Far too many Christians today live lives of entitlement: entitlement to safety, entitlement to deserving a future, entitlement to comfort, and, worst of all, an entitlement to having security in their own faith regardless of what their lives look like. It’s time for all of it to stop.
I’d like to tell you a story about a new nation that convinced its people to believe a lie for 300 years. It may even sound familiar, but you may not like it. I know I don’t.
Note that the story itself is not the point so much as its modern day implications towards the end are. It’ll all make sense at the end (hopefully):
Once upon a time, many years ago, a large group of rebels decided it was tired of paying taxes to its country, which at the time was the strongest country in the world, and declared war on said country. They claimed it to be for religious reasons in order to stir up more support among the other people in their land for the war. On paper, the war went horribly for the rebels, losing almost every major battle. However, thanks to the help some other strong countries who saw this internal skirmish as a chance to get back at the big brother country, the clearly superior country withdrew from the lands occupied by the rebels as it did not see the reward as being worth the cost. If the Vietnam War taught us anything, it’s that you can call it “withdrawing” from a war all you want. Everyone else will call it losing a war. Thus, a new nation was conceived.
As Winston Churchill says, “History is written by the victors”, and there had never been a group of better history writers than those running this new nation. Your cause becomes much more difficult to refute or see flaws in when it hides behind the wall of a religious “just war”1. So the new nation told its citizens that the whole reason they killed their own [former] countrymen was so they could worship God the way they wanted to. Many of the leaders themselves did not believe in any god, but how could anyone fault them for that justification? And it put the new nation’s leaders in one of the most prime positions that the winners of a revolution have ever been in. See, the land in which this new nation rested in was brand new with no previous people group there to influence how the new nation would choose to operate politically, economically, or, most importantly, religiously. They could make their own rules completely from scratch!
So that’s what they did. By simply grabbing a few lines (completely out of context) from their people’s holy book, ignoring all the lines that disagreed with what they wanted, and using A LOT of rhetoric, the leaders of this new nation created an entirely new religion. And the best/funniest (saddest) part of this new religion was that everyone thought it was the old one! Time and history, the hard parts that they couldn’t create, were built into this new religion that hid itself under the veil of the old one that everyone followed. Even best/funniest (saddest) of all, the people of this new nation LOVED the new religion! They didn’t realize it at the time, but that old religion had not allowed them to be nearly as greedy, violent, and discriminatory as this new one did. To their surprise, this one was way easier. But again, the people had no idea it was a different religion entirely.
I mean sure, that old religion had its dark days where the people running it messed things up, but it always seemed to correct itself. It was always changing as new generations came along, too, which was another thing that made this new religion so fantastic: it didn’t (or wasn’t supposed to) change. Change is always so exhausting because it requires a person to ask questions that make themselves uncomfortable. This new religion made discomfort unacceptable. In fact, when the new nation’s leaders made the new religion into law in the nation’s founding documents, it was illegal to be uncomfortable—that is, as long as you were the same kind of person they were. If you weren’t, well, that’s just too bad for you. The “in” group had been formed, and for the first time in their lives, the people of the new nation were part of the “in” group.
Yes, things were certainly looking up for the people of the new nation. Sure they went through some rough patches early on, but that’s how it goes with any new business…Wait, did I say business? I meant country. Yes, I most certainly meant to say “country” and not “business”, a simple error…because calling the new nation a business would infer that the people in the new nation were simply trying to turn a profit…and it’s already established that this new nation was founded for God and not for profit…and if they say this is so, then it is so because they won, and they get to make the new rules.
Now for the climax of this story. Every good tale needs a good climax, and considering that this story could be seen as either a comedy or a tragedy based on the reader’s point-of-view, this climax will either be quite hilarious or quite embarrassing.
If one thing is true of humans throughout this life-size version of a Risk board game, it is that they are terrible at predicting and preparing for the future. Heck, just think of people in the 1950s who thought we’d all be flying around in cars like the Jetsons at this point in history. Does your car have four wheels? So does mine.2 But I digress. If the leaders of this new nation were writing the story, they’d probably write something along the lines of “and they all lived happily ever after” at this point. Unfortunately for them, history went down a little different than they had hoped.3 The founding documents that were supposed to be eternal and immune to the effects of change through time gradually started seeming less and less concrete. But a funny (sad) thing happened as the generations of the new nation progressed. The leaders of the new nation themselves became gods of the new religion! The gold-colored lenses through which every present generation has viewed previous generations painted a beautiful picture of these leaders as far greater than the rebellious farmers and craftsmen that they were. Of course, they were still below the god borrowed from the old religion, but not by much. Whatever those leaders said became impermeable truth, and whatever the culture wanted at whatever time, it had to fit itself into what the leaders long ago had said.
