Calvary Road Baptist Church

“JESUS IS THE PERSONAL (BUT NOT PRIVATE) SAVIOR”

 

On a number of occasions I have decried the contemporary (I think nonsensical) concept of Christianity and one’s relationship with Jesus Christ being a private matter between a man and his God. It is the height of Biblical ignorance for someone to presume that his relationship with his God is supposed to be no one’s business but his own, or that the vitality of that relationship is his business alone and no one else’s.

You will remember the frequently told episode in John Wesley’s life before his conversion when, as an Anglican missionary, he was sailing to the New World. During a violent storm the terrified Wesley, though he was clothed in his clerical garb, was approached by a Moravian Christian and asked if he knew Jesus Christ. The indignant Wesley replied that he most certainly did, since Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. His reply caused the Moravian to respond, “Yes, but is He your personal savior?” When Wesley was finally converted to Christ, after failing as a missionary in the New World, he spent the rest of his life pleading with sinners to obey the gospel so they might know Jesus Christ as their personal savior. That incident, as well as the very public ministries of both John Wesley and the great George Whitefield in the eighteenth century, wonderfully illustrates the reality that though Jesus Christ is very much a personal savior, He is not at all a private savior. That the Savior commands us in the Great Commission to make disciples of perfect strangers is proof in itself that this entire matter of one’s relationship with Christ, though personal, was never thought by Him to be a private matter.

It is a very strange twist, then, that has brought about the notion held by many these days in the western world that one’s Christianity is a private matter rather than a public one, as well as being a relatively recent one. Therefore, to disabuse you of the notion that real Christianity even can be private in the sense of someone being isolated from others, I want to bring a number of observations to your attention from God’s Word. However, before I do that, allow me to make mention of some realities you might not have previously considered.

First, I am reminded of something a friend living in Africa mentioned to me while he was here. Until he left home, and after his marriage and return to his country, he has never been alone. That is, he has really never been isolated from other individuals, except when he left home, where he stayed with his cousin and was converted. Do you think that is unusual? Not only is that very likely the case for most people in the world today, but it was also typically the case in the past.

Consider ancient Rome. In A History Of Private Life: I From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, we read that Roman citizens “. . . had slaves constantly at their beck and call and were never alone.”[1] The book elsewhere declares that “Our modern passion is to ‘have an experience’ in order to taste its flavor and judge its effects; such an idea apparently never occurred to the Romans.”[2] To show how differently we view ourselves from the Roman conception of identity, Peter Brown writes, “To talk about oneself, to throw personal testimony into balance, to profess that personal conviction must be taken into account provided only that it is sincere is Christian, indeed an eminently Protestant idea that the ancients never dared to profess.”[3]

Let me bring these strands together. Isolation and identity are closely related in a person. One reason isolation was so rare in ancient times, besides the safety in numbers factor, was that people never conceived of themselves so individualistically that they considered themselves in isolation and not a part of a larger group. Thus, when people used the word I in ancient times, it was never I apart from group identity, but always I within the context of others. This was even true of Christians.

Moving ahead by centuries, A History Of Private Life: II Revelations of the Medieval World, indicates that the notion of private life first took on its full importance in Europe in the nineteenth century, and that up until that time the concept of privacy had “remained constant over the ages.”[4] The book goes on to conclude, “In the Middle Ages the solitary man was considered dangerous.”[5] Let me conclude with this quote near the end of the book: “. . . if private life meant secrecy, it was a secrecy shared by all members of the household, hence fragile and easily violated. If private life meant independence, it was independence of a collective sort. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries collective privacy did exist. But can we detect any signs of personal privacy within the collective privacy?”[6]

Understand that I am not criticizing anyone’s desire for privacy. I am a very private person, in many respects, and always have been. That said, I am convinced that the Bible is very clear in its portrayal of the Christian life as not being essentially private. What the Christian life is, however, is personal, which is not the same as private.

In a recent message from God’s Word, with Philippians 2.1 as my text, I explained why the Christian life simply cannot properly be isolated from others in the way so many professing Christians live their rather anonymous and unaccountable lives. When Paul wrote, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,” he was assuming a degree of interaction unknown in the lives of most today who claim to be believers. I showed that isolation makes love impossible and fellowship unattainable.

At this time I want to set before you some very practical observations that establish the Christian faith to be one that is personal, but not private. To put it another way, when you know Jesus you begin to represent Him to the world in which you live, which you cannot do by insisting on privacy in your life. The word they used to use to explain the way the Christian life should be lived when I was younger is transparency.

Let me show you some examples in the Bible of transparency.

 

First, IN THE BIBLE CHRISTIANS HAD NEEDS THAT WERE KNOWN

 

Is there something degrading and humiliating about having pressing needs? Don’t we all have pressing needs? If I understand the Word of God, every Christian has pressing needs. That being the case, why is it there are some who profess to be Christians who either have no pressing needs, or they are so committed to privacy that they rob their brothers and sisters in Christ of the great privilege and opportunity to pray for them or to otherwise help them?

