Christless Christianity

7:30 AM

Read Arthur W. Pink's "Present Day Evangelism" for a better context.

It bothers me.

The grace gifted to me from a bleeding Substitute, the victory granted me through a risen Savior, the joy splashing through me thanks to the Lord of my life -- it rattles to get outside me. There is so much to say of salvation, so much of the trials we face, the grace we experience, the fellowship of believer and God. Those little revelations of Scripture we get when the tough is at its hardest -- that unaccountable sense of peace even when our heart hurts -- the firm way placed before us -- my Christian experience is like trying to define what life is.

I'll get a chance to share my testimony, to share the Gospel, to share who this God is who has worked through all and in all, and I feel all these things splashing out of my heart, fighting for words -- and all that comes out is stilted platitudes.

God loves you.

Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Ask Jesus into your heart.

Just trust Jesus.

No-Duh Evangelism

At the brink of the most literal life-changing experience...this is all we have to offer? A continued repetition of John 3:16? I see the faces of people who've heard this truth, this beautiful truth, that God so loved that He gave, and I see them impassive. Unmoved.

The most glorious news of salvation, that had disciples running, angels singing, heaven rejoicing -- it's summed up in quaint little sayings we've heard since infancy. And now, having come into a salvation that's so much more than just "asking Jesus into my heart," I want to define it as I see the Scripture saying, as my own experience has attested to, not what decades of Billy Graham evangelism has defined it.

But that is all I can say: canned phrases. Exhausted verses, stripped of the context of narrative and climax. I can't even elaborate on them in a way that's real, lived-out.

Evangelism today seems like reading a telemarketer's script.

Evangelist: Do you know where you're going when you die?

Sinner: Uh, I don't know.

E: Don't you want to go to heaven?

S: Sure. I guess.

E: Do you know what to do to get to heaven?

S: Be good? I don't know.

E: Trust in Jesus!

S: Okay, yeah. Then what?

E: Then you'll be saved!

S: That's nice. Is that it?

E: Yep!

S: Then I'll go to heaven?

E: Absolutely! And this salvation is guaranteed to withstand all rust, moths, time, trials and doubt. Don't you want to accept Jesus into your heart and be sure of heaven forever?

S: Does it cost anything?

E: Not at all! Just believe. Do you believe?

S: Why not?

E: Congratulations! I'll be seeing you in heaven someday! Don't forget to get baptized and find a good Bible-believing church and read your Bible and pray every day, okay? Got it? Have a nice day!

When I was about ten, I sat down with my sister Hannah and took her through the resurrection eggs, one by one, retelling the story of Jesus, explaining salvation, patiently sharing that if she would just believe that Jesus died for her, she would be saved. The sense of excitement at "saving" my sister bubbled up inside me: she was listening! She was saying yes! She wanted to be saved! She prayed the prayer! I tried very hard not to rush to the end (surely soul saving couldn't be this easy), but the second we opened our eyes, I hauled her off to my mother.

"Tell her what you did, Hannah."

Hannah looked around blankly, smiling patiently.

"Go on. Tell her."

"I don't know."

"She just accepted Jesus!"

My poor mother, caught between ignorance and sincerity, probed a bit further, heard the answer "I don't know" enough times to seriously doubt my evangelistic skills and gently informed me that my sister hadn't the slightest idea of what had happened to her.

I knew it was too good to be true. (Happy note: the Lord got a hold of Hannah on His own several years later.)

This is No-Duh Evangelism. Unless you run into a hardened atheist or a devout practitioner of a certain religion, most people are smart enough to answer yes to the question, Do you want to get to heaven? or Do you want to escape hell? Duh. Especially with little kids, who's going to say no?

If I was faced with the choice to have a life of eternal bliss and a life of eternal torment and all I had to do was say "I believe in Jesus," I see the obvious choice. It costs me nothing to walk down an aisle all emotional, say sorry in a general way for being a bad sort of person and proclaiming, "I believe." Being told "once saved, always saved" is a good reassurance too, when I fall into a bad way and forget to attend church and bang up the corners of my life here and there.

