Tag Archives: Casual Christianity

Surrender or Perish

Imagine being the president and facing an escalating conflict with a country determined to conquer your nation and to compel your citizens to follow its laws.

Would you fight with every fiber of your being against such subjugation and, as president, order the military to pursue any means necessary to defeat the aggressor?

What if a trusted advisor informed you the only way your nation could survive was to surrender? The advisor explained that any attempt to protect your nation or any effort to launch a preemptive attack would result in your nation’s utter destruction.

Would you dismiss such advice as unsound or even treasonous? Why would any leader willingly abdicate control of his nation to a foreign head-of-state, without doing everything in his or her power to prevent it?

That was the situation faced by Zedekiah, king of Judah, more than 2,500 years ago. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, a powerful empire spread across the Middle East, threatened to invade Judah and absorb its citizens into his kingdom.

So King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah, a prophet of God, for advice. And this is how Jeremiah responded.

If indeed you surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city (Jerusalem) will not be burned down, and you and your household will survive. But, if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city will be handed over to the Babylonians. They will burn it down, and you yourself will not escape from them.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18, HCSB).

As the capital of Judah, Jerusalem represented the nation. If it fell and burned then all of Judah would likewise be destroyed.

Understandably, King Zedekiah hesitated to listen to Jeremiah’s advice. It conflicted with common sense and seemed so counter-intuitive.

So Jeremiah reassured him.

Obey the voice of the Lord in what I am telling you, so it may go well for you and you can live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the verdict that the Lord has shown me… You yourself will not escape from them, for you will be seized by the king of Babylon and this city will burn down.” (Jeremiah 38:20, 23, HCSB).

We face a similar choice today. Not as kings or presidents but as the leader of our sovereign lives.

Inside each of us is a spirit of selfish rebellion that seeks to do whatever it pleases. Our sinful nature has established ‘self’ as lord, and has enthroned our ‘flesh’ as the king or queen of our heart. And too often we do whatever it demands of us.

We zealously pursue the things of this world, chase ephemeral dreams, and seek anything our evil hearts desire. We are in love with a world that promises happiness, satisfaction, and approval but delivers despair, discontent, and rejection instead.

In response we attempt to season our lives with religion: an hour of church every Sunday, religious music in the car, occasional prayers whenever we need something. We give a few cents on the dollar (maybe a dime if we’re generous), volunteer a couple hours a month, and use religious language at church.

Many of us profess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, take communion on a regular basis, and believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word. We say the right things, believe the right doctrine, and avoid all obvious forms of wickedness (at least in public). We are certain that God’s best for us aligns with our own desires: to entrench ourselves in entertainment, cuddle ourselves in comfort, and lavish our lives with luxury.

We have persuaded ourselves that our lives can mirror those of our unchurched neighbors, as long as we maintain a veneer of religious righteousness, confess Christian creeds, and accept Jesus as Savior. We have convinced ourselves that such a modest commitment to Christ is sufficient to spend eternity in His presence. We have deluded ourselves into believing that we can live the good life in this world and then live it again in perpetuity when the Lord returns.

But God is whispering something we either refuse to hear because of our stubborn hearts or cannot hear because we are too busy chasing the world.

Surrender to Me.”

That is an easy request to obey unless you really understand it. Surrender is comprehensive. You cannot surrender one portion of your life to God and retain another. Imagine King Zedekiah telling the king of Babylon that he will surrender his army but not his navy; he’ll surrender one city but not another. The Babylonian king would recognize this as no surrender at all and would lay siege to Jerusalem.

Yet many of us take a similar approach with God. We give him a few hours a week, claim that represents surrender, then spend the rest of our time pursuing whatever pleasures we delight in.

We do the same with our income. We toss him a few dollars, insist that is enough, and then buy for ourselves all manner of worldly possessions to momentarily gratify our insatiable appetites for the things of this world.

But God demands total surrender, a full and complete commitment to Him in every area of our lives. That is what it means to place our faith in Christ. Authentic faith always transforms the life of a believer.

Jesus informed his followers of this truth with these words:

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Those willing to obey the Lord’s call to surrender will, like King Zedekiah, live. And that life will be everlasting.

