Thingamy-Jiggery-Pokery

the-thing-movie-poster

We’re always making a thing out of things that aren’t things. There’s a technical term for this but I’m just going to call it thingification. The name’s not important. What is important is that it’s ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 6 things that are commonly thingified.

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Grace is not a thing.

“Grace, Grace, Grace” we sing. And I think “She sounds awesome, I wish I could meet her.” But I can’t meet her because there’s no such person. There’s only Jesus who is given to me by the Father apart from any desert of my own. That’s grace. But grace is not a thing. Grace is the gift of a Person and if I want to know more grace I need to train my eyes on Jesus. Then I’ll see how freely He’s given. At that point I have an experience of grace, but my experience won’t be of a thing but of a Him. (For more see here).

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Faith is not a thing.

“We’ve got to have more faith” we cry. And so we check the little perspex window on our heart to see if the faith pilot-light is flickering strong. Oops, looks like it’s going out. Quick, turn the faith tap to maximum. But  how? What is faith? Again, it’s not a thing. Faith is to recognise and receive Jesus (John 1:12-13). He has been graciously given, therefore we trustingly receive Him. But faith is not something we dredge up out of our inner spiritual life. If you want “more faith”, don’t look for faith – look to Jesus. That’s how faith comes. (For more see here).

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Prayer is not a thing.

“I need to work on my prayer life” we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is “I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian.” Or maybe we want to improve because we want to “improve our relationship with God.” In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures “my prayer life” as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on “my prayer life” but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: “Please may God bless this work…” And we think, “Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?” Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don’t we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God? (For more see here).

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Bible Reading is not a thing.

“I must read my Bible” we vow, “every day, come rain, hail or shine.” Well alright but why? Another spiritual discipline to master? A duty to tick off the list? If we manage it, is there not a sense of “Phew, job done!” But what if “Bible Reading” isn’t a thing in the Christian life. What if Bible Reading is simply how the Father speaks His word to us in Christ and by the Spirit. What if Bible Reading is not a thing we need to get right but a word in our ear from our gracious God? (For more see here).

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The Sermon is not a thing.

“What did you make of The Sermon” we ask each other after the service. Suddenly The Sermon is a thing – a thing in between the preacher and the congregation. It’s a production that we then pass comment on. And from the preacher’s point of view the same thingification can happen: “we prepare and deliver a sermon” rather than “herald God’s word to a congregation.” Unfortunately this thing arises in between preacher and people – a thing that will be dissected and focused upon by both sides. But really there is no such thing. There’s only God’s word coming down through the preacher’s lips. There’s only a congregation hearing the voice of the living Christ. The Sermon is an artifice. It is not a proper object of our attention – only the Christ which it proclaims. (For more see here).

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Discipleship is not a thing. (Updated)

“The church has woefully neglected discipleship” they lament. We all give a hearty ‘Amen’ then we look in our Bibles for the word “discipleship” and, shock horror, it’s not there. The word “disciple” is certainly there, but discipleship? No, the Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It’s worth considering. (For more see here).

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What do you think? And are there other aspects of the Christian life we thingify?

Posted on by Glen in faith, grace, pastoral theology, prayer, preaching

About Glen

I’m a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

18 Responses to Thingamy-Jiggery-Pokery

  1. Joyce

    Love this. Especially the bit on discipleship. Thank you for putting into words something I’ve felt for a long time. And it’s a good reminder not to get weighed down by the baggage we often put on ourselves as Christians. Generally, just being a Christian is thingified. It is easy to get obsessed by “shoulds” and semantics that we forget what we are here for.

  2. Jon

    Helpful, thank you. A friend linked to the following on Facebook today:
    http://m.christianity.com/church/worship-and-hymns/is-your-church-worship-more-pagan-than-christian.html
    Perhaps ‘worship’ isn’t a thing too?

  3. George Osborn

    More of this please! Really appreciate how this points us to Christ, too many things get in the way and I am guilty of simply using Jesus as my stepping stone not the destination! Thanks for writing,

  4. Howard Nowlan

    Nicely complimented by one of Emma’s latest:http://emmascrivener.net/2014/10/the-contract-killer/

  5. Brian Midmore

    Thingification is only one step removed from idolatry. Might not the Reformation’s particular interest in ‘righteousness’ be an example of thingification. In the OT the righteousness of God referred to God’s activity in fulfillment of the covenant. In the reformation ‘righteousness’ assumed a much more abstract quality and became rather thingy. This thing righteousness was then given by God to Christians to righteousify them.

  6. Brian Midmore

    I think I see the fruits of some of this in statements like ‘I received Jesus as Saviour but not as Lord’. Which is to say ‘I got God’s righteousness as a gift and then I was off’. But Paul/Calvin’s in Christ formulation solves this problem. ( No, I don’t think every thing from the Reformation was a bad thing). Our justification is in Christ. We are justified because he is resurrected. WE dont own righteousness as a THING to do with as we will.