Do you notice how absent and inactive Christ Jesus truly is in that so-called salvation? His main interaction with this newly-saved person is crossing off his name in the Bound for Hell log and entering it into the Bound for Heaven. The end.

See you in glory.

Heaven without Jesus

We preach the gospel as if heaven is the end goal in salvation: "Make sure you know where you're going when you die! It could happen any minute, you know." Christ died, so it goes, so that we can end up in heaven, as opposed to hell -- so we could walk the streets of gold eternally instead of fester and burn at the other end of the spectrum.

That has much more appeal than the happiness of being free from sin, enslaved to Christ.

Most "Christians" today are happy with a heaven without Jesus. Heaven to them is just a welcome relief from hell. That's the most exciting aspect about it. They'll see their friends. They'll be blissful forever. They'll sing songs and wear wings and occupy a mansion. We're just glad to get out of a hard world.

But our primary obsession about heaven should be that finally, finally we see Jesus face to face. We'll be rid of the sin that clouds our relationship. We'll be fully enabled to praise Him eternally. We'll serve Him forever. We'll be with Him forever. Our obsession of Christ on earth is now in this beautiful, eternal climax now.

A relationship with Jesus -- modern day Christianity doesn't really know what that is. Oh, of course, we recognize that there's something about us having access to God now, so that in case we really mess things up, we can pull the red emergency handle and transfer directly to the Heavenly Help Desk. That's the bonus of being saved, the big plus, the why of trusting Christ.

And all we have to do is believe in Jesus.

Count the Cost

Were I God trying to get as many people saved as possible, I would not offer the salvation Christ offered. I'd lower my standards, forgetting about righteous and focusing on nice. I would be satisfied with lip service instead of a heart transplant. I'd be happy with those who plastered fish signs and WWJD? bumper stickers on their vehicles. As long as they made room in their lives for me, saying grace at meal times, maybe, and giving to the church when possible, and trying hard not to swear and drink beer -- that's satisfactory.

And that's how we preach Christianity: an adding onto a life, instead of a supplanting. We tack religiousness onto full lives, distributing labels. But that's not the Christianity Christ preached.

When the Gospel was preached by those first disciples, when Christ's salvation was heralded by John the Baptist, the word was Repent!, not believe. Christ said to count the cost. Take up your cross and follow. He told the rich young man, not to believe, but to sell all he had. It's an emptying -- an emptying of the prideful thought that "I'm good enough," an emptying of carnality, an emptying of presupposed ideas about God. Only when our hands are completely empty can we accept the free gift of salvation.

Jesus wasn't a completely charismatic evangelist. He called the unrepentant Pharisees vipers. He didn't run after those who rejected Him, begging and pleading. He talked more about hell than heaven. He spoke in confusing parables specifically so that the multitudes would not understand.

He wasn't after numbers. He was after specific hearts: "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:6-9).

He wanted whole hearts, renewed by the Spirit, molded by the Father, not confessions of belief.

Does it cost something to be saved? In a way, no -- Christ has provided our justification.

Does it cost something to be saved? In a way, yes -- everything. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

It involves on emptying of everything I think makes me a good person. It involves taking on the trials that will mold me. It involves leaving behind my old life -- everything I once had -- and moving on to Christ.

If all you have is husks of religion, of attempts at a good life, of faceless blessings, of general gratitude and sorriness -- in other words, if you have something other than the pulsing worship of your Creator at the center of your salvation, you are not saved.

Because salvation isn't about me, my soul and my escape from hell. It's about the eternal glory of God.

And salvation isn't about being a good person and acknowledging Jesus as my Savior. It's living captive to Christ. It's knowing God. It's all about Christ.

Anything less is Christless Christianity.

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12 impressions

  1. Bailey, this is well-put.
    I completely agree and so many times have felt the same way... in some cases, words just aren't sufficient to describe or capture what Christ really means to me. We must rely on him to work through us (or around us, as the case may be).

    Keep writing!

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  2. I agree that Christianity is not just about dodging hell or riding on flower beds of ease to heaven.

