What is the Christian faith to you? What does it actually mean in your life? Is Christianity integral to your living, a moment-by-moment recognition that you are Christ’s possession and your life is to be lived for God’s glory, or is Christianity relegated to the “religious” compartment of your life, something that keeps you somewhat tied to a church but really doesn’t impact your daily living?
How you answer this, it seems to me, goes a long way in determining how serious you are about the faith you profess to hold. In reality, it goes to the heart of the gospel. Is Christ simply your Savior who gets you out of an eternal jam so you can avoid hell and go to heaven, or is Christ your Savior and Lord, your master who not only will take you to heaven but who determines how you will live during this life?
The “Savior-only” perspective is characterized by those who like the idea of being religiously minded. After all, a lot of blessings come from religion. It’s the mind-set that sees prayer as a good-luck charm to keep bad things from happening. For many in the South, it’s sort of a good-ole-boy “thing: “mom, God, apple pie, football, and NASCAR,” all being pretty much synonymous.
Speaking of NASCAR (I’m really not picking on racing fans—really!), this all-too-flippant-view of the faith was vividly illustrated in the “invocation” offered by Joe Nelms at the Nashville Superspeedway a couple of weeks ago. Pastor of the independent Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, Nelms made Christianity the religion of buffoons as he thanked God “for Roush and Yates partnering to give us the power that we see before us tonight, . . . for Sonoco racing fuel and Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track.” When you thought he couldn’t get lower with his “all-about-me” prayer, he said, “Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin’ hot wife tonight, Lisa, and my two children, Eli and Emma, or as we like to call the ‘The Little E’s.’” Nelms’ buffoonery became blasphemy as he ended his prayer with “in Jesus’ name, boogity boogity boogity, amen.”
Many loved Nelms’ display, laughing that it was “the greatest prayer ever.” That is not surprising when you see how little Christianity really affects folks’ living. The words of Jesus are haunting: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV).
Contrast Nelms’ silliness with this perspective from John MacArthur: “Over the years I have ministered quite a lot in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other parts of the former Soviet Union. The church in those countries, repressed by Communism for so many decades, is nonetheless vibrant and dynamic today.One of the significant things that struck me when I first began to minister there was the terminology that virtually all Russian-speaking believers use to describe conversion. They do not speak of accepting Christ as one’s personal Saviour. They would never say merely that someone ‘made a decision for Christ’ or that the person ‘invited Jesus into his or her life.’ The language they use is simple and entirely biblical: the new believer is someone who has repented. If a person shows no evidence of repentance, he or she would not be embraced as a Christian, no matter what sort of verbal profession of faith was made . . . . By contrast, we live in a culture of such shallow religion that most of what goes by the name of ‘Christian’ in Western society has little or no emphasis on repentance of any kind. The call to repentance has been deliberately omitted from the most popular gospel presentations of our generation” (cited in Iain H. Murray, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2011], 152.)
Those who have truly followed Christ have paid a price for their journey. They understand the gravity of declaring allegiance to Christ. Instead of using Christ to promote themselves or merely to escape a place of eternal punishment, they count the cost, repent of their sin, and trust in the crucified and resurrected Lord.