I often tell people that the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is a Christian sins, but hates his/her sin, works hard not to sin, and goes to God when he/she does sin to ask for forgiveness. Non-Christians sin, too, but they don’t recognize it as sin and feel no need to go to God because they actually embrace their sin as lifestyle, choice, or just the normal actions of every day culture and life. In other words, we both sin but one tries to live their life differently for Christ while the other just lives their life.
This blog is less for those who are non-believers but for those who claim they are yet live like they’re not. Yes, I’m writing today to many of my friends who grew up in the faith, were baptized and today when asked would call themselves Christians; however, their lives look nothing like Christ because they embrace sin instead of fighting it.
Let me start by explaining why I’m call you out: I used to be one of you! In fact, I spent roughly 40 years claiming Christ as my Savior but not following Him as my Lord. I know exactly why you live the way you do because I was with you! But today I want to call you out because I know from personal experience that God has something so much better for you than what you’re doing and how you’re living.
While I am SO tempted to use some of my friends as examples, I’ll take the safe route and just use me to illustrate what nominal Christianity looks like.
First, I would argue that nominals do pray, but they do so only when there is a real need, not wanting to bother God with trivial things. So instead of having a relationship with God where you talk with Him often throughout the day, God is more like a vending machine where you go when you need something.
Second, nominals are not too concerned with the “little” sins. What are little sins? Let me share:
- White Lies so as not to hurt other’s feelings
- Judging others
- Hating or disliking others
- Holding a grudge
- Drinking until drunk or recreational drug use
- Living with someone outside marriage
- Sex outside marriage
There are more depending on the person, but you get the idea of what makes up these “little things.” I never felt badly about doing these things when I wasn’t living my faith because, honestly, they just didn’t seem that bad. Besides, everyone I knew lived this way, right? But I was without excuse, because I knew scripture said:
- Do not use coarse language (Ephesians 4:29)
- Do not lie (Proverbs 12:22 and dozens more)
- Do not sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26)
- Consider others better than yourself (Philippians 2:3)
- Love your neighbor like yourself (Mark 12:31)
- Forgive as you’ve been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32)
- Do not drink unto drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18)
- Save yourself for marriage (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)
But nominals don’t just embrace things they know God considers sin, they go deeper by not acknowledging who is God is.
Because they don’t recognize God in their every day lives, they don’t live to glorify Him through their actions. That’s why they don’t go to church, claiming they can have a relationship with God outside the church regardless of scripture’s command to be around and meet with believers. They claim they don’t have to give money to the church because the church misuses it and besides, they give to the United Way and the Salvation Army which is just as good, right? Not right, according to scripture. They claim that God knows their heart and that they are fine, not understanding that Jesus said, “If you love me you’ll do what I command.” They don’t use their gifts to edify the church as scripture commands – they don’t use their gifts at all.
Scripture says that if you confess Jesus with your mouth you are saved. I banked on that for a long time, but knew scripture said A LOT more than that. I was to become a new creation in Christ; be born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit; have a transformation through the renewing of my mind; be sanctified, which means separated and different. I didn’t get all that until I was 40 years old and actually bought into submitting and surrendering myself to God mind, body, and soul. Or as scripture says, loving God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind.
If I were to ask my friends if they were generally good people or bad people, the vast majority would say, “Generally good, but I have areas to work on.” Followers of Jesus have a different answer – I am a complete train wreck – unable to do good without the power of God through His Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus who has saved me from what I deserve.
There’s a significant gap in those two answers. And the first one is given by both non-believers and nominal Christians alike. Only those who truly know Jesus understand the reality of their condition.
Lately, the only thing that I am concerned about is what I’m going to tell Jesus when I meet Him. Perhaps it’s because I’m middle age, my health isn’t great, and I’m at that point in life where this worldly stuff no longer matters and I can understand better my eternity. But I find myself focused on that not just for me but for my friends and family.
If you meet Jesus tonight, what are you going to tell Him about the way you’re living?
“Hey Jesus, I figured you’d understand – you knew my heart was with you, right?”
“Hey Jesus, I only did a little bad – it’s not like I was a murderer or anything!”
“Hey Jesus, I gave to charity and cared about some people! I didn’t do great, but I did okay, right?”
“Hey Jesus, you really meant all that stuff the Bible said? I thought it was just a great story!”
