Let’s not forget the exchange, in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, between Jesus and the rich young ruler when Jesus told the man the realities of true discipleship. As the rich man realized that personal sacrifice is required to live in God’s kingdom, he walked away. What did Jesus do? He did not do what many churches do today: run after the man in an effort to make the Gospel more appealing. No, Jesus let him go, because the only terms on which anyone can truly follow Christ are God’s terms.
“If the Word does not dwell with power in us,” wrote Puritan John Owen, “it will not pass with power from us” (The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, p. 76.). This godly minister personified this truth in his personal life and public ministry more than three centuries ago. For years he carried the message of Jesus Christ into the trenches of a culture as chaotic as our own while simultaneously dealing with the death of his wife and all eleven of his children. John Owen was no ivory tower theologian, but rather a zealous pastor who worked to the brink of exhaustion to further the work of the Reformers. He is remembered for shining gospel light into the spiritually dark arenas of politics and academia. And his love of Scripture was clearly and forcefully articulated from the variety of pulpits into which God called him.
Yet what gave John Owen success in ministry was not so much his oratory skill, nor his evangelistic zeal, nor even his love for the people he shepherded. John Owen was used mightily by God in all these ways because he was a man characterized by personal holiness. And in an age when the church is emulating the world, where it is no longer distinguishable from our pleasure-oriented culture, the example of John Owen shines like a beacon on a stormy night.
Let’s consider whether we have allowed contemporary culture to infiltrate our minds and hearts.