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by Jacob Ninan
One of the saddest facts in Christianity is that a large number of people, who think of themselves as Christians who will be going to heaven when they die, are mistaken about it. A Christian name, being from a Christian family, baptism, membership in the church, or involvement in church activities or ministries, will be of no value to take us to the kingdom of God, if we have not been born again (Jn.3:5). But another fact, which is just as sad, is that a large number of people who have been born again are not growing up to maturity in Christ even after years of coming to know Christ. They are still on baby food – spiritual milk – and unable to take anything stronger (Heb.5:13,14).
The major reason for this is that many preachers do not talk of anything beyond coming to faith in Jesus. The impression people get is that, once their sins have been forgiven and they have become children of God, all they need to do is to wait for the coming of the Lord, when He will take them to heaven. So, the so-called Gospel message has essentially only two parts – we must come to faith in Jesus and then we are going to be in heaven forever and ever, without pain, sorrow, sickness or any of the other problems we have in this life. This is practically the only message, as far as many people are concerned.
For many people, ‘salvation’ is only about receiving forgiveness of sins and being made right with God. Some of them take this message to ‘the perishing multitudes’. Many others seek to have a good time on earth, or at least a comfortable time, while they are waiting for Jesus to come. It is no wonder that for such people the offer of health and wealth, which some preachers bring, sounds very attractive. This being as it is, it is understandable why large parts of Christian programmes are designed around producing ‘baby food’, advertising it and distributing it. We hear all around about the unmerited favour of God, His love, mercy and compassion. Since there was nothing we could do to earn this favour from God, there is nothing, they say, that we need to do now except to rejoice and to praise God. Churches are increasingly becoming theatres of entertainment, with ‘worship services’ imitating stage shows in their ability to excite the audience and bring in their participation, and short messages that make people feel good about themselves, whatever condition they are in. Another goal seems to be to make people always look to the future expecting great things to happen and for God to do ‘mighty things’ to make their problems disappear.
In such a situation, even though it appears that many new people seem to be coming in to the churches, many others are actually giving up after some time, and either leaving God altogether or getting accustomed to a mere form of godliness.
Is this the salvation that Paul was so proud of (Rom.1:16), and for which he was willing to give up everything else (Php.3:8)? No. We seem to have strayed so far away from the Gospel which he preached that people think that his Gospel was another gospel (cf. Gal.1:6)!
Grace has been so emphasised as ‘unmerited favour’ and preachers have warned so much against any form of ‘works’ which people might rely on to find acceptance with God, that it appears that Christians are more fearful about ‘works’ than sin! They have been primed to keep away from anything that looks like ‘works’, and this is another major reason why they are stuck with milk still. ‘Strong meat’ is for those who have ‘exercised their senses’ to discern between good and evil (Heb.5:14). This ‘exercise’ sounds very much like works, doesn’t it?
As a means of avoiding works, people are being taught that there is need only to believe and to have faith, quoting many Bible verses out of context. Don’t we need to understand that there is a genuine kind of faith that leads to salvation and also a counterfeit faith that will not give us salvation? James has clarified that if the faith which we have does not produce from us godly action, that faith is actually dead and useless (Jas.2:14-26). We can also see that if our lives do not increasingly show the life of God (the fruit of the Spirit – Gal.5:16-25), our salvation is not making any real difference to us (or to the others around us)! If we obey God by faith (cf. Heb.11:9), and we deny our fleshly desires in order to obey God, that is not works!
God’s plan for us is not only to forgive us, but also to conform our lives to the life of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom.8:28,29). In fact, He is causing everything that happens to us to work towards that goal. In other words, whatever situations we face, God wants to use them to mould us a little more to His image. But He is unable to do it if we are not looking for that, but are focussing on having a nice time on earth till Jesus comes!
This process of setting us apart from our old nature and our worldly life, to make us like Jesus in our character, is what is called ‘sanctification’. This does not take place merely by accepting certain doctrines, by going through any crisis experience, or by receiving a ‘special anointing’. It takes place as we take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus whenever we are tempted to follow our fleshly desires. That is the way we become His disciples (Lk.9:23), and it is by becoming His disciples and following Him that we can become like our Master.
Becoming like Jesus is much more than just doing ‘what Jesus would do’. Doing what Jesus would do concerns our behaviour and our external actions. But becoming like Jesus is to be transformed inside of us, where His values become our values, we think like Him, our attitudes become like His, and then our behaviour also becomes like His. Not committing murder or adultery would have been enough under the Law, but Jesus came to give us a life of love and purity inside us. When we receive that kind of a life inside us, then, of course, there is no question of our committing murder or adultery outside.
There is hardly any preaching about this life. Even when people preach such a life, many only talk about passively receiving such a life by ‘faith’. There is no mention of purifying the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb.4:12), or denying ourselves when we are tempted through the desires in our flesh (Jas.1:14,15). This is strong meat, isn’t it? What about forgiving others from our heart (Matt.6:12-15;18:35), loving even our enemies (Matt.5:42,43), blessing those who curse us (Lk.6:28), being generous without looking for honour (Matt.6:2), giving to God cheerfully without a sense of compulsion (2Cor.9:7), etc.?
Grace is not only unmerited favour from God, but it is also the power of God to help us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit.2:11,12). People are not growing in grace and in the likeness of Jesus because this grace is not preached. Then they remain babies in Christ even years after coming to Christ (1Cor.3:1). And all the Christian programmes around them provide them with entertainment, dangerous deceptive comfort and false hope.
Just look around and see. Which are the messages that are most popular? The most entertaining, the ones that appear to hold out hope for the future without dealing with real problems, the sensational, the impressive. When things get personal and deeper, the attendance comes down (Jn.6:66). What are the most enjoyed ‘devotionals’? The ones with an interesting story and a lesson even a child can understand. What are church going Christians exchanging in the social media to encourage one another (cf. Heb.3:13)? Platitudes, jokes, Bible verses (promises) set in a scenic background, etc. People are given to think that this is normal Christian life.
All of us who have received from the Lord something of precious value have a responsibility to share that with others who have not come that far in their spiritual journey. We are stewards of the grace we have received (1Pet.4:10). Let us not wait for a great revival to come, or some great leader to rise, but let our care for God’s kingdom and His people be seen in our ministering to His people according to the grace we have received. In the process of caring for the others, we will find that we ourselves get encouraged and strengthened (Rom.1:11,12).
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, May 2016
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