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The Fear of Conviction & Commitment

In a web-based article authored by Stephen Surgener back in 2007, I ran across some words that I found compelling: “There is a fear of chaotic Biblical rhetoric not founded in sound theology, somehow contaminating the doctrinal foundations of the body. But what I find most, is the fear of conviction. And that is a fear which poses the biggest challenges.”

I do believe that “chaotic biblical rhetoric not founded in sound theology” is a serious and growing problem in modern Christianity. But like Surgener, I think the root cause of most of our problems today is a sheer fear of conviction; an unwillingness to truly follow Christ by setting aside all the things that make our lives comfortable, “normal”, and a reasonable fit in modern society and modern culture.

Fearing commitment in any area of life, it seems to me, reflects that we are unwilling to give something up in order to attain something else. Consider marriage – one of the biggest commitments we make in life. Fearing commitment in marriage is usually the result of being unwilling to give up the flexibility to explore relationships with other people in order to attain a deep, monogamous relationship with just one individual – or else it is the unwillingness to give up that flexibility simply because one is unwilling to make the compromises necessary to make a deep, single person relationship work over the rest of their life.

Less important examples abound. The commitment required to become a vegetarian, for example, means giving up some foods that one enjoys. I remember reading an interview that was done with the late John Denver many years ago. He was asked about his decision to become a vegetarian. He responded by saying something like: Well, I know that is the healthy thing for me to do. But frankly, it’s still really hard for me to turn down a good beef taco.” Commitment means sacrifice. And sacrifice is something that modern day Christians are not very fond of.

The other important dimension of commitment is that it is the natural differentiator that separates serious people from those who are just pursuing a passing fad. Think about the level of commitment required to become an Olympic athlete. The diet, the exercise, the long training days, and the short sleep, the lack of a social life, and the money required for equipment and trainers. Preparing isn’t just a big part of the lives of these individuals; it IS their lives, for years at a time. Many Olympic contenders begin working on their skills at very young ages – like 4 years old – and spend their next 15 to 20 years on that journey.

Two passages of scripture are especially illustrative here, I believe. The first is the passage where Jesus tells a young man to follow him, not even returning to his home first to bury his recently deceased father. It is recounted in Luke chapter 9, verses 57-62: “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Whoa! Can you imagine? Jesus told his would-be followers that in order to truly commit to following Jesus, they had to give up everything – including their relationships with their families – even their houses – so that they literally would “have no where to lay their heads.” Now THAT is what Jesus meant when He spoke of commitment. Do you know anyone who has done that? I don’t. I know missionaries who have taken their families into Africa and others who have been persecuted and beaten for the cause of Christ in foreign fields of service. But I do not know of any who literally turn their backs on their families and don’t even provide a place for themselves to sleep at night. Think I am taking Jesus’ direction too literally? No. Earlier in this same chapter in verses 2-4, Jesus says to his disciples: “And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart.” He wasn’t kidding.

Consider Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.

If we invert the hierarchy, looking at it from top to bottom rather than bottom to top, it provides a pretty robust guide to the increasing difficulty of increasing commitment to Christ. The further one descends down the hierarchy of needs, toward the most basic needs (food / shelter / clothing), the more difficult it becomes to sacrifice those things for the cause of Christ.

The second is the passage where the Apostle Paul tells followers of Christ to “set aside the weights that so easily beset us” and “run with patience the race that is before us”. It is in Hebrews chapter 12, in the first 4 verses: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

Whoa, again! The Apostle Paul actually expects us to resist sin so hard that is brings about a sacrifice of our own blood? Yes, indeed. The early Christians were martyred, including the Apostle Paul. Now THAT is commitment. How many do you know that have taken that path? I don’t personally know anyone. I think just about all of us fear that level of conviction. I know that I do.

What do you think?

2 Responses to “The Fear of Conviction & Commitment”

  1. Janelle Hunter says:

    Hi Bill,
    Wow, what a powerful article. I am glad that you wrote about this, because I feel the same way. God has shown me that I’ve been a “convenience” Christian, only wanting to do what’s easy or comfortable. I’ve seen the way other Christians live and think that’s the way to live. God has really really been dealing with me about obedience, and now has me in a season of listening to His voice and obeying what He tells me down to the tiniest jot and tittle-and it’s all stuff I don’t wanna do! Frankly, I’ve been disliking it in a very bad way. I think God is too demanding to ask so much of me. I know what the Bible says sbout God deserving all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, but it hasn’t gotten to my heart. Honestly, I’m scared to be convicted of how much my sin and disobediences costs God, and that He has the right to ask anything of me because He died for me-it requires something of me, and I don’t want to give, because I don’t want to hurt. I’ve been doing this in physical relationships as well-not giving all of myself (especially emotionally), and a lot of my relationships are based on fear, because I’m not willing to accept people completely as they are-flaws and all. I see how my view of God and His requirements is reflected in my earthly relationships. It’s a good thing to realize where you are in your walk with God…even if it hurts 🙂
    Thanks,
    Janelle

    • Bill Duncan says:

      What a profoundly honest response, Janelle. Thank you so much for posting this. It is amazing, isn’t it, how selfish we become with this earthly life that God has loaned to us. I have no idea how He puts up with me, honestly. Thank you heping me see that I’m not the only one who holds this perspective!

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