Why do churches careen off the path of orthodoxy and into the muddy ditch of heresy? Why does a spouse have a fling after twenty years of marriage? Why do once-solid friendships weaken and crumble? There are many reasons, of course, but also a common, underlying impulse egging them on: The Horror of the Same Old Thing.
That’s what C.S. Lewis christened it. His fictional devil, Screwtape, bragged that this horror is “one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart.” Not simply a desire for change, this is a craving for novelty for novelty’s sake.
This passion is catnip for the shallow soul bored with the gifts of God.
By itself it’s bad enough. But throw some religion into the mix, and—look out—the excrement’s about to hit the air conditioning.
The Religion of Yahweh-And
Page through the Old Testament to see what happens when you religify this horror:
- Bored with the same old tabernacle, people constructed alternative worship sites called “high places” where they could worship God according to their own fancy.
- Tired of the same old invisible Yahweh, they built golden calves to serve as their idolatrous icons.
- Passionate about appearing uber-religious, they out-sacrificed, out-tithed, out-fasted each other so as to boast the shiniest halo.
- Horrified at the thought of being exclusionary, they kneaded Baal, Asherah, and other deities into their faith-dough, baking them all together into a caked religion we might call “Yahweh-And.”
In other words, they had too much religion and not enough Yahweh. Or, to put it in New Testament terms, they worked so hard at being religious that they put Jesus out of work.
Putting Jesus Out of Work
One of the greatest dangers we face is not failing at being a Christian, but succeeding. By succeeding, I mean becoming so good at it, so churchy, so outwardly religious, so wrapped up in “the great things we’re doing for God,” that we no longer need Jesus quite so much. We graduate to independence.
It’s like this: Sure, when we started our Christian walk, we needed Jesus to carry us everywhere, like a mother does her baby. But as we matured, we started hobbling along, leaning on Him for support. The more religious we became, however, the more we just marched along beside Jesus. In fact, we became so adept at walking the walk and talking the talk that we tell Jesus he can take a day off and go play golf. We’ll text Him if we need Him. But we’ve pretty much got this religion thing down.
When such “success” happens, we’ve fallen prey to the horror of the same old grace, same old forgiveness, same old Jesus. Not content anymore to confess, “I’m a poor, miserable sinner,” we now say, “I’m a mature, holy believer.” We’re too spiritually advanced to admit that all our religious works smell like a convenience store bathroom. We’ve outgrown Jesus and out-matured monergism. We’ve shelved the cross and put Christ out of work.
Beware the horror of the same old thing. By it the devil urges us to seek spiritual experiences or religious growth in some place other than Jesus alone.
Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus
We never outgrow the Gospel. We never climb out of the pool of baptism, dry off, and strike out on our own. We never move beyond nursing from the breast of the altar to chowing down on the ribeyes and champagne of religious experiences that have zero to do with the blood of God.
“Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus” an old hymn begins. Not Jesus-And. Not Jesus-Etc. He alone is the Father’s revelation to us. He alone is the enfleshment of God. And He alone can satisfy our deepest thirst for peace and belonging and love.
Jesus won’t wow you with novel, mind-blowing spiritual experiences, but He will feed you with the mysterious meal of His own flesh and blood. He won’t rip apart the heavens and boom down at you with celestial speech, but He will speak softly in His Scriptures that will comfort, guide, and protect you.
The longer you’re with Jesus, the more you realize you’re maturing into a greater dependence upon Him. The knowledge of your own weakness and His strength grows. Rather than graduating to stand on your own two feet, you are enrolled into His arms. He carries you. He upholds you. Your life is hidden with Jesus in God and manifested in ordinary, simple works that are invisibly suffused with the sanctity of the Spirit of God.
The Horror of the Same Old Thing gives way to the Joy of the Same of Old Grace. The “old, old story of Jesus and His love.” That old story is ever-new, and ever-renewing us, day by day, to receive in Jesus alone the fullness of our Father, the completeness of our humanity, and the overflowing peace that comes from being united to the God who is the same yesterday and today and forever.