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?