How does the church all fit together?
When people see you in the street, at the supermarket, at work ... do they see Jesus?
When the Barna Group in 2008 were looking at American divorce rates they noticed that: when evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians are combined into an aggregate class of born again adults, their divorce figure is statistically identical to that of non-born again adults: 32% versus 33%, respectively.
If there was one area where Christians could have demonstrated that living under guidance from the Holy Spirit actually made an observable difference to one’s life, it’s in the area of marriage. If Christian marriage, the anchor and the source for such blessing for solid family life, is held so sacred by a people who have the operating manual on the subject, how come it fails just as frequently as non-Christian marriage? It makes no sense and, in fact, makes a terrible mockery of what the Christian life is meant to be all about.
Recently, the Office for National Statistics in the UK noticed that just one in three churchgoers “actively practises” their faith compared with more than two-thirds of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Christians are also less likely to say that their beliefs influence their everyday life, although they do affect the school to which they send their children. It’s not a pretty picture, is it?
Is there really anything different about us Christians ... really?
The media thrives on bad news, negativity and the darker side of the human experience, so you would expect it to ignore the countless Christians who are behaving as they should, because this ain’t news. What is news for them is when the pastor runs off with the bishop’s wife, the choirboy or the church silver, or when some blinkered cleric makes a hugely insensitive remark about something or other. The media feeds on any story that reinforces the negative stereotypes, thus serving to cement these caricatures in people’s minds. There must be a way to break free from this cycle.
Yes there is a way, but it needs us individually to break free. It’s individualism that got us into the mess to start with, the secular lie that has so infiltrated the Church. It promotes the very humanistic Greek idea that puts us at the centre of everything. The Church has forgotten that very Hebraic idea that it is God, not man, at the centre of everything. To remind you:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
As Christians, we still, by and large, live for ourselves. This makes us no different from non-Christians in the way we act and this is why there are as many Christian divorces as non-Christian divorces.
Yet God, in His word, expects us to try a little harder. Here are a few clues to this:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Just pause and consider this. God expects us to be remodelled into Jesus’ likeness – not his physical Jewish features but rather his character and his nature. It’s never going to be a complete transformation in this life as we have our sin natures forever dragging us back, but we need to allow the Holy Spirit to start cleaning us up and nudging us onwards. It’s not something that is going to happen by magic, automatically. It’s a joint effort between you and the Holy Spirit.
You are going to have to give some things up. Before I was a believer, I was an avid fan of horror fiction but since then I actually have felt faint and physically sick simply through picking up a Stephen King novel. God’s promptings are there for a purpose.
You are going to have to change some attitudes and lifestyle choices. These can take time, depending on how deeply rooted some sin areas are in your life. You’ll be surprised what God can do if you let Him, but you must be open to His ways and, just as with the dentist, a little pain may precede release and freedom. But, believe me, it will be worth it in the long run.
When people see you in the street, at the supermarket, at work, at ... do they see Jesus? Do they at least see a work-in-progress? Do they see anything that they don’t see in themselves, that may prompt them to ask the sort of questions that we are desperate to answer? We want them to say, hey we want some of what you’ve got, not because of our devastatingly clever arguments but through the evidence of a changed life that they see in us.
For the previous article in this series, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.