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Dear Robert,

Thanks for pursuing greater growth in the Lord. I am glad you have seen changes in Jake – I have too. I’m even more delighted that you’re asking for a similar pastoral perspective on your life. You asked if Jake’s problem is essentially yours as well. In a word, no, though as sinners in Adam, we often share sinful traits with each other.

Your spiritual block is not “the over-the-hill-commitment”. What I have observed in you is something more easily described, and yet less easily felt. Simply put, your approach to the Christian life is filled with passive rebellion to God’s authority. A low-grade, quiet, stubborn resistance to God retards your growth and ensures that your Christian life has a stop-start feel to it.

Passive rebellion is difficult to recognise in oneself. I’m sure you’re scratching your head right now, wondering how you’re a rebel, since you attend church regularly, serve in ministry, and would consider yourself far more spiritually active than the lukewarm and worldly Christianity that usually claims to be “born again”. But passive rebellion is a quiet and stubborn force which is present in some of the “nicer” Christians you’ll meet.

You can better understand passive rebellion by contrasting it with assertive rebellion. An assertive rebel openly defies God’s principles and commands in Scripture. He knows he is flouting God’s laws, so he instead gives reasons why his rebellion is justified. The passive rebel, however, disobeys by omission. I was too tired to obey. I forgot to obey. It was too hard to obey. It’s the sluggard of Proverbs (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13).

Let me make it really practical. You have joined our church, by your own free will. You joined knowing what our church is, how it runs, and when it meets. You made a covenant that you would regularly participate in worship, as well as supporting the church’s doctrine, discipline, and leadership. Why then do you attend roughly half of the services every week? I know nothing exists in your life that would make attendance at all three services insurmountable. You could be there, but choose to not attend.

Instead, you’ve made the calculation that a passive rebel makes: I don’t want to obey in the way the church expects. I will obey my own way. After all, the church is not God. But this is passive rebellion.

You are correct that the church is not God. You are right that a church’s authority extends only as far as it practises the Word of God. But what you fail to see is that what a church corporately agrees to do becomes voluntarily binding on those who submit to it. And those who refuse what the church expects (be a member, serve others, get involved in ministry, attend every corporate worship service), are refusing to obey God. It just doesn’t feel like it to you, because you think God’s authority and the church’s are completely separate. But this fails to understand how authority works.

Let’s imagine you’re running a business. You ask your employees to be present for a meeting on Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon, and Friday morning. One of your employees – a pleasant, amiable fellow – regularly attends on Wednesday, occasionally Friday, and never Monday. What would you do? You’d start by asking if something impedes his attendance every Monday, and most Fridays. When you discover he’s at his desk during those times, you might ask him why. When the reasons come back as “so much work to get through” “I just need to catch up with my reports” “yes, I really do need to come more often”, what will you conclude? Why, you’re dealing with an insubordinate man. He’s just very sweet about it. He thinks an attendance of 100 percent for one of your meetings ought to count as enough points for an overall good performance. But he’s making up his own standard, and quietly defying yours. Furthermore, since God told him to submit to his earthly masters (Eph 6:5-9), he is quietly disobeying God. It won’t do if he makes the excuse, “Well, that’s just a man-made standard!” Indeed, it is. And God requires him to submit to it.

Now I don’t hesitate to say that this is your problem. In fact, it is your cordial and pleasant nature that masks how stubborn you really are. Your jovial interactions with me and others make you feel that you are doing nothing wrong. But you are regularly sinning against earthly authority.

If you look carefully, you will see this phenomenon across your life. You do not really submit to the church’s authority. You take the church’s requests and requirements as good advice, but not seriously binding on you. You see the church like a man might see the meetings of a volunteer organisation. He might attend some of his local SPCA or local Hospice meetings – but not all of them. You actually feel you’re blessing the organisation when you show up; you don’t see much rebellion in not showing up. This applies to serving others, discipling others, giving to the church (not that I know what you give, but passive rebellion is seldom contained to one specific area). It applies to punctuality, dress codes, and attendance.

Here’s the crux of the matter: you cannot expect growth in your life, when you passively disobey the Holy Spirit in so many small ways every week. Your life is shot through with independence; having brilliant personal devotions is not going to fix this. Your corporate walk with Christ is seriously unhealthy; listening to sermons by conservative preachers during the week will not heal you. You selectively obey authority; consoling yourself that you attend a conservative church does not change that.

Let me tell you what has brought radical awakening to many a passive rebel. Begin treating God’s church as if it really were an extension of God’s authority. Begin obeying everything your church expects. If your church’s expectations are ridiculous, onerous, or unreasonable (by a biblical standard), then you joined the wrong church, and you need to leave it and join one that is biblical in its expectations. But you cannot say that a church’s expectations are biblical and reasonable, join it, and then refuse to meet those expectations. That’s just passive rebellion, and it quenches the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.

Until you fix the more obvious and outward aspects of submission to Christ, the deeper and more subtle ones will remain hidden from you. And that lack of sight is what the Bible calls hardness of heart, and it prevents serious growth.

I’m sorry if this grieves you. As your shepherd, I do love you, and that means I have to diagnose the disease and prescribe the cure. I do see the good you do, and I acknowledge your service for Christ. You are not an assertive rebel. If you were, you would already know it. But look to the quiet refusals, the passive resistance, the dragging of your feet in your walk with Christ, and you will see a host of things to repent of. Clear these out. Start obeying everything you know. Don’t let your niceness be what keeps you from pursuing Christ more vigorously.

Praying for your growth,


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  1. Pingback: Letters to Stagnant Christians #2: Passive Rebellion

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