I came across an interesting article about how men aren’t attracted to church. There are a lot of angles you could take on approaching this (such as the widespread feminization of the Western church, or the lack of any well-defined mission driving it forward), but for the purposes of this post I’m going to take a different perspective.
There is a very thick undertone of helplessness in the Western church. There is a good and bad side to this: the good is that our works cannot save us or do anything to earn God’s favor. If church was about our own accomplishment and achievement (as it unfortunately so often is) then it’s stripped of the Gospel itself. This is completely on-point when it comes to justification. We are helpless to save ourselves from sin and death.
But what happens next? Church often turns into a self-improvement seminar, telling you have to have Better Finances, A Better Marriage, Better Kids, and Your Best Life Now. It stops being about Jesus and starts to revolve around you and what you do. On the other hand, you have schools of though (generally Reformed) that genuflect over sin and depravity with such gusto that you wonder if their Bibles have been excised of 2 Corinthians 5.17, with its declaration that anyone who is in Christ is “a new creation.”
Both of these extremes lead to hopelessness. If it’s all riding on me to get my life in order, then I already know I’m going to fail. But if I’m still shackled to sin despite Jesus’ death and resurrection, why even bother trying? I know I can’t be good enough.
This attitude ultimately comes down to feeling helpless and unable to do anything, one way or another; it leads to malaise and aimless floating on the waves of a culture and society in steep decline. This is particularly pertinent in the case of men, who have already been so thoroughly emasculated by a culture that pretty much loathes them. The Christian faith is a hard sell if it only seems to offer more helplessness and wimpiness to half the population.
What’s striking is that the Bible itself tells a very different story. The early church was filled with strong, courageous men who boldly carried out the mission of spreading the Gospel across the world. It was dangerous, exciting, and certainly not boring. But where is this today? A church lacking confidence is going to have a much harder fight for the surrounding culture, powerless to embark on any sort of mission.
But where does this confidence come from? Our culture has quite a lot to say about self confidence, but not much about any other type of confidence. I believe that, corporately and individually, we should have confidence in ourselves but not of ourselves. The source of our confidence ultimately comes from Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not from ourselves.
This is absolutely essential to understand in order to live a peace-filled Christian life. Confidence in and from ourselves comes and goes depending on external circumstances, and, to draw from Jesus’ famous parable, is like sand that shifts in a storm: it’s no solid foundation for your sense of identity. You can lose your money, your job, your good looks, your athleticism, your musical ability, and more. If your opinion of yourself is based on these things, you’re setting yourself up for collapse.
So what does the alternative look like? Let’s look at Psalm 1.1-3:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
But his delight is in the law/instruction of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.”
This opening passage of the Bible’s longest book shows us the life of a man who delights in righteousness and following God’s ways (I use these terms to avoid confusion with law in the sense it’s used in the New Testament – contrasting Law vs. Grace. In this passage, it refers to God’s revealed teaching about the right way to live.) He’s likened to a tree. Think about what we know about trees: they are the strongest and most immovable living things in nature. They are very hard to knock over or dislocate. They live for a very long time. What’s more, is that this tree is rooted near a source of water, giving it everything it needs to live; and the tree fulfills its purpose as well, bearing the fruit it was designed to make.
A better type of self-confidence is one that is based upon God’s goodness, righteousness, and wisdom; and even moreso, one based upon Jesus, his sacrifice, and our future hope. Ephesians 1 is such a paradigm-altering passage of scripture that it’s easy to miss how it applies to this situation: we can be fully confident in ourselves because we have been redeemed from our sins, adopted as children of God and given an inheritance in the New Creation. And Colossians 2.6-7 shows that I’m the only one seeing a tree analogy here:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
It’s just as important to consider what a tree is not. It doesn’t grow quickly, and the most important part of the tree is underground, doing a lot of work before much of anything pokes up from the surface. Our culture tells us that our confidence comes from external, easily-recognizable metrics: wealth, status, beauty, and so on. Like Jenga blocks, these have no foundation and can be topped at any time by the slightest misstep, no matter how capable or skilled we believe ourselves to be. But I find it more encouraging that my real basis for confidence comes from a much deeper source than that: a Source that tells me it’s okay to not get instant results, it’s okay to not be a superstar, and it’s okay to not have it all figured out. God is much less concerned with where we’re trying to end up than he is with our growth – and like a firmly-planted tree, we’ll find that a confidence grown through faith in Jesus can weather any storm life throws at us.