    In my life, I want to love God so much that even if He were to cast me into hell I'd go loving Him. (He wouldn't of course, His promises are true.)

    Our love for God should make us willing to follow every commandment that He has made, believe everything He says and do everything He asks.

    In other words, our Christianity should be all about Him.

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  3. Bailey,
    I cannot put into words how beautiful this is. Not necessarily because you are particularly marvelous (you are a wonderful person, please don't get me wrong!), but because you proclaim a marvelous message. It is the Gospel, pure and powerful. It changes lives. It is not a watered-down fairytale geared to make people feel good inside. And it is not a "get into heaven free" card, ready to be pulled out of pocket and waved at the pearly gates.

    A speaker at the Christian camp I attended this summer addressed this very issue. He said, "Christ didn't come so you can get to heaven after you die. Christ came so you can get to heaven before you die. Because Christ doesn't just affect your eternity, He affects your here and now. That is the good news of Christ." I agree with him completely. God, in His infinite grace, has allowed us to know Him. Know Him. That we could even begin to know the God of the universe is incredible. Mind-blowing. And it is the greatest promise of Christ. Not the promise of a blissful eternity. Not the promise of years floating about plucking harps. The promise of knowing God and falling in love with Him right now. Because eternity doesn't begin after you die-- it begins right now.

    But it doesn't come easy. Sin is a cancer, and the operation we so desperately need is painful. We can't fool ourselves into thinking we can use a pair of tweezers when we need a sharp knife. Should we try to use only the tweezers, the cancer would quickly devour us, waste us. So we must, on faith, submit to the knife. Thankfully, we have a Master Surgeon.

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  4. Miss Madison, I love when you comment. You write beautifully and thoughtfully. This is an order: start a blog.

    Kidding. :o)

    Your line about "plucking harps for eternity" reminded me of when I was a youngerish girl. I would lie on my bunk bed, sacrilegiously wishing eternity could be more exciting than harps, choirs and white robes.

    But now I know...if the start of eternity, locked into these finite days, is this exciting, heaven is going to be ten million times better.........and I will see HIM, whom my soul loves.

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  5. "...because you proclaim a marvelous message. It is the Gospel, pure and powerful. It changes lives. It is not a watered-down fairytale geared to make people feel good inside. And it is not a "get into heaven free" card, ready to be pulled out of pocket and waved at the pearly gates."

    This right here is very, very true.

    This blog post needs to be proclaimed from the rooftops because, quite frankly, American churches have lost this focus on the gospel. Thanks for sharing this unashamedly in a time when it so needs to be heard!

    Andrew

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  6. I think you have some serious flaws in your understanding of evangelism.

    And, oddly enough, salvation is all about you. It is a work of God that is all about you.

    As I said before: Random is pure perspective.

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  7. Tragedy101, I am open to the possibility that I'm wrong. If you're willing to elaborate on what you perceive as the serious flaws in my view, I'm willing to listen.

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  8. I didn't say you were wrong, except that your understanding of evangelism is seriously flawed and salvation is all about you.

    Evangelism is the preaching of the everlasting gospel: The good news of Christ's work, his salvation of his chosen people from bondage of sin.

    The Holy Spirit convicts the soul of sin. A portion of the gospel you did not touch upon. If a person is not convicted of sin, the gospel can never mean anything to that person.

    Telling a person the good news of what Christ has done is not what saves that person. What Christ has done saves that person.

    Only God saves people. It is entirely his work.

    Telling the good news of what Christ has done is a command of God. It glorifies him. It does not convict or save.

    I do not find what you say to be incorrect. Only your understanding of evangelism to be flawed. And your assertion that God saving you is not about you to be a perspective error: You present salvation as worshipping God, rather than salvation being a work of God concerning you. No doubt, you are saved so that you can worship him, and salvation glorifies God; but salvation is not you worshipping God.

    I may not have understood what you said at all. And in that case, I apologize for wasting your time.

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  9. (Disclaimer: the following has little to do with the blog post. I would have put it all in a nice email, but I couldn't find the address . . . my sincerest apologies.)

