We need to de-sanitize Golgotha. By this, I do not mean we need more R-rated visual renderings of the crucifixion narrative (Mel Gibson’s vision is beyond sufficient). Neither do I mean we need more emotional sermonetting of the brutality of Christ’s physical torture and execution (though this is a worthy venture). Nor do I mean we need new cutting-edge scientific and historical documentaries verifying the accuracy of the Passion narratives (though this too is a worthwhile endeavor). Rather by this I mean we need to recover our place in all the hellish bloody cosmic messiness that occurred at Golgotha.
We conveniently (consciously or unconsciously) tend to “sanitize Golgotha” in our minds and hearts when Easter rolls around. We tend to place ourselves in the narrative of the Passion as passive onlookers witnessing from afar what the ominous “they” did to our Jesus that day. We are reminded through song, sermon, and drama of the brutality exacted towards “our” Jesus by the hands of tradition, religion, hate, and power. Tears roll down our faces, the emotions are stirred, and our faces are flushed. BUT THEN the songs fade and the sermon is over. As quick as the image came it dissipates, we shake ourselves and move on. We get back to our daily. We get back to fighting with our spouses and yelling at our kids. We get back to our insecurity, our gossip, lust, greed, envy, pride, and apathy. So, just like going to watch a movie in the theater, we are changed in the moment but afterward go out to find something else to do.
Is there really no difference existentially between our responses to a movie and the message of the cross? Surely there is more?
Do not misunderstand. I am not saying there is no place for us to reflect upon the brutality of the crucifixion or that we are wrong if we have emotional responses to the history of it. In fact, to fail to have emotion in the face of the cross is to fail to have a soul. But that said, what I am challenging and questioning is how we ritualistically go about our reflections and remembrances of Calvary. You must ask, I must ask, has its true message gone deep enough? We are moved by it, it jerks our heart, but does it really, categorically, transform us?
I do not presume to have all the answers and I do not want you to go away from this post thinking there is any form of “ivory tower judgmental preachy wisdom” coming from this author. There is a genuine conviction of thought and reflection in what is posted.
Without going into a long dissertation, I want to propose that for us to recover the true gritty nature of Golgotha, for it to have a real penetrating and lasting effect for our lives beyond Easter Sunday, it requires at least (but not limited to) a reworking of how we process its message in our hearts and minds on the daily.
Golgotha needs to become more than a tourist attraction we visit once a year on Easter Sunday. It needs to become the ever-present witness to just how serious sin is in our daily lives and just how profound God’s love is in those moments. We need to recover OUR PLACE and OUR SIN at Golgotha so that it becomes a living, breathing, memorial that awakens us to be what it achieved – to be a people who do not shrug at sin but crucify it, to be a people who love at the expense of themselves, to be a people whose identity, meaning, hope, and purpose is restored to the intended ends of God’s glory instead of self.
ADMIT THAT YOU DROVE THE NAILS
As I said earlier, we tend to stand as passive onlookers to the crucifixion story. We cry and rage at what “they” did to Him. The problem is there is no “they,” there is only “we.” There is no room for stagnant spectators at the cross. Everyone was actively participating. The masses of Jews and Romans were beating and butchering Christ physically as much as you and I did spiritually. You were at Golgotha and so was I. We all were.
The Romans alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. The Pharisees alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Pilate alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Caiaphas alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. You did. I did. We all did. Our sins did.
Chew on that. Let it sink in. Dwell on it a while. No, dwell on it a long while.
All the soiled sins of the world were affixed to His blinding purity. All the little ones, all the big ones, all the ones you shrug off, all the ones you exact towards family and friend, all the ones you fear others to know, all the ones you still battle with, all the ones you struggle to let go. Every day when you slip back into the old self and allow sin to rear its ugly head, be reminded, that those sins, with myriads of others, are the ones seared onto the bruised body and being of the Infinitely Innocent One. All of them were put onto Him so much so that there was no epistemic distance humanly discernable between His being and sin.
Putting this all into biblical language the Apostle Paul put it like this,
God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Did you really read this? Do you get this? Do you feel this?
The whole reason, the central driving meaning behind Christ BEING SIN was…FOR US. It is about us. Because sin is personal Golgotha is personal. Golgotha was logically, biblically, unquestionably because of us AND beautifully, gracefully, undeniably for us. The great theologian John Stott (1921-2011) put it like this,
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
It is a totally different thing when you intentionally remind yourself that the only nails that really kept Christ on the cross were the ones you use on your loved ones and neighbors many times on many different days of the week. When you nail them with pinpricks, backbiting, gossip, lust, envy, pride, and the whole slew of 1 Corinthian 6 vices, you actualize in your life the things for which Christ was eaten alive. He died because of those things and for those things to lose their power of keeping distance between you and the Holy One.
THE TERROR, JOY, & BEAUTY OF GOLGOTHA
Despite all the bruising and infinite weight of demonic distress upon Him, Christ still died for us. There is horror and sweetness in this. He died for our daily sins. Think on this for a moment. How insane it is to the human mind to willingly be ripped apart by a people who shrug at Your grace and purity. Yet, in such insanity there resides unbounded sobriety and beauty.
