I once heard a sermon titled “God uses PHAT Christians.” The preacher’s acronym spelled out the following:
Now don’t try to guess who preached this sermon. I don’t know. I keep a “bad sermons” file—simply because I want wild examples to show to future homiletics students but I’m not creative enough to come up with them! But I take the preacher’s name out of each file because it doesn’t matter.
However, I have heard many preachers make the same point this man was making, just without the cheesy acronym. Over and over I’ve heard “God’s only going to use you if you make yourself into a clean vessel.” Now, I deeply want to be holy, but I don’t think this talk from preachers is helpful. I have often thought, What about Pharaoh? What about Samson?
Recently, Mark Dever and Don Carson discussed this point in Mark Dever’s 9Marks Leadership Interview Series, a set of recordings I highly recommend. They feature an intensely (almost annoyingly =) knowledgeable pastor asking knowledgeable questions to knowledgeable guests. And I can add “godly” to “knowledgeable” for pretty well everyone involved. The discussions are edifying, informative, and Scripture- and theology-heavy.
After talking about fallen ministers, Dever and Carson talked about PHAT Christians:
Dever: Never think that because your ministry is apparently successful that reflects your relationship with the Lord. There are many holy ministers who’ve not been used in any apparently mighty way, and there are those who have been used mightily by God whose own work we will known in the last day how God will judge it in regards to themselves but God used the burning bush, God used Balaam’s donkey. The fact that God uses something speaks to God’s greatness.
Carson: That’s right; it does not necessarily speak to the moral perfections of the agent used.
Dever: And sometimes in our pious language we make it seem like the more holy we are the more powerfully we’ll be used. And while there’s some truth to that, you think of Pelagius, who was known as a very pious man but whose theology could not have been more prideful.
Carson: And there is no direct correlation between piety, godliness on the one hand and fruitfulness on the other. There is some correlation in the grace of God sometimes, but you cannot build anything on that. Some of the most godly Christians I know live and serve in corners of the world where there is almost no fruit, and there is a great deal of suffering, and when the saints go marching in they’ll be somewhere near the head of the pack and people like me won’t be anywhere near.