Yeah, I know I know! I have written a blog in forever!! You’d think in this COVID period I would be prolific, but the truth be told I’ve been preaching so much that all the things I’d usually blog about have been my sermon topics!!
However, the other night I was preaching and made a point while I was – well – rambling that I thought would be something I should address more fully here. I was talking about being the Salt of the Earth as per Matthew 5 and told the group that if I could focus on any one ministry it would be one focused on “Nominal” Christians.
What’s a Nominal Christian you ask? It’s a person who probably grew up in the faith, going to church with their parents at some point and even got baptized but has pretty much left the faith to live their lives as an adult like everybody else yet still consider themselves Christians.
If you were to ask a Nominal they would say they are a Christian – that they believe that Jesus is the Messiah and is their Lord and Savior. But there’s a problem with that view that actually is going to send these folks to Hell, which is tragic because it doesn’t have to be that way.
I quote this verse a ton because I think it’s the scariest verse in the Bible. Matthew 7:21-22, “21Not 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!’”
Jesus is talking to Nominals here. These people believed they were following Jesus and even argued that they did kingdom things in Jesus’ name! He calls them “evil doers” and says they are not entering the Kingdom of Heaven which obviously means they’re going to hell!
So, what happened here? Why would people who honestly think they are disciples of Jesus be told they basically weren’t? Isn’t it enough to confess Jesus’ name? Well, the key to this verse is the phrase, “I never knew you.”
You see Jesus is about relationship, and He told these people that they did not have a relationship with Him – He never knew them meaning they never really knew Him. They were just using His name to glorify themselves – didn’t we do this? Didn’t we do that?
Claiming Jesus without relationship doesn’t cut it. James tell us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19). Every demon that Jesus met knew who He was. Knowing about someone is different than actually knowing that person in relationship.
And that is the problem the Nominals face. They know about Jesus, but they don’t know Jesus by having a relationship with Him.
Jesus explained it pretty clearly in His meeting with the pharisee Nicodemus in John chapter 3:
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit.”
As fallen people, we need a savior – we need to have our sins covered and paid for by the blood sacrifice of Jesus. We need to be born again of the spirit – instead of a spirit of death due to sin we are born into a spirit of eternal life through Jesus. That is why we are told that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we become “New Creations in Christ” and that “The old is gone and the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But it goes further than that! The true Christian is transformed. This transformation isn’t just a change of heart and behavior; this transformation is you become a completely new person! You begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes and start doing things to emulate Jesus by obeying what He has taught us. You truly begin the process of sanctification – being set apart – through the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It’s a freaking awesome miracle!!!
Nominal Christians, unfortunately, know nothing about this which is why Jesus hammers them in Matthew 7 and why I am so passionate about trying to get to them!
I think the story of the rich young ruler describes it perfectly. This guy comes to Jesus in Matthew 19:16-30 and asks Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to obey the law. The rich young ruler says he’s done that since he was a child and feels fairly confident that he’s going to be blessed with eternal life! Then Jesus says there is one more thing! He tells the guy to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor and then come follow Him. The story then says the rich young ruler turns and walks away because he owned a lot of stuff.
In other words, the guy’s worldly possessions were worth more to him than eternal life. To put it more bluntly, the guy loved the world more than he loved Jesus. And that is the Nominal Christian’s problem. They love the world more than they love Jesus.
Scripture tells us not to love the world or anything in it (1 John 2:15) and instead store up your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Scripture also tells us that will know a true believe by their fruit – by the way their life looks (Matthew 7:15-20).
What does the fruit of a believe look like?
- They hate their sin
- They give sacrificially of their time, talent, and treasure to glorify God
- They do things completely out of their comfort zone
- They do everything they can to obey the commands of Jesus
- Judge not
- Turn the other cheek
- Love your enemies
- Pray for those who persecute you
- Walk the extra mile
- Be humble
- Take the plank out of your own eye
- Be reconciled to your brother/sister
- Evangelize and teach about the Good News of Jesus
- Their entire life’s focus is to glorify God through their thoughts, words and actions by being the church!