In the face of the vileness of Golgotha, we are also met with the Face of unshakably Love. In the wake of entering Jerusalem with throngs of half-baked worshipers Jesus prayed with anguish to the Father for such a time to pass from Him, and yet without losing a breath said,
“For this purpose, I have come to this hour”
Golgotha was His purpose. Golgotha penetrated everything He thought and did. It was there at the manger, it was there at the Sermon on the Mount, it was there at the Mount of Olives, it was there at the breaking of the fish and loaves, and it was there at the triumphal entry. It was at Golgotha that Jesus’ purpose would be and was actualized into space and time and for all eternity.
And yet with such horror ever-present to Jesus’ mind's eye all His days, the author of Hebrews says,
For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame…
The cross was set before Him. That is, it was always His end goal, His telos, His purpose. And yet He had joy? The words “joy” and “cross” do not go together in any humanly conscionable way. But in and with Christ they do. Such a joyous agent as Jesus did what no other merely human agent could possibly achieve: turning the image of the cross from a symbol of maximal derision and vileness into the symbol of infinite grace and a new identity.
In a real sense, joy conquered the shame of the cross and overtook it. This is why strangely we Christians can and do need to possess a robust balance between glory and humility when we behold the cross on Golgotha.
The terror of Golgotha that we need to ever keep in our minds is that it was because of us, yet the glory and joy of Golgotha reside in the fact that it was for us. John Stott powerful put it this way,
“The essence of sin is man substitution himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”
The infinity of heavenly-wrath and holy-love crashed upon one another in a moment of space and time on Golgotha. It was in that moment that all our daily sins were vanquished of their potency and chains. This is why we can sing in ecstasy to the degree we mourn in travail over the events that transpired on the Place of the Skull.
May we never forget and readily retain the power of what happened on Golgotha.
O Golgotha! Good Golgotha!
My Lord was slain for me;
His precious blood in mercy flowed
That I from sins be free.
Therefore I pray, my Lord, reveal
So I may know that I am one
With Thee in certainty.
O Golgotha! I praise Thee, Lord,
For death was suffered there;
Released His life, redeemed my sins,
I’m freed into His care.
O Golgotha! I want to learn
All that indwells in Him;
By faith included in His work,
I’ll stand now firm with Him.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), pg. 63
 Stott, pg. 159
 Difficult finding the origin of this hymn, but it seems to be an old early 20th Century Chinese Christian hymn, most likely written by Watchman Nee. Source found in Watchman Nee, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol. 23, The Song of Songs & Hymns (N.p.: Living Stream Ministry, 1993), pg. 174-175
Let us take a moment to be reminded of what we are doing. Over the past several posts we have been in a series called The Gentle Slopes That Kill the Soul. In this series, we have looked at how the Adversary of our souls tries to dilute, disjoint, and destroy our faith. One of our chief guides, aside from Scripture, has been the masterful C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) in his The Screwtape Letters. Within these letters, we have learned from the lips of a senior devil named Screwtape how Satan can and often works through the seemingly mundane and trivial things of life to slowly eat away at our joy and peace in Christ.
Soberly we have come to see (I hope) that a “fall from faith” rarely happens in an avalanche or a tsunami. Most often it occurs through decay and a steady trickle. Rarely does Satan seek from us open rebellion, it is far more useful for him to foster in our souls shruggish indifference and yawning compromise – for these are just as hellishly potent and far more long term. It is through the “little things” of life, the gentle slopes and soft bends, that he works his best magic. Through family relations, church dealings, and personal passions and pleasures he whittles away spiritual vitality. There are however more ways he can work deceptively that are worth considering.
BECOMING WHAT WE PRETEND TO BE
Another way the Adversary can, and often does, slowly divert our souls from the Truth and Beauty of Christ is through the relationships we forge. Friendships and comraderies are powerful means through which our souls are formed in this world. Outside of marriage and family friendship is the most significant social relation in developing our personalities, identities, and socialization. It is no wonder that the Scriptures emphatically and prophetically warn us to take inventory of those we commune with. The author of Proverbs summarized it like this:
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm”
And the Apostle Paul warned the Christians in Corinth that,
“You should not be deceived for: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
1 Corinthians 15:33
Friendship and companionship are powerful. They form our souls. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the famous Greek philosopher, said that friendship was, “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” In short through friendships, our souls mingle with the souls of others in the context of mutual interests and activities. Through common interests, laughs, tears, and communion we open ourselves to being transformed and to transform. We moderns need to understand the power of this. We like to pride ourselves in our enlightened highly self-centered Western culture that we are self-made islands who shape our wills and personalities. We are mistaken. We are inherently social creatures, and we are as much conformists to our surrounding environments and those we hang around like any other cultural group or time period – even more so arguably. C.S. Lewis brings out the power of this truth through the senior demon Screwtape when he advises the young Wormwood about his patients’ (the Christian) newest friends,
I was delighted to hear…that your patient has made some very desirable new acquaintances and that you seem to have used this event in a really promising manner. I gather that the middle-aged married couple who called at his office are just the sort of people we want him to know—rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world…. This is excellent. And you seem to have made good use of all his social, sexual, and intellectual vanity. Tell me more. Did he commit himself deeply? I don’t mean in words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party as those to whom he is speaking. That is the kind of betrayal you should specially encourage, because the man does not fully realize it himself; and by the time he does you will have made withdrawal difficult.
