HOW PERSONAL IS THE FAITH?
I know people who will say, if asked, that they are believers in Jesus Christ and they are headed for heaven. They believe in grace and they can give an acceptable form of the gospel and most go to some local church which falls well within the acceptable parameters of the evangelical community. They have been baptized and they have given money and time to support their church which also supports missions. They carry their Bibles to their church on Sundays and open it to the passages requested by their pastor and many even attend a Bible study class on Sunday mornings. There are multiplied millions of such people who live in America.
But there is something wrong. Very wrong. Like I have said I know many of these people. Most seem nice and are responsible American citizens. They keep up their house, they pay their bills, and they raise their children to be responsible and moral and even to become professing believers. They can and will converse with you about politics or the economy or sports or the weather or a number of topics. But if you look deeper than those kinds of superficial exchanges you will find that they have little if any genuine hunger for Christ and His kingdom.
They will gladly give you their opinion about Miley Cyrus or higher taxes or the current president, but rarely if ever will they, or can they, discuss what Jesus has ministered to them recently. If you speak of being broken before the Lord their expression reveals a combination of bewilderment and suspicion. They are uncomfortable hearing or discussing such sacred things, and that kind of sharing is done on a spiritual level about which they are completely unfamiliar. And if while sharing something deeply spiritual and personal you get a little choked up they are extremely uncomfortable since they have no common reference point with which to process such a display.
That requires a basic and fundamental question about the essence of the faith that claims to know and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. How personal is it and what does the word “personal” mean? Is the Christian faith something that can be acknowledged and embraced by nodding to a certain set of doctrines? And after acknowledging personally the veracity of those doctrines what should be the fruits of that confession? When I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church as a teenager we had to finish three years of catechism and then about 10 of us were confirmed as members of the church and we took our first communion. In effect we were publicly acknowledged as true believers in Jesus Christ. But many if not most of us were not. The year was 1969.
And how can I say I was not a true believer? Because after being born again in 1975 I had no doubt that I had been born again and had been lost before. And how could I be so sure of the difference? Well there are millions of believers who have similar testimonies. You see before 1975 I had no hunger for Christ and the things pertaining to His kingdom. I did not read the Bible, I did not pray, I did not discuss Jesus, I did not witness, I had no interest in missions, and in general nothing had really changed. I was a member of a church and that was the extent of my spiritual life. But is that what is a revelation of an authentic experience with the Risen Christ? Is that a legitimate testimony of being born again and walking in the Spirit?
We are faced with quite a spectacle in the acceptable community of the faith here in America. It has been birthed over many, many decades and other generations have seen this spectacle although this generation has not only seen it in great volume, but this spectacle has now been embraced by the evangelical community. There are many millions of people who have as much hunger for Christ as did I before 1975 and they also have been baptized and accepted or confirmed as true believers in Jesus Christ. I hope you can see the problem. I hope the problem is revealed to you in such a way it shakes your being. This is not just a problem…this is a shocking crisis.
And let us be honest with ourselves as well. We who can understand what I am saying and can see what has happened? We have become inoculated to this situation. What I mean is that we know and live with and even are related to some of these people I have described and we no longer have an urgency and passion in our prayers and dealings with them because we have allowed familiarity to strip us of what should be deep concern. And over the decades these kinds of professing believers who really express almost not hunger and thirst for Christ have been assimilated into the church and are treated as full blown believers whose faith is within acceptable parameters. And it is very difficult to remain active inside that kind of compromised culture and not be compromised ourselves. But if you step outside the safe and inoculated atmosphere of the institutional church you should be able to see more clearly what has happened and the dire circumstances that many church members may be walking in but who remain unaware and ambivalent to it all.
Am I suggesting I know who is a true believer and who is not? Of course not. But what I am saying that something is very wrong and the situation has many profound and tragic implications. And do we even care about these people anymore, or have we grown so accustomed to the pitiful state of the faith that they are allowed to walk among us without strong prayers or tearful overtures? And here is the ultimate implication. Is it possible that many millions of church members who are defined by my description will ultimately be revealed as being unregenerate? Are we willing to embrace their passive profession and let the chips fall where they may in eternity?
I have found so many of these same people who are aggressive in their judgments of unsaved people. They speak all kinds of harsh words about people based upon a miniscule knowledge of who they are and their circumstance. Just recently a man named Richard Sherman made a spectacular play to win the game and send his team to the Super Bowl. A few minutes later a reporter shoved a microphone in his face and Sherman went off about his prowess and his opponent’s lack of it. For about 40 seconds he was over the top. The reporter was a white woman and Sherman is black with long dreadlocks.
Well that short exchange sent off a firestorm among all kinds of people. Many were offended and outraged, and many came to his defense even though they thought he may have made an heat of the moment mistake. But here is my point. I have spoken to professing believers who witnessed that incident and some were outraged and judged Sherman harshly. They said he was way out of line and acted like a thug. Some black people receive the term thug as related to the “n” word. But still they were very visceral in their judgment of Sherman. But when I told them Sherman had apologized it did not dilute their judgment. When I told them that Sherman had come out of the deep ghetto it did not dilute their reaction. When I told them that Sherman received a scholarship to Stanford University and graduated with a 3.9 grade point average it meant nothing to them. When I asked them if they had watched any other interviews with Sherman some said they had not but that did not temper their feelings. He was a thug. And when I said he had made a mistake the reply was that he had made a BIG mistake. This is from professing believers.
I am astounded and taken aback by such indiscriminate condemnation and complete lack of mercy or redemption. But do you see how the natural man reacts when he is fortifying his religious brand? Morality is the mortar by which the fleshly man builds his religious house and the sins and failures of others often provide more bricks for additions to that house. And those bricks are cemented in by the mortar of that person’s own self serving view of his own morality and Biblical prism. And when that is the case then where is any spirituality? Where is the understanding, to say nothing of the passion, to represent the Person and teachings and Spirit of Jesus Christ?
There is a large segment of the evangelical community who see and understand Jesus through doctrinal and moral eyes and have no real understanding or revelation of what Jesus actually taught and how He lived and, yes, how and why He died. And if we take that painfully to its logical conclusion they see another Jesus. This is serious business and we must address it while striving sacrificially to remain broken and humble ourselves. There must not be any hubris as we open our eyes to what is happening in the Spirit. People’s souls are at stake and what we see and do must all be to glorify Jesus and not highlight any of us. In fact as we understand the vacuous nature of the church we should also examine ourselves. We still have far to go and we must beseech the Spirit to enlarge our hunger and thirst for Christ as well as our capacity to love and serve Him.
I will have been saved for forty years next year. And within that forty years there have been times when I was cold toward God. I knew it and of course so did He. But I could not be happy with that kind of life. I knew something was wrong and sometimes I extended that condition but I could never escape that conviction within regardless of how small I tried to make it. I had been with Christ intimately and in the sweetness of worship and obedience, but now He seemed very distant. He was still there but I wasn't. And yet there are people who can live their entire life like that but with seemingly no conviction at all. That is a profound inconsistency concerning a true believer.
So how personal does the faith have to be before it is the true faith? Deeply and profoundly and observably personal and it should lead all of into a humility which renders us broken and submitted before Him. Anything else is just religion wrapped in morality.