Those who decline to surrender their lives to God in full will instead, like Jerusalem, burn. And that, too, will be for all eternity.

Do not be deceived. A casual commitment to Christ is no commitment at all. A half-hearted surrender is nothing more than a veneer of religion.

Call upon the Lord today and commit yourself to Him. Ask Him to empower you with His Spirit so you surrender your life to Him anew every day. And study His Word (the Bible) as much as possible to learn more about Him, His holiness, and His love.


Radical Christianity Does Not Exist

In recent years an increasing number of prominent voices have challenged Christians to pursue their faith more earnestly, leaving behind the casual Christianity that mars the landscape of faith to practice a more radical approach instead. They encourage the church to embrace Jesus’ most difficult teachings not just His palatable promises, and to adopt a holistic approach to faith not just one based on convenience, comfort, or ease.

And while much of what has been said and written on the topic of radical Christianity is biblically sound, well articulated, and urgently needed, a fundamental truth of Scripture frequently gets lost. Too often audiences are lead to believe that two legitimate forms of Christianity exist: casual and radical. The frail faith that loves the world, serves self-interests, ignores the Word, and relishes God’s promises but not His presence is just as authentic as the fervent faith that consumes hearts, transforms lives, dictates decisions, spurs sacrifice, and passionately pursues the Lord. The faith that lacks any proof of its presence is no less genuine than the faith with overwhelming evidence of its existence.

But nothing in Scripture validates that assessment. Not a single account of Jesus’ ministry captures Him affirming casual Christianity as a legitimate option for His followers. In fact, whenever Jesus distinguishes between the dedicated disciple and the casual fan He always emphasizes the insufficiency of the latter.

Simply put, casual Christianity does not exist. It is false faith. And radical Christianity only exists as a synonym for authentic Christianity, which always appears radical to the world.

So what differentiates the two? In a nutshell: the heart.

  • Authentic faith flows from and transforms the heart. Faux faith flows from the head and transforms outward appearance.
  • Authentic faith loves the Lord passionately. Faux faith loves lip service.
  • Authentic faith pursues the presence of Christ. Faux faith pursues the desires of self.
  • Authentic faith says, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’ Faux faith says ‘Some other time, Lord.’
  • Authentic faith revels at the opportunity to serve the Lord sacrificially. Faux faith says ‘Sacrifice is legalism.’
  • Authentic faith stores up treasure in heaven. Faux faith pursues earthly treasure.
  • Authentic faith crucifies the flesh and dies to self. Faux faith seeks common ground for faith and flesh to co-exist.
  • Authentic faith declares, ‘Thy will be done, Lord.’ Faux faith proclaims, ‘Only when it doesn’t inconvenience or discomfort me.’
  • Authentic faith counts the cost and surrenders all. Faux faith counts the benefits and carves out exceptions.
  • Authentic faith rejoices when God places a claim on the calendar or wallet. Faux faith grudgingly groans, ‘Not again.’
  • Authentic faith celebrates grace’s freedom by cheerfully obeying God. Faux faith insists freedom from the law is freedom from unreasonable obedience.

Jesus emphasized the fact that not all who claim Him as Lord will enjoy eternal life (see Matthew 7:21-23). Those who embrace cultural, casual Christianity will instead find themselves cast into outer darkness. Don’t let that be you, my friend.

Considering Christ? Count the Cost First.

One of the great tragedies of modern Christianity is our failure to explain to the spiritually lost what coming to Christ entails. Perhaps spurred by an eagerness to see our friends and loved ones join the family of faith we often neglect to share Jesus’ expectations for those who choose to embrace him as Savior. Instead we tend to emphasize the benefits of calling Christ Lord and ignore the considerable cost of doing so.

That silence, however, does a great disservice to those considering Christ. Not only does it appeal to a potential believer’s self-interest – the ultimate foundation of sand that will eventually collapse – it contradicts Jesus’ specific teaching. He told a large crowd that followed him, “If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost” (Luke 14:27-28a, NLT).

That must have seemed an odd instruction to those in the crowd (even as it does to us). So Jesus explained his rationale by comparing the journey of faith to a contractor who calculates the full cost of building a structure before he begins construction. “Otherwise,” Jesus says, “he might complete only the foundation before running out of money.”

