All the defects of the faith of many people in our day can
be traced to a misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the
foundational doctrines of the faith they profess: the true state of
human nature, the truth of what Christ accomplished on the cross and the
transforming influence of the Holy Spirit. Here is the watershed
between nominal Christians and those who truly practice the faith that
Christ came to make possible. The difference is so critical that I will
attempt to further illustrate the problem.
Many people give no serious consideration to Christ and
spend their lives drifting along with the culture’s ideas of the good
life. Then, through some circumstance, these people experience a wake-up
call about their faith.
Maybe they have contracted a serious illness or
experienced the sense of loss that comes when a friend or loved one
dies. It could be that they experienced a reversal of fortune that
awakened them to the reality of the precarious nature of life.
Whatever the reason, they begin to look for some source of
meaning in their lives that will give them a more stable foundation. In
their search, they become aware that they have offended God by the way
they have lived. With this sense in their minds, they set out on a
course of personal reformation.
The Issue of Cultural Religion
Right at this point we see the tragedy of the common
understanding of cultural Christianity. These men and women might desire
to change, but they don’t have any understanding of what their real
problem is or of the only solution that is able to address it.
They might be aware that they need to make some changes in
their behavior and give up something they are doing, and they might
even have the idea that they should get involved in religion.
But lacking a sense of the radical problem of spiritual
death and the knowledge of the solution for this condition, which only
the work of Christ provides, they attempt to fix things by means that
It is not unusual for these men and women to fall back
into the habits they were previously enslaved by and to deceive
themselves into thinking that the small changes in behavior they have
made have fixed the problem. They might even assume that what they have
done makes them Christians.
It doesn’t take long for them to realize, however, that at
some level their performance does not match the standard Christ has set
for His followers. Unable to hit the mark, they tend to lower the
standard. Once they have reached a place where their behavior meets the
new requirements or vice versa, they settle into a state of contented
complacency regarding the issues of authentic faith.
Others go further than this. If they have come to grips
with some sense of the coming judgment and the serious business of sin,
they strive with all their effort to correct their behavior. Over and
over, they fail to meet the standard that they sense they must reach.
Finally, in total frustration they simply give up and quit
trying. Sometimes in their despair, they give in to the former
temptations, seeking some kind of comfort from the very actions that
have led to their sense of defeat.
Or, again out of despair, they might attempt to change
their thinking and argue against the demands of authentic faith, never
really believing what they are arguing about. These are men and women
who are pursuing the right goal but have mistaken the way it can be
accomplished. The path they are now pursuing is not the one made
possible by the work of Christ and will not lead them to the life they
are desiring nor the peace they crave.
They may turn to ministers and counselors for help with
their spiritual instruction. If these helpers have embraced the
prevailing religious system in our country, they will lead those in need
astray by assuring them that as long as they try to do the right thing,
they have nothing to worry about.
These ministers and counselors might even teach those in
need of instruction that they don’t need to worry because Christ has
died for their sins. They actually reinforce the faulty thinking that
all their counselees need to do is give it their best effort and trust
that everything will come out all right in the end.
But what they really need is to take seriously what the
Bible and the church say to those who find themselves in this dilemma.
They need to study and grasp the entire foundation of their confessed
This would include recognizing that the awareness of their
problem and their desire to do something about it are gifts from God to
get them started on their spiritual journeys. In response to this
awareness, they are instructed to bow before the cross of Christ in true
repentance and, turning from sin, place all their hope and confidence
in the grace of God and the work of Christ to get them on the right
Believing in Jesus means we personally accept His work on
our behalf and open our lives to His indwelling presence by the Holy
Spirit. Those who are not familiar with the teachings of the Bible must
come to terms with the statement that they are required to “believe in
the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31, NKJV).
Submission and dependence are the appropriate responses to
the teaching of Jesus: “‘Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No
branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can
you bear fruit unless you remain in Me’” (John 15:4, NIV).
All of it is a gift. As Paul says in the letter to the
church in Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph.