Michael Horton’s Ordinary is both a convicting and refreshing book. Horton helps Christians cultivate what he calls “sustainable faith” in world that is characterized with an obsession with the exceptional. The first sentence of Horton’s book is a list of adjectives and phrases that are used daily by savvy marketers to attract my generation to some new product. “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Extreme. Awesome. Emergent. Alternative. Innovative. On the Edge. The Next Big Thing. Explosive Breakthrough” (11). Unsurprisingly, churches use these kinds of words and phrases are used to attract folks in my generation to their weekly gatherings and programs.
Yet, what the Church fails to recognize when it uncritically follows the world in its promotional tactics is that creating of a taste for the extraordinary will actually serve to undermine healthy, persevering faith by tempting people away from the normal means of spiritual growth. Horton helps us here. In this article I will mention the first of three ways.
A Sustainable Christian Life Begins with Justification by Faith Alone
Much of our obsession with the exceptional and remarkable, especially as it relates to the character and content of our own lives, grows out of a desire for people’s approval. We are discontent with the ordinary because, deep-down, we want to boast about our accomplishments, even if those accomplishments are religious or philanthropic in nature. We want recognition from others for what we do for God and for the good of humanity so we become discontent with simple, daily obedience and begin pursue things that will really set us apart from others. But the gospel sets us free from the tyranny of living for other people’s approval. Speaking of “aspiring perfectionists” who crave the approval of others, Horton comments:
The desire to please others–to derive their identity from the words of someone other than God–has a debilitating effect on their hearts. Instead of living from God’s justification of the ungodly in Christ, they live for the approval and applause of other sinners. When that approval is lacking, they close up, pull away, and retreat from the world–and perhaps even from God (35).
The craving for man’s approval, as Horton observes, tends to deaden our godly inclinations and may actually cause us to drift from our church community and even God himself. But the good news that God accepts us in Christ apart from any work we have done or will do frees us from the need to garner approval from other people. In Christ we have all the approval we need from the most important Person in the universe and therefore do not require man’s approval to fill a void in our lives. When this truth is fixed squarely upon our hearts, we will find that we are more than happy to follow the path of the ordinary Christian life and not compelled to pursue a life of enviable adventure and self-importance.
Of course, Horton is not advocating the pursuit of comfort, ease, and mediocrity. But neither does he suggest that a so-called radical life that renounces all earthly comfort is necessarily godly (see 1 Cor 13:1-3). What matters is whether our hearts have settled upon Christ by faith alone and no longer need the approval of other people. The doctrine of justification by faith, then, serves as the foundation upon which we can build a sustainable Christian life.
Tomorrow we will see that sustainable faith is characterized by steady faithfulness.