No doubt [your patient] must very soon realize that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don't think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgement of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty, and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his. But of you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be. This is elementary.
Lewis’s analysis of slow-roasted hypocrisy in our relationships is stingingly accurate and relevant.
THE DANGERS OF LIVING THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS
Many times, we as Christians concentrate on living our lives through the eyes of others. Much of the time we work hard at building a reputation of not being different from those around us. Why? I don’t have all the answers but I believe there are at least two reasons to consider (by no means are they exhaustive). One reason is the seductive power of our Zeitgeist “Spirit of the Age.” Plainly stated, we want people to like us because the culture says we should. We can lie all we want to ourselves, but our intuitively democratic-centered personalities strive to be accepted by the crowds we inhabit. To achieve this goal, our culture tells us we need to be tolerant, non-pushy, and apathetic to concepts such as Truth and morality. Upon such edifices are friendships forged. It is best to laugh than cry with people and to agree than correct them. After all, all paths equally valid and worthy. This is what our post-modern hyper-individualistic age tells us anyways. And so, this mentality bleeds into how we go about the business of friendships. We do not want to “impose” our Jesus-freakishness upon them.
Another reason we tend to mute our faith in our friendships is that many of our churches feed us steady diets of “non-pushy” spirituality. We need “friendship evangelism” the preachers say. The entire edifice of modern “church growth” revolves around a consumer-focused, convenience-rooted evangelization model. We need to fight hard to get unbelievers to like us and to come to church. How do we do this? We need to stop being too-churchy, too-biblical, and too-spiritual. This is all too “Puritanical” you see. Curb our conversations by limiting Bible quotes and hyper-spiritual language. We need to make sure those around us, our family and friends, see us as equally superficial and non-sacrificial as they are. We need them to know that objectively there is no definable difference between our B.C. or A.D. lives. We act as they act, we say what they say, we watch what they watch, we listen to what they listen to, we laugh at what they laugh at, and we enjoy what they enjoy. No change, no sacrifice, no difference is at all required when we exchange the world for Christ.
Is it any wonder many of us Christians do not take the initiative to ever share our faith with friends and family when we are fed this bovine refuse? The data is as sad as it is disturbing that we have bought it hook line and sinker. But I digress.
These two modes of thinking, one secular and one hypocritically spiritual engrains into our minds a certain way of how we approach friends and family with spirituality (or lack of approach). We often intentionally mute our Faith in the presence of others because we are living our Faith through their eyes. We do this with family, friends, and coworkers. Our “wanting them to accept us” overrides any consideration of us “wanting them to accept Christ.” But we would not say this out loud or even think it! But we do. And so, we remain quiet. But then the quiet turns into nods. Nods turn into laughs. Laughs turn into acceptance. Acceptance turns into indifference. It is a slow fade.
Lewis reveals to us that within our perpetual postponement lies the seeds of our own soul's ruin. Satan wants us in a perpetual state of “I’ll-bring-it-up-when-its-convenient-ism.” He wants us to wear proudly the Red Badge of Irresolution with our faith sharing. Why? Because such a mentality not only deprives the befriended of the beauty of Christ truth and person, but it also slowly erodes our passion and care for Christ amid soul mingling.
“All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be”
The mortar of our souls begins to slowly crack and erode as we find ourselves ever more adapting to the conditions of those whom we desperately want to like us. There is a seduction here. Take inventory.
Does this mean we must browbeat Bible verses at every party or social event with friends or family? Does this mean we need to do a check-box list of words not to say or movies not to watch? Not necessarily on either account. But you miss the point of the message being stated. Stop caricaturing the central point to justify running away from its correction.
No, the point is that when all the joy and excitement of our friendships dwells ONLY in games, food, and laughs, and never at any time in spiritual considerations then what is happening is we reveal that in our hearts “the spiritual” is not really a category of joy or excitement at all. When it doesn’t even register as worthy of conversation within the communities we inhabit, then obviously we need to consider if we truly believe it capable of changing our personal lives and the lives of those we befriend. This brings me to the next point in this post.
RECOVERING AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE OF FRIENDSHIPS
How do we shake ourselves from the deceptiveness of spiritual deadening in our friendships? Again, as always, I do not dare presume to give the only answer here. That said, I think part of it is we need to be awakened to the brevity of our lives on earth and the eternal nature of our relations. C.S. Lewis powerfully said in The Weight of Glory,
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
Think on this. Your friends are as eternal as they will ever be. Your family members are as eternal as they will ever be. Every laugh, every cry, every discussion, every joke, every interaction, in some way to some degree is a soul-forming moment rippled in Eternity. When we think this way, we begin to see our acquaintances as more than “opportunities” (a time to chill, a time to hang, a time to play), we see them with Christ-tinted glasses. We see them as agents worthy to be shown True Beauty and Love.
If we genuinely love our friends, then we would and should desire the good for them. We should and would want the best for them. We would want more than just a good time with them, we would desire the good for them. Aristotle said it this way,
“The complete sort of friendship is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue [that] wish for good things for one another in the same way insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves.”
To not desire the good in another is to not really love the one to whom we say we befriend.