Now for the falling action.4 Much to the ignorance of the founding leaders, the old religion still had some followers in their new nation. They’d spoken up a few times here and there through the decades, but they weren’t enough of a majority for it to gain enough traction. The figurative rhetoric machine that the nation’s leader, who the people got to pick (or at least that’s what they were told), made sure that the status quo was maintained, and if changes absolutely had to be made, the machine simply spun the story of what happened into something that was always intended to be. But the thing about these old religion followers was that, through all the decades, they weren’t willing to compromise. For them, it was all or nothing. Sure, they were wrong about some things, but for their time they were unbelievably counter-cultural.
Then, at the other end of the scale, a different group of people began to form. They looked at the new religion, which at this point in time was starting to look quote old, and decided they liked all the greedy, violent, and discriminatory aspects of the new religion, but they thought it still was a bit too conservative. So they decided to remove all aspects of the old religion from the new religion, creating their own religion which we will refer to as Dark for clarity’s sake. Well this made the followers of the new religion quite angry indeed, but unbeknownst to them, the creation of Dark meant that the new religion was no longer new, and we will refer to the new religion now as Light. The followers of Light clung to their fundamentals as they rebuked the followers of Dark, beating their chests and tearing their clothing as they screamed at the followers of Dark for being immoral. The awkward part of this was that the followers of Dark didn’t especially care about morality, because to them, morality was relative. Right and wrong were different for everyone, so being told they were wrong was an empty rebuke.
This catches us up to where our story is today in 2016 America, a place in which 3 different religions make up the majority: American Christianity, secular humanism, and the true Christianity. Rumblings of a resolution to the story are felt with each passing day because of this generation of Christians (with some help from the previous generation) looking around them and saying, “Enough is enough.” We see articles come out titled “Studies show Christianity is on the decline” just so that the website can get some hits and create a narrative. But they’re right. A more in depth study of religion in America shows that nominal Christianity is in decline, which means that bunches of people who benefited socially, professionally, and/or economically from associating themselves with Christianity are seeing the cons of being a Christian begin to outweigh the pros. This fact both saddens and encourages me. It saddens me that those who were *this close* to actually following Christ gave up when it got tough. But perhaps even more it encourages me that the thing I have devoted my life to is like gold, as it is being purified by tough times.
It’s a scary time when those who call themselves Christians may need to be ministered to just as much as those who don’t, but it is where we are today. In the South, the pros do still slightly outweigh the cons of simply calling oneself a Christian, which means that there’s MILLIONS of people who have built a car, but only use it for driving to the end of their driveway to get the newspaper in the mornings. It means that there’s MILLIONS of people and, even worse, thousands of churches that totally believe in their heads that they will be with Jesus when they die, but they will not. That’s not my personal opinion, that’s biblical. And that’s terrifying. If you believe yourself to be a Christian, it’s time to assess that right now. As Dr. Voddie Baucham says, “I’m not trying to question your faith, I’m trying to make you question your faith.”
If the things in this post make you angry, I’d like to invite you to ask yourself why that is. However, if this truth doesn’t scare you, I would also like to invite you to ask yourself why that is. Sure, our faith is not a “works-based faith”, but if you love the Lord as our Good Shepherd, then you know his voice (John 10:27). We HAVE to, it is MANDETORY, that we are able to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and if your life looks no different than those who are not followers of Christ, will people even ask us for a reason (Matthew 3:8-10)? If the hope of your life looks like it is in the money in your wallet or the gun in your holster more than it is in Christ, will people even ask? Brothers and sisters, I plead with you, PLEASE stop living like the rest of your life or even tomorrow is not only a sure thing, but something you deserve; stop living like Jesus won’t come back tomorrow (James 4:13-17).
Here is some more exegetical support, and as always, what if Jesus actually meant what he said?:
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:14
“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.” Matthew 7:21
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” –Matthew 25:41-46
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” –Amos 5:21-24
“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.” Malachi 1:10, but read all of Malachi 1
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” –Revelation 3:15-19
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” –Luke 6:24-26
1 By the way, the Vatican recently requested that Pope Francis do away with the “just war” doctrine that the Catholic Church has held on to for so long. And if you’re not aware….THIS IS A VERY BIG/AWESOME DEAL. Here’s some info.
2 So are we behind on our work at this point in history, or do we just assume time moves and changes incorrectly? It appears to be the latter, but this is a fun discussion that crazy people like myself like to have. Perhaps if this question was the plot of the next Christopher Nolan movie, people would like it more.
3***Tin-foil hat conspiracy time*** Or perhaps the leaders already knew the system would fail, but they were having way too much fun using the new religion to do whatever they wanted to care?
4Come on, you remember 4th grade English, don’t you? Here’s some help.