It is tempting, when considering the state of American Christianity, to assume that all is well, on both a corporate and individual level. Certainly the American Church displays a number of strengths inside its walls, within the local community, and in the political arena, as do the vast majority of churchgoers. So perhaps it’s no surprise the overwhelming view among Christians is that American Christianity offers a robust and faithful portrayal of Jesus’ teachings.
The reality, however, is much less sanguine. In fact, the American Church is in a far more perilous position than we imagine; a state of spiritual slumber so severe it undermines our relationship with Jesus and jeopardizes our eternal destination. So deep is this spiritual sleep that Christian leaders and churchgoers alike are almost entirely unaware of our condition. We mistakenly believe the Church is on the verge of revival. In fact, it is barely alive.
However, the Lord is steadfast in His desire to awaken the Church from its comatose condition. He wants us to open our hearts to His words and reject any teaching that contradicts them. He calls us to cast aside the veil of deceit that blinds us and reject the apostasy that so easily ensnares us.
Fortunately, we needn’t look far to discover Christ’s words for the American Church. The Bible captures them in clear and unmistakable language. Though His words are difficult to digest, we must accept and apply them in our lives if we truly believe and trust Him.
We must resist the temptation to dismiss His words as nonsense or inapplicable to our individual lives. Such resistance reveals their relevance more than ever, and exposes our religious hypocrisy. In fact, those most in need of hearing these truths are likely the same folks who reject them quickest and most fervently. Similarly, those closest to the Lord and in least need of hearing His words are likely the same people who’ll experience the greatest conviction and respond the most urgently.
Jesus’ message of sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender is as unpopular with the Church today as it was with His audiences two thousand years ago. No doubt many find it as unsettling as they do unpalatable. Certainly it is not for the faint of heart, which is why Christ warns potential followers to ‘count the cost’ before expressing faith in Him. For if the American Church is to experience real revival, we must meditate on and accept the Lord’s message – and transform our lives accordingly.
Here, then, is the message of Jesus Christ to the American Church. (Note: all verses are from the New King James version).
1] “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus is referring to Himself, of course. We have abandoned Him who we once claimed to love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. While we may have committed and surrendered our lives to Him at one time, our lives no longer reflect that faithfulness. We profess our love for Him but our lives reveal that other passions and priorities have supplanted our devotion to Him. The treasures and lures of this world gained a foothold in our lives and captured our hearts in the process. By any reasonable metric – how we spend our time, how we invest our income, how we allocate our resources, the plans we pursue – Jesus is not our first love. And for many of us, a love for Christ no longer remains at all. It is that diminished (or non-existent) love for Christ that, more than anything, explains our current spiritual state. Absent a repentant return to Him, the Church will never undergo revival and awaken from its spiritual slumber.
2] “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). Jesus spoke these words to the church at Sardis, which had a reputation for spiritual vitality. Underneath its religious veneer, however, was an unfruitful and unfaithful church. Much of the American Church struggles with the same dichotomy. We have cultivated a reputation of righteousness, love, and devotion to Jesus. We are very religious and greatly esteemed within church circles. But we have never crucified the flesh or surrendered ourselves fully to Christ. Our shallow commitment to Him rarely extends beyond our comfort, convenience, and personal agendas. We regularly refuse to follow Christ when it disrupts our lifestyle, forces us to deny ourselves, or makes demands we believe unreasonable. Such a casual, half-hearted faith is no faith at all. It is dead.
3] “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 spew 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” (Revelation 3:15-17). When a church loses its first love (Jesus) and focuses more on its outward appearance than on the condition of the heart, it becomes lukewarm. Add immense wealth and a self-sufficient spirit, and you create a church that fails to further the gospel and advance the agenda of Christ. The American Church shares these attributes that Jesus used to describe the church at Laodicea. Our enormous prosperity and pride (masquerading as self-confidence) have concealed our current spiritual condition: lukewarm churchgoers who lack the fundamentals of faith. Unless we repent quickly we will suffer the same fate as the Laodicean Church.
4] “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Jesus’ warning couldn’t be clearer. But it falls on deaf ears in America, where covetousness consumes the Church. No amount of protest, however adamant, erases that truth. Evidence of our greed and materialism can be found in our homes, garages, closets, and basements. Despite Jesus’ admonition, we pursue and possess an abundance of things that momentarily fulfill our ravenous craving for earthly treasure – revealing a spirit of rebellion, defiance, and selfishness. It also demonstrates a distorted view of biblical stewardship and ignores Jesus’ example of sacrificial love. In short, our unbridled materialism indicates a lack of love for Christ and utter disregard for His teaching.
5] “And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Jesus identifies two primary dangers of accumulating worldly treasure. First, like the cares of this world, riches prevent the Word of God from taking root in our hearts, distracting us from Jesus. Consequently, we become spiritually unfruitful and our faith flounders. Second, covetousness deceives us, leading us to adopt biblically unsound doctrine, such as the compatibility of the American Dream with the call of Christ. Those two worldviews are diametrically opposed to each other and cannot co-exist. Yet somehow the Church has reconciled them into a single hybrid quasi-religion that resonates with worldly-minded churchgoers but bares little resemblance to Jesus’ teachings. Until we dismantle this doctrinal abomination and cast it out of the Church, American Christianity will not experience a reawakening.