What pray tell, could be greater, more beautiful, more good, than the Truth of Christ Himself? If we really believed this, then what could keep us from acknowledging or communicating this to those we befriend and love?
Let me be a little more brash. If you believe that Hell is a real place to be shunned and Heaven a real realm to be gained, then why are you not deliberately seeking to proclaim this to the ones you laugh and eat with? Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said it candidly,
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
Do you care, I mean actually care, about the souls of those you merry with? Or are you content with laughs and games? If so, then perhaps you need to resign yourself to being a user of eternal agents for finite gains. This is hard to say but convicting and necessary to say.
DISPLAYING OUR PASSION
Many times, we affirm that we are afraid to share the gospel with friends and family for fear they may cut us off or see us as fools or Bible-thumping wingnuts. Perhaps they would, perhaps they would not. There are ways we do need to go about sharing the gospel and displaying it that brings glory to God instead of self. But that is not the point of this particular post.
While the point of this post is not to discuss skills for gospel sharing (which is a worthy discussion), I will say that insecurity and fear can be part of our lack of sharing faith, but if we are forthright with ourselves often our lack of sharing can be (and often is) rooted in our lack of spiritual growth and passion. This is not easy to say but there is truth here. I am reminded of the words of Billy Graham (1918-2018) who put it simply but profoundly,
“Our faith becomes stronger as we express it; a growing faith is a sharing faith.”
Think of what he is saying. There is a correlation between the growth of faith and sharing of faith. The implication is jarring: If we are not sharing, then more than likely it is indicative that we are not growing and as we do not grow, we do not share. There is a cyclical pattern here.
We as humans will share the things, we are most passionate about. Our passion boosts our confidence, and our passion is tied to the growth we have in that which we love. So, for example, we will endlessly debate football plays, we will unabashedly discuss video-game and movie releases, we will heedlessly share inspirational poetry and favorite authors, we will compare our favorite scrapbooking hobbies or latest fashions. We do these things because we know these things because they are part of who we are and we are thus confident in them. These are all good things too! These are the pleasures of life. But they are also bitingly ephemeral. Here today, go tomorrow, replaced by the new and improved. What about that which lasts forever? Does it even register on the radar of our lives? Do we care about it as much as we do games, cars, or sports?
If we aren’t sharing our Faith could it be, we really aren’t passionate about it, to begin with?
Is your Faith as deeply apart of who you are as a person that it is like your DNA? Is your Faith something tacked onto what you do once or twice a week or is it who you are? Is your Faith an event or an identity? Answering these questions are the first steps in recovering a robust desire to integrate and actively display the love of Christ in the every day of community and companionship.
 https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/; https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756384/obo-9780199756384-0170.xml#:~:text=The%20question%20%E2%80%9Cwho%20is%20friends,society's%20social%20cohesion%20and%20openness.
 Scriptural data on warning us about the kinds of company we keep and how it affects and can infect our moral and spiritual development: Psalm 1:1-6; Proverbs 13:20, 14:7, 16:28, 18:24, 22:24-25, 27:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:14; James 4:4
 Aristotle, quotes in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 212-213
 The data shows us that Christians are progressively (or regressively) an un-evangelistic type of people. We just don’t like sharing our faith with other people because of fear of being considered judgmental and/or pushy: https://www.barna.com/research/sharing-faith-increasingly-optional-christians/; https://www.barna.com/research/millennials-oppose-evangelism/; https://www.godreports.com/2019/04/most-churchgoers-rarely-share-their-faith/; https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/asked-1600-christians-why-they-dont-share-their-faith.html
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), pg. 46
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 3
 C. H. Spurgeon: “The Wailing of Risca” (Sermon No. 349; Delivered on Sabbath Morning, December 9th, 1860, at Exeter Hall, Strand) https://archive.spurgeon.org/sermons/0349.php
 Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day Signature Edition: Words of Wisdom and Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014), pg. 18
Isn’t it interesting that in our culture we use phrases like “Devilishly delicious” and “Sinful selections” and “It’s so good, it’s sinful” to describe desserts? Now while one should not be overly puritanical or pareidolic about such things I think it worth reflecting on how our culture innately attaches pleasure with transgression even in the seeming innocence of food consumption. Even more, I think it worth reflecting on how such a surface-level assumption works its way out practically in how we see our Christianity through the everyday mundanities and pleasures of life. Even here many times we can be susceptible to ingesting the deceits of the devils.
HOW THE DEVILS DELIGHTFULLY TWIST OUR PLEASURES
As I have said many times the Adversary’s slithering subtilty is to be found not in the grand unabashed clanging sins of rebellion but in the steady trickles of nodding heads and folded hands (Proverbs 24:33). He works primarily in the good things of life. He and his minions come even amid the desserts (pleasures) of our lives. As Screwtape, the archdemon of temptation said to his underling Wormwood,
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it's better style. To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return-that is what really gladdens our Father's [Satan’s] heart.
From the sulfuric breath of Screwtape, C.S. Lewis enlightens us to Satan’s subtle methods of destroying our souls through the pleasures of life. There is richness here worth mining and chewing on.
We are ingrained to believe that the pleasures of life are antithetical to God’s intended order. We may not admit it but many of us, even the well to do polished up and churchy types, believe God does not want us to have fun, or better yet that we must pick between fun and God. But this is a damnable lie that the devils delight in. They and their Father of Lies want us to believe that God desires us to see life through prison bars; that He is a Cosmic Killjoy.
