A popular apologist and evangelist recently told his audience that the reason he is a Christian, and the compelling reason they, too, should be, is because Christianity works. This dangerous proposition, to accept Christ for a better life, leaves an open door and easy out for many to abandon the faith when it fails to deliver on its promise. Popular books and speakers are delivering this message en mass. Splashed on the TV screen and spread across shelves of Christian bookstores are messages and titles that are far from subtle. Book titles such as, Your Best Life Now, The Purpose Driven Life, The Power of The I Am, Breaking Free, Jesus Calling, Power Thoughts, Destined to Reign, exist because of the audience’s insatiable appetite for a cheap grace theology, for a faith that works for them. The Apostle Paul was spot on when he predicted this would happen. Writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-5 Paul warned, For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. We have in fact, raised up, accumulated, teachers to suit our own passions.
I am not a Christian because it works. Of course, I can testify that God has been good to me, but that conclusion comes mainly out of biblical conviction, not necessarily from personal experience. Determining what God is like based on my experience would leave me an atheist. I believe God is good because the Bible says he is, not because he’s bailed me out every time I’ve been in a tough place. I’m tempted to say he is also good because He’s shown Himself really faithful and present during the hard times of my life. It’s early morning as I’m writing this and I’ve only had one cup of coffee, which means I’ve not had enough time today, or caffeine, to borrow from the usual cliches for conversations like this. I’m going to be brutally real here, honestly raw. I really can’t tell you he’s shown himself to be good to me during the hard times of my life. I’ve often not felt his presence. In truth, he often seems absent. What brought me through those dark moments was a faith and trust in what I knew to be true about him from scripture. The Holy Spirit then confirmed those truths during the pain, as reminders of what is true of him, but not necessarily by providing relief in the moment. Many of those moments were actually anguishing, nearing the edge of tormenting. Where is God when it hurts? is an all too real question most of us ask from the darker corners of our painful places. Those are times we could easily conclude that this Christianity is not working, but only if we were to determine that in the moment of our crisis.
The Lord used me some years ago to bring Charlie to faith. I discipled Charlie for several months, and we became friends. Six months into his faith-journey he wanted to meet with me. Mitch, he said in an accusing tone. Ever since I accepted Christ, everything is falling apart. My business is losing money, and nearly every member of my family has turned against me. What’s up with that?
Oh, I responded rather sheepishly. I forgot to tell you something. God doesn’t promise that everything will go better for you once you turn to him. I opened my Bible and continued, In fact, let me show you some examples where things actually got worse for the follower of Jesus.
So, why consider Christianity? For you who are Christians, why stick with it? If not because it works, then why?
I suffered four years of severe depression as a teenager. What kept me going was knowing that Jesus would one day bring me through. I clung to what I knew to be true about Him. I knew I was forgiven, and even at a young age understood that the ultimate goal of my faith was eternity with him. I believed deep in that place where only faith can dwell that one day I’d be delivered and free. By my seventeenth birthday, I was completely cured of depression and my faith intact.
I came to Jesus and continue with Jesus, not because it works, but because of the hope it offers. It’s the hope of my salvation. I am a Christian because Jesus found me while I was dead in my transgressions and sins (Eph.2:1) and he made me alive in Christ. (Eph. 2:5) Salvation offers hope because it stands on a sure promise by a very dependable and faithful God who did a very certain thing for me, and for you. A promise that one day Jesus will finally rescue us from this hard life lived out in a hard, tormented world where a lot of bad stuff happens equally to those who love Jesus and those who don’t. Sorry Joel Osteen. My best life is not now. It’s still to come. But, in the meantime, I keep trusting and continue serving. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling. (2 Cor. 5:2) I am a Christian because my sins have been forgiven, and I’ve been reconciled to God my King, and one day he promises to establish his reign in a new heaven and earth when finally we will see him face to face. In the meantime, I’m willing to shrug off the empty promises of a better life now.
I don’t usually respond to much but this blog disturbed me & I finally decided I had to say something. I agree with some of what you said. I agree that promoting Christianity as “the good life” is deceiving but I have to question whether you read the books you mentioned before you put your thoughts in writing. I question more than one of them and I have read them. The one I am choosing to focus on is “Jesus Calling”. I have read it through twice and received much encouragement from the things she has shared. Often we hear a sermon and say ” that was just what I needed to hear today”. I believe that is God speaking to me and I felt that way many days when I read “Jesus Calling”. I’m not reading it this year but I would like to share today’s entry.
I am involved in each moment of your life. I have carefully mapped out every inch of your journey through this day, even though much of it may feel haphazard. Because the world is in a fallen condition, things always seem to be unraveling around the edges. Expect to find trouble in this day. At the same time, trust that “My way is perfect”, even in the midst of such messy imperfections.
Stay conscious of Me as you go through this day, remembering that I never leave your side. Let the Holy Spirit guide you step by step, protecting you from unnecessary trials and equipping you to get through whatever must be endured. As you trudge through the sludge of this fallen world, keep your mind in heavenly places with Me. Thus Light of My Presence shines on you, giving you Peace and Joy that circumstances cannot touch.
As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.
“For I am the LORD, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”
I can’t find anything in there that is not in the Word of God or would make anyone think the Christian life is all good. Please point it out to me if you can. I would also like to share a portion of her introduction to the book. If you haven’t read any of her writing I would challenge you to at least read the introduction.
” I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.
My journaling had changed from monologue to dialogue. Soon, messages began to flow more freely, and I bought a special notebook to record these words. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day. I knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but they were helping me grow closer t God.”
I believe that God speaks to all of us at different times and in different ways such as His Word, ministers sharing what God has given them, writings that are God centered, and sometimes He impresses something on us relative to a particular situation. Many times when I think I don’t hear from God it’s because I’m not being diligent or intentional about listening. I also believe sometimes our faith is tested through silence. Those times are very difficult and hard for me to understand but that’s when I learn to trust. (something I never learned as a child)
I was raised in a negative environment and didn’t understand that God loved me. I thought I would be punished if I was bad. I am still in process of changing my thinking and writings like “Jesus Calling” have both challenged and encouraged me and I am thankful that they share what God has impressed on them.
Thanks for reading my rather lengthy “vent”.