Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CHRISTIANS”

Acts 17.21

Turn in your Bible to Acts 17.16. When you find that verse in God’s Word, please stand and read silently while I read aloud:

16     Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

17    Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

18    Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

19    And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

20    For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

21    (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

The year is approximately 51 AD. Paul is temporarily separated from his usual traveling and ministry companions, including Titus and Timothy. It is while he waits for their arrival in Athens that “his spirit is stirred in him.” We should ask the question, “Why was Paul’s spirit stirred in him?” If you say, “Because he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” you would be mistaken. Seeing the city wholly given to idolatry was the occasion for Paul’s irritation, but I am not persuaded that it was fully the cause of Paul’s irritation.

Let me establish the context for you. Paul’s traveling companion, Luke, penned this book of Acts. Though some people suggest that the book of Acts records the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem, the religious capital of the world, to Rome, the political capital of the world, that is not really an accurate observation, since Paul’s letter to the Romans shows us the gospel had already arrived in Rome long before Paul arrived there. My opinion is that the book of Acts is a record of two things; the great revival that began on the day of Pentecost, which was responsible for the gospel’s spread throughout the world, and the transition of Christianity from being a narrowly confined religion of Jewish converts to a rapidly spreading faith that encompassed every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation. This history recorded by Luke focuses primarily on the ministries of two men, the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul, with some attention paid to the deacon named Philip and how God used him. Luke begins his record with Peter, transitions from Peter to Paul by showcasing Philip, and then finishes with Paul’s ministry. That said, Luke does record Paul’s ministry from Jerusalem and its environs all the way to Rome. However, half way to Rome, in Paul’s travels from the religious capital of the world to the political capital of the world, we now find him in Athens, the philosophical and intellectual capital of the world. Was Paul really upset just because the Athenians were wholly given over to idolatry? Think about it. Were not the Ephesians wholly given over to idolatry, with their deep commitment to the goddess Diana? Besides, wasn’t idolatry and wickedness rampant everywhere Paul went on his missionary journeys?

Let me suggest that what particularly irritated Paul was not the fact that the city was wholly given to idolatry, as though Athens was just like any other city. No, I am convinced that Paul was particularly irritated because Athens was the intellectual capital of the known world, the seat of learning for the entire Roman Empire, the place where the intelligentsia gathered from near and far to polish off their learning and to hone their skills. It was the fact that this city stood for the highest attainments of the human mind, the greatest in intellectual feats. My friends, this was the city where the greatest thinkers the human race had ever produced had sprung up and left their marks. This place was the pinnacle, the Mount Everest of human intellect. This is what irritated Paul. Not that it is not terrible and tragic that backward root diggers on some remote tropical island are given over to idolatry. Not that it is not a great grief to the heart of God that horsemen from the steppes would worship wind, rain, and lightning and thunder instead of the one true and living God. However, when you have the greatest assemblage of intellectual horsepower, over a period of centuries, that the world has ever known, and the most you can come up with is wholesale idolatry? Disgusting! How blind these people were. How barren were their lives. And how blameworthy they were before God. I think I can understand what Paul felt. He had grown up, remember, in the city of Tarsus, a city of great reputation for learning that was exceeded, in all probability, only by such cities as Alexandria in Egypt and, of course, Athens. Therefore, he likely thought he was emotionally prepared for the intellectual snobbery and the empty arrogance of the mind that is filled with facts, but without knowledge of God. However, even he was unprepared for the silliness, the vanity, the emptiness, the complete uselessness that he saw there. Thus, his spirit was stirred within him. His spirit was provoked. In other words, he got worked up. He was irritated by what he saw.

