“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile” – Billy Sunday.
Wow, I could probably just leave this week’s whole post at that! But, in case that statement created more questions than answers for you – here we go. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. There was a turning point in my life, an event that caused me to see that I was far from OK with God. I had been in the same Army unit for several years and had a batch of very close friends. We had deployed to Afghanistan and a few other places together. One day, one of them wanted to go bowling on a Sunday morning and I declined by saying “no thanks, I’ll be at church”. He looked at me funny, thinking I was joking. He asked me in complete seriousness “dude, you’re a Christian?” Ouch. I still feel shame when I think about his reaction. We’d been in life threatening situations before and knew each other well. After all that, he still couldn’t tell by my actions and behavior that I was a believer. Something had to change. I had to change. That was one of the pivotal moments in my life where I started to mindfully take steps that would get me closer to being the person I knew I was supposed to be. Let’s talk about the fact that going to church does not make you a Christian. I was identifying myself as a believer and going to church sometimes, but that’s all I was doing. Talking like a Christian and going to the right retreats does not make you a Christian. Can you confidently answer the questions ‘am I going to heaven?‘ and ‘am I striving to live like Jesus intends me to live?‘
So the problem I had was complacency, one of the most powerful tools Satan uses to keep Christians from acting on their faith. I had become inactive with my faith and didn’t even realize it. If the enemy of our souls can keep us idling around in safe groups, with our soft and cushy lifestyles until we die, then he definitely won that round. I believe that complacency is more dangerous to a culture than physical persecution. As a kid I said a prayer to become a Christian and asked Jesus to save me and forgive me of my sins. I’m saved and will go to heaven. But living as a believer is another thing – I was not living as I was supposed to in any way. That was the problem. I picture it like this – a teenage son of driving age is told by his father that he has to mow the lawn before dad gets home or he loses driving privileges for a week. The kid knows the job, knows that at some point his dad will be home, and he knows the consequences of inaction. Well, I was living in complete inaction – my closest friends didn’t even know I was a Christian! Unfortunately, I think that a huge percentage of the Christian population is in the same boat. We’ve read the end of the Book, we know Jesus is coming back for us. Yet, we still worry more about what car to buy next instead of the fact that we’ve had a next door neighbor for ten years with whom we’ve never shared the gospel.
One of the simplest ways of looking into your own life and checking for spiritual growth is to bounce your actions against the list of fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 – “but the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
The Christian faith is not a matter of do’s and don’ts. It’s a lifestyle of trust and dependency upon God. God wants to live His life through us! The Holy Spirit actually lives inside true Christians, but it is our job to lean into His internal guidance by cooperating with Him. My goal is to become like Jesus and I get there by focusing on the character qualities mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. The only way I know of doing this is to get into the Word and read it. I pray for clarity, understanding, and wisdom so that I can use the head knowledge I gain when (not IF) situations call for it. Striving for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is something even the staunchest unbeliever can’t deny is a worthy pursuit. My goal is to become the husband my wife deserves, the father my children need, and the Christian God intends me to be. The Bible has every bit of wisdom I need to have abundance in all of those qualities.
Now you try
First, there’s a lot of confusion these days about big themes mentioned in the Bible. I recommend you go HERE to check out the definitions of some of the basic Christian terms. Second, to be crystal clear- the ONLY way to be forgiven of your sins and adopted into the family of God (saved) is recognize that what Jesus Christ did on the cross 2,000 years ago was your only hope. Our sins and moral failures permanently disqualify us from being accepted by a holy God. But Jesus, the Son of God, lived a perfect life for you and then died a sacrificial death in your place. Then He defeated death itself by rising from the dead. We can’t save ourselves through good deeds, religion or trying to live a more moral life. The only way to eternal life with God is to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. Forgiveness and salvation are only possible through trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross. John 1:12 states, “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” In 1 John 5:13 the Apostle John offers this amazing certainty: “I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may have eternal life.” There are a lot of resources out there to find out more on how to get right with God. HERE and HERE are good places to start. If you are already a believer but have become an “evan-jellyfish”, the three things that I did (and will always do) are as follows:
1- Read the Bible daily! There are tons of free resources (I’ll list a few at the end) that can help you figure out how to start and keep track of your progress. A great book to start with is the gospel of John.
2- Talk to God through prayer. It truly is as simple as just talking about the things you are grateful for, worried about, and confused about. Nobody else needs to hear – it’s a conversation between you and God. It might feel one-sided at first but that’s OK.
3- Get plugged in with a good church that takes the Bible seriously. And if you really want to grow, find small groups or support groups within that church so that you can surround yourself with people who are further along spiritually than yourself. These relationships are amazingly effective at rekindling your love for God and His work in the world.
I encourage you to do at least the first two items here for a week. 7 days, that’s it. If you don’t feel any different about the whole thing please write me! Leaders in your local Christian church are there for you as well. I would love to connect with you and to have a conversation with you about the ways you can get closer to God and to start pursuing a life that matters.
Let’s end spiritual mediocrity. Don’t just be average. Let’s End Average together!
Those resources for reading the Bible are here:
- Glo Bible – http://globible.com– This Bible is a versatile app that is FREE. I’ve used the Bible reading schedule to read through the Bible in a Year. It also has amazing reading plans that are specific to challenges you might be facing like depression, marital problems, money, etc.
- A paper Bible reading plan you can print is found HERE. You will read a little bit from the different sections of the Bible each day, in 365 days you will have read the whole book cover to cover. It is insanely gratifying to read the whole thing. Also, this is part of the Blue Letter Bible site and App: https://www.blueletterbible.org. This is a fantastic app I personally use on my phone and iPad.
- A phenomenal international Bible study is the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) – https://www.bsfinternational.org– A weekly meeting and you will learn more about the Bible than you ever thought possible. Here is the link to find a class near you https://www.bsfinternational.org/locate-a-class1
- There are so many resources out there, not having access to the information is not a valid excuse! I do caution you, however, to be mindful of the source or author before you start reading.
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