The Pastor from Gehenna

preacher 2

In my early years as a pastor, I had a “me against them” mentality.

My job was to whip the saints into obedience against their will. Since they really didn’t want to serve God, I had to guilt or pressure them into it. I’d say things like, “Come on, let’s worship God like we really mean it.” How self-righteous I was.

I actually required our members to hand in “Accountability Forms” to incite them to do their devotions. A few years ago, a woman from our church was cleaning her attic and found one of her forms. One entry said, “Didn’t have devotions today. Too exhausted after having my baby.” Arghhhh – I was the pastor from Gahenna. Incredibly, she’s still in our church.

Mercifully, God used Ezekiel 36:26-27 to change my perspective forever.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This was revolutionary, and changed my whole view of God’s people. Now, by God’s grace, I have the following presuppositions about believers:

They love Jesus.
They want to obey him and walk in his ways.
They want to worship.
They want to become like Christ.
They don’t love sin or want to sin.
They want to change.

Why do I have this confidence? Because if someone has been born again, God has given them a new heart. He’s placed his Spirit in them who moves them to love and obey him.

Like me, they battle indwelling sin and temptation. Like me, they fail. But at their core, they have new hearts that love Jesus.

This makes a huge difference in the way I serve God’s people.

I no longer try to whip them into obedience, but seek to lift up their eyes to see Jesus, who redeemed them, is for them, and loves them unceasingly. I want to remind them that Jesus will complete the good work he began in them. I exhort them to obey God because his Spirit’s working in them. And by God’s grace I’m patient with slow progress (both theirs and mine), knowing God has given us hearts that love him.

Photo by AKMA

Comments

  1. Tim says

    OK Mark, for some reason when I saw the title of this post in Google Reader I thought “That would be a great name for a Frank Zappa tune”. Totally random …

  2. says

    Yes. This Ezek. passage is so important for our understanding of the sanctification process.

    I heard Paul Washer preach on this passage at a Founders conference in St. Louis once. He said (loosely quoting) that we have this idea that sanctification is the process of sinful people who hate God putting down the sin that they love and forcing themselves to do what God is making them do. We got to this point because there are so many unregenerate people in our churches that we ignorantly label as “christians” because of a prayer they said once upon a time.

    Instead, sanctification is the process by which a man who has been given a new heart is continually drawn, by God, toward the things of righteousness, which he now loves, and away from sinful things, which he now hates.

    If we had a better understanding of regeneration, we’d have a better understanding of sanctification. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  3. says

    Hey Tim,

    Yes, along with Peaches in Regalia. I’m glad to know how spiritual you are, that your mind goes to Frank Zappa song titles. Now, your brother couldn’t do that, because he’s never heard of Frank Zappa. It was all we could do to try to get him to recognize Bob Dylan’s voice…

    Mike,

    I like your definition of sanctification. And you are so right – our understanding of regeneration affects our understanding of sanctification.

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. fredokie says

    Oh Mark, I came out of a works oriented group. Glad I wasn’t with you back then.
    It is so refreshing to hear the word from a grace perspective, but yet never backing down on the consequences of not letting Christ into your life. As we are living each day closer to Christ, thank you for demonstrating it daily.
    Preach on brother, in the name and love of Christ.
    Fredokie

  5. John Kang says

    This reminds me of a class I sat in on at Covenant Seminary where the Professor spoke about Unity in Christ and used the passage you mentioned above. As new creations in Christ, sin has been de-throned from Lordship over our lives and Jesus has taken the seat. We battle sin and temptations as external things to our nature. Thanks for the blog post.

  6. says

    Hey Paul, I don’t know who the artist is, but he must have been drawing me….

    Yeah, Fredokie, isn’t grace wonderful? Yeah, you wouldn’t have liked it much back then, but most of us didn’t know any better….

    Thanks J, hope it encouraged you.

    John, that’s a good way to put it – sin has been de-throned and Jesus is ruling in our hearts. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Bill Haughery says

    Mark, you’re comments are so refreshing and God glorifying. It is amazing to consider how far God has brought us over the years. Funny isn’t it? In those days we celebrated the grace of God for saving us from plain old sin and now we celebrate the same grace of God, but this time for delivering us from the sin of legalism that we didn’t know we had. What will we be thanking Him for in 20 years?

  8. says

    Hey Bill,

    Yes, it’s amazing how far God has brought us over the years. Of course you were probably not like me…20 years from now? Yeah, I’m probably sinning and offending people in lots of ways I’m not even aware of. In 20 years, if I live and the Lord wills, I’ll probably be thanking him if I can even move.

  9. says

    Mark,

    It’s always a pleasure to learn and apply the wonderful insights you and your son have here.

    Thank you for your continuing faithfulness to our Lord.

  10. says

    I happened to be at the LIBRARY COMPUTER because Fred Flintsone and I are the only ones who still have dialup; went to carolyn mculley’s web site, just randomly clicked on”the blazing center” and was astonished to see it was by altrogge father and son! then to see the comment by TIM about frank zappa… and I started cracking up right in the library… they’re coming to take me away right now.. so quick what was frank’s daughter’s name? help me… moon walk/ moon dance? i can’t remember….

  11. says

    on a more serious note; not only are there pastors from gehenna, but alas, they produce sheep from gehenna, (as I was for so many years) who in turn are supposed to “disciple'(condemn,judge) others into being sheep from gehenna. Matthew 23:15 is so true..”..you make him into twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” I read an article somewhere entitled , ” I am a Recovering Pharisee” and I said.. oh my; that is me:”HI, my name is Joanne, and I am a recovering Pharisee…”

  12. says

    Hi Mark,

    Yes that’s the kind of chastising bug many pastors suffer from. So did I, when I read back my sermons of some years ago. Thanks for your comforting blog that convinces me once more I made the right change!

    With warmest greetings (it’s 30 deg. Celsius over here),
    Jominee
    a collegue from The Netherlands (Holland).

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