Please excuse me, but I am of the opinion that the Athenians of Paul’s day were not unlike the typical churchgoing Christian here in southern California in our day. Or should I say, I think the typical churchgoing Christian, so-called, here in southern California in our day bears a striking resemblance to the Athenians of Paul’s day. I call your attention to my text, which is Acts 17.21: “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” By way of introduction, let me make three observations about the Athenians that Paul found upon his arrival:

First, they were lost. Of course, the Athenians were lost. They were dead in trespasses and sins because they had never come to Christ. Anyone who is not a Christian is spiritually dead and on his way to a Devil’s Hell. How do I know they were lost? They were idolaters. Excuse me, but idolaters are lost. Revelation 21.8 plainly declares, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” So, those who worship rocks and stumps and wind and fire, those who bow down to and genuflect in front of statues (whether they be statues of a cross legged fat man with a ruby in his navel or a statue of the Virgin Mary), and all other forms of idol worship (including the love of money instead of the love of God), are lost and in danger of hellfire. Though they were the world’s most sophisticated men, they were lost. Though they were the world’s most intellectual men, they were lost. Though they were the world’s most learned men, they were lost. Though they were the world’s most admired men, they were lost. Though they numbered among the world’s most powerful men, they were lost. However, the Athenians were no more lost than the great majority of church members in southern California. Folks, I have listened to the testimonies of so-called Christians for years, as few other pastors I know have listened. I have quizzed southern California pastors over the years as few other pastors I know have done. And you know what? I know many pastors are lost. I know most church members are lost. I know sinners are not saved through faith in Bible doctrine. I know sinners are not saved through works of righteousness. I know sinners are not saved by means of a Roman Catholic infusion of grace. I know a Savior they believe committed sins saves no one. I know a God who is not three divine Persons, yet one God, saves no one. I know sinners are not saved who deny they are lost. And I know sinners are not saved by saying certain words. Yet these are precisely the means that pastor after pastor after pastor of huge churches advocate. And these are the means that member after member after member after member employ to become what they think is a Christian. Ergo, like the Athenians, they are lost. I wish they were not lost. Oh, how I wish they were not lost. But true Christians deal with reality as it is, not as they wish it would be. And the reality is, southern California Christians, like the Athenians of Paul’s day, are lost. Does that not explain so much of what we see?

Next, the Athenians had leisure. Luke tells us that they spent their time in nothing else. Therefore, they had leisure. Leisure was a very rare commodity in Paul’s day. That they had leisure meant they were very rich and powerful, since most people in that day had to struggle to survive, and there was no middle class to speak of. That, or they had rich parents who financed their education and paid to whet their appetites. And how they enjoyed their leisure. Is that no so much like the “Christians” of southern California? They work so hard that they have to take lots of time off for rest, and relaxation, to unwind, to recuperate. That is why they cannot involve themselves in a ministry that requires weekly attendance. That is also why they attend churches that no longer have Sunday evening services. They must have their leisure, mustn’t they? Never mind that Christians of barely a hundred years ago worked 72-hour weeks and still served God faithfully. Never mind that the only vacations Christians used to have, or anyone else for that matter, was when it rained and you could not work the crops. On rainy days, you sharpened tools, repaired garments and utensils, and did your best to avoid the leaks in the roof. However, Christians now feel like it is suffering to work around the church occasionally. As well, they must frequently leave town to make use of their leisure. They cannot volunteer for ministry. They cannot use their leisure time to take whatever steps are necessary to be faithful to God’s house. They cannot use their leisure to rest up so they will not be sick on Sundays. In addition, they can never attend when they are not feeling tiptop. No, must not attend church with a sniffle or a bit of a cough. Do not want to infect others, you see. Are not these southern California Christians just so precious? Why do you think “Christians” are such objects of ridicule to the Hollywood crowd? Is it because they admire the PTL people? I do not think so. How can you admire people who do a poor imitation of you, as do these southern California Christians who do such poor imitations of Hollywood’s best singers and entertainers and comedians and glamour personalities? Do not get me wrong. I am not opposed to vacations from time to time. I think a day off here and there is good for the body and the soul. However, these so-called Christians in southern California have their entire lives built around their leisure, instead of building their entire lives around serving God. That is expected with people of leisure . . . who are lost.