But we must remember a deep theological truth here: Satan is a pervert. He comes forth and distorts the gifts of God’s created order. He cannot manufacture anything; he can only retrofit and disassemble. He is a perfect example of unskilled labor. As Frodo said to Sam in The Lord of the Rings:
“The Shadow that bred [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. [It didn’t give] life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them...
The Shadow, twists, turns and overthrows everything he can get his hands on. He corrupts it and converts it into a curved-in husk of its true creative intention. Pleasure is just another example of this.
GOD MADE US TO EXPERIENCE, RECEIVE, AND ENJOY PLEASURE
Many times, we think (consciously or subconsciously) that when we become Christian’s pleasure takes a back seat to life. We concentrate overwhelmingly upon having to “give up” our life to “have God.” And so, we solemnly exempt ourselves from all forms of joy. With washed faces and horse-shoed mouths, we ascend to the heights of righteous separateness. Now while I do not want to be misunderstood as teaching antinomianism I do think we push our spirituality into areas of excessive boxed rigidity for the cause of caricatured holiness when such is contrary to the ethics of the Gospel.
Putting this another way, when we come to Christ, it is much less about losing than about gaining. It is much less about giving up than it is about giving in. It is not us exchanging pleasure for somberness, rather it is us exchanging lesser loves for the Greatest Love; it is us finding more pleasure in Him than in other things; it is us having our desires revitalized to their original Edenic purposes. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great Puritan theologian and revivalist, said it this way,
True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.
Notice he says “the things of God” become the “cream of all our pleasures” – this means there are other pleasures that are amiable and enjoyable, but God is the true flavor in all of them and above all of them.
We are made to experience joy and pleasure in life and for this to be ultimately displayed through God Himself. We are made to gain and develop knowledge, to draft inventions, to marry, to build families, to enjoy sex, to construct cities, to create music and art, to relish food and drink, to partake in fellowship and laughter, and so much more. These are all beautiful and good. These are the desserts of life. These are all intended by God. The author of Ecclesiastes said,
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 (ESV)
God gifted the pleasures of life to His creatures that we might enjoy life, each other, and through this Himself ultimately.
But be mindful of the subtle capabilities of the sweets of life to be reassembled by your Adversary for your demise. Here the words of Lewis resound in our ears.
The Adversary takes these good gifts of pleasure and tantalizes our flesh with them until they become a pantheon of parading idols in our lives. We subtly move from making money to the money slowly beginning to remake us. We move from enjoying entertainment to being chained to excessive diversion. We move from enjoying sex to becoming feverishly erotic. We shift from enjoying food and drink to gluttonous insobriety. We move from the joys of laughter and fellowship to the obsession for perpetual amusement and festivity. In all these things the good pleasures, the sweet things of life, come undone through their unintended ends. Through all these examples wisdom, intimacy, reason, peace, joy, and true pleasure is lost and dried up on the altars of our obsession, excess, and passivity.
The desserts of life can, when consumed excessively and thoughtlessly, thicken our spiritual blood. They can, with excessive consumption and a little discipline, make us spiritually flabby and lethargic with bland pallets. We can get to a point that we want less and less of God because more and more of our time, energy, conversations, thoughts, and choices are taken up with an abundance of these little sweets – family events, ballgames, videogames, movies, books, exercising, cookouts...etc. Inevitably we feel as if, without saying or thinking it, that we must choose between these joys versus God. But this is a lie.
SEEING THE PLEASURES OF LIFE THROUGH THE ULTIMATE PLEASURE
We must remind ourselves that all the pleasures of life are good, joyous, and from God. God is the source of all good things for He is Goodness itself. His nature is the paradigm of what true goodness is and therefore the paradigm of true Pleasure. Our problem then is not that we have pleasures in life, it is that we need a renewed understanding of what these pleasures can do and cannot do and how they interrelate to the nature and person and purposes of God Himself. As Dallas Willard (1935-2013) said,
“We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.”
Practically speaking this means we can and should seek laughter, joking, and hanging out with friends. We should and can enjoy cookouts and game-nights with relatives and colleagues. We should and can enjoy movies and video-games and board-games. We should and can enjoy drink and food and abundance of joking. We should and can enjoy sexual union and intimacy with our husbands and wives. All of these are beautiful, in their time and way. But we should also remember that each of them only mirrors something far more transcendent and beautiful: God Himself. In short, these pleasures are calling us to the real pleasure, the seed, that lies behind or within them. The laughs, the joys, the peace, the camaraderie, the union we feel and experience in these moments are the winds of the aroma of Eternity. Behind them is a call to the Ultimate comrade, lover, and peacemaker who wants us to want Him. He is calling, even through these sweet things. We do a disservice to Him and ourselves when we shut out that call and desire not to experience its truth. In turn, we rip the root system away from what all these pleasures are nurtured by.
When we begin choosing between “these pleasures” and “time with God” then we have created a war where none should be. These pleasures can only satiate certain human longings, achieve certain cravings, but the truest parts of who we are can only find rest in the Infinite One who calls us to find peace in Him. It is there, in that time with Him, the sweetness of all sweets overcomes us and we find ourselves. When we deny ourselves such a time, we miss the greatest pleasure of all.