Nominals, on the other hand, live their lives just like non-believers:
- They don’t even recognize that their sin is actually sin
- They give philanthropically not to glorify God but instead because they think they are good people who care about whatever cause to which they contribute
- They stay within their comfort zone for the most part
- They don’t even know the commands of Jesus beyond the basics and even then, they struggle to obey them
- Their entire life’s focus is themselves and the world not glorifying God and bringing His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven
- They are not part of the Body of Christ and think church is a building you go to on Christmas and Easter
I shared the other night that I worry more about this group of people – which is a very large segment of those who claim to be Christian – than I do atheists. My experience with atheists is they’ve done their research and made their decision. I can respect that even if I think it’s a bad decision. Nominals know about Jesus, salvation, eternal life, and their need for a savior but have turned their back on living the faith. That is why Jesus is so harsh with them in Matthew 7.
It’s really hard to talk with Nominals about their faith. Most believe that their faith should be private and something you don’t talk about. That is a lie from Satan. We are to live out our faith in public as the light of the world! (John 8:12). Most Nominals I know don’t like the church and make up excuses for not being part of one that include things like:
- The church is full of hypocrites
- All the church wants in my money
- The church is judgmental and full of “Holier-than-Thou” people
- I don’t need the church to believe in Jesus
- The church has done more harm than good
I’d agree to all of that if I thought church was about the people in the church. But church isn’t about us; it’s about worshiping Jesus! You don’t go to church to focus on each other – you go to church to focus on Jesus.
Let me address each of these excuses to show the faulty thinking in them and how Satan has twisted the Nominals’ view of church.
- Yes, church is full of hypocrites because church is a hospital for the sick (sinners) not a country club for the righteous. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and there is not one righteous not one! (Romans 3:10). Church is where we go for healing not perfection.
- Scripture tells us that we are to give of our time, talents and treasure. Further it says that if we have means we are to give generously! (Romans 12:8). Nothing we have is ours – it all belongs to the Lord, so we are called on to give. God doesn’t need your money nor really does the church. We give so that we may serve – money is a means not an end so give cheerfully what the Spirit directs you to give in your heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
- Yeah, you run into the judgmental holier-than-thou types. But don’t let the immature distract you from Jesus. The church – the body of Christ – is not the Rotary clubs. Fellowship is important but like money it’s a means not an end. We fellowship to build one another up, to encourage one another, to spur each other onto good works. Perhaps the God is testing our ability to love the unlovable by having those holier-than-thou types in our midst.
- Nope, you don’t need the church to believe in Jesus. But you do need the church in order to serve as Jesus taught us. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that each of us has a gifting and alone is not effective – can the hand tell they eye it doesn’t need it? We are to work together as the full body of Christ to effectively use our gifts! You may believe on your own, but you cannot serve Jesus on your own.
- If you believe the church is a denomination, a charismatic pastor, or even the Pope then you would be right that the church has done great harm. But the church is none of those things – we are the church. The collective body of believers are the church. Those who do wrong – wolf in sheep’s clothing so to speak – will be judged and find out Jesus wasn’t kidding in Matthew 7:21. God’s justice is perfect so we can trust Him. You can’t blame Jesus or the body of Christ of the acts of individual sinful people – everyone will give an account for themselves.
Is church hard? Yup! And I think it’s supposed to be that way. Where else do you get to apply your Christian faith in real life situations? In church you get to turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute you, not judge, forgive, show grace and mercy, bear one another’s burdens, and all the rest. So, if you’re making excuses why not to attend church and be part of the body of Christ, you’re really just saying you don’t actually want to put your Christian ethics into practice.
As you can tell I could go on and on about this because I feel such a burden for the lost Nominals. Why? Because I was one. I lived outside the church for 25 years making every excuse I’ve listed above and more. Now that I’ve been back in the church for the past 16 years, I cannot even begin to tell you how much my life missed during those 25 years I spent wandering in the desert. Like the father in the story about the prodigal son, I want my Nominal friends to come home.
So do me a favor – if you know any Nominals out there muster up the courage to talk with them. Invite them back to church. Do a home Bible study with them. Try to get them re-engaged with Jesus. Disciple them. Love them. Hold them accountable. Their very eternity depends on it!