Finally, those lost Athenians wanted learning. They “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Several portions of scripture come to my mind when I read this verse. I think of First Corinthians 2.14, which declares, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Then I think of First Corinthians 8.1-2: “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” Then there is James 3.1: “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” The so-called expositors who teach God’s Word without applying God’s Word need to be careful. Yet they are not careful in their handling of God’s Word. The most prominent verse that comes to my mind is one that today’s so-called great expositors refuse to apply to those they teach but who never come to Christ, Second Timothy 3.7: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” To be sure, the gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be taught to the lost. And to be sure, the child of God must be taught the great truths of God’s Word. However, what the lost man or woman needs is not so much additional information. What is needful for the lost man or woman is obedience to the gospel they have been exposed to. Those Athenians wanted knowledge. I am quite sure they had convinced themselves that they were pursuers of truth. Oh, what hunger and thirst for knowledge they had. However, to what end? Facts, information, truth, and knowledge are actually only the means to an end, people. And that end is to know God and to be known of God. However, did the Athenians care? The same is true of the so-called Christians we encounter every day, is it not? Bible study on top of Bible study on top of Bible study. Bible exposition after exposition after exposition. However, if you do not put the truth into practice in your life you are just being puffed with pride and arrogance. Where are the people like Paul? “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,” Philippians 3.10. “What must you do to be saved?” I ask that question a lot. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, “Well, I need to learn how God . . . .” Or, someone will say, “I need to come to understand that . . . .” What is needful in the lives of these adulterating and fornicating and aborting and divorcing and pornography watching churchgoers and Bible studiers? Did Jesus teach the great Bible teacher Nicodemus? No! He insisted that he be born again. It must be insisted, as well, that these southern California Christians be born again.

Paul’s spirit was stirred by the totality of what he saw in Athens. The idolatry? Sure. Worshiping the creature instead of the Creator is so horribly misguided and wicked. However, there was also the tremendous abuse of privilege. They had so much time, so much opportunity. However, they wasted everything in the pursuit of the trivial and meaningless. Is that not what is happening here in our part of the world with these so-called Christians? Teach, teach, teach and learn, learn, learn. However, they have no concern to know God, to know God’s Son, or to see others know God’s Son. Here is where my heart turns to you. How confusing all this is to you who are lost. How the “Christians” of these various churches muddy the waters and confuse the issues with their blather and nonsense. The God they speak of is not the God of the Bible. The Jesus they speak of is not the Jesus of the Bible. The salvation they speak of is not the salvation spoken of in this blessed book. As a preacher of the gospel, my job, now that I have disassociated myself from the so-called Christians of southern California, is to speak clearly, concisely, simply, to the heart of the issue that is before you.

This I purpose to do. My friend, you do not need a great deal of information to become a Christian, to have your sins forgiven. For you see, Christianity is not what you know, but Who you know. If you know Jesus Christ, you have life eternal, you have a relationship with God, you have the forgiveness of sins, and you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, let me dispense with trying to teach you so that you will understand, in favor of declaring to you in the hopes that you will take steps to do what needs to be done. I approach you somewhat like Paul approached the Athenians, not because you are like the Christians of southern California that I spoke about, but because they have affected you to your detriment. I only hope it is not too late for you to see through the confusion and lay hold of the truth. I want you to become a real Christian, a Bible Christian, a saved Christian. I am not satisfied with a mere pretense of religiosity under the guise of teaching and learning facts without ever knowing Christ. My remarks will be necessarily abbreviated and will provoke questions you need answers to:

First, PAUL SPOKE TO THEM AND I SPEAK TO YOU OF GOD’S REALITY

The Athenians were so religious, so given over to the worship of gods, that they trivialized God. Theirs was a culture of religious pluralism where “anything goes” was the order of the day. However, the only result of such an approach to religion and so-called broad mindedness was to send the population to Hell while they argued and quibbled over details. Paul comes to town and reminds them that for all their knowledge there was a god they worshiped ignorantly. Facts and information do nothing to correct an ignorant worship of God so long as you do not know God, and they did not know God.

