People SAY they believe God. But are they just “talking the talk”?
This epitaph is allegedly inscribed on a tombstone somewhere:
“pause, stranger, as you pass by.
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
So be content to follow me!”
Upon closer examination, we are told that someone added a verse to the poem:
“To follow you, I’m NOT content,
Until I know which way you went”
I added that bit of levity to contrast the more serious issue: do Christians really believe God; are we straining to learn His ways and to follow His commands? Or are most of us just “church-attenders”?
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
That’s Our Assignment From God:
But how are we doing at fulfilling that assignment?
Christian researcher George Barna’s book, Seven Faith Tribes has a chapter entitled: “America Is On The Path To Self-destruction”. In that chapter, Barna describes two groups of adult Americans who identify themselves as Christians. Barna refers to one group as “Casual Christians” and the other group as “Captive Christians”
First group: Casual Christians
Second group: Captive Christians
Example — Spiritual Apathy
Columnist Barry Goldman began an editorial for the Los Angeles Times with this anecdote.
And thus, Aunt Mary gave herself permission to do nothing; to know nothing; to wrap herself in a false security that merely identifying with (in her case) the Jews would result in salvation.
Example — More Spiritual Apathy
Pastor and author Wilbur Rees really nailed it:
Three Dollars Worth of God
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
— Wilbur Rees
Is that really what most “Christians” believe? Is Bible Christianity really just an “ad-on” tacked onto their busy lives?
For some, the answer is “YES”!
Once, when I was speaking to a Catholic church men’s group on the benefits of knowing and applying the Bible, one of the men actually blurted out in exasperation, “Oh, this “Bible reading” is just one more thing the church is trying to heap up onto a plate that is already full”
Example — A “Pseudo-Believer”
First, read this quote from Psalm 19. (Underlining by me):
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7~11)
Walking By Faith? Or By Sight!
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
According to the Bible, that’s how how we should be living, right? But do we really “walk by faith”?
This Incident Really Happened
I recall discussing that passage from Psalm 19 with my late friend John.
I asked him, “John, do you believe that, even that part where he says God’s Word is more desirable than gold?”
Without hesitation John replied, “Absolutely! I definitely believe that.”
But I knew John. Based upon previous conversations, I was more than just a little bit skeptical.
Wishing to reveal the sincerity or the hypocrisy of his professed belief, I asked, “But… is your belief merely an intellectual belief? Just mental ascent to a set of facts?”
“Do you truly believe God in that Psalm? Is your belief an absolute truth; a deeply held conviction; a principle you currently live by and if necessary you would die for?”
Aha! That was a different matter. John turned his head aside with a sheepish grin on his face, like a small boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
John knew what the “correct” answer was. He just waned to be liked. His original answer was simply what he thought I wanted to hear. That was his “talk”. But in his “walk”, John really didn’t believe God.
Every one of us has done that with God at first: an intellectual belief that makes no difference in our lives.
Example — Hydrogen In Water
I recall a sermon wherein a pastor said that when he was a boy in school, they were taught that there was hydrogen in water: H2O.
He said that when he learned that fact, he believed it with all his heart. He never doubted it for a moment — and it made ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE IN HIS LIFE!
His point was this:
Most “Christians” treat God just… like… hydrogen! They believe He exists — and He makes no difference in their lives.
Example — Believe Science?
A science teacher was presenting a lecture on pendulums. He had a small model on his desk, consisting of a string with a weight on one end. The other end of the string was fastened at the top as shown in the image above.
The goal of the lesson was to demonstrate that every time the pendulum swung back and forth, it traveled a slightly shorter path that the previous swing.
These students were sufficiently schooled in mathematics to understand the science behind the principle: namely that each swing of the pendulum traveled a slightly shorter arc than the one before it. If you let the pendulum swing back and forth, it would eventually come to a stop.
Then the class went into the science lab
In the lab, the teacher had already fastened a strong chain to the ceiling in the middle of the room. At the bottom end of the chain was a large, heavy ball, the size of a bowling ball.
He had also placed a chair against the wall on one side of the lab.
Referring back to the mathematical analysis they had just learned in the classroom, the teacher made the claim that, if someone were to stand on the chair with the ball pulled up against their face and then release it, the heavy ball would swing across the room, then swing back — but stop just short of hitting the person in the face.
“Do you agree that that’s what would happen” he asked?
Every student agreed. Every one of them.
“GOOD!” exclaimed the teacher, “Now, who will the first to stand on the chair and demonstrate it?”
