“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1:15-16
In 2018, pastor Eric Mason, a vocal proponent of critical race theory, published his book Woke Church: An Urgent Call For Christians In America To Confront Racism And Injustice. The book garnered endorsements from notable evangelical leaders including Grammy Award winning artist Lecrae, SBC pastors Thabiti Anyabwile and Tony Evans, and now fallen former pastor James MacDonald. The book contains two Forewords, one penned by John Perkins, and one by Ligon Duncan.
Here are a few lines from the book:
“We should already be woke to what is happening in our world. And we should be shouting His message about it from the mountaintops.”
“I believe that the call of God on the life of every evangelical Christian is to be woke.”
“Many of us are regeneration-focused in a way that ignores the outworking of new life in the world.”
Woke Theology Is Not Biblical Theology
Mason’s is not, of course, the only book recently targeted at evangelicals with the intent of moving forward the narrative of the currently popular social justice movement. Given the growing popularity of the movement, it will likely not be the last. The point of highlighting Mason’s book, and excerpting just a few quotes, however, is not to offer a counter argument, though a substantial biblical case could be (and has been) made against the movement in general and on Mason’s book specifically.
The point is this. When the “faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3) is redirected from a focus on Christ and on things above (Col. 3:2) to a focus on the individual and temporal matters of the world, it is evidence that the gospel has been untethered from its Scriptural anchor. The gospel has been compromised. A.W. Pink warns, “It is both a fatal delusion and a wicked presumption for one who is living to please self to imagine that his sins have been forgiven by God.”
Scripture itself gives an example of gospel compromise in Galatians in which the Judaizers did not blatantly contradict the gospel which Paul preached, but rather “distorted” it (Gal. 1:7) by the addition of features that appealed both to law-minded Jews and works-oriented Gentiles. They accepted Paul’s gospel, but the apostle cursed them for their subtle distortions (Gal. 1:8-9). Paul, the apostle who says “imitate me” (1 Cor. 11:1), then makes the staggering and distinguishing statement that makes clear the Christian’s allegiance: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant (doulos, slave) of Christ” (Gal. 1:10) In similar fashion, the social justice movement (for those within it who may actually have a biblical understanding of the gospel) doesn’t deny the biblical gospel, but rather they augment it with matters of individual. Part of Mason's definition of “woke” is this: “Being woke has to do with seeing all of the issues and being able to connect cultural, socio-economic, philosophical, historical, and ethical dots.” The appeal of the movement is its appeal to men by implementing the presumed wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 3:19).
Just as in the charismatic movement which is rife with rank charlatans emphasizing self through such heretical teachings as the prosperity gospel, so too is the popular social justice movement filled with false teachers whose rhetoric is decidedly worldly. Peter warns about those “speaking out arrogant words of vanity” intending to “entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality” (2 Peter 2:18). He speaks against those “promising … freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). The apostle describes them as “stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed …” (2 Peter 2:13-14). The apostle John likewise warns us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:10).
Though certainly not every proponent of social justice qualifies for an apostolic anathema, nor does its every adherent find themselves captured by a maliciously motivated charlatan, the glaring feature of the movement itself is directly contrary to what Scripture commands of the obedient follower of Christ. The movement drives attention downward to self, a focus antithetical to the gospel command to deny self and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). We are commanded to “think on things above” (Col. 3:2) and not to love the world or the things of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15). Yet the social justice movement compels and coddles adherents in their self-focused, worldly view.
What Scripture Says: Grow In Grace, Not Wokeness
“A Christian, by definition, is one who is to be like Christ. Therefore our Lord prays, ‘Sanctify them,’ make them like me, so that you can use them to glorify yourself among men and women in the world. So the beginning of everything is a right concept of holiness, the holiness of God, for without that we shall avail nothing.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
While Mason may genuinely believe that “the call of God on the life of every evangelical Christian is to be woke,” that is a call not drawn from Scripture. In the Word of God, we learn that the gospel call of God on the life of the believer is “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Indeed, Paul makes clear that the self-glorifying purpose of God in our redemption is to “conform us to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29), not to make us “woke.” Contrary to Mason’s desire to see believers shouting the message about what’s going on in the world from the mountain tops, Paul simply makes the point “Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:28). And, again contrary to creating culturally woke Christians, Paul, in the same inspired breath, writes that his efforts, as ours, are to “present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Peter likewise points his readers to a clearcut command consistent with our conformity to Christ, to our completion in Him. Rather than commanding us to be “woke”, the apostle commands us in his first epistle to “be holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). In the opening greeting of his second epistle, Peter writes “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pet. 1:2). He reiterates this as a direct apostolic command in the closing verse of the letter: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
The growth in grace to which Peter refers is the practical pursuit of holiness which he exhorted in his first epistle. Growth in grace is not exclusive merely to Peter, though if he were the only New Testament author to command it, it would remain authoritative and binding on believers. Paul also speaks to the believer’s growth in grace, faith, fruit, and knowledge. Consider such passages as 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Colossians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 10:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Ephesians 4:15, and Philippians 1:9.
The challenge for believers is obeying the apostolic exhortations to “grow in grace.” If there is a singular, profound need in the church today, it is as Lloyd-Jones said, “We must realize that our whole life is meant to be lived to the glory of God.” That demands the Christian’s pursuit of being Christlike, of being holy. We must not forget that the defining, triply repeated attribute of God is likewise the defining attribute of our Lord and Savior; He is “holy, holy, holy” (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). Conformity to His image means we must also be holy as He is holy.