His point? Those who fail to understand the cost of coming to Christ risk abandoning their faith when persecution arises or God tests them. And they’re much less likely to persevere when circumstances grow difficult. So while countless benefits accrue to those who surrender their lives to Christ, that path involves many challenges as well. Jesus even told his disciples, “difficult is the path that leads to life and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Few find it because it is not the well-trod path. It is the difficult path because committing ourselves to Christ costs everything. That may surprise those who have bought into the disastrous and deadly lie that Christ makes no demands of his disciples. But Jesus paints a very different reality to that crowd of potential followers, as He tells them, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NLT). To avoid any confusion Jesus’ states his expectation in remarkably clear and unambiguous language.

Some readers will bristle at that verse. They will insist that Jesus does not require His disciples to forsake anything, let alone everything. They will perform all manner of linguistic gymnastics to explain away Jesus’ plain meaning. Such people refuse to count the cost. They count only the blessings; and in the process pursue the broad path of destruction rather than the narrow path of eternal life.

I encourage those considering Christ to count the cost first. Not to discourage you from embracing Jesus as Lord but so you enter into that relationship with your eyes wide open. He does indeed offer a multitude of promises and blessings to those who surrender their lives to Him, both in this world and in the one to come. But that commitment sends you down a difficult path and imposes a steep cost. If it didn’t, Jesus would not have said as much – and He would not have advised us to count the cost.

Casual, Cultural Christianity is Corroding the Church

Polls consistently find an overwhelming majority of Americans refer to themselves as Christians. Those results seem surprisingly high against the backdrop of news stories splashed across the paper each morning and reported on by news anchors each night. Acts of greed, arrogance, hate, selfishness, violence, and debauchery appear to grow exponentially, and often in increasingly brazen ways, while acts of mercy, love, forgiveness, selflessness, humility, and self-restraint seem to occur with less and less frequency. And while the media certainly emphasizes the former while ignoring the latter, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that, as a nation and as individuals, we appear to pursue with growing regularity behaviors, attitudes, priorities, passions, and worldviews that collide head-on with God’s standards as outlined in the Bible.

How is it possible for a country to profess fidelity to Christ, claim to follow Him, and insist He is Lord, and yet find itself hurtling down a path of destruction littered with escalating amounts of sin? How can we reconcile the explosion of immorality crippling the nation with findings that two-thirds or more of Americans embrace Christianity? The answer lies in the type of Christianity much of the nation pursues. Many chase a casual, cultural Christianity that comports with societal standards instead of a fervent faith rooted in Scripture and aligned with Jesus’ example. The two expressions of Christianity have nothing in common, yield followers with dramatically different lifestyles, and lead to very different eternal destinations.

So what does casual, cultural Christianity look like and why does it thrive in our country? And what guidance does the Bible offer, to help us identify characteristics of this faux-faith so we can avoid embracing its dangerous doctrine? Fortunately, Scripture frequently addresses the subject of counterfeit faith and reveals its shortcomings in unambiguous terms – to keep us from falling victim to it. Does your faith mirror any of the attributes of artificial Christianity outlined below? If so, repent and ask God to restore you into a proper and healthy relationship with Him.

1] Casual, cultural Christianity focuses on self instead of God. It concerns itself with what it can get rather than what it can give. It desires (and demands) all the benefits God offers His people but dismisses His expectations and standards for them. It says yes to God’s mercy, healing, forgiveness, salvation, and material blessings but shouts no to obedience, trials, sacrifice, holiness, worship, and surrender.

Casual, cultural Christians proudly proclaim their faith but only when it drives more customers to their business, enhances their standing in the community, allows them to influence others, provides ‘cover’ to pursue secret sins, or furnishes power they can wield to advance their own agendas. In contrast, authentic believers publically profess Christ as Lord even when it costs them their job or financial security, soils their reputation in the community, results in the loss of freedom, subjects them to persecution or discrimination, or compromises their safety.