6] “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24). We cannot simultaneously love the world and Jesus. We cannot pursue both worldly treasure and Jesus’ agenda. We cannot chase ‘the good life’ and faithfully follow Christ. Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity. And yet the American Church believes and teaches that loving the world and all it offers (leisure, luxury, comfort, entertainment, pleasure) does not compromise our ability to fulfill the call of Christ and live as His disciples. Jesus warns us that view is heresy. Those who practice it prove their allegiance to the world and confirm their infidelity to Christ.
7] “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Jesus provides the antidote to materialism, covetousness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency. Forsake all. Surrender our lives fully to Him. That represents a fundamental requirement of following Him. It is not optional. And yet how often does the American Church teach that unvarnished truth? Rarely. Instead the Church suggests that Jesus’ statement is not compulsory; that Christians need only be ‘willing’ to forsake all without having to actually forsake anything. That message is as astonishing as it is dishonest, and sends millions of churchgoers down a path that leads to darkness. This must stop. We must quit sanitizing and distorting Jesus’ difficult statements and instead start incorporating them into our sermons more often. Only then will the Church fulfill its duty to Christ and the lost.
8] “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus gave His life so we could enjoy eternity with Him. In return, He expects us to give our lives in service to Him. To do so, we must learn to deny ourselves, set aside our selfish interests, and count as loss anything that prevents us from fulfilling God’s will. Unfortunately, many in the church believe this passage reeks of legalism and somehow replaces God’s grace with ‘good deeds’ as the source of salvation. Consequently, they either explain away Jesus’ words or ignore them altogether. We must stop invoking legalism as an argument against Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, obedience, and sacrificial living. Yes, salvation comes by faith alone, through God’s grace. But authentic faith crucifies the flesh, yielding a surrendered life, a sacrificial spirit, and a submissive heart to the Lord who saves us. We must teach that truth and quit misrepresenting Jesus’ demands on our lives as believers.
9] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). This scenario ought to gravely concern all who reject or disregard those difficult teachings of Jesus with which they disagree. He states unequivocally that entering heaven requires an individual to have a personal relationship with Him and to do God’s will. It is not enough to call Jesus ‘Lord.’ It is not enough to be religious or commit good deeds with selfish motivations. Examine your life. Has faith transformed your life so dramatically you no longer blend in with society? Or have you conformed to the world, leaving little difference between you and your secular neighbors, friends, and colleagues (except, perhaps, for an hour on Sunday)?
10] “These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). The Old Testament is replete with anecdotes of people who verbalize their commitment and devotion to God but who fail to surrender their hearts to Him. Similarly, many in the Church today sound religious, use Christian language, and worship God every Sunday. But they retain ownership over their lives and refuse to submit to Jesus’ lordship in any meaningful way. Christ states such faith is fraudulent and useless. It is exercised in vain.
11] “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus reiterates the importance of aligning our hearts with God’s will. Having a veneer of righteousness or earning the approval of church leaders is worthless. What matters is an ongoing, transformative relationship with Christ. That is the essence of Christianity, and the truest expression of faith.
12] “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). When we truly believe Jesus and trust Him as Lord we keep His commands and fulfill His will. This is not legalism or works-based salvation. It is basic, fundamental Christianity. Our obedience demonstrates our love for Him and reveals genuine faith.
13] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then the father came to the second and said likewise. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-30). Jesus has no interest in your words if they are not backed up with action. Professing our unwavering love for Him is meaningless if unaccompanied by an equally resolute pursuit of His will, regardless of the cost to ourselves. Asserting our faith in Christ is of no value if that faith does not manifest itself in radical sacrifice and extreme generosity. Verbalizing belief in Jesus means nothing if we do not passionately pursue His presence in prayer, silent meditation, and by studying the Scriptures. Jesus wants our words linked with substantive action. Otherwise we’re just offering lip service. And Jesus abhors lip service.
14] “Take heed that no one deceives you. [For] many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:4, 11). By and large the American Church preaches a sterilized gospel today. We have scrubbed away the rough edges, the difficult truths, and the demanding requirements of Christ and replaced them with a casual, comfortable message that emphasizes religious appearance over a contrite heart, and affirms our profession of faith regardless of any contradictory evidence no matter how overwhelming. The Church refuses to confront our zeal for leisure, comfort, and entertainment, which frequently reaches idolatrous levels, and our fervent pursuit of worldly pleasure and treasure, which often constitutes spiritual adultery. We have embraced a faith that yields all the benefits Jesus promised but few, if any, of the demanding obligations. We have been deceived by leaders, preachers, and teachers more focused on popularity, prosperity, and success than on the faithful preaching of the whole gospel. We would do well to diligently search the Scriptures and ensure our faith fully reflects the words and lifestyle of Jesus, not a distorted imitation of His gospel.