By Grace Satow
(This is an article from the ARTGPM Essay Contest)
America; a country grounded in freedom, an answer to religious oppression, a land that was once a safe haven for its earliest settlers seeking spiritual refuge from the tyranny of their leaders, and a country founded in religious tolerance. It appears that there has been a major down fall to this idea, this concept of religious tolerance, this being that Americans, and even Christian Americans, have somehow managed to twist this idea of freedom into a mindset of “coexisting.” This “tolerant” perspective tells us that religion is private, and that what you believe doesn’t matter as long as you don’t try to influence my belief. How can Christians justify this belief? How can we know that Jesus said he was “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:16) and be satisfied with the fact that our best friend, parent, neighbor, or child does not believe in him, does not know of his saving grace? If you know that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23), how can you sit by and watch those around you who are “dead in their transgressions” (Ephesians 2:1) while you are “made alive with Christ even when” you “were dead in your transgressions—for it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). So then the question must be raised-how does this happen, and how can we transform the thinking of these misguided Christians? I believe the answer lies in; instilling some sense of urgency into Believers by forming an eternal perspective, educating people on Apologetics and explaining that God does not call us to blind faith, and by making bounds to return to the early Church’s scripturally centered roots while distancing ourselves from unbiblical formalism.
In order to revive the early zeal that Christ instilled in his apostles, contemporary Christian Churches must have an eternal and heavenly focus. This is so vital because when people realize, or attempt to wrap their head around that fact, that we are going to be in Heaven for ETERNETY and only on this earth for a very short time, a deep rooted sense of urgency should spring up out of their consciences. People need to accept the fact that every opportunity that God provides for us to work and serve him is crucial and not to be overlooked-but instead seized with haste. "So we (MUST) fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18) this should be something that “those who claim to know Christ” (1 John 2:6a) should live by. We need to know that the ONLY things in this life that matter are the things that have eternal value; namely souls. We have been created as eternal beings and where we spend that eternity is up to us-God has put that decision in our hands and given those who have chosen for him the responsibility to "live as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6b). Someone who truly understands and has experienced the depth of God's grace for him/her and the lengths that Christ has gone to, to be in a relationship with him/her should be motivated out of gratitude for the Gospel-in every aspect of his/her life-to live for God and follow "the plans he has for you" (Jeremiah 29:11). For you are "new selves, which are being renewed in knowledge in the image of their Creator" (Colossians 3:10b). God warns us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24) because we can be easily distracted by the fleeting, trivial and ultimately unfulfilling “desires of the flesh” (Romans 8:5) which makes it all the more necessary for Christians to be consistently focused on eternity and God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. These are all reasons for why churches, in order to see fruit and growth, need to be teaching on and instilling eternal values and perspectives into the Body of Christ.
Unfortunately many people, and many Believers, see faith or religion as a blind leap into the unknown with an unforeseen outcome. This is fare from the truth-God tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrew11:1) and “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrew 6:19)-not blind, not per chance, religion or faith is not luck of the draw. Dr. John Lennox, professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and one of the world’s leading Apologetics said that “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.” God promises that we can be confident in our faith, and anyone who wants to be a worker for Christ must have a confident faith-not only for their sake but for the sake of the people that they are reaching out to. This is why one must “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). This defense, also known as Apologetics, is crucial to the Christian faith and without it any expectation for successful evangelism on a larger scale is lost. Regrettably most American Christians don’t even know what the word Apologetics means, let alone it’s importance or content, but if God has provided us with such a magnitude of evidence-why are not we delving into it more readily and frequently? Another major issue is the fact that many Churches assume that people who grow up in the church believe in God-when in reality many question their faith, a faith that is often not genuine. This lack of reasoning and assumption of blind faith is something that I feel is severely holding back the American Church.
Somehow in the past 2000 years Christians have managed to take the words and values that Christ left behind, in trusted to his apostles, and run with them-in the wrong direction. It is time that Christians bring in the reigns and get back to where Christ left us. If our faith is founded in God’s truth-a truth that has been elaborated on in great length in his word, the Bible, then why do not more “modern” Christian Churches have a stronger focus and emphasis on the word? Think about it-God calls us to “meditate on it (his word) day and night” (Joshua 1:8b, Psalm 1:2b), yet most Christians do not read their Bible daily, many do not even read it at all. Why is this? It is because people are not taught the intrinsic value of the word and what a key role it plays in the quality of our relationship with God and spiritual walk. It is no wonder that American Churches need to be “revived” when, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and people are not being fed! (With the word of God that is). The Christian population of America seems to be so distracted by the stereotypical Christian that they have forgotten who Christ was and what he values. Should not what Christ valued be our main focus-instead of what we wear to church, how fancy our communion cups are, or our stain glass windows. Jesus and his followers after his death met in houses and around fires-not in huge elaborate fancy building, and to this mind set God says, “you are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.” (Luke 16:15) So why do Churches still value these thing? Why do we allow them to distract us from our main goals and ideals, such as the Gospel message? It is partly because it is easier than focusing inwardly on our relationship with God, and our relationships with others members of the Body, but God says “so, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:16). God does not want us to take the easy route, he calls us out saying “you adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) We are either with him-or against him, in the words of Getty Lee “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”, and we need to go all in for God-or why bother? “Going all in” involves getting to know God in his word and getting to know and understand what he values. In America, surrounded by wealth and carnal endeavors it seems to be close to impossible to shed the materialistic formalism that God so refutes in the Gospel of John-but “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) With this previous notion from Jesus I am confident that American Christians with God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20) we will be able to return to a to the early Church’s zealous and fervent dedication to Christ, his plan, his work, and his words.
Paul says that God’s “‘grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This gives me comfort-knowing that despite America’s own fallen and imperfect nature, God is still willing and able to work through us and be glorified in our weakness and through our faults.
(See Grace's tetimony here.)