I leave you with the words of Dane Ortlund (1978-present) to help summarize this post,
“The Christian life is not an ascetic life, but a life in which every received pleasure draws the mind up to supreme Pleasure, Christ himself, in his resplendent beauty…. Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list [of our packed schedules] but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is to make all of life sacramental…. True joy derived not from God and job, family, sex, friends, food, rest, driving, buying a home, reading a book, drinking coffee—but from God in these things…. Every taste of beauty in this world, from the roar of the waterfalls to the chatter of birds to the richness of true friendship to the ecstasy of sexual experience, is a drop from the ocean of divine beauty. Every pleasure is an arrow pointing back to him.”
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 210
 The word “pervert” is literally from the Latin pervertere "overthrow, overturn," figuratively "to corrupt, subvert, abuse," literally "turn the wrong way, turn about," from per "away" (see per) + vertere "to turn, turn back, be turned; convert, transform, translate; be changed" https://www.etymonline.com/word/pervert.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King in The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), pg. 914
 Antinomianism, (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”), is a theological belief that says we are so freed by the grace of God that we no longer have to obey moral codes, laws, or rules. Essentially is the adage, “I can live like the devil and God accepts me” mentality or the “Greasy Grace” doctrine.
 We can also swing the pendulum to the side of moral relativism and “Everything-goes-ism.” But it is not the purpose of this post to deal with this. Another time!
 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (WJE Online Vol. 2), Ed. Paul Ramsey http://edwards.yale.edu/
 Consider these Bible passages on all these subjects: Genesis 1:26-28; Exodus 35:35; Proverbs 5; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Hebrews 13:4. Literally read all the Book of Ecclesiastes. Consider some of these specific passages: Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:12-13, 9:9-10, and 11:9
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1998), pg. 180
 Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on The Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 77-78
Many of us often suffer from a dreadful dichotomy of Faith. Nancy Pearcey (1952-present) has put it this way,
“Our lives are often fractured and fragmented….The aura of worship dissipates after Sunday, and we unconsciously absorb secular attitudes the rest of the week. We inhabit two separate “worlds,” navigating a sharp divide between our religious life and ordinary life.”
A prime example of this division between our “religious lives” and “ordinary lives” is within our own homes. Often when the aura of worship dissipates on Sunday, we leave the church house wiping off our Sunday-go-to-meeting faces, in preparation for getting back to the “real business of living.” We often go to our homes and nestle back into the monotony of maintaining our same old attitudes and behaviors towards our families as before. But we must remember that the Gospel is not relegated to a single day nor a single sphere of our lives. Even amid our domestic lives, among the everyday routines of familial life, we must allow Christ to examine us and be exalted throughout. He is either Lord of all or Lord of none when it comes to our lives.
FAMILY LIFE AND THE CONTOURS OF OUR SOUL
In a very real sense how you treat your familiars displays more about the contours of your soul than anything else.
You can sing in the church choir and still be full of unforgiveness towards your spouse every week. You can beat the altars and wail in worship and still possess a disrespectful spirit towards your parents. You can preach with the fire of a prophet and still display an insensitivity to the needs of your family. You can even serve in a soup kitchen and still allow hate to reign in your soul towards your sibling.
The point is God is not interested in your displays of spirituality and churchliness. He is interested in how His holy-love is changing you into the image of His Son amid the little things in life.
Some of the most consistent “little things” of life are how we live with our families and loved ones. This is why in many ways our domestic lives are the truest barometers in measuring the authenticity of our Faith. It is in this environment that most of our time is spent and our personalities, passions, and behaviors fully displayed. Thus, we need to take inventory of how the Adversary uses this area of life to often slowly sap our spiritual vitality. C.S. Lewis’ devil Screwtape gets this across with convicting sharpness when he begins advising Wormwood on how to inflame domestic tensions between a Christian son and his mother,
Keep [the Christians] mind on the inner life…. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror, and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office…. When two humans [like your patient and his mother] have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unenduringly irritating to the other. Work on that…. To keep this game up you…must see to it that each of these two fools [the Christian and his mother] has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: “I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.” Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken."
What a convicting incite Lewis has here. He is showing us, through a devil’s words, that how we treat our husbands, wives, children, and parents reveals the state of our soul and shapes it. Marriage, child-rearing, family time, communication between spouses, interactions among siblings, attitudes between parents and children, are all part of this. Through these situations, we come to interact with the first agents in our socialization not only in society at large but also our socialization within the confines of The Church writ large. While our spouses are spouses, they are also brothers and sisters of the Kingdom. While our kids are our kids, they are also agents of Christ. The Adversary does not want us to see this aspect of family life because he knows it's dangerous. This is why he works overtime to craft wedges of indifference and animosity and tartness between us.
Do you want to kill your child’s faith? Then show them habitual indifference to the things of God in the home. This is where the soil of their heart is tilled way before some secular professor plants the seeds of atheism or relativism. Do you want to kill your spouse’s faith? Then show a lack of authenticity in the power of the Gospel to transform your attitude and speech. Do you want to kill your parent’s faith? Then show duplicity of respect towards strangers and unabashed disregard towards them. These are hard things to think about, but if we are to overcome the gentle slopes of spiritual indifference we must come to terms with such things in our lives.