Why would a Christian do that? On what basis does one think that is the proper course of action? If the norm during the first century was for Christians to conduct themselves with the insistence on privacy so common today, how is it they came to know that the Greek widows in the Jerusalem church were being neglected, Acts 6.1? The answer is, they expressed their needs, the Apostles reacted to their expressed needs, deacons were selected to respond to their expressed needs, and the matter was then properly addressed. Thus, a tremendous blessing to the cause of Christ was realized as a direct result of needs that were known. Yet you never, ever, ask for your church to pray for you.

How do you suppose the Apostle Paul knew of the need to raise a special offering in Judea for the impoverished Christians there? The answer is, their needs were known because they expressed their needs to others to pray for them and to help them in any way they could. Yet you never, ever, ask for your church to pray for you. How do you suppose the Philippian congregation knew to send to meet Paul’s needs in Rome both money and Epaphroditus? Though it is possible Timothy sent word to them of the situation Paul was in, it is also likely that Paul boldly expressed to them his many needs. He certainly told them when he had enough money, and that it was time for Epaphroditus to return home to regain his health. So, when was the last time you asked your church to pray for you?

What kind of a missionary neglects to make his needs known? A bad missionary. What kind of Christian fails to make his needs known? A bad Christian, that is what kind. What could possibly be the motive of a Christian not expressing his or her legitimate needs to other Christians, especially to those in his own church? Now that we are dealing with this privacy issue, the only reason I can think of to explain one’s insistence on maintaining such privacy is pride.

Only the proud will construe a legitimate need as one’s inability to take care of himself. Every thoughtful Christian knows that no one can take care of himself. Everyone needs great grace from God in one form or another, and it is the Christian’s great privilege to intelligently pray for other Christians’ needs. Do you need a job? You are foolish not to ask for prayer for a job. Do you have a health issue? If it is a serious health issue, you are commanded in the Bible to seek my prayers on your behalf. Would you like your spouse to come to church? Hello? It is not a secret that he is not here. Would you like for us to pray for him? We will even pray for your kids if you ask us. In short, when the Christianity that you embrace is of the Biblical variety, needs are made known.

 

Next, IN THE BIBLE CHRISTIANS GAVE OFFERINGS IN THE OPEN

 

May I state that our church maintains as much privacy when it comes to giving as is possible? However, for records to be kept for tax purposes and for Christian accountability purposes, records have to be kept of giving. Of the two reasons for keeping records of giving, the important scriptural reason is spiritual accountability. Your pastor needs to know that you are faithfully giving to the cause of Christ. It is inappropriate for the Christian to take steps to conceal his giving activities from his pastor, in light of the fact that the Bible is very clear about the pastor’s role in equipping each member for ministry, and in light of the fact that since I am accountable for your soul’s welfare it is needful that I in turn hold you accountable, Hebrews 13.7 and 17.

Turn to Acts 4.33-37, where you will see that from the beginning of the Christian era a Christian’s offerings were given out in the open:

 

33     And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

34     Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,

35     And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

36     And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,

37     Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

 

If you will carefully study the Old Testament, you will see that the giving of tithes and offerings, by virtue of the way in which tithes and offerings were given, had to be done in the view of other worshipers. How do you lead a goat or a bullock to the Temple without onlookers seeing you do it? As well, when offerings were given in the form of money, that too was given openly, in a chest placed beside the altar.[7]

I do not bring this matter up to encourage any ostentatious display of giving. The Bible certainly condemns any form of public worship that is conducted to impress onlookers. However, whether it was the giving of the worshipers in Old Testament times, the giving of the earliest Christians at the Apostle’s feet in Jerusalem, or the collection gathered by Paul in Corinth and in other cities, their Christianity was public and not private, and their offerings were open. Let me hasten to say that we will not call out the amounts each person gives in tithes and offerings. We will not change our commitment to keeping accurate records of giving with attention to as much privacy as possible. I am not interested in offending anyone’s sensibilities. However, the point is made that in scripture the offerings were open, reflecting my contention that while your Christianity may be personal, your Christianity should not be private.

 

Third, IN THE BIBLE CHRISTIAN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST WAS REVEALED

 

We all know of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. However, we must remember that he was unsaved at the time. We know this because Jesus told him that he must be born again.[8] Precisely when, or if, Nicodemus was ever born again, we do not know. What we do know is that Nicodemus is not an example of Christianity. His very private approach to Christ exemplifies an unsaved man.

If you want to see the pattern of relationships that are revealed, just continue on in the gospel of John until you come to John chapter four and the woman at the well. Her encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ was very private, though it was in the middle of the day and out in the open.[9] However, once that woman was converted she left her waterpot, went into the city, and began to very publicly tell everyone she could about the Lord Jesus Christ.[10] Hers was a personal, but public relationship with Jesus Christ.

What about the demoniacs? What about the lepers? What about the blind men? What about the rich publican named Zacchaeus? What about the Roman with the sick servant? What about the Syrophenician woman with the sick daughter? What about the Apostles? Was not each and every relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ a relationship that was revealed to the public and not concealed? So much, then, for those who insist that their Christianity is private and no one’s business. If Jesus is your personal savior, then He will not for long be your private savior.

