15th November 2012
Message from the Pastor
‘… having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’
2 Timothy 3:5
Moving back to Britain after a decade in South Korea has been something which has been full of surprises for us: some pleasant and joyful – such as the clear hand of the Lord in helping our moving out of Korea; others less so – such as the delay in getting hooked up by BT and our continuing carpet saga! We have also been surprised at how the UK has changed – sadly, in many ways for the worse. Coming back for a summer visit is not the same as coming back to live – as I am sure you understand, so perhaps we had not noticed the spiritual and moral decline quite as markedly as we might have before. Perhaps the biggest surprise, to me, along these lines, has been to read of the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile.
Perhaps, like me, you are able to cast your mind back to Saturday evenings, the family around the TV set, watching enviously as boys and girls got to see their particular dream come true as Jim ‘fixed it’ for them. The excitement as one soccer team got to play the real Manchester United, or one lad succeeding in meeting his heroes from some TV programme or other, but now the ‘dreamy’ atmosphere has been rudely broken as individual after individual have finally spoken out of the disgraceful and sordid side to this seemingly ‘favourite uncle’ type figure. The effects upon such, upon hundreds of lives it appears, is tragic, and cannot be calculated.
And all these things come to us with a more powerful effect than they might have done; this is due to the apparent upright and generous nature of Mr. Savile. A great charity supporter, a man who visited hospitals to comfort young sick and dying children, a man who was a known Roman Catholic – in the eyes of the world, therefore, a ‘Christian.’ Writing his obituary, the Catholic Herald stated ‘Jimmy Saville was a practising Catholic, who attended Mass several times a week.’
With the truth now coming out about this man, surely we have an example of what the apostle wrote of in our text. Jimmy Savile, along with others ensnared by the Roman Catholic religion, have a form of godliness – often involved in ‘good’ works (certainly ‘good’ in the eyes of the world), but when it comes to power – a powerful, true inner godliness, here they, along with all other false religions, fail abysmally. Their ‘faith’ has no value when it comes to the crucial battle with the sin-filled old man, simply because they and the sin-filled old man are on the same side! To quote Barnes regarding such religion on this verse: ‘It imposes no restraint on their passions and carnal propensities.’
This having a form of religion, but denying the power thereof is a state of soul which we individually as well as congregationally should dread, earnestly seeking that the Lord may deliver us from such a peril. The danger of such lies, not least, is that the one thus ensnared is rarely aware of being in such a dead condition: the ‘form’ is very convincing not only to himself, but also to outside observers; they join him in admiring his apparent religious prowess. The last thing, one in such a state would believe, is that their religion is without strength – impotent – a religion with a denial of power.
Our defence against such, is surely and constantly the blessed third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He, of whom the apostle writes in Ephesians 1v14as being the ‘earnest of the inheritance until redemption’ – with Whom ‘ye were sealed.’ Yes, the old man in Adam is full of sin and powerless to deny self, but the new man, being renewed after the image of Christ Himself no less, has resident and inherent power – even the power of God, unable to ‘deny’ the power of godliness. The apostle John writes along these lines when he asserts: ‘Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world’ 1 John 4v4.
All true Christians know something of this power – granted, never anything like to the degree they long for, but nevertheless, still, where the gracious Spirit resides, power must always be there. In the inner battles against sin, often, sadly and badly, we see defeat, but in terms of what the puritan’s termed the ‘breaking out of corruption’ – where such inner failures become manifest before an observing world – His gracious restraining power is often our portion. And whilst we rightly grieve over our inner trespasses and compromise, we are able to give thanks that, for the sake of His great name before a harsh and critical world, it is comparatively rare that those inner failures give rise to sinful words heard and actions viewed by others. In this we experience the power of true faith in our lives – unlike those referred to in our text.
Perhaps we can see this more clearly, if we consider how we were before the Lord came to us in saving power. Yes, maybe conscience and social restraint played a part – we had to maintain our respectability, but without such in place, perhaps in a family situation, or in the company of worldly friends or colleagues, vile, crude speech and even sinful actions were, to our shame, commonplace. When we consider this state with our current one, in Christ with His Spirit in us, to His glory, the true Christian is able to see how this power of God has changed him and is operative in his life.
And even this, in the true believer’s life, is not limited to outward, visible manifestations, but also in the inner man; the fact that a battle does rage within, and some resistance is made, and at times some victory is tasted, is further proof that a man is the Lord’s and has this power in his life. Where we see such, even if such experiences are to our eyes minute and feeble, their occurrence at all should be a cause for us to rejoice and praise the Lord; they are a mark of His grace in us, even His power in operation in our lives. They are evidences that we have not only the form of godliness but its power too, is not denied.