Chris Bounds, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy,
Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN
Saint Augustine of Hippo taught that we are defined as human beings by our greatest desire. Whatever we long for most in life, ultimately determines the decisions and choices we make. All other complimentary desires are aligned with this chief longing, and any contrary or competing desire is subjugated to it. Because we align our will with our strongest desire, inevitably, our thoughts, words and deeds reveal what our controlling desire is.
When I think about the one thing needed for church renewal, I believe it must be something defining for the Church, properly ordering and informing all essential aspects of life in the Body of Christ, as well as overcoming all conflicting obstacles. It must be “big enough” to bring together every element of the Church into a cohesive whole and keep the Church properly directed. Following Augustine’s teaching, I believe that this “one thing needed” must be a desire, an all-consuming Holy Spirit given desire in the Church. I believe the one thing needed for Church renewal is a “hunger and thirst” for righteousness.
John Wesley in his sermon “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse Two” defined this righteousness as renewal in “the image of God, the mind that was in Christ Jesus,” possessing “every holy and heavenly temper in one, springing from, as well as terminating in the love of God, as our Father and Redeemer, and the love of men for his sake.” Wesley taught that once this “hunger and thirst” after righteousness has been awakened in human hearts, it becomes the strongest of all spiritual appetites “swallowing up” all other desires into this one “great desire.”
How can this consummate longing for righteousness be the one thing needed for Church renewal? First, righteousness as described by Wesley is the chief purpose of humanity and is the ultimate end of the Church. We are created to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves in the bonds of holiness. When godly righteousness becomes our driving desire, realization of the Church’s true purpose becomes a possibility. In contrast, when the Church is driven by any other desire, she loses her way.
Second, it confronts us with our greatest problem – human sin and sinfulness. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we recognize immediately the disparity between our internal motivations, outward actions and the holiest desires of our heart. While we may see love as our life’s purpose, we see increasingly the apparent impossibility of fully walking in that love. Because of human sinfulness, the natural bent or tendency of our heart is to love ourselves more than God and neighbor. While we may have a desire to love and serve God, our desire to please ourselves is persistently stronger. We balk at the righteous requirements of love.
In the end, we find that we do not have the internal power and resources to truly follow Christ and his righteousness. No amount of human will power can bring about the love for which we are made. We may desire to truly be the Church, but not have the power to live the life to which we are called. When the Church “hungers and thirsts” for righteousness, it recognizes sooner or later that no program, organizational plan, or human resource is able to bring true righteousness in the life of the Church.
Third, an overwhelming desire for righteousness drives us to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. One way or another, this holy longing leads us to the realization that only God can liberate the Church from her bondage to sin and set her free to truly love God and neighbor. The good news of Jesus Christ is that through Christ’s redemptive ministry and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness are given the promise of satisfaction. Finally, when righteousness is unleashed in the people of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to embody love for one another, even in trying circumstances, evangelism becomes a passionate response of the Church as we seek to see the world reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, ministry to the marginalized of society becomes our nature response, and the expansion of God’s Kingdom drives our ministry through the Church.
May the Holy Spirit cultivate in Christ’s Church an overwhelming “hunger and thirst” for righteousness, an overwhelming desire that will lead to renewal in today’s Church.