Jesus told us to let our lights so shine before men, to not hide them under bushels.[11] He told us that we are salt, and warned against losing our savor.[12] So you see, there is no possible way that a relationship with Jesus Christ can properly be concealed, but is meant to be revealed to one and all. Who have you revealed your relationship with Jesus to lately? This Christianity certainly is personal, but it is not at all private.

 

Fourth, IN THE BIBLE CHRISTIANITY IS A PROFESSION THAT IS PROCLAIMED

 

In some parts of the world, talking about your religious experiences is basically meaningless apart from a public demonstration of something considered to be more substantial. I have heard of numerous testimonies in foreign countries where someone telling others of a newfound relationship with Jesus Christ is met with condescending smiles, but when one is baptized a very serious reaction is provoked. This is understandable. In the book of Acts, when those early Jewish believers were baptized, they actually forfeited their place in the society and culture they had grown up in. In many cases, they lost their place in the guild (meaning they were unemployed), and they lost their place in their synagogue (meaning they lost their family ties).

In Romans 6.4, the Apostle Paul shows part of the profound significance of believer baptism, when he writes, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” So you see, when caution is exercised to ensure that baptism is not meaningless because of the routine and mindless baptizing of lost people, it is shown to really mean something. It is a proclamation that is truly meaningful.

From time to time I hear pastors discussing whether or not to baptize someone attending their church secretly, so as not to offend or alienate members of their family. Excuse me, that is what baptism is supposed to do. It is the proclamation by deeds of your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and notice that it is never shown to be (and never supposed to be) a private event. Personal? Yes. Private? Never.

 

Think about the Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry, my friends. From the time He entered the public ministry phase of His time here on earth, His privacy was limited to His temptation in the wilderness, occasional times when He prayed alone and apart from His disciples, and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. All the rest of the time His ministry was conducted in public.

This is not to suggest that you do not need your private time. I need my private time, away from others, where I can study and pray and think in solitude. However, there is a difference between the need to spend some time in private with the Lord and with your own thoughts in quiet contemplation, and the insistence on living out your life isolated from and unaccountable to other Christians.

People these days insist on their privacy for all kinds of reasons, most of them illegitimate. They insist on privacy as an expression of autonomy and an unwillingness to be accountable to anyone or to be held responsible for anything they do. Their insistence on privacy is an expression of love that is withheld from others, and, furthermore, shows an unwillingness to be open enough with their lives to be loved by others.

For the Christian, life is supposed to be lived in such a way that others have an opportunity to see your relationship with Christ expressed in daily experiences, that others have an opportunity to see Christian couples interact, and to see Christian families raise their children and deal with the difficulties of life.

I am obviously not suggesting anything like the vulgar displays of life without any privacy that is seen so often on reality shows. However, I am suggesting that the commitments to the contemporary weird isolationist privacy that we so often see these days is not only unhealthy, it is also unchristian.

As a pastor, it might seem to you that from time to time when I am gone, I just disappear without anyone knowing where I am or when I have left. However, that is not the case. I never go anywhere without a number of people knowing about it in advance. I don’t advertise it to the entire congregation because too many people typically skip church when they know ahead of time the pastor will not be there.

Should it be that way with you? You tell me. How am I to execute my duties of preparing you to effectively serve God when I do not know where you are? How are you accountable in your ministry when you just bail out without anyone knowing about it ahead of time? And if you have no such ministry for which to be held accountable, it is all the worse for you, is it not?

How about a matter of serious spiritual concern? Is your desire to live life privately supposed to trump the scriptural imperative of living your life with other Christians in fellowship and ministry in the church? I don’t think so.

I think a good case is made to show that Christianity, the kind described and illustrated in the Bible, is not the isolationist approach to privacy so often practiced today. As a matter of fact, the concept of privacy insisted upon by so many people these days is quite unusual in human history, and is not always conducive to spiritual health and well-being.

God’s plan is for Christians to live and love and learn and grow within the context of the congregation. Even couples and families find their healthiest and most meaningful expressions in the context of the congregation, where there is spiritual nurture, where spiritual needs are both expressed and met, and where God is most wonderfully glorified.

Remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3.21, which applies as much to couples and families as it does to individuals: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” How can this occur in isolation, concealed by a cloak of privacy, by a Christian or by a couple who always wants to be alone? It cannot. The reason that it cannot, is because Jesus is the personal (but not private) savior. He not only wants His people to live out their lives in the midst of other believers, but also for the benefit of the lost around them. This cannot be done with the commitment to privacy seen in the lives of many who profess to be Christians.



[1] Paul Veyne, Editor, Arthur Goldhammer, Translator, A History Of Private Life: I From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), page 72.

[2] Ibid., page 230.

[3] Ibid., pages 231-232.

[4] Georges Duby, Editor, Arthur Goldhammer, Translator, A History Of Private Life: II Revelations of the Medieval World, (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1988), pages 3 and 7.

[5] Ibid., page 318.

[6] Ibid., page 510.

[7] 2 Kings 12.9

[8] John 3.7

[9] John 4.6-7

[10] John 4.28-29

[11] Matthew 5.15-16

[12] Luke 14.34



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org