The Extremist

No one wants to be labeled an extremist. We perceive people to be wise when they can find a middle ground and comfortably reside there. Unless it is a sport, of course. Extreme sports are cool. And the people who compete in them are venerated. One who looks for a middle ground is willing to compromise and sacrifice for the sake of unity. They earn the acclaim of their mature peers for not being an extremist. While this can be a virtue in many cases, it can also be a tragedy when we apply this reasoning to God’s truth. Is there a middle ground to be found in truth? What are we going to sacrifice or compromise? I often hear people remark, or see comments on blogs about finding the middle ground, as if that is the goal in Christian growth. While it is certainly true that many things in life call for balance, there are also extremes for which we should not be ashamed. God’s love is extreme. His hatred for sin is extreme. The greatest proof of both these statements is the death of his Son on the cross on the behalf of his beloved. Think about the extreme evil of sin, to provoke eternal wrath from God. Jesus knew this. He even taught us how we are far worse sinners than we could have ever imagined. Anger is murder? Lustful thoughts are adulterous? Who can stand before a holy and righteous God? The only One who could bore the full weight of God’s wrath against the sin of his beloved people. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is extreme love. The church is an extreme institution. Every Sunday, Christ’s body of redeemed sinners gather together in a worshipful covenant renewal ceremony. We really are a peculiar people. Moses’s wife wasn’t too keen on the Old Testament sign of the covenant, circumcision. But when the Lord came to take either the life of Moses or their first-born (the Hebrew is unclear), Zipporah cuts her son’s foreskin herself and throws it at Moses’ feet saying, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” (Exod. 4:25b). Calling her husband bloody was really an accusation against the God that he spoke for. There was no middle ground if you didn’t care for circumcision. The means of grace instituted by our Lord for his church may seem too narrow for some church-goers. The ordinary means of preaching, the proper administration of the sacraments, and church discipline may not appeal to postmodern taste. Faithfully preaching all of God’s Word can be offensive. And many today do not believe in any hierarchical right in the church for disciplinary matters. It all seems a bit extreme. The gospel message itself is extreme. We are told that we are children of wrath, dead in our trespasses and sins. We are to put our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became a man to live a life of righteousness and die a sacrificial, substitutionary death on our behalf. He was buried and resurrected 3 days later, seen by many, and is now ascended at the right hand of his Father interceding for us. He will return to judge the world, and consummate his matrimony to the church. We will eternally live out that union with resurrected bodies on a new heaven and a new earth, where we will perfectly worship him and sin will be no more. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Are we? As we wait for that day, we are called to extreme living. In fact, we are told that in Christ we are made new creatures, with a new heart’s desire to obey the Word of God. This is a life that gratefully lives according to our future hope. This is a life that sees the world as it really is, as we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. God’s Holy Spirit has sealed us for the day of redemption, and we are told to look carefully as we walk. We recognize the pernicious reality of spiritual warfare, but we can serve in confidence knowing our hope is in the One who will preserve us to the end. While we should always be striving for peace and unity among believers, we should never compromise God’s Word for the sake of superficial unity. Michael Horton’s final thoughts in this month’s issue of Modern Reformation Magazine sum it up well:
As Francis Schaeffer often said, “Christianity is not useful if it isn’t true.” Paul said that first in 1 Corinthians 15. No other religion or philosophy hangs everything on history as the gospel does. You don’t need Christianity to be smart, to be a good person, to have a great marriage and a sense of inner peace. You need the gospel only if there is a coming judgment and someone else has taken care of it for you.
God’s reality is extreme.