Sometimes when you read the Bible, a verse will jump out off the page and slap you across the face. When you read the Bible with an open mind and heart, the bluntness of it can be jarring. One verse in particular that comes to mind is 1 John 2:19. It says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”
As much as we do not like to think about it, this is something all of us have seen and experienced. And in reading this verse, it should not be taken as just fact, rather it should be a sobering warning for us today Sometimes people we walk with and minister with suddenly “fall away.”
For many, Christianity is about following rules or saying a prayer. I think we need to remember that Christianity is neither, rather it is a life of devotion to Christ. It is daily taking up our cross and following Him and the fruit of which is a lifestyle of daily worship of Him and active service in His kingdom.
As Christians, it is important that we always evaluate the motivation of our hearts to be sure that the faith we live by is the true Christianity of the Bible, not a focus on outward things or counterfeit teaching that omits Jesus. Things such as going to church, doing the devotions and putting something in the offering bag are good things, but they are not the true markers of a follower of Christ.
What then are some of the characteristics of a false, Christ-less Christianity? Although there are many, I want us to focus on three.
Firstly, it mistakes commitment to Christianity for commitment to Christ. As I mentioned earlier, going to church is a good thing. The traditions of Christianity are engaging and exciting, and they should be. Christmas pageants, early morning Easter services, and potluck socials are great ways to know one another and build relationships, but the danger is that they can function as a replacement for a relationship with Jesus. A cruel trick of the enemy is to make us feel most alive when we are participating in the culture of Christianity, rather than communing with Christ.
The writer of Hebrews noticed this and commented in 6:4-6, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.”
There is the old adage, “going to church makes you a Christian as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Sadly, many have been deceived into believing this is true.
Secondly, people mistake biblical knowledge for biblical wisdom. It is quite possible to grow in biblical literacy without growing in wisdom and holiness. Many people shudder when they hear the word, “theology,” thinking it is something reserved for pastors and theologians. The truth is, if you claim to be a Christian, theology should be a natural part of your life. It is literally the “study of God.” But this study is not purely an academic vocation, rather it is one of the ways we get to know God, His character and His story.
Sadly, many people look at it as purely academic or they only scratch the surface, taking in information rather than allowing it to transform our lives. Going to school and being in ministry for over two decades, I love studying the theology of the Word of God, but I have also seen far too many people remain as immature followers of Jesus.
Lastly, it mistakes participation in ministry for a Christ-like lifestyle. Ministry is a part of the life of a church and believers. In fact, I would say it is necessary for Christian growth. But doing that does not define what or who a Christian is. Disciples of Jesus are called to offer every aspect of their life to the Kingdom of God, not just those on the church calendar.
In my first church, there were many people involved in ministry. Some did missions while others were active with Sunday school and youth programs. There were others who participated in our church’s worship ministry as musicians and vocalists. But the problem was many of them would only come to church when they were on. For the Sundays they were not scheduled to lead, they avoided church.
It’s unbiblical for us to think of ministry as separate from life as if we step out of one and into the other. Living for Jesus is not something we do part-time or on our own terms. Compartmentalizing our lives to “accommodate” our faith is unbiblical. Instead, we ought to live with a constant mentality that asks the question: “How can I, right here right now, be part of what God is doing on earth?”
If our Christianity is something less than a surrender of the thoughts and motives of our heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and a daily hunger for and the pursuit of his transforming grace, then our faith will tend to get reduced to a system of tradition, philosophy, and activity.
Until the day we die, we are called to resist this kind of “false” faith and Christ-less Christianity. We have been given the grace to do so, and the grace to desire something so much better – a soul-satisfying relationship with Jesus himself!
Maybe it is time for each of us to take some time and reevaluate where we are in our walk with God. Are we going through the motions or are we pursuing God with all we are in this journey called life? In the end, maybe, perhaps, you need to make the courageous decision to stop living for everybody else’s expectations and start being true to who God uniquely made you to be.