Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label ‘Christian’ or because some people persist in calling us a ‘Christian nation.’ ~Francis Chan
I’ve come to believe that how we respond to our circumstances—whatever they may be—is highly correlated with our identity.
For instance, if a significant portion of my identity is found in being a scholar, then there’s a reasonable likelihood that I’ll respond negatively to any criticism of my research. Or, say that my identity is heavily based on my nationality. If so, then there’s a reasonable likelihood that I’ll become offended or defensive when hearing anyone criticize my country. If someone, however, criticizes my country when my identity is primarily based on being a scholar, it’s much more likely that I’ll have a civil discussion with them as to why—regardless of whether I agree or disagree with their position. Essentially, we’re more likely to defend any belief, concept, or characteristic that serves prominently in shaping our identity. This aspect of establishing and maintaining our identity is what lies at the center or our culture’s growing emphasis on political correctness, because anything we say has the potential to offend.
Our culture has become increasingly accepting of differing core identities. While a list outlining possible identity sources would be endless, below are some that appear frequently in our society:
For Christians, however, all of these identity sources are believed to be insufficient as our identity foundations. To adhere to any as our source of identity would be done in error. I believe that Christ explicitly cautions us to avoid this error; warning us that both the way and its gate is narrow (i.e. specific):
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NASB).
Further, Christ defines what it means to walk the narrow path and pass through the narrow gate, for He claims to serve as both:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6, NASB).
Therefore, as Christians, our identity is to be found in Christ (and Christ alone):
For in Him (i.e. Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Colossians 2:9-10, NASB)…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free man, nor is there neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28, NASB).
Subsequently, our minds should, as we progress through this life, conform to Christ’s:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NASB).
I’m concerned, however, that many of us are being deceived into following the broad way; though, believing that we’re following the narrow path that guides us to the kingdom of heaven and eternal relationship with our Lord. Why the concern? Well, to start, we live in a fallen world where we must constantly combat God’s enemies; being at war with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16, NASB).
Moreover, Christ’s identity is constant, never changing throughout eternity. We as a Church, however, appear to possess a fluctuating, collective identity. This suggests that, to some degree, our collective identity is not completely aligned with Christ’s.
This identity fluctuation within the Church collective shouldn’t be a surprise. Christ cautions us that the visible Church community of professed believers consists of more than true followers—or, what theologians often refer to as the invisible Church (Matthew 7:21-23). How much of the visible Church consists of false followers versus true followers? Personally, I’m not sure. Based on a visible trend, possibly a substantial portion—at least in the United States. What trend leads me to this discouraging conclusion?
Simply, we look too much like the world, and not enough like Christ.
Generally speaking, we’re professing Christian values without exhibiting Christian love. The love that we’re peddling comes more from Disney and Hollywood than it does Christ. Instead of a lasting, sacrificial, and others-focused servant love, we’re confusing love with fleeting, self-absorbed pleasure experiences. And engaging in many of these experiences have negative repercussions upon others. Moreover, many Christians are extremely selective with expressing love towards others. For instance, how many of us love our enemies? Some of us struggle to even love our families! 😦
Based on our behaviors, many of us have transformed Christ from a living person (and our Lord), to a construct (i.e. conceptual abstraction) that serves our [perceived] needs. Exhibiting behaviors that are becoming of spoiled and entitled children, we’re demanding more than our daily bread; doing so at the expense of others. Furthermore, we’re prone to avoid warranted confrontation and create environments that are absent meaningful (and mutual) accountability. We’re regularly not saying what we mean—and, at other times—we’re saying nothing when it’s absolutely necessary for us to speak. So as I said earlier, more often than not, we’re acting as if our identity is found in the world, and not in Christ.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…
While the world and Christ are in direct opposition with one another, that isn’t how God’s enemies wish for us to perceive the relationship. They function like frenemies, and try to convince us that God’s commandments are no more than suggestions; encouraging us to possess a lukewarm attitude on what should be strongly held conviction. This is particularly true when it comes to following the Narrow Way (i.e. Christ).
