|Vol. 15 No. 10 October 2013||
I have been preaching and teaching the Gospel for 40 years this year. I pray my efforts at doing so, by the grace of God, are better at communicating God’s truth now than when I began preaching, although this has always been my heart’s desire and life’s goal. Early on I remember doing lessons on complacency, on the need for commitment, both in articles and in sermons preached. What was a problem then in the church, it would seem, is more of a problem today.
The Barna group, a religious research institution, has released the results of a survey that reveals a declining level of commitment among “born again Christians” over the past 20 years. While the survey was addressed to “Christianity” in general, and not specifically to New Testament Christianity, I believe the influence of the world in the church would show we are not far off from what they found. Some of their findings include:
Barna concluded the study by saying such a spiritual condition as these statistics show reflects the “pursuit of cheap grace.” We can certainly say the philosophy of many Christian religions that believe one is “saved by grace only through faith only,” and that once saved one is always saved, can definitely contribute to such a lackadaisical attitude towards faith and service. The question is, “Have we subscribed to a similar view in the Lord’s church?”
The problems listed in the survey are concerns many have about a lack of commitment in the body of Christ as well. Do we feel that, no matter how we live, what we do or what we don’t do, that it doesn’t matter to God, that since we’re saved by grace through faith, we can coast into eternity? This certainly conflicts with Paul’s attitude, who understood the grace of God perhaps better than we, having been a “blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent” of the faith (1 Timothy 1:13). He wrote of the mercy and grace of God, and of the difference it makes in our lives. Yet, God’s grace at work in him also stirred him in love to serve.
Paul’s typical designation of himself was a servant (lit. slave) of Christ (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1). “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). He went on to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Certainly, Paul didn’t view his relationship with Christ as something earned, but he also realized how faith should work through love (Galatians 5:6). Life could be summarized as Christ (Philippians 1:21), with Christ as what life was all about (Colossians 3:4).
How much has God done for us? He provides everything, simply, completely everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). How can we be complacent about life in Him? We must not allow Satan to deceive us into thinking we have nothing to offer; we should offer ourselves and look forward to every opportunity to worship and serve God. We should do good to all, especially those in the household of faith with us (Galatians 6:10). We shouldn’t forsake our assembling together (Hebrews 10:25), but rather assemble with the saints at every opportunity we have (Acts 2:46). We should be “rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (Ephesians 6:18). Our relationship with God and Jesus must come first, not somewhere down the list of our priorities and desires. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
So much of our commitment to the spiritual or lack thereof has more to do with a lack of desire than a lack of time, resource or talent. As Christ loved us enough to die for us, may we love God enough to live for Him. How committed are you to His love for you?
Another school year is upon us and many of last spring’s high school graduates continue their experiences in education. Whether in college, trade school or the military, teenagers leave home to face their first steps of adulthood. Satan’s snares are set along the path as they take those steps. So it is my prayer for these children that they all be like Joseph. Joseph, at age seventeen, found himself far from home. Yet, with a few good choices, he served the Lord and accomplished God’s Will.
First, Joseph had godly dreams. Joseph literally had dreams inspired by God. More pointedly, Joseph had godly expectations and goals for his life. Teenagers are encouraged to have goals to direct their education, careers and even retirement! Christians must emphasize goals of righteousness. Paul reminded us that regardless of his riches or poverty, he had contentment (Philippians 4:11ff). Paul also encourages us to always abound in our good works (1 Corinthians 15:58) while pressing forward to our goal of heaven (Philippians 3:14).
Second, Joseph honored his father. By the time Joseph was a child, Jacob’s fickle faith had been strengthened. Jacob was a good example of a living faith for Joseph, and Joseph understood the value of following such an example. Long before Isaiah answered the Lord, Joseph said to his father, “Here am I” (Genesis 37:13). One of the great relationships in Scripture is the parent and child relationship. Throughout the Bible this message is clear: Parents, train your children in the nurture and teachings of the Lord, and children, honor your parents in the Lord because this is right and it will help you in the future (Ephesians 6:1-4).
Third, Joseph recognized God’s blessings. Joseph could have been bitter in his life. Instead, he chose to focus on his blessings. I attended a college commencement where a professor prayed that the graduates would suffer adversity so they would have opportunity to increase their faith. Joseph had more adversity than he deserved, yet he focused on the blessings of his life and increased his faith. This faith is seen in Joseph as he (in his fifties) said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph could not have been such a success if he did not actively seek God in his youth (cf. Ecclesiastes 12).
As young people begin making life-shaping choices, I pray they make those choices with godly goals and dreams as their guide. I pray their fathers and mothers have trained them to serve the Lord and they have seen the promise of honoring their parents. I pray that they recognize God’s blessings in a difficult life. I pray that they achieve God’s Will and always serve the Lord. I pray that they all be like Joseph.