The hardest people to slay one’s flesh before are those we live with. Why? Because we see their warts and they see ours. They see us for who we really are. Thus, it is most often here the hardest battles in our Christian walk reside. What do we do? How do we overcome this? Well, let me first preface that I dare not presume to give complete answers in this field. Nor do I dare presume to affirm having all my proverbial ducks in a row. That said, I believe two things shine forth from Lewis’ insights that are worth considering as we wrestle with the gentle slope of domestic pinpricks (re-read his excerpt before reading below). Consider:
(1)Deliberately displaying spirituality through the ordinary – Too often we Christians like to get “ultra-churchy” with our spirituality. Christianity becomes a place we go, a mode we get in, a particular lingo we squawk. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. Christianity is to be an earthy and practical reality lived through everyday monotony. It’s more than an experience, it’s a way of life. It's more than tongues or prophecy or raising hands, it is about how you treat your husband and wife and kids and parents and friends and family and neighbors (Colossians 3:5-10, James 1:19-27, Ephesians 5-6, 1 Peter 3). This means we need to recover a practical spirituality that takes the initiative to display Christ’s goodness throughout our days in the little things. For example: How we respond when asked to do chores. How we react when corrected. How we serve through cooking and cleaning. How we go about changing diapers and washing clothes. Sound ridiculous? Does not the Scripture say, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)? If we are to glorify God even with the baser things of eating and drinking, then would any of the aforementioned be exempt from this?
Rethink your Christianity to include the baser things. Christ is Lord of the great things and the baser things.
(2)Intentional and routine self-examination – We must realize that true spiritual authenticity is found through an honest, consistent, unmasked lifestyle among our acquaintances and familiars. In other words, we need to be asking ourselves how we fall into the equation of our families' imperfections. It is always easier to find fault with our spouses, our kids, and our parents. It is always easier to blame them for why we are overworked, short-tempered, frustrated, angry, and so forth. But is this the whole story? One striking thing about scripture is its continual call to self-examination instead of casting blame on others (Psalm 139:23-24, Galatians 6:3-5, 2 Corinthians 13:5, James 1:23-25). This makes us squirm because we intuitively love to think we are right and the problems of the world are foisted upon us instead of us being part of their making. Sometimes we are. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we are partially and others are partially.
We need to look at our loved ones through the lens of Christ. We need to see them, in all their faults, as Christ sees them – broken yet beloved, imperfect seeking the Perfect One, beggars nourished only by the heavenly Bread. When we do this how we react and interact can and will be transformed, for the glory of God.
 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity for Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), pg. 35
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 191-192
We have been learning that the Adversary of our soul desires to destroy us through the slow fade of indifference. A spiritual fall most often occurs methodically and imperceptibly. As C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters,
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
How sobering and terrifying.
But how does the Adversary do this in everyday living? This is the question we want to address in this post and the next several. We want to look at how the Adversary uses the gradual gradients of life to kill the passion of the Kingdom in our lives. If your passion seems petered out in your Christian walk, if you seem lulled into hand-folded spiritual contentment, if you seem to lack a desire for intimacy with the Lover of your soul, then you may want to keep reading. Perhaps, gradually you have slid down the path of spiritual indifference. Remember that Satan wants you fat, content, and docile spiritually, just like slaughterhouses want their cattle. Because of this you and I need to be awakened to desire more desiring for He who wants us to want Him.
Our guide in all this will be the masterful C.S. Lewis and his equally masterful work The Screwtape Letters. As I told you this is a book written as a collection of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape teaching the young devil Wormwood how to effectively tempt and destroy the life of his assigned patient, who is a Christian. Such a narrative is prophetic in revealing how Satan works “his magic” to progressively slay our hearts.
Let us look at one way the Adversary tries to kill our soul: through the Church.
One way that the Adversary works to abort our spiritual walk is by detaching us from each other. It is a truism that there is almost no more effective way of destroying a people than by inculcating in them the indifference to be “A People.” Abraham Lincoln said long ago of the United States,
As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
If this statement is true of secular nations, how much more is it of the Royal Nation (1 Peter 2) called the Church? Satan has done everything he can to undermine the work of God’s Kingdom expressed through the work of Christ’s community. While he works through all the obvious methods (church splits, sex scandals, money laundering…etc) his chief skill comes through melting our perceptions of the Church. Put more precisely: He kills our heart's desire to desire spiritual community. Consider the advice Screwtape gives to the young tempter Wormwood regarding shaping his “patients” (the Christian’s) perceptions of the church:
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately, it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside [and] he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew…. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial…. Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman…. [This disappointment] occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life, it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing…. [If] the patient knows that the woman [in the church] with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”
Want to destroy Christians? Then one way you do this is by destroying their appetite for the Church. Make them cease fighting for it. Make them cease caring about it. Make them justify, through coddled hurts and self-righteousness and spiritual complacency, why they do not need to commit to it in any flesh and blood way.