Enter the great deceiver—Satan. I’ve come to believe (i.e. it’s my opinion) that the devil is aware of Truth’s (Christ’s) power. Truth serves as a light through the darkness (John 1:5). Therefore, rather than try to attack the Truth directly, he and his minions attempt to deceive us by twisting our understanding of Truth. As it pertains to our current Church culture, I’ve noticed three principal approaches that appear to be frequently implemented for establishing deceptions. God’s enemies deceive us by convincing us to:
- consider good things as great; therefore, encouraging us to worship idols
- perceive complementary aspects of Christ’s identity as being in opposition
- accept contradictory convictions; embracing evil as if it is good (i.e. unhealthy inclusion)
We can visibly see these deceptions influencing our Christian communities; leading churches to condone behavior which the bible explicitly states to be sinful (#3); to overemphasize certain characteristics of Christ versus others (#2); and to embrace the preaching of a prosperity gospel (or other misinterpretations of the Word) instead of Christ (#1).
Take, for example, how our Church culture is currently emphasizing grace. I believe that, for some time, our contemporary Christian culture has been overemphasizing the grace aspect of Christ’s being; originally starting as a needed response to a cultural overemphasis of the Law. Emphasizing the importance of grace was intended to combat a prevalent and unloving legalism. But just as overemphasizing the Law aspect of Christ’s identity is likely to encourage us to become unloving legalists (note: this is bad), overemphasis of Christ’s grace (i.e. ignoring the need for obedience and discipline) may encourage us to embrace a pluralistic relativistic, “hippie” love (note: this is bad too).
Rather than a sacrificial love that is others-focused, people who emphasize grace without consideration to the Law, are susceptible to engage in selfish licentiousness; misappropriating the word “love” in its description. When following this deception, people focus on what offers them pleasure in the moment, and often become self-destructive. They want to be perceived as “good,” but get defensive when they’re held accountable. Reputation becomes more important than integrity.
And from generation to generation, our Church culture is capable of swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other (i.e. this chart serves as an illustrative example):
Our world functions in a manner that encourages us to accept what C.S. Lewis referred to as errors of opposite pairs.
“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking about which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern with that than either of them.”
God’s enemies challenge our understanding of the Truth (i.e. Christ) with this deceive and divide approach; their intention being to confuse and contain the Gospel message. When realizing our environment, and the forces at work, isn’t it obvious why there is no other way to follow Truth than to actually know Christ? If we’ve never seen or heard of an apple or an orange, there would be no way to refute someone’s claim that an orange was actually an apple. However, once we’ve been introduced to apples, and we’ve been exposed to oranges, we’d be able to contest any claims of either being anything otherwise.
Of course, God’s enemies would then likely try to find irrelevant commonalities, and state that apples and oranges are both fruit; regardless if—for illustrative purposes—one may be rotten and the other ripe. Therefore, our understanding of Christ must be obtained as result of relationship with Him. We must know Him and He must know us. If Christ is nothing more than an acquaintance—or worse, a concept—we’re more likely to be deceived. But if we know Christ, and have a healthy relationship with Him—finding our identity in Him—then, we’re capable of discerning good from evil [with help from the Holy Spirit].
…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NASB).
A TERRIFYING THOUGHT TO CONSIDER…
What if a majority of the visible Church (i.e. those who profess to follow Christ) aren’t actually saved?
We generally perceive the need to follow a narrow path with derision in our society. Why? Because most of us want to have options. Unfortunately, this is emblematic of our rebellious hearts, and our desire to be in control. We too often desire the mantle of Lord, rather than that of His son, daughter, or servant. Instead of the relationship He offers us, we choose to be His enemy.
Christianity, by its very nature, is radical. We’re asked to place our faith in a supernatural Being—an all-powerful God. A God whose Son (Jesus) came to us in the flesh, and by sacrificing Himself for our sins, conquered death and sin; offering those who both know Him and follow Him eternal life and relationship.
The idea of being part of something more than this life likely probably appeals to some. For others, I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell into the Christian religion as a type of insurance—not wanting to go to hell. To them, heaven sounds better—if for nothing more than it isn’t hell. But what can be better than eternal relationship with a perfect Lord?
I’m not God; therefore, I don’t know who is saved and who isn’t. All I know is that Christ warns us that not everyone claiming to be one His followers will be saved. Is it possible that we’ve become overly accepting of sinful practices within the Church; following the cultural, societal trend? Is it possible that we’re lacking a necessary accountability among professed believers?
From what I can discern from God’s Word, I believe that there is one way to the kingdom of heaven. That way is through the living person of Christ—the Narrow Way. Our identity is to mirror His. I don’t make the rules, but I try to follow them—especially when the Authority making the rules is completely sovereign, infinitely wise, and loves me enough to sacrifice His Son on my behalf. If this means that I’m narrow-minded, then I guess that I can live with that label. Speaking broadly, there are many ways that are infinitely worse.