I would say that what I am about to bring up is my biggest heart cry for Christianity in America. I want to challenge you with this big and difficult question. Is the Christianity we are living even Christianity at all? It is a vital question that is beyond fair to ask. Our salvation could depend on it! My heart is to encourage! The cry of my heart is for people to know the truth, for people to fully live a life that is connected to Jesus and His purposes, and to live a life of joy and adventure even in the midst of this difficult life we all live. I do not claim to have His will and purpose for us all figured out. I am sure I miss His will everyday, but my pursuit to know His will and purpose for my life has led me to seek Him and to devour the scriptures so that I don’t miss out on this adventure with God.
I started following Jesus in 1999. I had been living such a destructive lifestyle that I simply reached a point where I needed Him to be my entire life or I simply wasn’t going to make it. For me finding God was not some religious activity or theory. It was as real as can be and since then I have always wanted the real thing; the real Christianity. But what was real Christianity? You see, as many of you can relate, there was this nagging question in me. Is there more to this Christian life that we see and experience here in America compared to the Christianity of the Bible? I am sure many of you have asked that question before. It was a struggle for me. Not just a little struggle, but a battle! I had a deep fire within me for the real thing, an authentic faith. Was I just too radical? Am I just too passionate? Was this just my personality? If only I were a missionary in another country, then I would be normal! What does that say? Is there something different about Christianity in other countries than it is here? Why am I hearing all these amazing stories about the gospel spreading rapidly in other countries, people fully giving their lives to God, people even losing everything for the sake of the gospel, but I wasn’t seeing that here? Is it even a biblical concept to give all for following Jesus and was it actually being put into practice somewhere? I knew one thing was for sure, I was not going to settle. The battle within me was a quest to find the real thing. I just wanted the real God, and of course, I am sure you do too.
Let’s first remember that many of the amazing stories in the Bible were of course about Jesus doing miraculous things, but they were also about God doing amazing things through ordinary people, not special super humans. So let’s start by asking this question as a litmus test for the Christianity we believe in or practice. Does our Christianity match up with the amazing stories of the Bible? Think about that for a minute. And if it is anything less, then should we not come back to the Bible and reevaluate our Christianity? If it is anything less, are we settling? And again, and even more important, is a Christianity that does not look like New Testament Christianity, even Christianity at all? I have full confidence that if you question the calling to follow Jesus with your entire life, the confirmation to do so will be right there in the Bible. I encourage you to read the New Testament from beginning to end. I say that because we can get in the habit of only reading our “daily” scriptures, devotionals, and topical sermons forgetting the context of the New Testament message.
I believe the following is the problem in our belief system about what Christianity is. It is the scriptures that say we just have to believe to be saved vs Jesus calling us to be His disciples. Are these scriptures contradicting each other? I would say that most people in our culture of Christianity in America believe that if we just believe in Christ, be a good person, go to church, then we will be saved. At some point in our childhood, many of us were taught to say “the sinners prayer” and that was it. We had salvation and it was a done deal. From then we just needed to pray, live a good life the best we can, be kind to people, and go to church. That is being a Christian. But as I read the Bible over and over seeking for answers, it didn’t seem like this is what the Bible was teaching. I never found the sinners prayer in the Bible (it’s not there) and there was a much greater purpose for God’s people than just living a good life, praying, being kind, and going to church.
With each scripture I give, please go read it in its context! Two scriptures we get out of the Bible on just believing and being saved are these. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” and Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Yes, if you read these scriptures alone, you would think it’s just about believing. But is it?
All scripture needs to be read in the context of the entire Bible. Over and over Jesus is challenging people about the cost of following Him. Let’s remember that Jesus is the one saying the following. Luke 14:25-34 “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate (hate is greek word miseo, meaning to ‘love less’ than the Lord) father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross (an instrument of death; full commitment to the cost of following Jesus) and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Verse 33 “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Matthew 16:24-26 “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Wow, this sure seems different from just believing, being a good person, and going to church? What is going on here? You might say that there is not supposed to be a cost to salvation and that it’s all about Grace. Sure, salvation is a gift, but if you’re following the scriptures, doing what they say, and doing what Jesus called us to do, then there will be a cost. In Jesus’ context in that time, believing meant there would be a cost.
