It's hard to focus because Facebook keeps making dumb little noises telling me I have a notification on something I probably care nothing about, but every time it dings I check it like I'm Pavlov's dog. I know, I know. Close down the browser. That seems simple. Not gonna happen.
The theme of this post came to me last week as I was trying to fall asleep, but it's taken me this long to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will). Hey, look. Another obvious reason for the title. These thoughts started that long ago, but now I'm finally getting around to it. (Maybe. I'd like to point out that I'm already three paragraphs in and haven't even mentioned where I'm going. Horrible journalistic skills. [And also, did anyone else have a crazy English teacher mom who used to have a circle labeled TUIT hanging on the wall? You know...a round TUIT. Around to it. OMG. This blog will never get written.])
Here goes. A few years ago, my pastor, during a rare altar call, asked anyone to come forward to wanted to be anointed with oil for a specific evangelistic purpose. (I think. Maybe.) I went forward, and I remembered telling my pastor and his wife that I felt a call on my life for nominal Christians. That is, people who call themselves Christians because they 1. attend church 2. give money and 3. do good works. Other characteristics may include answering an altar call as a child or occasionally reading the Bible and/or praying.
I was a Christian in name only for most of my growing-up years. I was baptized when I was nine, but I don't remember having a relationship with Jesus or inviting Him to be King of my life until I was a freshman in high school. I'd consider the next decade tumultuous at best in terms of that relationship, but it was genuine, if misguided at times. But during that childhood time, if you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have responded with, "Of course. I go to church twice a week. I was baptized, even." But I wasn't a Christian. Not in terms of surrender. Not in terms of dependence. Not in terms of Jesus being my Lord. Actually, to get really picky, if those are the qualifications (and I'm not claiming to know them), maybe I was a nominal Christian until I was about 24. Hmm. Interesting.
Now I teach at a Christian school. And I see lots of kids who call themselves Christian because they go to church. Or because they attend a Christian school. Or because their moms and dads are. Or because they know tons of Bible trivia. But if you walk down the halls of my school, you'd think it was any other public school, except with fewer students and more khaki pants. These students listen to the same music as anyone else. They spend their time like all other teenagers. They use words like everyone else and talk about the same stuff the world does. (These are sweeping generalizations. I don't mean EVERY student is like this ALL the time. But I would claim that it's a majority of the students, a majority of the time.)
Teenagers aren't the only people who are under a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. Plenty of adults are, too. Like I said, perhaps that was me. I think sometimes we are ignorant of our own spiritual state. In fact, Jesus, in Matthew 7:21-23 says, "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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (NIV)
Does that scare anyone else? Could those of us who call ourselves Christians, who perhaps even practice the facets of Christianity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, really be denied heaven because Jesus NEVER KNEW US? That's what it says. And hey. Wake-up call. Are we pursuing Jesus, or are we pursuing works? Are we promoting Jesus, or are we promoting ourselves?
Why start down the road of Christianity if we're not going to finish it with a relationship with Jesus?
There's another group, too, included in this. And perhaps it's a fine line between the nominal Christians and the saved-only Christians. The saved-only Christians (label based on a quote by Bill Johnson that says, "Many people repent enough to get saved but not enough to see the kingdom") have come into the knowledge of who Christ is but aren't concerned with anything but their eternal salvation. If the first group is more about works and lacks the grace of a saving relationship, then this second group receives the grace but refuses the works that accompany a lifestyle of following Jesus.
There should be a balance of works and faith. I think that's what the whole book of James is professing. We cannot be saved by works, but faith without works is dead. If we only turned to Jesus for fire insurance, for an escape from Hell, then we're missing our calling as Christians. The word Christian literally means little Christ. If we claim that label, then we should be striving to live like Him. Total surrender. Total reliance. Total dependence. Total DEATH to His own agenda. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. Our job is to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, not to waste our days on earth doing what we want in the hopes of reaching the kingdom of heaven after we die.
I'm done excusing my sin with the knowledge of grace. Yes, His grace covers all. But repentance is about more than asking forgiveness and moving on my merry way. It's about turning in the opposite direction and moving on His merry way. I want my life to follow Jesus. I want my heart molded in His loving hands. I want to do whatever it is He asks me to do in order to bring His kingdom here.
I started the journey of being a Christian when I asked Jesus to forgive me. But I want to finish when I turn from my own ways and follow Him in everything He asks of me.