CHRISTIANITY: Nominal or Real?

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Do you believe in God? One can safely say that most Filipinos “believe in God.” In fact, close to 90% self-identify as Catholics.

But those statements are misleading. First of all, the Bible says even the devil believes there is a God, “and trembles.”  And do 90% of your countrymen actually practice their religion? While many R.C. churches are full on Sundays, millions of  “Catholics” are running around, visiting the Strawberry Farms, or working, or drinking beer, partying and even fornicating, like anyone else.

One reason for the surge in independent, charismatic or “born again” type churches is that many Christians are looking for a more dynamic Christianity, one that truly impacts them and redirects their lives in the direction of Kingdom living. They are not satisfied with merely taking Communion once a week; they hunger for a living relationship with the crucified and risen Lord. They want to take seriously Our Lord’s command: I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me, and so bear fruit, for without me you can do nothing. But if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will bear fruit, and your fruit will last. (John 15). Even my own (Anglican) priest has admitted to me that many people can be substituting a religious ritual like communion for this living relationship.

This problem suggests another fact: People can really be worshipping something else than the living God, revealed in Christ—foretold in the Old Testament and made real through His life, healing and teaching ministry, and his death and resurrection—to be God’s plan for true, meaningful living, a life of love and righteousness, salvation.  C.S. Lewis put it this way: We are like children preferring to make mud-pies by the street, when God offers us a holiday by the sea.

Yes, people worship many things: their pleasures, their distractions through cell-phones and other media, their money or pursuit thereof, their families or gangs, their careers, their egos. The human heart is an idol factory, said one of the Reformers, John Calvin (as I recall, though old as I am, I did not actually hear him say it!)

It thus is possible to see the whole faith-unfaith matter as a continuum: <——————–>,with no clear dividing line between elements on it.

<Unfaith (atheism)—Agnosticism (extreme doubt about religious claims)—Practical atheism (saying one believes in God but actually living as if He does not exist, “nominal Christian”)—Fundamentalist, (one who says things like “I believe every word in the Bible)—Committed Christian (one who is praying daily, and bearing fruit, lovingly making a difference).>

Personally, I’d call myself an “agnostic Christian”, in that while I believe in the basic doctrines concerning Creation, the Redemption in Christ, and the reality and availability of the Holy Spirit in and for our lives, there are some things I doubt, like “the Rapture” and hell, at least as eternal conscious torment—a horrid, blasphemous idea, completely opposite the reality of “God is love.” So as to the afterlife, while I believe there is one, I’m quite agnostic about who goes where after death. The important thing is to know Him who is the “way, truth and life”, and whom to know means knowing the way to eternal life—the One who is forever there, grander than all galaxies, older than Methusaleh, yet whose mercies and compassions are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3: 22-23).

It all depends on who or what is ruling one’s life.

Bill Bright, founder of the powerful world-wide ministry known as Campus Crusade (now “Cru”) taught the importance of the Spirit-filled life, vs. the carnal life. “Who’s on the throne?”

Spirit-filled, fruit-bearing life:  |                    /–self             vs.        Carnal life:      |                          /–  Christ

|   JESUS –/                                                              |    SELF——/

|_________                                                                |_________

|_________                                                                |                 |

|                |                                                             |                 |

|                |                                                             |                 |

If Self is on the throne on one’s life, as in atheism, agnosticism, practical atheism or nominal or carnal Christianity, sin and lovelessness, “passions and desires”, and frustration will be the main features of one’s life. Why? Because the self and all its attachments are not big enough to be worshiped; they are not God; they are idols, and never satisfy in terms of giving real meaning and purpose to life. Furthermore, they cannot give you love, forgiveness, and hope for anything beyond the here-and-now.

There is a stupid slogan in the U. S. that reads, He who dies with the most toys wins! Wins what? The Bible says, It is appointed to man once to die, and after that the judgment. Heb. 9: 27.  Frank Sinatra used to sing, I did it MY way. But the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Psalm 1:6b.

On the other hand, if Christ is on the throne—Christ in you, the hope of glory,  Colossians 1: 27, then there is “life and peace”. There abideth faith, hope and love, says St. Paul in I Cor. 13, and the greatest of these is love. And in Galatians 5 he writes, The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (carnality) with its passions and desires. Already in Psalm 1: 6a we read, The Lord watches over the way of the righteous. And don’t forget Jesus’ saying, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. (This sounds very narrow and arrogant, until one realizes that only in Christianity is there a Cross.)

If, now, you realize that you are more on the (practical) atheistic side of the continuum, it’s not too late to repent, ask Jesus, who died for this and all your sins, to come in to your life, and give you the power and willingness to live for something beyond yourself, the Kingdom of Heaven, and thus prepare you to meet Him some day in person, the very One who went to the Cross for you, and then rose to give you new and unending life. As the old hymn goes, Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

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