Note: This has nothing to do with David Platt’s book Radical. I have never read it or to my knowledge read anything else he has written.
What is a Radical?
Definitions matter. So before proceeding I wanted to define the term “radical.” By “radical,” I mean that strain of Christian thinking that says living a normal Christian life, getting married, having children, raising them in Christ, loving your spouse, being faithful at your job, attending worship, reading your Bible, praying, loving the saints, and then dying is not enough. It is that strain of Christianity that says, “There must be something more that I must do to be a good Christian.” The radical thinks and preaches that, “Good Christians do amazing things for Jesus.” This type of thinking is found in all branches of Christianity. There are mission weeks, revival meetings, monks who abandon all, elusive second blessings, pilgrimages to Rome, women who leave marriage and children far behind, men who leave jobs to enter the ministry, young men who believe that memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a means of grace, preachers who imply that Word and Sacraments are not enough, and conference speakers who demand that we pray more and more. The halls of faith echo with phrases like: Be radical. Give it all up for Jesus. Sacrifice everything.
I was raised to think like this and my guess is that many of you were as well. Our Christian life was driven by questions like , “Am I doing enough?” But over time I found that this pressure to do great things for God was not just burdensome, but it was unbiblical. The epiphany came as I studied Ephesians a few years back.
The first chapters of Ephesians are some of the most glorious chapters in all the New Testament. All Scripture is inspired by God, but maybe Ephesians is blessed with a double portion. Here are a few of the verses about our great salvation.
We are blessed with every spiritual blessing (1:3).
We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4).
We have redemption through his blood (1:7).
We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (1:13).
We were dead. Now we are alive (2:1).
We have been raise up with Christ and seated with Him (2:6).
We were once strangers to the covenant, but now have been brought near (2:12-13).
We have access through Christ by the Spirit to the Father (2:18).
And on and on and on it goes. (See especially 3:17-21.) Paul gives us a grand picture of the great redemption we have in Christ and the great work our Lord did for us. Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians are Paul’s unfolding of this mystery (3:9) to the saints at Ephesus. In chapter 4, Paul begins to explain to the saints what this mean for their daily lives. Ephesians is neatly divided between what God has done for us in Christ (1-3) and how we are to respond (4-6). Or to use other terms it is divided between the indicative and imperative.
Not So Much
The first three chapters are radical. Coming back from the dead is radical. Being made clean is radical. Being united to the covenant, as a Gentile, is radical. But when we get to chapters 4-6 the radicalness disappears. After reading chapters 1-3 we would expect Paul to turn on the jets. We are Spirit-filled, covenant included, blood bought, once dead-now alive, Christians. We were made to do great things. If Paul were a modern preacher he would follow this up with a call to evangelize or do missions or go give all you have to the poor or change the world (or at least your community) or start a neighborhood Bible study. He would close Ephesians with a call to be radical.
But the real Paul disappoints us. There is nothing in these chapters about doing amazing things for Christ. There is nothing about missions or evangelism. There is nothing about changing the world or your community. There is no call to give away all you have. Paul does not encourage the men to examine themselves to see if they are called to the ministry. Women are not encouraged to leave all behind and be “fully devoted to Jesus.” There is no call to parents to make sure they raise “radical” children. So what does Paul tell us to do?
Live with one another in lowliness and patience (4:2).
Reject false doctrine and grow into maturity (4:13-15).
Put off the old man. (4:22)
Don’t lie. (4:25)
Get rid of sinful anger. (4:26-27)
Stop stealing and work hard so you can give to those who have need (4:28).
Watch your speech (4:29, 31, 5:4).
Be kind to one another (4:28).
Don’t be sexually immoral (5:3-7).
Avoid fellowship with darkness (5:11).
Speak to one another in songs (5:19).
Give thanks (5:20).
Wives submit to husbands (5:22, 24).
Husbands love wives (5:250).
Children obey parents (6:1-3).
Fathers raise godly children (6:4).
Work hard for those over you (6:5-9).
Fight against the Devil and his minions (6:10-20)
Not very radical is it?
A Bad Kind of Radical
Paul is radical, but not in a way we like. He is radical about killing sin. He wants us to stop having fits of anger. He wants us to cut out our gossiping tongue. He wants us to be thankful in all circumstances. He wants us to pray. He wants us to get rid of greed. He wants us to make sure we keep our speech clean. All of this sounds pretty boring and hard. What sounds more exciting a speaker talking about reaching your community for Christ or one talking about taming your wayward tongue?
We don’t like Paul’s call to be radical because it is a lot easier to love the lost whom we haven’t seen than our wife who we see every day. We don’t like it because forgiveness is hard (4:32) and fornication is easy (5:3). We don’t like it because we would rather be known for doing something amazing than be obscure and keep the peace (4:3). We don’t like it because he says a lot about submission and nothing about evangelizing the ladies at Starbucks. In the end, those calls to be radical aren’t radical at all. They are just a distraction. The Christian life is not about going some place for Jesus or doing great things for him. It is being holy right where we are. It is loving our brothers and sisters in our churches. It is being faithful to our family obligations. It is working hard at our vocations. In a fallen world, if we do this, we are being radical enough.