Opening Prayer: Father, we've gotten very skilled at appearing to be righteous. Give us a fresh understanding of our true status in your sight, we pray.
Escape the Comfort Zone!"For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them." Proverbs 1:32
A Quick Quiz:
How can you tell if a person is a Christian or not? What does a Christian DO?
Give yourself just 30 seconds and see what you would come up with for your top three or four answers.
Finished? When you have at least three items on a list or in your mind, click here.
Now the answers
Experience says that if you ask this question in a Christian group, the three most-common things that "Christians do" are: Prayer, Bible Study, Attend Church on Sunday.
If you ask this question in a non-Christian group, the three most-common things you hear are: Attend Church, Sing Songs, Act Hypocritical.
Both groups are correct.
Hold it, teacher! I'm not a hypocrite! I really am doing the prayer, Bible study and fellowship. And I've cleaned up my life, stopped drinking, stopped smoking and started exercising again.
Those are worthwhile activities, but they don't make you a Christian. Any religious person could do those things.
Some religious folks once asked Jesus a question about His favorite religious activities (John 6:28):Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"
OK, folks! Get ready to take notes. The Lord Himself is about to rewrite the religious textbooks. Will He give us His version of the Ten Commandments, and His choice for the ten most-deadly sins? Will He give us ten THOUSAND commandments and equally many sins to avoid?
The Pharisees surely didn't expect the answer, in verse 29:Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
This is stunning.
This is a VERY short list.
Just do THIS ONE THING and you're doing the works of God. Did YOUR list include this one thing? It did? Good! Experience tells me it doesn't make most people's lists.
It surely never made the Pharisees' list. These were the official religious hypocrites of their day.
The Pharisees had stolen the Scriptures from the people. They had taken away the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. They had substituted religious bondage loosely based on Scriptures taken out of context. When the actual Good Shepherd appeared in their midst, they chose to kill Him rather than give up their religious SYSTEM.
Nothing has changed.
The largest mainline denominations have become religious SYSTEMS. Some of the largest denominations have crucifixes depicting the dead Jesus in every church; ironically, these crucifixes are often flanked by statues depicting live saints -- to whom people are encouraged to pray. In fact, the church buildings are usually named after the saints.
What's wrong with this picture?
Maybe we have forgotten the first two commandments, in Exodus 20 verses 2-4:"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 "You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Don't worry about US, teacher. We're a revival church, and we put doves on the pulpits instead of crosses.
The issue isn't the crosses and doves. It's our hearts. We love comfort. We love structure and order and systems.
Every so often, God sends revival -- to break His saints loose from the trappings of the religious systems. That brings temporary relief.
Unfortunately, every revival movement becomes a denomination within a generation. Every denomination becomes a political and religious system within two generations. The seeds of faith can take root within them, but the weeds of religion often choke believers and make them unfruitful.
God help us.
Well, what are we doing that's WRONG, teacher?
Your question is too long. The question should be: "What are we doing?" If we have lots of other stuff on our lists instead of "believing in Him," we're off target somewhere.
How is "believing in Him" different from what I'm doing?
Very simple. Our word "believe" translates the Greek verb pisteo, which means to take some kind of action in faith. Unlike the English word "believe," which is purely a mental exercise, the Greek verb implies three elements:
- Action, some positive step in response to a Scripture, based on...
- Belief, the mental assent that a particular Scripture is true, supported by...
- Confidence, the emotional response, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that tells you THIS action is appropriate for THIS Scripture at THIS time.
This simple A-B-C principle can be illustrated with a jar of aspirin pills. Let's say I have a headache. The label on my jar of aspirin tells me that the pills inside can help my headache, so I have head knowledge -- "Belief" -- that aspirin maybe cures headaches. Later, a couple of friends tell me that aspirin cured their headaches when they had the same symptoms as mine. This gives me "Confidence" that taking aspirin might cure my headache. However, I don't exercise faith until I pry open the cap and take "Action" -- ingest a couple of the aspirin pills.
Faith requires action. When people come to a saving faith in Jesus, they tend to take certain actions. They start reading the Bible, they start praying, they start giving money and time to the Church, they begin to actually enjoy worshipping God, they start experiencing the Lord's love, they start sharing their faith with family and friends, and they start attending Church services instead of sleeping in on Sunday mornings. These actions are the natural result of faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith requires action. However, action does not require faith.
