For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:5) If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17) You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev. 3:1)
To one who is a student merely, these verses might be interesting, but to a serious man intent upon gaining eternal life, they might well prove more than a little disturbing. For they evidently teach that the message of the gospel may be received in either of two ways: in word only without power, or in word with power. Yet it is the same message whether it comes in word or in power. And these verses teach also that when the message is received in power, it effects a change so radical as to be called a new creation. But the message may be received without power, and apparently some have so received it, for
they have a name that they are alive, but are dead. All this is present in these texts.
By observing the ways of men at play, I have been able to understand better the ways of men at prayer. Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played. The various sports have their rules and their balls and their players; the game excites interest, gives pleasure, and consumes time, and when it is over, the competing teams
laugh and leave the field. It is common to see a player leave one team and join another and a few days later play against his old mates with as great zest as he formerly displayed when playing for them. The whole thing is arbitrary. It consists in solving artificial problems and attacking difficulties that have been deliberately created for the sake of the game. It has no moral roots and is not supposed to have. No one is the better for his self- imposed toil. It is all but a pleasant activity that changes nothing and settles nothing at last.
If the conditions we describe were confined to the ballpark, we might pass it over without further thought, but what are we to say when this same spirit enters the sanctuary and decides the attitude of men toward God and religion? For the Church has also its fields and its rules and its equipment for playing the game of pious words. It has its devotees, both laymen and professionals, who support the game with their money and encourage it with their presence, but who are no different in life or character from many who take no interest at all in Christianity.
Playing With Words
As an athlete uses a ball, so do many of us use words: words spoken and words sung, words written and words uttered in prayer. We throw them swiftly across the field; we learn to handle them with dexterity and grace; we build reputations upon our word skill and gain as our reward the applause of those who have enjoyed the game. But the emptiness of it is apparent from the fact that after the
pleasant religious game, no one is basically any different from what he had been before. The basis of life remains unchanged; the same old principles govern, the same old Adam rules.
– A. W. Tozer