If you’re living a life like I used to, don’t expect Jesus to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” because you’ve not done well, you’re not good or faithful, and you’ve never been His servant.
Jesus Himself told you this in Matthew 7:21 – On that day many will come to me and say ‘Lord, Lord’ and I’ll say I never knew you – away from me you evil doers.” Jesus told us that only those who do the will of the Father get into heaven.
So how does your life have to change to do God’s will? Here’s what I know God demanded of me when I went from a nominal Christian to a follower of Jesus.
- Believe that God is God – If God truly is the creator of the universe and everything in it…including you…you’d better bow down to Him and recognize Him for who He is.
- Humble yourself – It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus. Everything you think, say or do should be to glorify Jesus. You will not always succeed, but you better be trying.
- Change – You must become a new creation in Christ, changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. You have to embrace that and allow God to make you into the person He created you to be instead of the person you’ve molded yourself to be.
- Love – Love not just those who are lovable but love those who are unlovable. God loved you when you were not lovable so He expects you to love others that way as well.
- Show grace, mercy and forgiveness – No more judging, no more holding grudges, no more disliking/hating people. Just compassion for those who struggle because they are not following God’s ways and “know not what they do.”
- Go to church – Believe it or not, you don’t know it all! Church is a place where we do several things, including corporately worship Jesus as His followers; allow a pastor to disciple us so we become more Christ-like; engage in deep relationship with our church family, helping each other grow as we would our own biological family; and be the hands and feet of Jesus to our community and beyond.
- Tithe and give offerings – Yes, spend your money on God stuff, including the church and others. When you realize that it’s not your money rather it’s God’s money, you’ll have no problem giving it back to Him.
- Fight your sin – stop embracing worldly ways and live for Christ by having the discipline to fight your sin. Again, you won’t always succeed, but there is always forgiveness for those who seek it from God and repent.
- Read your Bible – God is talking directly to you and you act like you don’t want to listen to the creator of the universe! Read His word so He can teach you His ways so you know His will so you can do things His way!
- Pray, Pray, Pray – Scripture tells us to pray unceasingly. God wants to hear from you every moment of the day. Just talk with Him! It’s not that hard.
I’ll admit that my old friends think I’m a little weird these days. I’m not like the old Tom; I’m not the fun-loving, hard-drinking, super-funny, crazy guy that was pretty much the life of the party anymore. Honestly, I’d rather stay at home and read some religious book rather than hit the bars with my friends. But, here’s what I know that many of my friends don’t truly understand yet: There is this thing called eternity – we all have one. When you die, you will meet Jesus and that meeting will either be the most incredible thing to ever happen to you or it will be the most terrifying thing that will ever happen to you. During that meeting, Jesus will either tell you that you did well as a faithful servant or ask you plainly why you didn’t believe in Him after everything you’ve been told about Him. And all you’re “Yay, but…” comments aren’t going to help you. Scripture tells us that man is without excuse when it comes to knowing God. (Romans 1:20) And you, my nominal Christian friends, are completely without excuse because you know Jesus from your youth yet you don’t love Him enough to do as He commands.
Yeah, I know I’m kind of being a jerk, but I’d rather you think me a jerk if that convinces you to get straight with God than be nice to you and have you go to hell because you’re lazy, self-centered, and think your intentions are good enough for God. Jesus is VERY clear about what He expects from you – confess Him as your Lord and Savior; confess your sins and repent; and CHANGE YOUR LIFE to live for Him!
It’s a few days before Christmas and I know a number of my nominal friends will be heading to church for their obligatory Christmas service. My prayer for you is that God, through the Holy Spirit, rocks your world during this service as you realize that the baby Jesus was born for one purpose: To suffer and die in your place so that you could have the most amazing gift – Eternal Life with Jesus. For those of you who don’t even go to church on Christmas, shame on you for not even having enough love for God to worship Him for the most incredible gift ever given. My prayer for you is that your hardened heart is softened in some way so that you recognize that God is God and you are not.
Come on, folks. You know in your heart what I am saying is true because all I’m saying is what is in the Bible, albeit a little bit more forcefully. I know nominals ranging from their 20s to their 80s, but it’s never too late to get it right. Make this Christmas the one where you truly accept Jesus as not just your savior but your Lord and follow Him with all you have!