  7. Glen

    Thanks Joyce and yes Jon, “worship” can definitely become a thing. Amen George and Howard and yes indeed to Brian. Righteousness is not available as a thing – the gift is Christ Himself:

    “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭30‬ NIV)

  8. Brian Midmore

    Evangelism is very thingy too!

  9. Brian Midmore

    Might not ‘Christ’ become thingy too!? I always say Messiah because this grounds Jesus of Nazareth in the the sweeping narrative of Israel. Jesus is the hope of Israel, the fulfilment of Torah. ‘Christ’ can tend to mean ‘the founder of the Christian religion for the Gentiles’ or at worst abstracted into a shorthand for a moral ethic. When we say Messiah we remember that Jesus is the fulfilment of the eschatological hope of the Jews into which the Gentiles are included.

  10. Glen

    Evangelism can definitely be very thingy (just as worship and preaching can, etc).

    I reckon “Christ” should primarily make us think “Spirit” – anointed beyond measure with the ultimate personalising Person. The Scriptures continually present Him as “Christ, Son of God” – this trinitarian identification is the ultimate guard against thingification I think.

  11. Brian Midmore

    Hi, Glen,
    Thanks for responding to my ramblings. Concerning the new grace movement, I read this quote from Steve Edwards a ‘grace’ blogger, and I think it encapsulates many issues.

    ‘If anyone comes to Christ, regardless of their sexuality, they are washed clean in His blood, forever. If they continue in an active (homo) sexual relationship, that is between them and God, no one else. It does not affect their righteous standing before God, because their righteousness is a free gift and does not depend on what they do, but on what Christ did for them. The same for us. Jesus Christ made us holy and perfect through his sacrifice.This is Grace.’

    What is wrong with statement? It is said that Antinomianism is the uninvited guest at Reformations feast. Maybe it is caused by the thingification righteousness. I would say that 1 Cor ch5 and Jude 4 was wrong with this quote.

  12. Glen

    Hi Brian,

    I haven’t heard of Steve Edwards, but yes this definitely seems like the thingification of ‘grace’. I don’t think that means we should back off from the offer of grace though, it does mean we should offer grace as a Him, not a thing. In that case you start saying to those caught in sin “How can you? Don’t you know that you are united to Christ, by grace and apart from your works? Your righteousness is not ‘diplomatic immunity’, it is the presence of Christ in you – shall I therefore unite the members of Christ to a prostitute? By no means!” (1 Cor 6). It seems to me that the problem with Edwards’ quote is not that he wants to offer free grace, it’s the fact that the “grace” he offers is not really grace. It’s a thing.

    That’s what I was getting at with this poem…

    http://christthetruth.net/2014/05/31/we-do-not-balance-licence-and-legalism/

  13. Brian Midmore

    Yes, SE and others seem to be offering Christianity free from repentance. For them repentance is a work that we must do to earn our salvation and therefore not needed since it is not by works but by faith. The biblical picture is of coming into Christ/Messiah by baptism which is the ultimate act of repentance. In baptism we put to death our past life, identity etc. It is total repentance. Therefore we are not covered by a protective shield of righteousness but we are baptised into the Messiah and his death and as a consequence righteous by dint of Christs righteousness. Righteousness is a free gift but it does cost us everything. We can only be righteous in Christ and we can only be in Christ by baptism which puts to death our fleshly life.

  14. Glen

    Yes indeed – baptism puts us to death (something the ‘old man’ is incapable of doing) – and raises us to a new life (a new life the ‘old man’ can’t live). But that’s now our identity – freely given in Christ.

  15. Howard Nowlan

    Gotta keep a sharp eye on your heart and the company it keeps
    You know the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
    These days, people swallow about anything to relieve their starvation
    I see a whole lot of ghosts on the day of their capitulation

    Think about my ship aground
    All of the people I let down
    Yes, and the mercy we have found

    I’m not saying my hands are clean
    Lord knows my guilt, and I’m not faultless
    I’ve numbered, addressed and confessed these skeletons in my closet
    Ah, please draw near
    Would You bathe and caress these equal parts faith and hopelessness?
    Equal parts joy and gloom all wrapped up inside this empty tomb

    If you borrow heavily from a thief in an effort to save
    What you spend on your false self, you’ve got the devil to pay

    Vigilantes of Love.

  16. Jim

    Wonderful post!

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
    Look full in His wonderful face;
    And the Things of earth will grow strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.”

  17. Glen

    Thanks Jim. Welcome to the blog :)

  18. Reuben Huffman (@REHuffman6)

    Great post. regarding other aspects thingified: I’ve wondered if ‘the kingdom’ of God has, in some circles, been thingified. It’s the kingdom OF GOD…could it be an attribute of Him, instead of a thing separate from him? Can anyone point me to studies/sermons/articles done on this?

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