    I have a confession. When I read your comment, Bailey, I squealed. Bailey likes my writing! Bailey wants me to start a blog! (My conversations were colored with italics and exclamation points for about an hour thereafter. When I get excited, the emotion manifests itself in my speech.)

    I've been considering starting a blog for a while now, but I'm apprehensive. First, I'm nervous that I might say run out of things to say or, worse, start grinding out nice-sounding, empty speeches when I do run out. Second, (and I admit this is rather shallow) I'm nervous about what people might think. I know I shouldn't be. But I am.

    But most of all, I'm worried that I'll let the focus of my blog be on me. That I would lack the spiritual maturity to let Christ shine through me completely. That everyone would see Madison instead of Him. That I would start to build myself up as some paragon of Christianity-- and worse, that I would start to actually believe in my outward put-together facade.

    And so I stand, reluctant to abandon the idea but equally reluctant to push ahead. Any advice for this hesitant girl?

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  10. LOL! Miss Madison. We are too much alike. I apologize for that.

    So you want blogging advice? Step right into my office, young lady. Take a seat. (Sorry, the couch squeaks.)

    A long time ago, in a personality far, far away, there was a girl by the name of Bailey who started a blog. She was determined to become the next SAHD spokesman, the epitome of Christian girlhood, and lived for the number of comments received per day, the number of hits, the amount of followers. She would kill for those "Oh, you're such a fantastic writer and I adore you!" types of opinions.

    Glorious.

    Really, she was quite self-absorbed. So when she did sometimes run dry of ideas for a while, when the comment boxes were empty, when the followers came and went......it was like the blogging world had ended.

    And blogging stank. It was boring. It was discouraging.

    So my expert 1.5 years of advice is this: forget about yourself. You're a vessel -- of God's grace, of God's Word, of Christ Himself.

    Think solely on your message. Are you passionate about things? (Duh.) Do you get article ideas rather easily? (Obviously.) Do you articulate things well? (That's a dumb question.) Then start a blog.

    Focus on the message. On what you want to share the world. About what you believe is true. About the amazing God we serve. Right now, your fears aren't about your passion or even, really, your writing skills, per se, but about what other people think of you and your success as a blogger. When we detach our pride from the message, we can argue eloquently, passionately and unselfishly. We can write about whatever we feel called to write about instead of what we think will attract readers.

    It's incredibly freeing. God honors people like that.

    People are blessed by that.

    So if you can focus on the message, start a blog and send me the link. Sure thing? Okay. :o)

    Be blessed, friend.

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  11. Tragedy101,

    You could never waste my time. Please don't think so. I value the commenters who don't just endlessly applaud but actually interact with my posts.

    I think we actually agree more than we disagree, and it was my miscommunication error that caused this. You are dead right about the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, of how even the most perfectly preached sermon will work nothing on unquickened hearts and that it is solely the Lord who saves. My Calvinistic soul will die on that hill.

    Perhaps it may have been helpful for me to have included and clarified that, though I was more concerned about a specific flaw in evangelical evangelism trends...which actually presents God as a heavenly self-help guru to patch over our imperfections instead of a holy God, all powerful to save.

    My concern is that we're getting the gospel wrong: just getting people to say a prayer and "believe" on Jesus without preaching that Christ told us to count the cost of discipleship...that we are to work out our salvation and be conformed to Christ instead of tack on the word "saved" to a carnal soul uninterested in submitting to the Lord.

    Hopefully I'm making some sense here. :o)

    Now about salvation being/not being about us...hmmm. Okay, so yes, salvation is about us in that we are the recipients of salvation, that God loved us enough to die for us and all the other benefits of salvation. Again, perhaps my word choice was unclear. When I say that it's all about Christ, I meant that "It's no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." He didn't save us to live for ourselves, in other words. He saved us to glorify Him in absolutely everything.

    Ultimately, salvation is the supreme expression of God's power and glory. Because it's His exclusive work in us (and not anything we can or could do), He ends up with all the praise...we cannot boast.

    That was kind of where I was going with that. :o) Thank you so much for responding to my comment/post and being gracious with my writerly shortcomings. It's commenters like you who make blogging awesome.

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