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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Carnal Christian?

Religion is an interesting paradigm, if you examine it in the context of its culture. Here in the U.S.A., I believe most segments of our culture prefer to be of some religion. By that I mean that most people would agree it's a good thing to identify yourself with a religion. But which religion you claim for yourself doesn't seem to be nearly so important as is the simple fact that you are of some religion.

Indeed, our modern culture seems to not even flinch when people convert from one religion to another --- providing they are switching between commonly accepted (and embraced) religions in our culture. Some religions are viewed more as cults or simply perversions of of more mainstream religions. Mormonism would be an example. While Mormons are typically outstanding citizens, our culture sees their religion as being on the fringe, at best.

Oddly enough, we don't seem to worry much about the God a religion focuses on. Rather we focus on the rules of each religion. So we tend to look at religions by focusing on their differences. You might, for instance, hear someone mention a religion what you're not familiar with. Immediately your mind goes to the potential differences. You may ask, "So how does that religion differ from my religion?"

I find it strange that we don't first try to examine what the religions have in common. I've learned some important truths that would seem to make that a wiser way to look at various religions. Let's take a look.

The vast majority of wars fought in the history of the world have been fought over religion or religious principles. Christians versus Catholics. Catholics versus Muslims. Communists versus Jews. And those are just to name a few. We still have the entire range of issues found in religious persecution. (An example might be the Christians who were martyred for their efforts to translate the Bible into the English language.)
  • People tend to live peaceably with each other when they focus on their points of agreement (as opposed to focusing on their points of disagreement). It is more than likely that the thousands of denominations (religions) in the world have a great deal in common. Morality-based behaviors, for example, tend to be common to all religions. Reverence for the god of each religion, respect for parents, celebration of children, and stewardship of financial resources don't tend to vary much from one religion to the other.
Now the great travesty in any religion is when its people don't live their alleged values. They'll claim to be Christian or Catholic or Muslim, etc. But their lives don't look much different than the lives of the culture they find themselves in. Said differently, their religion doesn't seem to have had much impact at all on their lifestyles.
Christianity (and Judaism that preceded it in the Old Testament) has always been plagued by hypocrites. Jesus Christ spoke firmly to the Pharisees and others who tried to impress man-made notions and rules onto the actual Words of God. To put it bluntly, there've always been those who were religious --- but not godly. And therein lies the problem that virtually all religions seem to face. It doesn't matter whether the religion is "mainstream" or not. The fact is any religion always seems to have considerably more people who claim its values than live its values. They're modern-day hypocrites and Pharisees.
Of course, Christianity is no exception to this rule. Indeed, modern Christianity in the U.S. is probably in far worse trouble on this front than even its own leaders would imagine. People will claim to "believe in God," and make statements to that effect boldly. But the core values of Christianity (i.e., put God first and love others as you would want to be loved yourself) are sorely lacking in the lives of these so-called "believers."

The Apostle Paul (and others) spoke and wrote extensively about people who don't live their own values. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Paul makes a clear distinction between "spiritual" Christians who live life fully yielded to the Holy Spirit - and "carnal" Christians who tend to live life based on their own understanding. These latter folks tend to make decisions based on what they want most, and you don't find much in their lives that is yielded to the will of God.
Of course, the Bible tells us that "all of heaven" celebrates when even one person makes a decision to become a Christ-follower. (Luke 15:7) But Jesus said just as clearly that He would have no use for those who are "luke warm" and who's faith has not differentiated them in the world. (Matthew 7:21-23, Revelation 3:15-16) In fact, Jesus considers these so-called "believers" to be "evil doers." Did you know that? Simply claiming to be a Christian - but not actually living a life that's fully surrendered to Christ and His ways - makes one an "evil doer" in Jesus' eyes!
I get very aggravated when I see (mostly) televangelists, for example, advising people that "all they have to do" is "say a simple prayer." So they lead the masses in prayer and then celebrate the number of people who allegedly "got saved." But it's not just on television. Our local churches in the U.S.A. commonly and routinely celebrate the number of people who "got saved." If they'll self-identify, most churches will send them some literature about being a Christian. Some will schedule a baptism ceremony. But frankly, I don't think that's enough.
I remember about a year ago, one of my sons made a decision in favor of Christ while at a youth camp. That weekend, the youth pastor schedule what certainly felt like an "emergency baptism" ceremony. When questioned, he said he wanted to "get them while they're fresh." So we had a ceremony, baptized those youth and then celebrated the number of them that "got saved" at camp that year. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. For the most part, they continued to live as they had before. In fact, my own son's life today likes absolutely no different than it did before. Like many teen-agers, he's as stubborn and rebellious as ever.
I can't help but think about Jesus' words. You see, it's clear that Jesus doesn't care how many "got saved" or "came to Christ" at youth camp. Jesus doesn't give a hoot about the baptism ceremony that was hurriedly scheduled on the fly to "catch 'em while they're fresh." Quite simply, Jesus says if they aren't growing in Christ and exhibiting an albeit emerging Christ-likeness ... He will consider them evil-doers and He will not plan to acknowledge them to His Father (God). Yikes!
You see, each born-again believer - regardless of their chronological age, must "grow in grace, and in the (transforming) knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) It's called "spiritual growth" or "spiritual maturity." And it comes only through study of God's Word, accompanied by transforming belief and marked obedience. It is through this progressive obedience and emerging godliness, mimicking Christ's own character ... that we become God's children.
It is NOT enough to "say a simple prayer." It is NOT enough to participate in a baptism ceremony. It is NOT enough to self-identify yourself as a Christ-follower. And it doesn't matter how you see yourself, how your pastor sees you, how your parents see you or how any other human being that ever walked the face of the earth sees you. The only thing that matters is how God Himself sees you. And He clearly says that without substantive evidence, we are evil-doers whom He intends to deny.
So, how is your obedience today? Are you being led by the Holy Spirit in your thoughts, words and actions? Or are you being led by your own understanding and your own desires - doing whatever you think "is best?"

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:41 AM

    Great to hve you back!!! I take only minor issue with you on your statement that "The vast majority" of wars in history have been fought over religious...
    Actually only as few were overtly religious... The "vast majority" mantra is one that has it's origins in a biased press, and not the facts. Doug