2] Casual, cultural Christians excel at talking about religion, attending church, and flattering the pastor and church leaders. But they refuse to answer God’s call on their lives and fail to follow His ways. We see an example of this in the Old Testament with God’s people, the Israelites. They happily encouraged each other to “come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord” (Ezekiel 33:30b, NKJV), publically expressing an interest in knowing God and His word and regularly attending temple services.

But God informed the prophet Ezekiel that the Israelites “sit before you as My people, and hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not do them” (Ezekiel 33:31-32, NKJV).

The Israelites said all the right things, voicing love for Ezekiel and God. But their outward enthusiasm was not matched by inward obedience. They had no intention of following God and obeying His message. Instead, they planned to pursue personal agendas predicated on selfish gain. Similarly, many of us verbalize love for Jesus in the public square but harbor ulterior motivations grounded in greed and selfishness. Emphasizing outward appearance while leaving the heart fallow has consequences, however. Like the Israelites more than two millennia ago, judgment and ruin awaits those who feign faith in Jesus.

3] Jesus confronted this disconnect directly during his discourse with the Pharisees. In response to their assertion that His disciples transgressed tradition by not washing their hands before they ate, Jesus exclaimed: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7, NKJV).

Casual, cultural Christianity sounds authentic because it honors God with the lips. What makes it faux-faith, however, is that it proceeds from a heart filled with rebellion and ruled by self (the flesh). Casual Christians never surrender their heart, soul, and lives to God, never express genuine repentance, and never undergo a life transformation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They simply go through the motions of the Christian faith, play church, and act religious.

Consequently, Jesus explains that whatever worship they exercise toward Him is in vain; it is worthless. They might as well not even waste their time. Unless we worship and honor God with our hearts, and not just our lips, we face the same rebuke. How do we know the difference? If we embrace as doctrine the commands of men instead of scriptural truth, then our hearts have not engaged Jesus. Unless we offer to Him our lives and not just our words, we are not truly His.

4] The ancient church of Laodicea struggled with casual Christianity. They lived compromised lives that produced diluted faith that was barren and bore no spiritual fruit. More than that, they were so far from God they failed to understand their spiritual condition. They mistook their material prosperity as a sign God was pleased with them and approved of their faith. But Jesus issued a harsh warning to them, correcting that misperception.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked … As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:15-17, 19-20; NKJV).

In many ways the American church mirrors the Laodicean church. Too many of us possess lukewarm faith that is neither on-fire for the Lord nor offers cold refreshment to the lost and hopeless. We, too, have misinterpreted our wealth and self-sufficiency as a signal that God is pleased with us and approves of our faith. Little do we know how “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” we are in our faith.

Like the Laodicean church, we must repent and open the door of our heart to Christ and invite Him in. Then, let us take up the call of Christ and follow Him as passionate disciples. Only then will the casual, cultural Christianity that plagues the church be replaced by a healthy, energetic, and powerful faith that not only transforms our lives but also transforms the culture around us. What could be more fulfilling?

What can persecuted Christians teach us?

A widespread view in this country, especially among Evangelicals, is that we are a Christian nation. Polls appear to support this supposition, regularly finding a majority of the country declaring itself Christian. Consequently, believers suffer little, if any, real persecution here. On the contrary, we enjoy unparalleled religious freedom, constitutional protection to worship and evangelize, and face limited governmental interference in practicing our faith.

In contrast, believers in most countries across Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East endure various forms of persecution, often face hostile governments determined to limit the practice of Christianity, and have no (substantive) legal protection to worship as they please. Radical terrorists, with designs to eradicate Christianity from places it has survived for two millennia, target Christians with increasing brutality, intimidation and death. The escalation in violence has, in some regions, reached epidemic proportions and often flourishes because local and national governments refuse to intervene.

So how do believers in these countries remain faithful despite the risk to life, limb, and liberty? How does the difficult environment in which they live produce Christians with faith so vibrant and mature? How does the fiery crucible of tyranny and torment yield faith so closely resembling the early church? Perhaps most importantly, what lessons can we learn from those living in a region engulfed by persecution and where basic religious freedoms do not exist? Here are four lessons from the persecuted church which we would do well to model in our own lives.