The silence in the lab was deafening!
Every student — deep down inside — REALLY believed that the heavy ball would swing back and smash their face!
They were OK with the physics lesson — as long as it remained in the realm of theory.
But when it came to actually putting the theory into practice, in fact they did not believe it, and were unwilling to risk it.
Are we not doing the very same thing with God?
We’re walking by SIGHT, NOT by FAITH!
Here’s Genuine “Walking By Faith”
The concept of “walking by faith” is illustrated in this short excerpt from pages 47-48 of “The Prayer of Jabez”, by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson:
(C) 2000 — Publisher: Multnoma Publishers, Inc.
Dr. Wilkinson was struggling to explain to a mentor / friend a crisis he was having. The older man stopped him. We pick up the dialogue from there, on page 47:
I have underlined a few key points.
But as the prophet Isaiah asked:
Who has believed our message? (Isaiah 53:1a)
This Is Important Because:
There Are Only Two Groups Of People.
In these next Scripture passages, notice how God identifies two groups of people:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
In Matthew 7:13-14 quoted above, Jesus tell us that He knows that most people will not go to heaven. Only those few who find the “narrow path” are saved and will go to Heaven.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3~4)
You’ll notice that it’s only the unbelievers whose eyes are blinded in the passage from 2 Corinthians 4.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:7~8)
In Romans 11, it’s those whose eyes would not see and whose ears would not hear who are being stupefied.
In other words, deliberate, willful unbelief on the part of the hearers resulted in a spiritual stupor.
Did you notice the common element in those two passages? In the passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to “the god of this world”. That’s Satan. And in the passage from Romans 11, Paul refers to a “spirit of stupor”. Again, that is a reference to demons. So we know that Satan and his demons are very anxious to keep you and me from reading or understanding, or applying the Bible in our lives.
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (Hebrews 4:2)
What Ought We To Do?
Three audio messages to help answer that question
A message by Pastor Alistair Begg
5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, IF indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:5~6}
Preaching from Hebrews 3:6, Pastor Alistair Begg identifies THE distinguishing characteristic of a genuine follower of Jesus.
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life , which is heard on the radio and online around the world.
Message title: “Holding Firmly To The End”.
Message Length: 52:02
You will notice how God will either confirm your identity as a true Christian, or reveal to you how He wants you to grow!
Some of Alistair’s main points:
- The journey of God’s people in the Old Testament from Egypt to Canaan is a pattern and a picture of the Christian life.
- A large number of people failed to enter into the Land of Promise.
- When Jesus saved us, He saved us into His family.
- The test of genuine salvation is continuance.
- Salvation is not earned by a persistence in faith. BUT…
- Persisting in faith is evidence of salvation.
- Those who fail to continue to the end simply prove that they were never part of the journey in the first place.
- Better to be a godless pagan — aware of how far one is from God, and to be awakened out of all that sin — then to be a “Church-Attender”.
- There were 600,000 that thought they were “doing it right” in the wilderness — and they never made it to the Promised Land.
A message by Pastor Chip Ingram
13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. (John 5:13)
As I was working on this article, I heard the following sermon by Pastor Chip Ingram. I realized that what Chip was saying would fit beautifully into the article I was working on. (Do you see God’s timing there?)
So, just for you, I went to his ministry web site and downloaded a copy of the audio sermon, and received permission to use it here in this blog post.
Chip Ingram’s passion is helping Christians really live like Christians. As a pastor, author, coach and teacher for more than twenty-five years, Chip has helped believers around the world move from spiritual spectators to healthy, authentic disciples of Jesus by living out God’s truth in their lives and relationships.
Chip Ingram serves as senior pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, and CEO & Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge
Message title: “Make Great Sacrifices”.
Message Length: 30:24
“Sacrifice — from God’s perspective — is one of the most prized activities we can engage in. Sacrifice is actually the gateway to a life of greater enjoyment, joy, and fulfillment.”
You’ll hear him refer to a “blank check”. I’ve heard Chip define that like this:
Your life is like a blank check. God wants you to sign your name at the bottom, and slide it under the “door” of heaven. As you do that, say to God, “God, whatever you choose to fill in on the top part of the “check”, I’ll do that.”.
Some of Chip’s main points:
- The sacrifice God requires is my life: 24/7, surrendered to Him to do His will.
- (Giving your life to God) is the smartest, most emotionally satisfying, wisest decision you’ll ever make!
