6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,
7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” (ESV)
The topic for today is pragmatism, and specifically the heartache which is caused by pragmatism. In these verses in Romans just quoted, Paul has in mind the difference between the first two children of Abraham – Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, you may recall, was born out of pragmatism, while Isaac was born out of faith. Notice that, even though both sons were born to one father, Abraham, that the offspring of Abraham would only be named through one of those sons – Isaac. Why would God decree this? Because of the example given to us as shown in Romans 9:8 “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (ESV) God decreed that the child born of the flesh, that is, because of pragmatism, would never be a child of God.
Unfortunately, many of the so-called evangelical churches today are giving birth to children of the flesh. We have sacrificed the gospel message, a contrite heart, brokenness over sin, and repentance for a “decision to accept Jesus Christ into your heart.” Nowhere in the Bible are the ideas of “salvation” and “decision” ever linked together. This is an invention of pragmatism in order to swell the church membership. Why else would 60% of the membership of the Southern Baptist Church never attend church?
But this post is not about pragmatism in general, it is about the heartache of pragmatism. In order to see the heartache of pragmatism as it relates to Romans 9:6-9, we must turn back to the book of Genesis and read an account from the life of Abraham and Ishmael.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. (KJV)
Notice the reaction of Abraham when both his wife Sarah, and then God Himself, tells Abraham that he must cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham was grieved. The KJV uses the words “very grievous”. The word “grievous” comes from a root word meaning “breaking”. I think we might could say that it broke Abraham’s heart to have to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Why was it so hard for Abraham to do so? The end of verse 11 tells us it was “because of his son.” Regardless of the circumstances of how he was born, Ishmael was still Abraham’s son.
I think that we see a very similar heartache due to pragmatism in the church today. How many young children become members of the “church” through our typical Vacation Bible School program, only to never be seen again? How many of our youth drop out of “church” on the day they finish school and leave home for college or career? How many couples have joined the “church” on transfer of their letter, only to be found on lake or at the beach or on the ski slopes every Sunday? I am not a pastor, but I can only imagine the heartache a pastor must truly feel over the fact that so few of the church’s “converts” really appear to be converted. That is, unless the pastor glories in numbers rather than seeing people changed by the power of God.
Is there a solution to the problem? Yes, I think there is. I think that the answer to this problem is found in Romans 9:9 “For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” (ESV) Abraham’s troubles started when he lost sight of the promise of God and took matters into his own hands. Similarly, I think that the church’s trouble starts when we fail to wait on the promises of God and take matters into our own hands. We are told in 1 Corinthians 1:21 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (ESV) We think that relying in faith on the preaching of the gospel message to reach those God intends to join the church doesn’t produce enough converts, or enough baptisms, or enough interest in joining the church. So we turn to the methods of pragmatism. We water down our preaching and teach insipid Sunday School lessons, and then turn to other “fun” things to attract people into the church. But the problem with this is that all of our programs are bringing children of the flesh into the “church” without the power of God ever converting them to become children of God. The church today needs to learn to wait, to be obedient, and to trust fully that God will draw those who are to become members of our local congregation. We don’t need to rent a searchlight, we need to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.