the saints of God, and make you to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
It’s time to exchange the “milk train” for the “meat train.” “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God. Of the doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” Hebrews 6:1-3.
Are you ready for the challenge?