What do you mean?
Let me illustrate with some of my own walk of faith:
- Before I was a Christian, somebody invited me to a church service. Part of me rebelled. But I instinctively knew I needed SOMETHING, so I acted in faith and went to the service. Later, I came to enjoy the services and started coming because I wanted to.
- At first, I just KNEW the Gospel message couldn't be true. Sure, I understood that nobody's perfect. But how could we possibly receive salvation as a free gift? What about all the religious works and holidays we had to observe in my previous church? Don't we have to do at least SOME works to be saved? After much soul searching and Bible study (see The Transformed Life lessons for an explanation of salvation by grace, through faith), I finally took the step of faith of renouncing my "works" and trusting completely in the merits of Jesus' completed work. Maybe you did this as a kid and maybe it was easy for you. But it took almost year of Bible study before I could let go of my works and REALLY trust Jesus. Now it is easy for me to believe.
- At first, reading the Bible was like taking some unpleasant cough syrup. It took an act of faith to continue, in hope of finding the answers I was seeking. Now I enjoy reading and teaching Scriptures.
- At first, my old way of life didn't want to die. It took faith to step away from "Egypt" and start trusting in the Holy Spirit to change my heart from the inside out. Now, the Lord has changed my heart, and I don't WANT to go back to the party scene.
- At first, Christians seemed like real geeks to me. It took faith to hang in there and try to understand these people that talked funny and didn't want to party. Now people think I'm a real geek, and I don't care.
- At first, prayer was the most boring two minutes of my day. In faith, I started spending more time in prayer, hoping to encounter the Living God that I served. By faith, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and came to experience the absolute JOY of prayer.
- At first, sharing my beliefs was difficult. But by faith I began sharing what little I knew with my unsaved family and friends, trusting God to give me courage. Now I enjoy telling others about Jesus.
- At first, I thought church music was torture (in some denominations it still is) or plastic (too good to be true). But over time, I discovered the richness of the music written by Christians in love with their Lord. Now I actually BUY Christian music CDs for enjoyment.
Sounds like you have it all together, teacher.
Wrong. I'm worse off than before.
At first, everything about being a Christian required some type of faith action. Today, I can cruise through these actions WITHOUT EXERCISING ANY FAITH WHATEVER.
And so can you, my friend.
Let me share a scary Scripture with you, Hebrews 11 verse 6:But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
The scary part is that when you and I cruise through a faithless day, we are probably unaware of it. But God knows.
The sad part is that we only get a few years down here to store up the rewards of faith, and a faithless day is a complete waste of time.
Sadder still, many of us in ministry situations will have failed to feed our sheep that day. We will work hard, do our very best, come home exhausted and feel burned out with the ministry work. All for naught, if not in faith.
OK, teacher, you have my attention. But what will it take to wake up the rest of the church? Younger music? More special meetings? More pastors? Younger pastors? Church-growth consultants?
None of the above. Especially the cancerous-growth consultants.
As usual, the answer is in Scripture, Romans 10 verse 17:So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Faith that pleases God comes from the basics: We need to be in daily Bible study and prayer, open and available to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Special Note: The expression "word of God" is not a translation of the Greek word logos, meaning the general revealed word of Scripture. Instead, the Greek word is rhema, or the immediate spoken word. When the Holy Spirit calls us to a specific faith action based on Scripture, He will quicken that Scripture to our hearts somehow. He will give us His rhema to make His will clear to us.
Therefore, faith that pleases God has two elements: Daily obedience to God's revealed will in Scripture, and stepping forward in faith when the Holy Spirit so leads.
There's one more secret to the life of faith, expressed in Isaiah 40:31:But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Spend extra time waiting on the Lord this week. Delight yourself in Him. Listen for His voice. Spend extra time praising Him out loud tonight and tomorrow morning and tomorrow night. Then wait quietly before Him, like a child in a parent's lap.
Rediscover your First Love with the Lord, and strengthen the things that remain.
Closing Prayer: Lord, I repent of all the religious days when I walked in my own strength. Forgive me and help me hear from You again, I pray. Amen.