SEEING THE CHURCH AS AN ABSTRACTION
You want to make Christians lose faith in The Church, then one way you do this is by making the Church an abstraction. Keep it nebulous. Make it something one is a part of but only in a conceptual sense. Why? Because it is always easier to claim to be part of “THE CHURCH” (i.e. Body of Christ) when it doesn’t require sacrifice, time, energy, money, or service; or when it doesn’t require obedience, submission, or correction. Such a mentality has crafted Christians into a disjointed confederacy of independent islands who desire no accountability or commitment in the context of sacred community. Online services in the new COVID Era have done a fantastic job of exacerbating this phenomenon by the way. But I digress.
This abstract view of the church has been helped greatly by the “Me-and-Jesus Syndrome” that plagues many modern Christians. Today we enlightened moderns look at our Faith as something just between us and God with no practical relevance to our relations in the spiritual community. Faith is JUST personal; it is not communal. Faith is just about spirituality; it is not sacramental. And we see all this as somehow more “intimate” or more “spiritual.” The problem is it is a lot more American and a lot less biblical than we think (more in a moment). The result of this is we become stunted spiritually by the self-made echo-chambers that tell us all is well, and we need no correction or prodding in our spiritual walk.
SEEING ONLY THE WARTS ON THE PEW
Want to kill the desire for community in a Christian’s life? Make the Christian see only the messiness of his fellow pew-mates. It is easy to not want to come into a spiritual community when you concentrate on “the absurd hats” and “squeaky boots” and noticeable sins of those annoying people that inhabit the church house. Why not be with a church? Simple: because it’s full of hypocrites, Pharisaical judgers, irritating parishioners, and bad music. Right? We look at the people around us in the pews and can pinpoint every cork and annoyance that grits our teeth and makes us squirm. We see these same people in Walmart and even work with some of them, so we know how they “really are.”
And just to be clear this prideful spiritual cynicism expresses itself in equal measures among the skinny-jeaned tattooed Millennials as it does with floral-dressed, blue-permed Boomers. For one there are too many hymns, walkers, and perfumes, and for the others too many lights, skinny-jeans, and piercings. Both concentrate more on the seemingly irreconcilable differences rather than fighting for love and unity. Again, I digress.
As a result of such a development the “I’m-not-feeling-it Syndrome” seeps in a spiritual of self-justifying begins. Why am I not “feeling it” in the church? Simple: it’s those people in the pews or on the stage. Right? It can’t possibly be me. It can never be me. It’s not tied at all to my lack of prayer, fasting, meditating, or Bible reading. It’s tied to the fact that those around me just aren’t “as spiritual” as I am. The problem with this attitude is that it fails to take account of one’s own warts (re-read the question Lewis asks in the quote above).
We are not called to measure ourselves or our commitment to the Body of Christ to the spiritual levels of our neighbors. To do so is to follow people. We are called to align our view of our own lives and commitments to the character and person of Christ. His life, His work, His way, His teachings are our litmus test.
FIGHTING FOR SACRED COMMUNITY
This method of leisurely killing our joy for the sacred community is one of the gentle slopes the Adversary uses to choke out our spiritual vitality. But we must fight it and we must awaken to its cunning processes. Be reminded that THE CHURCH is made up of many a cracked pot. Be reminded that the Church is not a place of moral perfection but beggars who desire the Bread of Life. Be reminded that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a living and breathing organism of failures seeking faith. The Church is the Whore who became a Bride (Hosea). It is the Prodigal given an Eternal Inheritance (Luke 15). It the Cosmic Rebel made into a Celestial Saint (Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 6). Is a sanctified hot-mess of interconnected gifts and personalities that unite to learn, grow, fellowship, worship, get correction, and get edification (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:22-25).
The Church is messy.
It is through this messy and diverse Body of broken saints that Christ's truth is to shine into all areas of human life through the diverse gifts, traditions, and passions of its members.
We are not made to worship, learn, or grow in a spiritual vacuum. While it is all the above it is even more.
The Church is a Body (Romans 12:4-5), it is a Household (1 Timothy 3:15), it is a Temple (Ephesians 2:20-21), and it’s a Nation (1 Peter 2:4-9). In all these metaphors there is the essential understanding that we are made for community. We need each other because we are made in the image of God, who Himself is a Trinitarian indwelling of inter-personal and intra-personal communion. He is unity and diversity, we as a Body are unity and diversity. He was incarnated to display in flesh and blood that Trinitarian reality, we as the Church are to incarnate that same reality through our individual and social lives. It is through sacramental communal relations found in church that we come to demonstrate how the power of the Gospel not only changes our personhood but our societies, our cultures, and our communities.
To lose this sense of communal spirituality is to lose a part of who we are meant to be. To put it another way, our completeness in Christ is only found in the context of our relations within Christ’s community.
This is why Satan hates the Church and he hates Christians who want to want it and find joy in it (even in its messiness and annoyances). This is why all the more we as believers must fight to keep that joy alive.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 220
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 188-189
 The data shows that since COVID only 1 in 3 Christians attend church and sadly the data shows they may not be coming back https://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/ and https://www.barna.com/research/watching-online-church/
 Consider these verses about us imitating Christ: Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6, Ephesians 5:1-2,
 There are plenty of scriptures on this that I encourage you to read: Proverbs 18:1, Proverbs 27:17, Matthew 18:20, Acts 9:31-32, Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:11-13, Hebrews 10:24-25,
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.