“Don’t judge my life choices.” This is a funny phrase that my daughter says when we look at her funny for doing something like eating ice cream before dinner. She may or may not have inherited her whimsical side from her mother. I share her sentiment of not wanting to feel “judged” for doing something that’s not necessarily wrong, just different then others might choose. Whenever I put a crazy color in my hair, or hers like I did this week, I prepare myself for a few critics who don’t agree with our life choices. There are many times that we don’t agree with the life choices of others, even those in our own family.
The church family is no different. We are made up of a group of sinners who have believed in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. We are brothers and sisters, children of God, who live and serve in community as the church. We aren’t carbon copies of each other. Each one of us is unique, hand-crafted by a loving God to be a one-of-a-kind image bearer of Himself. We have different passions, different interests, different styles, different personalities. As the church, it’s important for us to embrace these differences. Step out of our comfort zone to be friends with bothers and sisters in Christ who aren’t just like us. I completely embrace this and pray this for my church on a regular basis. I desire to see Christians pouring the love of Christ all over each other instead of critically judging someone because their skirt is a little too short, or their hair is a little too wild.
I grew up in a generation that fought hard to dispel legalism from our churches. I went to an awesome church and I counted it a blessing to attend an amazing Christian school. I do not deny for a second that if it weren’t for the devoted men and women in my church and my school who poured into my life I would not be who I am today. Yet, legalism existed all around me. I was one of those teenagers that wanted to serve God with my whole heart and I spent a lot of time reading, studying, and memorizing God’s word even at that age. I remember having many conversations with adults trying to understand why they thought dancing was a sin when God clearly tells us to dance for the Lord many times. I wasn’t sure why it was such a big deal that I wore pants to church and was so excited when it finally became acceptable to wear jeans on Sunday nights. Now, I’m a pastor’s wife and you will see me in jeans or leggings on most Sunday mornings. I couldn’t understand why certain music styles or certain instruments were so wrong to listen to when the message of the words was coming straight out of scripture and pointing me to my savior. So, we tried to make a difference. Some of us in a respectful, obedient way. Others, not so compliantly. Either way, we wanted to turn the tide, and, in many ways, we did.
However, there is a balance that I believe has been all but lost in the universal church as people tend to swing the pendulum too far. As I have served along side my husband in full time ministry for the past 20 years, there is one thing that has burdened me more than anything else. I call it cultural Christianity. I have met a LOT of people over the years and have had so many faith conversations that I can’t even count them. Time and again I meet people who call themselves Christians, affiliate themselves with a church, but are still living in the sins of the world that they are supposed to be saved out of. I’m not talking about the Christian who makes a mistake, repents, and moves forward accepting any consequences that came from the sin. I’m not talking about fighting temptations that will certainly come into our lives. I am referring to Christians who are blatantly living just like the unsaved world around them and refuse to repent and line their life up with the Word of God. I’m also not talking about those legalistic issues that I mentioned above. I’m talking about known, ongoing, unrepented sin and acting like God is “ok” with it! According to the Bible, He is not “ok” with it.
This is not a new issue, it’s addressed many times throughout the New Testament even in the earliest days of the Church. I am not an expert, and I know this discussion goes much deeper than a blog post. As I keep putting off writing this post, I keep feeling a deep conviction that it needs to be said. I have written and re-written it many times trying not to sound mean, trying not to sugar coat it, trying not to offend, but trying to open up an honest discussion about the truth found in God’s Word. The more I prayed, poured over scripture, and re-wrote this post, the more I realized my reasons for pushing it off were a part of the problem. So, I want to share just 5 of the many, many possible reasons for our current epidemic of cultural Christians.
- They simply don’t know any better. I honestly believe that many Christians today are just not learning how to be a Christian. This comes from a lack of sound biblical teaching, an overabundance of false biblical teaching, and a failure of many churches to follow the biblical model of discipleship. If we do our job to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and pour His love out on others, but we never teach people what the Bible says or how to study it for themselves, then it’s no wonder people get saved and have no clue what to do with their new life. (Titus 2:3-5, Acts 20:27)
- The culture is just too loud. When the culture of sin starts to become a normal acceptance in the church, it is nearly impossible to speak over it. With the ever increasing “mob mentality” of social media, the fight to keep truth in our churches and homes is harder than ever before. We must not be afraid to speak and teach the truth of God’s Word even when a threatening world tells us not to. While we should engage with our culture to build bridges to the gospel, we must not adopt the worlds culture into our daily lives at the expense of obedience to the Word of God. (1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 4:1-5)
- They have confused their freedom in Christ as a license to sin. “It was for freedom that Christ set you free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,..” Galatians 5:1;13 (NASB). Before Christ, we are slaves to sin. We are bound by the captivity of our future judgement in the Lake of Fire. When we are born again, it is to a new life and the chains of our previous captivity fall off! Our freedom is from our sin, not TO our sin. This idea that Christian liberty means I can do what I what, how I want with no accountability is a big reason that cultural Christianity is so prevalent. If you were in prison and someone came along and let you go free, would you go back to the prison cell and lock yourself back in? Then, why on earth would you return to the sin that Christ set you free from? (Romans 6, 1 Peter 1:14-16)
- In the attempt to dispel legalism, Christians have sacrificed biblical accountability. The Bible clearly tells us that it is not our job to judge the world. The unsaved person has condemned themselves and God will judge them one day. That’s not our job and we can’t expect the unsaved to act like a Christian. They aren’t supposed to. However, the Bible also tells us that it IS our job to hold one another accountable as believers. It’s important that we have godly leaders speaking into our lives. Accountability is a big part of discipleship in groups and one-on-one. Friendships grow the deepest when there is some level of accountability involved. Legalism says that you can never have a sip of alcohol if you want to be a “good” Christian. Accountability has the tough conversation with a sister in Christ who is getting drunk on the weekends. Legalism says you can’t wear pants to church. Accountability is taking a young sister in Christ aside to explain godly modesty when her shorts are revealing parts that need to stay covered. Legalism says you can’t have certain instruments on the stage during the worship service. Accountability makes sure that the words we sing are to the Lord and bring Him honor, glory, and praise. Legalism has no place in the church, but we must not neglect biblical accountability. (Galatians 6:1, James 5:16)
- They are believing a false gospel. The sad reality is that millions of people are led astray by mainstream teachers who either don’t teach the gospel at all or who teach a completely false gospel altogether. The Bible says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved. People all throughout the New Testament were called out to repent, or turn from their sin, and turn to follow Jesus Christ. Praying some words without a change of heart is not salvation. Working hard to do a lot of good in the world will not save your soul from Hell. Without a heart change, and without the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there will be no desire to leave your sin behind. While it’s not possible to know for sure if another person is truly saved or not, we must recognize the possibility that someone living a cultural Christian lifestyle might not be saved at all. That should drive us to our knees in prayer for those we know and love that God would do a miraculous work in their heart. It should cause us to look for opportunities to start gospel conversations to make sure they have heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 7:21-23, 1 John 2:19, James 2:19)