Even though I can claim that I have always believed in Jesus Christ as my savior, I have to admit I was a “Nominal” Christian for many years. What’s a nominal Christian? Basically someone who at some point claimed Christ as their savior but really is living a non-religious secular life. Nominals are usually people who grew up going to church as a kid but left the church after high school never to return, living instead just like everyone else around them.
Having grown up in 12 different homes, I went to A LOT of different churches as a kid! My mom was Catholic and my dad was a Jew but left his faith and became a strident atheist. Mom ended up a Lutheran (Catholic Light), the church in which she had all her kids baptized. I lived with a family that was Assembly of God; another family that was Baptist; and twice with a family that was Catholic where I faithfully attended catechism classes. Like most of my friends, I stopped going to church after high school and did not return for 25 years!
Instead I was a nominal, claiming Jesus as my savior, praying at times, but living my life for myself. That means I was doing lots of stuff I shouldn’t have been doing, such as drinking, swearing, being engaged with girls sexually, telling crude jokes, lying, cheating, stealing, using anger to manipulate people, and much, much more. Yet, I openly claimed I was a Christian, could quote scripture to you, and honestly believed I wasn’t too bad of a guy all things being relative.
Now I’m not saying all nominal Christians are as knuckleheaded as I was, but I am saying all nominal Christians are living a lifestyle that conforms to the pattern of this world – focus on career (money and retirement), family (as the most important thing in their lives), and being nice, because it’s important we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
My nominal Christian brothers and sisters, you’re wrong. It matters a great deal whether you live by your faith or simply claim the faith with no commitment to it.
The temptation here is to throw a bunch of scripture at you that tells you that you’re supposed to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into a new creation so you live differently with Christ as the center of gravity in your life. But I think you know all those scriptures already so let me take a different tack – one that may mean more to you.
When I look at my former life as a nominal versus how I live today there are two vital issues that come to mind. First, God could not bless me, heal me, or use me fully until I submitted myself to a relationship with Him fully. That meant I needlessly suffered emotionally, financially, physically and otherwise because as a nominal I was actually rebelling against God’s ways of doing things.
Second, and this is more serious, I found a scripture in the Bible that is the scariest thing I’ve read. In Matthew 7 Jesus says in verses 21-23 these words, “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Now think about that for a second – as a nominal Christian I would have been one of those people saying, “Lord, Lord” but I certainly was not doing the will of the Father during my nominal Christian years. Does that mean I was in danger of losing my eternity in heaven? That is not a question to take lightly.
I believe in the concept of once saved always saved, meaning our salvation is secured once we have it. But what Jesus is saying is there are people out there who think they have salvation but never really did and on that day when they hope to punch their ticket to heaven Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you.”
So what exactly does it mean to know Jesus? It’s not saying “the prayer” of accepting him as your Lord and Savior and then going on your merry way never thinking anything more about it, that’s for sure!
Jesus told us that if we loved Him we would obey His commands. He taught that we would become new creations through the power of the Holy Spirit when we really accepted Him into our lives. In other words, our lives would change dramatically, just like the apostles’ lives changed after they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It means that we want to change and have every thought and action we take glorify God. In short, it means we become those people we didn’t really want to become when we were nominal – we become Jesus freaks!
I didn’t become a Jesus freak until I was 40 years old. At 24 years old I took my first steps in that direction, but I still kept drinking, swearing, and doing things my way instead of God’s way. But at 40 God revealed to me that He had something better for me. And that is why I am writing this blog – I KNOW God has something better for my nominal Christian friends, too.
Folks, it’s not about how nice you are, how much money you give to charity, how you’ve cleaned up your language, or even how much you care about other people. As Solomon taught us at the end of his book Ecclesiastes, it’s about the fear of the Lord – it’s about loving God more than you love anything else and loving Him so much that you want nothing more than to honor Him by doing everything you can to do things His way so you can have the best relationship with Him you can!
In return, God will rock your world! He will heal you in ways you (or anyone else for that matter) never thought possible. He will bless you in your marriages, families, and relationships. He will give you joy and peace beyond your understanding. He will use you for His purpose in ways that will shock you. You will be a new creation in Christ doing God’s will and seeing your world through God’s eyes. You’ll truly understand through the revelation of the Holy Spirit that you are a citizen of heaven and that is where your treasures are! It is the most awesome thing you can imagine.
But you can’t have it as a nominal. God requires that you commit to a full relationship with Him.
I’m no longer a nominal and instead I’m a Jesus freak. I don’t drink any more. I do unfortunately swear occasionally when I get frustrated, but I’m really working on that! I don’t lie, cheat, steal, or do any of those other things any more either. But I’m still a sinner and as a sinner in relationship with God the Father who has been saved by Jesus Christ, I am a man after God’s own heart because I eagerly go to God in confession and repentance when I screw up…which means I talk with God A LOT!
The sad fact of the matter is most Christians are nominals, even the ones who go to church. Very few professed Christians are Jesus Freaks. So I want to challenge you today to really think about your relationship with God. What is keeping you from going all in? Did you have a bad church experience that you’re projecting on God and all the other churches in America? Do you dislike church music (hymns and contemporary) and think sermons are boring? Are you lazy and don’t want to make time to read the Bible or get up early on Sunday to attend service? My friends, excuses are like noses – everyone’s got one.
Imagine though if every Christian in America were sold out for Christ and we all were using our gifts to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we submitted to Christ in a way where we eagerly sought to sacrifice ourselves for others. Do you think we could make a difference in our neighborhoods, communities, state, and nation?
God is offering you the most incredible gift you could ever receive. All He wants from you is your full commitment to Him. Is that too much to ask for an eternity in paradise?