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“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37).

WOULD YOU SAY BEING “CUT TO THE HEART” IS A GOOD THING? These days, most people wouldn’t. We want, at all costs, to experience happy feelings, and we would be turned off by any sermon that called on us to pass through the wilderness of godly sorrow. We only want to hear how much God loves us (forget the sorrowful things God’s love might require of us), and if our wonderful “self” needs any change, it just needs to be “actualized.”

But the gospel — preached first by John the Baptist, then Jesus, and later the apostles — was disturbing. The first thing it produced, at least in the hearts of honest hearers, was not joy but grief. When people heard about “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), they contemplated His death with tears of repentance, asking fervently, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

There is a sense in which conservatism (“preservation of the status quo”) is our deadliest spiritual enemy. The truth is, we are lost in sin and alienated from God, but we think we’re doing fine. If the gospel can’t break through that complacency, it can’t save us. Not even the gospel can save those who see no need to be saved.

Our “house of cards” is unstable. The gospel wants to disrupt our assumption that the lives we’ve built are secure (Luke 12:16–21). Eventually, our “house of cards” is going to come crashing down, and if we’re not shaken up by the prospect of that, we should be.

Our sins are serious. In Luke 18:9–14, the Pharisee would have admitted that he had a few imperfections, but he was out of touch with how serious those shortcomings were. He needed nothing quite so much as to be troubled by the truth about himself.

Our character is far from God’s character. Those who have been Christians for many years often overestimate how much they have grown spiritually. If we keep listening to the gospel, it will often disturb us with the reminder of how far we still have to go.

The bottom line is this: if the seed of the kingdom is going to grow within us, the fields of our hearts have to be plowed up. And the harder the ground, the more painful the plowing is going to be.

“If Christianity has never disturbed us, we have not yet learned what it is” (William Temple).

Gary Henry — +

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