I could have called this blog “Lukewarm Christianity,” but there is far more involved here than apathy.
As time goes on, and I get a better and better pulse for what passes as “Christian” in 21st century America (and beyond), I cannot help but mourn in my spirit. Though I am certainly not comparing myself to the prophets and apostles of Scripture, I feel that I at least share the same sadness and astonishment that they felt in their respective eras.
They had to watch their fellow Jews and Christians fall from faith. They witnessed the rise of hollow religion: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mt. 15:8). They saw many not only apostatize but become reprobates. The prophets watched as the people rebelled against God, rejected their messages, and put them to death. The apostles watched the Jewish leadership cheer at the death of Jesus, proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar!”
I—like those of you who are reading this, even if you don’t realize it—am watching the church erode around me: right before my very eyes. It has become feckless and neutered of its power. When you get down to it, this isn’t simply the corruption of an institution; it is the splitting of the most spiritually powerful institution in world history.
There are now two clear and definable churches that exist in the world: the Bride of Christ (or the remnant) and the apostate church. We might compare these two establishments to the righteous and wicked “women” of Revelation. One gave rise to the Holy One and the other martyred God’s holy ones. One is pure and the other adulterated. While this stark contrast once applied to the Jewish people, it now applies to the Christians. The existence of these two churches is something I will exclusively cover in the next article.
At present, I want to touch upon one of the primary reasons why the corporate Body of Christ has come to such a pass: why it has so clearly devolved into two different bodies.
Though it has been a lengthy process, the 21st century manifestation of the church has been massively tainted by false teachings. It has embraced heresy wherever you look. One of those problematic heresies is that following God’s commands is optional. Put another way, our part with Jesus in no way depends upon our obedience. The obsession—coupled with the bastardization—of the doctrine of “salvation by faith alone” has much to do with this issue, to be sure.
However, the church’s overall dearth of theological understanding, lack of conviction, and absence of genuine zeal cannot be reduced to a false view about faith and works. While this may be a large piece of the puzzle, it is still but one piece.
In “Q and A” form, let me show a few ways that this frequently plays out.
Q. Should we use our time, energy, and resources for God’s Kingdom? A. Absolutely. But the effort spent on these things plays no role in salvation.
Q. Are works involved in salvation? Do I need to do anything? A. Absolutely not. Simply believe and it’s done!
Q. As a follower of Jesus, do I need to be baptized? A. Well . . . you don’t need to be baptized, but you probably should.
Q. Must I actively read the Bible and be informed about the Christian faith? A. “Must” you? No. Knowledge doesn’t factor into salvation. But you should certainly try to be informed.
Just in these examples, I guarantee that some readers are already festering frustration. I am supporting works righteousness, right? Aren’t I attempting to make Christianity into a to-do list, rather than a matter of simple belief? (I point you to this article about faith and works).
At present, let’s take this another direction.
Consider this in a personal way. What if you truly believed that the things above ultimately have no role in your salvation? That is, whether you do them or not—and to whatever extent—it would neither qualify nor disqualify you from being saved.
How would you live? Would you leave sin and strive to be more like Christ? Would you give of your time and resources? Would your life be about spiritual transformation and reaching others for the Kingdom of God?
While most of us know the true answers to these questions, some will of course puff out their chests and say, “Yes. I would do all this even if I didn’t need to.”
Nonsense. But let’s look at this one more way. While so many other things could be included, ask yourself what the result would be if we taught new Christian converts the following things:
1) You are saved apart from your personal obedience.
2) Salvation is 100% about what Jesus did and 0% about you do.
3) Baptism is suggested but not necessary in salvation.
4) Spreading the gospel and making disciples is also suggested but not necessary in your salvation.
Unfortunately, we don’t have to ask what the result “would” be.
Vast numbers of church leaders have been teaching others these very things for eons. I have seen it firsthand, and in far too many church settings (though certainly not in all). I have read it in books and articles, heard it in sermons, and I have most definitely observed it via innuendo. One could write a book about all the common beliefs held within the church that are not scriptural!
In that vein, a fundamental—but often ignored or contested—teaching of the Bible is that people are not good. In fact, we are fallen and helpless apart from God’s activity in our lives. We inherit both the nature and body patterned after Adam, but we will need to be transformed into the image of Christ and receive a body like the one he rose from the grave with (1 Cor. 15:45-49). The Bible sets a high bar for morality, and there is a distinct reason for that: people tend to do only what is required. That is, most of us will do the bare minimum.
Give your child the option of cleaning their room once a week or once a month and see which they choose. Tell someone they can make the same salary by working either twenty hours a week or forty and see which they choose. Tell them it doesn’t matter how much work gets done when they are clocked-in and see how much they accomplish. Even the present—and completely corrupt, I might add—virus crisis is proof of this. The government has given people so much money to sit on their duffs that countless places cannot find employees. Why go to work if I can get paid to entertain myself? As one CEO recently put it: “If I was in my 20s and didn’t really have a career path laid out, I’d stay home and make the $18.80 an hour playing PlayStation until four o’clock in the morning.”
Scripture sets a high bar because God knows people, and He knows them much better than we do. God knows that people, in general, will seek out the lowest possible bar. It is human nature to do so. This is especially true if the same ends can be achieved by whatever means.
And that is exactly what we are dealing with, here. When the church tells its members that things are optional—that their salvation will not be affected, one way or the other—we all know how that will end. We now have swarms of misled people that either fail or refuse to do things because “they don’t need to.” They don’t actively engage the culture for Christ. They don’t worry about making converts, much less disciples. They put off being baptized or never do it at all. They neglect to do good deeds, to the glory of the Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). “Technically speaking,” it’s all optional.
The damage that has been done cannot be calculated.
But the result has been a sifting process: a separation of the wheat from the chaff. We have an apostate church that views Christian living as optional. “As long as I believe that Jesus died for me, nothing else is needed. I am saved.” Thus, we have a license. This is a license to sin. It’s a license for spiritual apathy. It’s a license to live like Adam rather than Jesus.
Paul faced this mentality and flatly rebuked it: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom. 6:15). James faced it, too: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (2:14).
The root of the problem can be answered with one point, which should serve as a reminder to us all: God does not make suggestions; He gives commands.
We are commanded to do good works.
We are commanded to be baptized.
We are commanded to be transformed into the image of Jesus.
We are commanded to preach the gospel and make disciples, baptizing them also.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:21-23).
In this sobering reality, we see the terrible cost of “optional Christianity.” The lie will result in the condemnation of many, and it is a lie belonging only to the apostate church and the satanic powers in charge of it.
That doomed and defective church is the topic of the next article.
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