Faith comes at a cost. Believers in nations hostile to Christianity understand and embrace this critical truth. It is not an ivory-tower belief or an intellectual assent. Instead, it is a practiced truth forged by daily experiences – where intimidation, threats, and physical pain often are an integral part of daily life. Embracing Jesus in these countries has severe consequences that can include rejection by family, job loss, arrest, assault, loss of housing, imprisonment, or even death. That daunting reality attracts only serious disciples to Christ and serves as a natural barrier to lukewarm adherents. Said another way, no one feigns faith in Jesus when the penalties are so high.

Curiously, many in this country reject the idea that Christianity has a cost. We often look with incredulity at anyone who teaches otherwise, as if the person had three heads. We assert that since salvation is free, faith cannot impose a cost. But that popular view is unbiblical. Not only did Jesus teach that following Him would have a cost, He emphasized it. Even a casual study of Jesus’ ministry reveals the significance He placed in grounding His disciples in this truth. It is the essence of His message in Luke 14 when He advises potential disciples to “count the cost” and understand that whoever “does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (vs. 33, NKJV). That comprehensive truth is readily understood and embraced by believers overseas, because they experience it daily.

In contrast, a faith that ignores the cost of discipleship, also ignores the call of Christ. What results is a church flourishing with casual Christians – those whose faith exists to the extent their lives undergo no disruption or pain. Whenever the first sign of difficulty arrives or they must sacrifice something for Jesus or it is no longer expedient to profess Him as Lord, they walk away and embrace whatever religion, philosophy, or ideology advances their agenda and validates their lifestyle. What those faux followers of Christ fail to understand is that God uses the cauldron of persecution, suffering, and difficulty to strengthen our faith, draw us close to Him, and prepare us for eternity in heaven. As strange as it sounds, those circumstances we often associate with curses are in fact blessings, and, similarly, those circumstances we often associate with blessings are often curses.

Eliminate distractions. As I visit with believers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America I discover something interesting. Those with few possessions and impoverished lifestyles often display the strongest faith, most hope, and an unbridled joy seldom seen in this country. The passion they demonstrate for Jesus, their boldness in sharing Him with a adversarial community, and the significant time they dedicate to growing their faith is rarely matched in this country. How can that be?

To understand this we must take off the temporal lens through which we often view the world and put on a spiritual lens instead. Without the treasures of this world to distract them, these believers have plenty of time to nurture their relationship with Jesus. For example, worship services in third-world countries often last hours with no one in the congregation checking the time or leaving early. The opportunity to fellowship with other believers is God’s blessing and they want to maximize that blessing each week. They focus more clearly and easily on Jesus because the things of this world do not demand their attention.

We can apply this insight by removing from our lives whatever worldly treasures distract us from the Lord and compete with Him for our time and devotion. The apostle Paul referred to this as “counting all things as loss” for the excellence of knowing Jesus more. (See Philippians 3:7-11).

Pain refines faith. The suffering, persecution, and threats endured by overseas believers produces deep trust in God. With nowhere else to turn, they petition God for relief, seeking solace and comfort from Him alone. Since the courts, government, and society refuse to address their fears, troubles and needs, they know that their survival rests entirely in God’s hands, as does their freedom, health, safety, and basic needs.

In contrast, experience often teaches us to trust our employment, family, government, retirement plans, and investment accounts to provide for and protect us. We thank God on the surface but do we trust Him when the circumstances change? If not, our faith rests on an untenable foundation. Let’s learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters and place our trust in Him and not the circumstances or the things of this world.

How do we demonstrate that? By better stewarding the resources He has provided, by refusing to remain in our comfort zones, and by living a more sacrificial life. Let’s give more generously, invest our lives more sacrificially, and respond in obedience when He calls us to action that is uncomfortable.

Cultivate urgency. A final lesson from persecuted believers involves our need to cultivate greater urgency and focus on fulfilling the Great Commission and reaching the world with Jesus’ love. Those priorities dominate the worldview and decisions of Christians surrounded by darkness and confronting daily hostility to Christianity. They seem to understand the critical role they play in serving God by serving others. We should adopt the same mindset. Let’s set aside those activities and plans that entertain us and satisfy our worldly desires and replace them with actions that satisfy God’s desires and fulfill His will. In doing so we not only draw others closer to Him, we become more like Him ourselves.