In order to pursue practical obedience to the command to be holy, to grow in grace, J.C. Ryle gives invaluable wisdom. In his classic book published in 1887, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, Ryle includes a chapter on “growth in grace.” The following summarizes the key points from him about what is meant by growth in grace, the means by which it is achieved, and its evident marks in a believer’s life.
“When I speak of a man growing in grace, I mean simply that …
his sense of sin is becoming deeper,
his faith is becoming stronger,
his hope is becoming brighter,
his love is becoming more extensive,
his spiritual-mindedness is becoming more marked,
he feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart – and he manifests more of it in his life.
He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith and from grace to grace.”
How is a believer, who is commanded to “grow in grace,” to pursue that growth? From the outset, we must remember the inspired words of James: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jam. 1:17). Though commanded to pursue this growth, it remains still a gift of God. “But still it must be kept in mind,” writes Ryle, “that God is pleased to work by means. God has ordained means – as well as ends. He who would grow in grace – must use the means of grace.”
The Means of Growth In Grace
First, “one thing essential,” he writes “is diligence in the use of private means of grace.” Ryle includes the following list: “Private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, private meditation, and private self-examination.”
Ryle’s second category for growth in grace is to employ the public means of grace. “Under this head I include the ordinances of regular Sunday worship, the uniting with God’s people in common prayer and praise, the preaching of the Word, and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”
Third, “Another thing essential to growth in grace, is watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life. Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employment of time – each and all must be vigilantly attended to, if we wish our souls to prosper.”
Fourth, “another thing which is essential to growth in grace, is caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form. Nothing perhaps affects man’s character more than the company he keeps … Disease is infectious – but health is not!” Ryle writes, “Let us seek friends who will stir us up about … our prayers, our Bible reading, and our employment of time; about our souls, our salvation, and the world to come.”
Finally, “There is one more thing which is absolutely essential to growth in grace, and that is regular and habitual communion with the Lord Jesus … I mean that daily habit of communion between the believer and his Savior, which can only be carried on by faith, prayer, and meditation. It is a habit, I fear, of which many believers know nothing. A man may have his feet on the Rock – and yet live far below his privileges. It is possible to have ‘union’ with Christ – and yet to have little if any ‘communion’ with Him.”
“Such a habit of dealing with Christ, is clearly something more than a vague general trust in the work that Christ did for sinners. It is getting close to Him and laying hold on Him with confidence, as a loving, personal Friend. This is what I mean by communion.”
“We must realize what it is … to turn to Him first in every need, to talk to Him about every difficulty, to consult Him about every step, to spread before Him all our sorrows, to get Him to share in all our joys, to do all as in His sight, and to go through every day leaning on and looking to Him!”
“This is the way that Paul lived: “The life which I now live in the flesh – I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Gal. 2:20); ‘To me to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21).” “It is the man who lives this way, who keeps up constant communion with Christ – this is the man, I say emphatically, whose soul will grow.”
The Marks of Growth In Grace
There are five distinct marks which a believer may assess as they grow in grace that Ryle outlines.
“One mark of growth in grace is increased HUMILITY. The man whose soul is growing, feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year. He is ready to say with Job, ‘I am vile!’ and with Abraham, ‘I am dust and ashes!’ and with Jacob, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all your mercies’!”
“Another mark of growth in grace , is increased FAITH and LOVE towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Another mark of growth in grace, is increased HOLINESS of life and conduct. The man whose soul is growing, gets more dominion over sin, the world, and the devil every year. He becomes more careful about his temper, his words, and his actions.”
“Another mark of growth in grace, is increased SPIRITUALITY of taste and mind. The man whose soul is growing, takes more interest in spiritual things every year … the things he loves best are spiritual things. The amusements and recreations of the world, have a continually decreasing place in his heart.”
“Another mark of growth in grace, is increase in LOVE to others. The man whose soul is growing, is more full of love every year – of love to all men – but especially of love towards the brethren. His love will show itself actively – in a growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good-natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tenderhearted, and considerate.”
“One more mark of growth in grace, is increased ZEAL and diligence in trying to do good to souls. The man who is really growing, will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year.”
Pink On Growing In Grace
The Christian’s life is to be defined by his increasing conformity to the image of Christ. A.W. Pink wrote that growing in grace “most certainly does not mean an increasing satisfaction with myself. No. It is the very opposite.” The “only peace for the renewed heart is to look away from self to Christ and His perfect work for us. Faith empties of all self-complacency and gives and exalted estimate of God in Christ.” This, of course, is precisely counter of much of the narrative of the social justice agenda in the church today which emphasizes self-complacency and encourages individuals to seek satisfaction with self and from others.
Pink gives a pithy and valuable commentary of Peter’s closing verse:
“A growth ‘in grace' is defined, in part by the words that immediately follow: ‘and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3:18). It is the growing realization of the perfect suitability of Christ to a poor sinner, the deepening conviction of his fitness to be the Saviour of such a vile wretch as the Spirit daily shows me I am. It is the apprehension of how much I need His precious- blood to cleanse me, His righteousness to clothe me, His arm to support me, His advocacy to answer for me on High, His grace to deliver me from all my enemies both inward and outward. It is the Spirit revealing to me that there is in Christ everything that I need both for earth and Heaven, time and eternity. Thus, growing in grace is an increasing living outside of myself, living upon Christ. It is a looking to Him for the supply of every need.”
As we worship, may we not seek to be “woke” but to be humbled before the Lord and Savior who has given us so great a salvation (Heb. 2:3). May we daily seek to obey His command to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him. May we contemplate that it is His salvation, His faith, and His grace which saves us, sustains us, and will bring us, finally, fully, and eternally, to Himself. And with that knowledge, as Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Pet. 3:11)
For more Stiving For Eternity resources on being “Woke,” go HERE.