This is the second topic discussed in an interview with John, conducted by Brian Proffit, director of Preaching Unleashed, and the Denver Christianity Examiner. Thank you for the comments on the first interview! Continue to give us your feedback!
John, I appreciate that your message is not just “name it and claim it.” You make it clear in Extraordinary that there are prerequisites like truly seeking to live a holy life. Why isn’t that talked about as much?
I believe there are three reasons people aren’t talking about holiness: Number one, there is a personal responsibility. We are living in an age when people want to place all the responsibility on God, and not take the responsibility of cooperating with Him on themselves.
Number two, when we do speak on holiness it narrows the road. So we have to decide whether we’re willing to speak a message where a rich young ruler who loves his money more than he loves God might turn around and walk away, or will we broaden the message so he stays and feels comfortable with us and our ministry. I think those are the biggest reasons holiness has been shied away from.
A third reason is that there were mean-spirited legalistic preachers who beat people up with an unhealthy, unscriptural view of holiness. They made it into a very legalistic thing.
So no, some don’t want anything to do with teaching holiness because they don’t want to be associated with the pain of legalism, which I believe, is so against the heart of God.
I’ll never forget when God said to me, “Holiness is not a product of your flesh, it is a work of my grace—but you have to cooperate with my grace.” So if the Bible tells me that I can live a pure, godly life, a blameless life walking worthy before God, I know that God has give me the grace to do that—but I have to cooperate with that grace. Since God has chosen to give us free will we can choose not to cooperate with his grace, but the empowerment is there. That’s the beauty—grace empowers us, but we still have the free will to choose to yield to its empowerment.
I guess it’s just not what people want to hear right now, so many choose not to narrow that road by speaking it.
I’m blown away by the lifestyles that people are living, going to evangelical churches. It’s just mind-blowing. I can understand when somebody first comes in and they are beginning to hear the message. But when people say, “I’ve been attending this church for five years and I’m still living with this lady,” I’m wondering why you haven’t felt any conviction. Because if the Holy Spirit is there and if the Word is being preached, there is going to be a conviction in your heart to live a godly life; to walk in a manner that is worthy of God.
I heard someone once describe life as being like ripples on a pond, with little rises and dips as it moves along. His point was that when Jesus talked about giving us life more abundant, those ripples become more like ocean waves with really large peaks and really deep lows. That seems to have been the experience of a great many Christians. How do we reconcile that with teachings on health and prosperity?
Paul said that through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of heaven. The word “enter” means to arise and come into. So putting those things together, the Bible says through many tribulations we arise and come into the rule of God’s authority. That means that a believer no longer looks at it as a high and a low, but a believer says a trial, a hardship, is not an obstacle; it’s a stepping stone that will help them rise further into the kingdom.
Like the passage in James that says count it all joy when you go through trials.
And the only person who could count it joy is the person who knows that that trial is going to bring him or her to the next level in the spirit. James goes on to say in that chapter—and I find it amazing that people never put the two together—that “Blessed is the man who endures the trial, for after he is tried he will receive the crown of life.” The reason we ignore that is because we think that’s one of the crowns we’re going to throw at Jesus’ feet in the throne room. That is not what he is talking about. The crown speaks of authority, and with authority comes power. That means we’ve got an authority over the area of our life in which we were just tried.
If you look at Luke’s gospel it says Jesus went into the wilderness filled with the spirit but he returned in power. He was tempted for 40 days by the devil. He passed and he came out in the power.
So let me give you an example. I was deeply, deeply offended by a leader. It took me two and a half years to get over that. It was my own fault that it took so long; it should have been a lot quicker. But when I finally met with that man and we reconciled, my life changed. Out of that experience I wrote a book called Bait of Satan, and now that book has sold over a million copies and it has transformed so many lives. When I was going through that trial, that dip to use your word, it was so difficult. But I look back now and I see all the lives that have been changed. And in myself, I have had many wonderful opportunities to get offended again, but I overcame that trial and now I have an authority over that area of life that is God-given. That’s what James is talking about. I rose and entered into the rule of God in that area of life. And not only has it helped me not to fall into that trap again, but it has helped me to help over a million people.
So when you have a perspective like that on trials and hardships, then you get a really good attitude about it. If you look at 2 Corinthians you see that Paul had a really bad attitude! He said I’m going through this infirmity and I pleaded with the Lord three times to take this thing away from me. The word “infirmity” if you look at the original, it means “weakness.” And God said Paul haven’t you figured this out yet, my grace is all you need, because my power is made perfect in your human inability. Once that revelation got to Paul he says, “Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses.” He goes from pleading to God to take it away from him to taking pleasure in it. Why did his whole attitude change? Because he realized that what he had seen as a dip was really God giving him an opportunity to rise further into the spirit of God.
This book was written in the fall of 56 A.D. Paul wrote Romans in the spring of 57 A.D., six months later. In the book of Romans his whole paradigm had been shifted. He said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors.”
So this is not at all the attitude he had six months earlier. He went from “Please take this away,” to “In all things we are more than conquerors.” He was able to do that because he heard God say, “Haven’t you figured this out yet? My grace is all you need, because my grace, my strength, my power, is made perfect in your human inability.
So Paul got the revelation that without a battle there’s no victory! Without resistance, there’s not going to be a promotion. So I’m now going to do what Jesus did. In Hebrews, talking about Jesus, it says, “Who, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” What was the joy? He was going to have many sons and daughters saved into the kingdom. So when we see what comes out on the other side…if we believe and obey God…then we get full of joy.