I declare unto you today that God is real and that He is known by some here and that He is knowable. Not that any creature will ever know everything about God there is to know, for He is too vast, too sublime, too high and lifted up. However, God is knowable, and He wants to be known by His creatures. Away with these Bible studies that focus on prophetic systems, idle speculations, dogmas, and theologies that have no direct application to knowing God. My friend, it is all about knowing God and being known of God, a point the Athenians and the “Christians” of southern California seem to have forgotten.

Next, GOD’S REQUIREMENT

Because He is God, because He is the Creator, because He is sovereign, He has a certain requirement of us. Because God is long-suffering, He, for a long time, winked at man’s ignorance. But that aspect of God’s long-suffering has now run its course, and God’s requirement is now clearly set forth. God now commands men everywhere to repent. To look at the Athenians, or the southern California Christians for that matter, you would think God’s command to men everywhere was to learn, to study, and to gather facts and information. But no, His command is to repent.

You see, my friend, God gave us His Word, this Bible. But He did not give us the Bible so that we might know it. Oh, no. He gave us this Bible so that we might do it, so that we might know His will and obey. And God’s will for you is that you repent, that you have a complete turn about change of mind toward Him. That is God’s will. That is God’s command. Of course, if it is you who must repent then it is you who are in the wrong, and not God. What are you in the wrong about? Is it your direction that is wrong? Is it your nature that is wrong? Are your perceptions wrong? How about your deeds? My friend, you are wrong in every way. God is the one Who is right, in every way. Will you obey God and repent?

Third, GOD’S RECONCILIATION

God’s desire is for you to be reconciled to Him, because there is coming a Judgment Day. Moreover, when that Day of Judgment is come it will be presided over by the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s eternal and only begotten Son. To prepare for that Judgment Day, to be reconciled to God, you must come to Jesus by faith. This same Jesus, who suffered and bled and died on the cross for you, who then rose from the dead after three days and three nights, is now seated at His Father’s right hand on high, and He invites you to trust Him to reconcile you to God.

Do you need to repent, as God commands? You trusting Jesus as your savior will accomplish repentance. And when you respond to God’s offer of His Son He becomes well disposed toward you, because He so very much loves His Son, and is well-pleased by Him. Is this all so very complicated? It isn’t really, is it? It is really quite simple. It is surprisingly straightforward. God, who loves you, is angry with you because of your sin and rebellion. But Jesus was sent by God to reconcile you to Him, and He did what was necessary to satisfy God’s reasonable demands. Your only responsibility is to come to Christ.

Finally, IT IS TO BE OBSERVED THAT, FOR THE MOST PART, THE ATHENIANS REJECTED PAUL’S MESSAGE, JUST AS FOR THE MOST PART CHRISTIANS HERE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REJECT PAUL’S MESSAGE.

Verse 32: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.”

Does it really matter why someone rejects Christ? I don’t think so. The important issue is that sinners despise and reject Jesus, Isaiah 53, and turn their faces away from Him. The Athenians rejected Jesus because they hung up on the resurrection. People today oftentimes reject Jesus for other reasons. However, the key point is rejecting Jesus. Will you, too, reject Jesus? Or will you come to Him? The issue is not learning, ever learning. The issue is not knowledge and facts and information and history. The issue is really Jesus and your relationship with Him.

Not really a gospel sermon. Actually, my introductory remarks were intended to be a categorical indictment of that brand of religion that masquerades as Christianity here in the southern California.

Lost without realizing their lost condition in the sight of God. Leisurely without using their leisure in a responsible and meaningful way. Learning, but utterly without concern for coming to know the one true and living God, through faith in His Son, Jesus. I speak, of course, of the so-called Christians of southern California. However, to ensure that you do not think I am being too heard on them, keep in mind that they so confuse the issues, they so muddy up the waters, they create such distraction that they do more to hinder sinners from coming to Christ than to show them the way.

I do not want that for you. I want you to be converted for real. I will show you how, if you will let me.



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