Second-Hand Religion not Allowed - Answering ‘Who are You?’:
Moving from Second-hand Religion to First-Hand Christianity
Dr. Kevin Shrum
Second-hand stuff is in vogue these days. Many students and adults alike love to shop at the Goodwill Store or a thrift store of some type, where the racks are filled with second-hand clothing and second-hand stuff. Most of us have no problem buying a used, second-hand car. Most of us live in second-hand houses that we did not build. And we’re highly interested in second-hand living. We love survivor shows where we watch someone else vicariously do what we would love to do in reality. In essence, our lives are filled with second-hand experiences.
But this cannot be true when it comes to Christianity. Second-hand experience doesn’t count when it comes to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God doesn’t have any grandchildren, He only has children; He doesn’t want leftovers, He wants first course; God doesn’t honor spectators only participants. God desires first-hand love and devotion.
Sadly, many in the church hear of what God is doing across the world and in the lives of other believers, yet so rarely experience such power and life in their own lives. Consequently, many Christians become satisfied with left-over Christianity, second-hand spirituality and used experiences.
Acts 19:11-20 records a very interesting episode in the life of the early church that exposes how dangerous second-hand religion can be. The text reads: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. 13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.' 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
The context of this text is very interesting. Paul had moved into the region of Ephesus (19:1) and had been renting the great hall of Tyrannus for two years, preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (19:9-10). As a result, God began to move in mighty and miraculous ways (19:11-12).
· Mighty miracles – “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” God began to move among the people who were hearing and believing the gospel. God desires to move among His people as they respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often, God uses miracles to accompany preaching in order to establish the good news.
Second-hand Religion on Display
· Copy-cats – “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’” Some who had been listening to Paul and observing God’s power in and through him attempted to do the same types of miracles, yet without the power of God. Notice that verse 13 states that these false prophets were saying, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches…” That is, these copy-cat preachers were attempting to do second-hand what Paul was doing first-hand. This means that there have always been wave-riders or people who want to get on the band wagon of the latest spiritual movement, yet without knowing the real power of God.
· Second-hand religion – “Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief (high) priest, were doing this. One day, the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’” When these copy-cat believers attempted to do what Paul was doing, they exposed their true motivation. In fact, there is no historical record of a high priest by the name of Sceva. Some scholars suggest that Sceva had taken on the title to impress the people of the city. The demon could not say to these false leaders – Jesus I know, Paul I know and you I know. Even the demon knew the real deal. This demon knew of the power of God in the life of Jesus and Paul, but he did not recognize the power of God in these copy-cat, second-hand peddlers of the gospel. In 2 Timothy 3:7 Paul warned Timothy of false believers and preachers who were “…always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” In other words, there would be church-goers and preachers who are not a part of the family of God, not true believers and not part of God’s kingdom.
· Dangerous results – “Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” Those who attempt to live out Christianity without the power of God will be overpowered and pummeled. Living a life of second-hand religion is dangerous and will lead straight to hell.
When this happened people in the city began to compare and contrast Paul’s ministry with that of the copy-cat, second-hander preachers. As a result, something wonderful and interesting happened. When false religion is rampant danger is everywhere. But when first-hand Christianity is prevalent, then mighty and moving things take place. Acts 19:17-20 reminds us of what happened in the city: “When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
What happens when first-hand, authentic Christianity is on display?
· Word spreads about what God is doing! When word got out that the false preachers had been exposed the word spread about what God was doing. The text notes that both Jews and Greeks were made aware of what had happened. This simple truth ought to remind us that the best way to grow a church and expand the ministry of the kingdom is by word of mouth. Let there be an outbreak of authentic, real Christianity and people will flock.
· Fear falls! Not only did the word spread, but fear fell on the city: “…they were all seized by fear…” The word for fear in this passage is ‘phobos’ from which we derive a multitude of phobia terms. Amazing! God’s power evoked fear. If there is not an element of fear involved in what we may term a ‘movement of God’ then it may not be of God. Second-hand religion may be dangerous, but it doesn’t strike fear in the heart of a person. However, let God show up in all of His glory among His people and a certain awe and fear will fill the hearts of the people (Isa. 6:1-8).
· Jesus is exalted! Verse 17 notes that not only did fear fall on the city, but “…the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.” Maybe the single, most important sign that God is at work is when Jesus is exalted. If someone says that there is a movement of God, yet a man is exalted, or a certain kind of music is lifted up, or we set unbiblical standards as to how God can and will move – maybe in a way that we do not like or are accustomed to – then it may not be God at work. Jesus must be exalted above all else!
· Sinners come clean! When authentic Christianity is on display sinners come clean about their sin. Verse 18 states, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.” This is amazing! The interesting thing about this phrase is that it was believers who were coming clean about the sin that had dominated their lives. This means that salvation is part of God’s plan, while the process of sanctification (being set apart unto God’s holiness) is important, as well. While being found in Christ makes us positionally righteous (Rom. 5:1-2), we are also called to be progressively righteous by living a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:27).
· Costly discipleship takes place! Not only were saved sinners coming clean about the sin in their life, but costly commitments were being made. Verse 19 records this amazing scene, “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas (pieces of silver).” I find this almost unbelievable! A drachma was worth one day’s wages. Go figure! If an individual made this kind of costly commitment it would mean – if the average worker works 247 days a year (minus the two day weekend and a two week vacation), a person would have to work 202 years to equal the amount this group of people expended as they burned the old signs and possessions of their previous life before coming to Christ!
· The Word of God flourishes! The ultimate sign that real, first-hand Christianity is at work is that God’s Word grows in its power and effect. Verse 20 notes, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” When the Word of God spreads then the power of God prevails. When real Christianity is on display word spreads, fear falls sinners come clean, costly commitments are made and the Word of God grows in effect and power.
Every person must ask themselves the question, "Who am I?" If we don't ask it, someone will, some situation will expose it and some life circumstance will raise the issue. Being authentic is not enough. Being authentic in Christ is! Jesus is the most real person in existence. And the closer we move toward Him the more real we become.