Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #2

Number 2 - "Belief Is Not Enough (Or It's Not What You Think It Is)"

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life"- Jesus (John 3:16)

In the actual passage, Jesus is having a conversation with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. In the conversation Jesus is not asking Nicodemus to believe that Jesus is standing there, or that he is real. Obviously Nicodemus believed Jesus was real and alive because they were having an active conversation together. So, to "believe" in Jesus is more than having mental knowledge of him, or an acceptance of a series of facts about Jesus as being true.

What does Jesus intend to teach here? I think it all hangs on how you understand his use of the word "Believe". If you think Jesus meant "to think that Jesus was an historical person", or even "to accept that Jesus was the Messiah", you’d be missing the real point.

I believe that what Jesus was trying to communicate in John 3:16 is the importance of living out what you say you believe, not simply saying what you believe and then living any way you please.

One way to express this is to ask yourself what it is you do each and every day of your life. I would suggest that Biblical belief can be expressed in the statement "Show me what you do, how you behave, and that is what you really believe".

So, what do you really believe about Jesus? It's revealed in the way you live your life. It's revealed in the way you treat people. It's revealed in the way you think of yourself. It's revealed in the way you behave when you think no one is looking.

If you have really confessed and believed that Jesus is Lord, then your life will reflect that reality as you submit to the rule and reign of God in your life. It will be revealed as you search the scriptures for wisdom and in the way you apply it to your everyday life. If you have confessed it and yet continue to rule your own life as you see fit, then in reality it is you in control and not Jesus, therefore, Jesus is not Lord.

There is a wonderful passage in a book called "Follow Me" by Jan David Hettinga (which I whole-heartedly recommend) where the author relates a counseling session between himself and a dear friend who is undergoing turmoil in his life. The author listens to his friend complain about his life and then challenges him to prove whether or not Jesus is really in charge of his life. At first this friend is angry at him for suggesting such a thing, but then the author calmly points out every event in his life where he has blatantly followed his own lusts and desires and kept Jesus out of control.

At the end of the conversation the author asks his friend, "What would your life look like if you really gave Jesus control over everything today?" His friend is quiet for a moment and then starts to say, "I guess I'd stop drinking so much and I'd have to cancel my poker night with the guys every week. I know I'd have to be a lot nicer to my wife and spend more time with my children, etc."

The author then asks his friend if he's willing to start allowing Jesus to be the Lord of his life or not.

I'm not suggesting that doctrine and belief are unnecessary. In fact, I feel that doctrine is quite important. But by itself it's not enough. In other words, if a group of people only believe that murder is wrong, but they don’t practice this belief, you’ll always have the occasional dead body to deal with. Practice matters.

The things we believe, really believe, will affect the way we live our lives. If we honestly believe that Jesus is God, then we will put His words into practice. If we say we do, but we live in a way that is contrary to His clear teaching, then perhaps we really don't believe in Jesus after all?

Maybe what we need is to have a reinterpretation of what it means to believe? Better yet, perhaps we should simply take Jesus at his word and begin to do what he says?

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching...he who does not love me will not obey my teaching." – JESUS (John 14:23-24)

I would love for the day to come when people can tell whether or not someone is a follower of Jesus by the way they practice the Jesus way of life.

In the early church, the Christian faith was defined more by practice, not by doctrine. Doctrine is necessary to outline the scope of the belief system, but without anyone actually practicing those beliefs, it's all quite useless and empty.

Islam, Judaism and the early Christians were all defined by what they did (practiced) more than their specific doctrines (beliefs). Jews kept the Sabbath. Muslims prayed several times a day, Christians gave to the poor. Faith was seen as a way of life, not something contained in a list of beliefs.

In our current culture, being a Christian is still understood as being more about having the right belief and less about having the character of Christ and practicing what you believe.

Again, I'm not against doctrine and this article is not in any way attempting to suggest that doctrine and theology are useless. Far from it. In fact, what I'm saying is that your doctrine and theology are a lie if you don't act out the principles contained in your doctrine and theology.

I am also not suggesting that our actions affect our salvation, which is 100% the work of Christ and his act of sacrifice upon the cross. It is not our actions that save us, but our actions are evidence that we have been saved. Dallas Willard, one of my spiritual heroes, has a great quote about this. He says, "What you really believe about Jesus is revealed by what you do when you realize that you cannot do anything (to earn your salvation*)".

(*From the Allelon Series on Kingdom Living)

My summation of this goes, "Swimming won't make you a fish; but if you are a fish you will swim." So, if you do good works in order to be saved you're wasting your time. However, if you have truly become a new creation through a relationship with Jesus, you will become the sort of person who does good works by nature.

My concern is for those people out there who are placing a false hope in a statement of faith in Jesus who have never actually surrendered their actual everyday life to Christ. I'm also concerned that our world is full of people who walk around proclaiming themselves to be Christians yet live any way they want; in complete opposition to the commands of Jesus

"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." – JESUS (John 17:3)

The kind of knowledge Jesus is speaking of here corresponds with the idea of intense intimacy. In fact, it's closer to the word for sexual interaction. This is the kind of knowledge that conceives new life. This is the kind of intimate knowledge of God and of Jesus we are meant to have. It's not about knowing stuff, it's about knowing Him as a friend.

Knowing stuff about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. For example, I could know all about Shaquille O'Neil but still not know him as a person. My knowledge of him would not mean that Shaq and I are friends. In the same way, it's possible for you and I to become experts on Bible Trivia about Jesus and still not really "know" Jesus personally.

A few months ago a friend of mine stood in my house and shared with me a story about someone who they were hoping would become a Christian. "If I can just get them to say they believe in Jesus, they're saved," the person said.

We had an interesting discussion out of that statement, but what really kept gnawing on me was the mindset that my friend had, and that I observe that many others have, when it comes to the question of Salvation. Specifically, I think it has to do with what we believe it really means to be a Christian.

Obviously, my friend would say that to be a Christian is to say that you believe in Jesus. Maybe you don't even have to really do anything else except say it out loud, like a magic word, and then God has no choice but to let you into heaven. I have to question this line of reasoning.

I know that many Christians believe that all you have to do to get into Heaven is to repeat a prayer, believe that Jesus was real and make plans for the afterlife. But is that really what the Scriptures teach about what it means to inherit Eternal Life? Is that really what it means to be a Christian?

According to Scripture, the earliest disciples of Jesus were of the opinion that following Him was all about practice, putting your faith where your life is, not saying one thing and then doing another.

Trusting in Jesus, believing in Him, is about obedience to His commands, submission to His will, and an ongoing relationship with Him. Biblical belief is not about cerebral acknowledgement of a set of doctrines, it's about putting into practice with your life what you have come to believe in your heart and mind.

So, the Christian life is about belief, and it's also about how we practice what we believe. This is where the real Christian life begins.

"Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." – James 2:18


1 comment:

Mark Loeffler said...

Wow - you just put into words what I have tried to express to those close to me for the past few years. I must have a hard time communicating this because the response is usually something along the lines of I need to be careful as I am not the judge OR be careful you are sounding legalistic b/c salvation is free. Obviously I am not and have no interest in playing judge, and I know that I can't do a darn thing to earn salvation, HOWEVER I am concerned that we as a church (generalization I know) are deceiving ourselves and the proof is in our day to day lives. Thank you for this, it is an encouragement to me.