Elias Keach was a 17th century pastor’s kid - the son of the respected Baptist minister, Benjamin Keach. Benjamin Keach was known for introducing hymn singing in Baptist churches, writing a catechism, and preceding the pastoral ministry of Charles Spurgeon. But Elias didn’t adopt his parents’ religion. Forsaking their beliefs, he left London to go to the American Colonies in 1689. In this new environment, he became known as the son of the famous Benjamin Keach, which brought him great admiration and respect. Taking advantage of this, Elias would wear clergy outfits, posing as a man of God. Although he played the part well, his heart was far from God.
There have been seasons in my life when I saw myself in Elias Keach. As I train for the ministry, I have discovered a scary reality: It is REALLY easy to appear spiritual while living carnally; to study and expound Scripture simply because you're good at it; to counsel others because you kind of enjoy being considered a disciple-maker. Like the 17th century pastor’s kid, I put on my clerical robe, preach my glowing homilies, and ignore my own sins.
If you were raised in Christian circles like me, perhaps you experienced the temptation of using outward spirituality to gain respect–gaining the reputation of being the “good kid” in youth group, achieving roles of spiritual leadership in Christian college, being asked to teach or preach in your local church. Perhaps the label of “Spiritual Christian” is just really working out for you, but like Elias Keach, your outward spirituality doesn’t spring from inward devotion.
During my graduate years at Christian college, I had the opportunity to work as a mentor in one of the men’s residence halls. When guys visited me for counseling, I remember how utterly hypocritical I often felt as I shared with them Scriptural principles that I myself was rebelling against. I gave them homework that I should have been doing and guidance that I should have been heeding. Yes, I knew all the right answers, but I didn’t always apply those answers to my own spiritual walk. I don’t know how I managed to avoid smacking guys across the face with the giant beam sticking out of my eye.
At times, I would try to squelch the conviction by telling myself that my counseling efforts and Christian leadership proved that I was a “spiritual Christian.” Like the Pharisees, I was washing the outside of the cup while the inside was “full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25).
Pastor, do you find fulfillment in delivering powerful sermons or in having personal fellowship with your Savior? Mom and Dad, do you expect much out of your children’s behavior but ignore your own spiritual walk? Teen, is your reputation of being the “good kid” keeping you from confessing your own sin struggles?
If there is one thing God hates more than blatant debauchery, it's empty, hypocritical religiosity--using God and his word for self-promotion and going through the motions while your heart is turned away from Christ (Isa. 1:13-14). Maybe you’re like Elias Keach and still have an unregenerate heart. Cry out to God to save you from yourself. Return to the Gospel that you have been hypocritically proclaiming and allow it to crush your spirit. Maybe you’re like me and “have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4). Are you humble enough to admit your own hypocrisy? Will you “remember from where you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev. 2:5)?
Maybe it’s time for you to take a break from the whole “Spiritual Christian” act and return to the feet of Jesus. Go back to his Word and soak it in. Allow it to break your heart as it reveals your sin, comfort you as it reminds you of God’s faithfulness and patience, and fill you as it imparts to you the words of Christ. Don’t even think about telling others to follow you until you are truly following Christ. Be humble before the One who died to deliver you from your own self-righteousness. The longer you spend in fellowship with Christ, the more your outward actions will spring from inward devotion and love.
And let me conclude by warning you: the longer you try to maintain your outwardly spiritual performance while neglecting your inward devotion, the more difficult it will be to humble yourself and repent. If you spend years building a “Good Christian” reputation, you might find yourself so concerned with preserving your reputation before others that you’ll squelch the Holy Spirit’s conviction in your heart and continue the charade.
Elias couldn't keep up the charade forever. On one occasion, a church asked Elias to come preach. Probably using one of his dad's sermons, Elias Keach preached powerfully to the congregation until, part way through the sermon, he broke down mid sentence and started trembling. Supposing he had become ill, the congregation gathered around him to discover that he wasn't sick, but had grown so convicted over the truths he was preaching that he couldn't continue. He cried out for God’s mercy and forgiveness, confessing his fraud. On that day, Elias Keach was converted to Christ by his own preaching.
Perhaps it’s time for you to listen to your own preaching as well.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University. He, along with his wife, Hanna, and daughter, Brooklyn, currently live in Detroit, MI, where Aaron is pursuing his MDiv degree while serving as the Director of Recruitment at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and working on staff at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on twitter @AaronMBerry
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