Do you have to be a disciple to be saved or can you just be a “believer”? It is a great question. If you read the New Testament as whole, the clear answer is a disciple. What is a disciple of Jesus? A disciple is one who denies his own life and purposes in exchange for the purposes and will of Jesus. The above scriptures about the “cost” of following Jesus are the expectations that Jesus had to be a disciple. In fact, the term “believers” and the term “Christian” are only used in the New Testament a few times and those terms were synonymous with being disciples. In contrast, the word disciple is used around 250 (depending on the Bible translation) times! He is not calling us to be only believers. Jesus’ last words to us before He ascended to heaven was this: Matthew 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We have to believe that this was an important command if it was the last thing He ever said to us on earth. The answer is this; God has a message to the world. The message is God saved the world from sin through the death of His son and he leaves us with the responsibility and privilege of spreading that message and teaching people to obey the commands of God all under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. Verse 19 “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.“
Why is Jesus calling us to deny our own lives and give up all for the sake of the gospel? It is because He knows what it is going to take to spread His message. Disciples will be hated. “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22). Disciples will be persecuted. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20.) Many disciples are even going to die. “They will put some of you to death.” (Luke 21:16) It was not even an option for the disciples of Jesus to choose between just believing and giving up all to follow Him. In that culture, if you followed Christ, you certainly could lose your life over it. So it is important to remember this when we are reading the scriptures about believing. We might think it means just believe, but giving up your life and believing were not disconnected from each other. There was no difference.
It is difficult to understand these scriptures living in our American culture. There is minimal cost here because we are free in America…right? The twelve disciples were all martyred except one who was exiled. Paul himself wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon from prison! Thousands of the early Christians were murdered in those first hundred years for their faith. All through history up until now, they were still being murdered and persecuted. Let’s not make the mistake that this doesn’t go on anymore. The fact is Christians are martyred and thrown into prison for their faith now more than ever before in history and it goes mostly unnoticed in the western world. So let’s not let our American culture dictate our belief system in what Jesus is calling us to. The fact here is, if we are really sharing the gospel even here in America, then we will be persecuted and rejected. Believe me, I am rejected most of the time. It is hard, it is painful, and I get put in dangerous situations. So many times I want to give up, but it is worth it so people can know the truth and have eternal life. I give my life away because He gave his life for me (2 Corinthians 5:15). The honest truth is this; if we are not being rejected, then we just are not sharing the gospel or we are sharing the wrong gospel. The belief that we are just supposed to say a prayer, be saved, live a good and quiet life here in America falls short when we think about the billions of people not saved who have not even heard the gospel. What about them? What about the Christians living in persecuted conditions, facing death, torture, and imprisonment every day? What about them? Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that we just live in another culture and this is the way God wants us to live. Oh Church, please don’t.
It is a very scary verse in the Bible but we have to take a serious look into it. Matthew 7:20-22 “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.” Is Jesus not saying here that there will be those who think they are saved but are really not? And what is His will for us? Along with being in relationship with the God of the universe, praising Him, obeying His commands, and being in fellowship with the people of God, His will is to spread the message of Jesus that He died for the sins of the world to everyone on earth and to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20)
I’ll finish with Romans 10. Remember me quoting Romans 10 about how we just have to believe? Read further down in the context. Romans 10:14-15 “14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Clearly here Paul is saying that we have the responsibility to go share because how can they believe if they have not heard?
My prayer is that all of this leads you to the scriptures and I pray that you find full and abundant life in Christ. You maybe be thinking, “all that Jesus is calling us to seems like such a burden,” which is such an incredible and costly deception! I argue it is totally the opposite. Giving your life completely to Christ and His will is the answer to the abundant life!
I ask you to seek God in this. If this resonated with you, please pass this blog post to your friends. Talk about it. Seek together. Also, feel free to ask us how you can discover more of this. Thank you all for hearing me!