- How in the world did a group of 11 or 12 people and 120 loose followers — in 60 to 80 years — completely change the entire culture of the world?
- It was their faith that got translated into a love for God.
- It’s a radical step of faith that leads to believing that Jesus is good, that God is in control; that life is about what HE is about, not what we’re about — that then gets translated into a life of radical love for God and love for others.
- If God is God, and He owns everything, what part of Him asking for something that He owns makes us so uncomfortable?
- (“GOOD” Christians) do what’s required to demonstrate their genuine devotion and love.
- “GREAT” Christians do what is required. and then they voluntarily go over and above what is required to express the depth of their love for their heavenly Father.
- “GOOD” Christians do what is required. “GREAT” Christians give “over and above”.
- “GREAT” Christians grasp God’s unconditional love… they sacrifice out of gratitude… it’s out of relationship.
- “GREAT” Christians embrace God’s relational economy. God measures our love and devotion — not by the size of our gifts — but by the size of our sacrifice.
- God says that the first portion belongs to Him, to remind me that 100% belongs to Him, and I’m just as responsible for the 90%.
- “GREAT” Christians trust God’s eternal goodness. It’s an absolute conviction that the rewards far out-weigh the cost.
A message by Pastor Colin Smith
From Mark Chapter 3:
Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. (Mark 3:4)
Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:6)
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” (Mark 3:22)
From Mark Chapter 7:
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “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; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1~13)
This podcast sermon by Pastor Colin Smith astonished me!
I thought to myself, “FINALLY! A biblical explanation for why most people don’t tithe!”
Speaker: Pastor Colin Smith
Title: The Biggest Stewardship Decisions Of Your Life
Ministry: Unlocking The Bible
Everyone needs to know this, ideally BEFORE the burden of their debt makes it seem impossible to walk in financial obedience to God.
Excerpts from Pastor Colin’s sermon:
Verse Ten. Jesus quotes the fifth commandment. Moses said. “Honor your father and your mother”. But our Lord said (verse 11) you say that if a man says to his father and mother ‘whatever help you might have received from me is corban — that is, a gift devoted to God’ — then you no longer let him do anything for his father and his mother.
Now, very simply, the Pharisees had this program in which you could declare money or possessions to be “corban”. And what that meant was that if you declare something to be corban, it meant that that possession — house or whatever, or these particular funds — were restricted, and could not be used for certain purposes.
In other words, this program was a way of tying up money so that it was not available for other use.
Now, there are many ways in which we do that today. A good example would be like a pension fund. You have a designated use for this particular fund. It is still your money, and at some point you will use and access that money. But it is set aside for a particular use. You don’t touch if for most of your life, or at least there are penalties that will be incurred if you do.
Now, you see how this program worked. If you had declared assets to be corban, and then someone in your family came along with a particular need, than you could honestly say, “You know, I’d love to be able to help you, but I just don’t have the resources available to do it.” And your father and mother might say, “But wait a minute. You’re a millionaire, son, aren’t you?” And then you would say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, but all of that is corban. It’s all in restricted access for a particular use, and it’s not available, therefore, for this particular purpose of helping you”.
Now you know, at first glance, you read Mark Chapter 7, you think this is light years away from where we are today. The more I’ve looked at it, the more I’ve become absolutely convicted that it raises some really important questions for us, and there are issues that every one of us in this sanctuary faces.
The biggest stewardship decisions of your life are not the decisions about how much you will give. The biggest stewardship decisions of your life will be the decisions you make about how much you tie up so that you CANNOT give it!
And these are questions, honestly, that all of us face and on which we have to make judgments.
- How much of what you have should you tie up in a house?
- How much should you tie up in your pension?
- How much should you tie up in a venture, or in travel, or in sports, or in interests, or in pleasures?
These are discipleship decisions.
…because when you tie up, you cannot release.
So the great decisions that we’re making are not belated decisions about, you know, “Should I give this or this”. The REAL decisions are being made when we are determining what we tie up. Because what we tie up, we cannot release.
But we MUST be rigorous in examining ourselves on the really big stewardship decisions, which are the decisions about how much you tie up. Because, what you tie up, you cannot release.
By the way, this is one of the biggest reasons and motivations for getting out of debt. The last thing in the world you want in your life is for your resources to be “corbaned” on a credit card! Right?
Summary Scripture Passage:
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1~3)
Would not a truly “COMMITTED CHRISTIAN” choose to believe God and thus live as described in that Scripture passage?